Everest Base Camp—17,530 feet (5,343 meters)
N 28º 00.336' E 086º 51.504'
A few gusts of wind plowed through camp early this morning. Not enough to really test our First Ascent tents, just enough to remind us that we, and those tents, will get all the test we can handle soon enough. On several mornings so far, we’ve seen big streamers of cloud and snow being ripped from high on Lhotse and Nuptse, betraying some fierce winds aloft. But on just as many other mornings, we’ve looked up at calm and still summits just begging some eager overachiever to come up to play. Of course, should someone come up to play right now, they’d be dealing with radically cooler temps—even in calm conditions—than we hope to experience in a month or so (when it will still be cold enough, thank you).
Normally, the winters in these parts don’t produce a lot of snow. The pattern is for the Everest region to be raked by cold, jet stream winds through much of winter and spring. Nobody I know wants to be going for Everest’s summit when the jet is near. The summer monsoon, which hits in June (and not in May, please) is the phenomenon bringing big moisture—in the form of snow—to these mountains.
The monsoon is not a popular climbing season since most climbers don’t enjoy the avalanches that accompany big snows in big mountains. When we come over here for the spring, or pre-monsoon, climbing season, the hope is that we can get our acclimatization/rope-fixing/load-carrying cycles completed in the tail-end of the windy/cold-winter season. There is then normally a period of relative calm when the jet stream pulls north away from Everest and the monsoon hasn’t yet moved in. Ideally, we jump all over that hypothetical window in the second half of May and get our carcasses to the summit and back. Some years the window is open for weeks... some years the window is open for 57 minutes.
I’ve been encouraged so far this season to believe that the big peaks aren’t continually being blasted by an organized jet stream stuck in the vicinity. Less wind up high means the route can be fixed earlier and people can start going for the summit earlier, thus alleviating some of the hazard that would exist if everybody is forced to go for the top in one narrow and congested window of opportunity late in May. We do receive excellent weather forecasts via our satellite email system, but at this early stage of the season, there isn’t much to be gained by obsessing over the weather. Working, as we are, down low on the mountain and within giant valleys like the Western Cwm, we don’t need forecasts much. If the weather is good, we climb; if the weather is bad we either sit or descend... simple.
Peter Whittaker and Ed Viesturs took their half of the climbing team up above ABC today for an exploration of the starting zone of the Khumbu Glacier. They got a good look at the immense and icy Lhotse Face from its base at around 22,500 feet [6,860 meters] and then returned to ABC... working high, sleeping low... it is a repetitive theme in smart acclimatization. Melissa Arnot did the same thing today down at Camp I after her first night there. She tested the ankle that has been giving her trouble and previewed the route to CII for a little distance before getting back to rest another night at CI. She’ll hope to join her team at ABC tomorrow.
Way down here at Base Camp: Erica Dohring, Seth Waterfall, Kent Harvey, and I have been packing and preparing to make the big move to Camp I tomorrow morning. Ang Kaji will be part of the crew, since Kent the cameraman has far more gadgetry than can be reasonably carried in one pack. Technically, we are resting today, but as usual, we are all keyed up and jittery and ready to get this party started.
We sat with Linden Mallory and Jeff Martin, strategizing and coordinating. I laid out a plan that could put us up the hill for the next five days. We went “shopping” in the supply tent for yummy and familiar goodies from American supermarkets. We packed a few things for the Sherpa loads that will go up tomorrow. I talked with Tendi about whether to go the old route (from two days ago) in the icefall, the new route (from a day ago), or the new, new route (from today, detouring a section of the new route that fell out yesterday). We’ve got fresh batteries for our radios and an order in with Chef Kumar for an early breakfast.
We are physically fit and rested. It is time to get in the game... weather permitting.