NEWSLETTERS - Everest South 2013

Newsletter #926 April 2013

First acclimatisation rotation done; Camp 2 established

Now that the rope fixing schedule is more or less set, the blogger is back ‘in town’ and the communication is working more smoothly, we will be back on track with our newsletters. Once again, apologies for the delay but fortunately it happened before things are getting more serious on the mountain and our teams are moving to the higher camps. At the moment it seems rather slow, however, a lot is happening behind the scenes and the Sherpas are working hard on the hill.

I will do a recap of the past week and fill you in with what has been happening with our teams, the rope-fixing schedule as well as other events at base camp.

Sadly, the father-in-law of Phurba Tashi, our Sirdar, died after a long illness last week. Phurba Tashi as well as two of our Sherpas went back down the valley to their village Phortse to be with the family. “Phurba is the kingpin of the two families and it is important for him to be there,” Russell said. “Of course, the backbone of the expedition is missing here but we have managed pretty well so far. It will be good to have him back later today.” In Buddhist culture the Puja, or funeral ceremony, for a deceased can last for up to one week, however, on Thursday night was a full moon, which is quite auspicious to finish the Puja.

At about the same time, on 21st April, there was another memorial service held at base camp. All expedition leaders, Sherpas and members of the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC) got together to honour Ang Nima, the former leader of the Icefall Doctors, who died earlier this year as well as Mingma, the Icefall Doctor, who lost his life falling into a crevasse at the beginning of the season. “It was a very solemn occasion and it was nice to see most of the expedition leaders get up and say a few words in honour of these amazing high altitude workers,” Russell remembered. Every season, the Icefall Doctors open the way into the Western Cwm.

In the meantime Russell, and the base camp managers of International Mountain Guides (IMG), Ang Jangbu and Greg, had been busy getting the rope fixing gear ready for the mountain. With the help of a few Sherpas, the three spent all day cutting and packing a total of 9,200m (30,360 ft) into 77 loads. “If we laid out all the rope, it would go all the way down to Pangboche,” said Ang Jangbu.

Rope Fixing Meeting

On 18th April, IMG hosted the first official rope fixing meeting and for the first time ever salaries for the various legs were established. For example, a Sherpa carrying a load from base camp to C2 receives US$ 30; from C2 to C3 they get 40 US$ and so on - if they are carrying from C4 to the summit, they will earn US$ 400 for one load.

Also new this year is that the Nepal Ministry or Tourism has finally recognised the Expedition Operators Association (EOA) as an official body. This has been a long-term initiative from Russell on behalf of the foreign operators working in Nepal to ensure that all members financially contribute to the rope fixing. The price per climber for Everest has been set at US$ 230; for Lhotse it is US$ 150.

While all this was happening at base camp, our teams were spending two nights at the top of Lobuje East to acclimatise. “It was mentally pretty hard as there was just nothing to do,” said Evelyne from Switzerland, who already summited Everest in 2001. This time, however, she is not really climbing for herself but for her work. She is making a movie about people’s ambitions. “I want to find out, what drives people to go through this hardship to get to the highest point on earth,” she explained.

Ultrarunner celebrity for dinner

The Himex team also had the honour to welcome the British ultrarunner and world champion, Lizzy Hawker, in their camp. The reason Lizzy Hawker had come all the way to base camp was her ambition to break her own world record and improve the time it took her to run from Everest Base Camp all the way back to Kathmandu. “I am hoping to do it in less than 65 hours this time,” the modest 37-year-old said.

“It was such an honour to have Lizzy here and we felt very humble that she chose the Himex camp as her starting point for her feat to break her own world record,” Russell said. “I was also stunned to see that such a small person can gobble down four huge bowls of Wheat-a-bix for breakfast and then just take one chocolate bar for the whole trip,” he continued. Lizzy left the camp at exactly 7.01am on 18th April.

Of course, we were all keen to find out whether Lizzy had been able to fulfill her dream, and when we received the news that she had finished the race in 63 hours and 8 minutes, we were all very excited for her. “She is an amazing woman and I am very happy that I got the chance to meet her,” said Ellen Miller from the States, who had heard a lot about Lizzy Hawker and followed her process.

Dramas in the Icefall

On the morning before Lizzy left our camp to break her record, the icefall showed one of its bad and dangerous tempers when 14 Himex Sherpas were on their way to Camp 1. “I got a call in the middle of the night and the Sherpas said they would go back to crampon point as the ladders were shaking and they got very scared,” said Russell. “This shows once again that going through the icefall is not to be taken lightly and that is why I send my members to Lobuje East for the first acclimatisation rotation.”

Another difficult night for the Sherpas was the 22nd of April, when it was snowing quite hard and Russell and the Sherpas were wondering whether to go up that night or not. They discussed the conditions and decided to try and get to Camp 1, knowing full well that they would not be able to enter the Western Cwm. It soon proved that the snow was getting too deep and therefore made conditions dangerous as the Sherpas could not see the small crevasses and were often putting a foot into the holes.Eventually the snow became knee-deep, so they radioed to ask what to do. Russell suggested that they go to the football field and leave the loads there. “Once again I was really impressed with my Sherpas as they actually decided to go even higher than the football field in order to leave the gear in a safe place,” Russell said. “It is very reassuring knowing that they care.” This proved to be the right decision as we later found out that some Sherpas from other teams took almost six hours to descend from Camp 2 to Camp 1 walking through chest-deep snow – a trip that normally takes them one hour.

The following morning, nine Sherpas carried half loads up to the deposit point and picked up the left loads and carried them to Camp 1, which they also established. The next day, after the snowy conditions had settled in the Western Cwm and Russell deemed it safe, 14 Sherpas carried loads to Camp 2, where four Sherpas and Kaila, our Camp 2 cook, stayed to finally establish our camp at 6,400m. “I know that people think that nothing is going on but we have achieved a lot on the mountain despite the slight setback triggered by the snow,” Russell explained.

And so, life goes on. The Sherpas of the different teams are aiming to fix the rope to the South Col by the end of the month in order to use the traditional weather window, which usually happens at the beginning of May, to fix the rope all the way to the summit. The Himex team has finished the first acclimatisation rotation and is back at base camp, trying to occupy themselves with various tasks, such as going for walks, relaxing, reading or simply ‘being impatient’. “Well, this is exactly what happens on an Everest expedition. We all have to ‘hurry up and wait’,” Russell said during a breakfast meeting on Thursday. “We are all in the same boat and before Camp 2 and Camp 3 are not completely established, there is no point in sending any people through the icefall,” he continued. On Thursday, some members went up to Pumori Camp 1 to enjoy the amazing views of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse – the three mountains the Himex team is intending to climb this season.

There will be more news coming from our camp soon.

Billi Bierling at Everest Base Camp