Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Summit Push (part 4)

Photo #1 - The steep and treacherous upper Lhotse Face.
Photo #2 - Climbing toward the Yellow Band.

I woke up at Camp 3 on the morning of May 22nd and one thought immediately came to my mind. Tonight I would be climbing to the summit of Mount Everest! I could hardly believe it. All I had to do was safely climb to the South Col at 26,000'. That would be my final staging ground for the assault upon the summit.
I started the laborious task of melting enough ice to fill my water bottles. This took around an hour and while the stove was humming away I started the equally laborious task of putting on my many layers of clothes. I also screwed the regulator onto my oxygen bottle because from this point forward I would be breathing supplemental, bottled oxygen. All said and done, 2 hours had passed and I was ready to begin the ascent of the upper Lhotse Face. I clipped into the fixed rope and made the traverse over to the main route which went straight up. I swung my ice ax with great force and I jabbed my cramp-ons into the icy sheet beneath me. I quickly came to a slope that was close to vertical. I thought it would be realtively easy but not this time. I felt as if I were sufficating. I was not used to climbing with a mask on my face and I felt as if it was sucking the life out of me instead of delivering the necessary oxygen needed to climb skyward. I ripped the mask off and began climbing without it. I began to think that I must get used to this mask. I had no choice if I stood any chance of making the summit of Everest. In 2005, I had safely climbed to 27,000' without any supplemental oxygen. I felt strong enough to do that again but above that was a complete unknown. I talked myself back in to wearing the mask and continued climbing toward the first obstacle of the day - the Yellow Band. I quickly passed the remnants of other team's Camp III tents that had not survived the furocious wind that almost constantly rakes across the cold slopes of the Lhotse Face. I thought I could continue at a quick, steady pace and much to my chagrin so did about 100 other people. The face is so steep and there were so many people, all with varying degrees of fitness, that we all came to a bottleneck. Little did I know that it would be stop and go like this for the rest of the entire summit push.
A few hours later found me at 24,500', the place where a climber begins traversing upward to the Yellow Band. The Yellow Band is a 200' series of yellow, limestone cliffs. It presents the first real challenge on the climb to Camp IV. It was vertical or near vertical for the entire pitch and I was glad when that part was over. I could now see the rest of the route to the Geneva Spur. That would be my final obstacle for this move to Camp IV - I hoped. I eventually made it to the cut off where people climbing Lhotse head up to pitch their Camp IV. I was certainly glad I was not going there. It just did not look fun at all. It was just as steep as the Lhotse Face and full of avalanche danger. I finished the upward traverse and stood at the base of the Geneva Spur. More vertical rock. I was getting tired and so I rested for the first time on the way to Camp IV. I was very pleased that despite all of the delays from the many people I was able to maintain a positive attitude and I knew that all I needed to do was put one foot in front of the other and I would soon be at the safety and relative comfort of Camp IV. Climbing the Geneva Spur was tiring and yet amazing all at the same time. After a couple of hundred feet of doing this I topped out on the Spur and could see the final traverse into Camp IV. I had imagined this traverse to be flat from all the book knowledge that I had of this mountain. Alas, it was not. It was up and down and rarely flat. I passed a climber being assisted down with ropes and I made sure to leave plenty of room so as not to kink up my rope. Eventually, after 5 hours of effort I strolled in to Camp IV on the South Col. I was absolutely in awe. Here I was standing in the exact place of so much mountaineering history. I could see from Tibet on one side of me to Nepal and India on the other. I could see the famous, still never climbed, traverse between Lhotse and Everest. I could see the upper, triangular face of Everest. I could see climbers coming down from the Balcony, a "flat" spot at 27,500'. Most importantly I could see my tent. My safe haven from the now increasing gusts of wind. Even though I was amazed to be here I knew that I would have no chance of continuing my summit push if these winds did not abate. I silently wondered if this was the end of the road. My high point for this journey. Clouds began to move in and it started snowing. The wind was gaining strength and my hope for standing on the roof of the world was in doubt. "Please God, allow me this chance. You framed the world with your hands. You made this mountain I am now standing on. I acknowlege You as the Mighty Creator. The heavens and earth declare Your glory and I recognize that all I have is from you. Please grant me this opportunity" I prayed. As the wind continued to howl the other members of our team began to trickle in to camp. It was not long before the talk around camp was focused upon whether this inconvenient storm that made its home right with ours would remain with us or move on. I layed down in the tent trying to get a little rest before the biggest night of my life was to begin. However, the wind was not abating but, thankfully, neither was my optimism. I just had a good feeling that this time tomorrow I would be in awe from seeing the view from the top of the world.