Virtual Everest 2020: Climbing the Lhotse Face

The team climbed the Lhotse Face to Camp3 at 23,600-feet. Split into three groups, some were fast, others not so much. And the views were stunning.

Virtual Everest 2020 – Support the Climbing Sherpas is a joint project of Alan Arnette and several global guide companies. Our objective is to entertain Everest fans during the Coronavirus spring closure and raise money to help the Climbing Sherpas who are not working this spring. While there will be accurate historical references, this series is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Please join us by making a donation using the links below plus by adding your Everest experiences in the comment section.

The Lhotse Face

The Mount Everest Guides team sat around the small dining table at Camp 2. They knew what was coming, Guide making the announcement about the climb to C3.

“I hope like Hell, he’s in a good mood.” Old Man muttered. Dutch and Loner had decided that they need between six and eight hours to arrive in what Guide called “Style.”

Bud, Boyfriend, and Old Man thought they would need all that time and more. Bud was still recovering from his URI, Boyfriend had a serious confidence issue, and Old Man, well last year, he took 10 hours to get up there, and he was the last into C2 this rotation. He was worried Guide was out to get him.

“Good dinner, everyone?” Guide made his entrance. He and Dawa had spent the last hour strategizing on how to get all their members to C3. She smiled, “Delicious. Seriously, I like Spam.” Everyone groaned.

Dinner at Base Camp

“OK, here’s the plan. We leave at 3 am tomorrow morning. The weather looks good, but the wind can come out of nowhere on the Face, so be prepared with all the layers you brought. Goggles also. The trick on this climb was to find a pace that you can sustain all day. Don’t start off too fast, but also don’t get into a rut. Climb smart. Be efficient at the breaks. It’ll be crowded, but there are two ropes, one for up and the other for down. Do not climb on the wrong rope. The Sherpas will let you know about it!” By now, he had everyone’s attention.

“We will divide into three sub-teams: Group one for She and Girlfriend, and Loner. Mingma will be with that group. Next are Buddy, Dutch and Snorer. Dawa will lead you. And I’ll be with the third group of Boyfriend, Old Man, and Bud. We’ll have extra Sherpas who can bring you back down if there’s a problem.” Guide had split the group by their speed and style.

Both Buddies and Couple began to ask about being split up. “I don’t like this at all. Let’s all go together and let it evolve naturally.” Buddy began. “I agree,” Girlfriend chimed in.

“I understand your concern and splitting you up, but this is the best way for each of you to get the support you need. I believe everyone can make it. I’ve set a time limit of 9 hours, plenty of time to get there. This was not so much about speed but about acclimatization. It will do no one any good to arrive exhausted. Finally, we will have a couple of bottles of Os if someone really needs it.”

Taking it all in, everyone felt it was a good plan and appreciated the positive spin from Guide, the extra support, and the availability of oxygen if needed. 

“Speaking for myself only, I like it.” Old Man said, looking at Guide and Dawa.

Sitting in her tent at Camp 2, 21,500 feet; She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. Her headlamp betrayed her cold breath at 3:00 am. Today She climbs the Lhotse Face. She was both anxious and excited, understanding the objective and the pressure to perform well. She noted that Guide had put her in the first team, a vote of confidence in her strength.

The morning routine was annoyingly familiar. It took ten times longer than when She was back home to put on her boots. Breakfast was simple – toast, egg, hot cereal, and coffee. The Sherpa cooks had been up since 1:00 am heating water, so She ate with gratitude.

Sitting silently in the dining tent, Dutch cursed the tiny golf chairs for their instability, but then he considered where he was and was happy to have anything to sit on. Taking the last sip of coffee, he turned on his headlamp.

Stepping out of the tent, Boyfriend kneeled down to put on his crampons but then looked up. The moon was lighting up the ‘Face’; it looked huge. Squinting he looked for Camp 3, maybe he saw it, probably not. Finishing his crampon work, he took another deep breath. Girlfriend doing the same procedure next to him turned her head, her headlamp now lighting up his Face. “You’ll do fine. Slow and easy, Remember to breathe. Use all the techniques we know – pressure breathing, rest step, all the footwork steps – French, sidestep, you know them.”

Icy Lhotse Face

The walk to the base of the Lhotse Face was familiar; they did it on their first rotation for exercise. But that was in the daylight; now they walked in the dark; it seemed to go on forever. Snorer didn’t remember the elevation gain and found himself breathing hard, going too fast.

Approaching the base, he glanced at his watch; that took an hour, a bit quicker than last time. He looked up, all he could see was snow and ice. Bending over, he clipped his carabiner and jumar onto the white nylon rope – his lifeline. With his ice axe in his other hand, he began.

The first section seemed steep, but She had read all about the Lhotse Face, so this was not a surprise. It was steep, seriously steep; not quite what She was expecting. “OK, it should ease shortly,” – She tried to convince herself. At least that was how it looked from Camp 2.

Now two hours in, her mind wandered. She heard the voices of those back home when they found out that She was going to Everest. The negative voices: “Why, is She crazy, glory er, rich spoiled brat, peak bagger, selfish, …”

The naysayers were loud, especially at her work. No-one said anything to her Face. But She heard them and knew what some people said about those who climb Everest. She fought to keep the voices from growing into doubts. She knew why She was there, and who believed in her. But, critically, She believed in herself.

Glancing up from his feet, Old Man could see the Lhotse Face up close. The ice was hard, translucent, blue. He stared at his crampon front points. “Damn, I wish they were sharper,” he mumbled out loud. The wind picked up, blowing a bit on snow in his face. Actually, he didn’t mind; it took his mind off the pain he was starting to feel in his calves.

Looking around, Buddy saw a few of his teammates. He felt good that Bud was just behind him. Even though they had split into teams, they moved as one large group, for now. 
Lhotse Face

The Sherpas seemed like they were everywhere. Loner was on the up rope. There was another rope to his left, the down rope. They seem to go on forever, disappearing into the white snowscape above him. He was careful not to put his weight on the rope, that was not the purpose. They were there to stop a fall, not to get him up the hill. “Climb with your legs,” Loner heard Guide in his head.

“Namaste,” he heard a Sherpa behind him; actually, there were five. All with heaving packs, oxygen bottles strapped to both sides. He stepped to his right to let them go by. He was amazed at their speed and strength. 

These moments were like a high altitude ballet.

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

Wanting to pass another climber, She makes eye contact with him. No words were spoken; only a nod was exchanged. She unclipped her ‘biner while keeping the jumar attached. She reached around him to clip the ‘biner back onto the rope ahead of him. He stood still not wanting to make any movement that might throw both of them off balance. She took a few small steps around him and reached back to unclip the jumar. Now successfully past, She reattached the jumar and continued climbing higher. 

Once again, focused on her own climb, She saw the boot path ahead, steps kicked into the hard ice. She was grateful for the traffic on the Lhotse Face that created small buckets in the ice where she could plant her feet. Somehow the steps provide a placebo that it will be easy to reach Camp 3 at 23,600-feet. The steps were few and far between, loose and soft, unreliable today; maybe they would be different on the summit push with more traffic over the weeks. More steps, more clips. The fixed rope was attached to the earth every few hundred feet. Each anchor required a series of actions. She was glad to have spent the extra money on good gloves.

Her down jacket had felt good, but now, with the sun rising over the summit of Lhotse, She began to think about layers as she took a drink of water and a gulp of Honey Stinger chews.

The three groups had spread the team out. As expected, the last group was struggling. Guide called out, “We’re doing well. Let’s keep this pace. Only a few more hours.” Old Man looked at Bud and winked. He forced a small grin back.

Suddenly she saw tents ahead that appeared out of nowhere. The climb thus far had been a series of steep sections followed by a short flat spot – a cruel trick. But the tents were a welcome sight.

However, there were three Camp 3s! Another cruel trick. The Face was too steep to put the tents for all the teams in one spot. Mount Everest Guides’ camp was at the highest level. The irony was that this was both good news and bad news. During this rotation, everyone would curse the extra climbing time, but on the summit push, they would have an advantage of making the distance to the South Col a bit shorter. Also, they would sleep tonight higher than anyone else, another mixed bag.

Passing by tents, She saw fellow climbers in their tents. Smiling at them as they took her picture, but also she was envious that they were resting; their climb over for today. Jealously fueled her steps higher. She focused on her 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, a high bump in the ice came into focus. If She were home where She trained, She would pass this in a matter of minutes, maybe seconds. But at 23,600 feet, She stopped and stared at the obstacle. Breathing heavily, She mustered whatever was left in her fuel tank and took a few more steps. Higher, slower; the climb was taking a toll on her body. She glanced over her shoulder at Girlfriend and Loner, who were close behind. “Almost there?” She asked Mingma bringing up the rear. “Yes, Didi, close. Bistari, bistari.”

Moving on, She no longer looked anywhere but at her feet interrupted by a short glance at the next anchor. Her style was zombiesque.

Lhotse Face 2008

A familiar voice called out. It was a Sherpa from her team. He waved at her with enthusiasm to come towards his yellow tent. She stepped carefully through a maze of lines that secured the tents to the mountainside. Slowly, She moved towards him, having no real choice but to move slowly. She was knackered.

Finally reaching her tent, She collapsed in a down-covered heap. Careful with her crampons, She finally looked up to see where She was. Her breathing continued to be heavy. Now, She had the hundred-yard stare. A bit of water helped begin her recovery.

Slowly She began to come around. Her mind thought like She was texting on her phone with a simple OMG. It was justified. The scene before her defied words. OMG. Slowly her eyes traced the perimeter: Nuptse to her left, The Western Cwm front and center, Everest to the right.

Was She really there? Again She scanned the view. Now, She saw Pumori. It looked tiny compared to how it dominates the view at Base Camp. But she was more than a mile higher, looking down on the summits of mere 20,000-foot peaks.

View from Camp 3 on Lhotse Face

On the horizon, She spotted Cho Oyu, the world’s 6th highest peak. She recognized the flat summit plateau. “Maybe that will be next.” She said to Loner. He seemed lost in the moment and didn’t respond.

They were pleased with how quickly they recovered after more water and food. Her breathing had slowed, and her heart rate was steady. She was back in control.

Sitting on the snow-covered Lhotse Face, it sank in that She was climbing Everest, well Lhotse technically. She glanced over her right shoulder and saw the massive shoulder of the world’s highest mountain.

Taking in a deep, deep breath and let it out slowly, She leaned on her pack. The rest of the team was getting closer. She glanced at the timer on her watch, 6 hours and 57 minutes, and smiled.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

Climbing Sherpa Support

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2 thoughts on “Virtual Everest 2020: Climbing the Lhotse Face

  1. Hello Alan
    Warm Greetings from Nepal !!!
    You have been writing and posting informative and useful articles about worldwide climbing and expedition. We hope adventure travelers get more information and idea through your blog site. We have seen your knowledgeable blogs on Linkedin. We wish you good luck and looking forward to another articles.

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