Asia | Nepal | Mount Everest – Epic storm hits Camp 2 bid
15:30 GMT APRIL 28 2002 ABC, Everest North.
Will and I can hardly believe it. We managed to put in the first carry of all the teams here to Camp 2 at 7600 metres, and what an epic it turned out to be!
Having avoided actually sleeping at the north col, 7000 metres, we have been methodically stocking our camp there over the past week or so until everything is in place for the rest of the climb. So the day before yesterday we climbed back up the headwall, now in a record 2 hours 10 minutes, and prepared for our first sleep at 7000 metres.
We have been watching all the other teams try and sleep there after just the first or second time and then stagger down the next day looking grey and haggard. Neither of use could understand the logic behind it. The old maxim of ‘climb high, sleeep low’ seems to fit very well here!
A six hour round journey would bring us back to ABC in time for Tirta’s massive evening meal of gallons of garlic soup, yak stew with vegetables and a steaming dessert of heated fruit salad. Actually we have been trying to persuade Tirta to cook less, the portions are gargantuan and more often than not the two of us have to leave our plates half full, wobbling out to the tent clutching distended stomachs.
Anyway we are now so well acclimatised to 7000 metres that arriving for our overnight stop was a pleasure. No lungs on the ground beside us when we arrive, no eye-popping gasping, no flaking out on the snow; this time we were whistling and dancing a jig outside our tent!
Will was in charge of food and I was in charge of in-tent maintenance. What this means is Will watching a pot boiling and me trying to sort out nearly a hundred kilos of kit which is all over the place.
‘Where’s that Kit Kat, Gav?’ would come the innocent question, followed by much shifting of bags and gear. But be not fooled by the apparent chaos; everything has it’s place and Will and I have developed a fine-tuned system of movement and logistics in our North Face VE25. This is in incredibly important process and without it, our climb on Everest would be foundered from the start. As you shall see.
Next morning, after an average night’s sleep with the wind our constant noisy companion, we collected kit for the carry. Now the route to Camp 2 is hugely deceptive. At first glance it appears a longish snow ramp with the camp at the top. But neither of us were fooled; we could see all sorts of problems with exposure, wind and just distance. A 500 metre vertical height gain over a longitudinal gain of some 1000m according to the map meant quite a steep incline. On the left of the snow ramp was an astonishingly large cornice which hangs over the north face. Some day it will drop and looking at it from ABC there is no doubt it will be a vast avalanche. On the right hand side of the ramp is a gaint, gut-swooping drop straight onto the rest of the north face.
As we gazed upwards all we could see was fast-moving spindrift blowing straight over the north ridge. Playing it down seemed to be order of the day. ‘Hmm, looks a bit breezy up there’ I say. ‘Hmm, does a bit, doesn’t it?’ replies Will.
We start up with Aleksei, our Russian friend who has had a bad night and is trying to take a rucksack the size of a small country up to Camp 2. He looks distraught at the weight. After about ten minutes onto the ridge, Will and I make a committee decision to stop and add layers. Out comes the TNF down jackets, huge gloves, big hats and the hoods of our windsuits. Our windsuits are made by Rab and definitely one of the better pieces of kit we have. An all-in-one Pertex suit which resembles a Baby-Gro suit it simply goes over everything and is a gem at keeping out the wind. Unfortunately Will and I both have matching purple ones. The jokes about Teletubbies on Everest have already been made, thank you.
After about forty minutes Aleksei turns back. The weather gets worse, the wind picks up dramatically. But Will and I feel great! We feel really strong, no headaches, no gasping; in fact we are powering up. We check with each other constantly, just to make sure, but the concensus is the same, ‘we’re doing well, we’re up here, lets give it the best shot!’ It’s hard to put into words. The reality was clear, we were the only two people on the entire north ridge now, heading up to 7600 metres, the views were simply stunning and each of us were on a high. Adrenaline coursed through our veins. Damn, we were happy!
The weather got worse and now we only got occasional glimpses of our destination. But when the racing clouds suddenly cleared, I yelled to Will, ‘Will, Everest!’ And there it was, the summit so close, we could see the final summit slopes. All of a sudden the whole expedition clicked into focus, the summit was there and we were carrying up to nearly 25,000′. Both of us admitted afterwards to a great sweeping wash of elation and strength. But Everest has her moods and there was no doubting her flexing of muscle over the coming hours.
There was a bolt of wind that seemed to come out of nowhere, straight off the north face and as it hit we both found ourselves lifted and suddenly running directly left towards the cornice. With effort we dug in the crampons and hauled on the rope, which by now had a 300 metre belly on it clear across and up the slope. The wind threw it around. We could have skipped on it. Eyes shut, teeth gritted, head down, entire body hunched against the onslaught the two of forced muscle and sinew against the strength of the wind. It was quite incredible, the amount of force needed to prevent us being launched outward. Another hour passed and more crests were covered; we wondered when the top of this snow ramp would ever appear. Why did we continue? Both of us agreed afterwards that we should have turned back. But we had a carry to do and to go back with those kilos still on our back would have been a depressing move.
I think the point was that we both felt so strong and there was a combined understanding that came from experience, determination and teamwork that saw us eventually reach 7600 metres in the middle of a screaming blizzard. In hindsight we both know that if we can overcome that day, and draw on the strength of our combined abilities (and have the trust in each other) to beat that storm then the summit of Everest is that much more of a reality.
And I am not making some idle boast here, nor filling in space with noble words. Will and I both appreciate that there will be armchair critics who scoff at comments like this; but these are people who enjoy scoffing and certainly have never been in a storm at 25,000′ on Everest. I know one for sure.
But there are hundreds and hundreds of people who have been emailing us with nothing but positive reactions, so it’s worth trying to explain what goes through your mind up there! We had thought that there would be a shelter, a lee at the point where snow met rock, but there wasn’t. Not a bit of it. In fact one could say it got worse because Will and I were clipped onto an anchor, literally holding onto each other, shouting into each others ears to work out a plan. The idea of digging a hole in the hill and depositing ur bag of equipment and tent seemed utterly ludicrous. I mean utterly stupid; we were having enough bother just lifing our heads into the wind.
You remember I mentioned about the teamwork in the tent? Our system of logistics and how important it is? Well, at that moment we clicked into action. I dug with an axe on my hands and knees while Will got the stuff out of my rucksack. As he passed it to me I knelt and even lay on it to stop it from being blown away. We resembled that party game Twister! The two of us continually shouting to each other. ‘Gav! One Wayfarer pack coming to you!’, ‘Will, put a clove around that stake with this!’ (me thrusting one end of a rope an inch from his face), ‘Gav, hold my glove, I need a hand free for this buckle!’ and so on.
Every single movement, every action painstakingly undertaken with maximum care and deliberation. It took about forty minutes and each of us took time out to rub warmth into our hands. Visibility was negligible, the noise of the wind was so loud that it almost defied belief but at last we had a bag held down in the ice by three stakes and two axes. Inside – one tent, five bags of food, five gas canisters, a stove and a pot set, a roll of paracord. The amount of effort to put that little cache makes us laugh now. Our goggles were completely iced up and I mean we both had 25% visibility through our lenses.
It was with great care that we manoeuvred ourselves off that hill, at some points with arms around one another, hunched right over, inching down the incline, our only lifeline the rope that disappeared into the whiteout, snapping and twisting like some mad living snake. We looked after each other. If my lenses were completely iced and rubbing them with my down glove did nothing then Will would clip me into a new section of rope, and vice versa.
At one point Will reached across and snapped a four inch snot icicle off my face. It was horizontal. But we knew we were going to be allright, we knew we had it in us. Down below teams already knew that we were up there. And when we staggered into camp at last it was with large goofy grins on our faces. Tiredly gripping each other in an embrace we both simultaneously said, ‘Well, if we can bloody do that, then we can bloody well..’ then we laughed at ourselves. As if!
Everest has more up her sleeve, of that we can be sure. But more was to come. Back in the tent there was much slow-motion activity as water was put on to boil and food eaten. Gear was hung out to dry and fresh socks put on. A lot of the time we spent laying back in a soporiphic stupor, quite unable to do anything. We ate and climbed into our sleepings bags, looking forward to getting some serious shuteye. That night the worst storm to hit the north face this season descended on the mountain with a vengeance. Neither of us could believe it; the thick layer of hoar frost inside our tent rained ice on us the whole night, the poles?bent completely inwards and the noise we endured suggested a savagery outside that had us both wide-eyed with fear. Can you imagine the fear?
We heard other tents ripped out of their platforms and hurled into the great beyond. Both of us considered what to do if the tent was ripped open. Difficult to ascertain, but we both thought the wind was in excess of 120 knots. Six tents were lost that night and Will and I were hollow-eyed and exhausted when sun came up. Quietly, we had a cup of tea and downclimbed the headwall. Let me tell you, it was good to get back to ABC, back to Tirta’s home cooking, back to relative safety. That night it was Vladimir’s birthday in the Russian tent and since we have become really good friends over the past weeks we presented them with a birthday cake. In it’s centre, in place of a candle, we put an ice screw with a karabiner hanging off it.
The Russians, so warm hearted and friendly, opened up bottles of gin and whisky and Will and I had our tin cups filled to the brim. Many, many toasts later the Russians were singing deeply hymnal songs from the homeland. It was wonderful, simply wonderful. By God we slept that night.
Today we are resting; the north ridge looks cold and bleak, and we know it is. We know it will get harder and our conversation is now seriously turning to the logistics for going to the top. What we do now and how we do it will define our chances of summitting. Will has an extremely burnt face, the force of the wind has done a good job. His balaclava kept slipping and now he is rubbing cod liver oil into it on an hourly basis. One ear looks like a textbook example of a burn victim. But don’t worry! It’ll be fine and it’s already healing.
My neck and shoulder muscles have knotted into the most painful mass and I have limited head movement. This is nothing to do with the climbing but stress and tension caused by unnecessary pressure from abroad. It’s not worth going into but Will is giving me twice daily massages that hurt like hell but will hopefully help. I must get rid of it quickly because it will certainly affect my climbing.
Will and I discussed about writing this little dispatch, aware that some people will think it’s all over-dramatised, self-indulgent, romanticised, over-imaginitive and ultimately a bit self-congratulatory. In fact the way I have described it is, is exactly how it occurred. There is no doubt it was, for both of us, an extremely testing and challenging day. Both of us want to say that without the support of all those thousands of people reading this and saying ‘Go on lads !’ it just wouldn’t be the same. I promise you it wouldn’t.
Okay, we are the two climbing Everest but we are just the pinnacle of a fantastic team that starts with Helen and Chris and Richard in my offices looking after our website and all things with Adventure Alternative, then all the hundreds of friends, supporters and especially my sponsors like Chris Tiso and Berghaus and Graham Robey with all his solar panel gear, and George Mochrie and so on and so on.
It’s true, we are not here alone and the hundreds of messages we receive confirm our belief in that. So those critics can think what they like, but we both know one fact for sure. They are very much alone!
We hope you enjoy the pictures to go with this report. We hope you are all well and having a good weekend. From Will and I, we’re both doing well and looking forward to the next stage in our adventures up here on the Big E !
Gav and Will
Moving Mountains Everest Expedition