Everest 2013: The Magic of Everest

Lhotse Face Climbers
Lhotse Face Climbers

As Snoopy would say “It was a Dark and Stormy Night”. I’m sure that’s how the climbers on Everest are feeling today.

The jet stream has parked itself on the summit of Everest and is impacting all the camps on both sides. While bearable by a few brave (mostly Sherpa), climbers are stuck in their tents do what they do – wait and see.

It is a tough time up there. The Docs at the medical post, EverestEr provided this update:

It’s about midway through the season, and as lines are being fixed to camp 3 and many climbers are on their second rotation, we are seeing the inevitable effects of extreme altitude on some of our s.  We have seen over 160 s, so far 5 of our s have required helivacs (two Sherpa, two climbers and one trekker.)  We ed one with a serious case of high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), and one with HAPE and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) and HAPE combined.

But this is not stopping some climbers. Min Bahadur Sherchan’s who has the Everest male age record at 76 arrived at Base Camp this week, now at age 81! He is racing Japanese, Yuichiro Miura who at 80 has been acclimatizing for several weeks and is going for the age record. This is food for thought while we watch television and munch on chips tonight!

Climbers are doing what next to summit night is considered the toughest part of a south side Everest climb – the Lhotse Face and a night at Camp 3.

Eric Simonson, IMG, made this comments as his teams move through the Camp 3 rotation:

This is generally regarded by most climbers as one of the toughest day/nights of the trip, with a strenuous climb up the fixed ropes followed by the climbers’ first night at 24,000 feet without supplemental oxygen. It’s all great for acclimatization, but it is a tough couple of days for the climbers. The payoff will come on their next rotation, when they will find that it is a lot easier the second time up there.

 Georgina Miranda climbing with Adventure Global shared her thoughts on climbing the Lhotse Face. She is back at EBC now.

Of course there were moments of pure exhaustion and feeling like I was never going to get to the next milestone, but it was just one foot in front of the other that was going to get me there.  I was reminded how brutally cold this mountain can be and also how it can feel like it is cooking you alive. At each point of discomfort, I always remind myself how fortunate I am to be able to be pursing this dream and why I am doing it. That thought tends to bring an instant calm and focus.

Long time Everest veteran with 14 summits, Dave Hahn, RMI, offered these comments after their rotation to the higher camps:

It is tough to realize just how hard Everest is on the human body until one comes back down to “normal” altitudes like 17,500 ft Basecamp.  The first night of deep sleep convinces you that whatever you thought you were doing for twelve hours a night at 21,300 ft was not actually sleep.  A plate of breakfast that you actually want seconds on makes you think of how easy the mountain would be to climb if you could have had your normal appetite up at ABC. Today the views included jet stream winds raking the upper Lhotse Face, driving snow a thousand feet higher than the mountain itself.

Kenton Cool, with 10 Everest summits, had these thoughts on his climb to tag C3.

Compared to other years the route to 3 is quick and easy, despite being set only a few days ago there are already footsteps in the ice which we could follow. I find climbing the face like being on a step machine with the ever and I relish pushing myself as hard as I can, although thats never easy at 7000m.

Climber Carson Crane with Adventure Consultants shared a short Tweet from Camp 2 simply saying:

I woke up last night and saw that the clouds had cleared and wow…the stars were just stunning. So beautiful.

The Lhotse Face

There is no Easter Bunny, no Santa Claus; the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales are dark and scary and magic is real. Today, everyone on Everest believes in magic.

Sitting in your tent at Camp 2, 21,500 feet; you rub the sleep out of your eyes. Your headlamp betrays your cold breath at 3:00AM. Today you climb the Lhotse Face.

The morning routine is annoyingly familiar. It takes ten times longer than when you were back home to put on your boots. Breakfast is simple – toast, maybe an egg, perhaps hot cereal and coffee. The Sherpa cooks have been up since 1:00AM heating water so you eat with gratitude. But really all you want to do is crawl back in your warm sleeping bag.

Sitting silently in the dining tent, your curse the tiny golf chairs for their instability, but then you consider where you are and are glad to have anything to sit on. Taking the last sip of coffee, you turn on your headlamp.

Stepping out of the tent, you kneel down to put on your crampons but then look up. The moon is lighting up the ‘Face’ it looks huge. Squinting you look for Camp 3, maybe you see it, probably not. Finishing your crampon work, you take another deep breath.

The walk to the base of the Lhotse Face is familiar, you did this a few days ago to get some exercise. But that was in the daylight, now in the dark; it seems to go on forever. You don’t remember the elevation gain and find yourself breathing hard once again. The morning blues…

Approaching the base you glance at your watch, that took an hour. Once again you look up. Now all you see is snow and ice. Bending over you clip your carabiner and jumar onto the white nylon rope – that is your life line. With ice axe in the other hand you begin.

The first section seems steep but you have read all about the Lhotse Face so this is not a surprise. But it is steep, seriously steep; not quite what you were expecting. OK, it should ease shortly – you try to convince yourself. At least that is how it looked from Camp 3.

Icy Lhotse Face
Icy Lhotse Face

Now two hours in, your mind wanders. You hear the voices of those back home when you told them you were going to Everest. The negative surfaces: “why, are you crazy, glory er, rich spoiled brat, peak bagger, selfish, …”

The naysayers were loud, but not to your face. You heard them, you know what some people say about those who climb Everest. You fight to keep the voices from growing into doubts. You know why you are here, who believes in you, your belief in yourself.

Glancing up from your feet, you now see the Lhotse Face up close. The ice is hard, translucent, blue. You stare at your crampon front points. “Damn, I wish they were sharper”, you mumble out loud. The wind picks up blowing a bit on snow in your face. Actually you don’t mind, it takes you away from the dark thoughts.

Looking around you see a few of your teammates. The Sherpas seem like they are everywhere. You are on the up rope. There is another rope to your left, the down rope. They seem to go on forever. You are careful not to put your weight on the rope, that is not the purpose. They are there to stop a fall, not to get you up the hill, but you cheat.

Once again, the voices are loud. But real this time. You step to your right to let a few faster climbers go by. Once again, a high altitude ballet.

You are attached to the line by two thin strips of nylon, webbing. They are attached to a carabiner and a jumar. The jumar has small teeth going in one direction that will catch if you fall in the opposite direction. A golden rule is to always stay attached to the rope.

Lhotse FaceYou make eye contact with the other climber. No words are spoken , perhaps a nod is exchanged. She unclips her ‘biner while keeping the jumar attached. She reaches around you to clip the ‘biner back onto the rope ahead of you. You stand still not wanting to make any movement that might throw both of you off balance.

She takes a few small steps around you and reaches back to unclip the jumar. Successfully past you, the slow obstacle, she reattaches the jumar and climbs higher. You stand, staring, not sure to be impressed or depressed.

Once again focused on your own climb, you see the trail ahead, steps kicked into the hard face. You are grateful now for the traffic on the Lhotse Face. There are small buckets in the ice to plant your feet. Somehow the steps provide a placebo that it will be easy to reach Camp 3, 23,500 feet. The steps are few and far between, loose and soft, unreliable today, maybe they will be different next time up. You are on a steep, slick mountain side that requires constant concentration.

More steps, more clips. The fixed rope is attached to the earth every few hundred feet. Each anchor requires a series of actions. You are glad you spent the extra money for the good gloves.

Camp 3 Lhotse Face
Camp 3 Lhotse Face

Your down jacket has felt good but now with the sun rising over the summit of Lhotse, you begin to think about layers. Great, now you are getting a bit warm. OK, it feels good but not too much warmth. You are never satisfied are you?

As usual the tents ahead appear out of nowhere. The climb thus far has been a series of steep sections followed by a short flat spot – a cruel trick. You took your breaks, ate, drank, you are actually dong well. But the tents are a welcome sight.

Wait, there are three Camp 3s! Another cruel trick. The Face is too steep to put all the tents needed in one spot. Yours is the highest. This irony is good news, bad news. Today you suffer, but on the summit push, you will have an advantage.

Passing other tents, you see fellow climbers in their tents. You smile at them and curse under your breath. Jealously fuels your steps higher. Actually no one is watching you but your vanity runs wild. You stiffen your back, You focus on your form. Step, plant the ice axe, step, move the ‘biner, step, move the jumar, stand up straight, look ahead, smile for the camera!

Passing the last of tents, you now only see a high bump in the ice. If you were home, where you trained, you would pass this is a matter of minutes, maybe seconds. But at 23,600 feet, you stop and stare once again. Breathing heavily, you muster whatever is left and take a few more steps. Higher, slower; the climb is taking a toll on your body. You no longer look anywhere but at your feet interrupted by a short glance at the next anchor. Your style is zombiesque.

A familiar voice calls out your name. A Sherpa from your team. He waves you with enthusiasm towards the yellow tent. Stepping carefully through a maze of lines, you slowly move towards him. You have no choice but to move slowly. You are nakered.

View from Camp 3 on Lhotse Face
View from Camp 3 on Lhotse Face

Finally reaching your tent. You collapse in a down covered heap.The poor goose who made the donation would not be proud. Careful with your crampons, you finally swing around to see where you are. Your breathing continues to be heavy. You have the hundred yard stare. A bit of water helps begin the recovery. Your head bobs.

Slowly you come around. Your mind thinks like you are texting with a simple OMG. It is justified. The scene before you defies words. OMG. Slowly your eyes trace the perimeter: Nuptse to your left, The Western Cwm front and center, Everest to the right.

Are you really there? Again you scan the view. Now you see Pumori. it looks tiny. It dominates your view at Base Camp. What happened – you are more than a mile higher, that’s what happened.

On the horizon you spot Cho Oyu, the world’s 6th highest peak. You recognize the flat summit plateau. Maybe that will be next. You are thinking clearly now, or not.

More water. Your breathing is slow. Your heart is steady. You are in control.

Sitting there on the snow covered Lhotse Face, it sinks in that you are climbing Everest, well Lhotse technically. But you glance over your right shoulder and see the massive shoulder of the world’s highest mountain.

This cannot be real. It must be magic.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

CHo Oyu from Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face
Cho Oyu from Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face


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14 thoughts on “Everest 2013: The Magic of Everest

  1. Jim has said it for all of us. Your wonderful writing takes us right there but without all the discomfort. This last week I have spent a number of very painfull hours at the dentist. Whilst waiting for the extractions (ouch ) I was told to imagine I was at one of my favourite places (no guesses to decide where my mind went ) I tried to imagine the pain and discomfort our valiant adventurers would have to put up with as they trudged to camp 3 and although on this occasion my pain came nowhere near theirs it actually ,for the first time in my life brought tears,What hero’s they are to follow their dreams.The down side for me is that I don’t have a chance to reach the summit. Thanks once more Alan Cheers Kate

  2. Wow, I really enjoy the details, descriptions, and struggles of climbing the Lhotse Face. Amazingly real!
    Thanks, Alan.

  3. Stunning just stunning and spellbinding description!! I can just imagine all your readers like lil kids with a twinkle in their eyes whilst reading this! You are a magician with words Alan 🙂

  4. Incredible description of the climb to C3 !! Really amazing how you make us climb as if we were there. After reading your posts I can feel my energies totally drained out and how this effort is rewarded with one of the most impressive sights in the world 🙂 Thank you Alan!!

  5. Alan I really appreciated the well-writteb update on what is like to climbing up to Camp 3! I really enjoyed It.

  6. Alan, reading your updates is awesome for armchair mountaineers like myself when we can’t actually be out climbing. I need to get you a Guerrilla Tags ID to wear while you’re there. Can you get mail?

  7. Just reiterating what JIm said, the imagery is well done and you do an excellent job of articulating the emotions / effort required to climber Everest. I’ve read everyone one of your posts for years now. Always well done !

  8. I’m amazed at how immersed I get into your vivid description. Write a book, Alan!

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