2nd rotation done – waiting for summit window

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Our 2nd rotation was meant to take us to camp 3 at 7,200m. We didn’t quite get there due to strong winds that have been plaguing the summit preparations of climbing and sherpa teams alike this season. Still, we made it close to the Bergschrund at c6,700m (way past my previous altitude record) and were looking straight at the steep Lhotse face. To test our ascending skills on this wall of ice will have to wait until summit day.

The first news that was overlaying our activity on the hill was that Blake was on his way back. He had dropped out due to ancle injury, retured to Barcelona and arrived back at base camp just as we hit camp 2. 

The second, and very uncomforting news, was the tragic death of Ueli Steck not too far from our camp two. He was training for his Everest – Lhotse traverse on Nuptse and fell into his death. I had seen him once racing past me in his grey suit and once actually exchanged a few words with him, as he was waiting on a ladder I was just climbing up near camp 1. Sad really, but at least he dies doing what he loved so much.

Back to the rotation, the way up from base camp to camp 2 in one go was long. We had pretty heavy packs, as we already ferries up provisions for the summitt attempt. I decided to climb with Billy. He continued to suffer from shortness of breath due to some lung condition or so. Doctors help was only very marginally positive. Additionally, his headlamp and walky talky didn’t work. So we teamed up. It took us some 6.5h-7h through the icefall and another 1,5-2h to camp 1. 

While way behind our team, I enjoyed my time with now good buddy Billy. We allowed ourselves breaks where secure and chatted about god and the world. It was here that Billy first mentioned that a summit attempt on his part and given his not improving condition would be very irresponsible. He’s got a son and Tina – a relationship he values highly. By now, his departure is confirmed and he will leave us tomorrow. All the best my friend!

At camp 1 I suggtested a quick lunch to rehydrate. Chicken noodle soup in the sunshine and with great mountain views. We were happy. Very.

The episode after was less so. It was again time to pass through the Western Cym. I hate this stretch and took 4,5h. Billy 4h. That left me with a total of 14h walking that day. Long, but under control and including many breaks. The evening and next days we spent resting. I finished my German book and felt really good and slept well at 6,400m altitude. 

Next day we left camp at 7am or so. I felt really good and could suddenly walk at high pace. The about 300m altitude until we turned around due to winds took a mere 1,5h or so. Seems my body prefers steeper terrrain (hope that this will last for it will only get steeper). Question now was if we stay another night and try again for camp 3 or descent. The decision fell for the latter given heavy snow in the afternoon and heightened avalanche risk.

So we departed camp 2 for base camp next morning. I walked fast and think had the fastest time to camp 1 at only 40mins (prior 1h solo and 1,5h with Billy). From  there progress came to a sucden halt. There had been several collapses in the icefall that required fixing by the ice doctors. The flowback of sherpas and climbers coming up from base camp took some 1,5h to clear. Noone would let us slip past to my very annoyance. 

We also witnessed some rather dangerous situations. Short roped climbers, a polish team that didn’t know how to use the figure of eight to abseil, shaky ladders etc. After a good 5h and 9km I finally hit base camp having descended 1,2km. Lunch time and of course – hello Blake!

In the evening Tim discussed a potential good weather window and selected two teams. I fell into the second one, which would mean I’d miss the first window. The reasoning was built on a) limited time to arrange summit logisics and b) my pace that had been so much suppressed by staying with Billy. I was disapoointed to say the least and spent the coming two days mostly by myself reading (Nanga Parbat – the german mountian). 

After Tim retured from his rotation to C1 with Blake we eventually sat down and discussed matters. Thanks to the chat and a now longer sumot window (logistics etc), we will now try to attempt the summit push more or less together. Details remain tbc though. 

So eat and prepare mentally is the name of the game. A lot of snow has been coming down and we constantly hear and sometimes see avalanches. Once the window opens and ropes have been fixed to the sumotts of Everest and Lhotse, we will likely depart with one day delay between the Everest and Lhotse guys. Patience now.

Unfortunately I have gotten sick with a cold since my return to base camp. Fingers crossed the medication will help enough to give me a fair shot at Lhotse. Wish me luck! 

Climb on!

… and the beard keeps growing …


High altitude first aid & oxygen testrun … and a belated birthday cake for Jon

High altitude first aid & meds

Prior to sending us into the death zone (8,000m+) Tim sat down with us to go trough key high altitude medication and how to deliver it. For that, he fitted all climbers out with a first aid box. 

Whats in the box?

In the box you find meds to treat everything from a pain to the various forms of high altitude sickness (HACE/HAPE) and nausea (that for some patients could prevent the delivery of life saving meds). All meds are nicely labelled and a short use despription added.

Two rules rule that I think is worth remembering:

  1. It is that it’s better to give all meds than none. The former won’t kill the patient, the latter might. 
  2. Always turn up the O’s first to max flow (4/6l) – don’t use yor own first, but the patient’s or spare from sherpa.

Also important to be aware is that most likely emergency and rescue folks (ER) will be involved via radio and advise climbers step by step. 
The most contentious med for me is certainly the dex injection. It is injected directly into muscle fibre (best upper thigh) and as a strong steriod should awaken the most exhausted and HAce plagued climber enabling him to decent. 

We teated administering dex to a mandarine (similar texture). Important is keep hands together when filling dex into needle, remove down suit before injecting and pull back after sticking needle in to see if any blood vessels had been hit (ideally not). 

Lets hope our kits remain unused. 

Climbing (&sleeping) with oxygen

Oxygen use comes into play from camp 3. There we will sleep on O’s and climb to camp 4 / summitt with additional oxyen. 

We will be using 4l and c3.5kg bottles with 1000l Uncompressed oxygen. Each climber has 3 bottles plus two for the summit sherpa. Condensation level of the  O2 we carry is  -85 degrees (vs some -30) and hence should not freeze. For simplicity and to have a buffer, we assume 12h per bottle at 1l flow rate (16h really). 

At night, we sleep on 0.5l flow rate each and climbing is done at 2l for Everest guys. I will probably go for 2.5l given its there and my summit day is much shorter. More O = more power and less cold. Good. Using 12h per bottle (1l flow rate) that means 3 bottles at 2.5l give me 15h climbing time on summit day for c600m altitude. Always check the flow barometer.

The masks we are using are based on tornado pilots (compromised ability to communicate). They fit well with my mammut helmet and julbo goggles. Just the balaclava leaves a tiny gap each side of my cheeks. Every 15min it is advisable to clear the jacket’s zip due to condensation drip. 

We rounded up the day with a belated, yet very impressive birthday cake for Jon. He turned 25 while we camped at camp 1. Great job kitchen!

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.