Chutes and Ladders! Back at EBC…

Hi all, I’m writing this from the relative comforts of BC, having just
returned from Camp II a couple hours ago. What a trip! Damai Sherpa and
I left at about ~4am two days ago. The trip up the ice fall was like a
huge, 3 dimensional, uphill jigsaw puzzle. There really are blocks of
ice as big as houses, sometimes apartment buildings. A lot of the route
had fixed ropes (thanks to the ice doctors) and we clipped into these
about 2/3rds of the time with our personal anchors. I didn’t need to use
my jumar (ascendar) to get up any of the steep sections as there were
often steps in the ice that other people had created with their
crampons. We did not travel roped together – I didn’t see anyone roped
together the entire time. We were passed by quite a few Sherpa, many
friends of Damai. I was surprised to see lots of Sherpa moving without
crampons and would see the occasional pair stashed by the wayside, often
clipped into an ice screw or snow picket. Most of these Sherpa were
carrying loads (O2 bottles, tents, stoves, food) to Camp I and Camp II
and not guiding clients. About two thirds of the way up I saw a lot of
fabric sandwiched into an ice pillar. I was a little freaked that it
might be a body, but it turned out to be a tent from Camp I that the
ice fall had consumed. Whew.

The horizontal ladders across crevasses were not as bad as I anticipated
– so long as I focused on making sure I placed my crampons correctly
between the rungs and did not look down into the depths of the crevasse.
I kept telling myself ‘focus on the near ground’! Most of the Sherpas
would cross with just a rung on their instep – sometimes without
clipping in with their personal anchor. A little unnerving to watch.

At the top of the ice fall things evened out and we entered the Western
Cwm (Danish for valley?). There were still huge crevasses, sometimes
with ladders, but the way was much more flat. Better was the view – in
between some crevasses we could see a collection of tents which were
Camp I and straight up the valley the Lhotse face. About 2/3rds of the
way up the face, the fabled yellow band of rock. And above this, and to
the left, the South Col and the ridge leading up to the Hillary Step,
the South Summit, and the summit of Everest itself. Simply amazing.
Walking through Camp I was a trip too. A lot of teams had areas staked
off for their tents. There was a sort of a corridor between these and a
lot of hustle as people were setting up tents etc. All of the tents were
criss-crossed with rope which were then tied down to snow pickets. We
set up ours between Peak Promotions and Altitude Junkies. I talked to
Phil who was the guide from the latter company for a few minutes before
diving into our tent around ~10:00am. The wind was really starting to
pick up! After an hour or so, Robin and Christine from Peak Promotions
showed up and I jumped out to say hello and take some pictures but the
wind was difficult to deal with. Damai and I pretty much stayed in our
tent for the rest of the day. The wind got to the point where it would
make one side of the tent bend in half and we would have to push back
from the inside with our hands and feet. I’ve never experienced anything
like it. Occasionally we’d yell jokes back and forth with Robin and
Christine. I made the mistake of not bringing a book or cards, just a
map of Nepal. Damai and I spent a lot of time exploring the map and
talking about the different expeditions/mountains he has guided on – the
guy is amazing.

In total, I think ~6 tents wended up being shredded by the wind.
Luckily, not ours. Still, a pretty sleepless night. I spoke briefly with
Robin and Christine in the morning a(this was yesterday) and they said
they were just going to set up their tents at Camp II and then go back
down to BC. Christine said she would stash a book near the front of her
tent and that I could read it while at Camp II. Hurray! Kami Sherpa also
showed up from BC and left us to make his own way to Camp II so that he
could work on getting things set up more.

The wind was still blowing pretty strong. But Damai and I eventually got
out and headed up the Cwm. I’d heard different reports of how long it
would take to get to Camp II and just hunkered down for a slog. The
slope was pretty gradual but sometimes there were huge detours around
crevasses. I think it took us ~3hrs. Toward the end, I had to stop and
rest every 50 steps or so, the altitude was really getting to me. I’m
still unsure what altitude we were at, Kelly wrote 21,000+ which is
higher than I have ever been, much less slept at. Camp II was not as
social as Camp I. Nestled a bit near the West ridge of Everest, on rocks
instead of snow. Damai said it usually took almost an hour to get from
the first tent to the last. I think we were near the former since I saw
only a couple other team tents before collapsing in one of ours. Again,
it was mid-morning. Still windy and colder. I called Kelly on my sat
phone and checked in (a huge thanks for posting updates!!!). I started
going stir-crazy after a couple hours. Why didn’t I bring my kindle up?
Or a pen and some paper? With my boots back on, I slipped down some snow
covered scree to Damai and Kami’s tent and said I wanted to take a walk
to look for Robin and Christin’s tents and for the left book. Their
tents said ‘Peak Promotions’ on them, so it wouldn’t be a total shot in
the dark., but trying to find their tents among the hills and valley
would be a big effort. And at this point we were still not sure whether
we would be at Camp II for one or two nights. The prospect of sitting in
my tent with nothing to do for another day was awful – even if it meant
better acclimatization. But I could tell by the look on their faces that
they were not supportive of my field trip. It was snowy and windy and
the whole area was riddled by hidden crevasses. When they reminded me
that this was where the fabled Babu Chiri Sherpa (who summitted many
times and once spent over 20 hours on the top without O2) had fallen to
his death into a crevasse while taking ‘a little walk to shoot some
video’, I backed off. Suffice to say, the rest of the day was spent in
the tent watching the wind make it bend and flex. I had some NPR ‘Radio
Lab’ pod casts for entertainment, rationing the battery as I knew I
would probably be up for most of the night. I made up stories in my head
and became an expert at all the functions on my sat phone and digital
camera. The wind picked up and I stopped trying to brace the inside of
the tent, tired and fatalistically figuring it was stronger than I gave
it credit for…it was a long night.

We finally left Camp II around 8am today. I left my -40 bag so I
wouldn’t have to carry it up again, some socks, a tooth brush etc. Damai
and I left first, Kami stayed behind to secure things but soon caught up
to us. The walk down to Camp I should have been easy but the wind gusts
knocked us off balance and hurled stinging pieces of snow at any piece
of exposed flesh. I was happy to have goggles and a ‘buff’ that I could
pull up over my mouth and nose like a bank robber. I used a single ski
pole most of the way down, bracing myself against the wind. I didn’t
wear crampons for about 90% of the way, it was a little slippery but the
going was much faster without them.

Our tent at Camp I was barely intact, one side was completely indented.
I thought the poles were broken but they apparently have a lot of flex.
Damai borrowed my knife and cut most of the guy lines as they were too
taught to untie. We rolled the whole thing up and tied it to a snow
picket, knowing that it would be shredded if left upright. A few things
got away from us and simply went sailing as pieces of storm litter. We
took refuge for few minutes in Altitude Junkies safety tent – a
bomb-proof Mtn Hardware dome (thanks!) before heading down.

As soon as we were off the Cwn and back into the ice fall the wind died
down and things started to roast. It was a lot faster going down than
up, but also getting on towards noon. I’d always promised myself I would
not try to go through the ice fall when the sun was on it..dangerous!
But here we were. One of the most frustrating things is that there are
only a couple places you can safely rest. You have too keep moving
because everything around (including under) you can move at any time.
But other than a small avalanche in the distance though – nothing moved.
I was beat by the time we hit the glacier at the bottom. I could see our
camp, but it still took another 30-45 minutes before I was ‘home’.

Whew! I feel like I’ve run three ultras in three days. Today was
probably only 4-5hrs start to finish, but it wiped me out, as did the
last two days. It’s great to be back at BC and away from the wind. I’ve
never experienced anything like that. Hopefully the next trip up will be
calmer. We’re supposed to skip Camp I and go directly to Camp II. We’ll
probably spend a few days there and then go ‘tag’, or maybe overnight,
at Camp III on the Lhotse face. Should be a fun adventure – and one with
some reading material and cards in hand. Climbing the Lhotse face scares
me almost as much as the ice fall. Lots steep blue ice and no room for
mistakes. I’m not sure when the trip will be, at least a few days from
now. No hurry on my side :)

Cheers everyone. Thanks for your notes of support. I’ve attached the
classic pic of crossing an ice-ladder. A bit of a cliche! Sorry for the
low-resolution and also for any typos here. I’m unable to make edits
after posting which is a bit frustrating. Email works for me, but not
web surfing. I might try to take a walk to Gorak Shep tomorrow, where I
get a better signal, w/the hopes that I can upload some of the other
pics. Until next time – Seth

2 Responses to “Chutes and Ladders! Back at EBC…

  • Great write-up! Thanks for all the details! If it weren’t like 75 degrees and humid where I am right now, and there weren’t cigarette smoke blowing in my face, and I didn’t have a pint of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in front of me, I would say I could almost imagine being there. But actually, I can’t!! So your blog post will have to be close enough. (o:

  • Kelly, where is 75 degrees?!
    Seth, ladder photos are not trite to me so I really appreciate seeing it. Also, all the details in your log are making it possible for us to “be there.” Also glad to hear you have a reasonable amount of caution!

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