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 Everest 2008: Mountain Madness Mt Everest Expedition

Everest 2008:April 11  Ropes Course & Base Camp Layout

I think I'm falling in love with our space heater. I'm sitting right next to the thing right now as I type this and am trying to hatch a plan for hiding this contraption in my backpack unnoticed and getting it to high camp. I wonder if anyone will notice.Today we spent the morning playing around on the ropes course that Willie pulled together. This of course only after we woke again to beautiful and warm skies. And what do warm skies bring? Melting snow. And what does melting snow bring? Avalanche.

The three of us moved gingerly through the ropes course while Willie familiarized us with types of challenges and obstacles we will be facing within days. After moving directly up and across aluminum ladders with mechanical ascenders, we traversed along narrow ledges and relied on ropes to rappel back to the beginning. With time, our confidence grew and we picked up on little tips and pointers Willie taught us in order to make our time in the Icefall more comfortable.

I have been asked by several people what exactly our Base Camp life is like. So since we have another slow day (it's snowing outside right now), I thought it might be good to take the chance to describe our camp layout and the earthier side of camp life. All things considered, our camp is fairly cush compared to some other camps which are very expeditionary in nature (read: one tent, one cook pot). With each day, we try to improve just a little more. For example, two days ago we put in the camp shower- a plastic canvas tent that has a propane heater installed on the outside where water is injected into heat coils when our generator is running. The water then is pumped into a shower head and with the use of an on/off switch you can take a -quick- shower. It is important to zip the door closed all the way or an errant wisp of wind will leave you shaking uncontrollably.. the water isn't that hot but this is truly a luzury item. I took a shower for the first time yesterday since Namche Bazaar... so mebbe like 10 days? I'll probably take one in a day or two again but only after the sun comes out and it isn't windy. Everyone's stinky here and you can't really smell anyway so it's not that bad.

Our tents are located in several areas across the camp site. Joe, Francisco and I are located in one area. Lama Jambu and Tendi are located in another. Lhakpa moved his tent from next to Willies because the generator was too loud, and the cook staff and other support team members crash in their respective tents- there's plenty of room in there for them and they are truly happy with this arrangement. Each tent is home for the next several weeks. We try to keep ours clean and well organized in order to feel like you have more space inside. The tent models we use are Mountain Hardware Trangos and North Face VE-25s- 4 season hardened models that can withstand just about anything thrown at them. Except as it turns out, UV Rays. These rays are so intense here that one tent has only about a 2 or 3 season service life before the rays structurally weaken the fabric beyond serviceability. Each tent has a little garden solar light out front and is anchored down with heavy glacier rocks should stronger wind gusts come along. There is a front window to see out of and through the rain fly, we also have three foam and air matresses to keep comfortable from the rocks below and insulated from ground freeze. Last night while trying to sleep I could hear the glacier creak, groan and snap underneath us.

There are two toilets, both covered in blue tarp- one western (a.k.a. there's a toilet seat) and one of the Middle Eastern/ Nepali model which is more a hole in the rocks. There's an unwritten rule to not pee in the barrel- human waste is transported out and weighed for charges. Peeing in the barrel will increase weight dramatically and therefore, we have designated sites for that. There is an actual rule in Everest Base Camp that if you were to lose your mind and drop a bomb outside of your cans- and are caught.. congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a $5000 fine. Like many other items in camp, we have solar lights to illuminate the inside once darkness descends across camp. We do our own laundry by asking the cook staff for a "washing pot" and then scrubbing dirty clothes like crazy in water that turns brown quickly. Once these items are clean, we lay them on a rock to dry- you have to do that b/c if you try to line dry them they'll just flash freeze- even when it's fairly warm thanks to the UV rays. The air is still below freezing. The camp is powered by a 16 year old Honda generator and this accompishes two things: it powers the lights that illuminate the community shelter and cook tent. It also recharges two automobile dry-cell batteries that power items when the generator is off.


Everest from the South Side in Nepal

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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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