An Abrupt End to the Season
Dispatch—Day 60: May 25, 2009
Everest Base Camp—17,530 feet (5,343 meters)
N 28º 00.336' E 086º 51.504'
I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Everest season end so early or so abruptly. It began snowing hard at Base Camp at around 6 a.m. and that has continued without pause for the entire day. Cyclone 02B out of the Bay of Bengal is the likely culprit. That was the same “depression” that prompted my summit squad to speed up our attempt, and in fact to go a day earlier than we’d originally planned. That all worked out—just barely—but I must admit that as we walked down the Western Cwm early yesterday morning under temporarily clear skies, I wondered what all the rush had been for. No wonder anymore. This is a big storm and our forecasts say it hasn’t actually arrived yet... the whole cyclone may track right over Everest in the next few days.
Due to the hard and smart work of our Sherpa team, we are sitting pretty. They managed—during our summit push—to take down every non-essential piece of gear from the Lhotse Face to the Khumbu Icefall. After the summit, when Seth, Melissa, Kent and I thought we had a big chore in getting our tired, coughing bodies down to ABC for the night, the Sherpas we’d gone to the summit with began tearing down Camp IV and putting it on their backs. They put in a huge, and with the value of hindsight, essential contribution in getting everything off the South Col before the bigger storm. This allowed our entire team, members and Sherpas alike, to be off the mountain and safely in Base Camp by yesterday afternoon. According to Lam Babu and Tendi, just a handful of loads remain at ABC. While in logistical terms, this means that the expedition isn’t quite finished and some of the guys will have to brave the Icefall for a final round trip, in the greater scheme of things... as I say, we are sitting pretty. If it intends to snow and snow and snow, then the Western Cwm could get extremely hazardous from an avalanche perspective. It is far better to have a team at the bottom of the mountain waiting until things are safe enough to go up rather than to have a team halfway up the mountain waiting until things are safe enough to come down.
This doesn’t mean that we aren’t worried and concerned for our friends on neighboring teams who were caught in a less advantageous position. But yesterday evening, we were simply elated to be all in one safe place ourselves and to be newly successful. As we finished up dinner, happily comparing notes on the trip’s two summit days, it was clear that the Sherpa dining tent next door was the more happening venue. The cheers were getting louder and louder, the singing and stomping of feet more enthusiastic. One by one, the team members found excuses to leave the dull tent and flee to the festive one. Since I’d put in about three hard days at altitude without significant sleep, I snuck past what was surely the best party in the entire valley and made for my own little hovel of a sleeping tent. I was not bothered in the least to hear the celebration go on for hours as I lay comfortably dozing in the dark.
Nobody seemed the worse for wear in the morning as we huddled near a propane heater for our snowy breakfast. Not a lot got done today as we mostly took shelter and tried to catch up on food and drink. Linden Mallory, our hardworking Base Camp manager, kept plenty busy with inventories and packing lists. The afternoon showing of “The Bourne Identity” on laptop had the dining tent jam-packed and silent. If the entire team is ready for beaches and jets and home, one couldn’t quite see that today. We’ll pack up and get walking soon enough. The gang is just happy to be together... and very aware that, while a cyclone spins overhead, none of the other teams that left Base Camp so urgently in recent days are flying out of the Khumbu Valley.
- Nat Geo Expeditions