Saturday, May 24, 2008

Mount Everest Summit Push: Camp III, 19 May

Previous Post: Rest Day at Camp II

Super Mila was at our tents at 5 on the nose, smiling and with hot tea. Time to get going; the final push is upon us. Willie checked, and the weather reports all seem to agree that the 21st is going to be a good day. Those that balked are out of luck for one more day, but we are poised and with Willie's long experience with this mountain he has a bit of intuition on what patterns will do. Himalayan weatherman. Why is it that in Seattle the weather guy can't predict the afternoon's weather but here Willie can peer several days out? Weird...

After weeks and weeks of questions, uncertainty, that damn Chinese torch and now weather- it comes down to this. Even last night, the Big Question was the weather. Go down to Base? Keep going up? Even before Willie made the call our collective vote was and has always been to press on.

So here we are, and press on we will.

Gearing up, I added to my pack all of my summit trinkets and flags, dumped out excess weight items that I knew I wouldn't need over the next few days. Filled up my Nalgene bottles and gave my Camp II tent one last glance before heading to the cook tent with all of my gear. I'll be seeing that tent in ~3 days, all things going according to plan, and -knock on wood- in 3 days, hopefully things are completely different. Sap, sap, sap. It's a tent, dude. Just zip the fly and get on with it.

At 6:30am, we set out, immediately crossing paths with The Fuzzies, who must have heard our plan and aligned themselves with our schedule. The questionable weather has bumped several teams, but several more are still going. I kept pace with several of the Swiss team who are also targeting the 21st for a summit push. Willie and Francisco are right behind me, and in relatively quick time we made the base of the Lhotse Face, clipping into the fixed lines with our jumars and beginning the lung busting and deliberate push up to 24,500' Camp III.

Moving higher and higher, we found two things: that the last week's worth of use as an ant trail had much improved the Lhotse Face footholds- even in sections of blue ice. We also found that our acclimatization trip a few days ago had even made this leg of the trip manageable. All seemed to be going well and we were ascending quickly until this biting, shrieking, howling wind came blasting in from the South Col and made mincemeat out of us. We did everything we could short of curse loudly. But even if we did, I doubt that anyone who was within earshot could hear us because their ears were probably frozen.

Then again, it did have one positive effect- it got us going pretty fast in a hurry- the-hurry-the-hell-up-I'm-freezing sort of way. Hands knotted inside of gloves when not using the jumar, we made it up to Camp III in a little over 4 hours- two full hours faster than our first attempt.

Diving into tents and bags, we slowly warmed. After some time, I went over to Willie and Francisco's tent and we whiled away the afternoon telling stories, eating snacks and sucking down the O's in order to regenerate and familiarize ourselves with the equipment we'd be using for the next several days.

Camp III is quite literally perched halfway up the Lhotse Face so there's no getting out of your tent and walking around- it's just too risky to be casual about it. Even transit from one tent of ours to another- facing back-to-back, is enough to freak you out when looking straight down the Lhotse Face and into the clouds.

Our tents are almost hung on the face and there are several rows of them aligned with snow and ice buttresses that adjoin where the trail winds along the face. Some crevasse dot the campgrounds and several portions of the trail that snake upwards through camp are almost literally vertical. The ledge that the tents are placed on is about 3' wider than the tents, which are anchored with stakes and oodles of meters of rope which splay everywhere. You trip just going from the back of one tent to the other, making you strongly consider clipping onto some random rope just to move between tents. Then at the end where the tents meet the trail there's a single rope that connects with the fixed lines. Think of it as the Lhotse Face equivalent of an interstate on ramp. And beyond that? Just a slick face and a 2000' fall. It's truly one of the most unique "campsites" that I have ever experienced.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow's exciting just thinking about it. I'm intrigued by how tonight's sleep goes, because we sleep on oxygen tonight, all night. Just from our brief toying with these masks and tanks today, I'm in love. Man, this stuff's great! All of a sudden, you have energy again. You feel warm. Awake. Sharp. So tonight, we place our flow regulators on .5 liters/minute. Hey. That's .5 liters/minute more than I would normally have up here. Flow regulators ramp up to 4 liters/minute but from what I understand, our standard will be 2.5 liters/minute. Francisco has a new system which he bought and makes him look like Darth Vader. All night, we went back and forth: "Luuukkkeee... I am your fathooorrrrrr." The rest of us are using some Soviet MiG fighter jobbies. Hey, they do the trick, alright? And just as long as they get us those O's, I don't care what it looks like.

Next Post: Up the Lhotse Face to the South Col

Previous Post: Rest Day at Camp II

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