The Khumbu Ice Fall changes every day. Crevasses open up, searacs collapse and every trip up and down is a different experience. Because of the snowfall later in the season the condition were much safer than the first time I went up. Still, as I climbed with Pa Rita Sherpa, we were careful with every step we took and it was a relief when we reached Camp 2 early in the morning of May 7.
After already spending so many days above 6,400 meters that season, my heart rate and breathing felt comfortable that afternoon at dinner in the kitchen tent. Talking with the Sherpas during meals is something I always look forward to. I have been climbing with the same Sherpa team since 2008, nine years, and spending time with them feels like spending time with family. It really feels that way. During my stay at Camp 2 I kept going over the weather forecasts for our possible summit day, May 12, and also the plans for the Sherpa team that was climbing to the summit. It was on May 9 that I was forced to make a decision between using this as my final acclimatization rotation to Camp 4 and try to climb without using supplemental oxygen or to go for an early summit, giving up on my personal goal, and making sure that The Live Love Laugh Foundation’s banner made it to the summit. As mentioned on Part 1 of this post, I felt my work with the Foundation was a priority. I decided to go for an early attempt.
I continued the ascent reaching camp 3, at 7,200 meters, after climbing halfway up the Lhotse face on May 10. The climb was over ice rising at an average of 50º. Thankfully there were very few climbers on the route. That’s one of the advantages of going for an unusually early summit: no crowds. It’s never easy to set up Camp 3 since shelves big enough for the tents need to be choppedfrom the ice. I spent all that afternoon and night by myself since the Sherpas prefer to climb directly from Camp 2 to Camp 4 and spend a more comfortable night at lower altitudes. Enjoying the silence and solitude, I ran the stoves all of the afternoon, melting ice and boiling water, making soup and instant noodles. That’s as far as my cooking skills go on and off the mountains. There was some snowfall on the afternoon, but not more than what was forecasted. Before the sun set below the horizon I was rewarded with an amazing view of Pumori and Cho-Oyu, the sixth highest mountain in the world.
I woke up early on May 11. During the night I didn’t sleep much but still felt rested and ready to head up. All my gear was packed when Pa Rita arrived and it was time to move. That morning I had been melting ice for about two hours to have enough water for the whole day. To me, the climb from Camp 3 to Camp 4 is one of the toughest parts of the expedition because you can see most of the route and it never seems to get any closer. We continued to make our way up, passing the Yellow Band and the Geneva Spur. The upper part of the Lhotse face seemed to have more snow than any of the other times I’ve been up there and that was a good thing since when the mountain is dry there is constant danger of being hit by falling rocks and ice. The snow keeps all of that buried. Still, as we reached the South Col, the rocky and icy saddle formed between Everest and Lhotse, I was amazed at seeing it all buried under the snow.
We arrived at Camp 4 around 2:00pm and it took us a few minutes to set up a tent and get settled inside. We had been using supplemental oxygen from Camp 3 and that made it a little bit easier. Once we were inside our tent and we had the stoves going it started to snow. For hours we had heavy snowfall and I started to worry about the conditions higher up and how that would affect our chances to summit the next day. I tried to stay positive and reminded myself I’d been at the South Col many times before under worse weather and I knew we would get our chance that night. During the afternoon Kenton Cool, the British climber, came by to talk about our plans and it was good to know there would be four other climbers going up that night. We would be the first foreigners to try to summit form Nepal since 2013. During that afternoon an Camp 4 we also go word on the radio that the Sherpa team had reached the summit. A few minutes later the snow stopped. Finally things were going our way and around 6:00pm I made the final call to start climbing for the summit that night at 12:00am. That meant we would have just 5 hours to rest before we had to start getting ready to leave Camp 4.
So up at 8,000 meters, we spent the afternoon of May 11 resting inside our sleeping bags, dreaming of the summit. There was no wind on the mountain and the sky was clear. The sunset was spectacular.