Asia | Nepal | Mount Everest – Time for a rest
20:00 GMT MAY 05 2002 Camp 1, Everest North Col.
Will and I headed back up to the north col for the fifth time, this time with little weight in our rucksacks. Everything we need was up at Camp 1. About 15 kilos was at Camp 2, staked down with ice axes in a little shallow scrape we had made last time we were up there. Our job this time was to put in the rest of the gear we would need for Camps 2, 3 and 4.
Acclimatisation is a wonderful thing! The first time we slogged up the headwall to 7000 metres it was five and a half hours and a torture. Now we cruised up in less than three. No bent doubled over gasping for breath, no standing stationery as statues for ten minutes waiting for some semblance of energy to seep into reclacitrant muscles, no gazing glassy eyed at the patch of snow in front of you waiting for some miracle of drive and motivation to carry on.
When you are climbing on Everest the most common sight when you look up is to see a few hardy souls in apparent stasis, utterly still for long minutes at a time, until a sudden burst of activity. Three steps upwards and then, with an almost audible sigh of sheer exhaustion, the body slumped back into inactivity. To look further, up at the destination, is folly for it seems ludicrously far and distant. Now Will and I are able to talk as we ascend, even sing a little. Our breathing is even, sometimes a little laboured when a particularly steep patch requires extra energy. Will calls out times to me as we go up, ‘That’s forty minutes Gav, fifteen minutes faster than the last time. Keep ‘er lit!’.
We arrive at Camp 1 a little anxious though. The last few days at ABC there has been a long storm with heavy winds and driving snow and spindrift. We want to know what our tent looks like at Camp 1, with everything in it. We have heard other teams losing gear and tents, and it is our worst nightmare. I arrive first and as I clamber up the final ridge I can see the familiar orange roof of our VE25. At least the poles haven’t snapped! I give a thumbs up to Will. Everything saf ! We make ourselves at home and Will immediately puts on a pot of asparagus soup. I am busy sorting our kit and gear in the tent, followed by doing absolutely nothing. More soup is made and we eat cashew nuts, sultanas, peanut butter biscuits and sweets. Hot sweet tea is accompanied by Kit Kats (somebody stole our Snickers Bars at Base Camp and we still moan about it).
Now rehydrated and feeling good, we start on supper. We’re eating boil-in-the-bag Wayfarers and tonight Will is having Chicken Dopiaza curry and I am scoffing Lancashire Hot Pot. For afters, the special dessert is fruit dumplings in butterscotch sauce. If you are thinking this sounds tasty, it is! And it’s all available at Tiso’s!
There are quite a few people at Camp 1, mostly Sherpas. We know the Sherpas well now because we have been doing our carries at more or less the same time as them. There is a lot of good natured banter and discussions about the next day. The Sherpas are already putting in gear for their teams at 7900 metres, mostly the heavy stuff like oxygen.
One of the western guides for Russell Brice’s team gives us half a tube of Pringles and Will and I fight over it like children. Over the way are the two Russian tents and we chat. We have become very friendly with Aleksei, Sergei, Vladimir and the other three. They are extremely strong and we’ve had some wonderful evenings together over drinks and dried yak meat. Now they hand us half a bottle of Nepalese whisky. ‘Drink, drink!’ they exhort,’to help you sleep!’.
Later that night Will and I mix the whisky with our tea and when I phone Helen in the office in Scotland I am giggling. Will slouches in the corner of his tent making loud, unnecessary comments and Helen probably thinks we’ve both gone a bit mental. But sleep eludes us. Will is up three times to pee, and he uses up his one litre bottle capacity on the first time. This means getting out of the tent in the middle of the night! I lie awake listening to all the sound effects. His headtorch blinds me as he sweeps the tent in search for other empty bottles. ‘Gav!’ comes a theatrical stage whisper, ‘Gav, pass your pee bottle, I’m fit to burst!’ There are some things climbing partners just never do. I utter a long shuddering snore. In fact neither of us slept very well. I had acid stomach and Will ended up with a headache, which I am convinced was a hangover. Eventually we slept at about 4am.
8am seemed to come very quickly and we scoffed breakfast and lots of liquid and prepared for the climb back up to Camp 2. Our rucksacks became distressingly heavy but we knew that if we could just do it now, then that would be it. There was activity about Camp 1 but not many people going up. In fact just a group of Sherpas, ourselves and Aleksei and Sergei. One member of the Adventure Peaks Team went up for about an hour and turned back, we couldn’t work out why.
From the start we made good headway, mind you the weather this time was much more pleasant. It was cold enough to warrant our down jackets though, all available from Tiso the Great Outdoor Specialists. To be honest it was a long slog up to 7600 metres and pretty soon we were both in our little worlds, trudging upwards. It’s funny what goes through your mind as you go up at altitude. Sometimes I would look up and be surprised and how much ground had been covered, so long had I been thinking about things. We overtook Sergei and the Sherpa, who admittedly was carrying what appeared to be the kitchen sink on his back, and Will sang out, ‘Hour faster than last time, Gav, no need to break any records!’ An hour! Why was he telling me not to break any records, he was the one in front?
Camp 2 was not the awful desolate place it was last time we were up. Now we could actually see the place and not have to resort to the foetal position to avoid the wind. There were a lot of damaged tents up here from previous years though. Right ahead was the crest of the north ridge, our route to Camp 3 and 7900 metres. Eek. Away to the right the summit of Everest was there, her head in the cloud. She looked so close! But..but, no way, a long ridge and another 1200 metres ascent lay between us and that goal. Best not to look. Will and I decided to start on a tent platform right away. I dragged all our gear in and staked it down and Will hacked with an axe at the solid ice to make a flat stage where we would eventually put our tent. I then helped and what a thankless, agonising task it was.
Kneeling, swinging the axe to loosen a chunk of ice the size of a lollipop, and our tent is 8 foot square. Sixty four square feet to clear at over 24,000′ using a little axe with only enough oxygen in the air to stand up with. What a major pain! After over an hour we were exhausted. The weight of my axe suddenly assumed gargantuan proportions. It was like one of those tests in the Worlds Strongest Man Competition. ‘Lets go down’ gasped Will and I agreed. We made sure everything was safe and shouldered our rucksacks and headed down. There was no denying our tiredness. When we got to Camp 1 we threw down a cup of minestrone soup and biscuit, sorted our stuff, checked the tent and made a dash for ABC. Now it was snowing and a bit of a whiteout.
The snow on the headwall was like soft icecream and we floundered down the slopes. Not even bothering to use our descenders on the icy sections we just wrapped forward. Later we arrived at ABC and Tirta was waiting with jugs of hot orange, soup and milky tea. God, we could have hugged him!
Now we are on a long break and we intend to go down to Base Camp for the first time this trip. We are excited as if a big holiday awaits! Back down to thick air and some good rest. Tirta is coming with us. Then we’ll come up again and we’ll go up, and up, and up!
As we sing to ourselves ‘Summit day is coming !’ there is anticipation. We both feel we have made the right decisions in our tactics for Everest and time will tell if they are right. We hope and pray they are.
For now then, goodbye from the two of us. We will be out of contact for a couple of days although I’ll be able to leave audio messages on the site.
Thanks for reading in everyone, I understand thousands are now logging on. Hope you like the pictures ! Little personal message from Will to fiancee Rebecca in Sydney – the koala bear is safe and well at Camp 1, awaiting a summit bid (PS forgot the willy warmer for it !).
Cheers for now!
Gav and Will