Training for the Khumbu Icefall
Dispatch—Day 16: April 11, 2009
Everest Base Camp—17,530 feet (5,343 meters)
N 28º 00.336' E 086º 51.504'
The clouds were blowing the wrong way today. From East to West is somewhat uncommon during the normal pre-monsoon climbing season. But oh well, it was an enjoyable day in any case. The morning chill didn’t last long at all; it was nearly T-shirt weather by the time we’d finished breakfast, and the several inches of snow that had fallen in recent days began to melt fast.
Tents are going up all around us now as more and more teams show up on the scene. Our nearest neighbors are Korean and Danish. The Koreans have a neat tradition of conducting group calisthenics each morning just before the sun hits the camp. Today I felt quite lazy and antisocial, sipping my morning coffee and listening to the BBC in a big down coat while watching the Koreans bond and stretch. Our First Ascent team did a little bonding and stretching today as well, but at a much more civilized hour.
At ten in the morning we all marched for 10 minutes over to a little obstacle course of ladders and ice towers for some practice at rigging up and staying safe. We’ve got our sights set on the Khumbu Icefall now as the next big goal—the Icefall Doctors are close to having the route complete as far as Camp I and it won’t be long before we are moving along and up through their maze of ladders and ropes. But we’ll ease into that.
The route through the Khumbu is unlike any other climbing route in the world. Great technical climbers and glacier travel experts from elsewhere will not have seen anything like this before. And such is the case within our team. Practice in walking ladders with crampons and protecting ourselves by properly clipping into fixed ropes is a good thing. When one gets to a real passage through the Icefall, one must be fast and efficient at all of this, so today we repeatedly crossed a ladder just a few feet off the ground. And then we tilted it up and crossed at 45 degrees. Finally we tried a little vertical stretch with the ladder, all the time enabling to protect ourselves against a fall (or a collapse of the ladder) by smartly attaching ourselves to safety lines. As expected, it was a blast to finally be walking on snow with an axe in hand. Everybody seemed a little excited to kick crampon points into ice or to pull on a rope or two. It felt like climbing.
After lunch, Erica and I suited up again for an afternoon glacier tour. Just for an hour, since we didn’t want to overdo the exercise at this still new altitude, we tramped around on the glacier away from tents and people (and well below the icefall). We stomped up and down little walls and explored corridors within the folds of the glacier. I took Erica to a few of the places I’d marked in my GPS over the years where I’d found oddball souvenirs like busted wooden ice-axes and oxygen bottles marking the base camps used for the original attempts on this side of Mount Everest.
I was startled by the changes in the glacial surface over the course of just one year. My first trip to this side of the mountain was in the year 2000 and over the past nine years I’d gotten familiar with a number of landmarks... boulders, ice ridges, and towers that stayed more or less the same, streams of water on and within the ice that tended to form up each season and follow roughly the same course, that sort of thing. But this time, Erica saw me shaking my head a lot and turning my GPS this way and that (which doesn’t actually help much with a GPS, by the way) because everything seemed radically different.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Large, flat, frozen ponds sit where ice ridges had thrust up 60 and 70 feet [18 and 21 meters] previously. New stream courses seem to be everywhere and the formerly orderly flank of the medial moraine we all camped on for years is unrecognizable. I can only assume that a massive volume of ice has disappeared from the glacier due to melt in the past year.
Erica and I came back into camp. She headed for the afternoon round of Dirty Clubs, a mysterious card game that Gerry Moffatt inflicted on the team during the trek. No money changes hands, but the daily losers have to perform all manner of humiliating public stunts. I made the rounds, admiring the organizational work that Base Camp managers Jeff Martin and Linden Mallory have been accomplishing while we played on the glacier. The Eddie Bauer First Ascent/Rainier Mountaineering, Inc., Base Camp is shaping up. The word is that the hot shower may be operational by tomorrow.
Now there is still enough time for a quick nap before dinner... except the light is just getting good and small avalanches keep crashing down off of the West Shoulder, Lho La, and Nuptse, forcing me to keep scrambling out of my tent to watch. So much to do...