Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Summit Push (part 1)

Photo #1 - Nima Nuru Sherpa and I hanging out at Camp 2 during the summit push.
Photo #2 - The last vertical section (about 55 feet) before exiting the Khumbu Icefall and entering the Western Cwm.
Photo #3 - The continuous line of people above Camp 3 just before the Yellow Band (24,500').
Photo #4 - Topping out on the Geneva Spur (26,000') looking at the Triangular Face of upper Everest.

After 22 days of "patiently" waiting, I began my assault upon the highest snowpatch on Earth. After many consultations with our weather forecasts, various maps, and other data we decided that May 18th was to be the day. I could not believe it. The day was almost here. It was showtime! I spent May 17th going over my final summit clothing and packing my backpack with the final necessities. In the past I had climbed to the summit of Everest many times in my dreams. However, today was the day to make those dreams reality. So I went to bed early on May 17th knowing that tomorrow would begin some of the most physically demanding days of my life. I was so excited I hardly slept a wink. In fact, I was already awake when my alarm went off at 4:00 a.m. Quickly shuffling to put my clothes, harness, boots, and crampons (ice spikes on the bottom of my boots) on, I decided to shove down a hard boiled egg and some toast. I really wasn't hungry but I knew I would need all the calories I could consume. Five o'clock saw me entering the Khumbu Icefall for what I had hoped was the second to last time. I rapidly made great progress through the Icefall and I was utterly amazed at how much the route had changed in the last 3 weeks. The end of the season was near. The weather was much warmer and the Icefall was splitting open everywhere. There were so many more ladders to span the great depths of the endless crevasses and I silently wondered if I would be able to return on my way down. I was also concerned that my 3 week stay at basecamp would negatively affect my hard won acclimitization but it turns out my concern was not necessary. What took me 5 hours the first time through the Icefall I was now able to do in 3. It turns out my extended rest period was proving beneficial in terms of added strength and acclimitization.
I topped out of the Icefall and worked my way through several more ladders and crevasses all the way to Camp 1. It was now 8:00 a.m. and the sun would soon shine directly on me. The next bit of hiking/climbing was to be one of the hottest portions of the climbing route so I decided to shed a few clothing layers. I ate a quick snack, drank some water and soon started the 2 hour journey into the solar oven known as the Western Cwm. Normally this portion of the route is just a gradual, smooth, uphill hike but this year was different. There were large crevasses that needed to be crossed by several ladders lashed together and a lot of uneven, up and down type hiking. Oh well, not to be concerned. I easily made the final journey into Camp 2 just 5 1/2 hours after I had left basecamp. Our wonderful Camp 2 cook, Pasang Disco Sherpa, warmly greeted me with a cup of cold mango juice. I had several cups of this delightful beverage and then settled in to my tent. This was to be my home for at least 2 nights and possibly a few more. I was a little disconcerted to hear that an approaching cyclone could put a bit of a damper on our summit plans. Rumors of another cyclone and subsequent snowstorm like the one in 2009 that dumped 6 feet of fresh snow on Everest was beginning to float through Camp 2. My dream of a safe summit of Everest began to slightly fade. Immediately I "cast all my cares" up to God and began to pray. A calming assurance overcame me and I no longer was worried. I knew that whatever was to happen regarding the cyclone would still happen no matter how much worrying I did. After receiving our nightly weather forecast, it turns out that the cyclone was heading away from us but there was still a possibility of a few stray clouds and possibly a little snow. Whew!
We decided that the 23rd was still the best day for a possible summit attempt and hopefully was to be accompanied by beautiful weather. That meant that the next 2 days were to be rest days. I would be going nowhere and that was just fine with me. I really wanted to summit Everest but I wanted to do it with strength and in good health. The next 2 days (May 19th & 20th) were spent eating, drinking, and looking up. From Camp 2 there is an awesome view of Everest's south summit and the Hillary Step. These would be a few of the final obstacles I would have to overcome if I was to eventually stand on the top of the world. As it turns out I would have an even greater obstacle and it was staring me right in the face. This couldn't be happening. "No! Not now! Not after all this time and effort. Please don't do this!"


Anonymous said...

Ben, Thanks for the story! Look at you Mr. Suspence. Who won the date contest? Can't wait to read more.


Mom said...

Yes? Yes? Yes? Don't keep us in suspense. Then what?

(You're loving this!)

The Doctor said...

Great pictures, Ben!

Heather said...

Please don't do what???? I can't believe you are making us wait to find out. =)


Sister said...

You're funny! I bet I know what happened next!

Doug Whittier said...

Sweet Ben..! I working my way through the remaining comments...