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 Everest 2008:  Altitude Junkies Commercial Everest Success

We have suffered from major communication problems with our internet provider and satellite phones during our Everest expedition and we hope to have all the problems resolved before our next climb. We apologize for the inconvenience the lack of news may have caused any of our readers.

Everest was interesting this year as we had to switch last minute from the north side, Tibet to the south side, Nepal because of the Chinese Olympic torch relay. News of the Chinese progress was hard to follow as we had all our satellite phones, laptop computers and internet connections held by the Nepalese Army at base camp until after the Chinese had finished their summit attempt. Hence the first delay in posting dispatches to our website.

Apart from technical problems the climb was a pleasure. Several of our team had climbed on the north side before so we were somewhat aware of what to expect. The south side was new for all of us with all the large budget commercial groups and fewer independent smaller groups that we are used to on the north. Many southern teams seemed concerned that the "northies" were going to overun the south side making it dangerously crowded but this didn't seem to happen with just a few teams jumping sides after the Chinese decision on March 10. We were told that there were less climbers this year than last.

Now the summit information. Our first summit group of Phil, Mike, Steve, Awongchu Sherpa and Cheddrai Sherpa went for the top on the evening of the 20th. We departed around 8.30pm as we had agreed that our two Sherpas would assist Willie Benegas and the Mountain Madness Sherpas fix the ropes above the south summit if needed. Mike felt somewhat fatigued at the balcony and decided best to turn around at this point as he was concerned about the safety of his team mates for his descent if he continued. He descended with Awongchu Sherpa. Steve reached the south summit where he encountered some problem with vision in one of his eyes so he also sensibly decided that to continue would be dangerous for his other team mates. He and Cheddrai Sherpa turned around painfully just shy of the summit. Phil continued alone and reached the summit around 7.45am. This summit would mean that Phil had become one of the few climbers to summit Everest from both the North, Tibet and South, Nepal sides.

Our second summit group of Wally, Lee, Pasang Dawa Sherpa and Lhapka Noru Sherpa went for the top on the evening of the 23rd. They departed around 8.00pm with Wally reaching the balcony and deciding that the large number of climbers ahead of him and his cold feet was not a good combination. He decided to turn around and generously instructed Lhapka Noru to continue for the summit. Lhapka, Lee and Pasang all summited around 6.00am making the ordinary guy Lee Farmer that little bit more extra ordinary.

Sandy made a galliant climb to camp three but found that her previous sickness at base camp had just fatigued her too much to reach high camp in order to make a summit push. Brad and Mark had been plagued with chest infections at the wrong time which also meant that they were also too fatigued to make a realistic summit attempt at the required time.

All the team are now back in the "Du" in good health enjoying the pleasures of post expedition eating ang drinking. We are catching up with old friends and enjoying the new Republic of Nepal and the relaxed atmosphere that seems to have calmed the capital city of Kathmandu.

One small bit of information about our communications. I carried the General Dynamics GoBook MR-1 laptop computer to the summit of Everest and was able to send and email back to the States using it in association with a satellite phone. This was the one time the phone did seem to work.

Phil Crampton and the Altitude Junkies

Earlier: TUESDAY, MAY 20, 2008 DISPATCH #6: At 9:10 AM New York City time, which would be 6:50 PM Nepal time, I received a call from Phil. He said that the first summit team consisting of himself, Steve Lawes and Michael Herbert were going to leave in about an hours time for their summit bid. He said he would not try to call from the summit for fear of the battery of the satellite phone going dead.

The second summit team, which would be the remainder of the Altitude Junkies, would be trying to top out on the 24th of May.

I will let you know more the moment I hear anything further! Trish Crampton

oEarlier: Altitude Junkies Dispatch No.5 - Namche Bazaar,

This is the first dispatch we have been able to make for an extended period on account of base camp restrictions on communications imposed by the government, so Brad Jackson has walked down to Namche Bazaar to send some emails.

In summary, everyone to date is in very good health and we have made two trips through the ice fall to load carry to camp 1 (6,000 m) and further to camp 2 (6,400 m), and are now waiting to go to through to Camp 3.

In more detail. After arriving at EBC, we started to acclimatize and acquaint ourselves with the infamous Khumbu ice fall. Between the 10th and the 14th May we all made our first sorties up the icefield and had our first introduction to the Khumbu icefall doctors ladderwork as used to bridge crevasses and surmount ice cliffs, as well as making sure our harnesses, slings and carabiners were all in perfect working condition. This was also an opportunity to really meet our sherpas for the first time, and I think once again we were all humbled by the strength and the professionalism of the Nepalese Sherpas.

During the following days, we continued our acclimatisation and rest cycle in preparation for our first complete foray to Camp1 An early 4:30 am alarm was set for the 18th April and at 5am, 7 sleep deprived climbers set out for the Khumbu icefall after several cups of milk

tea. The morning glow provided a cool start but there was no wind and conditions were perfect to negotiate the towering seracs. To be brutally honest in our early days of acclimatisation for many of us, the climb through to Camp 1 was much more strenuous than expected. Our group took 5-9 hours to make the relative safety of camp 1 but we all arrived in high spirits by early afternoon and after fighting over the choicest freeze-dried foods, we quickly settled down into the laborious process of melting snow and preparing evening freeze dried meals.

Our initial plans to leave early the next morning were thwarted by morning high winds, so we wallowed in our sleeping bags till 8am and made our way back down the mountain at 9am. The trip down the icefall was relatively uneventful, although some of us encountered some of the traffic jams on the ladders as other expedition teams made their way up and down the Khumbu icefall.

The following week required more rest and acclimatisation and individual team members made hikes partially up the lower slopes of nearby Pumori, to Gorak Shep, and up Kala Patar as part of this process. Usually, on all expeditions to Everest, climbers are known to return home many kilo's lighter-but there might be an exception with our team. Our cook Kumar keeps surprising us with his culinary delights and mouthwatering desserts beyond our belief. Highlights have included, Chicken cordon bleu, hamburgers, pizzas, chicken pie, apple pie, fresh fruit,treacle tart and delicious heart warming soups.

During this week our sherpas set up Camp 2 with our second big Mountain Hardwear Space Station dome tent and our fearless Camp 2 cook Lhakpa valiantly made his way to Camp 2 in preparation for our arrival. On the 27th, six of our team made the same early wake up and bleary eyes congregated in the dining tent to drink tea and a welcoming meal of porridge. Walter thought it prudent to completely recover from a niggly cough and ascended the following day.

With Lee and Phil setting the pace, our team was pleasantly surprised to find our second foray into the icefall much easier. Psychologically we were much more prepared for the distance and physically we were much more acclimatized. We were all very relieved to shave off several hours of our previous ascent time and arrived at Camp 1 much less exhausted. The icefall doctors had been very productive in our absence. New ladders and rappel lines had been put in place, easing up several congestive areas through the icefall. Phil continued the journey that day to Camp 2 to help Lhakpa prepare for all climbers arrival at camp 2 the next day.

At Camp 1 we once again tucked into our freeze dried food and with the absence of anything else compelling to do, we were all snuggled into large down sleeping bags by dusk light at 6pm. Camp 1 proved to be consistent and the next morning once again proved to be windy and we we were all reluctant to leave the confines of our sleeping bags to make our way to Camp 2.

As had happened previously, the wind started to die down by 8am and we all managed to start off by 9pm. Walter obviously having completely recovered, made very swift work of the icefall and greeted us just as the 6 initial climbers set off for camp 2. 

The 27th of May started off slightly windy but glorious sunshine and for all of us westerners was our first exposure to the full glory of the Western Cwm. The gradient to Camp 2 was slight but arduous and after several more horizontal ladders we arrived at camp 2 after 2-3 hours. Lhakpa and the Sherpas had set up the Mountain Hardwear Space Station dome and Trango 3 person tents. After the rigours of melting our own snow and preparing freeze dried meals, it was very well appreciated to have jolly Lhakpa prepare our drinks and meals at Camp 2.

Half of us spent 2 nights at Camp 2 and the remaining climbers spent 3 nights . At dusk we witnessed the alpenglow splashed on to the Lhotse face but the cold bundled us into our tents none too long after the sun set past Pumori. 

The descent to Base camp via Camp 1 was considerably easier than the previous descent. The icefall doctors had attached further rapell lines and improved some of the more precarious ladders. As the word had been given by local authorities for all parties to descend from the mountain, the traffic was basically all one way, that being downhill. 

Once settled back at base camp we are basically awaiting word from local authorities to ascend to Camp 3 (7,100 m) for our last acclimatization climb before our summit push. The whole Nepal side of the mountain is basically on standby, including fixing ropes to and setting up camps 3 and 4. We are hoping to be able to ascend sometime early in the second week of May. 

Brad Jackson and the Altitude Junkies 

Earlier: Everest 2008: DISPATCH #4 - EVEREST BASE CAMP

We finally managed to fix some of our communication problems, hence the delay in posting our latest dispatch from our Everest expedition.

During our trek up the valley we were fortunate to be blessed by two buddist lamas. In Deboche we were individually blessed by a 91 year old disciple of the Dalai Lama who has vowed to remain in solitary confinment in a bricked up convent. The lady who has lived alone in the building for 48 years blessed us through the confines of a small hatch.

In Pangboche we were ushered into the waiting room of the most senior Lama in the Khumbu, Lama Geshe. We were individually blessed and given a small envelope containing a card, prayer to maintain our safety on the mountain and blessed grains of rice.

Our planned rest day in Dingboche coincided with snow and high winds. We all fully embraced the rest day philosophy by reading, drinking and eating.

From Dingboche to EBC was uneventful and we took advantage of some of the new lodges in the region.

All the group arrived at base camp on schedule yesterday, April 9th in time for a wonderful lunch prepared by our head cook Kumar. We spent the last nine days trekking through the Khumbu valley using a cautious acclimitization schedule and all the group are doing fine and are now enjoying the comforts of base camp.

Our 7 climbing Sherpas and 4 cooks are making sure that the group get rested before we tackle the ice fall next week.

The ice fall doctors are nearly finished fixing the route to camp one and they estimate will complete the task tomorrow. Some groups have been at base camp for quite some time so we will sit back and let the other groups head up the mountain first. Our Sherpas plan to go and establish camp one on Sunday so we will make our first carry and spend our first night on the mountain hopefully on Monday.

The weather on the trek has mostly been fantastic and we hope that it continues in that direction and allows us to move on the mountain unhindered over the next 6 weeks.

Phil Crampton and the Altitude Junkies

Everest from the South Side in Nepal

sbrr2.jpg (46375 bytes)

Full size picture

Base Camp - 17,500 feet (5350 meters)

This is a picture of the popular South Col Route up Mt. Everest.  Base camp is located at 17,500 feet.   This is where climbers begin their true trip up the mountain.  This is also where support staff often remain to monitor the expeditions and provide medical assistance when necessary.  Many organizations offer hiking trips which just go to base camp as the trip is not technically challenging (though you must be very fit). 

From base camp, climbers typically train and acclimate (permitting the body to adjust to the decreased oxygen in the air) by traveling and bringing supplies back and forth through the often treacherous Khumbu Icefall.    This training and recuperation continues throughout the climb, with the final summit push often being the only time to climbers do not go back and forth between camps to train, bring supplies, and recuperate for the next push. 

The Icefall is in constant motion.  It contains enormous ice seracs, often larger than houses, which dangle precariously over the climbers heads, threatening to fall at any moment without warning, as the climbers cross endless crevasses and listen to continuous ice creaking below.  This often acts as a testing ground to judge if less experienced climbers will be capable of continuing.   The Icefall is located between 17,500 and 19,500 feet.

Camp I - 5900 meters

After the Icefall, the climbers arrive at Camp I, which is located at 19,500 feet.  Depending on the type of expedition, Camp I will either be stocked by the climbers as they ascend and descend the Icefall, or by Sherpas in advance.

The area between Camp I and Camp II is known as the Western Cwm.  As the climbers reach Camp II at 21,000 feet, they may be temporarily out of sight of their support at Base camp.  Nonetheless, modern communication devises permit the parties to stay in contact.

Camp II - 6500 meters

As the climbers leave Camp II, they travel towards the Lhotse face (Lhotse is a 27,920 foot mountain bordering Everest).  The Lhotse face is a steep, shiny icy wall.  Though not technically extremely difficult, one misstep or slip could mean a climber's life.  Indeed, many climbers have lost their lives through such mishaps. 

Camp III - 23,700 feet (7200 meters)

To reach Camp III, climbers must negotiate the Lhotse Face. Climbing a sheer wall of ice demands skill, strength and stamina. It is so steep and treacherous that many  Sherpas move directly from Camp II to Camp IV on the South Col, refusing to stay on the Lhotse Face.

Camp IV - 26,300 feet (8000 meters)

As youíre leaving C4Öitís a little bit of a down slope, with the uphill side to the left. There are typically snow on the ledges to walk down on, interspersed with rock, along with some fixed rope. The problem with the rope is that the anchors are bad, and thereís not much holding the rope and a fall could be serious. Fortunately itís not too steep, but there is a ton of exposure and people are usually tired when walking down from camp. The rock is a little down sloping to the right as well, and with crampons on, it can be bit tricky with any kind of wind. Thereís a little short slope on reliable snow which leads to the top of the Geneva Spur, and the wind pressure gradient across the spur can increase there as youíre getting set up for the rappel. Wearing an oxygen mask here can create some footing issues during the rappel, because itís impossible to see over the mask and down to the feet. For that reason, some people choose to leave Camp 4 without gas, as itís easier to keep moving down the Spur when itís important to see all the small rock steps and where the old feet are going. Navigating down through all of the spaghetti of fixed ropes is a bit of a challenge, especially with mush for brains at that point. One lands on some lower ledges which arenít so steep, where fixed ropes through here are solid. At this point, itís just a matter of staying upright, and usually, the wind has died significantly after dropping off the Spur. The route turns hard to the left onto the snowfield that leads to the top of the Yellow Bands.

Camp IV, which is at 26,300 on the Lhotse face, is typically the climbers' first overnight stay in the Death Zone.  The Death Zone is above 26,000 feet.  Though there is nothing magical about that altitude, it is at this altitude that most human bodies lose all ability to acclimate. Accordingly, the body slowly begins to deteriorate and die - thus, the name "Death Zone."  The longer a climber stays at this altitude, the more likely illness (HACE - high altitude cerebral edema - or HAPE - high altitude pulmonary edema) or death will occur.  Most climbers will use oxygen to climb and sleep at this altitude and above.  Generally, Sherpas refuse to sleep on the Lhotse face and will travel to either Camp II or Camp IV.

Camp IV is located at 26,300 feet. This is the final major camp for the summit push.  It is at this point that the climbers make their final preparations.  It is also a haven for worn-out climbers on their exhausting descent from summit attempts (both successful and not).  Sherpas or other climbers will often wait here with supplies and hot tea for returning climbers.

From Camp IV, climbers will push through the Balcony, at 27,500 feet, to the Hillary Step at 28,800 feet.  The Hillary Step, an over 70 foot rock step, is named after Sir. Edmond Hillary, who in 1953, along with Tenzing Norgay, became the first people to summit Everest.  The Hillary Step, which is climbed with fixed ropes, often becomes a bottleneck as only one climber can climb at a time.  Though the Hillary Step would not be difficult at sea level for experienced climbers, at Everest's altitude, it is considered the most technically challenging aspect of the climb.

Summit - 29,028 feet (8848 meters)

Once the climbers ascend the Hillary Step, they slowly and laboriously proceed to the summit at 29,028 feet.  The summit sits at the top of the world.  Though not the closest place to the sun due to the earth's curve, it is the highest peak on earth.  Due to the decreased air pressure, the summit contains less than one third the oxygen as at sea level.  If dropped off on the summit directly from sea level (impossible in reality), a person would die within minutes.  Typically, climbers achieving the great summit will take pictures, gain their composure, briefly enjoy the view, then return to Camp IV as quickly as possible.   The risk of staying at the summit and the exhaustion from achieving the summit is too great to permit climbers to fully enjoy the great accomplishment at that moment.  

As most readers of this page know, the return trip can be even more dangerous than the climb to the summit.

Pictures from Enrique Guallart-Furio web site http://ww2.encis.es/avent/

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