Newsletter 612 May 2003
Stir Crazy but Gearing Up
Base Camp - 12th May - 13:08 Nepali Time (reminder: our whole expedition runs on Nepali time because the daylight hours work best for us (this is true of most expeditions).
We've been in BC now for about 3 weeks and although this is supposed to be the spot for R&R the cracks are beginning to show. Although we're all pretty tolerant folk and we have a common objective in mind we're all very different folk and have different ways and reactions to pressure. Eventually, living in close quarters results in friction developing around personal habits and traits and occassionally getting on each others nerves. Some people worry about the mountain, our progress, what's happening, what's the weather, what if this, what if that and others just chill out. Fortunately, we are not short of space for people to get away from it all. The patience game is part of climbing big mountains and particularly this one, where we're only looking for a few clear days in the whole 2 months of the expedition.
The wind damage described in the last dispatch has added to the mental and emotional stress the team is wrestling with and we're still not entirley clear what personal gear has been lost and won't know in detail until we get back up to ABC. We do know that C1 (the North Col) suffered less damage than reported but it is still feared that one of the tents lost did contain half the team's high altitude gear. C2 was totally destroyed and wiped off the face of the mountain with the loss of some oxygen bottles from the cache at that level. They were swept off the mountain and exploded as they hit the glacier 3000ft or more below along with a shower of spare tents, sleeping bags, cooking sets, mats and a bunch of tea bags and cuppa soups!
Russell and the Sherpa team have been on the case now for several days. They rebuilt IBC en route to ABC. ABC is now in pretty good shape but will get completed when the team gets up there. The Sherpas are now working on the upper camps as I write. Although I hope we can continue with the email dispatches from ABC its by no means certain yet and also how reliable comms will be. We have intercamp VHF comms. back and radio links with climbers but the satellite phones and laptops are a secondary priority.
The climbing teams primary responsibility, at this time, is to recover from the rigours of our time spent at ABC and the higher camps and get ready for the push when the call comes with the break in the weather. The last few weeks has been enough time to stop weight loss deterioration, although no one is putting weight on. Most have lost around 10 to 15 pounds at least. Cracked lips and dry split finger ends, as a result of the extreme conditions up high, are healing up and the wind burn is calming down. The balancing act is resting and yet needing to keep muscles in condition, but recognising that we are a bit like batteries with finite power resource. If we burn power now, to keep in condition, its not available later for "the push". But if we're not in condition the push will fail.
For handling all these personal body management issues, it helps to have a good working knowledge of the human body. In fact it's essential to keep the fragile mechanism performing at its optimum in an environment in which it was not designed to operate. Some in the team are better than others with this self awareness and it shows in sickness, response, apetite, etc. But sometimes we just forget about the stress the body is under, particularly in the relaxed surroundings of BC. For example, just this morning, whilst we were doing a team photo for the website, after I'd been kneeling in front of the group for 3 or 4 minutes I stood up slightly too quickly to move a camera. Almost instantaneously resulting in hypoxia, total loss of vision and slumping back to the floor. Much to the amusement of the team. Everything is operating at the margin.
Hydration is one of those body management issues which is important in BC but a life issue up high. Working hard on the mountain for several hours between camps would ideally need a litre of fluid every hour. But we can only carry 2 litres. So we're dehyrated for much of the time (melting and getting fluid into our bodies is a primary camp activity on the hill and consumes hours and hours of tent time). A few % points of dehyrdration will result in a 10 times multiple drop off in physical performance.
Which brings me to pee bottles. All of us typically carry 3 one litre bottles. 2 for drinking fluid and 1 for peeing (and you'd better not make an indentifiication mistake in the middle of the night!). The average adult has about a 450ml bladder and that means the pee bottle can deal with two sessions in a night. This is not so important in BC but at C1 and above there's no great desire to get geared up at 3 in the morning and step out into what could be -30degs. Of course the other issue with the pee bottle, up high, is you have to sleep with it since lugging 1 kilo of frozen urine up the hill is nobody's idea of load carrying.
Its a glorious day today with little wind in BC although one glance north, up the valley, reminds us that the top of the mountain would be inhospitable. Minus 40 to 50 deg.C and 45 to 50 knot winds are not climber friendly conditions. Korbadu woke us as regular as clockwork at 7am with sherpa tea. Its probably the one feature of camp life we'd all like to take home. Some folk are taking the opportunity (grab em when you can on this hill) of a windless, relatively warm day to wash socks and underwear that are now 3 weeks plus old and complete with attendant aromas. Others have decided that the key source of the pong is themselves and so a stand up bath in a washing up bowl is called for. Actually personal hygene is pretty important since sickness can soon rip through the team. We have a fresh bucket of disinfected water outside the mess tent everyday to keep grubby paws out of each others food.
In the mess tent its almost inevitable that the main topic of conversation is the mountain. But just recently Tony & Trynt mounted a drive to enforce a cultural evening were the mountain was banned as a topic. We put on some Vivaldi and talked about art, architecture and travelling. Gernot (our resident physicist) set us some mathematical brain teasers.
But if its not the mountain we're talking about then its the weather. We have access to US weather data consolidated and interpreted by a Swiss meteo organisation and supplemented by data from the Met. office in UK. Also we get sight of the Chinese military forecast from their expedition. All of which shows a slight clearance in the high altitude winds towards the end of the week, with a possible window opening shortly there after. I cannot be specific about dates since we know that other teams are trying to gain access to our knowledge and we know they check our website. The Himex/Russell Brice reputation is so good that other teams will stake their bid based on our movements. The end result, if everyone moved on the same day, there would be too many people on the route.
But I can say the good news is we are scheduling to head up to ABC on Weds 14th. But there is still a lot to do to get ready to move when we get to ABC. Assuming we can get satellite comms. up at ABC then the next dispatch will be from there.
Everest Base Camp