By Alan Arnette
For the rest of the world, weekends are times for fun and relaxing. On Everest it is time for work. Today, several teams are climbing towards Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face and over on the North, heading back to the safety of base camp after a difficult climb to the North Col.
The avalanche reported yesterday seems to have shaken the climbers up a bit. This was a somewhat rare event in that it came off Nuptse, which is to the climber’s right as you enter the Western CWM. Most avalanches have come off Everest’s West Shoulder, to the left.
As with most avalanches of this nature it is not the actual debris that causes harm or damage (unless you take a direct hit) but rather the hurricane force wind blast that accompany the avalanche.
In this case, one person, Hugo Searle was blown down and his expedition cook literally blown into a crevasse. A man hunt ensued resulting in pulling him out. His injuries were deemed serious enough that the Fishtail B3 Helicopter was summoned to evacuate him back to Kathmandu. This is now common to call the helicopter in for rescues whereas 3 years ago, it would have taken 20 Sherpas a full day to hand carry him back to base camp for helicopter evacuation. I understand he is OK.
Climbing the Lhotse Face
On one of my early Everest climbs, when the time came to climb to Camp 3 at 23,000′ high on the Lhotse Face, our leader made the task pretty simple: “If you don’t make it, you don’t go to the summit.” While a bit harsh, it was more of a truism than a threat.
This weekend several teams will make their move to spend that night at Camp 3. They will climb the Face, clipped into the fixed lines and rejoice once they can crawl into their yellow tent and then struggle to sleep without the benefit of supplemental oxygen. This is the price that needs to be paid allowing climber to go further; force the body to make the red blood cells needed in a few weeks when they are near the top of the world.
But, there is nothing simple about this.
First it took about 10 Sherpas to set the two lines, an up and a down rope, into the steep icy mountainside. Then it took the Herculean efforts of each teams’ Sherpas to climb the Face carrying heavy packs loaded with tents, anchors, mesh nets, fuel, stoves, sleeping bags, pads, and the kitchen sink.
Once there, those same Sherpas took out shovels and ice axes to literally chip away the solid ice locked in a a 30 degree angle – their goal to create a more or less level tent platform that in theory will help their climbers get a decent night’s sleep.
Space is limited on the Face so these days there can be three different Camp 3s separated by as much as 300′ of vertical gain. This becomes a pick your poison dilemma for team leaders. The low camp makes the first acclimatization easier but the summit push longer. Obviously at the higher camps, it is the opposite. I prefer the higher camp which requires the hard work early rather later.
Once at the camp, the views are incredible. You look down over the Western Cwm and Camp 1 and 2. The 8000m mountain Cho Oyu stands proud directly to the east. And Pumori which dominates base camp, now looks like a foothill. It is an amazing place.
Chad Kellogg attempting a speed climb from EBC to the summit and back gave us an update on his progress. He has been to Camp 2 but in his post does a nice job of breaking down acclimatizing based on a long discussion with one of the EverestER Doctors based at EBC:
I had a fascinating discussion with a Doctor that is also a certified mountain guide named Richard. We had a lengthy discussion about the best system for acclimatizing for 8,000 meter peaks. He was full of knowledge and was in line with many other experts opinions that sleeping above 7,500 meters does nothing but degenerate the body. He advised me that sleeping at Camp 4 without oxygen was an inefficient plan and I should reconsider. Another interesting point he made was that I should wait until the temperatures warm up. He pointed out that no oxygen less ascents had been made successfully before May 10th.
My plan was to begin May 6th and try to summit on May 7th. The point being that the warmer temperatures allow for more oxygen at higher elevations. The warmer temperatures also reduce chances of frostbite on two fronts, one being more oxygen which allows for more perfusion to the extremities and the second being the obvious extra warmth in the ambient air temperature prevents the toes, fingers and facial extremities from being as cold. The final advice he gave was that the lungs need a difference in pressure to allow the oxygen to transfer from the atmosphere into the body. The higher the pressure difference the easier the exchange of vital gas O2. At the summit he said the pressure would be about 20%. The higher the temperatures the pressure would be a fraction higher, but it would make a helpful difference, was his advice.