Mt. Everest Expedition: The Process of the Climb
After completing our first rotation on the mountain we are back here at Base Camp. It was a relatively warm day here at Base Camp, the clouds blew in early and snow came midday - big, wet flakes filled the air as we sat down to lunch today, covering everything with a thin but wet coating of snow. It has been another restful day here to relax and recover from our time spent higher on the mountain. With the whole team resting today, both our climbing team and our Sherpa team, we’ve taken advantage of the breaks in the snow to play a few games of horseshoes. Tshering Sherpa once again proved his ace skills, throwing a couple of impressive ringers, as did Dave (although his end of game review was tarnished by the errant shoe that managed to skip the pit and roll into the storage tent - the shoe emerged a few moments later by surprised but laughing Jaya, one of our Base Camp Assistants). RMI’s chances in the Base Camp Horseshoes Tournament that Tuck organizes are looking good. Base Camp, which felt high and difficult a few weeks ago, is becoming more comfortable, and I’ll venture to say that the air is even starting to feel a bit thicker here at 17,500’ since we returned, a sure sign that we are acclimatizing well.
The time spent on our first rotation was a good introduction into the process of high altitude climbing. We navigated the Ice fall, established ourselves at Camp 1, and ascended the Western Cwm to Camp 2, also known as Advanced Base Camp (ABC). In doing so our familiarity with the route grew, ladder crossings became easier, and we anticipated the challenges of the Ice fall. We battled high winds, cold nights, and hot days. The rotation reminded me of the adjustment in perspective that takes place every time I head into the mountains. Visiting Camp 2 a few days ago, at 21,300’, looking up the Lhotse Face towards the South Col and the summit of Everest far above, we discussed how standing in the same place in several weeks time we will only be days from the summit. But then the altitude was squeezing on the lungs, and simply walking across camp was a challenge in itself. I watched in awe as Yubaraj Rai, who climbed Island Peak with me several weeks ago and is our Camp 2 cook, grabbed a pick axe nearly as tall as he and started chipping away chunks of ice to melt for water. The thought of lifting the axe was tiring. It served as a reminder that despite making progress up the mountain, we have much preparation to do before a summit bid becomes a reality.
There is a notable, but sometimes difficult, mental shift that takes place when we begin climbing. Long expeditions like this require moving away from the hard charging objective-oriented mentality that predominates are training and preparation at home to a mentality that is focused on the process of the climb - as cliche as that sounds. With the ground that we covered between Base Camp and visiting Camp 2, we actually spent relatively few hours of the day climbing. The rest of our days were spent on the far less glamorous but equally important aspect of simply living up there. Resting, eating, drinking, sleeping, and dealing with the adversities that the environment throws at you. Because of this our first rotation was hugely important in learning to master the overlooked details of living above 20,000’. It is a trial in discovering what foods appeal up there, how challenging but important staying hydrated is, the awkwardness of pulling on a down suit in a tent, how to keep moral and drive strong during the hours of down time in the tents, the difficulties of packing up the pack in the early morning hours when temperatures hovered below zero degrees Fahrenheit, and how to readjust to the sky rocketing temperatures a few hours later when climbing up the Western Cwm. If these details are ignored the mountain and the altitude wears on the body to such an extent that the actual climbing becomes a challenge too great to overcome, the mountains just take too much of a toll. It’s only after we’ve figured out how to manage these challenges that we can confidently strap on our crampons and climb upwards.
These are the often overlooked aspects of climbing up here that we faced on our first rotation. Although the distance and the elevations to which we climbed seem small in regards to the scale of the mountain that stands above us, our days up there were immensely productive and successful. By the third night the altitude was becoming easier, the cold less harsh, and the living up there more manageable. Since returning to Base Camp the whole team is already feeling stronger and more prepared and are looking forward to heading back up on our second rotation in a couple of days.
RMI Guide Linden Mallory