Camp 2 [Advanced Base Camp]—21,200 feet (6,460 meters)
N 27º 58.811' E 086º 54.160'
It is like a ghost town up here at ABC. We don’t mind a bit, having fought half the day to get here from Base Camp. Most others were struggling to get elsewhere. There is a storm sumo-wrestling with the exposed summits of Everest and Lhotse today. Since this one is coming out of the west, 25,000-foot [7,620-meter] Nuptse gives us some protection down here in the Cwm. We still get good strong belts of wind and blowing snow, but we know it could be a lot worse at Camp 3 and Camp 4 in this pattern. Our friends up at the South Col—hoping for a break so as to ring the summit bell—didn’t get a break. They were forced to retreat this morning just as we were tentatively moving up. We were tentatively moving up because that seemed like the smart way to be with a 4 a.m. sky full of clouds, a couple of inches of new snow on the ground, and untested legs in our crew.
It didn’t take long at all for Erica’s legs to prove they were ready for climbing today. I could hear her crampons digging in just a few steps behind me for all of the first dark hour—she was cruising over the same ice that had defeated her 24 hours earlier. I focused on other problems. The big one was the misbehaving cloud ceiling. It was steadily dropping as we climbed and the morning light came on. The more I could see, the less I could see. When we took the first short break it was snowing, and I polled my team as to whether they thought it would intensify.
There were six of us today—the five usual suspects (Seth, Erica, Kent, Ang Kaji, and me) plus Maila, the Camp 2 cook who had been enjoying a brief Base Camp vacation from one of the toughest jobs on the hill. Maila thought, as we all did, that the snow was just getting started, and that there wasn’t much point in going on. None of us wanted to be doing the Braille thing through a Khumbu Icefall whiteout. And there definitely weren’t any takers for a stroll in close to the Nuptse avalanche chutes beyond Camp 1, with serious snow coming down.
So we very nearly called it quits at 5 a.m., before getting into the worst of the Icefall. The retreat plan was sound—and we hated it. This acclimatization round is important; it is our “tryout” for a summit bid. We want the extra strength, skill, and confidence that may come from it. We can’t really get that by going an hour out of Base Camp every day. And the calendar is moving on to the phat part of May. We want to be ready. We decided to hedge our bets—pushing onto the middle of the Icefall—another hour along, for a final call on the weather.
In that next hour, the snow quit and the clouds lifted. We knew the storm wasn’t finished, but we saw our little window of opportunity for scampering out of the Icefall and past Nuptse, and we were determined to take full advantage.
Long story short: Our little gamble worked. We arrived at ABC at midday excited as kids (even those of us not quite kids anymore). Excited with storm adrenaline, excited to have put things on the line, and to have made correct climbing decisions, and to feel the fitness we didn’t have five weeks ago.
We called down to Base Camp to boast, but also to be assured that the rest of our team is coping well with their summit holding pattern. They are not alone in that—as I said, we’ve got ABC pretty much to ourselves—and we barely had to make room for other climbers today on the route. Most are lower. Most are waiting for summit weather.