NEWSLETTERS - Everest South 2013

Newsletter #823 April 2013

This newsletter was written on 16th April, however, as Billi was 'out of town' and Russell was busy with meetings and getting his Sherpas safely through the icefall, it had been forgotten. We hope you still enjoy reading it.

Icefall Practice, Puja and Sad Goodbyes

Apologies for the silence, however, the satellite system had failed us for a few days and we were cut off from the rest of the world for a while. Now we are back in communicado and a lot has happened since we posted our last newsletter.

On Friday, the Lhotse/Nuptse team arrived at base camp joining the Everest group, who had already been there for three days. "It's nice to finally be here and meet our fellow climbers," said Ellen Miller, a long term Himalayan Experience member, who is attempting Nuptse this season. Like every year, the Sherpas had done an amazing job setting up the little Himalayan Experience Village with the infamous White Pod dominating the village square. The White Pod is a great place for everyone to relax, lounge on the sofas, play cards, read books or just look out of the window enjoying the stunning views of the surrounding Himalayan giants.

In order to be well prepared for the Everest climb, especially the section through the icefall, the guides had set up a course in an ice field near our camp. "The course features everything you need to know," said Woody, one of our guides. "It has a steep section to ascend, a ladder to cross and another steep icy slope to abseil or arm-rap down." The team played in the ice for about 1 ½ hours and everyone seemed to enjoy finally putting on their crampons and getting the teeth of their ice axes into the blank ice. "I think it is great that we are doing this and even though I am a qualified mountain guide, I certainly benefit from being reminded on how to use a jumar (ascending device) on a fixed rope as we don't really use it in the Swiss Alps," said Evelyne Binsack, who became the first Swiss woman to reach the top of Everest with Himalayan Experience in 2001 and is intending to climb up again with her camera.

Sunday evening was spent hanging out in the dining tent enjoying the delicious food prepared by our Sherpa kitchen staff under the supervision of Bob, our chef from Britain, who we will introduce to you in a separate newsletter. However, what I would like to mention now is Bob's amazing ability of spoiling out sweet teeth with his outstanding deserts, which we were able to taste twice on Sunday night. First, he served us a chocolate mousse and then he produced one of the best carrot cakes as a belated birthday present for two of our members. "I could have eaten the whole cake, it was so good," said David Tait, who was one of the birthday boys.


On Monday morning, we were all woken up by the lovely smell of burning juniper, which is the indication that the Sherpas were getting ready for our Buddhist ceremony, the 'Puja'. The Puja is a very important part of climbing in the Himalaya and our Buddhist Sherpas would not touch the mountain without this important ceremony. "We believe that the Gods will look after us once we have prayed to them and asked them for a blessing," our Sirdar Phurba Tashi explains.

The ceremony started at about10am and lasted for about two hours during which all the Sherpas, guides and members were gathered around the little Buddhist altar, called the 'Chorten', listening or taking part in the chanting.

During the ceremony every climber is asked to bring a piece of climbing gear that he or she would like to have blessed, so most people brought an ice axe, harnesses or crampons to make sure the gods will look after them on the hill.

On Monday afternoon, the Everest group left BC and wandered back down to our Lobuje base camp, from where they will be climbing Lobuje East. Russell introduced this acclimatisation rotation during his first year on the Nepal side in 2009, as it just makes more sense to climb another mountain than add another trip through the icefall and sleep at Camp 1 on Everest. "It is much safer, we are climbing another peak and we get stunning views of the surrounding 8,000m peaks from Lobuje East," he explained.

Monday was also a day of goodbyes as the Chinese film crew, who had been with us for the past two weeks, was leaving the expedition. "I was quite surprised by how emotional it was," Russell said. And he was right – one of the contesters of the Chinese Reality Show they were filming at base camp was in tears when she had to go.

Icefall Doctor Training

Once the film crew and the Everest group had departed, silence returned to the Himalayan Experience camp. Some people were sleeping in the White Pod while Russell and some of the Sherpas were moving a big rock that was blocking the way near the Heli pad on Monday afternoon. Tuesday morning was filled with more icefall training for the Lhotse/Nuptse teams and in the afternoon the Icefall Doctors came to our camp to get some training on how to use avalanche beepers that were donated to them by Himalayan Experience.

The Icefall Doctors are one of the most important people for everyone intending to climb Everest, Lhotse or Nuptse or just trying to reach Camp 2. They are employed by the Nepali government to open the treacherous icefall every year, which means they look for the best way through this myriad of huge ice blocks. Once they have figured out the safest route, they fix it with ladders and ropes for all the punters to get through as safely as possible. Unfortunately, one of the icefall doctors fell to his death when he dropped into a deep crevasse about one week ago. "We are all very sad and it was not the best start to the season. The atmosphere is a little bit subdued now and we are trying to find a replacement," said Chhiring of the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC), the organisation employing the doctors.

Chhiring, who is also the base camp manager for the icefall doctors, further explained that this year the icefall was moving more quickly than in previous years. "The team has to go in more often this season as the ice is changing very fast, so the avalanche transceivers could not have come at a better time," he said.

Ang Sarti, Ang Karmi, Gyalgen, Nima Wangchu, Thupden Dorjee, Nima Dorjee, Dorjee and Chhiring joined us for a cup of tea afterwards and Francois, our Nuptse guide, recapped what they had learnt. "They have certainly understood what the transceivers are all about; now they just have to practice a bit more," he said. Other than the avalanche transceivers, the Icefall Doctors received boots from the German boot company Lowa and outdoor clothing from the Chinese outdoor company Toread.

Life behind the scenes has also been going on and while the teams have been practicing their abseiling skills or getting ready to climb Lobuje East, 17 of our Sherpas left BC at 3.30 on Tuesday morning to carry loads up to Camp 2. "They were very quick and were already back at about 10am," Russell said. Our doctor Jen was also gob smacked by how fresh the Sherpas looked on their return. "They looked as if they had just strolled up to Trekkers Point, which is right outside our camp" she said

Given that our communications will work more smoothly over the next few weeks, we will do our best to send you regular updates from our expedition. We hope you enjoy reading our newsletters.

Billi Bierling at Everest Base Camp