So last we left we were dodging avalanches heading through the Icefall. Avalanches have become such a a part of everyday life we barely stir when we hear them. Hugo counted 12 around basecamp yesterday as the glaciers surrounding the area continue to fall apart and melt away. Something like 3 billion people depend on Himalayan glaciers for their water supply throughout lower Asia and India..... gonna be interesting in the future where all that water is going to come from.
So our journey through the Icefall went well other than the fact that the first trip was freaking hard. 2 am departure, cold as you can imagine, people who should not be here climbing putting others at risk & 2000 feet of elevation gain in 5-6 hours..... but no avalanches at least around us. At the top of the Icefall is a 40ft high vertical wall of ice that you must scale, straight up, and all that is there to help you are two ropes.
You ascend this section with a jumar (a climbing device which you can slide up a rope and then pull yourself up on...google it) in one hand and your other hand is then free to grab the other rope. Granted there is upper body strength involved....but if you cant use one of these devices, you should not be on this mountain. I waited for a climber to ascend this section in front of me for 20 plus minutes.... all the while I was getting cold and wondering how this person expected to climb this hill. She was being instructed by a personal guide, but to not much avail. You hear stories about incompetence on the mountain, and that was the first time I was nervous about what we would face up high....maybe on the Hillary step.... what if I had to wait there for 30 minutes or an hour or more??
It took me and the sherpas i was with no more than 1 minute to scale this section...... not saying anything about how my skills compare - just stating a fact to put it in perspective. I actually question my skills compared to others up here every day, and many run circles around me. But you start to question how easy it is in this environment for others to put your life at risk.
We arrived at camp one for a night, a somewhat makeshift camp with just a few tents scattered in between avalanche slide paths. A few years back some of the guys with us narrowly escaped a massive avalanche at camp one, to the point where they were running from the debris field and their tents were lost. We spent a bit of time melting snow and ice for water, making some dinner, then trying to sleep. I say trying because of the high winds rattling the tents a good part of the night. I think we had a 5am wake up call to start the trip to camp 2 at about 21,500 feet. A slight “misunderstanding” in terms of sherpa support and Ade and I ended up with 50# backpacks of gear to haul up the Western Cwm. Not the plan. 6 Hours later we stumbled into camp two completely spent. The temps in the Cwm that day ranged from about 10 below zero to about 90 degrees. The heat really takes it out of you, and trying to control your temp requires a lot of effort at the altitude, a lot of putting on and taking off layers.... very much a struggle. The kerosene infused taste that permeated the water and food our cook made at camp two, which is the only other place we have a cook on the mountain other than base camp, made recovery from the extremely hard day even more difficult. Camp 2 was abandoned last year after the earthquake and all that came down from the camp were those that were there - all the tents, gear etc that was there at the time had to be left there. Over the past year, all that gear has become part of the moving glacier the camp sits on and the site is a bit of a mess. There is an agency that was set up however that is monitoring all the groups that use camp 2 this year and is requiring everyone to help and bring down some of the mess from last year.
After a restless couple nights in camp 2, some fairly dodgy food, and of course the cold, we set out for camp 3. I was feeling great and flew up to the base of the Lhotse face and was actually pretty excited to get onto the face - a 1500ft high section of rock hard blue ice that varies from around a 40-70 degree slope. Then as I clipped into the fixed ropes and started up, I immediately ran into a bit of a traffic jam with a couple climbers just sitting on the fixed lines waiting for their guides or sherpas to help them down the slope..... again why are they even on the hill?? I waited for a while, tried to get around them, but too many people - it was just a waiting game. I gave up at that point.... I had gotten to that point so quickly, but was now just sitting, getting cold. I unclipped, turned around, and headed back down the hill for good. It sounds like such a little thing, but there are so many other factors that are at play on a long expedition like this.... so many things that have to go well and so many things that are a challenge. I was frustrated.
I started back down the hill and about a half hour later I ran into another teammate, I had a quick chat with him and then sat down for a few minutes. I looked back up the face, saw camp 3 in the distance and thought I had to at least get there - a high point for me in terms of climbing. I looked and the lines and they had cleared. I caught back up with my friend and a few hours later we made it to camp 3 - 23,500 feet.
The tents at camp 3 are carved into platforms in the 60 degree ice of the Lhotse face in-between huge crevasses. Ours took the sherpas 8 hours of work the day before just to set up 2 small tents - and btw they put them just ten feet above a bottomless crevasse. Very comforting!!!! The view is absolutely amazing from this spot though. I sat out side my tent until the sun went down at almost 7pm and just looked around at the towering peaks below us....and the two most prominent ones still above us - Lhotse and of course Everest. The summit seems so close from here - but it is still 5500 vertical feet away - two of the longest, hardest days of climbing still to go when the weather permits.
Another restless night of sleep, I shared a tent that night with 12 time Everest submitter Nima Sherpa - really nice, very strong climber. He much appreciated the use of my SAT phone to call his wife and 4 kids back home in Kathmandu. He is tired of climbing, as are many sherpas as the climbers get less skilled and the mountain more dangerous. He wants to open a restaurant maybe in the Thamel section of Kathmandu..... I told him we would talk more after the climb:))
I headed back down to camp 2 the next morning, kinda slept for a couple hours then set off for base camp the next day about 7am - before the heat of the day in the Cwm. What should have been a nice walk to base camp this day turned somewhat scary early on in the days decent. One of our groups climbers had not been feeling well and since we woke and met for a quick breakfast you could really tell she was off. As we started hiking down, her and i immediately started to talk about her condition, and she agreed she was feeling very sub par and was not exactly sure why. The beginning of the hike down is a meander around and over the giant crevasses of the Cwm. It did not take long before her condition worsened and it was becoming a struggle for her just to confidently and safely walk down. The next section of the decent was the Khumbu Ice Fall, and as this section approached - what many consider to be
the most dangerous part of the climb, her and I both agreed she would not be able to make it through the Ice Fall. Even though there were 6 of us with her including 4 of the strongest Sherpas on the hill - literally - we would not be able to get her down safely, and we would be putting our lives at risk if we attempted to get her through the Ice Fall. She and I agreed, I grabbed a radio, and began to organize a Helicopter rescue at nearly 20,000 ft.
The effort that goes into such a rescue at such an altitude is immense and requires several people and factors to fall into place. The first thing we had to do was stabilize her condition - we feared she was suffering from some form of sever altitude sickness or possibly HAPE - High altitude pulmonary edema or even worse HACE - High altitude cerebral edema. Both can be deadly within hours if not treated early and properly. Whatever the problem was, we knew it had to be addressed quickly. We got the Doctors from Everest ER on the radio, and they gave us medical instructions - we administered them. An hour later we were stamping out a big “H” in the snow, colored it with the Tang we were drinking.... and as I stood there waving my arms an amazing pilot guided his chopper smoothly and swiftly though some clouds and touched down perfectly without so much as a seconds hesitation right on our makeshift landing pad in between crevasses. We got her on the chopper and we knew she would be ok. More will be made of this in time - Discovery channel crew is in “town” filming and interviewing a documentary about helicopter pilots and rescues this year and they were all over this.
As of this writing - she is is doing fine!!!!! Recovering well, although her climb is in doubt. ALSO, my interpretation of what was wrong with her was only a non professional opinion. She was feeling ill for sure, her and I agreed on that. Her condition was worsening, we also agreed on that, and she needed to get down - we made that happen. Beyond that, I leave judgment of her medical condition to the professionals.
So enough for now, we are back down watching basecamp melt away. I feel ok. I have been climbing well during the day but having a real tough time with cheyenne stokes breathing and insomnia at night - not a great combination. Its very frustrating and unnerving. Have been self administering codeine to sleep a bit at night - not a great solution as that suppresses breathing. May try Benadryl today or the docs gave me ambient. Never took either..... hmmmmm???
Possible summit window aiming for 17-19th. After that, I'm helicoptering down to Kathmandu and heading home. Wish us luck!!!! There will be a lot of folks up there. Thanks for all the kind wishes.... when one or two emails make it to me, it makes me smile to read them. I found a spot on a rock yesterday, raised one leg and put one hand in the air, chanted a bit, twirled around, and got 100 emails to show up on my phone.... BUT.... only was able to download the content of a couple. Just silly. Hope i can get this post out.... internet sucks here - not nearly what it was supposed to be:))))