The Waiting Game
Apart from the fact that we still have not found the owner of the blue male underpants, which Ellen and I found in a sleeping bag on Lobuje, life at base camp is back to normal. All members have come back from Lobuje Peak and all Sherpas have come down from Camp 2 to rest for a few days. Apart from rest and eat (yes, I am listening to my expedition leader), I walked up to the real base camp on Sunday morning to chase up two mountaineers for Miss Hawley’s database. Whilst I was there, I dropped in on so many expeditions and had so many cups of tea that I am sure I will be hydrated until I get to the top of Mount Everest. In the afternoon, I wandered down to Gorak Shep to do some ‘internetverk’. It is actually amazing how this walk, which was still strenuous a couple of weeks ago, now feels like a Sunday stroll. Our bodies have been living at an altitude of 5,300m for more than two weeks and even though most of us still get breathless when we try to run for something, moving around seems a lot easier.
As it was one of our guides’ birthday a few days ago we had a party in the Whitepod on Sunday night, which was a lot of fun and was probably good for everybody’s morale. It was a wild mix of guides, Sherpas and clients and everyone was drinking and enjoying themselves until the early morning hours. However, our kitchen staff did not have any mercy with us the next morning and still woke us up with a lovely smile, a hot towel and a cup of tea at 7am. After breakfast we had a group meeting and Russell explained to us what would be happening in the next few days. Well, nothing much is happening in the next couple of days, however, we shall be moving up the mountain on 29th April. We have been divided into two groups as we would be too many people to move up the icefall together. The plan is for the first group, which “Team Didi” is part of, to start on Wednesday morning at 2.30am, move through the icefall as quickly as possible and proceed either to Camp 1 (6,200m) or Camp 2 (6,400m), depending on speed. Those who arrive at Camp 1 at around 6am can move on to Camp 2, however, those who arrive later should stay in Camp 1 for the night as the Western Cwm, a bowl that lies between C1 and C2, turns into a frying pan in the sun and temperatures can soar to about 50 degrees Celsius. One of our members, who had already spent three nights at C2, told me that the temperatures inside the tent were so high that he had to lie naked in there, however, once he went outside he had to put on all his down gear as the winds were very strong and cold – so this means there should be a temperature fluctuation of about 100 degrees!!! You might ask yourself what we will do at C2 for about three days and I guess the answer is: sit, read and acclimatise! It will be a difficult test for me as I am used to moving around but I guess that is part of the waiting game. After about three nights at C2 we will then proceed to C3 (7,400m), where we will spend one night and then come back to base camp where the real waiting game will commence: the wait for the weather window in order to start our summit push.
We have not yet discussed oxygen use but I guess most people will start using gas from Camp 4 at the South Col, which lies at an altitude of 8,000m. I am dreading the use of O2 as the thought of putting a mask across my face frightens me. However, even though I would have loved to climb the highest mountain in the world without the use of supplementary oxygen, I think I will have to as I just do not have enough fat on my body to keep me warm without it. Ah, I can already hear the “food police” (my friends in Kathmandu, who had been watching my calorie intake before I went on this expedition) scolding me but keeping your body weight up here is pretty difficult. I am honestly eating like a pig, however, I have not been able to stop the loss of weight and I know it will get more significant once I get higher up on the mountain.
It still hasn’t quite sunk in that I am going to climb the highest mountain in the world but I guess I will have to cross the Khumbu icefall in order to realise that I am on an Everest expedition and not just on another trekking holiday. At the moment everyone is milling around base camp, washing laundry, fitting their crampons to their big Everest boots or just reading a book and nursing their hangovers from last night. Life at base camp can be weird at times and I get the feeling that it is actually more testing to be able to sit and wait here than climb the mountain.
You might wonder what it feels like just sitting around doing nothing, which is a very strange concept in our everyday western lifestyles. We hardly ever have time to read a whole novel in a day or just stare into the sky without a perfect reason, but that is exactly what people do here. I am just looking around as we are sitting in the comfort of the ‘Whitepod’ and most of us are typing, reading, staring holes in the air or sleeping, and none of us actually looks like a hardcore Everest climber.
However, I know that I will move up the mountain tomorrow and apart from the fact that I have to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag at 1.30 in the morning, put my clothes, harness and boots on in the cold and start plodding with my crampons at 2.30am, I am very excited about actually touching Chomolungma. As temperatures have dropped slightly in the past few days, the icefall has become more stable, and the fact that hundreds of people have actually walked through it, is a sign that it might not be that dangerous. As it will be freezing cold in the morning, I will have to put on my “Michelin Man” gear and wear my thick down jacket and pants, my down gloves, my big Everest boots and my crampons. The icefall doctors, who have done an amazing job in the Khumbu icefall in the past three weeks, have put around 25 ladders over crevasses, and according to one of our guides the longest crevasse is fixed with three adjacent ladders. We have practiced ladder crossing and abseiling in another nearby icefall and I was actually surprised how easy I found the challenge. However, I know that it will probably be a different story in the icefall in the dark, but I am certainly ready to find out.
As I will be out of communication for at least five days, I will not be able to update my diary, however, if you want to find out how we are doing you can try the Himex website. I am not sure how much Russell will report, but just click on the logo on my site and have a look.
I will be in touch again once I will come down from the mountain, which should be around the 4th or 5th of May. Thanks again for all your patience and support – it really means a lot to me and gives me a lot of encouragement for my climb!