Thursday, May 1, 2008

16 April: Khumbu Icefall

Today was Joe's Birthday! And what better way to celebrate? As you may have predicted, and as you may also have recommended to us, we decided that a trip thru the Icefall was the perfect way.

So, off we went with a 4am wake-up call and 5am departure. Creeping through familiar territory, we made our now familiar serac in less than an hour and the Popcorn Field in 1 1/2 hrs. Ascending higher and higher, we made the Soccer Field in less than 3 hrs, still feeling great. The nourishing sun warmed up cold feet and required everyone to slap on loads of sun screen at the top of one notable serac where we had spied prayer flags from Base Camp. This was almost the top of the Icefall at 19,110', but not quite.

From there, we passed by two spots that had ridiculous ladders. I say that because they were virtually vertical and had been tied together to ascend their respective seracs... four of 'em. One ladder ascended close to 50' vertical to a ledge where you traverse a 50 degree angle slope roughly 100', then scramble up another 20' to another vertical ladder section.

Constantly fixed to safety ropes, you still have to be careful as you pick your way along the trail. The ropes are firm and new, but anchors can melt out with the day’s sun. As a result, our team is careful and deliberate in our climb as we pass through new territory, wheezing and gasping with every new effort. Mawing crevasse beckons as we slowly traverse over these caverns in a manner Willie has taught us.

At some point after we left, Lhakpa woke up, had a leisurely breakfast, read the newspaper, watched a movie, lounged around and then finally got going. He must have spent an hour catching up to us, those guys who had been climbing for four hours at that point. But there he was somewhere north of the Soccer Field and looking completely not tired by the ordeal. Big smiles, Lhakpa! "Hi, guys! How has your climb been going?" I continue to be impressed by the physical capabilities of these Sherpas- it's not even an effort for them. The Human Body is such an incredible machine and I am always amazed by what it can accomplish: no matter the clime or place.

Arriving wheezing and gasping five solid hours later, we are you finally able to peer into the valley of the Western Cwm at 19,450'.

It was here that we reached the end of the fixed lines- the Icefall Doctors had reached a point that had required specific ladders and ropes and as a result we were stymied from going any further. Not that I minded, though. "Ok, we are here. Let's have a long break and have some lunch" said Willie. "Woo hoo!" I threw out there, turning turtle and plopping down one microsecond later. As we grabbed chow, the Icefall Doctors arrived and began heading out toward the end of the lines. Think I was impressed with Lhakpa? Here come two Sherpas with aluminum ladders on their backs, wearing blue jeans- scrambling up those same ladders without winded breath, speeding along like no big thing. Seriously- ladders on their backs.

Then it's time to head back down, and off we went. Here's a great pic of Francisco heading back down the fixed lines and about to rappel back down those crazy ladders:

Word is that either today or tomorrow they'll make it through to Camp I and the next time we are up this way, we'll be going all the way to overnight at Camp I. I sure hope so, because the headache I had tonight... I'd rather have once we get there, not after coming all the way back to Base.

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