The Khumbu Icefall

So we’ve been at Base Camp since the 20th and we are well and truly settled in. The first day involved us getting our hands on our freight from the UK and KTM and generally sorting ourselves out. Needless to say there was plenty of washing water and shower activity as well.

The next day we were supposed to be up at 5 for an early breakfast followed by a foray in to the Khumbu Icefall. However, it snowed most of the night and the visibility was pure white out conditions. I had a quick chat with the Climbing Sherpas and we decided it was prudent for me to stay put with the group.

The Climbing Sherps headed out and I woke people to tell them not to get up!

I was up and in the kitchen at 7 and the Climbing Sherpas came back having made it 2/3rds of the way in The Icefall – apparently in some quite challenging conditions so I was glad we’d stayed put (we later heard about waist deep snow being ploughed through between C2 and C1).

We were up for the usual 8 o’clock to get breakfast and it was still claggy but by now the wind & snow had stopped. Half an hour later and the vis cleared and we were eagerly scrabbling to get ready and go for a recce in The Icefall.

The start of the Icefall is only 5 minutes away from our camp and we were soon donning crampons and harnesses and taking our first steps on the lower slopes of the mountain. The initial 40 minutes or so of the route are relatively straight forward and unroped (glad we weren’t in there in the early morning white out) and then when we hit the ropes I ran a tech session to acquaint everyone with safe travel techniques.

Another hour or so and we were encountering our first ladders. The first few are for climbing up and then a few horizontal ones are in place to aid progress over the increasing number of crevasses we were encountering.

If folk are together then they can assist each other by pulling the ropes tight to create a kind of bannister for the ladder crosser to use for balance. Once across the first person then pulls the ropes for the second person and so on and so forth.

What to do, however, when you get to a ladder and you are on your own? Well you clip in, as usual, pick up the ropes and lean forwards thereby taking up the slack from behind and creating your own tension. This position means that you’re leaning forwards and looking down and into the vast yawning chasm that you are about to cross. It’s all very well saying to yourself ‘don’t look down’ but you have to to see where to put your feet. Needless to say it takes a bit of getting used to.

So in and out took around 4 hours and we were soon back having a late lunch followed by my usual array of snacks and goodies that I provide including pâté, crackers, cashews, liquorice allsorts, fruit pastilles, pistachios, olives and gherkins.

Unfortunately we were then unable to manage much of tea on account of being thoroughly stuffed, so we settled down to a couple of series of Green Wing – thoroughly recommended by the way – and retired to bed.

As generally happens when staying at Base Camp nights become better and sleep easier and it’s great that there isn’t a sign of a headache or any adverse reactions to altitude amongst the group.

That, however, is possibly all about to change as we ready ourselves for our first foray to Camp 1 (and hopefully on to Camp 2) tomorrow. All being well we’ll have 3 or 4 nights on the hill before returning to Base Camp for a few days’ rest.

Hopefully the luck we were all bestowed with at yesterday’s Base Camp puja will see us well and the snow will have settled down. There have been the inevitable avalanches pouring down the usual faces and gullies following on from the snow fall we’ve had but the icefall is, by all accounts, in good condition beyond where we recce’d to the other day. Next time we’re there we’ll be carrying a reasonable load so it will make for fairly slow progress me thinks.

I’ll keep you posted when we get back down.

Cheers – Tim & Co

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