Monday, May 12, 2008

6 May: Base Camp To Camp II

Anyone who thinks that they truly understand what suffering is all about, outside those who have survived Prisoner of War status, and perhaps the ravages of certain forms of cancer- I highly encourage those people to experience all that the push from Base Camp to Camp II has to offer.

Oh. My. God.

You know, I've been through what I consider to be some fairly exhausting and physically challenging events. So far, today ranks up at the top. I didn't just hit the wall; I hit it, the wall laughed at me, fell over on me, and then laughed again. Remember that scene in "300" where Leonidas and the Spartans lured the Immortals into night combat by a wall of Xerxes' dead? There's one poor sap standing out in front of his team and then the Spartans push all those bodies right on top of him? Yeah. That was me today.

It started off uneventfully enough. Lhakpa, Francisco and I headed into the Icefall at 5:15, our goal being Camp II. "This is going to be a big push, you know...” Willie told us the night before. We had heard all the horror stories, but this was our 11th time in the Icefall, so how hard could it really be? The Base Camp->Camp II push is rated as one of the hardest of the effort-driven movements of this climb by Everest vets, especially on the first try, when your body isn't entirely acclimatized for it.

Some of the same familiar sights came into view after the universally hated wave section at the beginning of the Icefall. I swear that some evil guy who sets the route makes this section harder and harder as climbers become acclimatized for camps higher and higher. Ice bloc in one hour, Popcorn Field soon after that. Boy has the Icefall moved in just a few short days. In some areas the trail has shifted dramatically and in others ladders now span massive gaps. There have been several collapses, keeping the Icefall pathway trail a hazardous place to be.

Even today, once past Camp I we learned of yet another collapse that happened in an area we had passed through 20 minutes earlier- the Soccer Field which has collapsed so much this year that the only thing that it looks like you can play there is ping pong. When there is a collapse, the Icefall Doctors scramble into action and Sherpas backlog on either side of the block.

Finally reaching the upper ladders at 3 hours, we also reached the sun. Ahh, nourishing sun. Warm, welcoming. What initially was something we greeted with excitement quickly eroded into frustration as all strength was sapped away. No wind, no clouds. Another perfect summit day for the Chinese. But 10,000' down the Western Cwm, it was baking us. Layer after layer came off, but the damage was done. Our speed slowed to that of turtles as we rounded Camp I and dialed in on Camp II.

Willie, started teasing us about "Base Camp Legs"- a term given to slowness encountered on the trail after several complacent days at Base Camp where you basically have to get the rust back out. Willie, we noticed, didn't have Base Camp Legs of any shape or form. He had slept in, had breakfast and in preparation for a potential shot at the uncontested World Record Base -> Summit Speed Ascent had caught up to us at the top of the Icefall in well under 2 hours. The guy's a machine.

As we plodded along to Camp II, we drank every drop of water we had and essentially made a gut check of it. Camp II is so incredibly deceptive because when you first lay eyes on it, you think "we're there!" Then 45 minutes later, when the camp still seems the same distance away, again you think "we're there!" On this painful iteration it took us closer to 3 hours to make Camp II- extremely frustrating given that just one week earlier it had only taken 1:45. But, that wasn't a Base Camp-> Camp II push, so we understood the difference as we collapsed into crumpled heaps outside our cook tent- completely at Indra's mercy while he knowingly smiled and gave us juice.

The rest of the day was basically a blur, truth be told. Some food, lots of time spent sleeping in tents, some talk about the Chinese and what is taking them so long? Another plane was seen flying around the summit today, but then in the afternoon the Nepal army passed word that the 11th is now on their radar, causing a flurry of discussion about exactly WHAT is going on just across the mountain range behind us. Especially after witnessing today's weather. Some teams are starting to wonder if it's too late, or even worth it at all. But we are staying, no doubt about it. I just wish these guys would get their act together.

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