Everest – Rotation #1

Even though there are only roughly 12,000ft from Base Camp to the summit of Everest, one cannot just simply off and go for the summit in one day, especially when just getting to Base Camp.  There is a rule in high altitude mountaineering that starting at 10,000ft one should not ascend more than 3000ft in 3 days (so 1000ft per day or 3000ft in one day and take 2 days rest).  There is an excellent article explaining altitude effects on the body in lay terms (found here); I encourage all of you to read it first if you have any questions about the need for slower acclimatization, and the reasoning behind the ‘rotations’ on the mountain.

There are three rotations on the south side of Everest:

Rotation #1: Base Camp to Camp #2 (Advanced Base Camp – 21,325ft), back to Base Camp and rest for a week or so

Rotation #2: Base Camp to lower Camp #3 (around 23,000ft), back to Base Camp and descend to lower elevations (at least down to 12,500ft)

Rotation #3: Base Camp to summit and back.

Here is a map showing individual camps which may explain everything better:

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Our first rotation was to start tomorrow.  First day would take us through the Khumbu Icefall to camp 1 (19,900ft).  We would spend 2 nights there and move to camp 2 (21,325ft).  We would spend one night at camp 2 and come back straight to Base Camp the following day.  We would take about a week rest at Base Camp to regain strength and to further acclimatize to the thin air.  Read on to find out my experiences with the first rotation!

DAY 22

Everest – Day 22: Rotation #1

April 20 (Saturday)

We were supposed to be fully dressed and at breakfast at 3am.  I set my alarm but I didn’t hear it!!  Brien, one of the guides, shook my tent at 02:53am which only gave me 7 minutes to get dressed and get out of the tent… Gaah!!  Not a good start.  We had breakfast and left base camp at 4am.

It didn’t start out really well for me in the Icefall..  I started falling behind although I still had 2 climbers and 2 Sherpas behind me.  It was snowing pretty hard and was a little chilly.  I’m not sure if we were going too fast or maybe I just lacked in physical conditioning, but the Icefall seemed really steep and difficult to climb.  I was breathing very hard and started getting nauseated.  I was going slower and slower and needing to catch my breath after each bigger hill.  Climbers behind me passed me which left only me and my guide.  We finally made it to the ‘football’ field, a little bit further than the place we came to yesterday.  I took a break there and found out from Ben, my guide, that it would take at least 4 more hours to get to camp 1.  I was so nauseated at this point that I couldn’t really keep anything down.  I didn’t actually throw up anything but it sure felt like I would have.  I was also cold, even with my big puffy parka on.  It was snowing really hard and the visibility was very poor.  I figured that if I can’t keep anything down, how will I keep warm??  Food and water is essential to staying warm.  I was going higher and higher, and with more exertion surely I would not start feeling any better.  I decided that I need to turn around before I get any sicker.  I never felt so sick on a mountain before, and never before had an altitude problem, so this really alarmed me.  However, I cherish my well-being and life over anything and decided that I am more important than a pile of rock and ice, no matter how high in the sky it is…  Ben made a quick call on his walkie-talkie and Lakpa Sherpa descended from the group way ahead of us already to take me down to base camp.

I remember looking at the blue ice of the glacier all around me and the huge towers of snow and ice, looking extremely ‘cold’ and inhospitable.  It was foggy all around me and still snowing hard.  The Icefall felt so hostile and forsaken that I felt it is the last place on Earth I would want to get lost in and collapse.  I just really wanted to get the fudge out of there!

Lakpa Rita was extremely patient with me.  He saw that I felt like crap so he strapped my backpack onto his own so I had no weight to carry besides my own.  To this day I am so very thankful for that!  We finally made it down to base camp and I snailed my way over to the clinic (“Everest ER”) to see one of the doctors there.  I was told that it’s just simple altitude sickness and I need more acclimatization.  The doctor instructed me to eat and drink more (which I sorta knew already… but it’s oh-so hard to eat and drink anything at an altitude when there is absolutely no appetite!).  I came back to my tent and layed down.  It snowed all night, and I slept like a baby for full 11 hours.

DAY 23

Everest 2013 expedition video

Below you will find a video of my expedition to the top of the world in 2013, courtesy of Brien Sheedy, one of my guides.  This video is FANTASTIC, lasts only 40 min, and shows pretty well the route to the top of Everest.

Here’s how you can identify me:  on the lower mountain I’m wearing a light blue jacket and a red backpack.  Higher up I still wear my light blue jacket with addition of blue helmet and green harness.  I’m always wearing yellow boots and my red backpack.  High up on the mountain I’m in a bright blue downsuit.

Enjoy!

Read on below for my personal experiences of the climb!

DAYS 1 AND 2

Everest – Day 21: Foray into the Icefall

April 19 (Friday)

Today we ventured out to the Khumbu Icefall to prepare ourselves for the first rotation up the mountain.  We only went about 1/4 up the Icefall.  We began going up and down small but very steep hills until we encountered first fixed lines and actual crevasses.

A few words about the Khumbu Icefall before I go on further.  The Icefall is naturally a glacier, and it sits on approximately 2,000 vertical feet of a pretty steep slope.  As any glacier, the part closest to the ground moves at different speed than the portion furthest up from the ground.  As a result, the glacier cracks and forms huge gaps, or crevasses.  In addition, huge ice towers and seracs are formed, as well as interesting formations resembling ice cream cones or mushrooms.  Khumbu Icefall moves anywhere from 3 to 5 feet a day which makes it especially treacherous since an ice tower can fall and crumble everything in its sight at any time.  Most vulnerable period for the movement of the Icefall is during a day, when it’s exposed and warmed up in sunlight (after 9 o’clock or so).   However, avalanches and other movements can happen during a night, or pretty much at any time.  Khumbu Icefall is one of, if not THE most dangerous part of the whole climb.

In order to safely (if that is such a thing) cross the Icefall, there is a group of 5 to 6 Sherpas chosen from different teams on the mountain, called the Icefall Doctors.  The Sherpas go out to the Icefall everyday to inspect the route and install and repair ladders to cross the crevasses, or to ascend the huge ice walls.

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the black specks in the left lower corner are people!

Moving on.  We clipped in to the fixed lines and kept moving up around and up the ice towers.  We crossed a few ladders which surprisingly were not too bad.  I was slow but it didn’t really bother me that much.  I actually really enjoyed the Icefall.  I was mesmerized by the huge seracs and ice formations the nature conjured up.  It felt like an ice castle all around me!  I tried not to think about how dangerous it can be though…

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resting at our destination for the day. Notice the huge slab of ice on the Western shoulder in the left upper corner; it’s the one that caused the deadly avalanche in 2014

 

I liked the Icefall, but when I got back to camp I felt somewhat nauseated.  We were supposed to go on a first rotation tomorrow and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be up to it.  If I’m sick, then how can I do well??  I felt much better after dinner though and went to bed full of anticipation for tomorrow, our first rotation!

First Rotation

Everest – Day 20: Acclimatization hike

April 18 (Thursday)

After breakfast we started out on an acclimatization hike to the base camp of Pumori, about 500ft higher than base camp of Everest.  The purpose of this was to be active at altitude to acclimatize better to the height of Everest base camp.  We retraced our steps to the beginning of Base Camp and towards Gorak Shep, and made a steep right turn off the trail onto the base camp of Pumori.  The other girl on the team turned around early because she was feeling sick.  One guy also turned around because he felt he was coming down with a cold.  I pushed on.

to the left: west shoulder of Everest.  To the right: part of Nuptse ridge.  In the center, hiding from the view: the summit of Everest with the tell-tale jet-stream of wind and ice

to the left: west shoulder of Everest. To the right: part of Nuptse ridge. In the center, hiding from the view: the summit of Everest with the tell-tale jet-stream of wind and ice

Of course I was slower than everybody else in the group, the remaining 9 guys and guides.  One of the guides really pushed me.  He said not to even think about the walk, just do it.   So I did.  And slowly but surely I made it to the preset elevation.

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Everest summit is hidden in the clouds. The yellow specks behind my right shoulder are the tents of Everest base camp

Khumbu Icefall and its lip in all its glory

Khumbu Icefall and its lip in all its glory; the mountain in the middle is Lhotse

We got back to camp where I found that my whole body hurt.  The whole hike didn’t take more than 5 hours, so it was very unusual to feel like this.  I did feel better after lunch though!  I’d better… tomorrow we were supposed to ‘play’ in the Khumbu Icefall for the first time!

DAY 21