Camp 2 [Advanced Base Camp]—21,200 feet (6,460 meters)
N 27º 58.811' E 086º 54.160'
That little puff of cloud on top of Lhotse yesterday was a gathering storm. Not a bad storm we are told—no cyclone out of the bay of Bengal, no jetstreams trying to push over mountains, tents, and people. But any fool can see that the skies are now full of moisture. There are clouds at all levels, and every 30 minutes or so, there is a snow shower. This isn’t all bad in my book—as I’ve said, a carpet of snow on the Lhotse Face will just make it safer (now a meter of snow is a different animal entirely—let's not go there). Pre-storm, if anyone had been careless enough to drop a carabiner or water bottle from Camp 3, it would have rocketed down the ice at terminal velocity, seeking gray matter (helmeted or otherwise) on the ropes below. My hope is that a little texture over the blue ice will make the Face safer and the footing easier.
I’m all about easy. Just this morning, when it was cold and snowy outside after breakfast, I invited birthday boy Kent Harvey and his camera into my and Erica’s tent, to show him how we pass time in a storm. It was our rest day anyway, so being forced by the weather to focus on puzzles, books and iPods didn’t seem odd to me. I’ve long considered such skills to be the mark of a good expedition climber—the ability to do nothing, when nothing is what should be done. For active (or hyperactive) Type A climbers this requires an acceptance and a faith that there will be an abundance of physical abuse and over stimulated synapses, all-in-good-time... like, say, tomorrow.
I’ve made a career out of interspersing corpse-like downtime with long, brutal, unfair, unrelenting sessions on my feet/crampons/skis/snowshoes/etc. It works. It is sustainable.
I’m satisfied after 18 years at 8,000-meter [26,000-foot] peaks, that my job here is not to compete with the Sherpas at load carrying or route fixing. I’ve decided that I can do a better job of concentrating at guiding. Within reason.
Today, just when it got ugly, mean and nasty out, with the tent walls shaking and rough snow pellets, peppering everything—just when it seemed proper to turn up the head tunes and guide by hiding from reality—I became aware that all was not right.
Ang Kaji and Tendi were concerned about several dozen Sherpas trying to get heavy packs to 26,000 feet [8,000 meters] in this intensifying storm. Specifically they were worried for four of our own team, the guys who were buying me the ability to sit on my butt, a mile below the battle-zone. It was obvious that Ang Kaji and Tendi were gearing up to walk in the storm. They meant to get to the base of the Face to help out with thermoses of tea and water for Sherpas who battled their way back down in wind and blowing snow.
I thought about things for 12 seconds, before declaring that I’d join them and Damian Benegas on the mercy mission. I thought of how little emergency gear sherpas bring on a carry. I thought of how much emergency gear I have surrounding me in a tent. I thought of how very few storms could keep me from reaching the Face if I threw on a First Ascent down suit, and if I pulled on some goggles, and pressed the right buttons on my GPS. Word came up quickly via radio from Lambabu that my services weren’t really needed. And I knew that. I also know that the best climbing Sherpas have an admirable pride that this is their mountain, on which they solve their problems. But my client was safe at ABC and I happened to have time and energy and a New Mexico EMT license. And I admire guys like Tendi, Ang Kaji, and Damian who are hardwired to look after others and to make things come out right in the mountains.
We went. And it was no big deal. Our climbers and everyone else’s had wisely turned in the storm. We ended up sitting in the sun at the base of the Face as the guys came staggering off the rappel ropes. I didn’t do anything, except watch tired men smile when Tendi handed them tea. I’m calling it a good day.