May 9th: Update from Basecamp
Greetings from basecamp on the North side of Everest once again. Thank you for the comments from so many people over the last few days. It’s very nice to get the messages of support and they mean a lot and give a lot of positive energy. Really important on these long expeditions.
Together with the rest of our team I just returned two days ago from a 4 day acclimatisation cycle, back up to the North Col at 7050m elevation.
My mother always used to tell me never to go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. It will lead to me making bad decisions. Well I have decided never to make decisions about my high altitude climbing future whilst on an acclimatisation cycle. It could also lead to me making bad decisions.
It was an uneventful, and successful acclimatisation cycle. However it was tiring and quite miserable with some long days and nights with the inevitable sleeplessness, cold and general lack of energy that high altitude brings.
We made the push from basecamp upto ABC in one long day, skipping the Interim Camp. This is a height gain of 1200m from 5200m to 6400m at ABC, and covers around 17 horizontal km. A morning’s training exercise at sea-level in Singapore, but here at altitude it takes on a different dimension. I set-off at 7:45AM with the single intent of making it to ABC that day without being too exhausted. 7.5 hours later I pulled into ABC quite happy to arrive and still in control of the situation. Mission accomplished.
The whole aim of my movement on the lower slopes of Everest while acclimatising is to arrive at my destination in control. I pay little attention to the time it takes me to get there. I prefer to walk or climb alone if possible as I can travel completely at my own pace. If I can arrive 5,6 or 10 hours later and still be taking photo’s/video’s, looking at the scenery and sitting down on arrival to drink tea and chat, I know I am in control. If I arrive and havn’t taken a photo for the last 3 hours, can hardly talk and head straight for the tent then I am not in control, and am overextended. The problem with getting overextended in climbing is that it becomes easy to make mistakes. You stop putting on sunblock when you need to, don’t clip the rope properly, don’t watch your feet and trip on your crampons, stop drinking, all small things but can escalate into big problems later on.
I thought I was guaranteed a good sleep that night at ABC after a long day of physical toil. Instead I spent all night, lying in my sleeping bag staring at the tent fabric in minus 20 degrees C. Watching the minutes count down on my watch until sunrise. Sunrise on the mountain is a magical time. When the suns rays hit the the tent for the first time in many hours and the feeling of warmth slowly starts creeping through your veins.
We had a rest day to recover from the walk-up. Above 6000m facial edema becomes common. People’s face start to swell with fluid during the night. People really look like crap over breakfast. Margaret summed up the mood we all felt: I don’t feel like sleeping, I don’t feel like eating, I don’t feel like reading my book, I don’t feel like going for a walk, I don’t feel like doing anything. That’s high altitude lethargy.
I spent most of the day lying in my tent reading Annapurna South Face, by Chris Bonington. I had one main aim during the day. Not to pee into my drinking bottle. My drinking bottle and my pee bottle are similar colors. I need to have them both inside my sleeping bags at all times so they don’t freeze. Its very easy to pull the wrong one out at the wrong time for the wrong use. By 4pm I had successfully pee’d into my drinking bottle. At least I did not drink it I guess. On Aconcagua in 2005 I drank my climbing partners pee. She had pee’d in the cooking pot during the night during a storm and forgot to empty it or tell me in the morning. I boiled it up with a teabag. Earl Grey. It didn’t taste to bad.
That night I had another night of staring at the tent fabric. I occasionally dosed off to some very vivid dreams of being stuck in a tent battling up the south face of Annapurna whilst drinking my climbing partners pee. I maybe got 2 hours of sleep.
Daylight could not come around fast enough. And what a day it was. Light snow on the ground, not a breath of wind. Perfect for climbing to the North Col. I was feeling very lethargic after two nights of bad sleep. The problem was not so much the lack of sleep, but not being able to recover from the walk up BC to ABC. I resolved myself to a long day of physical and mental torture putting one foot in front of the other.
Five and a half hours later I pulled out onto the North Col. Physically it was tough. If I listened to my physical being I would have given up at the bottom of the fixed ropes. So mentally I shut off and thought about other things. It was definitely easier climbing up in better weather than it had been the week before. On the Col I sat on the snow beside Phil and Andrew Locke as the rest of the team made their way slowly up to join us. A few photo’s and a couple of Satellite phone calls to the Stephanie and David Lim and it was time to go back down the ropes.
Attached is a short YOUTUBE video of the climbing up the North Col.
The next day after a 6 hour walk I was back in basecamp at 3pm, just in time for happy hour. One bottle of Lhasa beer later I was high as a kite and ready for bed. I am a cheap date at the moment. What a joy to be back in basecamp. A hot shower, clean clothes, but most importantly the luxury of being able to lie down and go to sleep the entire night (well at least until 5am when I usually get up).
One of the first things I also did when I returned was to call my sister Debra, in New Zealand. For those of you who are new to reading this blog, Debra was very nearly killed in February in a car accident in New Zealand(read more here). She has finally left hospital, but not the hospital bed, which has been moved back to her house and she is recuperating there. I havn’t managed to speak to Debra for over two weeks, so it was great to hear her voice. She sounds much stronger and more positive than when I last spoke. She currently spends 4 hours per day doing rehab exercises on her smashed legs. The discomfort I am going through on this mountain is nothing compared to what she is going through and just talking with her as usual gave me strength.
So the situation is now. I am fully acclimatised to climb to the summit of the world. Now it becomes a waiting game. Waiting for:
- The rope fixing team to fix the ropes on the mountain(today I think/hope they will reach 8300m)
- Our Sherpa team to deliver oxygen and other equipment to the high camps on the mountain
- Our Sherpa team to return to BC here and rest and recover from their effort (These guys are supermen at altitude, seriously)
- A weather window where the wind drops down to less than 30mph for a few days so we can sneak up to the summit and down without getting turned into icicles or blown off the mountain completely.
This season on Everest is turning to be a real event, especially on the south side where rockfall and other issues have sent some major teams home early. For more info on this please read Alan Arnette’s excellent daily updates on his site:
UPDATE on NORTHSIDE numbers.
A Polish team has turned up here on the North Side. I have updated the post I made on total number of climbers from the North Side. Click here to check it out.
Enjoy the below photo’s.