So … where to start? It’s been a while since we managed to give a proper update and so much has happened that it is difficult to remember exactly the order of events.
Anyway it went something like this …
10th May – left Base Camp for Camp 2. An exciting day as we were effectively heading for our summit push.
The view from the top of The Khumbu Icefall looking towards Nuptse
11th May – rest day at Camp 2. Situated at 6,400m it only has 2 further camps above it whereas on the North side of the mountain the equivalent camp at 6,400m is ABC and has 4 (or perhaps 3) camps above depending on the size of your group and the logistics involved. Camp 2 on the South side is a much more pleasant place to be and catches a lot of sun. Yes it is chilly at night and, being at 6,400m, is a tiring place to be, but the North ABC by comparison doesn’t get the sun until about 11 in the morning and is pretty much baltic all the time.
12th May – summit push is on and we are heading to C3 with a view to continuing to the South Col the following day and setting out for the summit on the night of the 13th / summiting on the morning of the 14th. Having arrived at C3 and sorted all the tents, arranged everyone’s mattresses, started brewing up, put the food and Os in the right places the radio cracked in to life. Giles was having an appalling day and was very downbeat and Jen was also having difficulty having pulled most of her intercostal muscles from coughing fits she’d been having. For Giles this partly seemed to be on the back of a bout of illness he’d had at Base Camp prior to the 10th which had laid him low for a few days. But even so he seemed to be struggling more than he should have been – especially when compared to the relative ease he’d been experiencing earlier in the trip. I dropped back down to assist Jen with her rucksack and then back down again to assist Giles by just being there with him as he ascended. It turned out to be quite a long hard day.
Sunset view from Camp 3
13th May – weather window has changed and high winds are forecast. The South Col is not the place to be in poor weather so we head back down to C2. Giles was quite subdued and we had a chat. We came up with 3 options. 1 – he drop to Base Camp for a rest. 2 – he drop to Dingboche for a rest. 3 – he try sleeping on a low flow of oxygen at Camp 2. We realised that options 1 and 2 would probably develop in to options 1a or 2a which would be returning to Kathmandu.
14th May – not quite sure what the weather is doing and are reluctant to head back to Base Camp just in case we find ourselves down the mountain when we should be heading up. It’s a good place to rest BUT it’s quite a lot of effort to descend and, in particular, a big effort to reascend. So we decide to stay put. Thankfully Giles had had his best night’s sleep for a long time and was a changed man.
15th May – another rest (!) day at C2.
Full moon rising over Lhotse from Camp 2
16th May – Looks like it’s going to be good for the night of the 18th / morning of the the 19th so we’re off to get ourselves in the right place at the right time. How exciting.
17th May – Traipse back up to C3 (7,100m) en route to …
18th May – The South Col. Exploring new territory as we make our way to 7,950m and move in to our temporary camp at The South Col. Interestingly I met this chap … who had his crampons on the wrong feet. I’d mentioned it to him as tactfully as possible about 3 hours previously and his excuse was that he’d been in a rush to go to the loo (oh, that’s ok then). He did nothing about it despite often stopping for rests. The fact that he was letting his Sherpa do absolutely everything for him at every rebelay (from unclipping karabiners and jumars to feeding and managing him) says a lot and he was so totally out of his depth that it was worrying. Needless to say I decided to put a lot of distance between us.
A day of legendary terrain as we make our way further up The Lhotse Face, across to The Yellow Band, over to The Geneva Spur and arrive at The South Col.
Continuing up The Lhotse Face above Camp 3
The Yellow Band with Everest in the background
Approaching the South Col (in very windy conditions)
Oxygen stashed at The South Col
Unfortunately the weather has changed again and so, instead of just being there for a few hours in preparation for our summit bid we have to stay for the night.
19th May (morning and afternoon) – Amazingly it is possible to be reasonably comfortable at nearly 8,000m. We rest and rehydrate through the day having listened to the maelstrom through the night. Just as well we hadn’t set off in to the squall or we’d have returned without the summit under our belts and possibly missing digits to frostbite.
19th May (night time) – it’s our time to go and we busy ourselves getting ready. It took almost 2 hours just to pack sleeping bags, don our down suits, boots, harnesses and busy ourselves with last minute preparations.
Ready for the off
Then it’s out in to the bitter cold night, pop crampons and oxygen on and set off in to the dark. Unfortunately the number of people who’d been set to go the night before (like ourselves) along with those scheduled for the 19th makes for a busy night. We moved desperately slowly with little chance of overtaking those that are slower than us. The terrain is such that to unclip from the rope and over take is an invitation for disaster – and the way from The South Col to The Balcony is no place to be courting danger.
20th May – Gradually we get ever higher on the hill. I had to stop at The Balcony and take my boots off! We’d been going desperately slowly and I’d realised that my feet were getting colder and colder. I could just about feel movement but knew that if I didn’t do something soon I would either be going down or wouldn’t be able to play ‘This little piggy’ or be able to wear sandals without scaring people.
I’d been pondering for a while what the problem was (apart from the ambient temperature) and realised that the crux was that either my feet had gone up a couple of sizes (possible but not probable) or I’d put Ali’s liner socks on instead of mine (probable) which meant that my feet were getting squeezed a tad which was restricting my circulation. Therein lies a problem Mr and Mrs Smartwool – your socks aren’t marked with the size on which means that it is very easy for pairs to get mixed up in outdoors families drawers and cupboards.
So … outer boot off, inner boot off, instant freezing of socks due to -30 degree temperatures, outer sock off, inner sock off, outer sock back on, inner boot on and outer boot on. Do up various straps and laces and attempt to rewarm hands. And repeat with the other foot. After this I quickly changed to my second oxygen bottle so that I probably wouldn’t have to stop again on the way to the summit.
This didn’t take too long but I noticed the difference straight away. The Balcony is a popular stopping point for teams to quickly rest, change oxygen bottle, take on some energy and reassemble. Luckily once I’d managed to take the all too small socks off I was able to pop in front of a few teams and found myself with Jen and Susan (plus their Sherpas).
Jen all frozen up on the way to The Balcony
Gradually we made our way higher as the sun started to rise and were able to start to enjoy the ever changing views. Some amazing sights.
Looking back down to The Balcony (and the queues we’d managed to get ahead of)
But even so – there was a bit of a queue ahead as well.
Managed to gradually get past a few more people where the terrain allowed and then suddenly we’re on the ridge and making our way towards the South Summit. I saw Giles making his way down (he’d summited at 05.15!!) and I could see The Hillary Step and the summit in the distance. I met Partha on his way down as well and then the next thing (about 2 hours later!!) I was on the summit as well.
It was a bit breezey and quite cold but I busied myself with doing some video footage and enjoying the environment.
After a while Jen and her Sherpa (Dorje Gyalgen) joined me followed by Susan and Padawa. I left some ashes on the summit of a great friend who had tragically died in Scotland the year before and by now I’d been on the top for an hour and a half and it was time to go. We made our way back to The South Summit, rested for a while, and then on back to The Balcony where I collected my socks and an empty water bottle I’d left there. I also changed back to my first (half full) bottle of oxygen and sent some texts (most of which it subsequently turns out didn’t get through). Not quite the first text from the summit slopes of Mount Everest but not far off it.
I popped down the ropes rather tentatively as I was adamant that I didn’t want to relax and have a lapse of concentration. Only when I was a few hundred metres from the South Col did I dare do a piece to camera reflecting on the success of the day.
20th May – (night time). Giles had been so far ahead of the rest of us that he had made the decision to go to C2 (a massive day).