The Kiwi flag from Adam Hain, signed by many people at my 40th, flying high on our Puja stand.
After our 3 night stay at Base Camp we awoke at 5am to return to make our way through the ice fall and back to Base Camp before the sun made the conditions too unstable. Given yesterday’s news we were not about to take any unnecessary chances. Making our way down through the avalanche rubble and tragic incident was very sobering. We were lucky that the wind had abated somewhat and conditions were good so we made it back to base camp in a pretty swift 3 hours (still twice as long as the Sherpas take!). We now have a couple of rest days at Base Camp and I will make a trip to our favourite Internet spot in Gorak Shep to update the blog. We are currently planning our strategy for the remainder of the climb. As we are in good shape there has been some talk of trying to skip one acclimatisation step and make a summit push on our next trip up the mountain. However, it looks the ropes will not be fixed from camp 3 to the summit in time to make this strategy work. It is likely, therefore, that following our rest days we will make our way back up the mountain with a non-stop trip to Camp 2 for the night before advancing to Camp 3(somewhere around 7300m up the vertical Lhotse Face) for our final night’s acclimatisation. we will then descend to a village lower in the valley to build some strength and await the weather window for our final summit push.
Based on our performance on moving up through Camp 1 to Camp 2 we received a note (we had managed to blow up our radio) from our expedition leader, Gabriel, letting us know that our objective was to spend 3 nights at Camp 2 (6500m) with a “rest day” climb to the bottom of the Lhotse Face (6800m) before retuning to base camp for some true rest days. Camp 2 is the highest elevation that I have slept at to date and 6800m is getting very close to the highest altitude I have been at full stop. Camp 2 has a fair bit of infrastructure including a cook, small dining tent and a toilet tent! Sadly, the good weather we had enjoyed enroute to Camp 2 disappeared quickly and was replaced by a pretty decent storm with heavy winds confining us to our tents for a substantial amount of time. We braved to 60-70 km/h winds to make our way to the bottom of the Lhotse Face and almost got blown over several times. On our last night (we successfully managed all three without incident) our tent felt like it was going to blow away with us in it. In fact, our toilet tent was blown way which unfortunately coincided with my stomach having a bit of a disagreement with some of the fine Camp 2 cuisine that we had been provided with. I will save you the details but suffice to say that some things become quite difficult in the dark at -20c with a 70 km/h wind with no toilet tent….
Unfortunately, while at Camp 2 we received news that one of the Sherpas from the team next to us at Base Camp fell to his death in the ice fall (see more detail here). He was crossing a ladder (which we would do the following day) over a particularly steep crevasse without being clipped in and fell into the void. His body was rescued (taking a large team with up to 30 something people observing) but he died on impact. To add to this, just before we returned to Base Camp there was a big avalanche at the exact same spot where the rescue had taken place which washed away a number of fixed ropes and anchors. A very lucky escape for the rescuers and observers! We would later walk through the rubble without the benefit of anything to clip into. Some rapidly taken photos of the avalanche aftermath are included in the next post (though I avoided shooting the scene of the fatality and rather focused on crossing the ladder safely).
On a similar note, the reality of climbing higher is setting in with the rescue helicopter visiting Base Camp 1-2 times a day to evacuate climbers with various injuries/forms of altitude sickness to Kathmandu. Thankfully, our team seems to be holding up well with only a bit of the notorious Khumbu cough causing any grief thus far.
We set off to Camp 2 relatively late as 2 of our Sherpas had returned to Base Camp to pick up an extra load to carry to Camp 2 and we were waiting for them to return before setting off. In the end, we left on our own knowing that they would catch up pretty quickly following a tea stop at Camp 1. Sure enough, they caught us about an hour into the climb and were moving quickly. As the route was not that technical, we decided it would be less painful for all of us if we let them carry on to Camp 2 at their, rather than our, pace to finish establishing the camp before our arrival. Just over an hour into the climb you can actually see Camp 2 in the distance, but much like a mirage it never seems to get any closer! On a good day when the sun comes out and there is no wind the Western Cwm (Valley of silence) becomes an intense radiation trap. People have been sun burnt on the inside of their mouth from panting while walking through the Cwm. We all had to strip off to varying degrees to cope with the heat. I was tempted to get down to my underwear but stopped short for the sake of my fellow climbers!