Viesturs & Whittaker at Camp 4
Dispatch—Day 52: May 17, 2009
Everest Base Camp—17,530 feet (5,343 meters)
N 28º 00.336' E 086º 51.504'
Click here to zoom in on the route to the summit »
This was the third day of rest for my team. We began it in the usual way, by collecting outside the dining tent for coffee in the sun. Except this morning we sat in light fog until the sun finally burned it all away. Even in fog, sitting on a few thousand feet of ice, it wasn’t uncomfortable as now we are past mid-May and temperatures are relatively mild. Kent Harvey, Seth Waterfall and I are by now on pretty much the same internal clock... Erica, being a teenager and therefore presumably in need of more sleep, sometimes still needs a morning yell when the breakfast gets served. With the fog gone, we watched Melissa Arnot work her way safely down through the lowest part of the Icefall. She is feeling better and we figure a couple of days of Base Camp rest will make her a strong addition to our upcoming summit bid.
We could hear Ed Viesturs and Peter Whittaker from time to time on the morning radio, working their way up through the Yellow Band and ultimately the Geneva Spur, the final barrier guarding the approach to the South Col. They, along with Jake Norton, Gerry Moffatt, and John Griber, reported calm and easy conditions on the Lhotse Face and it was obvious they were making fine progress on their way into high camp. Tendi and Lama Babu spent last night at the South Col, building up the camp for the rest of our team and even scouting the first few hours of the route to the summit to make sure that the fixed ropes were still useable after last week’s snowstorms.
Erica Dohring and I went for a light hike toward civilization after breakfast. We didn’t go all the way to Gorak Shep as neither of us wanted that much (or that little) civilization at this stage of the game, having gotten quite used to Base Camp living and not requiring too much more than that before the summit. But the trail toward Gorak Shep is still useful. Base Camp is in a dead-end valley... there really aren’t any exits, save some very burly climbing routes that might take one up Pumori, Lingtren, Khumbutse, or Nuptse... or, of course, one could wander up the Khumbu Icefall. But we only intend to do that one more time. The trail down-valley toward Gorak Shep was the next best thing for us on this morning. We still need to rest and recuperate from our pushes to high altitude, but then we also need to stretch our legs for this final push to the highest of altitudes.
We were relieved to note that the trekker traffic had greatly diminished on the trail, along with the yak trains and porters... not that we don’t like yaks, trekkers and porters, just that it is easier walking on an empty track now that the season has moved along. Erica and I got just far enough down the trail to enjoy an unobstructed view of Everest’s rocky summit pyramid. Before heading back to Base, we sat watching the mountain for a time, not picking up any of the usual signs of wind... no cloud plume spawned by the summit, no streamers of snow. It all looked pretty serene and contrary to the forecasts, which still call for winds of 40 and 50 knots on these days. It gave us hope that our first summit team will luck out with calm conditions tonight so as to launch their final push. Most of the other teams are in the camps behind and below them now, lining up for what could be a busy four or five days of Everest summiting. We hope they all succeed and that the Jet Stream drifts far to the North in our next days of rest.
We are torn between fully imagining the challenges and discomforts that our first team faces, now that they are safely tucked in the tents at Camp 4, and giving our imaginations a break (since we’ll face all of those same challenges ourselves soon enough). Tonight will be an interesting time. Linden Mallory will do the important work of staying up through the night, here at Base Camp, to monitor the first team’s progress. They don’t have to go for it tonight. Winds may build up on the Col and prevent an attempt, but our gang would still have the ability to hunker down and wait a day for better conditions. But of course, the clock is now ticking... the team is now breathing bottled Oxygen (with the exception of Ed Viesturs) and using up resources—to say nothing of brain and brawn cells... We hope they get their break soon and jump all over the opportunity.
- Nat Geo Expeditions