The First Rotation (Part 2)

Life in Camp 2 is much the same as in Base Camp. IMG (the excellent guide company i’m climbing with) have a cook/dining tent there, just like base camp, so the food is again pretty good and life is reasonably comfortable. The only real differences are that we share tents at Camp 2 (no big deal), it gets a little colder at night, down to perhaps -20C / -10F, and the view is even better.

I was the first client to arrive at Camp 2 due to my more aggressive acclimatization schedule compared to those climbing with bottled oxygen. As a result, I had the honor of eating with the Sherpa once again and enjoyed the local staples of Dal Bhat (a rice/lentil soup combo) and Tsampa porridge – which tastes like ready-brek for any Brits reading this who remember it from their childhood. I actually find these foods easier to eat at altitude than the more western food we usually have, so I was happy. 

Dinner time with the Sherpa at Camp 2


My exercise on day 2 was to help with building the client cooking and dining tents, so I spent the morning carrying big rocks around camp along with the Sherpa. I quite enjoyed it, plus it was a satisfying feeling be be useful. I have never enjoyed being ‘catered to’ and even being called ‘sir’ still doesn’t feel right. I much prefer to help and be part of the crew, I’m certainly no better than the others here so why shouldn’t I help out?

Building the dining tent floor


I spent 4 days in Camp 4 waiting for the ropes to be fixed up the Lohtse face, a 750m / 2,000ft slab of 50 degree rock-hard blue ice that extended from above Camp 2 to the precarious carved ledges of Camp 3. I’ve never been great at waiting and I found it frustrating to just sit in camp and basically do very little. I was eventually congratulated on my patience! I did, however, take a daily walk to the base of the Lohtse face, about a 50 min trip each way, and once I went out there solo, carrying just a radio. With no-one else around I felt an incredible sense of isolation as I walked to the top of the Valley of Silence; the Himalaya around me at their raw best.

A cloudy western cwm, looking down at Camp 2 on the right


Finally! It was time to climb to Camp 3. Leaving at 5.30am we quickly reached the bottom of the face and climbed the small cliff at its base, called a berschrund, where the glacier peels away from the rock wall. Now we began the ascent of the Lohtse face, an iconic climb!

It was awkward climbing but we made steady, uncomfortable progress to lower Camp 3 at 7,000m / 21,000ft. A group of our team’s Sherpa were carrying loads to our camp, and we climbed alongside them, almost maintaining their speed! We reached lower Camp 3 in 2h 45 mins. I felt happy with that effort as another team (carrying tents etc I will admit) took 10+ hours to reach that spot the previous day. It gave me a positive benchmark of my abilities for the first time, and left me optimistic. Some of the Sherpa even nicknamed me ‘Khumbu Dorje’ – translated as ‘Khumbu Strong!’ That was a genuine honor!! Ironically, I had been mentioning ‘James Bond’ to people for memorability, given I’m English and named James, but some of them didn’t quite remember – my other nickname in Camp 2 is now ‘Tom Cruise’! Ha! First and last time THAT fortunate event happens! 

Camp 2 looking at the Lohtse Face. Camp 3 is about half way up the ice.


4h 15 mins after leaving Camp 2 we reached upper Camp 3. It was cloudy but otherwise fair climbing conditions. We sat on some stockpiled oxygen cylinders (is that a good idea?!) and had a snack. The site is at 30 degrees, so each tent platform has to be hacked out of the ice, a very unenviable job. And this was a good site – I can’t imagine what the last team to arrive has to make do with. We will find out in a week on my next visit!

Even at 7,200m / 23,600ft I felt great with no altitude symptoms so far. Soon after our snacks though we decided to go down, an infinitely easier affair than up. Most of the descent is done by just wrapping the rope around an arm and sliding down the rope, pointing your feet as the crampons bite into the ice. It’s a bit nerve-wearing the first time, but you can go really quite fast/steep once your confidence grows. And you are clipped into the rope in case of a slip, in any case.

1hr 20mins later we were back in Camp 2 in time for lunch. A tiring effort but a good one. I feel happy about the performance, especially as next time it should be easier! 

James

Camp 2 sunset

The First Rotation (Part 1)

I’m back in base camp, safe and sound! It was a longer trip up the mountain than I expected (9 days vs 5 days) so it is wonderful to have some clean clothes and socks to wear once again!

Camp 1

We set off at 3.30am to Camp 1, situated at the top of the Khumbu Icefall at 6,000m / 20,000ft. The climb was quite difficult, with several jumps and vertical sections where ladders had not yet been installed. Many parts are still quite exposed, so we went as quickly as possible – and with no photo stops I’m afraid. Twice more since my climb the route has been partially destroyed by ice tower collapse, fortunately with no casualties. These risks are very real.

We reached Camp 1 in very strong winds, and as we were unable to put up a tent we dived into the equipment tent for refuge. Fortunately it was full of foam mattresses and bags of snacks. Not a bad start!

Myself and Tunang, happily taking refuge at Camp 1


Myself and Tunang, my guide, spent 3 nights at Camp 1 (in our own tent eventually!), one extra than planned due to a blackout day in memory of the 2014 Avalanche. It was nice to be on the mountain, but perhaps wasn’t the most interesting 72 hours. However, we were virtually the only people in the entire camp, and that was a special honor, to look out at just snow, rock and ice. In any case, our tent’s location was enough to keep me on my toes.

Tent + cravasse = excitement!


Camp 2

On the 4th day we took the walk up the Western Cwm to Camp 2, located on the northern edge of the glacier at 6,500m / 21,300ft or so. The first part of the climb is a seemingly unending up-and-down, over-and-across the crevassed glacier, resulting in a slow and tiring progression. Some of those crevasses are imposingly deep; I will get some photos next time once I can afford a spare hand off the safety rope!

The second part of the climb is a flat, gradual climb, as the crevasses in this section are not yet open. The challenge of this section is that Camp 2 is visible but never seems to get closer – annoying but certainly not too bad, and the view makes up for it! Everest itself looms large over the route, a gigantic monolith towering 2,500m above, even at this height. Soon enough we reached the rock-covered area and the climb up to our camp at the highest point. 

Looking up the Western Cwm under the shadow of Everest

My performance in that section was a solid 2h 18 mins. It’s not a race – quite the opposite in fact – but I still felt good about the time. Maybe this acclimatization thing is actually working!

Camp 2 is a unique place. It’s cold, harsh and spectacular. Tucked in below the Lohtse face, for the first time I felt surrounded by the himalaya, with these great mountains imposing themselves in every direction. It is surreal, an experience which starts to vindicate some of my reasons for being here. 

Sunset after an afternoon snowfall

Looking for radio reception at sunset, Camp 2


The only downside is that Camp 2 is a messy place, a surprise at this altitude. I’m sure that historical pollution standards have not helped, but I saw that people are mostly considerate. What really makes the difference, as far as I can tell, is all the equipment, food and supplies which had to be abandoned when the camp was evacuated by helicopter after the earthquake in 2015. So don’t be too quick to judge if you see pictures of rusty cans, broken tents and torn prayer flags in the papers. 

Camp 2 is still spectacular


Other than that it’s great to be there. More of Camp 2 (and my adventures to Camp 3!) in Part 2! 

Wait, Wait… Go!

One of the main frustrations of Everest Base Camp is having to hang out between (or before) a rotation. Your body is working hard to adapt to the new altitude while you are lazing around, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. For us A-type personalities it is hard to do nothing, and it can be pretty boring – and quite frustrating to be honest. We all want to just get up there and get ‘ahead’ of things, and even paradise gets old (notwithstanding a  beautiful coating of new snow).

Pretty!


Just as I was reaching the threshold of genuine boredom – I get the go-ahead! Tomorrow at 3am I am heading up the icefall on my first proper rotation, first to Camp 1 at 6,050m for probably 3 nights, and then to Camp 2 at 6,400m for a similar amount of time if things go well – we’ll see how my body adapts and how hard I can push without overdoing it. It is a little bit of a step into the unknown, but I’m excited. For now I just can’t wait to get up there! 
See you in a week, with luck and a following wind!

James

Right Place, Right Time

Just a quick update. Things are going well, did a quick walk up to Pumori base camp (5,650m / 18,600ft) this morning, and tomorrow I head back up the Khumbu Icefall, this time to Camp 1 or beyond, depending on time and how I’m feeling. Leaving at 3am, so climbing the icefall in the dark should be interesting! And cold!

On a fun note, completely at random a superstar DJ, Paul Oakenfold, turned up at base camp and did a set. Not often you get someone who normally plays for 50,000 people playing for 50! Had a quick chat with him, seems a super down to earth guy. Awesome. I think  that’s my second world record of the trip – highest dance party on earth!

Right place right time.



The Khumbu Icefall!

Go time! 5AM this morning it was time to start walking to ‘crampon point’, the official start of the Khumbu Icefall and the climb up Mt Everest. 40mph winds, bitter cold and a lack of breakfast (my schoolboy mistake!) could not dampen my enthusiasm!

The Khumbu Icefall is the lower part of a glacier which runs between Everest, Lohtse and Nutptse. As the glacier reaches a steeper section it breaks into a vast mass of ice and cravasses, balanced precariously beneath the avalanching slopes of the mountains on either side. It moves fast, over 3ft per day, creating instability which topple the huge blocks of ice at random. It is the most dangerous part of the journey to the summit, and many, many people have tragically lost their lives here.

Looking up the icefall


That said, it is a truly magical, mystical place, a wild ocean of ice. A route through this maze to Camp 1 at 6,000m is found each year by specialists, the ‘Icefall Doctors’, who run a rope almost the entire distance. You walk, scramble, rope climb, cross cravasses on ladders, and climb building-size blocks, also with ladders. It is hard work, and genuinely not easy. The rope helps, but often times it is an illusion – a fall even on the rope can be fatal.

A river of ice… in the ice


Today was a trial run up to a relatively flat and shielded spot 2/3 the way up the icefall, called the ‘football field’ at 19,000ft. About 500ft short of this goal Ang Karma, my Sherpa companion, stopped.

‘No more rope’.

An avalanche or collapsed ice tower (called a serac) had buried the route ahead under thousands of tones of ice. A few hours earlier and maybe we would have been under it – a sober and very real reminder of the danger here. Nothing for it but to turn around. Our goal, to dust off the cobwebs, was done in any case.

The rope on the lower right buried under the fall


Climbing today was hard work, and at times I wondered at my ability to even summit. But then I saw the time – perhaps 20-30% faster than the good pace our group set last time in 2014. Maybe that is why it hurt! Either way I’m much stronger this time round. Optimism restored!

The route down was easier, and hence more fun. I enjoyed the view, just a magical place. 

Spot the ladder…


We were back in time for breakfast, a little tired (me, not the Sherpa!) and happy. An encouraging start!

James

Base Camp Life

The internet has reached base camp! I was wonderful to be cut off from the universe for a few days, and equally nice to be connected again. I think.

I’m doing well. Had a mild head cold the last 2 days which wasn’t great – so weak! – but today I’m fully back to fighting fitness. It’s a few more days before the ‘puja’ ceremony and the mountain officially opens, so not much to report on until then.

Things are now in the base camp groove. Wake up at first light because you went to bed so early, and face the first decision of the morning. Stay in your sleeping bag until the sun rises above the mountains to hit your tent and rapidly heat it, or brave the -10C to -15C and get up, the reward being a lovely view of the mountain sunrise and a cup of hot sweet milk tea in the Sherpa kitchen. Decisions decisions. I usually opt for the tea.

The Sherpa kitchen for some tea!


Then it’s breakfast, get ready for the day, and then it’s time to look at the plan. Is today a full rest day or a hiking day up one of the nearby peaks for some exercise, a few extra meters of altitude and a nice view? Either way it’s soon lunch. Then maybe wash a few clothes, and for me, do a bit of work and go through some light physio to keep things attached straight.

Then the sun starts to fall behind the mountains and the temperature plummets. Big jacket and down pants (trousers!) on, and watch the sunset. Then it’s dinner, a bit of banter with whoever is around, and by 8 you are back in your tent and your sleeping bag, too cold to do anything but maybe read.

A nice sunset from camp


Finally it’s buff over your face to prevent a sore throat the next morning, and fall asleep to the sound of avalanches and the cracking of the glacier right beneath you. Pretty wild.

Just another 4,000ft avalanche, this time from Lingtren


That’s a day!

James

Week 1 at Everest Base Camp

Sorry for the long delay, I’m so early arriving at base camp there is no internet yet – had to walk a 3 hr round trip to post!

All is well! Settling into base camp life and acclimatizing slowly. I’m dealing well with the altitude I think, not a headache or any other altitude sickness symptoms to report at all. I forget I’m at 5,270m / 17,300ft until I start walking quickly or running, and then it bites! I also discovered all the things I hold my breath for, which normally you don’t notice but here they leave you gasping. Taking photos, pouring tea, putting in contact lenses! Strange habits!

As I’m the only client here at the moment I have my meals with the Sherpa, which is fun. They are a spirited jolly group somit is a privilege to hang out with them. The cook is really good as well which helps, from the traditional dal bhat for lunch to hot chai for those frigid early mornings.

Yep it’s cold!


It’s cold in base camp, barely above freezing during the day, if at all, although the sun is so ferocious at this latitude and altitude you can almost wear a t-shirt in the afternoon. At night it’s -12C / 5F or lower. I knew getting that -30C sleeping bag was a good idea! In any case I’m adapting to the cold, it’s really not bad. I don’t even wear gloves. And the views make it worth it!

Sherpa at sunset


Did my first mini acclimatization climb yesterday, up to the 5,670m base camp of Pumori, a 7,100m mountain overlooking base camp. In 2014 my record time at a strong but manageable pace was 1hr 15 mins from the path turnoff, after 2 weeks acclimatization. This time it was 55 mins after 4 days. So although I don’t feel fitter than last time, perhaps I am. However, when I pushed a little harder the feeling was brutally agonizing, as my lungs tried to expand but they don’t go any further – a sensation of slow motion suffocating. A taste of what is to come higher up, perhaps? Daunting.

In any case the view from Pumori base camp was worth it – again!

Everest from Pumori base camp


Hopefully the internet is installed soon so I can post more frequently. Hope all is well!

James 

Sunset over Nuptse