“Sooner or later, it all gets real, Walk on!” -Neil Young
I’m back and I’m safe after nine days up on the mountain. I haven’t had enough time to write anything more than a brief update, but I’m going to include a huge photo dump and some highlights of the trip.
The trip up into the Western Cwm (a Welsh word for valley) means clearing the infamous, chaotic, somewhat senseless trip through the Khumbu Icefall. It’s unlike any climbing I’ve done…the most surreal landscape. For hours, you feel like an ant wandering aimlessly through a maze of giant popcorn. Any movement too rapid out of fear or desperation is quickly reprimanded by a fit of panting. After several hours of effort, you emerge onto a flatter labyrinth of snow marking the gateway to this grandest of valleys—higher than anywhere in North America, but two Grand Canyons below Everest. It’s incomparable in scale. Avalanches thunder off the horseshoe of peaks around the upper reaches of the Khumbu Glacier. The bright snow radiates light from all directions, making the lower reaches of the Cwm boiling hot (upper 80s Farenheit!!) during the middle of a sunny afternoon. When the mountain gods are angry, the wind and cold are of a violent, adversarial nature.
My trip went like this…we spent our first night (and brutally hot day) at camp one, then moved on to advanced base camp (two) the next day. There, at around 21,000 ft, we spent some time doing acclimatization climbs and moving around even on our rest days. Our team made an acclimatization climb and spent one night at camp three. There, at 23,000 ft, we were higher than any peak outside the great ranges of Asia.
I then returned to camp two for a day and headed back up the mountain for another night at camp three, hoping to climb even higher in a summit day simulation of sorts. A few hours below camp three, the jet stream scraped down on Everest and Lhotse and quickly made the decision for me—turn around or get shredded by the high wind. That day, I saw quite clearly how the character of these mountains can change, as the wind and snow battered camp two all night.
The last day, I packed up and RAN down from camp two to base camp in two hours, my crampons making tracks over fresh avalanche debris, my carabiners sliding down safety ropes along bent and broken aluminum ladders. In the week I was gone, the Icefall changed substantially—there may be just a few birds and mosses, but this landscape is alive!
Speaking of plants, I sampled what may be the highest plant ever collected—a moss near camp two. Willie Benegas, an Argentinean guide, had previously collected a similar sample, and I was tasked with gathering another for a scientist partner through Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation. In addition to my plant work, I created an altitudinal transect of snow samples all the way from camp three to base camp to study the thinning Himalayan glaciers. I also recreated some photographs from the 1952 Swiss expedition, documenting the effects of climate change on the Roof of the World. More on all that stuff later.
To wrap up, after running down from camp two, I took a few hours to rest, shower and hang out in base camp with our Sherpas before I rolled about twelve miles down the Khumbu Valley (in just 4.5 hours…great to breathe oxygen again!) to the beautiful village of Pangboche. I’ve been resting and eating a ton of delicious food here the past couple days, and tomorrow I’ll begin trekking back up towards base camp. From the looks of it, the winds will be pretty nasty for the next week or so, so I have plenty of time to hang out and prep for another trip up the mountain.
More coming soon!