Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Lhotse Face

I am back at base camp now and have been resting the last two days. I am really tired from our last trip up the mountain as it was epic, physically and mentally. I dont really feel like doing anything except eating and sleeping which is why i havent written for my blog yet! Its so nice to just have a few days where I dont have to think to much. Actually spending so long at altitude has aready made me very slow! Well atleast I hope its the altitude....

We left to go up the icefall a little earlier this time, around 4:20am. I felt really good heading up this time as I had acclimatised more since the last time. I made it to Camp 1 in four and a half hours which is an hour less than the first time. I saw my friend Mike there and decided to stop and catch up with him while Dawa went ahead to fix the tent. It was great to catch up with Mike but it was a really bad decision to leave later from Camp 1. I started off again around 10:30am and by this time the Western Cwm was hot! I stripped down to my thermals but unfortuneatly they were black. I was roasting, there was no breeze and to make matters worse I only had a litre of water. Also the kitchen sherpa forgot to give me my packed lunch and Dawa lightened my bag a little by taking my snacks!! The first time it only took two and a half hours but now that it was like walking in the desert in the middle of summer, with not enough water, it took me four. By the time I got close to camp, I was so dehydrated and suffering heat stroke that I thought I was going to pass out. Every five steps I had to stop and lean over my trekking pole. About 200mts from the tent I could no longer carry my bag which was around 15 kilos so I dumped it in the snow. I finally saw Dawas smiling face as he was very proud of the amazing tent platform he had made by digging all the snow off down to the rock to be warmer. I wasnt so impressed at this point and shouted at him to bring me water! I practically crawled into the tent while he went and got my pack for me.... Thats when he asked did I like my packed lunch? I was like what packed lunch?? We both laughed that he had my snacks, a packed lunch and he got water along the way off his sherpa mates! Classic.
Looking down the Western Cwm to Camp 1
Decided to walk around the 5 ladder crevass this time!
Heading towards Camp 2 Everest is on the left, with Lhotse and the Lhotse face on the right

I then had a really resless sleep because I was so dehydrated. We decided to have a rest day the next day because Dawa was really tired too after carrying around 25 kilos the day before and busting his gut making our tent site. It was really hot again during the next day so we put our sleeping bags on the roof of the tent to make shade inside and it was alot cooler. My friend Mariano said he measured around 50 degrees in his tent that day!
Rest day Camp 2

The next morning Dawa had to take a load to Camp 3 so I got up also to go up the fixed ropes on the Lhotse face to acclimatise before going to sleep at Camp 3 the next night. Again a really bad decision to wear my leather Nepali Extreme boots that day because we both thought they would be warm enough and thus began my nightmare! It took about an hour to walk along the glacier to the Lhotse face and my toes were frozen like wood. I had to take my boots off and shove my feet under Dawas armpits until the sun hit us. He went off up the Lhotse face with his heavy pack and I slowly started to jug up the fixed ropes. I was in the sun but still couldnt feel my feet which was so annoying. I really wanted to get higher before heading back to camp. Once you get past the bergshrund the face is around 45 degrees and sometimes a bit steeper, a bit flatter, snow or blue ice. The ropes are really good quality and the anchors are all sponsored by black diamond. Still when ten people are all hauling up one rope its hard to believe the anchors dont just fail.....but they havent so far! I got to around 6900mt and had to turn around because of my freezing feet. They only warmed up when I got back down onto the boiling glacier again. So back to tent to rest and pack for the next day move to Camp 3.

The Lhotse face

Taking a break on the fixed lines. Camp 2 back down on the glacier.

I decided that apart from wearing my Millet boots I would also leave a bit later so that by the time we got to the face it would be in the sun. This meant I left at 7:00am and Dawa followed behind me. Once we got to the fixed ropes he went ahead to go make a tent platform. My feet were still cold but nothing like the day before. Sadly I was still having trouble with my toes until the sun came out. Once they warmed up though it was all good. There are two camp 3 sites, one is lower at around 7000mt and the other is higher at 7200mt. We were using the high one as it is closer to the south col which is around 7900mt. As I was getting nearer to the low camp I could see climbers above on the blue ice in a group not moving. I was starting to fear the worst and as I got closer I thought that I could see someone giving CPR. If this were the case I was certain the patient was not going to have a good outcome being on Everest and a long way from a proper hospital.

When I got there I realised that this was the case and the group were mostly guides and sherpas and the patient was a client. Sadly it was one of my friend Mikes clients and he had a heart attack on the fixed lines. Max the other guide had already been giving him CPR for the last hour and a half. The only thing left to try was an injection of adrenalin so another guide came down from the camp to bring it. The Dr on the radio said to give it a minute and if there was no pulse that was all they could do. I counted out two minutes. It was a really sad moment when everyone realised that was it. I had met the guy before so I felt really sad too. I couldnt even begin to imagine how this would effect Mikes group. There was nothing I could do to help so I moved on. The sherpa would take him down to Camp 2 where a couple of days later his body would get taken out in a helicopter. I was so impressed by the guides and they truelly did everything they could to help him but it was futile.

Dawa had come down from the camp at this point to take my bag to help me as the camp was only around 30 min away. When I arrived I was amazed to see how much work he had done to put up our tent! The camp is on a 45 to 50 degree snow slope so all the tent sites had to be cut out of the snow. He had also made a big snow wall around the tent to protect it from the wind. I had felt pretty good all day but after watching the incident with Mikes client I now felt pretty sad. Everything at 7200 mt is a serious effort so it took me a really long time to unpack my things and sort the tent out. Then I became really cold because I had exerted so much energy that day so I put on my downsuit and got in my sleeping bag which soon fixed that problem! Dawa started to make water by melting the snow inside the vestible in the jetboil....the fumes from the stove made me feel worse again! Even though it wasnt really that bad I felt like the stove was stealing my oxygen and it gave me an even bigger headache to add to the dehydration one! So I managed to get down some noodle soup, cheese and tea but that was it before going to bed. Dawa and I both had a hideous night. He had the Khumbu cough all night and I had a combination of a headache mixed with chain stokes breathing. Sleep apnea is the other name for this fabulous side effect of sleeping at altitude. Basically when you sleep your heart rate and breathing slow down and your body slowly starts to starve of oxygen.....then right in the middle of deep sleep you wake up gasping for air just like you have been suffocating. Ahhhhh the joys of altitude. So this happened all night. When I woke up Dawa told me I also had facial oedema so I looked all puffy. Slowly this went away however.
The view from the tent at Camp 3

Dawa left at 6am to take a load to the south col but I waited until the sun hit the tent until I got moving. I ended up leaving around 10 am and it took two hours to rappel down the fixed lines and walk back to the tent at Camp 2. Sometimes it was a bit difficult with the big pack on coming down the blue ice but I took my time at those parts. I had to collect ice and make water for lunch and for when Dawa got back in the afternoon. He decided to take the last load to the south col that night so he left at 3am to go back up with a 20 kilo back pack. I now call him 'Super Sherpa' because he truelly is. Whenever I ask him if he is tired he always just says no not really. Crazy!! So I packed my things and headed off at 7:30am the next morning down the Cwm back towards basecamp. I was a bit worried about going through the icefall on my own but I hoped that I would meet someone to go down with. Luckily at Camp 1 I did as Mike was also on his way down with his sherpa so I tagged along with them. Just as we walked out of the camp we heard a massive roar and looked to see a very big avalanche come down off Nuptse ridge. Alot of people were underneath it on their way to camp 2 and I could see them running. Very quickly however they were swallowed up in a white cloud of snow. I got my camera out and filmed it. As the cloud cleared I could see people emerge but we werent sure if everyone was alright. Later I found out that one sherpa had lost his backpack and another had been thrown 10 meters but no one was injured miraculously.
Mike starting down a ladder in the icefall

As we started down the icefall the weather turned on us and it became a blizzard. I was really happy to have some company at this point. Mike was setting a fast pace so I was flat out to keep up with him. As we got close to base the weather started to clear and I headed towards my camp and said goodbye to Mike. It was great to be back and I went straight to the kitchen tent for a hot drink and a banana chocolate pancake!

During our time up the mountain Dawa and I had lengthy discussions about the use of oxygen. I was very worried about how cold my feet had been already and we werent even above 8000mt. On summit day we would actually be spending around seven or eight hours walking in the dark. I have not had as much problem with my feet on Cho Oyu but also it is alot lower and I did leave at 5am on summit day. Without oxygen I would also be moving alot slower which makes it very dangerous and I may have to turn around and go back if I was not fast enough. So it was a heavy decision for me as it was my dream but safety comes first and I have now decided use it. Dawa had carried six oxygen bottles to the south col anyway. Three for him and the other three for me incase I changed my mind or needed them in an emergency. So we are now all ready to go anyhow with our tent, food and gas for the stove there also.

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