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.
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?
I spent 4 days in Camp 2 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.
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!
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!