Thursday, 22 April 2010

Camp 1

Back at base camp with a cup of hot cocoa- what can I say? Life is great! Its mid afternoon here and everything and everyone is moving at a very slow pace- people are lounging around listening to the BBC world service, gentle humming and singing sounds from the cooks tent, I am taking some respite from the sun to write you all an update of camp 1, at just above 6000m.

The team left yesterday morning in darkness, at about 4.30am, and trudged silently through BC to crampon point at the edge of the ice fall- Tom and Rick set a pretty good pace, I was having what is called a ‘bad day’ and couldn’t keep up. KC was staying close by, which I was thankful for. Well- a ‘bad day’ I was slower by 10 minutes to our first stopping point at the beginning of the ladders, and soon after caught Tom in the distance, and eventually Rick at the top of the icefall- so us three generally move at a similar pace, which is great.

The top of the ice fall is pretty dodgy- we all had to master Kenton’s jammy move up and around the deadly ladder, to find then that the route goes into a massive bowl- so more climbing down ladders and losing height (for some reason people jumaring DOWN ladders? This confused me and also made me cold as I had to wait).

In general, I am now much more scared of the ice fall than what I was before- Rob C says that a good climber is always looking up, and not at his feet- this has now made me super sensitive to even the smallest ice block and unfortunately on the ascent to camp 1 the lines got particularly busy as our team caught up with other teams who had left earlier. I found myself stuck behind a few climbers who liked to stop often- and often in dangerous places. Its times like these where I have to stop myself panicking and getting stressed, and move past safely. There will always be faster and slower people than yourself, we just have to constantly be aware of one another and make the ice fall as safe as possible for everyone.

The top of the icefall is marked by three vertical ladders tied together by rope and hung over an ice cliff. Again, people were jumaring up the ladder- perhaps this is best practice, I don’t know. My personal approach is to clip in a karabiner and climb the ladders as efficiently as possible- i.e. exactly as I would at home, I was over the top in under a minute whilst the two blokes in front of me took a good five each, balancing their crampons on the rungs as they tried to hold on AND push their jumars up. Which is safer? I’ll let you all decide.

The moment I came over the final lip of the icefall, the sun burst into view and its warmth flooded me as I took my first look at Lhotse and the Western Cwm- incredible. I am so lucky to witness such a sight. Tom and Rick were taking packs off ready for a rest, and I happily joined them- though really struggling to eat and drink, so I took loads of photo and video instead.

The final walk to camp 1 is awesome compared to the stress of the ice fall- a few more ladders were crossed in no time, and the gentle walk up the cwm in the morning sun was glorious- we stopped many times just to take the scenery in, photograph each other looking hard core on the ladders, and enjoy the climb for what it was.

The first tents came into view soon after, which in our minds represented hot tea and warm sleeping bags- we soon stopped mucking about and marched single file into camp, arriving in good time at around 10am. All in all, a 5 hour ascent from crampon point was a great time for the three of us- Kenton was happy, we were happy- we were at camp one on Everest- I had to pinch myself again.

So, tent life- I was by default given the job of setting up mine and Lynette’s tent as I arrived before here. It’s a matter of: boots, crampons and harness in the back porch, thermarest and sleeping bag straight out on the tent floor, and the stove straight on in the front porch. Luxuries of changing into dry socks can wait- the top priority is to collect a bag full of snow (not yellow) and melt it into drinking water, no matter how repulsed you feel by anything passing your lips- hydration is key to acclimatisation, to having energy for the climb, and to surviving up high.

Lynette arrived soon after and so the cycle started again of helping her take her boots off, arranging her sleeping mats and getting her a hot drink asap. This is simple tent etiquette- if you are there first, make the arrival for your tent buddy as efficient as possible so you can close down the hatches and both recover from the day’s exertion.

As we brewed snow water and sorted out food, the sunny weather outside disintegrated in a matter of minutes. A grey cloud settled itself over C1, snow began to fall and the winds picked up dramatically. This annoyed me intensely as I hadn’t had time to (ahem) visit the outside toilet! I do not recommend squatting at 6000m in a snow storm to do your business- it’s very cold!

The storm lasted all night- katabatic winds pummelled the tent and at one point I thought we would be blown away with the force of the wind- it was like 50 men were punching and shoving the tent from every direction. I had also insisted on leaving the tent doors slightly open (for more oxygen circulation), meaning that we both woke up to snow drift rushing into our warm slumber, making everything wet and icy. Sorry Lynette.

As the sun rose, the winds did not abate- Lynette began boiling water at 6am and more than once a freak gust knocked over the stove, spilling our precious water everywhere. We could just about hear each other over the roar, and getting ready and packed to head back down to BC took nearly two hours- trying to stuff a sleeping bag into a little stuff sack at 6000m took me about 15 minutes, with many breaks to catch my breath!

I told myself that for breakfast I would have a cup of tea and 4 custard cream biscuits- I managed 3, my appetite evidently dwindling as we head higher into the atmosphere. Yes, this really is your daughter, mum- the one you usually nickname the gannet!

The descent back to BC was soon underway- uneventful until I chickened out on two ladders strung together across a crevasse above the ice fall- I had to stop and climb back onto the snow twice, absolutely terrified as the ladder was swaying so much. The third time I told myself to ‘man-up’ and have faith in myself- all went smoothly and I cursed myself for making such a fuss!

As I descended the ladders into the top section of the ice fall, Tom caught up and we climbed together into the first gnarly section. I was in front as we climbed down a ladder and were met with an explosion of blue ice blocks in our path- only yesterday had Tom sat under this huge pinnacle of blue ice and commented on whether it was sturdy. Today, it was a car crash of ice blocks which had completely buried the fixed line and now forced us to gingerly climb over its shattered remnants- the pinnacle must have collapsed in the night, but we didn’t want to hang around in case something else decided to fall.

I was cursing all the way along this jumble of ice, trying to locate the rope and forge a route through the mess- we didn’t stop to catch our breath until we were safely clipped into some undamaged line- nothing more was said, we carried on moving as fast as possible until we reached the football field for a rest- Kenton caught us up and simply said to Tom: ‘you are one lucky bugger!’

The ice fall was oddly empty- Kenton and Tom went off together from our rest stop, and I passed maybe 3 sherpas and no climbers for the rest of the way down- it was like having this world of ice all to myself. Lovely, I thought, as I took a break at a ‘safe’ section. As I swigged from my water bottle I heard a deep rumbling and then a boom far to my left, then the sound of ice and snow rushing into the depths of the glacier. From that point onwards I didn’t waste a second- I ran and jumped where I could, only clipping in when absolutely necessary- my heart raced for over an hour as I rushed past blocks of ice and over ladders to the relative safety of the pinnacles- I did not want to hear that sound any closer than I had- it shook me to the core.

Finally back at BC, I realised that the altitude gain to camp 1 didn’t affect me much- apart from the loss of appetite I had no headache and resting pulse and breathing rates are all good. Camp 2 is a couple of hundred meters higher and we hope to head up in a few days time- so I hope that my acclimatisation continues to go as well as it has gone so far.

So prob not much to report for the next few days as we rest at BC- at least, that’s the way it should be!

Off for another hot chocolate now- as I said hydration is very important!

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