Right on schedule, Everest Base Camp (EBC) in Nepal filled up this week as climbers finished their trek from Lukla. On the other side, a few have arrived but most teams are half way through their drive to the Chinese Base Camp (CBC) after crossing the border mid week. The north bound teams take day hikes during the travel to further their acclimatization.
Sunday is a bit of a celebration at EBC as it is New Year’s Day for the Nepali.
The Big Picture
Pausing for an overview of the task ahead, ambulance mid April is when the serious climbing begins for Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse. Teams will have traveled for days to arrive at their respective Base Camps. There are probably 1,000 people at EBC (17,500’/5334m) and soon, several hundred at CBC (17,000’/5182m)
Once settled in, they will begin the process of acclimatization using the ‘climb high, sleep low’ technique where they climb to increasingly higher camps to spend several nights before returning to Base Camp to rest between climbs.
Each round trip climb to a camp is called a rotation. On the south, most teams will do at least three rotations before the summit push in mid May.
This upcoming week, almost every team will do a rotation to Camp 1 (19,500’/5943m) on the South. On the north, at the end of the week or early next week, they will climb to Advanced Base Camp (21,300’/6492m). Throughout this week, I will take a deeper look at climbing in the Icefall and the first look at the Western Cwm.
A few teams, for example IMG and Himex, skip one rotation by using an acclimatization climb on nearby Lobuche East (20,075’/6119m) which is a trekking peak. While still serious climbing, it avoids the danger of the Icefall for at least one rotation. Other teams like Peak Freaks use Kala Patthar (18,192’/5545 m), and others use Mera (21,247’/6476 m) or Island Peaks (20,305’/6189m).
Then some some skip these early climbs all together by spending a month in a pressure tent back home to simulate sleeping at 9,000′.
Of course the weather has the final say in all these plans. Base Camp had reports of wind and snow on and off all week preventing some carries to the higher camps. It is somewhat concerning that the winds have been very high thus far, while normal for the summit, usually in mid April they are a bit calmer lower down. But after all it is weather.
Arriving at Base Camp can be a defining moment for many people. Trekkers are there to visit, perhaps laying the groundwork for future dreams. First time climbers arrive with anxiety and anticipation that grows by the minute, and for those returning, well it can be life changing.
Russian climber Liudmila Mikhanovskaia, known as Mila, works as a translator in Kathmandu. She summited Everest last year and is now attempting Lhotse, the world’s 4th highest mountain at 27,940’/8516m.
In one of the more powerful dispatches I have ever read and easily the Blog of the Day, she shares with us her emotion upon arriving at EBC, and a big decision. Please read her entire post but this is an excerpt:
‘Are you afraid?’ I ask myself. No. I am worse than afraid – I am indifferent to the task, which lies ahead of me and the outcome thereof. This feeling – indifference – has been with me ever since I landed in Kathmandu after my stay in Bangkok. I carried it on my shoulders all the way up to 5300 meters; I slept with it; I fed it; I hoped to appease it, so, satisfied, it would leave me and give room to the passion and love I used to always feel for the Himalaya.
Yet, my indifference only grows bigger and fatter as I approach the foot of Everest. After trekking for 6 days, ill, I kneel beside my backpack in my tent at the foot of the Icefall and Everest, – home to be for the next month-and-a-half – and like a ghost of somebody long-gone, indifference kneels by my side and wonders: ‘If this is truly your dream still, to climb Everest for the second time, then, why am I here? And if it isn’t your dream, then, why are you here?’ These are good questions, even put to one belatedly, and they must be answered before it is too late.
Base Camp Life
As climbers settle into Base Camp, they are discovering what makes things run i.e. the kitchen. This post from Chris Jensen Burke talks about their kitchen with the Himalayan Ascent team
This year, Himalayan Ascent (HA) has gone to great expense to introduce stainless steel benches into the kitchen area to increase the chances of good hygiene. These benches were carried to Everest Base Camp by porters! The yaks are too rough with anything fragile or which you don’t want damaged.
It is not too unusual to have this level of detail. I did an in-depth look at the famed Himex Base Camp last year. Also, I know that IMG, Adventure Consultants, Jagged Globe and most major operators have put hygiene as the top priority for their kitchen for years. But it is beyond amazing what the cooks can produce, especially baked goods at 17,500 feet!
One of the priorities in establishing Base Camp is to make your tent your home away from home. Once again, David Tait gives us a detailed look at his routine, including the middle of the night call of nature. It is a great read:
I am very lucky – I can sleep standing vertically, so it isn’t long before I have slipped into unconsciousness. However, many are tortured, night after night by an inability to fall asleep – an altitude side effect – and a few have even succumbed and returned home, such was their misery. One can stare into blackness for only so long.
The Adventure Consultants team gave this report of a myriad of Base Camp activities for their first full day:
Meanwhile, all the climbers have been having showers and settling into their tents better. Rocket has had help from Caroline in setting up his own satellite communications systems, Dorjee has been finishing the lighting and solar power systems, Anne the Doctor, aka “Dr Didi” (Didi is a Nepali name for “Big Sister” and is used as a term of endearment or respect) – has been taking peoples benchmark heart rates, blood pressures, respiratory rates and oxygen saturations. Lydia did three peoples laundry (“Washing Didi”) and then it was lunch which was of course, really good.
You may wonder about the showers, well they are not 20 minute hot water affairs but rather a more limited several minute duration variety in a coffin sized vertical tent with water heated from propane gas heaters that are transported by yak to Base Camp. Sometimes the water goes from freezing to scalding so care must be taken in all respects! But I have never heard anyone complain – a hot shower at 17,500 feet – yeah baby!
The Altitude Junkies team arrived at Chinese Base Camp on Sunday, April 14. Edita Nichol’s home team posted this update on communications from that side:
Edita sent a few text messages this morning from her roaming swiss mobile phone. They arrived at the base camp after a very bumpy ride. They are spending the day setting up camp and the telecommunications systems. There is no 3G on the north side of Everest and she is trying to get a “China Mobile” sim card because it seems that is the only provider of cell phone service and even that will only work a few hours every day.
This is not a surprise in that the Chinese have controlled cell phone communications in Tibet for years. It can be a difficult process to get a China Mobile SIM for a foreigner but can be done. Complicating matters is that the massive size of Everest itself blocks the direct line of sight needed for some satellite phones or Bgan units require team to carry their devices to Advanced Base Camp. Overall this is why we get little information from north teams as compared to the relative simplicity of communications from the south.
Into The Cwm
Several posts mention that there are 30 ladders in the Icefall for 2013, with the longest being only three ladders lashed together. Overall this represents a few more ladder crossing but none extremely wide, requiring five ladders for example. With this many crossings, we can expect to see climb times a bit slower since it does take a bit longer to cross them.
The Western Cwm, at the top of the Khumbu Icefall, is where Camps 1 and 2 are located. Cwm is a Welsh word for valley. The Western Cwm is the valley bordered by Everest to the North, Lhotse to the East and Nuptse to the South. Camp 1 is at the West end and C2, the East end at the base of the Lhotse Face.
IMG reported excellent progress on establishing their Camps 1 and 2 in the Western Cwm and some of their climbers will begin the first rotation this week:
Up on the hill today we had 47 sherpas make it up to Camp 2and back to BC with loads. They report the route in the Western Cwm was good climbing conditions but that it was very cold up there. They wanded the route well with flagged bamboo garden stakes and report not too much fresh snow on the trail (the wind scoured a lot of it away). We have another 47 sherpas heading back to Camp 2 tomorrow.
While we have seen reports of good snowfall on Everest this year, too much can be dangerous for many reasons. One issue is when fresh snowfall covers narrow crevasses thus creating a weak snow bridge. Climbers can cross it without problem but then give way without warning. This is the type of feature that I fell through in 2002 just outside of Camp 1. Thankfully I was roped up and was saved by fast acting teammates who self arrested mine, and their, fall. Today, there is a fixed line between C1 and C2.
IMG also reports they are preparing 9,200 meters (30,200 feet) of 10mm nylon rope to be used as the fixed line. This runs from Camp 2 to the summit and is hand carried and set by Sherpas. Unlike in the Icefall where the Icefall Doctors take care of the fixed line, above Camp 2 to the summit almost every team shares in the costs and preparation of the fixed line, but not all thus creating some ill feelings each season.
Himalayan Ascent was the first team to send members through the Icefall for a night at Camp 1 on Saturday, April 13:
Our teams have officially started their rotations. Margaret and Warren with Ang Kaji and Dendi are currently resting up at Camp 1 (6100m). They set off early this morning around 3am and reached the top of the icefall at 10am. Meanwhile, Chris and the Canadians with Lakpa and Cherring left a day ahead to Camp 1. Today they climbed across the Western Cwn for lunch at Camp 2, and returned back to Camp 1 for the night. Both teams will be back at base camp on Monday after climbing up to Camp 2.
They took 7 hours to climb from Base Camp to Camp 1, about normal for the first effort. On their last climb for the summit push in about a month, the time could be cut in half!
Finally, I love what climber David (Roscoe) Roskelley posted. As he was leaving the US he opened a fortune cookie at lunch:
I enjoy eating at Panda Express from time-to -time. About a month ago, I received a very interesting fortune in my cookie. I have been back a few times, but refuse to take another fortune. I will take all the positive fortune I can get!
Memories are Everything