Everest Expedition #37 May 2016
It was with trepidation that many of us came back to Everest Base Camp this year after the last two disastrous years. I see many who have persevered and have decided to return, with their own feelings and emotions, but I feel with a tear just below the surface. Of course we have quietly endured two devastating anniversaries with each team doing its own thing on those days. Might I add that the Sherpa calendar is different than a Western calendar, so in fact even our anniversary days are already different.
Everest from BC
I daresay the first really noticeable thing we have noticed this year, was how dry and warm it is. We started to notice this even in Kathmandu where there was intense pollution, partly caused by the many forest fires in the foothills of Nepal. But as we trekked towards the mountains we saw that the lower slopes were very dry, and that upper slopes were dirty and fluted with runnels in the snow. When our team climbed Lobuche Peak for acclimatisation we found that there was running water off the ice cliffs at the summit 6,119m. We have never experienced this in the past. But this all makes sense to me now. For those of you who have been following our news over the last year, you will well know that we experience a sudden snow loss on the upper slopes of K2, and then we experienced waist deep snow on Broad Peak and then the same conditions on Manaslu. I am not an expert in weather or global warming, however what I suspect has happened to the general Himalaya this last year, is that there has been a 2 – 3 degree temperature rise, which means that the average freezing level has risen to a much higher altitude. On the lower slopes this has meant that the already thin snow cover has disappeared in many places, and that the lower glaciers have now become very dirty with dust and moraine dust. The upper slopes have started to transform which would explain the deep sugar snow. So as we trekked into BC we saw rather sad looking mountains. I even heard that there were two ladders on the glacier leading to Island Peak, the 6,000m trekking peak nearby Everest.
Many people have made comment about the Khumbu Icefall leading the way to the Western Cwm on Everest. Some say that it is more dangerous after the earthquakes, but this I do not believe. The earthquakes might have made the glacier more unstable, but just for a short time, as the glacier is moving all the time, so it would have settled back to its normal flow within a few weeks. The SPCC tell me that they used about 25 ladders in the lower section of the Icefall. There was on 4 section horizontal ladder and another 5 section vertical ladder between BC and C1. However the route from C2 to C2 has become quite complex with many new, and large crevasses appearing. This means that the walking route zig zags between the crevasses many more times than in the past. From photos that I have obtained, taken from a helicopter flying in the Western Cwm I see that the glacier between C1 and C2 has been sinking even deeper into the valley. Again I am no glaciologist, but I predict that the lower Icefall will become easier in the future, and that the icefall will eventually grow between C1 and C2 and that we will have more difficulties finding a route in this area in the future.
In the past few years we have always gone directly from BC to C2. We have been able to do this because we have camped on the summit of Lobuche peak, so our members are well acclimatised, and are also fit from this excursion. But this year we elected to stay at C1 and then go to C2 the following day. Even our C2 cook went and stayed on top of Lobuche. However I have noticed an increase of Nepal staff from other teams who have had to return down to BC after being at C2, and I suspect that this is because many of these people went directly from BC to C2 in one push, so have arrived at C2 quite exhausted, and this has not helped with acclimatisation. We have been fortunate that all our members and staff have been fine during this second stage of acclimatisation for our group.
During the time that our members were acclimatising on Lobuche, I was busy preparing loads for a helicopter to take the rope fixing material to C1. Well that is part of my excuse for not writing newsletters at that time !!!!
The SPCC controls the rope fixing through the Icefall, however we as expedition operators deal with the rope fixing on the upper mountain. Each Everest climber pays $600 to the SPCC for the Icefall and each Everest climber pays $200 to EOA for the upper mountain fixing, and Lhotse climbers pay $150. In 2014 all expedition only paid 50% of this fee, which was enough to cover the cost of rope, ice screws, karabiners and the like. As the rope was not fixed it did not cover any of the actual labour involved with fixing. In 2015 just a very small handful of companies had paid this fee before the season was abandoned. So again this year all teams need to pay the full fee. In the meanwhile the rope (all 10,000m of it) has been carried back down to my store in Gorak Shep in 2014. Then it was carried back up to BC in 2015, just to be again retuned to Gorak Shep, so this is now well travelled rope. However this year, after six years of lobbying to the authorities, we eventually got permission to fly this rope and equipment up to C1. And we were able to do this directly from Gorak Shep, so this saved yet another carry to BC. This involved eight helicopter flights, and saved 87 porter loads that would otherwise have to be carried through the Icefall. We as operators were very pleased to at last have received this permission, and of course the majority of Sherpas were also very happy. But this was not easy and took three weeks of hard work by the EOA officials in Ktm. It also meant three trips from BC and return for me personally as the method of transport changed. First we packed the loads to be put inside the helicopter, then we received notice that we would carry the loads by long line under the helicopter, so then they needed to be repacked. And then of course another trip to Gorak to actually fly the loads. That was a very happy day for many. (But of course again my excuse for not writing) I daresay those that were blogging were not actually helping.
Of course our members were only in BC for a few days, before they went up to C1 and the C2, but during that time we managed to fit in an interesting hat party.
Looking at the weather forecasts we saw that there was a chance that maybe we could actually do just one rotation to C2, up to C3 and back, and then maybe then go for the summit, but sadly this was not to be. There are various reasons why this did not happen, but mainly because there was a lack of interest from many teams to help with rope fixing, but also because of a small snow fall. However our team did go to C3 (7,400m) where they spent a night before returning to C2, and then back to BC. There are a couple of points to note here. We mountaineers are a bit like framers, we are always complaining about the weather and conditions: too warm / too cold : not enough snow / too much snow : too calm / too windy. But this year we knew that the Lhotse Face was quite icy and that we needed some more snow to help reduce the warm temperatures as well as put some snow on the slopes to make it easier underfoot. Well the snow did come, then we start complaining that there is too much avalanche danger and that the snow is too deep. In any case this did slow progress for a couple of days.
But the other problem that we are now experiencing is that there is a rapid proliferation of small Nepal operators who come with little experience but also without enough Sherpas support to be able to offer help in the communal work of rope fixing. They only have enough experience to be able to carry the loads that are required for their own members. So when we have rope fixing meetings at BC, and we ask for volunteers from each team, we see that the bigger, more well organised Foreign operators are keen to offer staff, but we are often experience blank looks from our Nepal friends. When we ask for donations of rescue equipment for various parts of the route, the Foreign operators are all ready to offer assistance, but again our small Nepal companies offer absolutely nothing. For many of these Nepal Sirdar’s it is the first time that they have heard about the rope fixing. They actually understand very little about what is actually happening, and you cannot blame them, because their managers of these companies in Kathmandu have not explained anything about this system to them. So it is very unfair to blame them directly. But at the same time we see that many of the Nepal company managers do not even bother to turn up to the EOA meetings in Kathmandu, so how can they then explain what the majority of companies are trying to achieve.
From summit of Lobuche
The end result is that Phurba and me from Himex, Zangbu and Greg from IMG, Mingma from Asian Trekking spend much of our time walking around BC trying to establish just which team is able to help on the hill. It takes about 1 hour to walk from one end of camp to the other, and when you have to visit 8 – 10 teams along the way, this is very time consuming, as at each camp this normally means having a cup of tea. So not only can I tell you who can help the most on the hill, I can also tell you who makes the best cup of tea. Another reason as to why I have not been writing these past days, that’s because I have been busy peeing !!!
I was going to write more, however I just received yet another radio call asking why todays rope fixing did not happen. I now need to go and visit camps, drink tea, and pee, and see if we can resolve this situation for tomorrow.
Note all phots credit to Jacob Ottink.