Newsletter 57 May 2003
Pinned down in Base Camp
A couple of weeks ago, with the season running early, we harboured notions of a week's R&R in BC and then back up for an early summit attempt. 100mph winds on the mountain, 70mph winds at ABC and 50mph winds in BC for the last week, have dashed those hopes and worse caused serious damage to our infrastructure on the mountain.
We've been stuck in BC for an extra week now and it looks like we won't get out until earliest next monday (12th may).
BC has suffered minor damage with a few ripped tents, several blown out zips and lots of tent zips badly damaged by the 24hr barrage of dust and sand as the 50mph moraine sand storm grinds down everything including our nerves, blasting its way relentlessly down the Rongbuk Valley.
A huge low, down around the Bay of Benga,l is probably responsible, pulling the jet stream south and out of its natural equilibrium. As it struggles to re-establish itself, it is screaming back northwards with enough force to have devastated ABC on the South Side with more than 20 tents smashed in the Western Cwm. It then accelerates up, over and down Mount Everest, to cause carnage on the North Side.
At ABC we have lost the communications tent (equipment recovered thank goodness), most of the mess tent is destroyed and several personal tents have been shredded.
At the North Col, the location of our tents was perhaps the best of any expedition in that location. The end result is that although we have suffered damage we are hopeful we've not lost much pesonal kit and only few empty tents have been catapulted down the head wall of the Col, and we hope to find debris on the neve at the head of the glacier.
As far as we know, C2 has been totally destroyed. Through the telescope shattered tents and sleeping bags were seen streaming away in 100mph + winds. We are hoping that the oxygen cache is largely intact since this is critical - almost everything else can be replaced. Our expectation of C3 is the same - total devastation.
The duration of this windstorm is probably a 1 in 10 year occurrence and certainly, many of the more experienced expeditioners cannot remember winds like this ever (although Russell recalls 100mph winds in BC for a week many years ago, but then he's been here more than most). Whilst this is a serious set back, we are fortunate to be with what is, almost certainly, the best supported and best managed, fully resourced expedition on the mountain. Russell runs a, 'creme de la creme' operation and the view, at the moment, subject to a final damage assessment, is that we have the resources in man power and additional assets to rebuild and recover. Many other expeditions have been totally wiped out and have no resources to mount a recovery exercise. We see them leave each day. It must be heart breaking for them, but no doubt with the spirit that drives climbers to pursue the ultimate altitude goal, they will be back.
Today (weds. 7th) is expected to be the last day of significant wind and our team will go up, over the next few days, to commence rebuild.
Sue got caught in the big winds at ABC. She had been running a few days behind the rest of the team in her push to C1 and C2 due to illness. She was successful in moving up to C1 at 7066m and then on to C2 at 7500m but, on returning to ABC, and before being able to descend to BC, the winds came with avengence. Sue burned a lot of energy along with the skeleton team at ABC in helping to secure the camp, as the winds hit, but in spite of their efforts, there was still considerable damage. Sue is now down with us at BC getting some much needed rest.
Everyones physiological condition is benefitting immensely from the time at BC, although the wind and constant sand storm is fraying nerves a little. Now, given the extra time we've been here, we need to think about muscle condition and tomorrow we'll probably make a short push up to 5800m or even 6000m plus, to help ourselves stay in shape.
A few nights ago, we had a high altitude disco to celebrate the birthday of a chap in an adjacent expedition. Probably the highest dance party in the world. Everybody using their head torches like techno lighting and one of the guys doing the house DJ job. Breathless but heady fun stuff. Probably good fitness training as well! Also, yesterday evening, we celebrated Tony Kelly's 48th birthday (his second birthday at BC on Mount Everest). A gentle soiree at the Himex camp with a 3inch deep apple pie and chocolate sauce from Korbadu, the cook, was trashed into oblivion when Russ produced a couple of bottles of the Famous Grouse and the necessary materials for Irish Coffee, including the whipped cream (that must have been what I meant by Russ running a 'creme de la creme' operation). The evening was filled with tall stories of climbing in god forsaken spots.
The good side to all this wind, is that on the upper reaches of the mountain, the rock has been scoured of snow. The upper 1500m are looking particularly black and bare and, provided it stays that way, it should serve us well in our attempt.
We are optimistic, in good health and raring to go.
Base Camp, Mount Everest
7th May, 2003