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 Everest 2009: Alpine Ascents Mt Everest Expedition : Blue Team Update

April 22, 2009 Blue Team Update

Today the Blue Team took a rest in base camp and organized gear for the planned ascent to Camp 1 on Friday Morning. The weather has been great so we all took showers, did our laundry and tidied up our camp. We had a surprise visit from Dr. Torrey who came to say hi and see how we are doing, she is from the HRA clinic (the Himalayan Rescue Association) in base camp. Since our camp is a bit removed from Everest base camp proper, we don’t get many visitors, but we certainly enjoy our privacy. Everyone is enjoying our rest day and look forward to our next day of rest tomorrow. Our Sherpa staff made a carry to camp 2 and have now stocked the camp for both our Red and Blue teams that will be spending time there over the next few days. Special message for Lori’s 2nd graders: We really did have pizza tonight!

Earlier: First Glimpse into The Icefall : April 21, 2009   : Base Camp

Today the entire team booted up with ice axes and ascenders in hand and ventured into the Khumbu Icefall. All of the training this past week was well worth it as everyone did a great job. We made it about a third of the way through. Along the way we went up and down; steep and mellow and even crossed an occasional ladder or two.

The real big news is...with 14 climbers and 5 guides, we are a rather big team. To make everything from mountain logistics to personal enjoyment we have decided to split into two teams. Team Red and Team Blue. I am not personally happy being in Team Blue seeing that all my clothing is red. But I am searching Base Camp for a swap.

Everyone is excited, being in a smaller team will allow us to move smoother, especially in the icefall. Tomorrow, Team Red will be moving up to Camp One. They plan to stay there two nights and then head up to Camp Two for two nights.

Meanwhile, Team Blue will have two more days at Base Camp and then we will head up to Camp One. Everyone is doing great and w
e are all itching to see new scenery.

Earlier: More training : April 19, 2009 : base camp : Today we spent 4 hours out on the ice practicing skills such as fixed line travel involving ascending a vertical line, descending a vertical line, ladder crossing, and using the "arm wrap" to descend quickly down moderate slopes, building upon the concept we reviewed yesterday. We had beautiful weather and accomplished a lot in terms of preparing ourselves for our future foray into the Khumbe Icefall in a few days time! Tomorrow we look forward to more training! Stay tuned....

Earlier: Team ladder practice : April 15, 2009 

Base Camp : I’ll be honest with you, it has been a tough couple of days, me included. The news spread fast as we arrived at base camp. There is a lot of little “sick” bugs floating around. And quite a few of us have been battling with the three demons. They are: The G.I. Demon, The Head Congestion Demon, and The Fever Demon. I will spare you the descriptions of what the Demons provide you with. However, I can say, everyone is taking appropriate action to nurse themselves back to health. And it is slowly working. So don’t worry to much even though a few of us would love our Mom’s chicken noodle soup and popsicles as we get tucked into bed watching cartoons. That ain’t gonna happen! But we do have Vern!

Today, the team worked on a knot tying course. Everyone now knows how to tie their shoelaces as well as a few essential mountaineering knots. Another highlight was we started to work on crossing ladders. Vern set up a course with every imaginable scenario. Some ladders were flat, some were ascending, descending and some were set “kittiwampis” (if you’re wondering what kittiwampis means, it means all crooked and lopsided). Vern even made an ultimate challenge by tying several ladders together and placed it over a moat. Don’t worry, no one fell in except me but Mike Horst had his lifeguard tube and pulled me out.

As you can tell by this dispatch we are all still in great spirits despite not feeling as healthy as we should. We are recovering, eating, drinking and most importantly and Patch Adams would be proud, we are all laughing. And that is the best medicine.

That is all for now, I need to go and wipe down this keyboard with a disinfectant wipe! – Jeffrey James Justman

Earlier: arriving base camp!

Greetings friends and family! Today we arrived in base camp after a 5 hour hike from our lodge in Lobuche to find our tents already set up and food on the table. The hike took us past Kala Pattar where we stopped in the last outpost known as Gorak Shep to have a nice lunch before moving on. We got a great view of the summit of Everest during the last hour of our hike (see photo) so we stopped and took a quick break to eat a bit and snap a few pictures. The summit is the black pyramid in the middle of the photo. A few members of our team remained in the lodge in Lobuche with guide Michael Horst to take one more day of rest before moving up here our to base camp tomorrow at 17,600’ where the air is a little thinner. The rest of us are here and setting up our communication tent, eating a few snacks, and having a few hot drinks as the sun has gone behind a cloud and we are all wearing our down jackets to stay warm. We passed our trekking group upon arriving base camp, they had inspected our camp before heading back down to Gorak Shep where they will spend the night and descend the following day. All is well here and we look forward to taking a rest day tomorrow! Bye for now!

Earlier: April 12, 2009   Lobuche : Hello everyone from the 2009 Alpine Ascents Everest Team. We are in Lobuche, which is our last stop before base camp. As we get higher in altitude, we are paying even more attention to acclimatizing properly. Vern is emphasizing positive pressure breathing, rest stepping, and drinking enough fluids. The team we have is doing really well and they are taking all the tips and techniques to heart.

Tonight here in Lobuche we are having another great dinner and we are surrounded by even more trekkers and climbers as they are either going or coming back from base camp. Everyone is thinking of family, especially this week-end. So we thought we would make a little video greeting from our team. Hopefully, if all goes well, our next communication will be from base camp. And we will save you the joy we will all have in reaching our destination to unload all our gear. We’ll save that for the next Everest Team Dispatch..

P.S. Stephen's segment had technical difficulty. He says hello to family and friends

Earlier: Pheriche : My Friends, family and loved ones,

Brilliant weather woke us early. Phereche is surrounded by towering peaks and these were dreamlike due to last night's fresh snowfall. The team was eager to trek up the hill behind town for acclimatization and photos. We climbed to 4449 meters and were treated delightful views of the mountain hamlet of Dingboche.

Our team is strong and one of the most pleasant I have had the honor to lead. We are adjusting well to an abbreviated trek to base camp. If all's well in the morning we will head up valley to scenic Loboche. Please join us. Namaste, Vern Tejas

Earlier: April 5, 2009 : Phakding : The entire ream flew to Lukla today. The flights in were more than adventurous. We flew between periods of total white out and striking views of the Himalaya. After loads of tea and a brief lunch the long awaited trekking began. Perfect hiking weather was with us all the way to Phakding where we settled for the afternoon and bedded up for the night. Everyone is healthy and in good spirits.

April 1, 2009 : Kathmandu : We are spending our second day as a team here in Kathmandu putting the final preparations together. The team had a great city tour and are now relaxing and taking it easy. Tonight we will visit The Rumdoodle Restaurant and enjoy a final evening before we depart to Lukla tomorrow.

March 29, 2009 : Kathmandu : Lakpa's big day!

Today, reading The Rising Nepal, one of the Nepali newspapers we were reminded of how great last evening was and how important Lakpa Rita’s accomplishments are to the Nepali people. Lakpa became the first Nepali to summit the highest mountains on each continent, the seven summits. During the award ceremony many officials were on hand and spoke of Lakpa’s contributions not only to mountaineering and tourism but to the socio-economic support of Sherpa children. There was an incredible slideshow of Lakpa on all seven summits and the entire crowd on hand congratulated him on his accomplishment. For more on Lakpa Rita Sherpa please visit his guide bio. Jeff Justman

Everest from the South Side in Nepal

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 you’re leaving C4…it’s 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 there’s not much holding the rope and a fall could be serious. Fortunately it’s 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. There’s 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 you’re getting set up for the rappel. Wearing an oxygen mask here can create some footing issues during the rappel, because it’s impossible to see over the mask and down to the feet. For that reason, some people choose to leave Camp 4 without gas, as it’s easier to keep moving down the Spur when it’s 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 aren’t so steep, where fixed ropes through here are solid. At this point, it’s 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.


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