Newsletter #1411 May 2013
First summits of the season
The start of my day is usually with a big mug of coffee made by our Sherpa cooks Lhakpa at 2am. I then peel myself out of my sleeping bag and look at the thermometer outside my tent. So far this year, every day was colder than – 10º C apart from two days, when it was – 8 ºC, and then it was snowing on both occasions. This is very different from last year, when there were only four days when it was colder than -10 ºC.
After looking at the temperature I usually meet with my Sherpas for the normal morning briefing before they go through the icefall; or I talk to the various members and Sherpas, who are moving through the icefall or elsewhere on the hill. I am then receiving numerous radio calls from members, guides and Sherpas, who have arrived at the various checkpoints that we have established along the route.
This ensures the safety of our staff and in case an avalanche or serac fall occurs, I can quickly locate, which area they are in. On average I get a radio calls every 15 to 20 minutes and I record every single call in my prewritten log sheet.
At 6.30am I normally receive a second mug of coffee made by one of our other cooks, Phuri or Kur Bahadur. As a non-coffee drinker I find this rather nauseating but it gets me going through the day, especially when my nerves are tense. As far as the individual coffees are concerned, Phuri makes the best coffee; Lhakpa’s is strangely enough a little bit sour while Kur Bahadur puts too much sugar in.
Between 6.30am and 7am, when my people are still in their sleeping bags, I usually have time to shave with Rehab London Men’s Cold Turkey Shaving Gel.
This ensures that I am as fresh looking and good smelling as my members, who receive a hot towel and tea every single morning at 7am.
Russ shaving in bed.
The 10th of May was no exception. I was slurping my coffee when the Sherpas called me just as they were leaving the South Col to fix the rope to the summit at 2.45am. The 10th of May had been selected as the best first summit day of the season as Meteotest, our reliable Swiss weather forecast provider, had forecast a small gap in the wind speed for the 9th and 10th of May.
On 9th May, our Sherpas left from Camp 2 and went to the South Col at 7,900m, where half of them stayed putting up tents and melting snow while the other half went to the balcony fixing the ropes in a whiteout, but with very little wind. Meteotest had further forecast high winds overnight and during the early hours of the morning, however, they also said they would subside as the day went on, with snow in the late afternoon.
Once again, this forecast proved to be totally correct and by the time the rope-fixing Sherpas reached the South Summit on 10th May, the winds were less than 10km/h, which turned out to be a fantastic rope fixing and summit day.
On that wonderful day, twelve Sherpas (two from Alpine Ascents, three from Asian Trekking, two from International Mountain Guides, one from Adventure Consultants and four from Himalayan Experience) cruised up to the summit to fix the rope, proving once again the fantastic cooperation between the different operators and their Sherpas.
Leaving at 3am, reaching the summit at 11.50am and returning to the South Col at 3pm means it took the Sherpas only 12 hours return, even though they were wading through knee-deep snow, fixing the rope and putting in anchors. On top of that Phurba Tashi, who reached the summit for the 20th time, was even able to negotiate a second route on the Hillary Step installing three bolts and a short piece of rope. Unfortunately, he could not actually fix it fully as another team was unable to deliver the coils of rope to the arranged spot at the arranged time.
Given the incredible speed of the Sherpas while working hard on the mountain, makes me wonder why so many teams are leaving very early the evening before their summit day and only return in the afternoons, which often makes their summit day a 16-to-20-hour day.
Following behind the rope-fixing team, which from Himalayan Experience consisted of Phurba Tashi, Nawang Tenzing, Nima Tenzing and Gyalgen Dorjee, were Lhakpa Nuru and David Tait from the UK. The two left the South Col at 4am and reached the summit some 25 minutes after the rope fixing Sherpas, who had 30 ascents between them. For David, this was the fifth summit.
By 5 o’clock in the afternoon, everyone was back at Camp 2, where they spent the night and continued on to base camp the following day.
In the meantime, Tashi Tshering, Rita Dorjee, Ngima Tshering and Sonam Pinjo were working on the upper slopes of Nuptse, where they fixed the rope within 150m of the summit, where they encountered difficult and technical climbing conditions. Having run out of technical gear and with deteriorating visibility, they were disappointed not to reach the summit after three days of hard work on this route.
Having fixed the rope almost to the top of this 7,864m-summit is a first as the North Ridge, which was first ascended by a British expedition in 1979, has never been ‘commercially’ climbed before. So far, only 20 people have reached the top of Nuptse and in 2012, the Austrian mountaineer, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, became the first ever woman to reach its top.
After their hard on work on Nuptse, the Sherpas also returned to Camp 2 and on 11th May, which Meteotest predicted to be a windy day, all Sherpas as well as David Tait retreated to base camp. Here they will enjoy a well-deserved rest and will wait for another weather window before they return to the three mountains, Himalayan Experience has been leading the way, namely Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse.
Once again, this was an incredible effort, and the strength and willpower of these Sherpas continues not only to amaze me but all team members and others around.
As forecast by Meteotest, we are on the edge of a storm from the Bay of Bengal, so Saturday afternoon is punctuated by thunder, lightning and snow showers, but of course we are all safe and comfortable within the round walls of the White Pod. However, the bad weather is somewhat interrupting the filming of the two Al Jazeera journalists, who arrived here on Friday and will stay with us for a few days doing a documentary on the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of Mount Everest in 1953.
As far as our team is concerned, we are still waiting for the weather to settle down enough for us to give us a long and safe weather window.
Russell Brice at Everest Base Camp