Newsletter #126 May 2013
Everyone back at base camp safe and sound
Once again, apologies for the long silence, however, internet connection, power supply and the strength to carry all the equipment up the hill are not really great at 6,400m, which is the reason I waited for supplying you with the latest news until I got back to base camp.
Shawn the Sheep at Camp 3
After four nights at Camp 2 at 6,400m and one night at Camp 3 at 7,350m the whole team, including Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse members, is back at base camp enjoying the luxuries everyone has been missing higher up. “This is like coming home and I feel like in paradise,” said Herbert as he was coming out of the shower.
The teams and a group of Sherpas left base camp on 1st May at 2.30am, only leaving Bob the chef, Russell, our expedition leader and Jen, the doctor behind. “It will be lonely without the team, but I am certain that I will not be bored with all the meetings and other organisational stuff I have to do,” said Russell.
Life certainly does not come to a halt for Russell Brice when the team is up the hill. One of his main jobs is to follow every single member on the radio and make notes of where everyone is. “Everyone has to check in when they reach a certain place, such as ‘crampon point’, the start of the fixed line, the football field, Camp I and then eventually Camp II,” he explains.
Khumbu Icefall seen from base camp
While Russell was noting down the exact location of everyone according to their radio calls, the members and guides were ploughing their way through the treacherous Khumbu Icefall – this time, fortunately without any incident. “It is an amazing place but I am always glad when I am through it,” comments David Tait from the UK.
Most people reached Camp I at around 7am, which gave them lots of time to get through the Western Cwm, which is notorious for getting too hot once the sun is beating down. You might wonder why the Western Cwm, which has the shape of a bowl, has been given this weird name, which is actually Welsh. Apparently, it stems from a long time ago, when the Brit George Mallory, who was a member of the very early expeditions from Tibet in the 1920ies, looked across into this bowl from the Lo La – the pass between the Chinese and Nepali territory – thinking that it had the shape of a ‘Cwm’.
The trek through the Western Cwm, which is hemmed in by the horseshoe consisting of Mount Everest, Lhotse (the 4th highest mountain in the world) and Nuptse, took most of our members between two and four hours. “It is very hard to motivate yourself to plod through the heat as the temperatures in the Cwm can reach up to 40 degrees Celsius,” said Rochelle from New Zealand. “But it is certainly worth looking up every once in a while as it is a stunning place.”
The following day was filled with resting and letting our bodies get used to the higher altitude and after having had a very windy night on 2nd May, most of our members went for a walk over to the ‘Bergschrund’ – the beginning of the Lhotse Face. “I have not slept a wink all night as the tent walls were flapping in the wind,” said Ellen from the United States..
Despite the high winds, the team followed the motto to ‘harden up’ and went on a return trip to the Lhotse Face. “It did not feel very far, however, it was pretty exhausting and I am a bit nervous about tomorrow, when we are supposed to go up to Camp 3 to stay one night,” commented Herbert.
While most of the members and guides were ambling across to the bottom of the Lhotse Face, our Nuptse guide Francois as well as 11 Sherpas crossed the Western Cwm and climbed up to Nuptse Camp III to set up a tent and start fixing the rope. “It was very cold and exhausting to keep up with the Sherpas but I am very proud to say that we fixed the rope half way up the arête,” said Francois when he got back after about 10 hours on the ridge. “The start of the arête is quite tricky but it is a beautiful line – even the Sherpas say that.”
On 4th May, the Everest and Lhotse teams left Camp II in the early morning hours to climb up to Camp III and spend a night there to acclimatise. “Everyone did a good job getting up the steep face,” said Woody, one of our guides. Like every year, the Himex camp is on the top half of Camp III, which makes the last hour mentally very demanding. “The last 50 metres were very hard – mentally and physically as it was also very icy,” said David Tait.
While the Everest and Lhotse teams were working hard on the Lhotse Face, the Nuptse team decided to have another rest day – but not without three of our Sherpas going back to the Nuptse arête and finishing fixing it to the top. “There is no dithering with Ngima – if there is a job to be done he goes for it. He is so strong,” said Ellen, who has already climbed Lhotse with this strong Sherpa from Phortse and really values his technical expertise and strength in the mountains.
In the meantime, the weather forecast for the next few days had come in and it became increasingly clear that, other than planned, the Nuptse team would not get a shot at the summit over the next week due to the high winds. “I think the whole team, including the Nuptse aspirants, should come down on 6th of May as the next weather window is too far away,” Russell told us on the radio. In order to make the most of their last day, the Nuptse team crossed over to their Camp III to get a feel for the mountain and have a closer look at the route.
This trip offered a whole new perspective of the Western Cwm as well as Mount Everest. “Now I know why they call it a big lump of rock,” said Ellen. “I don’t think I have ever seen so clearly the magnitude of the South-West Face, which was first climbed by a British expedition, led by the British national Chris Bonington in 1972”.
After the Nuptse team’s little outing, all members and guides were reunited at Camp II on Sunday afternoon and everyone seemed very happy to descend back to base camp the following day. And so the whole team, including the Sherpas (apart from Kaila, our Camp 2 cook, who stays up there to look after our gear), left camp at about 5am to beat the crowds in the icefall as most expeditions had decided to leave the barren place of Camp II behind and go back to the relative luxuries of base camp. “Even though Kaila and his team have done a great job, breakfast at base camp can hardly be beaten,” said our guide Suzanne, tucking into her scrambled egg with vegetable and fresh toast.
Our gas-powered showers were the hottest item at the Himex camp on Monday morning and by the time lunch came around, everyone was enjoying their meal looking clean and fresh. After lunch, which finished with a delicious and well-deserved Crème Brule, Russell told the crew that he was very happy with the progress that had been made on the mountains.
“I am extremely pleased that the ropes have been fixed all the way to the South Col on Everest and up to 8,300m on Lhotse. And our hardworking Sherpas even had time to get to 7,400m on Nuptse,” he said proudly. “However, due to the high winds that are predicted, the Sherpas will not be able to fix the rope to the summit in the next few days,” he continued. “There seems to be a lull in the wind around the 10th, which could be a possibility to get the ropes up, but we will have to wait and see.”
And here we are again: ‘Hurry up and wait’, which is our motto at base camp. For the time being we will work hard on getting our strengths back, eat well and get mentally ready to climb back through the Khumbu Icefall, whenever the weather allows. And then we will hopefully climb higher – meaning to the summits of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse.
Billi Bierling at Everest Base Camp