We’ve completed one of the first major hurdles of this expedition over the last five days by moving up beyond Advanced Base Camp/Camp 3 (20,992 ft.) to Camp 4 (22,960 ft.), high atop the North Col. As I stated in my last update, this is where the suffering would truly begin, and it surely did.
We left Base Camp/Camp 1 for Intermediate Base Camp/Camp 2 on 27 April, spent the night at IBC, then continued on up to Advanced Base Camp/Camp 3 on 28 April. After spending two nights in ABC, we started the most difficult hurdle of our expedition so far: climbing the North Col. up to Camp 4. This camp is located at a point higher than any place in the western hemisphere, where Aconcagua in Argentina tops the highpoint list (22,800 ft.).
Reaching the Col. was one of the major goals I set for myself in joining this expedition. From this point on, every foot of altitude gained will truly be icing on the cake. However, before departing ABC for the North Col., we had to complete our Puja (blessing) ceremony. This was conducted by a Lama from the Rongbuk Monestary, who passed on traditional blessings from the Dali Lama for a safe and successful expedition.
Part of the ceremony included the blessing of our climbing gear, along with lots of food and drink, alcohol included. The alcohol used in the ceremony is intended to get the bad gods drunk, distracting them so that they do not interfere with our expedition. Having gained some firsthand knowledge of beer over the years, I took exception to their use of Budweiser to entice and distract the bad gods. However, it should make them sick at a minimum, and hence less able to pay much attention to us clamoring up Mt. Everest.
The ceremony lasted about two hours, after which our personal Sherpa-guides were ready to lead us op the ominous looking North Col. Most of us have hired personal Sherpas to guide us every step of the way above Advanced Base Camp (ABC), and all of them have been to the summit. From now on, every time we venture above ABC, our Sherpa-guides will be with us, watching over us, carrying the heaviest of our combined climbing gear, and doing everything within their ability to get us to the summit and keep us alive. The strength and stamina of these local Himalayan climbers is truly astounding, as is their capacity for expressing general happiness and generosity while in the midst of very harsh and difficult conditions. We are truly privileged to have them with us.
Once we reached the base of the North Col. and clipped into the first of the many fixed lines leading us to the top, and providing a safety “net” should we slip and fall, we spent approximately three physically demanding hours working our way towards the top of the Col.
From ABC, the line of climbers ascending the Col. looks like slowly moving ants; up close, like slowly moving people. After topping out on the Col., we still had to cross a laddered crevasse and climb a bit higher to our tents. At Camp 4 we piled into a cramped mess tent for some liquids and food before retiring to three-person tents to get into sleeping bags and warm up. Above ABC, you do not use a personal sleeping bag, but bags that are placed at the camps by the expedition and used by whoever is in camp at the time. So, you never know who has been there before you or how sick they might have been, and what you might catch as a result. This is the way it’s done. The higher up you go, the less each climber can bring individually; the less you want to bring individually. Each step is a struggle, so less is more.
It was only about 7:30 p.m. when we retired to our tents, and we would be in the tents resting and “sleeping” for the next twelve hours. Given that we were now at another new high altitude for the expedition, all of us knew what the night would bring: altitude headaches, delusional-like dreams, and very little sleep. It was one of the longest twelve hours I have ever had to endure, but we will have more such nights ahead, each more intense and uncomfortable than the last as we reach new altitude highs.
After one night at Camp 4 on the Col., we returned to ABC and then all the way down to BC to rest and recover. Next, in a couple days, we will start back up to ABC, then to Camp 4 again (22,960 ft.), then on to Camp 5 (25,256 ft.) for another night of suffering (due to experiencing a new altitude high), then back down to Camp 4 for a night, then down to ABC and back on down to BC to rest and recover again. From BC, we will all choose towns even farther down below BC to visit for several days to get fully rested for summit pushes. Meanwhile, our Sherpas will establish Camp 6 (27,224 ft.). Sometime between May 15th or 20th we will all move back up to ABC and start looking for breaks in the weather. Those of us who are still healthy will attempt to move up to Camp 6 and make summit attempts.
After a night up at Camp 6 and a summit attempt we will have run out of strength and oxygen for a second attempt. So, everything has to work out perfectly. It’s a one shot deal, even after having endured so much just to get to that point. Even if our expedition consisted solely of the world's greatest and most capable mountaineers, it’s possible that not many of them would make the summit. Such is the temperament of Everest. You do not storm her flanks and conquer her summit, you sneak past her, timid and frail, hoping she decides to take pity on the weak and insignificant creatures crawling toward her top. It’s a game of chance, of calculated risks, but life is not without risks, you learn to take them or you stay at home and watch life on television.
Step by step, David