Everest: Day 19
We are about to start our first rotation – an arduous climb through the Khumbu Ice Fall, up to the Lhotse Face and into Camp 3. All this so we can turn back and head all the way back down to base camp. It’s all highly frustrating to get up so high and then to turn round, but we need to do this to acclimatise ourselves as best we can for the summit push. It’ll take five to six days.
We start with a medical brief. I sit cross-legged amongst an assortment of special forces soldiers, explorers and hardened sherpas. I listen intently about what to do if my head explodes or if my lungs decide to turn into a public swimming pool. The advice seems to be somewhat paradoxical - I’m encouraged to tell someone if I don’t feel right, but at the same time it's essential that 'I’m not a pussy'. We are all invited to have our say. My suggestion that 'Laughter is the best medicine' is met with a reception frostier than the ground we are sitting on. In truth, its time to be serious. We are starting to venture into the altitudes where the human body is not meant to be. Parts of our bodies will start shutting down. For my sake, I can only hope it's my mouth.
We pack our gear. Again, it's a balance. We need to be warm and have the right equipment, but we can only carry so much. We will go through periods - bizarrely - of intense heat and periods of extreme cold. Layers are key, but it's extremely easy to get flustered, rummaging through your bag looking for a second pair of gloves. Stress is not our friend up here.
Our first hurdle is the infamous Khumbu Icefall. A maze of seracs and crevasses constantly creaking, groaning and moving. We’ve already been delayed a day by this collapsing.
“It’ll be cold in there," says Jay. Now, I’m aware I won't be competing for sunbeds with German tourists in there, but Jay’s understatements are ominous. We will be doing it in the dark when it's coldest. This is the safest time – less chance of avalanches and protection from falling melting ice. Climbing in the dark is a strange experience. It’s lonely and depressing. Your world becomes the pinhole of your head torch, and you feel claustrophobic and vulnerable. (I won't say this to my climbing mates of course).
At the top of this, we will get to Camp 1. We will spend two nights here. My reluctant flatmate is Pete. This is what will happen – He will whistle, eat and go to sleep. I will talk at his sleeping carcase, and have multiple pisses into my bottle (and not sleep). In the morning, we will both be in a small quarter of our tiny two-man tent. I will be warm. Pete will be angry, and partially underneath me. I will complain about the cold and Pete will tell me it's 'balmy'. We will then have a brew and heat up a rat pack. The rat pack will be called 'Flambéd beef steak with Sautéed Potatoes and fresh garden Vegetables.' What it should be called is 'A small bag of brown'.
We will head to Camp 2 which will be similar, and then try and get as high as we can. We will touch Camp 3 if we can and spend some time up there being miserable and silent.
Then we will come back to Base Camp so I can piss everyone off again until we have a crack at the summit.
I'll be in touch in 7 days or so – if I haven’t had an ice axe put through the back of my head.