Ben and I are back down at basecamp after 6 days of hard work and effort on the lower mountain. Originally the plan was that we would only be on the mountain for 3 days, spending either 1 or 2 nights at camp 1 and climbing to touch camp 2.
Instead, after reaching and establishing ourselves at camp 1 we both felt that we would be better served by making an attempt to reach and "touch" camp3. This would then put us in a position to make a summit attempt on our second rotation.
Before leaving basecamp we had arranged food for camps 1 and 2 so we would be ok in that regard for our plan change! Our radio system is also working well – allowing us to communicate with Sophie back in basecamp – the higher we go the better the reception.
The actual route on the mountain varies radically from camp to camp. Basecamp to camp1 is a long slow climb crossing a number of crevasses that are easily negotiated – the sting in the tail is the final 180m or so climb up to Camp 1 at 5700m. Camp 1 to Camp 2 is through the icefall and has numerous steep sections (all using fixed lines) as well as one ladder to cross. Camp 2 is located just above all the seracs on the first really flat section at 6400m. Our first time up there was pretty hard and both of us were breathing fairly heavily and really feeling the altitude. Camp 2 to camp 3 is a pretty easy day (easy is a relative term above 6400m) and gradually climbs up the final headwall to the col. The col is a pretty windy place and many teams have placed their camps just below the col – protected from the wind but also in a position where they can be covered in snow. Right now we have a number of loads of gear buried at the Col awaiting our return.
Our original, optimistic plan was to sleep at C1, touch C2 and then climb the next day to C2 and sleep. After our first touch of C2 we were both totally exhausted so instead we planned a "rest" day at C1. It was a rest day for Ben – but for me it was a day of climbing up above C1 and finding launch sites to make a number of flights to my chosen landing area below C1. The flying was great – the canopy was a little bit slow to inflate and I dropped much more than I would normally flying at lower altitudes but once I was actually in the air the normal glide ratio of the canopy was the same (about 1:3.5). Swooping in above other climbers was great fun – skinning back up to C1 and above was not so much fun!
I had planned to make a flight from Camp 3 but heavy cloud, occasional snow showers and minute weather windows made making a flight attempt just too risky. Instead, I skied down from C3 to C2. It’s not easy to ski at that altitude with a heavy pack and in flat light. About 1/2 way down the cloud cleared just below C2 to the summit and it made the final few hundred meters of skiing just simply glorious.
There was a weather clearance from C2 to below C1 which would have made a a flight possible but it was getting pretty late and Ben wasn’t the only one who was tired! Sidi MaMa, Ben and I quickly packed up C2, stored all our gear and made it waterproof and started to make our way down the fixed lines to C1 and then continued down baseamp. It was great to Sophie when we got down and it was also great to have a shower (in our new flash shower tent) after 6 days of alternatively sweating, freezing and then sleeping in the same clothes.
Right now we are enjoying one of the finest days that basecamp has seen all season, Ben has been eating, sleeping, reading and then sleeping some more. Soph took the opportunity to drop below basecamp to actually see the view for the fisrt time (it’s always been in cloud) and I went to catch up with Russel and co at the Himex tent to see how the team was getting on with their summit bid.
So now our waiting game for a summit window starts. The wind is forecast to increase from the 7th and doesn’t look like dropping until after the 10th of October so we’ll have the time to rest and recover here in basecamp for a bit.
All the best to ya all