I recently got around to climbing Mont Blanc. A nice day out but a little windy.
This weekend the RGS are holding their annual expedition and fieldwork planning weekend.
On Saturday I will be on the Mountaineering and Trekking panel to give advice to delegates.
Brazilian-American team mate Cleo Weidlich got into trouble on the way down. On descent from the summit she began to lose her vision, and she had also sustained an injury to her right knee which occurred at 8500m that turns out to have been a ruptured parallel ligament. She managed to get down to high camp at 7500m with the help of her three personal sherpas. The morning of the next day she was not in good shape. Ted Atkins examined her and she complained that she felt great pressure pushing on the backs of her eyes. This, along with the fact that she had trouble walking and needed to sit down frequently, and her irrational refusal to take oxygen or drugs convinced Ted that she was suffering from cerebral oedema. It is possible that the loss of vision was caused by snow blindness, but the pressure behind her eyes strongly suggests cerebral oedema. Snow blindness feels like you have sand in your eyes.
Everyone was exhausted after the summit and started descending the mountain. Cleo left with her sherpas before me and I watched her from a distance. She seemed to be taking only a few steps, aided by a sherpa holding each arm, before sitting down to rest. Progress was painfully slow. I approached her and found Mingma Sherpa (organizer of this expedition) near Cleo using her satellite phone to request a helicopter evacuation. Cleo seemed to think this was possible from our current altitude (c7400m) but was told that she needed to get down lower, preferably to Camp 3 at 7000m. I talked to Cleo and tried to convince her to allow us to give her a shot of dexamethasone, a drug that would help with her cerebral oedema. She initially refused, so I talked to Mingma to see if he could influence her. Eventually I succeeded in persuading her, and a few minutes later Ted Atkins arrived, who administered the shot.
I now said that I would hurry down to Camp 3 and look for a suitable area for the helicopter, and find something to mark it with. Ted also decided to come down but was a short while behind me. I was very tired at this time and progress down to Camp 3 was slow, I had to take frequent breaks. Ted later reported that the shot of dexamethasone kicked in about 10 minutes after it had been given and Cleo perked up a bit. I eventually reached Camp 3 where many climbers were stopping for a brief rest on their way down to basecamp. I was extremely slow when I arrived which I attributed primarily to dehydration so I borrowed a stove from Pawel Michalski and started melting ice. Several climbers needed water so I kept at this for a while. As I was doing this the weather changed and visibility became very poor, so the helicopter rescue was definitely off for that day.
Ted Atkins arrived at Camp 3 while I was melting ice. Gradually all other climbers (approx 25-30 people had summited the previous day) left Camp 3 and descended the mountain and only Ted and I, and several sherpas were left. The sherpas seemed primarily concerned with clearing the camp of gear – tents, oxygen, other equipment. At this moment Ted and I made the decision to stay at Camp 3 in order to help Cleo. We were very worried that the sherpas wanted to take everything down, and that no equipment would be left to aid Cleo. Sherpas were taking down many partially used oxygen bottles and we decided it would be essential for Cleo’s survival to have a reasonable supply of oxygen, after all she would now have to spend at least one more night above 7000m.
We met with strong resistance from the sherpas when we requested they leave behind some oxygen. For some reason clearing the mountain seemed to be their main priority, and the rescue was not being taken seriously in my opinion. We found one sherpa who had a completely full bottle and said we needed this to help Cleo. Ted owned another full bottle that was below us in Camp 2, and we offered this in exchange. This would mean the sherpa lost nothing, and saved having to carry the bottle down. Unbelievably, and with a woman’s life in danger, he refused to let us have the oxygen unless we paid him $400 (normal price $280). Even more unbelievably, it later transpired that this was not even his oxygen to sell, as he claimed, but belonged to his client, who had already descended. With no choice, Ted and I agreed to pay him at basecamp. I was all the more shocked because this was a sherpa who I had previously respected a lot. We also managed to get a 2/3rds full bottle from the sherpa sirdar (climbing leader), after quite a bit of persuasion. We also had to fight to prevent him from taking down all the tents, so he left one 3 man tent that Ted and I could stay in and use as a base to help Cleo. As the sirdar left, he promised that if a helicopter did not arrive to evacuate Cleo in the morning, he would send up a five or six sherpa rescue team to get her down. I do not understand why the could not just stay at Camp 3 in the first place. We also had the problem of communications – Ted and I had no radio, and neither did Cleo.
Soon everyone had descended and it was just Ted and I left at Camp 3. Then one of Cleo’s three sherpas arrived. He said that Cleo and the other sherpas had put up a tent about 100m above our current postion. (Camp 3 is located at the bottom of a large, steep, ice serac and it had been decided that to get Cleo down this would prove too difficult, and anyway the top of the serac was a good spot for the helicopter to pick her up) He had apparently been sent by Cleo to look for food and gas canisters to melt snow. We offered him both, which he strangely refused, as when I later spoke to Cleo she said she had no food or water that night. We also had to really beg him to take one of our oxygen cylinders up to her, which he was reluctant to do for reasons I don’t understand. He did eventually take the oxygen, then two hours later he returned to our camp with the oxygen and said that Cleo had refused it. When I later questioned Cleo on this she said she was never offered the oxygen. I guess it is possible that she did refuse it and has no recollection of this due to cerebral oedema, but even if that is the case it is a mistake to have not urged her to take it. Not only was the oxygen not administered, the sherpa went to the tremendous effort of climbing down to us to give it back, then re-climbing the serac back up to Cleo to spend the night.
It was now fairly late so Ted and I settled in for the night. We had planned on being down at basecamp this day so had no real food to eat. We had a scavenge among the remnants of Camp 3 and found a few snacks, and Ted had one tin of fish. We both had a pretty uncomfortable night and I got headaches from dehydration/altitude. The only people left on the mountain now were Cleo and her three sherpas at approx 7100, and Ted and I 100m below. Ted and I were both concerned that too much hope was being placed on this helicopter evacuation, but that it was far from certain to be successful and there was no back up plan. I made a plan to climb up to Cleo in the morning carrying oxygen and dexamethasone and urge them to get moving down the mountain.
In the morning I asked Ted to talk me through giving a dexamethasone injection correctly (he spent years in the RAF mountain rescue team, and I have no medical training). Ted now decided that despite his exhaustion, he had better climb up too. We each took one of the oxygen bottles and I set out first. I arrived at Cleo’s camp about 10 minutes before Ted. Two sherpas were standing outside the tent, and when I moved to go inside I found the third, youngest sherpa crouched in the porch looking inwards. He didn’t react to me or acknowledge my presence at all and I found his behaviour odd. I squeezed into the tent, which was empty of all gear, and found Cleo sitting there. She said the young sherpa had been telling her that she was going to get them all killed. He seemed to be scared and have cracked. Cleo told me she had not been given food or water so I provided her with what little I had on me. I then got my oxygen set on her, and this seemed to help. She was very upset and distressed and worried that she might not make it down. She was relieved to see me and said the sherpas had not been too helpful. I assured her that we would get her down somehow and would not leave her there. Ted arrived soon and administered another shot of dexamethasone, which again, after a few minutes, did seem to help. Ted then said he would descend to Camp 3 again and start packing stuff up in preparation for our descent down the mountain. I decided to stay with Cleo and supervise her descent down to Camp 3 because I was not convinced the sherpas were taking the best care of her. At roughly the same time as Ted left, one of Cleo’s three sherpas descended and we did not see him again. So I was now left with Cleo and her two sherpas at 7100m.
Cleo had a satellite phone and complained that the previous evening the sherpas had been using it to call home etc and now it’s battery was dead. Before this happened she had managed to get a call to the helicopter rescue company and they had said they would send a helicopter that morning. The marker it would be looking for was their tent. According to Cleo the sherpas kept wanting to take this down but she stopped them. By this time it was something like 10am and I thought it unlikely the helicopter would arrive (the most stable weather is in the morning so a rescue is most likely early, like 7 or 8am.) I explained to Cleo my lack of faith in the helicopter and put forward my and Ted’s view that her best chance of survival was to start moving down the mountain and look at the helicopter as something that we could not rely on.
We started to get ready to descend, and the sherpas took the tent down. The sherpas, the older one in particular, had massive loads. I suggested to him several times that he leave this load behind as it was obviously not a priority, but this was ignored. For some reason getting the empty oxygen bottles etc down the mountain was very important to them. As soon as we were ready to descend, we heard the distant sound of rotor blades proving me wrong. There was immediate elation as we all of a sudden had an easy way out for Cleo. Apparently the plan was to ‘long line’ her, which involves dropping a 10m line and her clipping on to it, then being flown away. Sounded scary to me, but better than dying at 7100m. The altitude we were at is pretty much the helicopter’s operational ceiling (I think officially it might be 7000m), so it had very little power to spare, and had to rely on long lining instead of landing. The helicopter circled a few times, then made a couple of close passes. It then made one extremely close pass over our heads and swerved off down the valley. It wasn’t able to make the rescue. It disappeared into the distance. My heart sank and I felt like I was going to cry. To think that everything is going to be OK, then have it fall apart in a matter of minutes was unbelievably depressing. Everyone was silent for quite a while. I tried to pull things together and stop Cleo from being too upset by this. I said it doesn’t matter, we had a plan before to get her down ourselves and we would just stick to this. Cleo took the disappointment well and just got on with it. The sherpas at basecamp must have seen the helicopter and assumed that Cleo got on it (an assumption initially shared by Ted at Camp 3), because the promised sherpa rescue team from the previous day ultimately never appeared.
We started to climb down. Cleo said that she could now see slightly through her left eye which was a great help. She was breathing oxygen at 1.5l/min too, which was a massive boost. The older sherpa went down first, then me. I made sure Cleo stayed only a couple of steps behind me and that she could see my tracks in the snow and follow them exactly. The younger sherpa followed behind. When we got to the serac Cleo assured me that she was able to use her figure 8 descender (lucky, because otherwise it would have been a problem!) I rigged her descender for her and she abseiled down to the first anchor. I then came down after her and again checked her ropework for the next abseil. After 3 abseils we were on safe, easy ground and walked into Camp 3. One of her sherpas had taken down our tent. They were eager to get going down so after giving Cleo some water her two sherpas started the descent to Camp 2, and we asked them to take her with them. Ted and I would catch them up soon, but we couldn’t leave yet as we needed to pack up our kit which was still spread all over the place (when we climbed up to Cleo we had taken only the bare essentials).
We were both exhausted and lacking food/water, so when Cleo and the sherpas left it took us quite a while to pack up, I think about 1 1/2 hours. We ended up with with massive loads each, as we had all our own equipment to carry, plus the tent we had slept in and promised the sirdar we would bring down. I also carried another bottle of oxygen because I was concerned Cleo might not have enough. I finished packing before Ted so he said I should start descending and he would catch up with me in a few minutes, so I left.
After I had been descending for only about five minutes, I got to a snow slope that was not equipped with any fixed rope. If you fell on this slope and were not able to arrest the fall, you would slide off the edge of a serac and plummet to the glacier below. In the distance below me I saw a figure laying motionless in the snow. As I got closer I was shocked to see that it was Cleo. She was face down in the snow, facing downhill. I climbed down to her and found she was unconscious. How the hell has this happened? She was sent down with two sherpas. Looks like she had been abandoned at an altitude of slightly under 7000m. There was no one else high on mountain at this time, just Ted and I. If we had not found her, I believe she would have died. I woke her up and held onto her as I got her to right her position on the slope (she was upside down) She was extremely distressed and crying and didn’t know how she had got there. She started telling me to go down and leave her – I said that’s not going to happen. She had snow all over her and some seemed to be partially blocking the ambient air intake valve on her oxygen mask so I cleared it out. I then doubled the flow rate on her oxygen set to 3l/min. After a couple of minutes she was calmed down and in a better state. Ted arrived a couple of minutes later and I explained the situation to him. Below is a picture of how I found Cleo.
We needed to get down as quickly as possible. At this stage it was the seventh day above basecamp for each of us, with 6 of those days being above 7000m. We were in poor shape and everything was a struggle. We had hardly any food. We started to move down with me in the lead, Cleo one or two steps behind me and Ted in the rear. The section we were on traverses a snow slope above a serac and has no rope, so I kept encouraging Cleo to take her time and go as slow as possible, because if you fell here it could prove fatal. Cleo had a minor fall, but we got her back on track. We were traversing a moderate snow slope in the middle of the day (worst possible time) so there was avalanche risk. We then got to the edge of the serac and abseiled down that in the same manner as before, checking Cleo’s ropework. The terrain then got easier, but it was still slow progress. When we were just a few rope lengths away from Camp 2 we were met by the younger brother (not himself a climbing sherpa) of one of Cleo’s sherpas. He had apparently come up to help the sherpas clear Camp 2.
When we got into Camp 2 we were very disappointed to find that all tents and equipment had been cleared away by the sherpas. We arrived in a snowstorm. We really could have down with a bit of respite here but we got none. We descended a few minutes below the regular Camp 2 to a spot where a few tents had previously been placed in the hope they might still be there. They were not, but we found the younger of Cleo’s sherpas crouched there, again not moving and acting a bit strangely. I repeatedly asked him why he had left Cleo, and initially he simply would not answer the question. Eventually he said that Cleo told him to leave. When later questioned about this, Cleo says she has no recollection of telling them to leave. Again, I believe it is possible that this happened, and that being sick Cleo can’t remember. Even if this is the case, it I think it is a very poor excuse. These people were paid to help Cleo and should not have left her alone. She was sick with cerebral oedema, had poor vision and an injured leg. If she told them to go they should have ignored her and stayed. If she did tell them to go then it should have been obvious to anyone that she was sick, in danger and did not know what she was saying.
Ted and I had carried down our tent from Camp 3 so were going to put that up, but we found that Cleo’s sherpa had one of her tents that he was going to take down the mountain. We asked him and his brother to put it up, which he did. It was a three man tent so just space for Cleo, Ted and I. The young sherpa now seemed to want to make up and offered to stay but we said there was no point, and that he might as well descend to basecamp. It was about 6:30 now and getting dark, and there was no way Cleo could make any more progress that day so we were resigned to the fact that we would be spending the night here at Camp 2. I could see that this young sherpa had been through a lot and was very stressed. When Ted made a comment about being hungry this seemed to anger the sherpa who shouted that he was hungry too. I feel sorry for him, I think he is not a bad person, he was just put in a situation that stretched him too much and he made a bad decision. The sherpas had been up on the mountain for a couple of days longer than me, making preparations for the summit. Her other sherpa, the older one, had already descended all the way to basecamp. He was strong and capable and I don’t know what his excuse is.
The sherpas went down and we settled in for the night. Dinner consisted of one Mars or Snickers each and a handful of peanuts. That was all we had. Now at an altitude of 6400m, Cleo was noticeably improved and we all felt that we were out of the woods. The next day would involve a descent of 900m to basecamp and would take us a very long time, but we were confident it shouldn’t be a problem.
We were woken in the morning at about 6:30pm by two sherpas from our group (not previously involved with the situation). They had brought us sandwiches and the news that a helicopter was on it’s way. Sure enough, it arrived in about an hour. To our great relief, it managed to pick Cleo up and fly her to safety. Ted and I then took most of the morning to climb down to basecamp. It took us a long time, we had been running on empty for quite a while. When we got off the snow slope and were about 20 minutes out from basecamp we were met by a porter who carried our large packs the rest of the way for us, and by my sherpa Dawa who handed me the most appreciated bottle of Coke ever consumed by a human being.
All was not over yet though. I told the rest of the climbers at basecamp what had happened. One friend from an independent group, Romanian climber Alex Gavan, was particularly outraged by what had happened. Alex is a very outspoken person – if he believes something is wrong you will hear about it. Well he did believe this was wrong and everyone did hear about it. I showed him the picture I had taken of how I found Cleo. Some sherpas heard Alex complaining about their behaviour. At dinner the profiteering sherpa who had sold Ted and I the oxygen bottle politely asked Alex for a word with him. He led Alex to the back of the kitchen tent, where the Cleo’s young sherpa was, along with Mingma, the boss. Most of the other sherpas were also present. The young sherpa started to angrily question Alex about why he had been saying that he should not get a bonus (Alex claims to have not said this, merely to have criticised his actions). The young sherpa, and the profiteering one, then both started to attack Alex, hitting him in the head. Alex’s climbing partner, Pawel Michalski, had sensed something was wrong and had gone to investigate. When he saw this happening he picked up an axe that was laying outside the kitchen tent and went to help Alex. When the sherpas saw the axe it caused a massive uproar that everyone in the dining tent (including me) heard. Everyone rushed over to see what was going on and this broke up the melee. Things started up again briefly when the climbing sirdar made a lunge for Alex. He was restrained by his client, Blair. Blair was then attacked by Cleo’s young sherpa, who had apparently mistaken Blair for Pawel/Alex and who thought that Blair was attacking the sirdar rather than restraining him. It took the Australian about two seconds to thump the young sherpa into a tent, and then he scampered off into the night. They made up afterwards when they realised it was a misunderstanding. It is important to point out that this was just a few sherpas acting like this, the majority were not involved. In fact, my sherpa Dawa helped pull Alex out of the kitchen tent while he was being attacked.
Alex was understandably very shaken by what had happened and was scared of what the sherpas might do to him. He spent the night in my tent rather than his own for safety. Pawel went and gave a speech to the sherpas and this seemed to have a positive effect and people realised that everyone had been acting a bit crazy and needed to calm down. The next morning everyone had to trek to Tseram at 3700m and about 30km away over bad terrain. This took Ted and I 12 hours, still not recovered from our exertions on the mountain. During the trek Mingma (boss) spoke to Alex and Pawel to try and smooth things over. He said he had not intervened in the attack because it happened so quick he had no time to react (reasonably plausible). I know that Mingma is not a bad person, he just has quite a big mess to deal with here and there is no easy way to do it. Mingma’s explanation for what happened was that the sherpas were very angry about the existence of my picture of Cleo abandoned in the snow. They were angry at me/Ted about this and somehow this anger got taken out on Alex, probably because he was such a vocal critic. Alex told me that Mingma also said that the sherpas believe that Cleo and I ‘staged’ the photo. This accusation obviously angers and upsets me.
I am writing this in Kathmandu and saw Cleo yesterday. She has now fully recovered her sight but is using crutches. She needs an operation on her knee and will have it done soon when she returns to California. She is doing well and looks like she will make a full recovery.
On the 16th May I left basecamp and climbed direct to Camp 2. I moved much faster than previous trips which gave me confidence. The following day I climbed to Camp 3 (7000m) in slightly over 3 hours, again an encouraging speed.
Several team members were already at Camp 3 and were waiting for weather to improve before going up. The plan was to head on to Camp 4 the next day as spending time waiting at this altitude is not good for you. Unfortunately the weather the next morning was windy with lots of snow, so everyone reluctantly decided to hold out at C3 for one more day. Team mate Blair would be spending his 3rd night there, so I gave him my oxygen to sleep on so that he wouldn’t be as worn out for the climb up to C4 the next day.
On the 19th everyone climbed up to Camp 4, at roughly 7500m. I decided to use oxygen for the climb because it meant I would arrive in better condition for the summit push. Unfortunately I was using a prototype flow controller which was not calibrated properly, so I got only a tiny fraction of the oxygen I was meant to. When I arrived at high camp I did tests with a pulse oxymeter and found that I was getting so little oxygen that it actually gave me practically no benefit at all (1% higher on a pulse oxymeter. If it had worked correctly it should have raised my oxygen saturation by roughly 15%). The weight of carrying the equipment far outweighed the miniscule benefit it gave. I still managed to get to high camp in good time though, and luckily I was carrying a spare regulator which I used for the summit push.
Summit day on Kangchenjunga is extremely long – I think the longest on any 8000er. Roughly 1100m of climbing. That is compared to roughly 900m on Everest (which I thought was a really long day at the time!) Because of the distance I started very early – leaving high camp at 7:30pm, just after it got dark. The route goes up a snow couloir that seemed to go on forever. Unlike more commercial mountains like Everest, Kangchenjunga does not have fixed rope everywhere so care was required on these long sections, as if you slipped you would probably end up right at the bottom of the couloir. After climbing through what seemed like an endless night I reached the spot where the snow meets the summit rocky section and traverses into it. Here there was some reasonably difficult climbing, not helped by the lack of rope. No new rope was placed here this season, so all there was for protection was the odd bit of extremely unreliable frayed rope from previous years, none of which you would want to put any weight on. The route is much more challenging than Everest. The two most experienced people on the mountain said they found this climb more difficult than K2 (Mario Panzeri, 12 8000ers without O2 including Ev, K2 and Kangch and Mingma Sherpa, all 14 8000ers.)
I reached the summit along with my sherpa companion Dawa at 8am, after 12 1/2 hours of climbing. Mingma sherpa had summited shortly before us, becoming the first sherpa to climb all of the fourteen 8000m peaks, an incredible achievement (all on the first attempt too!). Ted Atkins reached to the top a few minutes after me, and I thanked him for inviting me on this advenure in the first place. I stayed on the summit for only 15 minutes then we started our descent. Coming down we had to be very careful as there was a fair bit of tricky terrain near the summit, and when that was passed we had the long snow couloir to deal with. The sun warmed snow was loose so extreme care had to be taken descending it. I reached high camp after roughly 6 hours. I was so exhausted I just sat down outside my friend Pawel’s tent for what seemed like ages and nearly fell asleep. I was very disappointed to hear that Pawel did not reach the summit. He had attempted the climb without oxygen, and showed real character by turning around at 8400m when he realised that the hour was too late and that he was not far enough. To continue would have been extremely dangerous. His climbing partner Alex had aborted the summit push a few days earlier on the way to Camp 3 when he became unwell.
I tried to sleep in Pawel’s tent that night, but rest did not come easily. It was a relief to have summited, but we still had a long descent ahead of us and I was very aware of the mountain’s dangers. Kangchenjunga has a fatality rate of 19% (243 ascents, 47 deaths), something like five times as bad as Everest. I wouldn’t feel safe until I reached basecamp. As hard as this day had been, it was nothing compared to the challenge of the next few days. Report on the rescue coming soon…
Photo of me on the summit.
A couple of days ago I came back down from my last acclimatisation trip up the mountain. On the morning of the 6th I left basecamp and climbed directly to camp 2 with Ted Atkins. Pawel and Alex left later in the day and we met them in camp 2. I felt much stronger than last time and cover the distance to camp 1 in about half the time it took me the first time I did it. I carried up a bit more gear and left it at camp 2 so on the summit push I will have a pretty empty pack up to that point. The next day Ted and I had another early start and climbed a bit above camp 2. We were moving very well and I felt stronger than I have in the past at similar altitudes. We only got 300m above camp though when our progress was stopped by a massive crevasse that had widened since people were last there. It took us only an hour and a half to get to this point, a good pace at that height. Apparently it used to have a small snow bridge/ledge that you could abseil down to, then climb out the other side. When we got there the ledge had gone so there was just a big black hole. We considered a few ways of getting across using the rope that spanned the crevasse, but since the other side was uphill and overhanging decided to call it a day and go down. There is a better route off to the right which will probably be used next time, but it requires some rope to cross safely which we did not have. We went down to basecamp the same day.
I had wanted to go slightly higher but am happy with my acclimatisation because I was feeling very good and moving well. The sherpa team that were working on the route above camp 3 came down the day after me and are now resting in basecamp. Everyone who has been up the mountain now needs 2-3 days rest. After that we are just waiting for a good forecast and will then attempt them summit. This could be as soon as a few days or as long as a couple of weeks. For now, it’s good to be back in basecamp, it’s amazing how comfortable it feels after a few days on the mountain.
Attached is a picture of Ted considering a slightly unusual method of getting across the crevasse.
On the 22nd I left early in the morning and climbed to Camp 1. Dawa sherpa climbed up too, and so did Dragan from my team. Not long after I arrived Mario from the independent team turned up. I took the gear I had stashed in Mario’s tent last time and spent the night in one of my team’s tents with Dragan.
The next day we left for Camp 2. It is only about 200m higher than Camp 1 (so around 6400m) but a reasonable distance away. From Camp 1 you climb a steep snow slope to get on to a ridge. This ridge then gives you great views of the rest of the route. You follow the ridge to where it meets a rock wall which you traverse until it meets the glacier. You then need to walk for about an hour or so up gentle slopes to reach Camp 2. It is located at the bottom of a steep snow/ice slope with many seracs that leads up to Camp 3.
Sherpas from our team arrived at Camp 2 shortly after me. They were planning to fix the route to Camp 3 the next day. (supposed to be at about 7150m). I spent a reasonably comfortable night there but the next day it was snowing quite heavily and Mario’s forecast indicated that this would continue the next day. The sherpas started to fix some rope but Dawa seemed sure the weather would force them to stop soon and go down. Mario, Dawa and Dragan wanted to go down and I was reluctant because I was eager to reach camp 3 or at least 7000m, therefore completing my acclimatisation. We started to go down, and after crossing the glacier and reaching the traverse we ran into Alex & Pawel, on their way up. They also wanted to reach Camp 3 so I decided to go back up with them and hope that the next day the weather might improve.
After reaching Camp 2 again we settled in for another night. The sherpas that had been fixing the route above Camp 2 came down and went on to basecamp. They said that they had run out of rope and only fixed about half the way – up to about 6800m. When I woke up in the morning I was dismayed to find even worse weather. It had snowed heavily during the night and it showed no signs of stopping. The big dump of new snow on the slopes above was not particularly safe so we reluctantly decided to go down. We reached basecamp by lunchtime and it felt good to be back in the relative comfort that it provides. It is annoying that I didn’t reach 7000m or Camp 3 as I now feel another acclimatisation trip up the mountain is necessary. Two nights spent at 6400m will have helped though.
I am writing this on the 27th and the sherpas have a plan to go up tomorrow straight to Camp 2 and then the next day complete the route to Camp 3. I have left my sleeping gear at Camp 2 and from now on will climb directly from BC to 2, skipping C1. I am not yet sure whether I should join them as weather reports are slightly conflicting, but indicate that there will be a lot of snow either from tomorrow night or from midday the day after. If it snows tomorrow night that would mean I would have to stay at Camp 2 and then come down again, therefore wasting energy. If the snow comes later then it would give me time to climb up to Camp 3 and come down again. Right now I’m leaning towards not going and waiting for a better forecast, but that might be as long as a week away.
Attached is a picture of me descending to basecamp in not great weather, taken by Alex Gavan
Most of my team has now arrived in BC. They need to stay put a while to acclimatise. On the 16th I climbed to Camp 1 with Alex, Pawel and Mario. I had been sitting around in BC for nine days waiting for my climbing gear to arrive. I ended up having to borrow boots,crampons, axe and harness from various people in order to go. My own gear finally arrived later on the 16th while I was on the mountain.
I carried all my sleeping gear to C1 and left it there so I don’t need to haul it up next time. I also carried a few bits of gear for Mario since he was letting me use his tent.
C1 is situated at 6173m according to GPS, so about 700m above BC. The route follows an easy snow slope along a ridge to reach a snow plateau. From there it traverses rocky terrain covered with snow then goes up a snow ramp. From there to C1 is all on ice, fairly steep with an average angle of maybe 50 degrees and the occasional steeper section. This had all been fixed by the Russian expedition a couple of days earlier so was not a big problem, but I found it very exhausting. I spent a quite comfortable night at C1. Coming down from C1 the next day took only two hours.
I am writing this on the 18th and my team has just had it’s Puja ceremony. This basically involves asking the mountain for permission to climb and the Sherpas will not go on the mountain before it has been held. The Sherpas plan to carry some gear to C1 tomorrow morning and most of my team will also climb to C1. I intend to wait until the 20th and climb to C1, sleep, then climb to C2 the following day. I will be climbing with Pawel, Alex and Mario again. This time though a sherpa, Dawa, will also come with me (since we have had the Puja).
Attached is a picture of me on the traverse on the way to C1, taken by Alex Gavan.
I left Kathmandu on the 26th March for an extremely long bus ride that took something like 30 hours with a few rest breaks. The bus left us at a place called Tharpu which is at about 1300m. I was riding in the bus with the sherpa crew of Seven Summit Treks, the company owned by Mingma Sherpa which is organising the expedition. We will be a large team of 13 and 13 sherpas. The majority of the team is getting a helicopter to take them most of the way to basecamp. I was the only one from my team on the trek.
At Tharpu I met a small independent team of four. This team shares a basecamp and will probably work together on the mountain but is split into two smaller teams. One team is two Italians, Mario Panzeri and Antonello Martines, and the other team is Pole Pawel Michalsky and Romanian Alex Gavan. Since I was the only one in my team I temporarily joined them for the trek to basecamp.
The trek was quite long and we reached basecamp on 8th April. Basecamp is at 5500m so the trek was pretty long and involved a lot of up and down. I am currently sharing the independent teams’basecamp. The rest of my team was due to helicopter into Ramche at 4450m on the 6th April so they are still acclimatising and should reach basecamp tomorrow or the day after. Also in basecamp right now is an extremely strong team of 9, mainly Russian and led by Alexey Bolotov.
I have been at basecamp for several days now and feel ready to climb to Camp 1, which will be placed at roughly 6200m. Unfortunately, my kit bag with all my climbing equipment has not yet arrived so I have to wait for it. Heavy snow has prevented porters from carrying loads to BC for a couple of days so hopefully now the snow has melted my gear will arrive soon.
Alex and Pawel have been talking to Alexey and have a tentative plan to head up to Camp 1 tomorrow. If my gear arrives in the next hour or so then I will join them but it looks unlikely.
I have attached a picture showing Kangchenjunga fron slightly below basecamp so the whole route is visible.
Updates should be reasonably frequent now that everything at basecamp is set up. Also, thanks to Alex Gavan who is kindly letting me use his laptop and vast array of expensive equipment to send this. Have a look at his website: www.alexgavan.ro