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.