The 15th and 16th were essentially wasted. I sat huddled in the mess tent the remainder of the 15th afternoon having descended from snowy Rock Camp just reading and listening to the patter of snow on the tent roof. I ploughed through cup after cup of coffee, slowly paging though my Kindle, wrapped in all the down, cold weather clothing I had with me. With the rest of the team sleeping the afternoon in their individual tents I felt I had the whole camp to myself – great in one respect but miserable in another.
The original Lobouche acclimatization plan had been to climb to and tag the summit, descend to BC for a days rest before climbing once again to the summit to spend a night on top. The heavy snow had obviously thwarted the first part of this plan.
As we woke on the morning of the 16th we were unexpectedly confronted with gale force winds. The “breeze” appeared at around 2 am and built aggressively. By the time I prized myself from the tent the winds were 60-90kph. There were times I thought I would be carried away with my tent - very Judy Garland.
Endless consultation with Russ at EBC who had access to Meteotest, the European weather prediction service, suggested that despite the battering we were currently taking, the winds would ease by the morning of the 17th April. As a consequence we elected to consign the “sleep on top” plan to the trash, and instead simply climb to 6200M skipping a stay at Rock Camp and tag the summit. We would, of course, need to play things by ear dependent on the conditions, but at least we were moving.
My phone alarm chirped at 5am on the 17th and by 6am I was fed and raring to go. The “tag vs. sleep” decision allowed for a light backpack, something for which I was eternally grateful. I followed Shinji, one of the Japanese guides and a guy I have known now for 15 years, out of camp and towards the towering peak.
The winds were still intense and at times we were literally stopped in our tracks, but they were not strong enough to halt our progress completely. I followed Shinji’s light footfalls as we climbed higher through the huge rocky debris that constitutes the lower, sub rock-camp section of the mountain. We maintained an easy pace but even so, we pulled away from the remainder of the team.
Before long we both stood atop the rock escarpment onto which “rock camp” clings. The tents in which we had previously slept a few days prior had already been collapsed and all stored in the last one that remained standing. Pausing only for a brief drink and radio call we continued on our way, transitioning underfoot from slab rock to blue ice. It was at this point we slipped neatly into our crampons.
We edged higher, one foot in front of the other, twisting and turning through the mountain architecture, ever conscious of the danger of being caught on an exposed ledge by a monstrous gust of wind. One can hear the gusts coming. There is a lull, a strange unexpected silence, followed by a distant, train like roar. You have time to crouch, grab the closest substantial rock and hang on as the “train’ arrives.
As the sun beat down, we climbed higher, the surface at all times sharp blue ice, luckily fashioned into easy to negotiate steps. When pummeled by the wind one instantly freezes, but in the peculiar lulls one immediately roasts. It was impossible to find comfort. However, our pace never faltered and soon we stepped on to Lobouche Summit.
The views of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse towering over the Khumbu glacier and the miniature Everest BC were breathtaking. I honestly felt on top of the world – fleeting but lovely.
After a few obligatory photographs we both donned our packs once again and began our deliberately slow descent. Descending is a tiring business and the risk of injury is very high – I didn’t want to sustain a daft injury coming down a training/acclimatization mountain.
Before long we reentered Rock Camp, removed a few layers of clothing, loaded up our packs with a couple of the packed and stored away tents an began the second stage of the descent from Rock Camp down to BC. The few hours of our ascent had consumed what was left of the previous snow, but nevertheless we proceeded carefully, slightly unbalanced with the now much heavier load.
We walked into BC at 12:30pm, just in time for lunch and 6 hours after setting off. We could have pushed harder but we would have gained nothing by doing so. The first member of the remainder of the team appeared close to 15:30.
I quickly disrobed, grabbed a huge bowl of hot water from the kitchen tent and made a b-line for the toilet tent, determined to shed my own smell. However, when I unzipped the door I was assailed by the indescribable stench of an open barrel toilet left to fester in the morning heat. Dozens of bluebottle flies buzzed the air. Not to be deterred I held my breath, stripped and gleefully set about cleaning a body that was beginning to forget the clean feeling. It was glorious despite the flies.
Evening dinner was a happy affair, as not only had we accomplished what we had set out to achieve but the last members of our team Kenton Cool and his client Rob Owen also joined us. They intend to climb both Everest and Lhotse this season. However, soon after the meal I felt my sleeping bag and Kindle calling and retired to my frosty tent.
As I climbed into my tent with my headlamp ablaze, I turned to zip up the flap and got the fright of my life. Earlier that day, a big, pure black dog had followed Kenton in from Pheriche – I remember having seen it at a distance around camp that afternoon.
As I sat looking out in to the dark, zipping up the door, this huge dog simply appeared from nowhere and stuck its head through the hole. I’m sure it just wanted a pat but I almost died of fright, having not heard it coming. It simply sat and stared at me until, having stopped laughing at my own reaction I shooed it away. I slept well.
The following morning broke clear blue and windless. Our duffels were lined up ready for the herd of yaks due to transport the loads to Everest BC by 8am and with nothing left to do, I started the trek from Lobouche to EBC.
It’s a fun walk. You pass Lobouche town, Gorak Shep a billion Lycra clad trekkers before finally turning a corner and seeing EBC in the distance. I scanned the plethora of multi coloured tents for the give away white “dome” tent that signifies “chez Himex”. Before long, some 2:40 after leaving Lobouche, I walked into Everest Base Camp for the first time this season and the first time since 2013.
I grabbed the only remaining unoccupied personal tent, unpacked my duffels and retired to the “White Pod”, steel framed geometric dome that now doubles as member dining tent and “hang out” place. There used to be a designated dining tent, but this is no longer the case.
The afternoon passed quickly and pleasantly and before long we assembled for the evening meal as light snow pelted the transparent dome “window”. I crawled into my new tent and sleeping bag a little before 9pm having spoken to Vanessa and my daughter Hannah on the sat phone a little before. It’s a ritual my mind and body demands – it resets my clock and allows me to confront the next day.
I admit to having a disturbed night, never fully falling asleep. This is very unusual for me. Looking for culprits, my eyes fell on simply not being warm enough – easily remedied tonight.
First thing this am we held an abbreviated climber Puja – a Sherpa ceremony that effectively blesses ones forthcoming Everest effort and also crucially blesses the Sherpa contribution. I assume the Sherpas would be less than willing to accompany a climber who had not passed muster with the Buddhist hierarchy. I have sat through many of these ceremonies over the years and they never grow old.
But, this wasn’t before I grabbed a brief Weetabix breakfast, washed some clothes that were able to stand up by themselves, create a cool tent to tent washing line and grab the first “shower” of the day using a garden sprayer. Lovely nonetheless. Shaved, showered and wearing a complete new set of clothes, I joined the Puja in a state of warm comfort.
I now await lunch and a “wait and see” afternoon when I am scheduled to have a brief medical and also consult the longer-term weather forecast – this should be interesting. A Sherpas team negotiated the infamous Icefall overnight and have apparently begun to fix ropes from C2 6400m to C3 7300m. If the weather holds I expect to be on my way to C2 in pretty short order.
Outside it has now started to snow once again – this is predictable PM Everest BC weather. It is amazing quite how the mood changes as the skies darken and the temperature drops. The crew feels it necessary to wander up the BC central for a look around – I graciously declined – why not does it in the sun?
Anyway, tomorrow appears to be another wait/rest day as we all wait for the camps and ropes to be established. The rest wont hurt but the sitting around is never a good thing for me.
More later and thanks for the support to all those who have donated. The kids and I appreciate it very much.
Ebc approach -