Monday, May 12, 2008

9 May: Base Of Lhotse Face

Any false impressions I had about the Base Camp ->Camp II push being the hardest day we would have on this climb were quickly erased today. Francisco and I made a push to the base of Lhotse, and as expected it took us close to 2 hours from the top of Camp II. The issue is air. It's 21,600' at the Lhotse Face entry point, which puts Camp III at close to 2,000' feet above and straight up the face. By the time we were ready to turn around my legs felt like rubber and I had zero energy. At times, we both wondered aloud- how do people do this? It's incredible, and yet we continue to march on. As for tomorrow- it's not going to be pretty, but we'll do it. Thanks to a straightforward approach and very little in the way of physical obstacles, it only took us about 30 minutes to get back to Camp II.

The route out of Camp II and up to the base of Lhotse is actually interesting, altitude considered. There are some mini waves like at the base of the Icefall, but these are minor and actually fairly pleasant. Some fixed line areas across hidden crevasse do exist, but only in one area so that's ok. My guess is that something like 5 to 7 hours to Camp III, including the 2 1/2 hour press out of our campsite at Camp II.

So we returned to Camp II where Indra had made one of his worst meals yet. Some undercooked pasta jobbie with Spam and vegetables. Ya know, it's hard enough to eat up here anyway and everyone says "ya gotta eat!" Ok fine. But this one was inedible and I literally shoveled in 2 or 3 mouthfuls before giving up. I just couldn't do it, and neither could Francisco. So what happens? Later on, when Willie comes down from fixing lines all the way to Camp III I overhear him asking about us and A #1 on the report is that we didn't eat lunch. Ok, whatever I think as I put down my 5th Clif Bar since lunch. That's ok though, Indra's day is coming in the kitchen. Just four short hours later when a remarkably similar dinner is served- still undercooked- a now extremely tired Willie goes bananas and Indra scrambles. Burned popcorn, anyone?

In yet another ominous sign of things to come, Tendi and Danuru show, straight from Base Camp in the Sherpa version of commuting to work. They are all smiles and talk of how broken the Icefall is now, but also discuss how they made sure their time on this push... was slow. Important to save time for tomorrow, they say. Ok, great. If the flippin' Sherpas are focused on economy of effort for tomorrow's push, then that says something. Great...

But then, they also talked about the masses moving to Camp II now that the Chinese torch issue was no more and the Icefall was open again. Mobs of teams were racing to beat the acclimatization clock- which we found ourselves several days ahead of. Talk about Base Camp Legs... some climbers were obviously having too much fun down the hill- it wasn't uncommon to hear that some people were taking 12 hours to reach Camp II. Twelve hours. Those people had actually reversed their progress, so hopefully they get back on track soon. But Camp II is now fully populated, unlike the ghost town we saw just two days ago.

Apparently the Nepal Army is leaving Base Camp today, their fearless leader walked around to visit and butt snorkel the same teams that he didn't help and ignored. Apparently he's taking his team back to Kathmandu where I'm sure he'll receive a medal for his efforts here. See ya, Major. Meanwhile, Willie is leading the charge in getting ropes fixed to Camp III and is making incredible progress in that effort- completed today. The guy's a machine, I swear. Not a day goes by where I'm not impressed with his level of energy, can-do attitude, and unwavering dedication to the community at large- but then there are other days where he truly shines. Volunteering to fix ropes to Camp III came without any prodding, and he did it in lightening speed time, personally pulling together a team of the most capable Sherpas and western guides around to complete the task for all teams attempting this climb. Every climber going up the Lhotse Face- just one day after the mountain "opened" has him to thank for his efforts.

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