Monday, May 12, 2008

8 May: Chinese Summit

I woke this morning to the now familiar sound of a jet circling the summit. But we have heard this sound at least five times since first arriving at Camp II last week, so no one is getting their hopes up too high that the Chinese actually pull this torch thing off. The first time I heard the jet screaming around overhead I jumped out of my tent and everyone was pointing at the sky. This time the sun hadn't hit the tent yet and there was a little bit of a breeze, so I just hunkered down and didn't even move. What's the point? You see this little white dot in the sky zipping along as it circles the mountain right behind Camp II. It circles and circles, then it disappears and you are still cold looking like a Lemming at the sky along with everyone else. Two hours later, you learn that it "was a Chinese plane"... no kidding. And then that's it, biz of not being able to go anywhere as usual.

Today was different. The plane was gone well before 08:30, and then at 09:15 we received word that today was the day. They had done it, summited with their blessed torch. We had a false alarm back at the end of April where the Sherpas were chatting it up and passed bad scoop. But this time two things happened that made it believable: the word came along with confirmation that news agencies were reporting the summit. And the Nepal Army detachment at Camp II pulled out with lightening speed. Summit? Bam, gone. Shows you how excited they were to man that checkpoint. I have some opinions about what occurred here with diplomats and policy enforcement, but I'll hold those until a later date.

Willie was out of our camp area like a shot, heading to the top of Camp II with other western guides that he trusts and several hand-picked Sherpas- the goal being to begin roping to Camp III. Amazing as it seems, the goal within an hour of the Chinese torch making the top of the world was for the Nepal side to be roped to Camp III - or as close as they could come - within the day.

Francisco and I decided that since we would be heading to Camp III within a series of days now, it would be a good idea to press back up to the top of Camp II- if for no other reason than to see where all the action was, and as a side benefit, get some more altitude under our belts. Camp II is no picnic... our campsite is the Taj Mahal compared to Camp I, but even then it's still fairly confining and not a place you get very comfortable in. So off we went, sliding and scrambling down through the loose rock and then up again through the gully next to our site.

The roughly 400 vertical feet up to the top of Camp II went smoothly and we found that our speed and time had improved even over yesterday. When we arrived at the top of camp and the Lhotse Face came into full view, we found quite a spectacle- Sherpas led by Willie had already roped up all the way to the Lhotse Face where a surprisingly large bergschrund blocked the trail. Willie and several other climbers had already traversed the bergschrund face and were moving directly up the Lhotse Face itself.

Francisco and I observed this spectacle for a while before heading back to our camp and talking about that Face, and how it's in our immediate future. It looks crazy... I think that once we are on it it'll be ok, but for now... yee cats. All the Sherpas are coming up tomorrow and will overnight at Camp II. Then on the 10th, we all go up. Tomorrow, Francisco and I are going to the base of the Lhotse Face on another acclimatization push to prep one last time- it'll apparently take close to 2 hours from Camp II.

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