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Apr 162014
 
Khumbu Icefall Ladders

Today was another milestone for some Everest 2014 climbers – their first steps into the Khumbu Icefall. Of all the experiences written and talked about for Everest, crossing the ladders has to rank near the top.

Todays Update

But first a look at the current action. EverestER is starting off very busy caring for climbers, click Sherpas, Porters and anyone who needs help:

We’re busy!  Our volunteer doctors have already seen 70+ s and had 2 s hospitalized overnight and 3 evacuations. As usual, our problems run the gamut – from blisters and sprained knees to life threatening HAPE and head trauma. We are enjoying meeting all the different groups and hearing stories from all over the world (including the first team from Myanmar to ever attempt the mtn!)

I want to acknowledge Jagged Globe for their transparency around one of their team members. I’m sure with his approval they posted this update today.

On Monday morning Philip collapsed in Base Camp. It is not entirely clear if he fainted or simply tripped on a rock. However he fell hitting his head on the ground and lost consciousness for a few minutes. He received immediate ment from members of the Jagged Globe team and the HRA doctor in Base Camp. Philip was carried by stretcher to the HRA a short distance from the Jagged Globe Base Camp where he received oxygen and IV medication. The doctor was concerned about the possible risk of a head injury and advised immediate evacuation to hospital in Kathmandu. A helicopter was requested and fortunately one was available nearby. Within 30 minutes of the request (and little over an hour from the original incident) Philip was airlifted from Base Camp to Kathmandu.

From the news reaching us at Everest Base Camp it seems that Philip is making a good recovery in hospital. Jagged Globe staff in Kathmandu are working to make Philip’s stay in hospital as comfortable as possible and all the team at Base Camp wish him a full and speedy recovery.

Pumori, 23494 ft / 7161 m

Pumori, 23494 ft / 7161 m

Many of the teams are working out the kinks before heading into the icefall by climbing to camp 1 on Pumori. This is the beautiful pyramid shaped peak that looms to the east over Everest Base Camp. It will occasionally spray the camp with avalanche debris but does not pose a threat. Adventure Consultants described it this way:

A beautiful and mostly clear day today so the team climbed up above base camp to a high point on Mt Pumori at about 5800m, which is a similar height to Camp 1 on Everest. We had clear skies and great views of Everest including the North Col and North Ridge, and most importantly looking straight at the route up the Lhotse Face, the South Col.

One blog I’m enjoying by Andy Holzer, the blind Austrian climbing from the south. It is in German so I have to use Google translate but you can get the idea.

Tibet Side

Multiple teams arrived at the Chinese Base Camp (CBC) yesterday. This is probably the of Everest in the world – the North Face. And also the windiest, coldest and dustiest camp in the world.

Similar to the south side, teams will take a few days to rest up and acclimatize before starting their trek to Advanced Base Camp. CBC is at 17,000’/5182m and ABC is 21,300’/6492m. This is quite a jump so most teams take one night on the first trip to ABC at a desolate interim camp at 20,300’/6187m. The SummitClimb team arrived posting their schedule:

Looking ahead, we will spend another two days here in EBC before heading to Interim Camp (5800m) on 19 April. After two nights at Interim Camp, we will make our way to Advanced Base Camp (6400m) where we will stay for approximately 4 nights practicing our ice climbing skills and fixed line management skills ahead of making our ascent of the North Col (7000m).

The Triple 8 team climbing Cho Oyu, Everest and Lhotse arrived at their base camp at 15,500′ for Cho Oyu and will also make a move to their Advanced Base Camp in a few days. Cho Oyu has two base camps like many of these mountains. The first is at the end of the road, just like on Everest from Tibet. Then it is a six hour trek covering 15 miles to ABC at 18,500′ on a trail snaking over small hilltops where you can see the Gyabrag Glacier. Some teams take two days to make this trek. Most climbers will take daily acclimatization hikes to 18,000′ on nearby hills at the end of the road base camp before leaving for ABC. The Triple 8 team has targeted May 6 as a potential summit day with their next goal Everest somewhere around May 21 or so.

By the way, there are also expeditions on other Himalayan 8000 meter mountains including Manaslu, Makalu, Dhaulagiri I , Kangchenjunga, and Annapurna. Who said spring is all about Everest?

Communications Update

An update on the communications problem. Asian Trekking worked with the the largest Internet provider (ISP) in Nepal, Mercantile Systems, to provide wireless Internet at base camp. So far the system is working well providing relatively high speed access of 256KB upload and download speeds. Teams had to arrange in advance to unlimited access costing several thousand dollars, quite reasonable when spread across many users.

However, Ncell, the mobile provider in the Khumbu has been the only choice for non-satellite comms at base camp for several years thus many teams assumed they would be there in 2014. Apparently there are problems with capacity ad bandwidth, nothing new here as this has been the case since day one, and apparently their station at Gorak Shep has some issues. Bottom line, users of the Ncell system are offline or have intermittent service until the problems are fixed.

Users of the satellite systems including Immarsat, Thuraya and Iridium seem to be working as always. But they require clear line of sight and heavy clouds or snowfall can slow or even stop the connections.

Hopefully we will see some sunny days to charge batteries from the solar panels, Ncell will fix their system and our climbers can get back to updating Facebook, Twitter and their blogs – not that this is a priority! I’m sure for some this blackout has been a blessing.

 First Steps into the Khumbu Icefall

You set your alarm for 3:30 am knowing it was unnecessary. Over dinner the first climb into the Icefall was announced for today. Immediately, your anxiety level ratcheted up a notch.

The Khumbu Icefall. You have seen so many pictures, a few videos and recently studied it from Kala Patar, Camp 1 on Pumori and your base camp tent, but now it was time for the real thing.

Switching on your headlamp, you pull on your real climbing clothes. This is just a trip half way, but it still requires warm layers, gloves, boots, crampons, harness, jumar, cows tail, ice axe – the works. The 3-person tent that seemed so big when you arrived now seems like a closet as you swing your legs off the mattress to pull on your pants. Your arms hit the sides as your top goes on.

Scooting to the door, you pull your boots into the tent, cursing at not having the foresight to keep them inside so they wouldn’t freeze. Now you would pay the price with ten minutes of close combat – you against your boots.

Finally, dressed for action, you stumble outside your tent only to trip over a line. “Damn, and I’m going to climb Everest?”, you mutter to yourself. Standing in the cold, crisp air, you pause. Looking around you see your teammates performing the same circus act.

Glancing at the Icefall, you see headlamps, um, someone is already up there. Probably Sherpas carrying a load to Camp 1 or Camp 2. You hear the low hiss of stoves as the cooks are making breakfast.

It is cold, but you are not cold. Looking at your red 8000 meter boots, the contrast against the white snow is vibrant. Without thinking a smile grows on your face. You are about to enter the Icefall.

The Sherpas are gathered by the cook tent eating an unidentifiable concoction of rice, milk, and sugar. They eat with the enthusiasm of a starving teenager.

You walk over and enter the dining tent seeing the cooks have already brought out toast and a boiled egg for each climber. You spread some jam on your toast and stare at the egg. A teammates pushes some coffee your way. A grunt is all you can muster.

Without warning the Sherpas enter the tent calling out names. Not sure if you are being recognized or punished you stand up quickly and follow your personal Sherpa, Dawa. He sets a brisk pace through the maze of paths in base camp. Switching on your headlamp, you follow closely, still unsure of the correct turns to make. Crampon Point is your destination.

With the finesse of a lightweight boxer, Dawa bobs and weaves between the tents. He dodges a yak standing on the trail, careful not to touch the sleeping beast. You soon reach the perimeter of base camp and take a step onto a flattish section of the Icefall. You were here a few days ago to run through your gear on the obstacle course but this time it is for real.

The route become circuitous now, up and down small ice hills, stepping over small sections of running water, maneuvering around growing ponds. Careful not to get your boots wet, you take big steps, while Dawa seemingly floats over them.

Your breathing increases. Tiny drops of sweat form on your chest, your forehead. The doubts begin again. “Oh my God, if I’m struggling just to get to Crampon Point, what will …” you stop yourself remembering the value of metal toughness.

You and Dawa arrive at Crampon Point with the energy of an Indy race car coming into the pit for a tire change. Taking your crampons out of your pack, you now sit on your pack to attach the spikes to your oversize boots. Right, then left; thread the safety strap around your ankle and through the ring; double back the strap. Your done. Dawa looks at your work. Feeling like a child, you look yourself to make sure you put them on the correct foot; buckles go to the outside for safety. You look at Dawa but he has already moved on.

The first few steps into the Icefall proper are steep. “Who put the route over a 30 foot ice bump at the start?” you curse to yourself. Your breathing picks back up. Dawa’s headlamp seems like a search light, not looking ahead but side to side using the eyes in the back of his head to see if you are keeping up. He slows down a bit.

Reaching the beginning of the fixed line, you take the carabiner attached to a piece of webbing that is attached to your harness and clip in. This act will be repeated several hundred if not thousands of time over the next few weeks. Seeing more people ahead, you silently send a thanks out, hoping they will slow down your Super Sherpa.

Moving steadily you gain altitude in the Icefall. The wee hours of the morning are cold, it is dark; there is no moon tonight. Maybe for summit night? The Sherpas often say a full moon is an auspicious sign. Headlamps show the way but so do the line of climbers ahead of you, and the thin white nylon line; another part of climbing Everest you will get to know.

Soon the conga line comes to a halt. Actually it is just you and Dawa because, Dawa has no patience for slow climbers and he passed each of them pulling you along in his slipstream. While you struggle to breath, you know this is good sign as he will get you to the summit and not let anyone, or anything slow you down.

Looking ahead, the emerging sunlight shows the reason for the sudden stop – a ladder. A ladder? A ladder! Suddenly your mind becomes focused, no more idle thoughts, no more complaining, no more breathing. You are staring a single ladder stretched across a crevasse. In the dawn light, you cannot see how deep it is. Just as well.

Dawa looks at you as you take a second carabiner off your harness. He goes first. Clipping in both ‘biners to the two safety ropes on either side of the ladder he steps onto the first rung, then the second and without so much as a pause he is across standing there staring at you. You can almost hear him in a deep Southern drawl; “OK kid, I showed you how to do it, now get on with it.”

You lean over and grab the safety line, left one first. Clipping in you feel secure. then the right; now more secure. Moving your right boot off the snow your front crampon points touch the first metal rung. A metallic clink provides the feedback. Your left foot follows but goes to the second rung. You are on the ladder. Now it is time to move.

The death grip on the safety line hurts even through your thick gloves. Your right foot inches forward, not too high off the ladder. You make a sudden decision to take it one rung at at time, not two or three like Dawa. Your front points make a successful landing.

You feel good, proud of your baby step but then everything changes. Feeling panic, you sense something is wrong. You stop with your right foot ahead and your left behind. You look ahead at Dawa, then it occurs to you – breath.

Welcome to the Icefall

Climb On!
Alan
Memories are Everything!

From my 2008 climb:

  29 Responses to “Everest 2014: First Steps in the Khumbu Icefall”

  1.  

    This the most real account ever. Really impressive. Am in awe.

    I am a part time trekking enthusiast from New Delhi, India.

    have been trekking sub 5000 mtrs peaks n passes in Himachal, Ladakh region. Everest summit is a dream that i harbour inside. Maybe i can do it or not, never know.

    Khumbu icefall always puts me away especially the ladders as i picture myself falling into a crevasse. Don’t know if its normal. Moreover i got a dozen screws in my leg and plates to support a car accident, so a bit scared what if smethin goes wrong that high..loll

    What preparation do you think i really need and should do. Maybe 2016 i would like to try and attempt it.

    •  

      Thank you Ashem, I always tell people the same thing when asking how to prepare for Everest: gain skills, and experience on many lower mountains, test yourself on an 8000m mountain before Everest, go with a solid guide who has the skill and resources to support you in the experience you desire.

  2.  

    What an amazing account, I held my breath at one point, heart pounding !

  3.  

    Apart from actually finding the funds for an attempt on Everest the one thing that is really really troubling me are the ladders in the Icefall. I’ve been to Kala Pattar & climbed Kili before & feel I could acclimatize at least to Camp 2 (I suppose you never know until you actually try) but the thought of teetering on a rickety ladder peering into the abyss is a hurdle I’m not sure I could overcome. Help somebody!!

    •  

      Peter – I had a similar concern about the ladders, compounded by the total blindness in my right eye and thus no depth perception. So I practiced with my gear, on ladders I set-up in my backyard and it really paid off. Plus the Sherpa are really good at helping you with the techniques as well as keeping the safety ropes taut to assist your balance while you cross the ladders.. Conversely, the technique I failed to practice enough was climbing on rock with my crampons. I somewhat figured it out on the mountain but it was a challenge that wore on me because I was so inefficient. As both these examples point out and in my humble opinion, preparation is the most important aspect in climbing Everest. If you decide not to climb Everest, you might consider a trek to basecamp. I enjoyed that portion as much as anything else during my trip. Good luck with whatever you decide. Namaste!

      •  

        Thanks Doug – practicing back in the UK was something I thought about too. As I said I’ve trekked to Kala Pattar above Base Camp before but the Icefall clearly takes it to a different level.

        Today’s tragic events put my fear of rickety ladders somewhat into perspective. A terrible thing & my thoughts are for the victims’ families.

  4.  

    Gold !!

  5.  

    Superb !!

  6.  

    GRIPPING!!!!!!!

  7.  

    Thanks Darrin, hoping for a good season for all the climbers.

  8.  

    Alan, thanks for the updates. They really are great! I have been wondering if anyone was heading to Annapurna this year. Since you mentioned it, do have a website or link that I might be able to track down. Thanks again and keep up the great work

  9.  

    Thanks for the terrific writing! A true armchair adventure!

  10.  

    Thank you Alan for your posts- you are a very good writer & I feel like I am completely there…. I agree- best blog on Everest- & for those of us who aren’t fortunate enough to get there, your written word is the next best thing! Be safe!

  11.  

    This is the second year I have followed news of Everest summits. I would never do it myself ,( too old) but have admiration for those that do. I want to thank you for the coverage, as you aptly describe the extra dimensions of experience that are attainable in life, this being one, of the extreme variety.

  12.  

    Always amazes me the strength and desire to get to the top. I have a hope of doing the trek to EBC someday.

  13.  

    Walkley and I practiced in my driveway on an aluminum extension ladder! It helped…a little.

  14.  

    There are so many mountains to climb…

  15.  

    Thanks Alicia, you’ll get there. Lot’s of people this year for the first time making memories of a lifetime!

  16.  

    Love reading your blogs Alan. Someday… someday… Keep Breathing!!!!

  17.  

    Love it! Can’t wait to do it!!!!

  18.  

    Thanks Simon, reliving memories!

  19.  

    Loving the journal in the first person, Alan, makes it so real. And the video was a nice touch!

  20.  

    Yikes! I am nervous just reading this!

  21.  

    Loved it!

  22.  

    Goodness, I stopped breathing when I was reading it, let alone attempting the first steps on the icefall. Wow!

  23.  

    Alan, thanks again so much for your complete coverage and insight. Best Everest site on the planet!