After a week of rest and acclimatisation at Base Camp (5160m) tomorrow we leave for our first foray higher up the mountain, and will be gone for nearly two weeks. The plan is spend two days trekking up to Advanced Base Camp (ABC) at 6400m where we’ll spend a week further acclimatising and climbing. The climbing will involve a day trip up to the North Col (7000m) and back down to ABC, a night at the North Col and short foray up the Northeast Shoulder, possibly as high as 7500m. All of this is dependent on weather and how we’re feeling when we get up there.
I’m very excited to be starting up the mountain at last. In 2007 I climbed up to the North Col with Mark Dickson and Ian Cartwright, and with the summit in touching distance it was the first time I realised climbing Everest could be a realistic ambition. Five years and many mountains later all three of us are back and ready to go for it.
It’s been fairly calm here at Base Camp for most of the last week, but the jetstream plumes on Everest’s summit have been ever-present and at times look to have descended as low as the North Col. It’s going to be cold and windy up there, but we hear the China Tibet Mountaineering Association (CTMA) have fixed ropes all the way to Camp 2 (c.7700m), so conditions haven’t been impossible.
Yesterday we had the honour of a visit from Australian climber Andrew Lock and author and multiple-Everest summiteer Jamie McGuinness. Andrew completed all fourteen 8000 metre peaks in 2009, but Everest this year will hopefully be his last without oxygen. Our expedition leader Phil Crampton likes to maintain the reason such illustrious company visits our camp is because he’s a popular chap among top climbers, but I can’t help thinking word has got around camp that we’re the best stocked team booze-wise on the north side this year, particularly as Jamie arrived on the dot of 4 o’clock, our usual time for Happy Hour.
After our puja on Wednesday for some reason Grant decided the video I shot of him drinking a glass of beer while standing on his head was suitable for posting on YouTube. I can only assume he feels secure in his job. The puja involved about two hours of monks chanting and providing blessings, and six hours of drinking, several crates of Tuborg beer, many shots of cooking rum, and a few kettles of homemade Nepali rakshi. If the mountain gods are appeased by heavy drinking then the north side of Everest will be extremely safe this year. Andrew Lock may have climbed the 8000 metre peaks without oxygen; one day Mark, Ian and I will climb one without alcohol, but it’s not going to be this time.
This may be my last blog post until we return to Base Camp in a couple of weeks’ time. Communications here in Base Camp have been a bit frustrating. The BGAN/Inmarsat satellite system we had been intending to use at Base Camp hasn’t worked at all, though there’s a rumour it may work at ABC. Meanwhile the 3G solution we’ve cobbled together for blogging via our iPhones and BlackBerry’s isn’t going to work higher up. To compound matters the GMail account I set up to blog from Base Camp has been suspended for alleged spam. Somehow Google’s clever algorithms seem to have calculated my respectful posts about Base Camp memorials are in fact nothing more than adverts for cheap Viagra and penis enlargement devices. I’m grateful to Mark Dickson for sending posts on my behalf using his own email address. It’s going to be very expensive if I have to use my usual Hotmail address, which gets dozens of messages a day.
On the positive side, above Base Camp our concerns will be more about mountains and climbing, and less about unreliable technology.