Newsletter 43 May 2003
To the North Col
After a couple of days of bad weather the whole team grouped up (minus Sue who was feeling sick) and we made an early start on our first push to 7000m. The first stage is about a kilometre hike up the glacial moraine to a point where crampons and harnesses are donned to deal with stage 2 which is another half "k" or so across the glacier. Its not badly crevassed but there are a couple of slots that would ruin your day if you slipped in and so we all carry the necessary gear for extraction. This year the glacier is blue with little snow cover so all the objective risks are fairly obvious.
ABC is at 6450m or so and the head wall of the North Col is approx. 500m of ascent on steep snow and ice to 7060m at Camp 1 on the North Col. The ascent requires a jumar for use as safety on the fixed ropes and this is backed up by a safety karabiner. But the climbing is leg power and an ice axe in one hand for steadying and also in those places were the slope goes to 70 degree ice, the additional purchase of an axe placement is much appreciated.
The route takes a zig zag across the face, trying to avoid the most precipitous of slopes but also trying to stay out of risk from the hanging seracs and ice falls, which are ever present, above our heads. The route is on the northern side of the east facing slope, because this side is less prone to avalanche.
A fast climber will do this route from ABC in a little under 4hrs but the average will take 5hrs plus. All of our group makes it in 4 to 5hrs which is a good sign and good effort for our first real push onto the mountain. This illustrates that the acclimatisation is working nicely.
To the North Col, Camp 2 and pushing above
After several days rest the next stage of pushing up the mountain is to take the team up via the North Col, where we will sleep and then on, next day, to Camp 2 which means the long and sole destroying one and half kilometre (500m vertical) thrash up the North Ridge to a sight perched at the end of the snow slope under the rocks just below the yellow band at 7500m. This bigger exercise means a load carry of personal high altitude kit such as down suits, heavy fleeces etc. as well as carrying enough food for three days on the mountain.
Selecting the food itself from the range we have in camp is down to personal preference. Those with perhaps less high altitude experience and expecting to be as hungry as horses don't seem to heed the input from others who have been there before who recommended bland food and not very great quantities. Rather focus on soups and teas and isotonics with lots of high calorie snacks and maybe a very bland evening meal such as beans and rice. The hungry horses take lovely stews and exotic tilda rices. Tony and Trynt take rice and beans, pringles and cheese snacks and lots of soup, tea and "Gu" isotonics.
Progress is a little slower than last time up to the North Col because of the bigger packs and loads but all declare that they feel stronger on reaching Camp 1.
A chilly night is inevitable but all are ok in the morning and although most had restless nights due to mild altitude related issues all are ready to go for Camp 2 up the ridge. The day starts out a beautiful if very cold sunny day and as the ridge opens out and the long slog of many thousands of steps progresses the view 2000 ft down into the East Rongbuk valley and to ABC on the left is spectacular but totally blown away by the view to the right of Pumori, Lingtren, Khumbste and many others overlooking the ominous north face of Mount Everest at the head of the Rongbuk valley.
By the time the last of the team gets into C2 the pretty blue skies have gone white out and heavy snow is falling in a strong westerly. The warmth of the afternoon sun has turned the snow under foot to sugar and the going is really hard work.
But all make it in to camp 2 in 5 to 7hrs or so which is no record but perfectly acceptable at this stage in the conditions. Everyone is very tired but the immediate task is get a brew on - dehydration is a killer at this altitude and we're all probably some 5% or so down inspite of having lugged and drunk at least 2 litres each.
Nobody has a particularly good night but all are ok. The wind strength has been creeping up overnight and we wake in the morning to approx. 20 or 30 mph winds on the camp but more to the point just round the corner on the route up to Camp 3 which we had intended to explore the wind speed on the more westerly exposed rock is of the order of 40 mph plus. The wind chill associated is pretty tough.
Herman, Tony, Matt and Gernot decide to give it a go for as far as we can push, whilst Trynt, Zeddy and Chung decide to descend to C1. We make approx. 7650m or 7700m - difficult to be precise. The route to C3 is light rock climbing and scrambling on mixed ground but the wind makes it very arduous. We are satisfied with our investigative work, the route is in good condition and familiar at least to Tony who covered the ground in 2000.
The descent is uneventful and fast using an arm wrap on the fixed ropes. Everyone is back in ABC without incident though Gernot takes a lengthy snooze in C1 on the way back and has us fluttering for an hour or so until we welcome him back into the warm mess tent for a brew later in the afternoon.
Descent from ABC to BC
This last push was the primary facet of our acclimatisation and the next step is to get back to BC for some rest and better food and sleep. Living at ABC at 6500m is debilatating just doing nothing. Everyday is in deficit so we have to go down. After a couple of days rest at ABC we head down taking circa. 7hrs to cover the descent that took us two days to ascend a few weeks ago.
Most stop at Interim for lunch en-route, Tony nails it on "gu" and "carbo" bars in 5 1/2hrs without stopping.
Base Camp again.
We got into camp around the 27th April and the effect of better sleep and improved appetites is immediate. Although most of the team has, by now, picked up some form of respiratory problem from the traditional dry hacking cough of abused trachia and bronchili to more serious lung issues requiring antibiotic courses. The team medics are immediately busy. Already on adjacent teams there have been cas-evac's for HAPE (high altitude pulmonary oedma), a chap with TIA (some sort of transient mild heart attacks (he had four in one day and figured it was probably a sign!)) and various others in various states of disrepair. On the south side we hear of two deaths (its as well to be informed it keeps everything in persepective.)
Base Camp routine is a cup of tea in the tent around 7 and then breakfast at 8 (eggs, beans and potatoes is our favourite). Most rest and read etc. a few of us have tasks etc. Trynt turns her hand to sorting out some domestic stuff, whilst Tony repairs the gas burners which we use for a few hours in the evening to warm to the mess tent. TK also spends a day resolving the comms. probs. which means you are now getting this info and folk can telephone and email their loved ones, turf accountants and tax men etc.
What's happening up high - the route to 8200m
Today 3/5, Purba our climbing sirdar returned with his team and confirms that they have already been up to high camp at 8200 and put the basic infrastructure in for C4 at that altitude and for C3 below it at 7900m. There is still at lot of work to do up high and this will require coordination with other teams. We are doing a lot of our high atlitude route work with the Swiss Team. Things are looking good and generally we are ahead of programme.
The weather and its impact.
The reason we are ahead of programme is the weather. The whole season is early by several weeks. It has been unseasonably warm in BC and ABC for the least few weeks. This has been a blessing for living conditions for the team but also has allowed us access and route making on the mountain a few weeks early than normal. Unfortunately in just the last two days high winds have been forecast on the mountain and also down to BC and they have arrived with a vengence. The forecast is for 140kph winds on the mountain and we're getting our fair share of that down in the valley. Everyone has weighted their tents and equipment down with rocks and the sandy and rocky nature of BC means we're living in a permanent sand storm 24hrs a day. There is dust in everything from your cup of tea to the soup. From your hair to your navel and other places. Its in your tent, your sleeping bag, your tooth paste and your sun cream.
Well that's pretty much it up to date.
Its 16:12hrs (Nepali time - we run the expedition on Nepali time rather than Tibetan because the daylight suits us better).
On 3rd May, 2003
Base Camp, North Side Mount Everest
Correspondent: Tony Kelly