Camp 2 [Advanced Base Camp]—21,200 feet (6,460 meters)
N 27º 58.811' E 086º 54.160'
A couple of days ago we hit an important benchmark, and had a successful day for the team. It was just as we did the previous morning we set out, only this time we actually left Base Camp. Everybody else did too... I’ve never seen quite so many in the Khumbu Icefall. Since it was effectively “closed” yesterday, the traffic of two days was wedged into one.
I was very excited for the great job that Erica was doing—but I’ll admit that the crowding and congestion in dangerous places was something I was continually uncomfortable with. I suppose it was business as usual in the busy season, but as I said, I hadn’t seen things quite so bad before—From small teams that seemed unacclimatized and unskilled blocking the route, to massive Sherpa teams of 30 and 40 coming down all at once.
Sure, there were plenty of the usual encounters with friends. I was happy to see Apa Sherpa gunning for his world record 19th Everest summit. There were Peter Whittaker, Ed Viesturs, Jake Norton, and John Griber, who we hadn’t seen for the better part of a week. And as usual it was fun to run into Vern Tejas, Scott Woolums and a sampling of the great cast of characters that Everest attracts every spring.
Mostly, though, I kept my concentration on my small tight team of Erica, Seth, Kent and Ang Kaji. Our training and patience paid off. Even with the numerous hold-ups, we pulled into Camp 1 at 10 a.m., having spent a respectable and reasonable 4 hours and 45 minutes in the big jumble. I was especially proud to find that we had enough reserve energy to blast quickly through the dangerous avalanche zone near the top of the Icefall and the start of the Western Cwm. It was a great feeling to be in the Cwm itself—back on the glacier surface instead of continually being under large, heavy and unstable things. By that point, we’d found the sunshine and warmth and it was clear that we had passed our first big test on the road to the summit. And how!
At Camp 1 we climbed into the tents to escape the big reflector oven heat of the Cwm at midday. It took a few hours of running stoves to melt enough snow for the water we badly needed, but then we had not much else to do—just rest, relax, acclimate!
The following day our Sherpa team had the real acclimatization of the day. Lam Babu and Tendi were part of a cooperative team of Sherpas from different expeditions that set out for the arduous and important task of setting fixed ropes on the Lhotse face. They succeeded in a big way, fixing not one but two parallel lines to 24,000 feet [7,300 meters]. This will allow safer flow of traffic on the steep blue ice of the Lhotse face. Lam Babu and Tendi also sited the First Ascent Camp 3 location—an important milestone where flat spaces big enough for a tent are few and far between. The alternative—hours of chopping with an ice axe on a 40-degree slope—is best avoided.
We saw the tiny dots inching up the Lhotse face from Camp 1 at the other end of the Western Cwm. Our day was easy—and a relief after a windy and mean night. We were hit repeatedly with cannon blasts of wind rocketing down the 3,000-foot [910-meter] face of Everest’s west shoulder. The wind was noisy and a strain, threatening to flatten our tents and uproot us from our moorings. Kent Harvey came out of his tent, smiling about the good sleep he’d gotten, but Seth and Ang Kaji didn’t get a wink. Erica was somewhere in the middle, as was I. Even so, we took advantage when the wind quit in the morning, brewing up coffee and then stretching our legs with an hour-long walk up the Cwm. We knew we wanted to be back in camp before the sun made work in the Cwm unbearable.
It was good to see Gerry Moffatt and Melissa Arnot getting an early start down from Advanced Base Camp [ABC]. They were bound for Base Camp and showers and comforts that our team isn’t really missing yet. We kept in radio contact with Peter Whittaker and Linden Mallory down in Base Camp throughout the day.
Today we fired the stoves at 5 a.m. and left Camp 1 by 7:30 a.m., bound for ABC (Camp 2). The route from Camp 1 goes seemingly right under the summit of Nuptse. I know that isn’t actually possible, but it is physically difficult to bend one’s neck back far enough to take in the 5,000 feet [1,500 meters] of vertical relief straight up to the summit.
We crossed a half dozen easy ladders over crevasses, and then got on “easy” terrain, clomping up the glacier in our crampons. Our biggest challenge seemed to be getting out of the way of the many friendly Sherpa on the route. The guys going up had come all the way from Base Camp under heavy loads, the guys going down had already emptied their loads at ABC, and so were moving fast down to Base Camp and smiling a lot.
Erica moved along as if she’d been to ABC a number of times. At such points I have a tough time reminding myself that she is 17, and an even tougher time remembering what I was capable of when I was seventeen (not this, but sometimes waking up on time and perhaps dressing correctly).
Erica is not the only 17-year-old on Everest this year. In fact, two “Johnnys” were both camped within 100 meters of us last night—one with Damian Benegas and one who is working with Scott Woolums. And they both appear to be doing great. But I’m pretty sure that Erica is the first 17-year-old that I walked into ABC with.
Erica, Seth, Kent, Ang Kaji, and I hit camp at 10:30 a.m., and celebrated with round after round of Tang toasts. We’re here for two nights, and I’ll tell you all about the place tomorrow.