NEWSLETTERS - Everest Expedition 2003

Newsletter 716 May 2003

BC to ABC, Get set, Go!

On the 14th the whole team moved out of BC headed for Interim Camp. We had an improving weather forecast for several days hence and Russell's view of the data interpreted by the Swiss Meteo was that now was the time to move to ABC to be in position as the weather window opens. Everyone is in good shape after our time at BC and the start up the hill produced a definite spring in the step as we all felt this was where the rubber (the vibram soles in our cases) hit the road.

Although there was some evidence of the physcological stress in the team members when during the first few kilometres of the hike up the East Rongbuk Valley Tony read the latest weather hot off the email that morning and a possible interpretation was that the window was a day early. The debate was heated and although the bulk of the team headed for Interim on the original schedule Gernot decided to plough straight through to ABC in one day. Its again indicative of the general tension that this temporary team split caused friction amongst us which was not fully resolved for a couple of days.

Its inevitable as the expedition comes to boiling point so tempers become a little frayed. As Russell reminds us: stay calm, relax but remain alert to the objective and above all be patient. However we still all feel like coiled springs!

Apart from Gernot, who got to ABC around 7pm on the evening of the 14th to no real advantage, the rest of the team got in during the morning of the 15th and all moving well at a steady pace and feeling good. Sue had us all on the floor when, after complaining that her sack was a little heavy, she found some rocks in the bottom that she'd collected whilst prospecting for fossils at BC. On arrival at ABC we were all blown away by the superb job Russell and the Sherpa team had done in rebuilding the carnage after the storm.

Nearly all the equipment is now in place at 7100m, 7500m, 7900m and 8300m and what isn't will be over the next week. However there is still some rope to fix on the route above 8300m. This activity is being coordinated between our Himex team, the Swiss team, IMG and the Chinese. Other teams have been asked to help but no assistance is forthcoming. It's an interesting observation that these other teams criticise the commercial expeditions like ours as not being purist but these other teams come to the mountain without sufficient rope, equipment and infrastructure to climb the mountain and rely on the big expeditions like ours to ensure the route is installed etc. Many of them also rely on us for medical cover and if things go wrong for the infrastructure needed to mount a rescue.

Its still a little windy at ABC and also up on the mountain but the forecast is for a window to open up between the 20th and 27th May and we are now beginning our preparations to take advantage of that opportunity. I will not be specific about the particular day partly because we are observing a daily improving forecast and partly because we don't want to give away our target days to other expeditions. We expect to leave camp in the next few days to be in position for our summit push. Its great to be on the move and everyone is feeling the release of tension of waiting but also we are taking on the concerns of moving up the mountain and in the most graphic of ways the seriousness of the undertaking was brought home by the news of another expeditions difficulties on another 8000m peak called Cho Oyu which is not far to the west of us.

Although we have a few days of rest here at ABC in fact we are using each to day to prepare. This can be as mundane as ensuring that thermal underwear is washed and cleaned (clean stuff is more thermally efficient than three week old smelly stuff) to practicing with the oxygen systems that we will use above 7900m. The number of drying socks hanging from the mess tents makes the place look like a chinese laundry but its crucial to have socks in good condition. Dirty squashed up socks are not warm and that means frostbite risk. All of us will carry at least 3 sets of socks - rotating two pairs as we climb to 8300m and then saving a completely fresh set (preferabley brand new) for summit day. Clean hair is warmer than greasy hair. Ice axe heads can benefit from some insulation under the palm of the hand. Feet should be checked, nails, hot spots, etc. etc. Batteries charged or changed in cameras. Spare batteries and bulbs for head torches. Crampons checked and double checked. Goggles, Sunglasses, etc. etc. The relationship between Goggles, Oxygen Mask, Head Torch and Hat or Balaclava checked - no good if you're getting lots of "O²" through the mask but you go snow blind because the goggles or sunglasses don't fit properly.

Oxygen familiarisation is of course crucial. Everyone must handle the equipment with second nature. There isn't the opportunity to be messing about on the hill. Typically we'll be carrying 3 x 3 litre cylinders initially but we'll drop these off partially used as we go and retrieve and reuse them on the return. Oxygen is potentially explosive so we need to handle things carefully and be able to change cylinders over in the extreme conditions we'll encounter on the North East Ridge of Mount Everest. We also need to remember different flow rate settings for use during different parts of the climb. Tony and Chung are reasonably familiar with this equipment having used it before on Mount Everest but for most its a slightly bewildering set of things to remember. But the next few days will bring familiarity and also we all use the "buddy" system, ie. we're all watching out for each other.

Tomorrow we'll check food and get ourselves set up with the stuff we think we can stomach to give us the calories we'll need. We'll load up with high calorie drink powders and "gu" (high calorie toothpaste kind of stuff which you can suck in quickly when you stop for a fluid intake) and any other goodies that will help en route.

Ok. Unless there is some dramatic shift in the weather that changes our plans then the next dispatch will be news of our progress on our return from a summit push. We are all in great spirits, good health and keen to get moving.

Signing off
Tony Kelly
Advanced Base Camp
Mount Everest
16th May 2003