Monday, May 20, 2013

Visual Tour - Mt. Everest

(Nepal / South side)
It's my Everest Summit's 7th year 'anniversary'  and I'd like to offer this visual tour to future climbers, or those simply wanting to know or see 'what's up there'...

Everest (highest point, left-hand side) - as seen from the top of Kala Patthar. One of the best ‘whole view’ of Everest. Gorak Shep is the last ‘village’ before EBC (last ‘tea house’ accommodation), and the take-off point if one is to hike Kala Patthar (optional).

BC 17400ft
Basecamp right below the Khumbu icefall. The BC sits on the lower glacier itself (i.e. it moves and one would occasionally hear cracking sound underneath his/her tent). On high season, this becomes a town and in my case a town of some 800+ people, half were climbers. I stayed here for 1.5mo+ and one has to have everything he/she needs to survive, get strong, recover from sickness, have a bit of fun, and keep his/her sanity… ;) I had my own tent, my team had a kitchen tent, toilet tent, dining tent even communication (technology center) tent.

Khumbu IceFall
The MOST dangerous part of Mt. Everest. More than half of the total deaths in Everest happened here (i.e. 150+ of ~300). One has to pass thru this icefall  4 or even 5 times, not counting the return trip. During my trip, while (luckily) resting in BC, ice avalanche occurred resulting in 3 deaths. Luck is one factor here. I did experience a minor (and safe) ‘avalanche’ in which fine powder snow whooshed down on me, along with other 20+ climbers. In this icefall, one has to climb, sometimes rappel, climb a ladder (w/ crampons) or cross big yawning crevasse via joined ladders. My tip on ladder crossing: Don’t look down, focus on your steps. ;)

C1 ~20,000ft
As seen from the ‘other side’, going to C2. C1 is above the Khumbu icefall. I recall it took me 10 hard hours to reach C1 on my first visit (slept here on my first visit instead of going back to BC the same day). Next visit was 8 hours, then 6 in my succeeding trips - good acclimatization makes one faster. Strong climbers can traverse the icefall in 3 to 4h. Camp is nice, good view of the Western Cwm (‘coom’) or the ‘main’ glacier, way to C2 is not difficult (in fact the easiest part of the climb which - took me 5h on the first trip (3 on the next). I even walk crampon-less towards the last stages -to speed up the walk. Previous expeditions had witnessed disastrous camp ‘annihilation’ in C1 due to falling monstrous blocks of ice coming from the nearby ridge. So pray and be lucky. And don't stay too comfortably long.

C2 21,500
Easy to get here, almost flat walk. Except that the western cwm (‘enclosed’ glacier by towering ridges to its left and right) can be VERY hot in a sunny, windless day (like 30+C!). C2 also offers good ‘toilet options’, good solid ground (you’’ll miss ‘rocks and solid ground’ if you stay in a snowy /icy mountain for quite some time), and the fact that climbing teams established a kitchen tent in this camp – ergo, GOOD chow.

Lhotse Face base
A short hike from C2, this is the start of the steep climb to C3. Trekking poles are normally ditched, ice axe in heavy use. Exciting! Until after a couple of hours.

C3 23,600
As seen from high above (I think I was in the yellow band when I took this shot). This is a ‘slide camp’, one has to keep clipped on ropes even when peeing. For me, as I recall – going here was the MOST memorable SUFFERING. With no supplemental O2, climbing very steep wall at altitudes above 22,000ft is SERIOUSLY DIFFICULT! I recall a 10.5h effort on my first visit, and 10h on 2nd (no change, almost). This camp is in the Lhotse face itself, it’s far from ideal but it’s a ‘must stop’ camp - to rest and recover due to altitude gain, and a good springboard to C4.

Lhotse wall (C3-C4)
Going to C4 was initially worrisome, but I found it relatively easy (2nd easiest after C1-C2). With O2 use (a standard practise nowadays), took me few hours to reach C4 (I was in camp by 1pm, enough time to rest for a summit assault). I like this trip given the ‘scary view’, also a good time to ‘tick off’ the famous 2 obstacles in this route, the yellow band and Geneva Spur.

C4 ~26000 (Death Zone)
Although 40-50kph wind notoriously blasted my team, I still find this camp ‘magical’ and special. I guess because it’s very near the summit (or because I had a good post-summit morning euphoria). This is an ‘alien’ place, more like ‘live-able’ mars land – cold, almost air-less (~1/3 of normal), and life is simply miserable. A necessary short stop before (and after) the summit. Stay too long (like 2 days before an assault) and you may be too weak to summit. C4 is in the south col, a saddle or ‘in-between’ Lhotse (4th highest) and Everest peaks. Even with the ‘bad’ description, I still remember this to be a special place.

Southeast ridge
Somewhere up there. It was expectedly TOUGH (that’s an understatement), and the constant strong wind (you could see the ‘wind blow’) was a perpetual demoralizing element in the climb. But the slow revelation of the promised land (-the summit) made it nice and special – not to mention the spectacular view.

Summit 29,029
Here at last, counting the lost time of 1hour (in the ‘icefall’ during the night) – took me 13.5h to summit (arrived 11:06 my watch). My predominant feeling on reaching the summit – RELIEF! Relief that the suffering was finally over. The ‘good feel’ and euphoria happens after. Took me another 5h to reach the safety of C4.

** When I decided to climb this mountain, I obviously had apprehensions and even the occasional self-doubt.  Will I make it to the top?  I realized there was only one way to find out - to simply CLIMB it!  

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