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Mt. Everest Expedition: Climbing through the Khumbu Ice Fall to Camps 1 and 2

Yesterday we got back to Base Camp from a climb up the Khumbu Ice fall to Camps 1 and 2.  The Khumbu was everything it was made out to be.  We had previously completed a series of climbs into the ice fall that had provided us with valuable experience.  But tackling the ice fall in its entirety was a new ballgame.

We awoke at 4 am to eat breakfast and to prepare so that we could have a prompt 5 am start. We start this early for a variety of reasons, one of which is to have cold temperatures and a frozen solid ice fall.  One of the biggest risks in the ice fall is an avalanche.  An avalanche in the ice fall would not consist of soft snow, but solid ice (as hard and as brittle as stone).  And since the ice fall is a constantly moving, dynamic glacier that is tumbling (in slow motion) down a 2500 foot cliff, this risk is ever present.  So, the objective is to climb a solid ice “waterfall” - all of which starts at an altitude of 17500 feet.

The actual climbing is a non stop series of challenges - straight up 30 foot cliffs of ice (assisted by vertical ladders), 20 foot vertical descents in which you repel down “batman” style, 30 to 40 foot horizontal crevasses (which are up to hundreds of feet deep) in which you have to negotiate five eight-foot ladders roped together, etc.. If it wasn’t so dangerous and you weren’t scared out of your mind, it would actually be fun.  The idea is to safely and quickly move through the ice fall in a business like manner, always clipping into safety ropes, and to move quickly.  There are only two places that are safe enough for a rest stop.  Every so often I would steal a glance at the massive glaciers overhanging us and then just keep moving.

Camp 1 sits at the top of the ice fall and at the end of the Western Cwm (at approx. 20,000 feet).  We spent three nights at Camp I, and we were treated harshly at times by high winds, which I estimated (using the “guess method”) of up to 70 mph.  The winds were strong enough to break a tent pole in our tent (masterly repaired by Dave and Linden the next day).  The winds slashed at the sides of the tent, creating a massive roar, which kept me up most of the night.  There were times that night that I wondered what I was doing in Nepal at 20,000 feet in a tent in a wind storm.  I am quite sure that Hawaii would have been a more pleasant place to be!

The hike up to Camp 2 is quite beautiful and gentle (in comparison to the hike up to Camp 1).  It is literally a hike up the middle of glacier.  The most similar climb that I can compare it to is the climb on Denali up to Camp 2 (at 11,000 feet).  The climb is a gently ascending 3 to 4 hour climb through a beautiful valley surrounded by some of the tallest mountains in the world - almost vertical walls on all sides and at the end of the valley the Lhotse face and Mt. Everest - what a spectacular day!  To me this is what climbing is all about - the beauty was endless.

Then, a trip back down from Camp 1 to Basecamp yesterday morning.

As we approached base camp we saw a HUGE banner hung across the entrance to our camp that said “HAPPY BIRTHDAY BILL MCGAHAN - a day late!”  Then, last night we had a birthday dinner that insisted of T-Bone steaks, chicken, French fries, cole slaw, all followed by a birthday cake (and included candles and a “B-” singing effort - ha!).  The celebration was very appreciated and will be remembered forever.

So, for now our mission is to rest for three days.  We will be heading back up to Camp 2 and hopefully Camp 3 by the end of the month, and the idea is to continue to acclimatize and to get stronger for each of the next series climbs as we go higher and higher.

Thank you all for following our blog and for your kind postings. A great portion of this challenge is mental - we are all going to have days that we physically feel bad, or are homesick, or just want to know what is going on in the NBA playoffs - and getting kind words of encouragement means a tremendous amount to keep us going.

So, thanks again

Comments (11)

Bill - Happy Birthday!  Nice way to spend it.  Would love to see you in Saratoga again this year (if the climbing schedule permits of course).


Posted by: David Schmidt on

HAPPY LATE BIRTHDAY!!!  how fun!  just can hardly wait to read the posts every day!  i am so grateful that all is going well.  hugs and prayers and best thoughts coming your way!  lynn crow

Posted by: Lynn Crow on

Way to go team!  Fantastic update and fantastic pictures.  It rained here really hard yesterday—I was scared.  Guess the right McGahans are on the mountain!  Be safe!

Posted by: Martin on

omg—bill, sara, and team, you are more than extraordinaire. the pixs are awesome, i need to take them to grandma to see you two on top of the world. enjoy this adventure, and stay safe. my prayers are with you everyday.

Posted by: aunt mary on

Hi to all! My daughter and I are reading everyday. Keep up the hard work. You guys be careful and enjoy what must be amazing experience. Shannon and I will be trying for summit of Ranier next year (definitly not quite what you are attempting but we are excited!!!) We will be reading and rooting for you all.

Posted by: mike and shannon on

Hey coach. Just thought I’d fill you in on the playoffs. Knicks are out. Bulls are up 3 to 1 on the pacers with 4 very good games. Hawks are surprisingly up 3 to 1 on the Magic. The grizzlies are up 2 to 1 on the Spurs starting in about 2 minutes. The lakers are tied with the Hornets 2 to 2. The Mavericks are tied with the Blazers 2 to 2. The Heat are up 3 to 1 on Philadelphia. The Thunder are up 3 to 0 looking good against the Nuggets. I think I got everyone and sorry if you already knew all that. I’m happy to hear all the good news from the blogs and miss you and Sara. Good luck on the rest of the trip and go Yanks! (Not really). But they are leading the east with a 12 and 6 record.

Posted by: Robert on

Bill and sara, you are starting to look like hardcore mountain people. After this you may need to be retrained to sea level living, hahah

Luv you guys

Posted by: vivo abcarian on

Mr McGahan-

Been following your journey daily.  Seems like your all doing well and hopefully enjoying the sights and challenges.  Best of luck to your daughter, the team, and you.  In case you couldn’t have guessed, the Knicks are out of the playoffs in four!

Posted by: Brian from Baltusrol on

Dear All, and especially Bill and Sara: We think about you each and every day, offer prayers, and sometimes light candles. My own Nepalese prayer flags flutter in the breeze in your honor. The photos take my breath away. Be of good cheer. We love you. Bill Clarkson

Posted by: Bill Clarkson on

Bill, what a great birthday celebration and what a meal! And I saw that Linden dug out an old oxygen tank as a very special present for you. You just can’t beat that!
Sara, even though you are huddled in a tent almost at the top of the world, it is so good to see your beautiful smile! And I bet you love tea now.
Sending you all our love and best wishes and encouragement. Be safe.

Posted by: Mom / Grandma on

Happy Belated Birthday Bill. 

We all send you our love and best wished and of course to Sarah.

I hope that we get to celebrate with you when you get back. 
Perhaps a little Karaoke with Wendy Lipinski?

Much love,

The Wells family

Posted by: Kari Wells on

Leave a comment for the team

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