Monday, May 26, 2008

Mount Everest Summit, To Camp II

Surreal day on many fronts. We woke up this morning at 04:30 to a crystal clear day- very much like yesterday, so we immediately wish well those pushing for their own summit. I'm still sucking oxygen like a champ when word trickles in on casualties last night- most as a result of the morning of the 21st. We were all shocked into silence... I think we all knew something was going to happen and was brewing as far back as when the Chinese pressured the Nepalis into not letting climbers acclimatize until after their blessed torch, but we all know about their interest in human rights so big shocker there. Burden has to be placed on the climbers themselves, too, though. So this morning, as we prepared to egress Camp IV, Willie led the effort in packaging the victims and trying to assist where possible with the survivors.

Up at Camp IV, life is rugged and dealing with death takes on a bit of a macabre tone. Placed in a sleeping bag and then tent, the body of someone who manages to be lucky enough to make it to Camp IV before passing is essentially prepared for the massive labor and financially astronomical cost of getting it back down to Base Camp. Sherpas won't touch bodies of climbers, so it's a western effort. And then there it sits, all wrapped up with climbers then walking in and around the bundle without paying it a second glance after a while. That's life at the South Col, where everyone up here knows the score. Everyone is also here for a reason, so as shitty a deal as it is for those who paid the ultimate price, everyone has an immense amount invested at the point where they arrive at Camp IV and are still going to take their shot. And in a way, even if it takes a season to get the body down, at least their fate will not be that of Scott Fisher or one of several others who died halfway to The Balcony and who everyone now passes within feet of the trail.

Anyway. The guys prepared breakfast for us, and then we struck camp, ready to head out.

Another team approached Willie about another critically ill team member who had survived the night somehow but still suffered from snow blindness, and needed to get down in elevation for his HAPE condition to improve. Last night, this is one of the climbers who we offered up some of our extra oxygen to in order to try and help his condition, which he clearly had. Willie treated the climber, wrapped his eyes. and prepared him for the long trip out without the use of his eyes.

In all seriousness, I can't think of many places I would rather be when I lost the use of my eyes. Getting down from South Col- the Genva Spur, Yellow Band and then thousands of feet of the Lhotse Face. That would be horrible. Yet here is this climber, acting all high and mighty as if he doesn't need Willie's help. I think I would have listened to two sentences of his guff and then left him in the care of his team lead. Especially if after all that the guy still has an attitude.

So it was up to Tendi, Danuru, Francisco and I to get ourselves down to Camp II, so off we went.

We approached the Geneva Spur, headed down and within a short time were down off the Geneva Spur, and over the Yellow Band.

For some reason, the Lhotse Face seemed to take much longer than I remembered it, and to make matters better, it started snowing. We passed team after team on their way up and while we wished them luck, I had to wonder where all these people were coming from. That, and with the weather deteriorating, would they get their shot? I hope the answer to that second question is a yes, but the weather around here is so squirrelly that it can be tricky when estimates are made.

By the time we were below Camp III, all of us were flat-out exhausted. Everyone was carrying heavy loads, Danuru's crampon kicked out on him and we were still a bit wiped from yesterday's summit effort. The snow kept coming down, even harder than before. Wind kicked up a little, and then, as I rounded one corner, I saw a familiar face- Super Mila. This guy is incredible. Absolutely incredible. He knows from last year when he summited how tired everyone is, so what does he do? Most Sherpas and cook staff will wait at the base of the Lhotse Face with drinks for their team. Super Mila doesn't do that- he climbs almost 400 vertical feet up the Face itself to bring us drinks. He's absolutely amazing. At the time I think I was in love with him. Francisco, Tendi, and Danuru expressed the same sentiment; it was that awesome to see him and that awesome a gesture. What a guy.

Next: Downclimb to Base Camp
Last: Downclimb to Camp IV

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