Newsletter 729 May 2000
When we last wrote, on May 24th, we were busy escaping two nights of high winds and a whole lot of disappointment at Camp 2. Our summit bid was over, blown away by a weather forecast that didn't predict the severity of a low pressure system. Now, high on the mountain, having spent a lot of emotional and physical energy, many of us began to suffer doubts about our ability to try again.
These doubts followed us down hill. As the soreness in our legs and backs took root on the 25th, the doubts grew.
Challenging these doubts were two powerful anecdotes: a weather report that was promising better climbing conditions on the 1st and 2nd of June; and the shear weight of the effort each of us had put into the climb so far. After nearly two months and thousands of dollars invested, walking away just isn't an easy option. A few days rest, in which our bodies snapped back and our minds wrestled with the dilemma and everyone was ready for another try.
Everest gets under your skin. Despite the amount of torture it inflicts, it is so hard to walk away from the challenge it presents. Its siren like draw demands the highest discipline from climbers. You need to set your own limits and stick to them. And you need to be strong enough to set safety standards and work to apply them.
There have been two deaths on the North Ridge this year. In addition, one man survived a night bivouacking above 8500 meters. Each of these horrible events could have been prevented. A lack of fixed rope, too much ambition and inadequate safety systems contributed in each case. An illusion has floated through many of the camps: that lightning fast ascents, often w/o oxygen, are the cool method of climbing Everest. As a result, there has been no community wide attempt at establishing fixed lines above high camp. A few climbers have strung little sections, but the route on the whole is still not fixed. And with each accident, it has become suddenly clear that the team members of the victims don't have proper radios, sherpa support, etc. Our communications tent has become the center of activity, with Russell making most of the arrangements and absorbing the painful emotions of the helpless team mates.
I can go on and on about the naitivity of many of the climbers here. While it is sad to witness the pain and fear of the teams that have been caught up in the dark side of Everest, it is also heartening to know that we are strong enough and responsible enough to help them.
So....today (while most of the other expeditions are heading home) Keiron, Daniel, Ivan and Tony are heading to Camp 1 on the North Col. On the 29th, I'll buzz out of ABC at 5 a.m. and meet the team as they ascend the North Ridge to Camp 2. Andy will go to the North Col late in the day, meeting us at camp 3 on the 30th. On the 31st, the Sherpas join us and we move to Camp 4, at 8300 meters. The action begins hours later, with a 1:30 a.m. departure on June 1st.
We're moving upward at full strength. We will have a team of five Sherpas and two guides, with the four clients. We'll be fixing rope as we go, and carrying extra oxygen as a back up. Russell and Mark will be at Camp 4 as we climb to the summit. If anything goes wrong, they will be there to help out.
I am really psyched about the level of support we have for our summit push. This is how a team climbs Everest. Let's just pray that the weather cooperates. After two months of effort, we all deserve a whole lot of satisfaction.
Chris Warner Advanced Base Camp - 6460m Everest 2000 - North Side
May 29, 2000 Day 63
Boy, a lot has happened in the last 24 hours. Yesterday, the four climbers headed off to Camp 1 on the North Col, arriving in the late afternoon. Once there, they crawled into the tents for the night.
My plan was to wake up at 4 a.m. and meet the guys on the North Col. However, a stomach bug rocketed me from the tent at 2 a.m. In that state there was no way I could climb. This ended up being a blessing.
Around midnight it started to snow and 15 hours later, it is still snowing. This mild snow storm has dropped a foot or more of snow at the North Col. The snow blanketed the enthusiasm of three of the four climbers. After spending two nights trapped at Camp 2 last week, just about any bad weather at this stage proved overwhelming.
While we counseled patience, Keiron and Ivan packed up and headed for home. Tony and Daniel tested the conditions on the North Ridge and correctly decided to return to the tents at Camp 1. Shortly afterwards, Daniel packed it in as well.
As the retreating climbers headed down, Andy headed up to Camp 1. The snow was soft and the tracks of small slides were every where. He and Tony Kelly will be spending the night at Camp 1.
While I laid in my sleeping bag, tossing back antibiotics, this drama unfolded. I was grateful to miss it all: the climb in the storm, the sad realization that the team was rapidly eroding and the uncomfortability of spending a night at Camp 1 while all my gear is stashed at Camp 2.
Well we are far from done on Everest. Tony Kelly still wants to push on. In addition we have four fully stocked camps on the mountain. We will definitely be making a summit attempt, either on June 1 or 2. I'll be heading up to Camp 2 early tomorrow.
At this stage in the expedition, things are happening quite rapidly. While the climbers were assessing their chances, Russell was trying to solve a different kind of dilemma.
There are about 6 expeditions left on the hill. Three of these are packing up to return to base camp. Well, the route down is now nearly blocked off by a glacial lake that keeps growing and growing. In the last week, we've been able to carve paths around the rising water. This morning the lake rose so fast that it was impossible to traverse around the steep, loose sides. A few yaks and yak men were able to wade across at one spot, soaking all of the Spaniards gear. But as the waters rose, this ford became 60 feet wide and nearly 20 feet deep.
At least two expeditions are trapped at ABC. Our best hope is that the damn of ice and gravel bursts by the time we need to leave. However, with acres of water trapped behind the damn, its destruction could be deadly. Anyone caught in that flash flood's path would certainly be swept away.
A few more interesting things: The yak men and Everest veterans are calling this the coldest and highest precipitation season they've ever seen.
The Japanese clean up expedition was among the first to leave, marking their accomplishment by leaving sacks of garbage on the North Col. Ironic, eh???
Well, we are in need of some sunny days.