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6.5.2009 Anatomy of a one particular high camp visit

Mikko having a break with a Sherpa
Starting the cooking in a C2 tent
Who told to be fat, Mikko in C3
Here is some text and thoughts about what happens above the basecamp. On 29.4 we (me, Mikko, Tomi and Antti) woke up just before 2am, packed the backbags, wore proper clothing and equipment, had a brief breakfast and headed towards Khumbu around 3am. The backbags contained mainly food  (around 10kg) as well as some personal stuff needed in the higher camps. As usual, Antti and Tomi accelerated to the speed that was impossible to follow, so me and Mikko decided to follow them slower. Right after the start we bumbed into long caravan of other climbers and Sherpas heading to C1. We thought of seeing at least three Discovery camera man (one actually woman) who recorded climbing action between basecamp (5350m) and C1 (6100m).

Depending on the weight of the backbag and the physical condition of the climber the climb to C1 takes 3-6 hours. Already after 3.5 hours of climbing Antti shouted to the radio that he had reached the C1. At that point of time me and Mikko were moving our feet slowly in front of each other, still around 1.5 hours from C1. Climbing through Khumbu ice fall can be mentally divided into few parts. First you have a rather flat approach to the start of actual route (100m ascent from basecamp). Then the actual climbing within the seracs starts. The route undulates between the seracs and crevasses gaining altitude all the time. Some crevasses needs to be walked over by aluminium ladders. The beginning part of the route is climbed in the darkness so you don't actually realise how the surrounding looks like around you. Only after dawn you see where you are as a whole. At around 5900m the main seracs are over and the route continues as a gradually inclined track towards C1. If you are a bit late and sun has already risen it will scorch you even you strip down to your undershirt. The intensity of the sun is so strong when it reflects from the sun that it is almost unbearable unless there is some cooling wind around. Well, after 5 hours climbing me and Mikko arrived at the C1 (just before the sun).

Our plan was to fix the tents in C1, load some more stuff into the backbags and continue directly to C2 to take a rest overnight. However, in the mornings the snow is so hard that you cannot work on it without heavy tools. Therefore we decided to rest for a while, eat a bit and wait for the afternoon to fix the tents to last for few more days. Tomi and Antti couldn't take the inactivity but headed immediatelly after fixing the tents to C2. Me and Mikko were more comfortable lying in the tent trying to avoid the heat outside (and inside) and decided to stay overnight in C1. The highest temperature I measured in the tent during the day was +36 degrees celsius, i.e. in the tent you cannot escape the intensive heat. A bit of relief is provided by hanging the sleeping bags outside of the tent to provide some cover from the sun rays. In the morning we packed two oxygen bottles each (3.5kg/bottle) into our backbags and started walking, even slower than yesterday towards C2. C1 (6100m) - C2 (6400m) trek is mainly a moderate gradual ascent on a glacier, but in the end there is a bit of morein that takes around 45min and can feel like a hell. Timewise this trek takes between 2-3 hours. We stuck together until the beginning of morein to have a break with two sherpas. Both of them had summited Everest four times so far. The sun was fully shining by now and either Mikko sprinted or I got exhausted. The morein part of the trek suddenly turned up a real nightmare. Ten steps forward and a compulsory rest sitting or leaning on any suitable rock. Up, ten steps forward and again to sit down. Finally I saw our tents and smiling Mikko smoking a cigarette and the trip was soon over. Next thing was to move the backbag content into storage tent and crawl to other tent to lie down and rest.

Next morning we packed two oxygen bottles and few gas cartridges into the backbags. The purpose was to visit C3 (7100m), leave the stuff there and return to C2 to rest. We started  at 07:00. The first 250m of ascent is a moderate uphill on a glacier (1.5 hours) to arrive at the bergschrund of Lhotse Face. Then the route continues up the face as a 50 degree ice wall that is ascended by jumaring using fixed ropes (a mechanical ascender is attached to the fixed rope and you can use your hands to pull your body up by this ascender, of course main work is done by legs walking up at the same time). This part takes between 3-5 hours and is a bit different than climbing so far since we are attached to the rope and are almost crawling up the slope on our knees. Mikko took the lead and I followed. In the beginning of the face the sun started to shine directly on the wall. I was expecting some wind on the wall as on the previous visit on C3 and therefore the clothing was totally wrong for the sunshine. Now it was totally windless and I felt like melting in the sunshine. We had drink breaks every once in a while but still the progress was very slow. We took off our core jackets and middle layer shirts wearing only undershirts. But when you are wearing four layers of pants (yes, I also do not know what I was thinking in the morning when wearing them on) and core pants (that cannot be removed very easily on the slope) the final exhaustion came on me around 130 meters (around 1.5 hours) below C3. I saw Arri, Jussi and Esa to move around C3 but I just couldn't make it any longer. I took the radio and shouted to it that maybe someone from C3 could come down and pick up the oxygen and gas to be delivered to C3. After a minute I saw Jussi to rappel down towards me and soon he was there to take the load into his backbag. After few sips of Dexal energy drink I started descending to C2. Mikko didn't give up but slowly pushed towards C3 and made it there. The descend from C3 is done on a fixed rope. Most of the time the fixed rope is wrapped around one hand and thus providing friction while walking downwards. In couple of places the slope is so steep that it is easier to use rappelling device. There are two fixed ropes (one going up and another going down) and there is all the time traffic both ways. This means that everyone needs to play by the rules to ensure safe movement to everyone going on their own direction. The descend C3 - C2 takes a bit over an hour so it is rather quick to get off the wall to C2.

We had one full rest day in C2 and decided to try again to ascend to C3 and stay there overnight. This time we decided to wear a bit less clothes... Also we decided to start couple of hours earlier to avoid the scorching sun on the Lhotse Face. One additional reason to the previous experience could have been also lack of energy. During the rest day we ate like horses. As an appetizer for the meals we had a bag of either Reiter or Real dry food and then had a main course of Pirkka pasta with very spicy noodles that gently caressed our broken lips. In addition we munched the whole day biscuits, chocolate, beef jerky etc. and made few kettles of hot chocolade. So now everything should be fine for a new attempt. We started at 05:15 and reached the bergschrund in a bit over an hour. But but, the weather was different than before. Previous afternoon and night it had snowed and there was rather strong wind coming down the Lhotse Face taking the loose snow down the wall. As a matter a fact it was pretty cold and the fingers felt the cold bitterly. Mikko started jumaring up but he came down soon to dig better clothes from the bottom of his backbag. I continued up couple of rope lengths and Mikko started to follow. The hands were freezing cold when grabbing the metallic ascender and the coldness started to flow to the whole body when the snow drifting down the slope seeped into the neck from the collar of the jacked and melted there. The weird thing was that even though we were moving it didn't make us warm at all. When having a break the rest leg started to shake uncontrollable by itself. Soon we decided not to try to force our way up but to turn back and return to C2.

In C2 we rested couple of hours and when Antti and Tomi came down from C3 we joined them and started walking back to C1 and basecamp. C2 - C1 trek takes around 45 minutes. In C1 the sun started to shine again and we stripped to the minimum clothes and after checking the tents headed towards basecamp. Tomi, Antti and Mikko started galloping such a pace that I decided to come my own pace behind them. For me the C1 - basecamp trek has been rather difficult everytime even though in the basecamp there are ready made drinks and food waiting. Maybe this time there was also dissappointment about not making it to the C3 for overnight as planned. If that would have done as planned the next Khumbu crossing would have been for summit attempt. Now we need to make one extra trip to C3 to stay overnight and come down to basecamp to rest before summit attempt. C1 - basecamp trek takes around 1.5 - 3 hours depending on the traffic on the route. This time the route was almost completely empty and it felt great to be possibly the only person 100 meters up and down and listen to the sounds of the ice fall without clinging of the harnesses in front and behind of you. At the same time there was a slightly lonely feeling when there were only seracs and crevasses around you and that they can move any time. And usually on the way down the legs start to feel heavy already and this time wasn't an exception. You have to be careful not to kick your boots with crampons and fall down in a wrong place. After the actual route is over there is a more flat part of around 30 minutes before you hit the basecamp. During that part you can see the camp almost all the time but it is still so far away... When you finally stumble into the basecamp you are rewarded with cold juice and good food, aaaahhh! Yes, we came down on 3.5.2009 so we stayed on the higher camps five days and four nights.

Hopefully this gives somekind of image on what the life is above the basecamp.

Best Regards  Juha