We have our first 8000-meter summits of the season, on Annapurna. On Everest, all continues to go smoothly as teams move higher on both sides.
Teams on both sides are sleeping at camps above base camp. Weather continues to be good but expected to take a dive on Tuesday night with some snow, but nothing they can’t handle. Reports of China Telecom being down and bit slow on the Tibet side but up and running now. EverestLink still seems slower than in previous years.
Look for the news to be light while teams are at high camps. In Nepal, most have little to no ability to post updates while above EBC. A few will have sat phones to call loved ones – very smart! NCELL mobile phone doesn’t work above EBC. On the Tibet side I’ve received cell phone calls from the 2nd Step from users of China Mobile.
Seven Summits Treks put 32 people on the summit of Annapurna today. They have specialized in mass-market climbing over the past few years, with large teams, previously unheard of, on many peaks including Everest and K2. It’s the standard business model of high-volume at low-prices compared to low-volume-high prices. Yes, the market is changing.
What is interesting about this model is that is heavily supported by Sherpas just like on many commercial Everest expeditions. In previous years on a peak such as Annapurna, there might have been a couple of climbers in support but most would have been professional or semi-professional climbers who fixed the route, broke trail, set up high camps themselves.
All this shows is that with more support even some of the world’s toughest peaks can become accessible to passionate non-professional climbers. And I think that’s good because it opens many hills to more people. And it encourage the professional climbers to do what they do best, seek new peaks or open new routes on the big ones.
Today on Annapurna there were 17 Sherpas in support of 15 members. The members included: French/Swiss/Canadian Sophie Lavaud – her 9th 8000er, Turkish climber, and friend, Tunc Findik got his 11th 8000er. Also on the summits was Canadian Don Bowie, who stayed behind as Ueli Stock made his solo summit a few years ago and the first Norwegian to summit Annapurna, Haakon Aasvang. Other nationalities included climbers from Japan, Malaysia, Russia, China and South Korea. See the 7 Summits Treks post for all the names.
Of the Sherpas, Nirmal Purja Purja Purja, who is trying to climb all 14 of the 8000ers in 7 months, was part of the team and lead the rope fixing to the summit. They included: Mingma Gyabu Sherpa, Nga Tashi Sherpa, Pasang Dawa Sherpa (Solukhumbu), Gelje Sherpa (Icefall Dr.) and Halung Dorchi Sherpa. With Nirmal Purja Purja Purja’ summit, his 7 month clock begins today. Congrats to all!
There have now been 298 summits of Annapurna I, the world’s 10th highest peak.
Good progress for teams acclimatizing. Some are now sleeping at Camp 2 (6533m/21,434ft). Mountain Professionals posted on their site a nice overview for the Icefall conditions. Overall in good shape, similar to last year and significantly better than in year’s past when there were upwards of 20 ladders!
Observations on the route to Camp One this year from Ryan Waters; The icefall is in relatively good shape this season, the route is efficient and direct with very few ladders, which makes things move along pretty smoothly. It is almost an identical route as last season, with many of the same features still in place, but seemingly lower and rounded as opposed to huge jagged seracs to navigate. There is only one moderately challenging vertical ladder section near the last hour of the icefall towards climbers left, just before you want to make efficient time rounding the left hand side of the route. So far this has been the only ladder section to produce any bottlenecks but they have been very minor since the first very large wave of Sherpas all got there at the same time. With teams spreading out, it is now moving pretty smoothly here, the Mtn Pros team descended this morning from C1 and there was not a single person at this ladder section.
As usual the For Rangers blog makes for an entertaining read as the boys are still in EBC but are ready to get going. An excerpt:
I pour myself a coffee from a flask and watch this maniac intently. “Our Indian neighbours haven’t breached the defences,” he exclaims suddenly. I suspect he is referring to the Indian Army expedition who neighbour our camp. Pete is convinced they are planning covert operations to use our long drop late at night, but seeing as our pit latrine involves balancing on a wobbly rock, and they have a plush sit-down loo, I find this theory unlikely.
Several teams slept last night at the infamous Interim Camp around 19,000- feet. This is not a comfortable place but necessary so as to acclimatize slowly and properly before getting to ABC a couple thousand feet higher.
A beautiful sunset picture from a friend on that side tonight. By the way he told he that China Telecom was very, very slow. He said it took 5 hours to send a video under 10MB using WhatsApp. Not sure what kind of battery he has! 🙂
How do you go from Everest Base Camp in Nepal to Chinese Base Camp in Tibet? Scott Woolums showed us as he and his client acclimatized in the Khumbu then travelled to Tibet for their North side attempt. Talk about along way to cover a few miles as the crow flies!!!
The Western Cwm on the South
The trek between Camp 1 and Camp 2 in the Western Cwm is part of the route that cannot be avoided, but about halfway through you begin dreaming of helicopters!
You went to bed in your -20 sleeping bag shaking in the cold. Your T-shirt was soaking wet with sweat and made your bare stomach feel like a slippery eel. Yea, someone told you to put your wet clothes against your bare skin to dry it out overnight while you slept. They said if you left out in the tent it would freeze. Now you are thinking this was a good April’s fools joke. You pull the shirt out of your previously warm and dry base layer top and kick it to the bottom of your bag with your socked feet. You give it an extra push for no good reason.
What a difference a couple of hours makes! All day long it was miserably hot. A few periods of respite when a cloud would block the penetrating rays from the sun as the Western Cwm went from bake to broil on the oven control panel. As soon as the sun went down, it was back to what you thought it should be – a three yak night. Damn, where is that dog?
A Long Night
Morning came none too early. This was your first night at this altitude and you did the crocodile roll all night long. You went through your entire Spotify download collection, including the ones a few friends added as a joke. Not funny at 4:00 am in pitch black, watching your breath create a monsoon layer of rain forest moisture on the tent roof. It was not a fun night … and you have many more of these as each time at a new altitude, you have to pay the price.
The plan is to get up at sunrise, dress, drink coffee or tea (with sugar sugar sugar) maybe some porridge, gear up and then off to Camp 1. How bad can this be? The morning is perfectly clear, no wind. The weather forecast calls for the same all day. You have an energy in your step that feels good. You are eager to get to Camp 2 at the base of the Lhotse Face. It’s only 500-meters/1,500-feet higher and you were told about 3 km or 1.75 miles. How bad could this be?
Your team and Sherpas gather outside the tents. Camp will remain in place for now as the Sherpas have already set up Camp 2 with more tents. Also there, is a large tent for cooking and dining. That’s what they call it Advance Base Camp, ABC. It has similar facilities like base camp but is a bit more primitive. Everyone is in a good mood, the trash talk starts with laughs and smiles. Everyone is happy to be out of the Icefall and taking in the amazing views. Everest’s West Shoulder to your left, Lhotse standing guard at the end of the Cwm and Nuptse quietly guarding the right flank.
Its called the Valley of Silence because it, well it’s very quiet. With no wind this morning, all you hear is your own breathing as you begin the short, several hour walk to Camp 2. You see the fixed line and clip in “Never, ever, ever, ever unclip from the rope.” The stern warning and smart advice bounce inside your head.
Only a few minutes outside of C1, the route drops into what you call a crevasse ditch. While it might be a crevasse, it has a solid, visible bottom but you have to descend about 10 meters/30-feet to reach it. This one is no problem as you can kind of stumble down while holding onto the fixed ropes, others you will need to rappel. The bottom is about the same width as the height. You come to the other side. “Hmm, this goes straight up.” A few Sherpas are standing at the top including Dawa. He just looks at you.
You grab the rope and then see some “steps” kicked into the wall. Quietly you give thanks to the thousands of steps that came before you to create a path to the top. It wasn’t so bad as you top out and continue the walk. A few more ditches and one twice as deep comes up. This one has a ladder to get in and out. You feel like a house painter instead of a mountain climber all of a sudden.
The trail flattens and a deep crevasse is next. There is a single ladder you use to cross it, remembering to clip into both safety ropes. You had heard about one crevasse a few years ago that had eight ladders lashed together. A bad version of an Icefall Doctor joke! Even the Sherpas went around that one.
You make steady progress mostly looking at your feet. You pause to swap your carabiner “safety” line across an anchor. Every hundred meters or so, the fixed rope is tied to a snow picket buried deep in the snow. You must unclip your ‘biner and clip back in at each junction. There are many, many of these. You learned how to do this efficiently in the Icefall. Your journey continues.
About 10:00 am the sun begins to rise above Lhotse. “Oh Lhotse, how could you be so mean!” You immediately begin to sweat. The entire group stops to take off a layer. Thankfully you knew enough to bring a lightweight nylon shirt – white – you feel a bit cool at first but as you put your pack back on and begin to walk, you get hot, and hotter and hotter. “Valley of Silence???” It’s the Valley of Furnace!!”
As you lift your head, you squint to locate Camp 2. You’ve been going for two hours now, how bad can it be? All you see is a gentle rise. Head back down. Trudge on. The team stops for a quick water break. Sitting on your pack, a Sherpa train, empty of loads, pass by as smoothly and quickly as Olympic marathon runners. You appreciate the breeze they create in the still air. Looking around, you remember why you are here.
This is one of those moments. Browsing the landscape your eye follows the skyline of the ridges, the individual peaks, the harsh and rugged terrain that defines a mountainside. The dichotomy of beauty and danger. The sky is a clear, almost a transparent blue you’ve never seen. As you look toward Everest you see a high rocky ridge. Is that the South Summit, the Cornice Traverse. You are not sure and will ask Dawa when you can.
“Lets go!” a taskmaster barks.
More trudging. You are now really hot, even hotter than you were when you were hotter. Again you try to spot your destination. Now you see a definite rise off to the left in the distance. “That must be it!” you promise yourself, and trudge on. Now you look up again, sighting your destination beacon you identified a half an hour earlier. You are not any closer. It seems to have moved further away!
You see the heat vapors rising from the snow. Your mind wanders. A vision comes into your now wavering psyche. It’s a scene from Lawrence of Arabia or one of those Race Across the Sahara documentaries where someone dies each day. You trudge on.
“It can’t be far now, but how far is it?” you mumble. One of your teammates replies “Yeah.” And you trudge on.
No more ditches, no more crevasses, you are on flat terrain. So why are you getting out of breath? You stop and put your hands on your knees. You head bows to nature.
You think you see tents! Yellow, green, orange tents! The mirage of Camp 2 is now fully visible. Or is it?
Memories are Everything!