Today we set off for Camp 3 (7200m) -a crucial step in the ascent of Everest (many people end their expedition at this point as they struggle with both the increase in climbing difficulty and altitude). There appears to be two schools of thought regarding acclimatisation at this stage – sleeping at camp 3, or just touching camp 3 and returning to camp 2. For better or worse, we are in the former school and have planned a full night (of sleep?) at camp 3. The ropes have only just been fixed so we will be one of the first teams to scale the Lhotse Face and probably the first team to sleep there. Two of our Shepas went ahead to fix camp. They are carrying oxygen in case we struggle during the night. The Lhotse Face is comprised of 60-70 degree pitches up to camp 3. It turns out that we have a couple of pretty serious problems to deal with. Firstly, the jet stream is still fully in place over Everest causing very high winds. While this has kept some teams tent bound we decide to brave them. Secondly, after a drier than normal winter, a lot of rock on the upper slopes is exposed and susceptible to being dislodged by wind or climbers. As some of the first climbers to head up the Lhotse Face we didn’t fully appreciate at the time how big an issue/concern this would become. We donned our (optional) helmets and started to ascend the Lhotse Face. Almost immediately, we were showered with rocks and ice from above (mostly from climbers descending). I was hit several times in the helmet, back and once in the glasses (thankfully I brought a spare). People shout “rock/ice” from above, but even if you do hear them above the wind you struggle to know whether to look up (in the hope of seeing and then dodging the falling debris and risk getting the timing wrong and getting hit in the face instead) or just burying your head in the snow, so to speak. The combination of 80km/h winds, rock showers, terrain, and cold made the journey to camp pretty tiring. However, we all made it in around 5 hours, not too bad considering. I found it more difficult to navigate the ropes/anchors with my big mittens on which slowed me down a fair bit at each change over point. If you get this wrong,it is a one-way express ticket to the bottom of the Lhotse Face. Not pleasant….
Our camp was simply two tents squeezed together on an ice shelf the Sherpas had calved into the 60degree slope. Wandering out at night to go to the toilet was out of the question(someone actually fell to their death doing this on a previous expedition). Despite the tough trip up to camp 3 and the biting winds, we all felt pretty good. There would be no need for oxygen ( on our summit push we would sleep on o2 at both camp 3 and 4). In fact, it crossed my mind whether I should consider trying to summit without oxygen…. Something I would later be talked out of pretty quickly.
We were due to leave camp 3 and return to base camp at around 5am (most people don’t sleep a wink and are eager to leave ASAP). We actually slept ok and when woken at 5am the winds were still very very strong so we decided to wait until the sun rose to at least take the edge off! In the end, we left around 9am ( I went back to sleep ) and stopped at camp 2 for the night as it was too late in the day to venture into the ice fall. While windy, the ride down was a lot easier as we abseiled all of the steep slopes.
It would turn out that we were lucky to get our acclimatisation night at camp 3 in so early. Many teams are still stuck at camp 2 waiting for the opportunity. The rock fall issue became critical (killing one Indian climber and badly injuring several others) and an alternative route is being investigated as I type (shutting down work on the higher slopes and potentially impacting overall timing). Russell Bryce has said that if no alternative route can be found he is shutting down his expedition…..