Recap of Camp III

It feels good to be back in my tent at base camp. A little like home and
a lot like a 5 star hotel compared to the high camps. Tomorrow marks my
one month anniversary here. I thought about leaving constantly during my
first week. But things have only gotten better. Visiting each high camp
has literally opened up new vistas and base camp itself reveals new
charms each day like the former ice rink next to my tent that now
burbles like a spring time brook.

It's Saturday evening and I'm propped up in my tent, three quarters
inside two sleeping bags with two 'girlfriends' as the medical officers
at the HRA tent like to joke (though sometimes saying 'boyfriends'). One
is a stainless steel water bottle and the other a quart sized Nalgene
bottle, both filled with boiling hot water. I'm sorry about the amount
of energy needed for boiling the water (Kerosene is hauled up here on a
porters back from Jiri – ten+ days away as it can't be flown into Lukla)
but have accepted it as a guilty luxury. Usually I only have one
girlfriend in my bag at night, but I'm rewarding myself for a successful
trip to Camp III and back.

We left last Tuesday at 4:30am which is a little later compared to other
groups. I didn't mind because it meant less travel by headlamps. A lot
of people like to talk about how much time the shave off their second
trip across the ice fall, presumably because they are better acclimated.
I think it might have taken a few minutes less this trip, maybe 5:15
instead of 5:30, but this time I knew we were going direct to Camp II
and not stopping at Camp I for the night, so I was in no hurry. The ice
fall is more of an 'up' than an 'across'. It didn't feel any easier to
me. I saw the same cough drop wrappers this time, froze (literally and
figuratively) on some of the same ladders spanning yawning crevasses,
and often mindlessly plodded along only to be interrupted by incredible
views of the sun on Pumo Ri behind us, the Lhotse face getting bigger in
front, and the jumble of ice blocks below.

When we finally got to Camp I, I was happy to sit on my ass for a break
in the snow and eat Chapati and 'dried grapes'. I tried to convince
Damai these were raisins, but it was fruitless. Kami took off ahead of
us – with the aim of setting the two tents back up at Camp II. They had
been taken down on our last trip so they wouldn't get shredded by the
wind. We followed and pretty soon ended up walking in a sort of sideways
snow storm. I've heard of people having terrible vertigo in white-outs
because there is no point of reference. I was worried that might happen
but I could always see the vague figure of Damai ahead of me and snow
wands every 20-30 feet, these became milestones that I became fixated
on, but every rise just revealed more. A few hours of this finally
brought me to Camp II where I sprawled in my tent for a couple hours.

The weather was alternately sunny and snowy. This time I had my kindle
and spent most of the day reading and trying to keep the tent
temperature controlled. It's funny – you don't think of Everest being
hot but the sun can quickly bake you when you are on snow or in a closed
tent.

Tuesday evening found more snow coming down. Wednesday was pretty
uneventful. I spent almost the entire day in my tent,
resting/acclimating, and reading. About a foot of snow had fallen and a
lot of teams that were planning on going up the mountain went down
instead, including Robin and Christine who were also at Camp II (I found
this out later, Camp II is really spread out). In retrospect, I'm glad
we stuck it out. On Thursday morning we headed out, following a nice
path through the new snow, higher up the valley, passing a large number
of tents that made up the upper section of Camp II. The trail was
relatively gentle all the way to the base of the Lhotse face but the
altitude made me walk like an old man, with rest stops on my ass every
10 minutes or so.

The bergschrund is the name for where the snow from the mountain cleaves
off into a glacier. At least this is my basic understanding of the term.
In reality, it has a couple crevasses and tricky moves on an ice ledge,
but it was over in less than 10 minutes and we found ourselves on the
Lhotse face, clipped into a fixed line with our ascendars and safety
lines. Even though the slope was between 45-65 degrees, technically it
was not that hard to go up as the snow from the previous two days and
previous people had created foot-steps in a lot of places. There were
occasional bands of blue ice that were exhausting to get past because I
had to front point with my crampons – but bad as these were, they
provided nice milestones like the snow wands further below. Every 20-30
feet the fixed line would be anchored by a snow screw or two and this
also provided an excuse to sit on my ass for a few minutes before I
would finally move my ascendar and safety past the anchor(s). I was
under the false impression it usually took 1-2 hours to get up the face,
but I think it actually took closer to 3-4. Everyone moved in slow
motion, each step up was usually followed with 6-10 rest breaths. Slow!
I've never been so happy to finally reach our tent, a virtual eagle's
nest robustly anchored down to a tiny platform carved into the snow on
the face. A huge thanks to Damai and Kami for setting it up. After a few
minutes, Kami headed down to Camp II. Three people in the tent was a bit
much and most people don't want to stay at Camp III if they have a
choice. I wanted to sleep there to better acclimate and Damai was there
to help out and keep an eye on me.

The night at Camp III was pretty windy but I actually slept 'ok' without
oxygen. Damai wanted me to use some for a few hours before going to bed
but I was feeling ok (no headache, no nausea) and didn't see the need to
use up a good amount of what is meant to be the emergency bottle at Camp
III. But we did attach the regulator, causing a burst of gas to escape
which freaked me out because we also had a stove going in the tent.
After deciding we weren't going to self-immolate at ~24,000 ft, I then
decided to freak out because the regulator said there was only 3 liters
in the tank. Oxygen comes in both 3 and 4 liter tanks and in developing
my contract with Ngwang, I was super uptight about specifying brand new
4 liter tanks direct from Poisk which is the premier oxygen supplier. A
lot of the problems/deaths on Everest have been related to substandard
oxygen. But the tanks had been completely wrapped in black electrical to
differentiate themselves from other teams tanks (?), consequently
obscuring the usual origin/fill information this also obscured any
origin information. I started thinking about the 7 bottles I had ordered
(most clients have five but I ponied up $1,000 extra for two additional
bottles) which should total 28 liters…but if there were only 3 liters
to the bottle I would only end up with 21 liters which would mean that I
didn't really have the safety margin of two extra bottles. At one point
Damai said he thought they were one year old and that while they were
originally 4 liters, probably a liter of gas had escaped over the course
of a year. This didn't make me feel any better. Eventually, I calmed
down (and this was confirmed yesterday after returning to base camp)
that the bottles were brand new and the measures via the regulator were
significantly affected by the atmospheric pressure, quite likely correct
at 4 liters at sea level, but closer to 3.5 in Kathmandu and 3 liters at
Camp III. If anyone thinks the bottles should read 4 liters at any
altitude…please let me know – but my sense is all is well.

Friday morning found us rappelling down the face. The fixed lines for
rappelling down were frequently buried in the snow which required a lot
of yanking and made it difficult to get the rope slack enough so it
would fit into the rappel device. Going up, I wasn't that scared because
we were leaning into the mountain and moving slowly. Going down –
everything was dependent on one or two ice screws and we were leaning
out and moving fast. An anchor failure would likely mean cart-wheeling
to eternity. What took a few hours to get up probably only took 30
minutes to get down. It was incredibly windy and surreal and my fingers
were completely numb by the time we got to the base where it suddenly
transformed into a calm sunny day.

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful. We trudged back to Camp II
in under an hour. It's so much easier to go down! Damai ended up
continuing on the base camp to get checked out for a health issue.
Yesterday morning Kami and I left camp at 6:15 am and four hours later
we were back at base camp – just getting out of the Ice Fall before it
got unbearably hot and dangerous. After some sprawling in the tent and
cold drinks (sadly, not beer) – I dropped by Robin and Christine's
dining tent and learned that they turned around on Wednesday at Camp II
but were headed up this morning. They were a little bummed not to have
Camp III behind them and to have a pretty dicey weather forecast ahead
of them (storms on the mountain for the next week?) but they are
essentially ending up with an additional acclimatization trip to Camp II
which may be beneficial. I heard a virtual army of people walking past
my tent at 3 this morning, heading for the Ice Fall, and I assume they
were some of the footsteps. There have been several avalanches near the
Ice Fall since then…one of which appears to have altered the current
route judging by an uncharacteristic knot of tiny dots (people) that I
saw on the ice fall a couple hours ago when I got out of my tent for a
stretch. I hope they are alright!

That's it. My tent is starting to bake in the morning sun. I'm looking
forward to a nice slow walk to Gorak Shep to post this along with some
pictures. Also to get caught up with some personal/work email. I'm
spending a lot of time imagining a couple days at the Radisson Hotel in
Kathmandu when this is over – an idea of Robin and Christine. It
apparently has a roof-top swimming pool. We all have accommodation at
cheap places pre-booked…but a little self-indulgence and luxury is
feeling appropriate. We're all thinking that if we go for the summit in
~2 weeks…we could be home before the end of the month. I have a ticket
back around June 7th but can change it for a nominal fee. I love it here
but am also ready to get this behind me and be back in Seattle. And I'm
also starting to imagine the Beacon Rock run with Kelly (and maybe
Pablo, Scotty, Eric, Terry, other friends?). Running on single track
through nice Oregon forests (I haven't seen any green vegetation in
almost 5 weeks!) is super appealing. It's a James Varner/Rainshadow run
which almost always means good fun at the end – maybe live blue grass
with good beer on tap and nice people. Last – it has some loops so if I
can't do 50k…there are always shorter options. Kelly didn't really
have to talk me into it yesterday, I was already sold.

But, for today, I will walk.

Cheers, Seth

P.S. – Well…maybe not walk. My stomach wasn't too happy with me today
and I ended up bailing on walking to Gorak Shep…so here I am, later in
the day, sending this in via sat phone modem which means no pics. Soon!

2 Responses to “Recap of Camp III

  • Thanks for the great descriptions, Seth! Even though I’ve been able to talk to you on the phone often, I still get so much more detail when you write it all out.
    FYI, Beacon Rock is on the WA side of the Columbia River gorge – so re-direct your imaginings to single track in beautiful Washington State, and you’re right on.
    Remember the BRAT for your tummy (B does NOT stand for Beer, though I believe you have some en route in the next day or so) – take care and rest up.
    ~Kelly

  • Hey Seth! I’m reading these reports! Stay safe!! Very interesting to hear about the oxygen bottles, costs, et al. Hope you can pass the time peaceably enough in between the “action”. Lots of people doing races back here this weeekend. Next weekend is Lost Lake. Planning on trotting, early start. Keep posting–I’ll be reading! And I’m sure others too.

Feedback welcome