Everest 2013: A Tale of Two Mountains

Fixing the Rope of the Lhotse Face
Fixing the Rope on the Lhotse Face

With the weather holding on Friday, click teams made progress on the South with climbs to Camp 2. They are positioning themselves while waiting for the fixed lines to be set to Camp 3.

Camp 3, at 23,500’/7200m is half way up the Lhotse Face and serves as the last camp most climbers use in their acclimatization rotations. They normally sleep there for one night without using supplemental oxygen. As I was once told, it is your ticket to try for the summit.

Issues on the Lhotse Face

The ten Sherpas fixing the line on the Lhotse Face met with some unexpected issues. The Sherpas are from multiple teams including Adventure Consultants,  Alpine Ascents, Astrek, Himex, IMG, Jagged Globe, Miura, Seven Summit, and perennial non-Sherpa :),  Damian Benegas.

Garrett Madison, Alpine Ascents, gave us this this note today:

Currently our route fixing team is working on putting in the fixed ropes from the base of the Lhotse Face up to Camp 3.  However, today they encountered a set back when they encountered a long horizontal crevasse just below the lower Camp 3.  Hopefully tomorrow they will find a way around it.  If not, they will most likely have to use the direct route from the base of the Lhotse Face up to Camp 3, which last year was exposed to significant rock fall, but this year should be better protected given the snow above in place to catch any falling rocks from Lhotse.

Felipe along with Damian Benegas noted on the Patagonia Brothers Facebook account that 300 meters of rope up was fixed before hitting the obstacle

The Cost of Fixed Lines

Billi Bierling with Himex, posted an update on behalf of the Himex team. In it she discusses an agreement amongst the commercial guide companies on how much to pay the Sherpas to carry the fixed ropes and anchors from Base Camp to the High Camps plus the charge for each climber to use the fixed rope. These costs are not included in the permit fees and are different from the fees included in the permit for the Icefall Doctors who only set the line to Camp 2. It remains to been seen how the cost flows to each individual climber:

On 18th April, IMG hosted the first official rope fixing meeting and for the first time ever salaries for the various legs were established. For example, a Sherpa carrying a load from base camp to C2 receives US$ 30; from C2 to C3 they get 40 US$ and so on – if they are carrying from C4 to the summit, they will earn US$ 400 for one load.

Also new this year is that the Nepal Ministry or Tourism has finally recognised the Expedition Operators Association (EOA) as an official body. This has been a long-term initiative from Russell on behalf of the foreign operators working in Nepal to ensure that all members financially contribute to the rope fixing. The price per climber for Everest has been set at US$ 230; for Lhotse it is US$ 150.

Phil Crampton, Altitude Junkies, commented on the rope fixing on the North:

The good news is that we witnessed the Tibetan Guides fixing ropes to the high camp at 8,300-meters yesterday. Our Sherpas have over 100 bottles of oxygen already at the North Col so after a few days rest they will start to ferry the necessary oxygen to camp two and three respectively. We are very pleased to state the fact that all of our Sherpas use oxygen for load carrying above 7,000-meters and we think we are one of the few companies that give their Sherpa staff members the same amount of oxygen as the western team members.

In recent years, the fee on the North has increased and is now $400 per climbed charged by the Tibetans from the Lhasa Climbing School. They set the lines from near ABC to the summit. (this is an update from the original post)

 Two Sides of the Same Mountain

Scott Woolums, Mountain Trip, observed the conditions in the Western Cwm;

It is crazy hot here in Camp 1 today!  We went for a hike up towards camp 2 today. Conditions are quite interesting, as we have lots of powder avalanche activity off Nuptse and the west ridge. Tomorrow, we hope to move up to  Camp 2 for a few days, but we’ll see how things go…

Phil Crampton, Altitude Junkies, commented on a tough day on the North. They made a carry and rotation climb towards the North col:

Yesterday, our team members made their first foray up the North Col. The weather started out fine but halfway up the Col the winds picked up and near the top of the Col, the winds were unmanageable. Most of the team members made the wise decision to descend just 100-meters below the Col to avoid any cold injuries. The Sherpas and I carried onto the Col and we rewarded with being blown off our feet after depositing our loads at our campsite. All is well with all the team members and Sherpas.

Edita Nichols’ home team made this post about her effort to reach the North Col:

Edita called this morning right after getting back from their climb up to the North Cole. It was very hard to make her out as the wind was blowing hard and or the connection was not good. I did understand her say it was a tough go and they had to turn back as the wind was “brutal” and it was very cold. Her words were it was “dangerous”.

The Western Cwm

Looking at a map, the Western Cwm appears to be a nice break from the relentless altitude gain that comes with climbing the Icefall or Lhotse Face, much less the Southeast Ridge above the Balcony. Thus it is a bit of a surprise when climbers actually begin the walk from Camp 1 to Camp 2.

Everest Western CW
Everest Western Cwm

Sitting crossed legged in your tent at Camp 1, you feel good. Today is the short walk to Camp 2 across the Western Cwm. You have read stories about being hot but right now, you are cold, very cold sitting on the snow in the shade of Lhotse Peak.

Leaving at 6:00AM with crampons, harness, several layers including sunglasses, hat and gloves, you take your place with your teammates clipped onto the fixed rope. It starts where it left off as you arrived at C1 located at 19,500 feet, 5943m.

Looking ahead, all you see is more snow, white, endless snow that gently rises into a blurred horizon. Looking to your left, Everest’s West Shoulder stands guard; to the right is Nuptse, behind looms the pointy top of Pumori and ahead, the tip top of Lhotse. You are surrounded by Himalayan giants.

Slowly the conga line begins. One step at a time. Each climber begins the numbing process of climbing at altitude. Find the rhythm. Find your pace. Keep up but don’t rush, don’t lag. It is a ballet with no music. There is no choreographer. You climb alone.

A few minutes outside of Camp, the terrain rises. Hey, this is supposed to be flat gaining only 1,500 feet. It is less than 2 miles, you could crawl this at home. But now you are breathing, breathing hard. Here we go again. The morning blues.

Everyone said you must leave early to avoid the heat of the day. But where is it? Your fingers tingle, you wiggle your toes for the billionth time.

The pace is slow, you are crawling but don’t complain. You hear voices. Sherpas coming down from Camp 2. Their packs are empty. The left Base Camp at 4:00AM and are now headed back down. You do the math. Impossible. No human can climb that fast. Enough said, as you return to your own private domain.

The route weaves back and forth. No straight line as the map showed. The crevasses are ever-present. This year, there is only one ladder spanning a deep ice trap. With your experience in the Icefall, this is nothing and you move over it quickly.

Cresting the rise just out of Camp 1 the expanse of the Western Cwm opens before your eyes. You stop in your tracks. Your jaw drops at the sight before you.

Without thought, your eyes trace the West Ridge towards the summit of Everest. The morning sun highlights the peak with a soft orange you have never seen. The contrast between the orange and the white is meaningful. Winds. High winds are punishing the summit. A long white plume streams to the East. You look but do not see. Your mind goes to summit night, if you make it, and pray for better conditions.

Keep going. Without warning you feel something warm on your back. The gentle breeze you cursed earlier has stopped. The cold begins to re. Your head feels warm, your fingers stopped tingling long ago. Your toes are happy.

Everest Alpineglow
Everest Alpineglow

More steps towards an unseen destination and then you declare defeat. Too many layers. You know you should have started out a bit chilly, climbing 101, but you were cold so on with the down jacket, the extra wool top. Damn those layers, you are burning up.

A mid Cwm strip tease ensues with everyone following the same script. Packs are all over the snow. Climbers are sitting on them. Some take off crampons to remove a bottom wind layer. Hmm, good lessons for future adjustments. You can’t take your crampons off on Everest.

Now with minimum protection you move again. This feels better. The wind returns and you are cold. Damn. All you can say is Damn. You move on. A drop of sweat develops on your eyebrows. The junction between your sunglasses and your hairy eyebrow is all of a sudden a heat furnace. Damn. The wet drop rolls lower pulled by gravity. You don’t bother to wipe it away.

It has been two hours. The terrain seems flat but it seems hard. This place is confusing. Where is Camp 2? Then you see a speck. Why are the tents in the next camp always a speck? A yellow dot on white snow.

You look up at the sun through your polarized, very expensive sunglasses. You squint. It is like a scene out of an old western movie where the sweaty cowboy on the back of a sweaty horse looks at the bright sun while lost in the middle of a hot, sweaty desert. You are hallucinating.

Feeling good that you are almost there you relax a bit. You have made peace with the sweat drops. The wind is welcome as it cools you down. Finally you feel like you are getting the hang of this thing.

Knowing camp is only half an hour away, you pick up your pace, but then the Himalayan Gods say, “not so fast.” The angle picks backs up. Hey, this is steep. Not like stairs but bad enough. You slow to a crawl. Four Sherpas pass you adding to your confidence crisis.

Now you are in full on drudge mode. One step at a time. Your pack is heavy, but it really has almost nothing in it. Your legs are tired. Your lungs hurt. Why am I doing this? Will somebody please tell me? The angle increases. Now you can see tents, lots of tents. They are pitched on rock. What happened to the snow?

A gully marks Camp 2. Tents are lined up anywhere and everywhere ing a spot off the glacier proper. Rocks. Just what you wanted now. Rocks. Your crampons scrape each one twisting, turning adding insult to injury.

Looking for your team’s camp, all you see are signs for other expeditions. There must be hundreds up here.

Where is yours? With your head down, posture that would make your mother upset, you move higher. Your pace is abysmal. Your breathe like you have never been to this altitude. OK, you haven’t. But you thought you would do better.

The tent! Your Camp! My tent!

All of a sudden everything is better.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

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11 thoughts on “Everest 2013: A Tale of Two Mountains

  1. Alan, this was beautiful. I am completely transported and I don’t want to come back 🙂

  2. Vitaliy, Denis has gone to 7500m to acclimatize and is now back in the Khumbu resting before their summit push, still no word on their route. Everest permits costs $70K for a 7 person team.

  3. It really is an ordeal climbing from Camp 1 to Camp 2 in the Western Cwm , Thanks for the info on how the various teams pay the Sherpas who do the fixing the ropes up the mountain ! I really enjoy reading your reports about this years climb ! Thanks again,Alan ! Climb Upward on Onward !

  4. I agree with Peter above, brilliant. I was engrossed in the tedious but important information about the rope responsibility and the payment involved when I was suddenly thrown into a journey and what a journey. I felt every drop of sweat rolling down my face and the wet hair sticking to my neck. Suddenly I was shivering and my toes went dead. Frustration suddenly came to a head when I realised the sun was beating down again and I couldn’t take off my top layer because I was stupid not to have taken off my crampons. The steady plod was really getting to me when I saw my tent and I really felt my whole body relax. Golly Alan I was there ! After all that I truely need to go to bed for a rest. Cheers Kate

  5. Have you heard anything about how Denis Urubko is doing (with a partner)? I heard they are working on establishing a new route, but have not heard many updates…
    Also, how much is a permit to climb Everest for some independent group?

  6. Exactly how it is! Nicely done Alan. It’s the insanity of extreme cold to extreme hot with a mix of paralyzing slowness and vertigo from the surrounding high peaks.

  7. Brilliant Alan! I’ve never read a description of the climb up through the Western Cwm quite like this one – if I ever tackle this beast your site will be my textbook! Thank you.

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