Friday, 30 April 2010

camp 3

A long time since my last blog, the team have been up on the hill for the past 5 days and have now finished our acclimatisation, having been to 7100m, and await a weather window for the summit.

This is therefore a very nerve-racking time at BC, every time a weather report comes in we sit with baited breath to hear whether the summit of Everest continues to be battered by the jet stream, or if the monsoon has pushed the winds north enough for us to sneak to the top- currently, we are still waiting.


So, the past couple of days- our rotation on the hill started as usual, we left BC in the dead of night, climbing over rock and scree to get to crampon point at the bottom of the ice fall for around 5am. The ice-fall ascent was quick- we are now better acclimatised and familiarised, and made the final section of the fall in just over 3 hours, overtaking a big team along the way.

Out of the blue- disaster very nearly struck. A bottle neck had occurred at one of the last ladders, I was one of many climbing down the ladder, and there were Sherpas and climbers trying to climb up. At the bottom of the ladder I could hear a lady: ‘please help’. She was tangled in the fixed ropes, and was asking everyone who passed to simply help sort her ropes out- no one stopped.

‘Bloody hell’ I thought, she’s getting really distressed and she’s a woman and I’m not that cold so I’ll stop. The lady was Spanish (?) and getting very panicky, climbers and Sherpas kept rushing past- we were on a very small ledge and I was trying to unclip her jumar and re-set her ropes whilst trying to calm her down and snap her back into reality. I wasn’t being particularly nice, but I did sympathise with her as I knew how it felt to be that scared.

Then- a huge BOOM, followed by a deafening crash, out of the corner of my eye as I was sorting her ropes I saw a massive block of ice under our little ledge collapse and fall into the depths of the glacier. The climbers and sherpas exploded into panic- the Spanish lady and me were frozen in horror as we watched the ice under our path just disappear- would the whole lot go? Would our ledge collapse?

Adrenaline then kicked into action and I realised that this woman would be even more of a danger to me and to everyone else if she panicked even more- we all had to get out of this area as fast as possible, it was not safe and could go any second. I made her my responsibility to get her across the ledge and onto the next section as fast as possible.

As I finally sorted out her jumar and we turned to jump off the ledge I was met with a climber trying desperately to get out of this section- his eyes said it all- he was terrified. He barged past without a thought to his or our safety- I suppose that’s what fear does to you. Sherpas followed with the same expression on their faces- they were all praying aloud as they rushed past us- the lady and I were forced to the side of the ledge as the fearful hoards rushed up the ladder. That was the first time I had ever seen such fear in any human.

Finally it was time to jump the ledge, ‘ok, we must move quickly- this is very dangerous- you jump and do not stop, carry on to the next ladder, ok?’ I shouted at the woman over her fearful sobbing. ‘Go!’ I nudged her forward and she got more hysterical: ‘my jumar- I cannot do it without my jumar’. I couldn’t believe it- this was not the time for jumars! ‘No! You must jump!’ I grabbed the rope, pulled all my weight on it and jumped across, scared that my foot would go through the now delicate ledge. ‘Like this!’ I said. Thankfully she followed, and we both moved a few feet away from the edge, clipped into an anchor and collapsed into an exhausted heap- adrenaline causing our hearts to still pump at a million miles an hour.

The whole episode was probably only a minute long- it had gone from calm to terror in a matter of seconds and I realised after that I had not stopped to help; I could have been jumping over the ledge as the ice collapsed underneath me. As stressful as it was, I was thankful to be focussing on getting this woman untangled- it allowed me to block out the chaos and danger around us as I simply tasked myself with sorting her ropes and trying to calm her down.

The lady let the one thing you don’t let happen to you on a mountain happen- she broke mentally. I have done the same on the descent off of Manaslu and caused a kafuffle, which Rob C and some others had to sort out- it was unnecessary and I still regret it to this day. The woman could have easily re-arranged her own ropes, but she had gone into a panic. I am aware that this could happen to me at any time- when you are exhausted and in a dangerous environment, it is so easy to crack. I think it is simply experience and conditioning that allows you to overcome it. I pray that my mental strength is enough.


After this short episode the rest of the climb to camp 1 was un-eventful. We slept most of the time at camp, before leaving the next morning at 8am for camp 2.

The climb to camp 2 has been described to me as like ‘being in an oven’. The route, which snakes through the Western Cwm crosses a glacier and on either side is towered by huge ice walls. The sun reflects off of the ice from all angles, climbers have been known to burn the insides of their mouths and nostrils on this short climb.

Bearing this in mind, I was dripping in sun cream as I left camp. The climb was pretty easy- we were only ascending around 3-400m. I trotted along without crampons and soon made the edge of camp in just over 2 hours, and then got lost trying to find my way in. Finally saw Kenton and collapsed onto a rock outside the mess tent in 2hrs 30, which is good considering that KC predicted 3 hours at least. The boys (Rick and Tom) arrived shortly after- we were together at camp 2, life was great.


The next day was an ‘active rest day’. The aim was to tag the bottom of the great Lhotse face, gaining about 250m altitude. Poor Lynette didn’t make it out of camp as she has an illness that was making her feel sick. As her tent buddy I am quite worried that this is contagious!

We made the bottom of the face in good time- Kenton and I chilled on the ice as we waited for Rick and Tom to arrive, it was a great morning looking down the valley and looking up at the climb ahead.

That night at supper, Kenton announced that the weather reports were pretty confusing- they predicted low winds but lots of snow. He recommended down suits and high altitude boots. None of us were sure if we would make camp 3 the next day.

Rob’s team had attempted the climb to C3 but had failed because of the cold, they had had to re-attempt the next day and had persevered until they tagged the camp at 7,100m. It showed just how unforgiving the weather on the face could be. I was sure that we would also be given the same fate if the weather reports were true.


As the sun rose over my tent, my stomach churned with fear- I had never been to 7000m without oxygen, and certainly not in treacherous weather. But hang on- the sun on my tent, not a breath of wind? Kenton shouted up to us: ‘hey guys, re-think the down suits- weather looks good.’

Our team was off by 7am, Lynette was to go back to BC because of her illness, and would attempt to reach camp 3 at a later date provided her health improved.

The climb to 3 was perfect- we were blessed with awesome weather. I had hardly slept the night before had been praying for a good day- it looked like it had paid off and according to Kenton we were making great time as we climbed up the ladders and onto the face itself.

The face is extremely icy this year. The foot holds hadn’t quite formed yet as we were one of the first teams making the ascent. This meant lots of delicate crampon action as we balanced on blue ice.

After 5hrs and 30mins exactly I made our stop at 3. Rick and Kenton had been waiting an hour by the time I arrived- they had had a great time and moved fast over the ropes, avoiding the que’s that unfortunately Tom and I had gotten stuck in. We were now above 7000m- under 2000m to the summit. From our stop we could see all the way down the valley- camp 2, camp 1, Pumori and the entire Western Cwm spread out below us. I couldn’t believe how high we were- and whilst tired from the climb, altitude was not as debilitating as we predicted.

From this point acclimatisation is finished- I wondered whether I would ever see this spot again- what if something happened on the descent? Would it all mean nothing if I never made it back here? All the sweat and pain and exhaustion to climb to this point, only to leave when the summit is seemingly so close. I didn’t want to leave this spot- this glorious place where the Himalaya laid itself out before me. I could see for miles, I breathed the air, I smelt the air. 7000m is a special kind of place- I realise how lucky I am to have spent time up there on Manaslu and now again on the great Sagarmatha.

The descent was fast- Rick and Tom had already gone and so Kenton and I went together. We were nearly running down the face at some point- its easier than walking when its that steep! At every anchor Kenton would attach our karabiners together and wrap a prussic around the fixed line- this meant that if we tripped, we should hold safe. This was proven at one point when Kenton let go of the prussik as I was charging down the face, we were both pulled to a halt and I fell flat on my back with a jolt. ‘Oops!’ from Kenton, we dusted ourselves down and carried on.


The descent back to BC yesterday was just as fast- 3hrs 40mins from camp 2. Rick and I wearily trudged through the bloody pinnacles back to base camp, and finally we were allowed to take off our packs, sit down on a rock, and drink a cold cup of grape tang in the sun- ‘safety’ was what I was most thankful for.

That night a few of us stayed up until midnight playing cards, laughing hysterically at Tom’s bad jokes and not even mentioning the climb ahead. We needed the chill out time, the last few days had had us all constantly on edge- the weather, the going into unknown territories and for Tom and Rick- new altitudes.


Today I am slowly getting my kit together for the summit push. A bowl of hot water and a cup was much appreciated for a shower. Undressing in the shower tent I realised how my body has changed- my thighs have huge muscles- like a rugby player (!), my hands are tanned dark but my arms are ghostly white, I have lost a bit of weight, but definitely have enough fat for the summit!


Finally, thanks for all the messages- Ant and Loz- i’ll dominate to the best of my ability, you boys keep dominating that work load- Loz, that 10,000 word essay? Give it a rest and try the Lhotse face after you’ve dropped your water bottle (yes, happened to me).

To Luke- thanks for your email, I would love to answer all your questions personally, but hopefully the blog answers them! I look forward to the champagne you are talking about!

To White Lodge, thanks for your email- I am glad this blog is of interest. I cant wait to visit when I get back, all my love xx

To Tom again- my gorgeous boyfriend- happy anniversary. I’ll admit I forgot whilst up at camp 2, but was thinking of you nonetheless. Miss you xx

To my 6 brothers and sisters- your big sister misses you loads. I get teary eyed just thinking about you. I wonder if Emily is saying my name yet (if not- Maggie and Dad, get on the case!). To my brothers- keep playing hard at football, ice hockey, tennis, rugby and cricket! I will try and bring you each back a piece of Everest rock. I love you all more than anything x

To all the random messages of support on this blog and on my website- thank you.

Will update again when we know when our summit window is.

God speed. Bonita x


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  2. Hey Bonita, not sure if this is the right place to respond?! WOW hunny, I'm completely and utterly impressed by your updates! I never doubted you'd get to Everest, and I can't wait to hear from you when you've reached the top. Seriously, you go girl, you're an inspiration to us young women. When you get back we'll have to sit in the summer sun and have a good big glass of rose and talk about your adventure. All the best of luck hun. Anita xxx

    p.s. you're really not missing a thing over here.. it's a Sunday, rain and same old England, wish I was in the himalayas!