Everest 2012

The Lhotse Face

We have just finished our last acclimatisation rotation on the mountain before the big summit push. We reached camp 3 on Mount Everest at 7,100m. It’s not thought that the body can acclimatise much above this altitude and we will start on oxygen at camp 3, so no need to go any higher until the real deal!

On the last rotation we were on the mountain for 5 days, most of which were pretty full on!  When we left basecamp we headed straight for camp 2, skipping camp one altogether. Largely because we are now a lot more adapted to the high altitude and can cope with longer days on the hill.  But also our camp 1 was no longer standing. Two days before this a massive avalanche came off Nuptse just above camp 1. It wiped out almost everyone’s set up at camp one and quickly travelled down into the upper part of the icefall.  By some miracle no one died. Only one person was seriously hurt, a cook boy, who was quickly helicoptered out of camp one.

Travelling through the icefall on the way to camp 2 I felt pretty strong and quite quickly got out of that ice maze. I stopped at the wreck of camp one for a drink and then the sun came up. Travelling through the Western Cwm when the sun is up is a hot experience…..it completely zaps all of your energy. Temperatures in the Cwm can get well above 90 F, largely due to it’s sheltered location and the sun’s reflection off the glacier.  Therefore the rest of the journey to camp 2 was slow and rather painful.

The next day we had a rest day at camp 2, to recover from the journey up and to prepare ourselves for the infamous Lhotse Face!  Camp 2 is an interesting place to hang out…..It’s located on the edge of the Western Cwm at 6,300m.  When you lie in bed you can hear the roar of the jet stream buffeting the summit of Everest over 2,000m above you. It sounds a bit like the roar of the ocean, so if you close your eyes and imagine hard enough you can pretend you’re  at the beach….(sipping cocktails and sunbathing…?)  Life at camp 2 can be hard, mainly due to the altitude, operating at this height is hard, you have very little energy, a reduced appetite and there isn’t too much entertainment either!

However, the next day we had a very exciting prospect.  We were going to climb the Lhotse Face to camp 3.  We walked for just over an hour to the bottom of the face, put on our crampons and harnesses.  As soon as we stepped onto the face the winds picked up incredibly.  We pushed on for around 50m up the face with ever increasing winds.  When a large gust came you had to stand still and brace yourself against the wind.  At one point a gust blew me off both my feet!   We weren’t  making any progress….so after half an hour on the face Kenton made the decision to turn around and head back to camp 2, we would try again the next day.

We struck some luck the day after, winds were significantly reduced.  We left camp 2 at 7am and were at camp 3 just after midday.  But wow such an epic climb up the face!  The whole of the Lhotse Face  has fixed ropes on it, so we jumar up the ropes. It’s a tough climb, the face had very little snow on it so you are kicking your crampons into hard blue ice.  As it’s still early in the season steps have not yet been kicked into the face by other climbers making the job pretty tough, especially at 7,000m!

The other thing about the Lhotse face is the rock fall, either rocks dislodged by other climbers above or rocks coming from high up on the tops of the mountain. These rocks from high up travel so fast it feels like a meteorite, they make a loud whooshing sound as they fly past.  You don’t want to get in the way of one of them! Camp 3 is an amazing campsite.  It’s carved out of the side of the Lhotse Face with amazing views up to the yellow band and the south summit and down through the Western Cwm.  We only spent a few minutes here to catch our breath and then we abseiled back down the face and walked back to camp 2.  Exhausted, but very happy to have reached camp 3 on Mount Everest!

The next day we quickly got down to basecamp for some much needed R & R.  We are now fully acclimatised, so the next time on the mountain will be the real deal, the big summit push!  However this could still be some time away. We have to wait for a weather  window , this will be when that roaring jetstream lifts from the summit of Everest.  It will give us the opportunity to climb up there and if we are lucky enough the chance to stand on top of the world…..

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