The #Everest2018 season continues in an orderly manner. Teams are at base camps on both sides adjusting to their new homes, and the thinner air. The first teams have entered the Icefall on the Nepal side. Soon the Tibet side teams will make the move to Intermediate and then Advanced Base Camp.
Training at Base Camp
It may seem strange to conduct training at Base Camp, and in many ways it is however better safe than run the risk of an accident. While most, with exceptions, Everest climbers have traveled on fixed ropes (Denali), used crampons (Rainer, Mont Blanc), used an ice axe (Vinson), many have not worn their 8000 meter boots, with crampons, and walked across a ladder over a 200 foot crevasse. So rather than experiencing it the first time at 18,500 feet in the Khumbu Icefall, now is the time to get all their systems dialed in. Another area to focus on is their harness. Again, many have worn a harness for rock or ice climbing but few had the semi-complicated setup of a jumar, and a carabiner that both need to be the precise length to support a fall and recovery. None of this is very complex but likewise the techniques should be second nature to each person.
One of the famous features of climbing Everest are the ladders used to cross crevasses. In the Khumbu Icefall, there are usually between 20 and 30 crevasses, but for 2018 there are only three in the Icefall proper and a few more in the Western Cwm – very rare! There might be a couple at the base of the Lhotse Face. One the north side, there are several near crampon point as climbers ascend to the North Col. Most Nepal side climbers will make at least four round trips through the Icefall.
The ladders are not always straight across a crevasse, in fact almost never. They can go down, straight up, be positioned at an angle, anything but horizontal. There can be dual ladders in high traffic areas. Sometimes an up ladder and a down ladder.
Approaching the ladder, you pause for an inspection. How many ladders are lashed together? Not too bad if only one, but three, four or more, it sinks in the middle, it bounces. Watching a Sherpa crossing ahead, you see the wobble – left, right, up, down. It is 3D.
The safety lines are in place so you look at the anchors, the place where they are secured to the ground, or more accurately, the snow or ice. The thin nylon line is tied in a squirrelly knot through a hole in a piece of bent aluminum – a picket. That’s all? Looking across the crevasse you see the rope tied to an ice screw, but in the hot sunlight the hole has melted out and the ice screw bobs freely.
Knowing you have little choice, you approach the ladder as one would approach a live chicken. Carefully, slowly, you move your feet towards the edge. Bending over, you grab the right hand safety line, then with your other hand you press the locking mechanism of your carabiner inwards and clip onto the line. Your ‘biner is tied to your harness with a short piece of nylon webbing. Repeating this procedure, you are now hooked on both safety lines. Your life is now in the hands of the makers of nylon.
Your crampon’s front points jut out from your boot as you focus your eyes on the first rung. The question is whether to put the mid part of your sole on the rung or to gingerly put your front points on one rung and the back of your boot on the trailing rung. The latter runs the risk of being caught when you lean forward, forcing the rung tightly against your crampons. Only a Cirque du Soleil move would allow you to free yourself.
Seeing the Sherpas make this move gives you confidence so you move forward. The right boot settles on the ladder, then your left foot moves quickly in place. You hold onto the ropes with a grip so tight that if you fell, your shoulder would dislocate before your grip would release.
Your hands are slightly behind you to pull the line taught. All of a sudden, the line goes tight from both sides. Teammates have squatted at both ends of the ladder to pull the rope tight making it more of a rail. You appreciate this and return the favor at the next crossing.
One step is followed by the next and then a third. Your eyes focused on the ladder, your boot, your knee – anything other than the seemingly bottomless pit below you. In the middle of the span, you realize you have not taken a breath. At 18,000 feet, this is a big mistake. You pause and take a big breath. Looking up, you see Sherpas, strangers and a black dog looking at you, wondering. You wonder as well.
A few more steps, your foot reaches the snow covered ground. You take another deep breath. Unclipping, you stand up straight, you had been slouching the entire time. Your mother would be unhappy. Looking around you feel good. The dog leaves you behind!
Memories are Everything