Saturday, 29 May 2010

Getting into a position to summit - the long road from BC to Camp 3

We left BC for the last time in high spirits and with good weather. The 15 mile trek to ABC, although not a particularly enjoyable one, especially having already completed it twice in the last month, did at least give us some more time to start to focus on the climb ahead, feel the blood fill back into our legs and prepare us for the rigours of what we all knew awaited us from ABC onwards.

The initial intention when we arrived at ABC was to have 2 rest days, before heading up the North Col and hitting the 24th May weather window. However, having checked the latest forecast, there were fears of a cyclone drifting across the summit around that date, so plans were quickly re-arranged. With the 23rd confirmed as the big day, we set about completing our final kit checks, relishing the thought that we leave the following day to start our big push up the North Col for the summit! To be honest we were both relieved that the two days of rest had been cut to one, as the anticipation and tension in the air from the group was growing by the hour, so it was a big relief that the 23rd was given the green light.

Following a sleepless night, we set out with great excitement on the 20th to climb our first big hurdle of the North Col. The weather had been kind to us so far, with no recent snow, the conditions were in our favour... with the risk of avalanches low. The climb went without a hitch, but the big scare of the day came when the cerac that Pete was traversing under made the fatal sounds of cracking with the inevitable rumbleling of falling snow. Thankfully Pete managed to unclip from the fixed lines and produced the fastest 100m running time up hill on the mountain (going head to head with the Sherpa behind him!) A good work out at nearly 7000m.... Everyone arrived safely to the top of the Col, but the weather had changed and the winds had dramatically picked up, resulting in the loss of one of the team’s tents, with equipment inside. Fortunately this hadn’t blown too far down the mountain and was retrieved by some of the Sherpa later. The high winds and constant snow fall made an interesting night, especially as our front porch of the tent didn’t stop the snow blowing in every time the wind picked up. We may as well have slept outside as the sate of our tent in the morning looked like we had our own mini snow blizzard in our tent!

It was a restless night’s sleep at the North Col which was supplemented by some of the strongest winds you could ever imagine, in fact at some points during the night it felt like we were being mortared! Today was always going to be a hard day, moving from the North Col at 7050m to Camp 2 at 7800m. Having struggled so much along the trip, Matt had decided to start using O2 from this point, a decision which Pete could easily have taken as well, if he weren’t doing so well in acclimatising so far, and so decided against it. We worked hard together throughout the day, and were joined by Geordie, a lad who we’d come to like and enjoy the company of a lot. It took the best part of 12 hours to finally reach 7800m, arriving into Camp 2 well after dark. It was a long day, but passed by relatively uneventfully, which seems stupid to say because in real terms it was never-ending! Crawling into a tent, there was not much on either of our minds – boil snow, eat, drink, many ways this was lucky for us. If we’d had the energy to think of the next day, we probably wouldn’t be able to sleep through fear...

The move to Camp 3 at 8300m is one of the most important days as it can directly affect your summit attempt, primarily as its split into two distinct parts. Firstly we need to get ourselves safely up to Camp 3, but secondly and more importantly we pass into the ‘death zone’ and wait to start our summit bid a few hours later that same day. It’s important to try and conserve energy and pace yourself up to Camp 3, which is near on impossible as the start time for summit day is 10pm that evening, so pressure is on to reach the camp in good time to be able to rest, eat, drink and check kit. When people talk of the ‘death zone’ they draw reference to the altitude above 8000m where two thirds of the World’s oxygen is beneath you. The body cannot physically survive by itself and so starts to eat itself as it is starved of oxygen. You will be lucky to have an appetite and unlikely to be able to sleep without O2 supplementation, and if you can force yourself to sleep, it is not unheard of for you not to be able to wake up again.

The route to camp three became more rocky as we ascended, picking our way up via the fixed ropes rather than following a constant snow slope. Crampons on rocks is not ideal and the relentless traversing across the mountain and no obvious sign of the position of Camp 3, made it a tough physical and mental battle of a climb. As we gained altitude the view our of summit route, particularly the first and second step was more evident and excitement filled the air as we knew in a few hours time we would be tackling these legendary steps on our way to the summit...

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