Everest Camp 1 – 19,800 Ft
We woke for a 2 am breakfast, final gear check and 3 am start up the Khumbu Ice Fall. Well, others “woke”, I NEVER really went to sleep. I felt a classic gluten contamination gurgle start in my stomach around 7pm the night before. It must had been mixed accidentally in one of my meals. Next step, extreme stomach cramping, gas and a visit to the bathroom (a freezing tent 20 yards from my freezing tent) every hour laying there in pain, my alarm went off. I have been waiting for this day for such a long time, and it does hold weight, your performance, with the guides and team on how you will do on actual summit day. This is the day all your training and skills come into play… and my stomach is extended like I’m full term and there is a good chance I will shit myself somewhere on the Khumbu. Sorry, not sorry if that is a bit too blunt, but this is a serious moment. No sleep, in great pain, and NO convenient places to have a #2 stop in the dangerous glacier. Great start to the day!
The rest of the team was bright eyed and ready to take on this challenge. As I said, we were all so excited to put our skills to the test. Head lamps ready, harnesses on tight, crampons secured to our packs and the stars… The stars were on steroids!! Orion, Canis Major and Minor ready to guide us through the ice fall.
Typically, at EBC, you hear serac fall or rock slides about every 4 hours. The first few days your mind races to “where do we run if an avalanche hits? High ground? Oh wait, our camp is high ground”. Then you relax a bit and think “well, if it sweeps through EBC, hope it’s quick”. Then your ear adjusts quickly and you can tell about which mountain it was on and feel comfortable that freight train isn’t coming for you. You can also hear the eerie deep cracks of friction, the glacier moving against itself or scraping the land to its sides. It was the siren calling to us and we were ready. Oh, crap (literally), but I was NOT READY. I chatted with our guide, Heavy Set, to let him know my situation. My alternative was to sit out this rotation. I really did not want to do that. We decided for option A. Take some over the counter meds, and suck it up. I walked at the back of the group, slowed from no sleep and extreme cramping. If any of you have high gluten sensitivity, you know a mild reaction usually means you NEED to get the gas out. Walking/exercise is painful, but effective. Let’s just say I “crop dusted” the first half of that glorious ice fall!
Guided by headlamps, we walked through tall pilars of blue ice and formations created by wind and extreme pressure. You hear little cracks all around and cannot help but your mind drifting to some sci-fi movie. “Man, they alwasy pick off the one in the back first!”
I quickly brought my focus back to reality and the task at hand. We walked for quite awhile, then put on crampons. Soon after that, our first STEEP wall of ice and snow. Get the ascenders out!
With a large group, you spend time waiting before, or after, for all teammates to complete a section. I had a quick moment to be grateful for all the training I’ve done, because this wall was exactly what I’ve prepared for. I cannot say this enough… THIS TEAM IS AWESOME! Strong, experienced and super supportive of each other. No complaints. No flinching. EVEREST SAVAGES!!!
1 hr down, 6-8 more to go. Relying greatly on your harness, which is snuggly fit around stomach, is ideal for safety. But not for a bloated cramping belly. Hey, if Everest was easy, everyone would do it, right? Let’s GGRIT this out.
As we moved through this twisting, magical, complicated path… the obstacles got harder. This route is LEGIT. Being one of the first waves, there is still a lot to smooth out by the ice doctors as the season moves on. There were several areas that traditionally SHOULD have ladders, but they are just not in yet. This means truly scaling vertical walls and taking literal “leaps of faith” over narrow ridges and deep crevasse. You CANNOT have a fear of heights, you CANNOT get flustered easily on how to navigate yourself down an ice ravine face first in an arm wrap, when half way through you realize you probably should have repelled. You have to know how to deal with 12 quick as lightening Sherpa coming DOWN the rope you are trying to go up, and politely tell anyone to “FUCK OFF” if they try and move your carbiner (your only attachment to the fixed rope, and therefor the only thing keeping you on that ice, should you fall).
The purpose of rotations is not only to acclimatize, but to understand the Khumbu terrain, to get better, faster, confident with it! It was exciting, challenging and in some parts down right mind blowing. Every time you think the hardest section is done… SURPRISE! About 3/4 through, we come up top of a ridge, to find about a 100 yd ravine we’d have to descend and then ascend back up. This is one of those sections that did not have a clear method established. We sat there for a bit waiting for Sherpa to come up from the other side. When strong, experienced, badass sherpas crawl out of that, look at you, wipe their brow, out of breath and say “whoa, that was hard”, you question your decisions in life for a moment. Ha! But, you just do it. And what an amazing feeling on the other side! I felt like I truly earned my spot here. No fear, no doubt, just methodical execution.
We rolled into Camp 1 just as snow started. Within minutes, visibility went to zero. We had tea waiting for us, but the winds were picking up rapidly. It was only 11:30 am, but felt like 9 pm. We settled into our tents and braced for the storm. We napped in between high winds and snow pelting us. For dinner, the crew brought us hot water for dehydrated meals and told us to hunker down.
We learned there was another team that had left basecamp 2 hour after us and no one knew where they were. They asked our guide, Atache, to see if he could go find them, but we were in a full on white. Attaché is one of the best on the mountain. He is part of an elite crew of Nepalese that train others to become certified guides. We are so lucky to have him. He was able to at least get to the edge of Camp 1 to bring them the 1000ft to their site, right next to us. There is no way they would have found it. The fixed lines were buried and there are crevasses surrounding camp. They finally reached Camp 1 around 8 or 9 pm, some crawling in and crying. This is an example of a group that should not be climbing Everest.
The winds remind me of Aconcagua (4 hrs ago) at 6 am, the morning after summit (23K ft), we had to evacuate camp due to hurricanes force winds. Tents were breaking and it was getting worse. We packed up our packs, and ended up putting rocks on our tents to secure them. We did not have time to take them down. Crews went up 8 days later to retrieve the tents, when the storm had passed.
Everest Camp 1 winds were a close 2nd. I could hear Attaché and our Sherpa crew breaking down the group eating tent and fixing one of the team tents somewhere between 9-10 pm. For now, we are all snug in our sleeping bags, protected from the elements, and no one shit themselves ( at least in our group)!