First rotation to camp 1&2: Beautiful, but exhausting …

I left base camp with Billy and a sherpa around 3.15am. Thank god we had him, as I would have struggled to find the way in the dark. We passed through base camp looking up into the Khumbu icefall where many headlamps moved up slowly. Its a path of about 700m in altitude terms through ice bricks as large as houses (or bigger). we used fixed ropes, ladders (vertical and horizontal) and a lot of leg work to manoeuvre through this. It took me about 5 hours to the top. 

once you emerge from the icefall, you enter the western cwm (welsh for valley) and camp one seemed so close now. think again! no straight lines here, but rather meandering through a snow dessert in all directions. ladder crossings, climbing down hills, jumaring up hills (basically clipping into a fixed rope with an ascender device). and by now the sun was burning hot and my pace slowed markedly. the news over the walky talkies of other team members already hitting camp one didn’t help psychologically, but one has to go at its own pace. after 6:45h I made it to the camp just before 10am (team members ranged from 4/5h to 9h). exhausted to say the least.

after arrival, Jon was already waiting in the tent, the normal procedure of re-hydrating began. that means brewing loads of water in the provided jetboil-stoves one liter at a time. a nap ensued ;o) dinner had some high altitude food on offer. specifically smoked bacon and bean soup that just needed heating up in hot water. done. sleep though this time with first use of demux and some painkillers for the headaches. first night at 6,050m was restless.  

in the morning we had the option of resting a day or going for camp 2. I chose the latter, which resulted in an ordeal to say the least. camp two is located some 350m higher up the western cwm and 3.5km in distance. it turned into a psychological nightmare. my Suunto watch measured the altitude incorrectly. so when after some 1,5h or so our strongest climber (Steve) reported to have hit camp 2 and my watch showed I had barely made it to 6,100m I thought OMG. i just didn’t have the breath to go much faster than I did. at this pace, I calculated, I would get to camp 2 only by 3pm … 7hours of climbing. that would mean on summit day I’d need 12hours or more to hit the top. bad. 

after a period of strong sunshine, the valley clouded up though the heat remained as if were in a greenhouse. hot stuff. after 3hours of walking I bumped into Jon on his way back down. I told him that i was slow and asked if I could borrow his head torch given that I left mine at camp 1 and I though at this pace I might well end up returning at night. he looked confused and said that camp 2 is merely 20mins away. different to my watch (that said I am at 6,200m) I was already close to the 6,400m target level. slow, but not that slow after all. brief stop at camp and then return down with Tim and Scot in one hour. that day I was less tired in the end and slept better as well. 

day 3 was technically meant to be the day when we all move up to camp 2 to overnight there. however, there had been an accident in the icefall that injured one sherpa (he is fine now) and blocked the supply route preventing our sherpa’s to fit out camp 2 beyond the mess tent and one single tent that had already been in place. Steve and Scott moved up, the rest stayed. not to waste time we enjoyed a few rounds of frisby dart (it was the wrong terrain for frisby golf). we chatted to Andy (scotland) and Hanna (Poland) who joined in for a game. Jon’s double out finishes were unbeatable delivering two victories to team Jon & Rory. the rest of the day we spent reading books – I recommend ‘die rückkehr zum cafe am rande der welt’ (available in 20 languages). food was a little tight by now and so Jon and I shared a coup a soup, he had crackers with pate and I had crackers with a can of sardines. bon appetite!

day 4 was then back to schedule and we all moved up the hill. it was to be my worst day yet. despite a rest day, it took me 4 hours for the stretch and last one to arrive. just didn’t have the air again. however, i pulled through and made it to camp. short evening, scare of a mild cold (nose running, coughing etc) and a very restless night of sleep at 6,400m. usually, I sleep well until say midnight or 1am and then turn and roll. this time, it felt like I was rolling from the start despite a very warm sleeping bag (love the RAB1400 expedition bag!). that is acclimatisation for you I guess. 

day 5 … finally! we return down to base camp. 1,100m descent through the cwm and the icefall. I went with Billy. great time at an enjoyable pace saw us back at base camp 5:30m later. much abseiling, ladder and rope action included. great day though somewhat ruined by the movie choice in the evening … Lars and the real girl. what a rubbish (many members falling asleep), but I am not pointing fingers ;o)


Today I am enjoying a day off in Gorak Shep (5,200m) with some beer, many trekkers and good friends Jon & Rory. Next rotation to camp three (7,200m) starts saturday.  


Moving up to camp 1 tomorrow; jumar/ladder training and a photo shoot filled the past 2 days

Tonight’s sleep will end early as we will convene for 3am breakfast and 3.30am departure to the Khumbu icefall. We leave early to avoid the heat of the day that not only brings sunburn, but also higher risks of avalanches, serac fall and potentially traffic jams with other teams. 

The weather looks ok albeit the forecasts suggests 30cm new snow. Its generally quite warm for the season and every day and night we are listening to a concert of avalanches and serac falls. Scary sometimes though they usually sound worse than they are. 

The aim tomorrow will be to gain c700m altitude from base camp to camp 1 at 6,000m, stay two nights and then move up to camp 2 (6,400m) for another night’s sleep. We’ll be cooking ourselves in C1 and all the team is next door picking their snacks and rations as I write this. We all probably underestimate how much our hunger will disappear at altitude. But heh! We can stash excess supplies anytime and consume later on the hill.

It will be tough going through the icefall at night and to altitude levels few of us are yet acclimatised for (only Steve has been as high when summitting Mera Peak and Lobuche East, my personal highpoint so far 5,800m). Take some painkillers for the headaches! 

Today and yesterday we have been preparing further for the technical challenges ahead. First, using ascender devices  (or jumars) that are used to ascend the fixed lines especially in steeper sections and safe abseiling techniques (it won’t be straight uphill to the top). Not too difficult though cumbersome to operate with mitts. 

Second, we practiced how to cross ladders safely. These are prevalent in the Khumbu icefall and the Western cwm to bridge crevasses (some as deep as 50m or 80m). The longest vertical ladder Tim has encountered was made up of 13 (!) individual ladders. Will be fun and probably shaky!

Our morning finished (would you believe it) with a photo shoot. We all served as models for the sunglass & goggle review of Tim. Steve Brown was the man behind the camera as usual. Some cool pics in a stunnig environment. 

P.S. the beard keeps growing!

Fun puja ceremony, but sad departure of Blake

The Puja ceremony is the traditional blessing a buddhist monch delivers to climbers and sherpa’s alike. The stone altar, which sherpa built from rubbles in the camp, had been fitted with gifts for the gods including coca cola, sherpa beer and all sorts of food (none of which would be wasted in the end). We also put some climbing gear down for blessing (me: summit socks, ice axe, helmet and mittn). At the end we all handed over R500ish in pur white scarfs (the money would then magically disappear) and received pur blessing. All good then.

It was the first day where we were ‘allowed’ alcohol on the hill. Beer, chang (local rice wine) and rum shots got us going though our group is certainly not the party animal type.

While we had our puja, it emerged that Blake’s ankle situation just didn’t get better. He decided to head home instead of risking his live on the hill with a pre-existing condition. Tough, but wise choice of one of the strongest climbers in our team. Bad news is that his insurance doesn’t provide cover for this. Good bye Blake and a swift recovery! 

After Blake left Jon, Rory and I headed over to celebrate another Puja with the indian army. Many were well pissed by the time we arrived, but it was fun. They have 14 climbers of which 10 will go without oxygen. Good luck. It won’t be easy, but then they are all some sort of special forces and well trained. 

Glacier wonderland: Scouting out the lower Khumbu icefall 

Watch the video below for some good Khumbu icefall footage from today! 

Link to youtube clip
The day most of us had been waiting for had finally arrived. We’d get our climbing gear ready and head for the Khumbu icefall. Hard to put words on this maze of ice towers shiny as diamonds and deadly as poison if you don’t watch out.

The route had been marked by the icefall doctors with bamboo sticks though Tim didn’t find the entrance initially. Scott at first and a sherpa Tim called from our camp then pointed us in the right direction.

From there it was initially all straight until we hit the first fixed ropes. Gets you pumping quite a bit when you maneuvre yourself up. So far without using jumars. The views of the glacier behind and above you are just stunning.

Altogether, we managed some 170m altiude gain from base camp or about 20% of the overall icefall we have to cross to reach camp 1 @ 6,000m.

The way down was easy and hot! We bumped into a Korean climber I had read about … he lost all his fingers to frostbiteon  his last Lhotse attempt. Now he is back to settle some bills with the mountain I guess. Respect to his attitude!

Tomorrow is puja day. So bhuddist prayers and local cheng (low vol locally brewerd moonshine / rice wine). Don’t expect too many mountain pics ;o) 

5,800m test hike; bye Mo & Zena

Having rested and waited out fairly stormy weather we decided to go for a climb today. Mo and Zena said goodbye and made their way towards Loboche and will probably climb up to Kala Patthar (5,500m) for some great views of Everest & co. Will miss you both! 

Our hike took us through base camp (25min to entrance from our site … more if you get lost) and then pretty much straight up the hill. The terrain featured loads of boulders and slippery underground. 

Pace wise, Steve (Australia), Jon and Rory took the lead. I was much slower and formed the challenger group by myself. Its just that every step takes effort and if you go to fast you burn. So take it slow. I arrived some 20min after the leaders – not too bad for a 400m altitude gain. We were now at 5,650m. Steve (photo) arrived 10min after me and Billy turned around half way still struggling to find his breath. Blake didn’t start at all and continues to nurse his ankle(s).

After a brief eat & drink rest in a thankfully sheltered place (winds were super strong sometimes throwing me off balance), I continued my way higher. Only the guides Tim and new arrival Scott (assistant guide) did the same while my fellow climbers returned to base camp.

The way higher led onto even more slippery terrain and so I tried to climb using the larger boulders. After less than an hour we got to 5,800m. Great views of Everest summit, Lhotse and the entire base camp neatly located next to the massive Khumbu glacier.

The way down was mixed. First, I did twist my ankle (still hurts, but not much swollen). Second, the traffic into base camp picked up massively with loads of trekkers around and slowing things down. Finding our camp wasn’t easy either as the sun had melted snow and ice to the extent that the whole scenery changed. Amazing! 

Afternoon and evening were quiet, as most of us were tired. Still waiting for better wifi.