Everest Base Camp—17,530 feet (5,343 meters)
N 28º 00.336' E 086º 51.504'
It always amazes me how much of a temperature extreme you can experience in the mountains. The last few days have been really good for me, as I left Base Camp and made my way to Camp 2.
At 5 a.m. this morning, I woke up at 21,000 feet [6,400 meters] to the sound of wind whipping at the tent door and a light frost coating the inside of the tent from my nighttime breath. As I sluggishly pulled my boots on and fidgeted with the frozen ends of my crampon straps, I shivered a little and squinted out to the first morning light hitting the glacier well below me. A cup of spiced cider and a small internal battle about whether to leave my Igniter Jacket on (I shed it), and I was out the door, crampons communing with the ice in a way that makes me smile to hear. The crunching is like a secret language that the crampons speak to the ice in, and though I don't always understand it, it is something familiar and comfortable for me, a feeling of moving and being stable at the same time.
This morning ended my first rotation to Camp 2, and I am finally feeling that the climbing is starting now. My preparations for this trip started so long ago, when Camp 2 was only a small glimmer in the future, and a memory from last season. Now it is fully upon us, and this season is forming its own voice each day. I am here this year with a different eye and a different attitude than what I had last year. I enjoy thinking back to my trip and all of the joys and learning that it provided me... but this year is shaping up to be quite different.
About two weeks ago, on the first few days of our trek in, I twisted my ankle. Frustrated, I tried to remember that this expedition will last for months, and certainly there is time in there to heal. As the weeks have snuck up on us, I have been reminded that things don't heal so fast at 17,500 feet [5,330 meters]. My first morning walk out into the Icefall I turned back, the pain in my ankle causing me to wonder if I was doing more harm than what was needed at this early point in the trip. A few days rest were followed by another failed attempt to get to Camp 1, and a whole new round of frustration.
I came down to Base Camp and went to the Himalayan Rescue Association Clinic for a professional opinion. I know I am stubborn, but as far as I can tell, there is no need to hurt myself to climb this mountain. The kind and professional doctors at the clinic did an exam, while I held my breath, and they hypothesized about the injuries... sprain, bone chip in my foot, and most surprisingly, a possible crack in my fibula. Fortunately, none of those injuries warrants a complete stop in activity. Little can be done up here, and as long as the pain is tolerable, I received the go-ahead to keep climbing. The boots that I am using are actually providing good support and, interestingly, the climbing downhill is the least painful and most stable.
With this news, and a new humbled attitude, I finally made my way to Camp 1, a little slower than I would have liked, but without further harm to the ankle. Once I was in the tent at Camp 1, I took a deep breath and a grateful glance at the mountain surrounding me. A small smile captured my mind, as I looked at the ramen packages littering the tent. It is easy to forget about the ankle as I start to melt snow for my first of many packages of dehydrated, salted noodles. The tent is so hot in the midday, even at 19,800 feet [6,035 meters], that I have to sit in the snow to keep cool. I laugh a little to myself as I think of what climbing means to me, and how silly this must look to anyone who hasn't been here.
My day at camp is made up of eating noodles, sitting in the snow, and reading candy bar wrappers to see which ones are gluten-free (so maybe I can share with Dave Hahn, who is gluten-intolerant). I go to bed at 6 p.m. and then wake up 12 hours later to get to Camp 2. Peter, Ed, and Jake are already at Camp 2, a few days ahead of me due to my change in plans. We spend a day there together, before they head down to Base Camp. I need one more day to acclimatize before rejoining them. My day spent alone at Camp 2 was a lot like the day at Camp 1, making piles of food that I have read the wrappers for and ones that still need to be investigated. The wind picked up in the afternoon, forcing the hot daytime temperatures to merge into a cold evening. I close my eyes in the tent, and wait for the alarm at 5 a.m.
On my way down to Base Camp this morning, I passed by Dave, Seth, and Erica, poking their heads out at Camp 1. The morning light is still well below them, but they are getting ready to go for a little walk. I poke my head into the tent and see the ramen packages, this time smiling because I don't have to eat them today. I continue my way to Base Camp, mostly in the shade of the mountains around me. The last 30 minutes, the sun wins the battle, and the temperature suddenly becomes unbearably warm. I stop to put on some sunscreen and take off a layer, happy to have only a few minutes left until I reach Base Camp and glad to have finished my first rotation.