Success Begins With Good Preparation
Dispatch—Day 21: April 16, 2009
Everest Base Camp—17,530 feet (5,343 meters)
N 28º 00.336' E 086º 51.504'
These are busy days at Base Camp. The trail into camp is still quite full with trekkers, porters, and yak trains. Most, although not all, climbers have now reached base, and the Puja poles with their colorful webs of prayer flags now form an intersecting canopy over the entire area. Each morning, teams of Sherpas are heading up into the Icefall carrying loads, and a few teams have their members sleeping up at Camps 1 and 2 already.
I’m not in a big hurry to get through the Icefall with Erica just yet. The route, although complete when I checked it out the other day, could still stand to be tracked in and improved somewhat. And I’d just as soon have my 17-year-old client as ready as possible when we go through to Camp 1 for the first time. So our plan has been to keep training and acclimating... which, it turns out, is not a bad way to pass the time in this place.
Yesterday, while half a dozen of the team made the early start and tagged C1, Erica and I got a full night’s sleep, ate a fine breakfast, and then set out for a good day of walking. We made our way down to Gorak Shep, banged a right turn up into the hills, and began to climb Kalapathar. The weather was perfect throughout most of the day and our views were unlimited and improving as we climbed. We could look back to the peaks that had lined our path on the trek in, with Thamserku, Kangtega, and Ama Dablam in the distance. Tawoche, Cholatse, Nuptse, and Pumori were big and beautiful a little closer in. To the east, Lingtren, Changtse and a big, dark, high pyramid by the name of Everest were stunning. From the top, Erica and I could see the South Col and part of the Lhotse Face. I was surprised when a Slovenian climber near Kalapathar’s summit recognized me from the time in 1997 when we were alongside one another on Vinson in Antarctica. But such meetings are not uncommon here.
We cruised on down to Gorak Shep for a drink and a rest at the outdoor tables, chatting with trekkers while watching a few soaring birds. We rallied for the hike back up to Base Camp and compared notes there with Ed Viesturs, who’d gone for the same circuit a bit earlier in the day.
Today was generally a good rest day in Base Camp, which means meetings for those of us who endeavor to figure out schedules and strategies and future meeting possibilities. Erica and I did bust out of camp for a fine walk in the lower glacier before lunch. I love getting out there to explore... note that I normally refer to walking “in” the glacier near Base Camp, whereas anywhere else in the world it would be normal to talk about climbing “on” a glacier. In this particular section of the Khumbu, which is devoid of snow cover, one walks up and down hidden gullies and waterways in the ice. I like to get out to easier walking on a medial moraine of rock and then to find a new way home through the ice with a different gully each time. This time I was able to show Erica a few old logs that had been used for crevasse bridges in the days before ladders. These, of course, had originally been placed up in the Icefall and had been carried down with the passage of decades. Even so, the logs still clearly bore the crampon scars of whichever famous climbers had scrambled across them.
After lunch, our camp was quiet with napping and a few board games. I joined Peter Whittaker, Jeff Martin, and Linden Mallory for a short walk to Damian Benegas’ camp, where an initial team-leader meeting had been called for. There was plenty of handshaking and backslapping among those gathered. All of the usual suspects of South Side Everest climbing, plus the former North Siders who’ve all given up on the Chinese restrictions on entrance to Tibet—The big players—IMG and HimEx, Adventure Consultants and Jagged Globe were there, along with Croatians, Russians, Kazakhs, Koreans, Irish, Spanish, Swiss, and Canadians. Willie and Damian Benegas went over the group business with input from those assembled. We tried to figure out radio frequency overlaps and attempted to pool resources for rescues and rope fixing. The gang agreed to meet tomorrow to build a helipad to the west of camp. I helped myself to popcorn and pimento-stuffed green olives from the Benegas table while the big business was conducted and the hors d’oeuvres were sadly being overlooked. The olives were tasty and the meeting therefore a great and friendly success.
- Nat Geo Expeditions