Setting up for the summit. 3 days of hard work.
It had been essential that Ben and I had made the effort to reach camp 3 on our first cycle on the mountain. The first summit window had come and gone over the period 4th – 6th October and the winds on the upper mountain were expected to increase over the next few weeks. Our forced climb to C3 had put us in a good position to make a summit push when the next window appeared but we were both pretty damn exhausted.
Initially we had planned to rest for 2-3 days and make a bid for the summit on the 10th of October but the winds were not going to be low enough and Ben was also pretty tired. An extra 2 days rest, and good food at basecamp allowed us to recover our strength and motivation for what was going to be a pretty hard final 4-5 days on the mountain.
We had left all our essential equipment at Camp 2, as we planned to go from basecamp to Camp 2 in one very long day. My ski’s, ski boots and wing were also stashed at Camp 2 although I was doubtful of the winds being low enough for me to make an attempt to fly from the summit.
On the 7th our forecast showed that there was a substantial lowering of the winds from midday on the 11th at the height of camp 4 and that the 12th would have winds on the summit between 15 – 25km. The 13th also looked promising but with a forecast of higher cloud and higher humidity.
We set our sights on the 12th with a possible backup day on the 13th.
In the early hours of the morning Ben and I got up at 2 am, forced ourselves to eat a big breakfast and left basecamp at 3:30am. It was bitterly cold on the lower mountain as dawn approached and, as the upper mountain came into view, a long plume of snow was clearly visible blasting off the summit ridge. We arrived at C1 by 7 am – a pretty fast 3 1/2 hour trip, and we then settled down to get warm, use our C1 stove to get warm water and food into us and to wait for the day to heat up so we could then make our way up to C2.
After a 2 1/2 hour rest, (Ben was pretty shattered – he’d not been able to sleep the night before or eat much food for our alpine start breakfast) we began our last trip up through the icefall and the "hourglass" towards C2.
The hourglass is a 150m high snow slope that has fixed lines on it – it’s moderately steep and is cut by a number of crevasses. It is also avalanche prone and tends to funnel snow down steep runnels. We’d not had any snow now for 3-4 days and conditions were good. There were also a number of other teams making final bids on the mountain and our Sherpa team of Phemba and Sidi Mama were right behind us. It was impressive to see just how much the mountain was moving, crevasses that only 5 days ago had been easy step overs now required a fair bit of thought and determination to cross – the route was definitely beginning to fall out of condition. Once above the hourglass there was still about 250m of height to gain before reaching C2.
We spent the rest of the afternoon organizing gear, resting and drinking water before getting a much needed early night and a good nights sleep at 6400m. It would be our last good sleep for a few days ….
The journey from C2 to C3 is quite a short climb – only 400m to the col, but the 400m gain is significant in that you are then going to be sleeping at 6800m on a windy col. Almost 700m above us is C4 and the wind is quite strong. The temperature is now getting seriously cold – during the evening the temperature in our tent was -19 degree’s … Not so inspiring. Phemba and Sidi had made plans to try and carry a load of gear to C4 that afternoon, but strong winds and cold temperatures put that plan to rest. I had got a forecast from Sophie that evening and the outlook for an attempt to speedride off the summit looked bleak.
I had carried all my personal equipment plus my ski’s, wing, flying harness AND my climbing boots from C2 whilst wearing my touring boots. The forecast for the next few days was for dropping winds but summit day still hada forecast of up to 25km on the summit and 18km at C4 – it was also blowing a westerly which was exactly the wrong direction for me to make a launch …. I had to make a hard choice. I would need to carry my ski’s on my pack on the way to C4 and I didn’t much like the idea of them acting like sails in the winds that were raking the face leading to C4. I went to sleep that night hoping for a radical change in the forecast …… Sleep didn’t come easy for me at C3 and I was highly jealous of Ben’s consistent easy breathing as he fell asleep that night
Ben and I were up early to ensure our boots were thawed and we had had enough food and water for the day’s climb ahead. Phemba and Sidi had been unable to make the load carry to C4 the previous day and they had significantly heavy loads. The winds were still very strong and spindrift was blasting the tent, I made the choice to forgo my attempt at a flight from above 8000m and instead would hope for lower winds on our descent.
From 7000m Ben and I used oxygen which greatly assisted our climb to C4. The previous 6 days winds had covered the fixed lines with snow and it was going to be hard going to clear them. The morning had been bitterly cold and we felt that a slightly later start would be warmer as the wind was also forecast to drop slightly. I lead off with Ben behind me and Phemba and Sidi coming up behind us. There were sections of up to 100m of buried fixed line that needed to be cleared and in addition the snow was a hard breakable crust that needed to be stomped through. The actual climb went up through a series of seracs and eventually onto the ramp, a 400m+ long sloping snow field that ends in hard blue ice as it leads onto the summit plateau and C4 at 7,450m. C4 is a very cold, exposed wind swept place. Remnants of the previous summit window showed old bamboo wands, some broken tents and food scraps. It is a pretty desolate place….
We got our one tent up and the 4 of us (Ben, Phemba, Sidi and I) crowded into it – it was a pretty cramped situation and with the thin air it didn’t look like it was going to be a very fun night’s sleep. The order of the evening was to melt water, drink and try to eat and stay warm. I’d gotten another forecast from Sophie at basecamp and there was still no significant drop in the wind levels for summit day. As the sun set and the temperature dropped we were all feeling a bit apprehensive. The tent was shaking and buckling in the wind, the temperature was already sitting at -25 degree’s as we all tried to settle into comfortable positions for the long night ahead and to wait for the early dawn light when we would be getting ready to make our way towards the summit, another 716m and at least 5 hours above us ….