Monday, June 14, 2010

The Summit Push (part 2)

Photo #1 - Self portrait on the Lhotse Face on the way to Camp IV.
Photo #2 - Approaching the Yellow Band. Could there be any more people?
Photo #3 - Above the Yellow Band. Approaching the Geneva Spur.
Photo #4 - On the Geneva Spur. Looking toward Camp IV.
Photo #5 - The final traverse into Camp IV.
Photo #6 - Yours truly upon reaching Camp IV - 26,100'.

Thursday, May 20th dawned very cold, clear, and extremely windy at Camp II. Our team decided this would be our second rest day because the forecast called for continued high winds on Everest through the 22nd. A few other less equiped teams decided to push their summit attempt one day early. Therefore, by the time I woke up many other climbers were on their way to Camp III. One team already had climbers reaching Camp III as I continued gazing upward. It was at that time I noticed something odd. Even considering the distance between Camps II & III I could still make out the long line of climbers slowly ascending. One cluster of climbers in particular seemed to be all congregating altogether - directly next to our tents! I immediately knew what was going on. "No! Not now! Not after all this time and effort. Please don't do this!" Camp III on the Lhotse Face is constantly battered by extreme wind. Consequently, if tents are left erected for any period of time they get completely buried by snow and the poles break. Whereas, the previous day we sent 2 sherpas up to Camp III to pitch our tents and clear away any lingering snow and ice, this other independent team did not. As a result when their climbers reached Camp III they could not find their tents. They were completely buried by the recent snow and incessant wind.
With the wind raging and the temperature well below zero, they needed immediate shelter and our tents looked so inviting. Inside our tents were stoves, fuel, food, and most importantly, life sustaining oxygen. Just enough for our summit attempt. If they were to use our supplies our summit push would be over. All the previous month's work would be in vain. Unfortunately, a huge reality on Everest is that people come to the mountain ill-prepared. They sign up with the cheapest organizer they can find. Consequently, many seemingly small details are overlooked. It would have been so easy for this team to send up a few sherpas to unbury their tents. Instead they considered just using our tents. After all, they were vacant.
Upon seeing what was going on our Sirdar, or head sherpa, went over to this other group's Camp II headquarters and demanded that they vacate our tents and use their own. He loudly exclaimed that our team was not going to suffer because of the incompetence of their leadership. They needed to send up their own sherpas with new tents, oxygen, fuel, and food. Of course they denied our accusations until we provided them with a little proof. One of our team members had a very powerful camera lense. One that, when focused upon Camp III, made it appear as if it were 10 feet away. We took a series of pictures of their team entering our tents, standing outside of our tents, and holding what looked like our oxygen bottles. Their two-way radios magically seemed to work and their climbers were given orders to immediately start vacating our tents - our personal property! Needless to say, after all was said and done, this stress filled event coupled with the lingering thoughts of a pesky cyclone in the Bay of Bengal added a few more gray hairs to my current collection.
The remainder of the day should have been spent relaxing and resting. However, we all took turns monitoring the current state of our Camp III tents. In between rotations I filled my time with eating and socializing with other climbers. That evening, I decided to turn in early because I wanted to get an early start for Camp III the following morning.
 Even though we saw the mystery team's climbers vacating our tents, I just could not help but thinking that something was missing from our tents and our camp. Something had been stolen. It wasn't until the next day, upon reaching Camp III, that I would find out just exactly what it was. Really?