Yesterday afternoon Everest wore the biggest plume of cloud I’ve ever seen, extending the entire length of the Northeast Ridge and beyond. I don’t know what the mountain gods were doing up there, but it was obvious they didn’t want anyone else attending. The plume is caused by jetstream winds buffeting the summit, and according to our weather forecast it was 100 mph up there.
But all forecasts now agree these winds will end abruptly over the weekend and for a few days next week summit wind speeds will drop to just 20 mph, a very valuable window of opportunity. This should enable the China Tibet Mountaineering Association (CTMA) to complete fixing the ropes on the north side. Our own Sherpa team left Base Camp two days ago and will use this window to establish camps and supplies all the way up to 8300m. This is the often forgotten work which goes on behind the scenes to enable people like me who are not elite mountaineers to climb the mountain in safety. It means that when the time comes we’ll be able to go up in a single push, with all our supplies ready for us at each camp.
It’s still too early for these light winds to be a summit window for us, but we’ll be taking the opportunity to make a second foray up the mountain and hopefully get a little higher than we did last time. In theory we should be stronger this time around now that we’re better acclimatised, and we won’t be carrying as much, having left a lot of kit up there last time. Even so it’s going to be a tough few days.
Tomorrow we intend to trek all the way from Base Camp at 5160m to Advanced Base Camp (ABC) at 6410m. Last time we did this in two days, stopping off at Interim Camp (5780m) for a night. Two shorter days of 5 and 6 hours somehow have to be compressed into a single day of 9 hours if we’re not to be walking in the dark. Performance improves massively once you’re acclimatised, but even so it seems like a leap of faith!
We’ll need at least one rest day at ABC after that, then we plan to make a day trip up to the North Col (7050m) and a little way beyond up the Northwest Shoulder. This will be another long day. High winds meant most of us turned back before reaching the Col on our first visit there. We’ve decided not to spend a night on the North Col before our summit push, considering it to be counter-productive. We’ll be on oxygen from 7500m on our summit push, so there’s no point draining ourselves spending extra nights at extreme altitude if we don’t need to.
We should be back in Base Camp by 8th May. We’ll need a few days’ rest, but in theory we should then be ready as soon as a summit window is available.
We’ve had a lazy six days since returning from our first rotation. In an ideal world we’d be doing some exercise on our rest days, but the weather hasn’t been conducive. It’s been a haven of warmth inside the tents, but as soon as we step outside we’re assaulted by a violent wind which cuts to the bone in seconds. It also throws up a fine silver dust which gets into our lungs and induces coughing fits.
It’s been easy to find an excuse for not doing exercise, but we might have been wiser not to indulge so freely in the expedition supply of red wine. Mostly we’ve been drinking in moderation, and Ian and Grant have been particularly good at promoting this method of relaxation.
(Incidentally, Grant keeps and excellent blog of his own climbforhope.wordpress.com, which is a lot more hardcore and less frivolous than this one, a great read if you want a real feel for the hardships we face. He can talk for New Zealand and this is reflected in his writing, so you will need to ensure you have a hot mug of tea and plenty of time before settling down to read it. Grant is also an entertainer who likes to hold the attention of his audience. The other day he provoked much hilarity by setting fire to his trousers trying to warm his backside on a gas heater in the dining tent).
I won’t be blogging or tweeting while we’re up the mountain, but last time we were at ABC expedition leader Phil Crampton posted a daily dispatch. If you need a regular mountain fix then see the Everest 2012 dispatches on the Altitude Junkies website.