Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Summit Push (part 3)

Photo 1 - Yours truly at Camp 3 - 23,500'
Photo 2 - The view from Camp 3. Notice the climber behind on the Lhotse Face. Triangular Face of upper Everest in the far distance.
Photo 3 - The beautiful view down the Western Cwm.
Photo 4 - Vertical ice climbing just above the bergschrund on the Lhotse Face - 21,800'.

During the early morning hours of Friday, May 21st I easily woke up to a calm, peaceful and quiet Camp II. This was the day to move on up to Camp III and the weather was taking a turn for the better. An incredible thought entered my mind. Tomorrow night I would be trying for the summit of Everest. How cool was that? After so many years of dreaming, this was it.  Now I just had to make it up to Camp III today and Camp IV tomorrow. I left Camp II around 8:00 a.m. and the first thing I noticed was the incredibly long line of climbers already up on the Lhotse Face. I figured that I was in no hurry and I would take my time; saving my strength for what lay ahead. Depending upon the location of Camp II the first 10-20 minutes outside of camp follow loose rock on top of ice. This is always cumbersome for me because it is difficult to maintain good footing. Nontheless, I quickly made it onto the glacier proper, tied in to the rope and began my winding ascent to the bergschrund at the base of the Lhotse Face. I felt lethargic and was surprised when I started easily passing many climbers heading for the same place I was. My excitement bagan to build even further and I knew that today was going to be a great day. The Lhotse Face is pitched at an average angle of 40-45 degrees. There are a few vertical sections and a few slightly less than the average. All said and done this is not a place where a climber would want to slip. Any fall from this famous landmark would certain prove fatal. However, there were many guided groups in front of me and they were moving extremely slow. I had two choices. Continue going at a turtle speed or unclip from the safety rope and free climb short sections until I passed the other climbers and then quickly tie back in to the rope. I chose the later. I tried to maintain safety at all times on my climb of Everest. This was not one of those times. I knew I could easily climb unroped and get around these people and I felt a little confident. Not cocky or proud, just confident in my climbing abilities.
It was a little over three hours since I left Camp II and I was the first from our team to make it to Camp III. On my mind most of the previous evening and certainly this morning was what was missing from our tents. I just knew that something would not be how we left it. Upon my arrival I immediately saw what was different. There were quite a few pale yellow and brown spots surrounding our tents. The sides of our tents and the inner vestibules on two of them had been used as a toilet. Can you believe that? Really? No courtesy from this other group that had very poor organizational and logistical support. Now I had to look inside the tents and see if any of our supplies were missing.
It turns out that even though we sent sherpas up to dig out our Camp III tents the previous day, the tents had partially been buried by the wind driven snow overnight. Therefore, I was unable to enter any of the tents upon my arrival, so even though I was tired I set out to try and begin excavating the tents. By this time Phil had arrived at Camp III and joined me in chopping out the bullet proof snow with our ice axes. After clearing the snow from one of the tents I was able to get inside and grab the shovel our sherpas had left up there a few days prior. I also took a quick inventory of our oxygen bottles. Thankfully, none were missing. So other than a few "poopie" marks surrounding our tents, nothing else was out of place.
Over the next 4 hours the rest of the team arrived and settled in for the evening. Eating what little we could force down and masking the retched taste with water melted from the surrounding "clean" ice, we tucked in to our sleeping bags for a fitful night of sleep. The plan was to get up in the freezing cold hours of the early morning and begin the long, slow, arduous climb to Camp IV. I easily fell asleep and began dreaming of a beautiful Everest summit day. This is the life. The stuff dreams are made of.