Monday, 10 May 2010

Touching the North Col...

So with all our kit prepped, weather forecast checked and talking done, it was time for Matt to experience the delights of Everest's North Col... As with any plan, there are always the unknowns that can scupper things at the last minute. However, as we got our heads down for our last quality nights' sleep at ABC, the weather decided to turn it's hand...... We did not expect to wake up to find over 2 foot of snow fall and this put our departure indefinately on hold.

Thankfully with only a day's delay, we proceeded as planned. We had witnessed just two days earlier a severe avalanche some 200m to the left of the planned route up the North Col, this added to the Hungarian tragedy which occurred about week ago and it was not hard to sense the tension in the air.

The weather on our ascent can only be described as blizzard conditions, making our task of reaching the top that little bit more fun... Crossing the crevasses on snow swept ladders, with frozen ropes certainly got the heart pounding! In all the climb was pretty brutal, compared to our other group members as they had tropical heat to help them up a few days before!

This was my second ascent of the North Col and I felt physically strong, setting a good time to the top despite the conditions. Matt performed exceptionally on the climb, especially for his first attempt, showing off his slick rope work, which was much needed to avoid any potential frost nip!

On reaching the top of the North Col I was greeted with the sight of a total white out, all the tents were buried in up to 3 foot of snow. It took a good half hour to just to identify our camping area, let alone dig a suitable tent out! Finally once inside the tent and the blizzard shut out, I got the stove on and started to melt some of Everest's finest fresh snow and waited for Matt... and waited... and waited.. until finally he arrived, exhausted and deathly but elated. It had clearly taken a lot out of him.

The next day was a complete contrast in weather. Sat in our surprisingly warm tents at 7050m, with blazing sunshine, snow all around us, it was all about recovery from yesterday's adventure, however you just can't recover at this altitude and you find yourself struggling to stay hydrated, stay fed, stay alive, so recovery was off the cards... A day of what do you miss the most from home was the main focus, with many suggestions from a normal toilet, a duvet, to Mrs Shaw's flapjacks... some suggestions, however, really aren't suitable for this blog...

With two nights sleep under our belt (of very average quality!) at 7050m, it was time to venture higher up the mountain. Acclimatisation is key in order to be able to function correctly and efficiently, what takes 2 minutes to put on your shoes at home, at 7050m is a different story. We timed each other in preparing ourselves for the days climbing. To put down suit, climbing boots, climbing harness and crampons on took just over 40 minutes.

The aim of the day was to reach 7500m. The route would be a relentless steep climb up the snow ridge to the rock wall which allows passage to Camp 2 at 7800m. The views whilst walking this route are breath-taking, giving a clear picture of where the rest of the route will take us to reach the Summit. Unfortunately for us, the weather decided to turn and blizzard conditions rained supreme again. Matt struggling with acclimatisation managed a pretty pathetic 50m or so from the tent, no one else who was on the North Col ventured further. But enjoying the comforts and the resilience to the elements from our North Face Down suits (with good music selection on my iPod) I pushed further, cutting my own tracks in the fresh deep snow, I managed to reach 7500m. The descent back to our tents on the North Col took all of 40 minutes, after gruelling 3 hour climb...

It was a hard day for all of us, but the realisation that this was the final acclimatisation walk on the mountain before our summit weather window came was big morale! The waiting game has now begun.

After a third (restless) night at 7050m, the descent of the North Col was an enjoyable experience, especially as the weather had now decided to be kind to us. Baked in 35+ heat and stunning views, Matt could now actually see what he had originally climbed, which was a good pat on the back for him, and another boost for me as I continue to feel stronger.

We are now back at ABC, making the most of fresh(ish) water, non-boil-in-the-bag food and a well-earned rest before heading down to BC tomorrow where we can really relax, for a week or so anyway. From there we can begin to plan
our final return to stand on top of the World. It's all about the waiting game now, waiting for the infamous weather window to open up. We've done all we can, Matt has just about caught up with the rest of the team in terms of acclimatisation, which is a massive achievement and testament to him, but he still struggles with the altitude, which I hope will become easier on our final assent of the mountain.

We have everything to play for and early reports suggest the weather window could be on our side, the dream will become a reality very soon...

Watch this space...


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