It was good to arrive at Camp 2 albeit a bit lonely as the rest of the team and guides were down in Base Camp but after my 24 hours of solitude in Camp 1, I was used to it. The Sherpa came to hang out with me now and then and they are a great bunch of blokes so that was good. I would have stayed in the cook tent with them but as they don’t exhaust the tent, the cooking gasses accumulate and give me asthma within seconds.
My tent at Camp 2 was in the most unusual of locations, the entrance to the tent was the beginning of a crevasse! Luckily, I found out later that this was actually Tim’s tent and after one night I moved down to another less precarious location.
I had a good rest my first night in Camp 2 with no altitude issues and the next morning the team started to trickle in as it turned out that a summit window may be presenting itself in the next few days.
The news was that although the ropes had not been fixed from ‘The Balcony’ to the summit, they would be done soon and we could potentially follow straight afterwards as there was a period of low winds and ideal conditions to summit.
A lot of the other teams were not ready for such an early push and it looked like we were going to have the mountain to ourselves.
We prepared our gear which we would need for the summit and eliminated any unnecessary items to save weight where possible. There was a slight issue in which my rotation up to Camp 1 and 2 was supposed to end up back in Base Camp before my summit attempt but as this weather window came out of nowhere I was up the mountain without any of my summit equipment. Luckily, I managed to radio down to Base Camp and have Tim rifle through my tent to collect everything I required. The final preparation was packing enough food for three days on the hill. This included snacks, lunches, boil-in-the-bag dinners and sweets.
We were ready. Our bags packed. Our minds prepared. This was it. We would summit in a few days and be back home in a week!
We woke up and had breakfast at 4am on the morning of the 8th of May, put on our summit down-suits and packs and we set off from Camp 2 into the receding darkness.
I made a point to eat all my meal the night before and that morning despite nearly gagging on every mouthful. This in turn gave me the energy I needed to power up towards the Bergschrund and the Lhotse Face.
We made it up there in good time. 2 hours I think. Rory and I arrived at the Bergscrhund just as Jon and Scott (our assistant guide) had started up the Lhotse face. Tim was trailing behind due to a nasty cough which may or may not have been my fault after coming back from Barcelona with a sniffle.
Just as we were preparing to start climbing the Bergschrund onto the Lhotse Face the radios started up.
“Waist deep snow on summit ridge” “High Winds” “Heavy snowfall” “All Sherpa turning back” “Ropes not going to be fixed”
That was it, our attempt was over. When Tim arrived to where we, were we discussed the options. We could climb up to Camp 3 to drop off our food bags to save weight on the next attempt or just head down. Thick cloud was descending on us with heavy precipitation coming down. I thought that there was no point going up into this stormy cloud and opted to just descend back to Camp 2 with Rory. I will just deal with the heavy food bag next time. Rory was a bit unsure about this decision as I think he wanted to touch the Lhotse face. I figured that we would be back here in a week or so, so what’s the point? – yes I am lazy.
I wandered back down to Camp 2 burning up in my down suit and damaging my ankles constantly on the loose rock and icy trails leading the way back to our campsite. Upon arrival, Rory and I slumped in the mess tent with Steve and Ronny – the two Lhotse climbers who were a day behind us. Hours later the three who climbed up to Camp 3 came into camp exhausted and dripping with their down suits saturated all the way through. Seeing the state they were in I was content in my decision not to go up in those conditions.
That afternoon there was a mass exodus from the mountain. Streams and streams of climbers and Sherpa were coming down from Camp 3 and out of Camp 2 headed down into the Icefall. Everybody was headed back to Base Camp that afternoon with very disgruntled looked on their faces. We couldn’t make that call as Tim had crashed for the afternoon in his tent. Instead we just sat around re-hydrating and taking photos for the afternoon with a plan to head down to Base Camp the next morning. We heard some of the high profile climbers such as Kenton Cool and David Tait were abandoning their climb out of frustration. They would be going home with no summits this year. I completely understood their decision.
There was a general feeling of anger, depression, exhaustion and stress after having this attempt snatched away for us. I wasn’t that fazed with not being able to go up as it is still early in the season and I knew another better window would present itself. I was however furious with the fact that I would have to spend another week or three in this place instead of heading home in a few days. The prospect of sitting around Base Camp for another 10 odd days and then having another attempt was grinding away at me. The trip had been too long already and I was starting to question if I had enough interest left in Everest to justify staying here. I was missing my family too much already and it was only going to get worse. I really don’t care much for this hill any more. The 15 minutes on the summit is not worth the two months one has to spend trying to get there. It takes too much and in return, offers too little. Do I just throw this expired dream away and head home once I get down to Base Camp? A lot of thinking needs to be done.
Sure enough we all got up at a leisurely 7am the next day, sorted our gear into what we need at Camp 2/3 and what was required in Base Camp, packed up our sleeping bags and mats and headed down.
I managed to get down the CWM, through the Icefall and back to Base Camp in 3.5 hours which with sore ankles from the down before, was pretty quick.
I knew these ankles couldn’t handle too many descents, part of the reason I agreed with Tim to keep the rotations to a minimum. They got pretty hammered on the way down through the Icefall.
No major incidents but lots of little rolls and a fair amount of jarring as a lot of the smaller crevasses have no ladders and require jumping over.
After a few hours of being in Base Camp I assessed the ankles and they were once again feeling used and bruised but no sharp pains so I figure they can handle a bit more of a bashing before they take the summer off.
That afternoon in Base Camp Jon and Ronny decided they would trek down into the lower valley and head to one of the towns to chill out and refresh while we wait for the next window. Rory, Scott and myself decided we would spend the night in Base Camp and then go down to Namche Bazar the next day via helicopter. Kami – our Sirdar and local Base Camp manager – called around and negotiated a good deal for a chopper ride.
We organised our gear for our small vacation in Namche, boarded the chopper and took off down the Khumbu. We landed in Namche 10 minutes later. Upon arrival, we located a nice hotel (a loose term in these parts). For Namche, the rooms were prohibitively expensive at $25 a night as most accommodation is $2 a night but we needed something comfortable. Our rooms have hot showers which work 85% of the time. This is exactly what we needed.
Rory, Scott and myself sat around eating, drinking and enjoying the thick air of this low 3440m elevation. We were feeling good. Late that night Ronny and Jon wandered in. They had been slowly trekking and drinking their way down from Base Camp to Namche. They actually looked pretty fresh considering what they had just done. We looked fresher though with bellies full of burgers, cake and coffee.
We were all catching up in a café when the message came in from Tim. ‘Come back tomorrow – we have a window’. Just as we were starting to unwind the stress levels peaked back up to 100%. It was about 10pm at night. I called to arrange the return chopper. 6am was the pickup time. Jon and Ronny had just sat down. We started to question this decision as 12 hours ago, heading back up was not an option so what could have possibly changed?
We asked for the weather reports and sure enough they had not changed, high winds with a possible short window on the 15th. This decision didn’t feel right. Maybe for expert mountaineers, they could brave the conditions and push to the summit but it was only the 11th of May so we couldn’t see the point of taking a risk. We were also told that this would be a one-shot opportunity as we would use the oxygen and logistics we have cached up top.
It all seemed too rushed and too uncertain. We had just come down from 6 nights at 6500m. We needed to rest. Plus we would prefer to wait to be sure the ropes are fixed and that the weather is guaranteed perfect and have a proper shot – despite this meaning more time in this place.
We all decided that we weren’t going up this time. It didn’t feel right. We would wait for the next window.
There is more to this story but I will elaborate on the next post.
For the time being we (Rory, Ronny, Jon and myself) are down in Namche watching and waiting.
There are a few other climbers from other teams around. We all bump into each other in the 3 good cafes in town. We all share the same information about our schedules while withholding our true plans about weather and potential summits as everybody wants to avoid crowds. All this cloak and dagger behaviour is kind of pointless though as all teams get the same weather reports but that’s the way it goes around here.
Am I sick of this expedition? Absolutely.
Do I want to leave? Absolutely.
Do I care about summiting? Not really.
Will I climb another 8000m (2 month) peak? NEVER!
Morale is low.
Having said all of that. I have been away from my family for nearly 2 months now (apart from the intermission) so if I come home now it would have been for nothing. I may as well wait around a couple more weeks at get to the top of this god forsaken hill to make this absence worthwhile and to guarantee I never have to come back here again.
Summit or bust!
We plan to head back to Base Camp in the next few days.