Friday, May 9, 2008

1 May: Return To Base Camp

5am wakeup and we were on the trail, heading back down to Base Camp for a few days of rest and relaxation. In many ways, mixed feelings came along with this move. There's nothing more welcoming than Base Camp, G-Man and a great meal by Super Mila after life up in the camps above the Icefall. But when you have spent hours getting to a point where your objective isn't just in sight, it's actually casting a shadow over your tents in the morning, it can be a bit frustrating to turn back, and head down the Western Cwm knowing full well that in just a few days you'll be working your way right back to this spot.

I did some quick calculating last night to see what sort of elevation gains we have made so far in this expedition. Keeping in mind that there are always up's and down's (case in point are those infernal waves at the top of the Icefall where you start at 19,200', drop down 50' to the well of the wave, then scale a 20' ladder followed by a 10' ice scramble that leads to another 20' ladder. At the top of that is a 6' vertical ice wall you have to climb. Net gain: 6'). I recognize some of these altitudes may not jive with textbooks, but I'm just using my rudimentary altimeter and roughing out specifics for ease of mathematics:

Trek in: Lukla (8,700')-> Base Camp (17,500'): 8,800'
6 Apr: Gorak Shep (17,000')-> Kala Pathar (18,400'): 1,400'
9 Apr: Base -> Ice Bloc in Icefall (17,800'): 300'
11 Apr: Base-> Soccer Field (18,500'): 1,000'
13 Apr: Base-> Kala Pathar (18,400'): 900'
16 Apr: Base-> End of Fixed Lines (19,350'): 1,850'
19 Apr: Base-> Camp I (19,600'): 2,100'
20 Apr: Camp I acclimatization hike (19,750'): 150'
21 Apr: Camp I acclimatization hike (20,330'): 730'
22 Apr: Return Base Camp
27 Apr: Base-> Camp I: 2,100'
28 Apr: Camp I-> Camp II (20,600'): 1,000'
29 Apr: Camp II acclimatization hike (21,000'): 400'
30 Apr: Camp II-> Camp I-> Camp II: 1,000'
01 May: Return Base Camp

Total Altitude Gain So Far: 21,730'

There are still two more camps to hit as well as the summit push, so coupled with at least three more forays to build on altitude, I think we are largely 1/3 of the way there.

As we moved down and down, we noticed immediately that the Icefall has been quite active, flowing downhill and shifting the trail that the Icefall Doctors work diligently to maintain. Some ladders were outright missing, some are in jeopardy of snapping, while ropes that were once casually placed for guiding climbers are now so taught that you could play them like a guitar string. From Camp II to Base, it took a little over 3 hours, which we heard is pretty good.

But Base Camp is now a ghost town. Willie asked me if I wanted to accompany him on a walk when we got back, and I agreed despite how badly my dogs were barking from all the downclimbing through the Icefall. Willie is a known entity here, and well respected at that. So walking with him is essentially a stop-and-chat with all the Who's Who of Everest. It's amazing how many people he knows, or who know him and have built reputations out of mountaineering. But today, it went relatively quickly. Because of the shadow of the Olympic Torch summit ban, entire teams have moved down to lower climes- some even as far down as Namche. I don't know... I sort of see this as a professional risk. You get all the way down to Namche Bazaar, and all of a sudden the warm air, green trees and luxury items like bakeries and shoppettes begin their Siren Song. I wouldn't be too surprised if this also thinned the herd and many don't return when it's time.

We did stop by the Icefall Doctors, who Willie knows personally after many years. These highly trained and specialized Sherpas are hand picked to work the thankless job of keeping the Khumbu Icefall trail open for climbers. Without their work, none of us would be able to get through the Icefall in the speed that we do. We had a cup of coffee with them and then were back on our way, walking the empty trails and spotting the occasional climber who had decided to sit it out and keep our fingers crossed that the Chinese summit as soon as possible.

Speaking of which... as we returned to our Base Camp and G-Man immediately bogarted my iPod, we heard a Sherpa speaking excitedly over the radio that the Chinese had just summited. It all made perfect sense. Not a cloud in the sky, no wind and mild temperatures. We had heard that the Chinese had summited yesterday too, but that their torch didn't light when they were up top, requiring a second ascent for their perfect photo op. Rumors, rumors, rumors. We had all seen the plane yesterday, and there was another one today- two, even Francisco said. We all fell for it, and continued to believe that the Chinese summit attempt was all in the past. Until we learned that it wasn't true. Argh! Who is this evil Sherpa!? Doesn't he know that April Fool's Day is in April, not May 1st? Oh well, back to contingency planning.

We passed the day relaxing and then watching a copy of "Superbad" that one of the trekkers who visited our compound yesterday brought along for us. "What's up, gangstassss??"

No comments: