Life in the Western Cwm

Climbers continue to spend time in the contradictory environment of the Western Cwm on Everest’s South Col route. One minute they are freezing; another stripping off clothes trying to cool down but not so much to risk severe sunburn. Many teams climb to camp 1 at the top of the Icefall and then take a day hike to camp 2 to get the red blood cells working. This is their first introduction to the Cwm – a welsh word for valley.

Adventure Consultants described their day this way:

Our alpine hike today took us almost to the base of Camp 2 (6350m), s and with the sun, layers were being shed in rapid succession. Several ladders called for acts of minor grace and provided access across crevasses and up short steep walls. By noon we were back at C1 sunning ourselves and eating Tuesday Tuna Quesadilla’s thanks to our Sherpa cooks Zangbu and Kaji. Very good to, grilled cheese being comfy food and all.

This valley is surrounded by Everest’s West shoulder to the North, Lhotse to the East and Nuptse to the South. It is the gatekeeper for the traditional route to the South Col. Once called the Valley of Silence by first climbers, it is a 2.5 mile long valley carved out by the Khumbu Glacier which starts at the base of Lhotse Peak.

This week we will read many reports of climbers experiencing the incredible extremes in the Cwm. They are not exaggerating when they say it can go from 100F to below freezing in a matter of minutes. The sun reflects off the ice and snow laden west shoulder of Everest to the north and the flanks of Nuptse to the south. When a cloud layer masks the hyper bright sun light, the true nature of climbing at 20,000′ becomes apparent.

However, it is not only the heat but also the lack of wind that makes this section miserable. With a few thousand feet of solid rock walls surrounding the Cwm on three sides, there is almost no wind at the ground level. So as you walk in layers of clothing designed for snow, wind and cold protection – in the heat of the day – and the sun comes out … well, let’s just say I hope you remembered your sunscreen.

Alpine Ascents (AAI) described it this way from today:

Unbeknownst to most people, the Western Cwm is one of the hottest places on earth due to the surrounding snow covered walls acting as a solar oven heating the Cwm. Vern is fabled to have taken a video of a black plastic bag melting on the snow near Camp 1. We are assuming that the team is so tired from the hike and plumped up from their meal that they have forgotten to give us folks down here at base camp an evening radio call. They did check in earlier today after finishing their hike to let us know they were safely back in camp and taking it easy for the remainder of the day.

To demonstrate the difference between the north and south sides, Summit Climb describes their time at ABC as

We came up from interim camp a couple of days ago. The route was just beautiful. There was snow high up on the pass at about 6000 metres/19,700 feet. We’ve had sunny days and snowy, blustery evenings. It’s probably about 0 to -5 degrees Celsius outside right now.

OK, everything is going well. No reports of Icefall route issues or serious weather delays. Hot and cold, snowy and windy, mild and calm – Everest is business as usual.

Climb on!

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3 thoughts on “Life in the Western Cwm

  1. very, very unusual hot this year. And big E looks very dry. On the 19 th before sunrise in the morning a very big avalanche down from Nuptse, the dust even hit Bc. Hope, that all climbers stay safe!

  2. Like most of Europe at the moment. But the scenery at the Cwm is probably a lot nicer …….

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