Everest 2008 has had more surprises than a Dick Cheney bird hunt. We have had several successful round trips through the Icefall plus several nights at Camp 1 and 2. Now are ready for the key climb to Camp 3 for a night.
Then the summit!
I am finding the climbing on Everest quite different than on my previous trips.
It is difficult to determine how many climbers are at Base Camp. My estimate is that there are more Sherpas and staff than climbers. I counted about 300 individual sleeping tents and would estimate there are 500 climbers including Sherpas. Only a few teams made the shift from the north. I understand there are 41 teams on 31 permits. Some teams are tiny (one climber) and some are ridiculously huge (50 climbers) but most are in the 8 to 15 range.
I am glad our team is smaller. We are getting along well and everyone is healthy and ready to get on with the climbing. We have been at or above 17,500’ for over 30 days at this point and are feeling quite acclimatized to this altitude. We are eating well but most of us have lost 10 lbs – not that bad really.
April was quite mild but May has brought the usual late afternoon snows. I am amazed at how melted out the entire area is. There are small streams running through BC which are getting wider and faster by the day. It is more like late May conditions of 2003. With each day the temperature is warmer and the days are longer as we approach summer ... and the monsoons.
The Icefall is fun. Incredible ice sculptures are all around and some of the large ice blocks are a deep, deep translucent blue indicating century’s old ice. There are only a few tall seracs but we still move quickly as we pass underneath them.
The Icefall is easier on the lower sections but a little harder up high. It feels longer this year but our climb times are getting faster with each trip. There are fewer ladders than before and the ones near the top of the Icefall are quite complicated. The longest one is five ladders lashed together and goes straight up. This creates traffic jams and we have had to wait up to 20 minutes to get our shot. On the return trip we mostly rappel the 50 or so feet thus bypassing the crowds down climbing the ladders. More fun!
Camp 1’s location is slightly south from previous years due to an avalanche off Everest’s West shoulder two years ago. Large rocks are still on the Western Cwm serving as a stark reminder of what can happen. Our first night at Camp 1 was difficult. The wind gusted to over 50 mph and was blowing the tents all around. At times we could feel the floor of the tent rise up. Al and I got through the night and were ready for the calm of dawn.
Speaking of avalanches, the entire area is alive with movement. There is a snow or rock avalanche every few hours around BC and there have been several notable avalanches on the Icefall route. Mostly we feel the air blast and are not in any danger but it makes you pay attention nonetheless.
The trip from Camp 1 to Camp 2 was easier than I remembered. The temperatures were moderate and we made it in less than two hours. Camp 2 is still on a rocky section nestled next to the West Shoulder of Everest. The wind sounds like a freight train passing by as it rips through the jagged ridge of the South Summit. It never stops.
BC and C2 are mostly on rock than on ice this year. The Khumbu Glacier seems more broken up and is rippled like a bad carpet. Tents are constantly being adjusted since the ice is melting thus exposing sharp rocks which are perfectly positioned to poke us in the back in the middle of the night.
Our next climb is to the uncomfortable Camp 3 at 23,500’ on the Lhotse face. This stop will complete our acclimatization process and we will be ready to go for the summit as soon as a weather window materializes. It is interesting that the Sherpas estimate that only half the climbers will do this night at C3. I can understand since it takes a lot out of you to climb to the 7000m camp but the upside it the body creates more red blood cells and is less dependent on supplemental oxygen should a problem develop on the summit bid. Anyway neither is right or wrong just a different approach to climbing Everest.
I am in the best health I have ever been in on an 8000m climb. Maybe all that training has paid off! I feel strong with no cough or those little annoying health issues. My mind is focused and positive. A look around at Nuptse, The Icefall, Pumori or Everest itself brings me back to reason I am here. While my passion is alpine mountaineering and I am in my element way up here, this is about more than climbing.
Once again I will ask for you to consider giving a donation to The Cure Alzheimer’s Fund – that is why I am here. I am very short of my goal and need your help. Everest is the last climb on this journey and there are only a few weeks left. You can always give later but it would be nice to finish with a bang.
Remember, Memories are Everything