When climbing Everest, there is a lot of ready, set, wait. That is what happened on Wednesday. Several teams were up at 4:00AM preparing to climb through the Khumbu Icefall for their first rotation to Camps 1 and 2 when they saw headlamps coming down, not going up.
The Adventure Consultants team first reported it as :
Last night the ice fall growled and rumbled. Our sherpa team who were carrying loads through, found some ladders collapsed in an area known as the pop corn. This resulted in them leaving their loads and returning to base in order to give the ice fall doctors time to refix the lines and ladders. This is the reality of moving through this dangerous area. This morning saw the team back at the ice fall training station, further honing their skills in order to be able to move efficiently and swiftly through the ice fall when the time comes for their first trip.
Dave Hahn, RMI, described it this way:
We were all keyed up and ready to climb last night. Dinner was eaten with a sense of purpose, figuring we’d burn thousands of calories going up the Khumbu Icefall and living at Camp One. Each climber turned in carefully, arranging every piece of gear just so for a cold pre-dawn start. And we were up at 4 AM getting boots tied and helmets on when the word came down of a collapse in the middle of the Icefall. We could then see the parade of Sherpa headlights in the lower half of the Icefall… all going the wrong way. Down. Chherring and Gyalgen from our own team had radioed down to say that the route was impassible and that the midsection of the climb would need special attention -new ladders and fixed rope- from the Icefall Doctors. The coffee was hot and our pre-climb breakfast of boiled eggs and porridge was on, so we sat down together anyway and tried to get used to the idea that we weren’t going up. No great physical and mental test to pass after all. Until tomorrow.
Peak Freaks also had a false start and will attempt to go to Camp 1 Thursday.
This is not unusual. Remember the Icefall can move up to a meter a day, three feet. The ladders are basically propped across the crevasses, albeit anchored with pickets and ice screws. However, when there is a large shift, or a serac collapses, it can easily take out one or more ladders and cover the fixed line in the process. The Icefall Doctors quickly climb to the spot with new rope and ladders and put everything back in place. Often it requires finding a new route that might be safer.
This is the danger you often hear about in the Icefall; a shift occurs injuring a climber. Thankfully this collapse occurred in the early morning hours and no climber was injured. What is interesting is that teams normally climb in the early morning hours when there is no direct sunlight on the Icefall and temperatures are the coldest, the theory being that this is when the ice is the most stable.
We are now seeing how different teams approach acclimatizing. Berg, Himalayan Ascent and others are taking the traditional approach of spending nights at Camp 1, maybe tagging Camp 2 before returning to Base Camp. But Mountain Trip is going to spend five nights at Camp 2 on their first rotation. IMG, Himex and others have spent time on the 20,000 foot peak, Lobuche to acclimatize. Alpenglow is on Island Peak.
A lot of these different approaches come down to avoiding time in the Icefall. That said, the Sherpas still spend more time than anyone in this dangerous area. The major difference being they can climb incredibly faster than most Westerners thus reducing their time in the Icefall and the exposure to the danger a bit.
Preparing the Route
Preparing the route on the upper mountain is a huge task. There are thousands of feet of nylon line, hundreds of anchors and carabiners. Eric Simonson, IMG, describes the task:
the IMG crew has been working to prepare the rope and rope-fixing equipment. To keep the 9+ kilometers of rope from getting miserably kinked during deployment, an axle is placed through the rope spools so they can turn, allowing the rope to be pulled off the spool and stacked directly into rice bags. The team has also painted 100 ice screws and 100 locking carabiners to identify them. When it comes time to fix the Lhotse Face, the rope will pull out of the rice bags with no twisting, and the screws and ‘biners will be used for anchors.
Over on the North, preparations continue for their first rotation to Advanced Base Camp. On the first sorte, they will spend a night at an interim camp between BC and ABC.
While almost everyone waits for the route to be fixed and lines to be set, the elite climbers attempting new routes are pushing hard and fast without support of fixed lines, supplemental oxygen or Sherpas, other than ladders in the Icefall.
Russian Climb reports this from Denis Urubko and Alexey Bolotov who have already climbed to Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face (translation via Google):
… Yesterday climbed to Camp 3 on the Lhotse slope. Ponavyazali pieces of old railing. Spent the night at an altitude of 7000m, this morning piled up in the Base. During the second camp saw Simone with Uli they went to the side of the West Ridge of Everest. Icefall in a very bad condition (unfortunately. Today saw the recent collapses. Sherpas never went anywhere, dozens of dumped goods on the trail. Probably be glad when they find a new way for the Khumbu. “
… Yesterday we went to the Camp 3 on the Lhotse slopes; tied in ends of the old fixed ropes. We’ve spent a night at 7,000 m, and this morning went down to the Base. In the Camp 2 we came across with Simone and Uli, they were heading for the Everest West Ridge. The icefall has been dreadful, unfortunately: (We’ve seen the marks of fresh collapses. Sherpas didn’t go anywhere, dozens of bales are left on the trail. I suppose they’ll be waiting until a new way through Khumbu is set
Simone Moro gave this update as they are now at Camp 2 (translation via Google):
We returned to camp 2. The idea is to stay here in our comfortable tent for a couple of nights. I Ueli and this time it took even less time than the other day. We are satisfied. Here there is still little people. Four tents. The bulk of shipments in fact is only now coming to base camp. Denis Urubko and Alexey Bolotov want to go to sleep at an altitude of 7000. Yesterday here in the Western Cwm, that is, the Valley of Silence, an avalanche fell from the West Ridge. He crossed the valley to go to die under the Nuptse. Fortunately there was none.
It is still unclear what route either party will attempt, understandably. They need to get up close to make that determination. But if I was betting, I would say Moro/Steck are doing something clever and new using the West Ridge.
By the way, if you want to see how Ueli Steck trains, his sponsor, Mountain Hardwear, and EpicTV, posted this video on YouTube:
Memories are Everything