The week started with heavy snow in the Western Cwm including a meter, three feet, near Camp 1. This stopped most teams from moving up or down but proved to be a temporary halt as strong Sherpas and ambitious climbers broke trail on Tuesday thus allowing movement to resume.
Mid week saw a steady flow of climbers returning from Camps 1 and 2 to Everest Base Camp on the South. An equal number seemed to climb up to the same Camps thus creating a lot of traffic in the Khumbu Icefall.
The Icefall is generally regarded as ‘easier’ this year with few long ladders and a straight forward route. RMI did report one collapse but it did not interfere with progress.
Sunday brought a few moments for the teams. David Tait with Himex writes up in a dramatic fashion being hit by ice in the Icefall. He has a heavily brused calf but is OK overall and is back at Base Camp.
The team leaders on the South gathered and agreed on a plan to fix the route above Camp 2. Over 15 Sherpas took on the task from nine different teams. The Sherpas made excellent progress to fix two lines, and up and a down rope, to the lower of the two Camp 3’s mid way up the Lhotse Face before running into a deep crevasse. It was reported that one Sherpa was hit by falling ice but his injury was not reported as serious. They took today, Sunday, off to rest.
On the Tibet side of Everest, the majority of teams were at Advanced Base Camp and made a valiant effort to touch the North Col. But only a few strong Sherpas made that objective as strong winds and harsh cold continually beat most everyone back. Most everyone is back at the Chinese Base Camp.
The Tibetans from the Lhasa Climbing School made good progress in setting the fixed line towards the summit and reached 8300 meters somewhere around Camp 3, well above the North Col and a testament of their strength.
Update: Report issued by Moro of a fight Friday between Ueli Steck, Simone Moro and the Sherpa fixing rope on the Lhotse Face. Translation . It appears both sides became upset as they felt there was interference with one another during the rope fixing work. While it is serious if in fact blows were exchanged, I would not get too upset by this as it is easy for egos and tempers to get out of control in these compressed environments.
A Sherpa was reported to have been hurt by “falling ice” on Friday but it is not clear this was related to this incident. However, it is now pretty clear that the Sherpas taking a “rest day” day is related to the incident. Hopefully everyone has calmed down and can get back to climbing.
The Big Picture
May 1st marks the halfway point for a spring Everest expedition. The Icefall is not longer maintained with ladders after June 1 due to warming temperatures and melting ice. Climbers may go a bit longer on the North until the monsoons begin stopping all activity.
By this time in most seasons, many teams will have competed their rotations to at least Camp 2 and many already spent the preferred night at Camp 3 on the South. On the North, the same progress but having touched or slept at the North Col or higher.
The weather drives the activity and looks good for the next few days at least. For 2013, most teams are close to their schedule.
Look for climbers to continue their rotations this week with many spending the night at Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face and the North Col.
The Oxygen Debate
Probably the most often asked question of anyone who climbed Everest is “Did you summit?” A close second is “Did you use Oxygen.”
To keep this discussion in context, supplemental oxygen has been used on Everest since the early expeditions in the 1920s, was used by Sir Edmond Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on the first summit and is used by well over 98% of climbers today.
For many years, it was unclear if humans could survive above 8000m without some type of breathing assistance. Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler quieted that discussion with their summit on May 8, 1978 sans Os.
For 2013, there are several climbers attempting the summit without extra Os, for example Carlos Pauner, Ivan Vallejo, and professional climbers Ueli Steck, Simone Moro, Denis Urubko, and Alexey Bolotov. But almost every climber on a commercial expedition is using oxygen.
Studies have shown it makes about a 1,000 meter difference in how the body feels. In other words at 29,000 feet, the body feels like it is at 26,000; still extreme altitude by any definition for the human body. Oxygen allows climbers to climb faster but the primary benefit is it keeps the body warm, especially fingers and toes thus reducing the risk of frostbite.
The largest risk is that if a climber runs out or has a mechanical failure of the regulator or mask on the summit push, their body is not acclimatize to those altitudes and could easily suffer from cerebral or pulmonary edemas very quickly.
Performance enhancing drugs have recently been in the news mostly around professional cycling. Some people consider the use of supplemental oxygen to be in this category. In a perfect world, climbing without any aid would be the most pure style. But this is not realistic for most climbers except the physically gifted who often are professional climbers.
Of the roughly 4,000 summits around 142 people have made it without supplemental oxygen, according to sources including research. That consist of 35 Sherpas and 117 Western climbers. Of those, no Sherpa died but there were 10 deaths of the Westerners.
The key to climbing at altitude is based on adjusting the body to the reduced level of oxygen. This is what the teams are currently going through with their rotations to the high camps that force the body to react physiology.
Long time Everest expedition Doctor, Monica Piris with Alpenglow made this comment on their team’s approach to acclimatization. Of note, their owner Adrian Balinger told me his members would climb on Os up to 4lpm.
So…acclimatization…What does it mean? Why does everyone do it so differently? Who does it right? Why does one schedule work wonders for some and offer little help to others? Why do some of us feel so terrible at certain altitudes whilst others feel fine?
Well, the answers to these questions are not written in stone, and in many cases, they are not really known. The “science” of acclimatization is still in many respects, a mystery. Try as we might to decipher all the changes that take place when the body is exposed to high altitude, and what they mean, and what symptoms they correlate to; there are still many unanswered questions. Nonetheless, in short, acclimatization refers to the short term physiological adaptation of the body to high altitude: and the reason we need to adapt to high altitude is because the barometric pressure drops such that the amount of oxygen available to us in each breath we take, is dramatically reduced….and we all know that oxygen is essential to our survival. It is important to differentiate acclimatization from adaptation to high altitude. Adaptation to high altitude occurs over generations in populations who inhabit the high altitude regions of the world. Adaptation to high altitude is what makes the Sherpa so much stronger than us in this world of thin air and high peaks. However, although the Sherpa people have adapted to high altitude, they still need to acclimatize each time they commence a new season of climbing. They still need to acclimatize to the extreme altitudes of the high camps and the summits. They suffer altitude sickness if they don’t acclimatize, and there are Sherpa, who, for whatever reason, are also poor acclimatizers…despite their genetic adaptation to the environment.
Most people coming to climb a high Himalayan peak have some notion about altitude sickness, and acclimatization. The one thing that everybody seems to know is that the body produces more red blood cells in order to be able to transport more oxygen…but this is only one of the many processes that go on in the body in order to allow us to survive in the low pressure environment of high altitude. I know a few more of them; in fact, I wrote an essay about them when I was studying for my Diploma in Mountain Medicine, but unfortunately, since then I have spent too much time at high altitude and the recurrent exposure to hypoxia has made too many little holes in my grey matter which makes accessing all of that knowledge an unattainable task. I can name a few of these changes without going into any deep explanations. Some occur over the first few hours, such as increased rate and depth of breathing and increased heart rate. Some occur over hours to days, such as a change in the pH of the blood to enhance oxygen delivery to the tissues, and stimulation of EPO production: and some take place over days to weeks such as the production of those oh-so-valuable red blood cells and the increase in numbers of mitochondria in muscle cells.
The complexity of acclimatization is immense, and the practical difficulties of studying these processes limit our progression of understanding it completely. What we do know is that if you don’t acclimatize well, or enough, or if you don’t use supplementary oxygen, you will feel awful, become incredibly unwell and even possibly develop a potentially fatal illness and die. Everyone is susceptible to this, even a “good-acclimatizer” can develop HAPE or HACE if he or she goes to altitude too fast without taking the necessary steps. Similarly, “bad-acclimatizers” may reach a degree of acclimatization if they take their time and ascend slowly. I’m somewhere in the middle as far as efficiency acclimatizing goes, and as I have been to high altitude many many times (although not extreme altitude and never above 7000m) I know exactly what to expect of my body….I know the horrendous headache, numbing nausea, and lethargic lassitude of altitude far too well!! But even on an individual basis other factors can influence how well you acclimatize, any intercurrent illness will decrease your ability to acclimatize and make the process slower.
And first time Everest climber Bob Kerr with Adventure peaks offered these comments in his latest post. He has enough oxygen to climb at 2 lpm with an occasional uptick in difficult areas.:
My personal reasons for using supplementary oxygen are it increases the probability of success (perhaps up to 30% chance) but more importantly it will keep me better oxygenated which will help with quicker travel, better decision making, less chance of high altitude pulmonary oedema, less chance of high altitude cerebral oedema, less chance of frostbite and more chance of returning safely from this adventure. The downside is that I will have more weight to carry on summit day but perhaps that will be offset by some of the body mass that I have already lost on this trip.
A research team from the UK, Extreme Everest 2 is wrapping up an extensive study of Everest climbers and trekkers and how their bodies react to the reduced level of oxygen,
As noted Sherpas use oxygen on the summit push just like Westerners but start at the South Col whereas most Westerns begin at Camp 3 or 23,500 feet.
Memories are Everything