The Grandest Valley

Climbers descend from Everest’s camp 1. Over the glacier’s horizon drops the two thousand foot waterfall of ice marking the gateway to the Western Cwm…the Khumbu Icefall.

Climbers descend from Everest’s camp 1. Over the glacier’s horizon drops the two thousand foot waterfall of ice marking the gateway to the Western Cwm…the Khumbu Icefall.

“Sooner or later, it all gets real, Walk on!” -Neil Young

The Grandest Valley. Everest is tall enough to reach the sun. The hill on the right is the world’s fourth highest mountain, Lhotse. This valley is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and its floor is higher than anywhere in North America. It makes me feel small…just the way I like it.

The Grandest Valley. Everest is tall enough to reach the sun. The hill on the right is the world’s fourth highest mountain, Lhotse. This valley is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and its floor is higher than anywhere in North America. It makes me feel small…just the way I like it.

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.

Furtemba is THE man. Strong, and I mean STRONG. Nimble in the mountains like I’ve never seen. He’s an IFMGA aspirant guide, the highly touted equivalent of a 4-year college degree, yet much harder to obtain, I’d argue. Most importantly, like all of our guides from Nepal’s Rolwaling valley, he is kind, generous and happy. These are the real men here.

Furtemba is THE man. Strong, and I mean STRONG. Nimble in the mountains like I’ve never seen. He’s an IFMGA aspirant guide, the highly touted equivalent of a 4-year college degree, yet much harder to obtain, I’d argue. Most importantly, like all of our guides from Nepal’s Rolwaling valley, he is kind, generous and happy. These are the real men here.

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.

The gateway to the Western Cwm. I make another ladder crossing into this surreal valley of giants.

The gateway to the Western Cwm. I make another ladder crossing into this surreal valley of giants.

Mount Everest…Camp 1. We’re here. No lens can capture the scale of things.

Mount Everest…Camp 1. We’re here. No lens can capture the scale of things.

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.

Apologies for the diva glacier glasses (and smirk)…it was bright and hot enough to need them in the tent. Norah Jones, Jeff Tweedy and Neil Young pass the time in the verified 86° heat.

Apologies for the diva glacier glasses (and smirk)…it was bright and hot enough to need them in the tent. Norah Jones, Jeff Tweedy and Neil Young pass the time in the verified 86° heat.

Climbers weave their way through crevasses towards Camp 2. Nuptse towers above.

Climbers weave their way through crevasses towards Camp 2. Nuptse towers above.

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.

Walking through this relatively simple terrain still leaves one breathless. Often, when approaching a rest break, I’ll forget to breathe leaving me in an anaerobic hell…gasping that can last minutes. For those of you runners, you can accidentally run a 60-second quarter just zipping up your sleeping bag.

Walking through this relatively simple terrain still leaves one breathless. Often, when approaching a rest break, I’ll forget to breathe leaving me in an anaerobic hell…gasping that can last minutes. For those of you runners, you can accidentally run a 60-second quarter just zipping up your sleeping bag.

Furtemba holds the lines for me as I make another crossing. I’d been tasked with carrying 12 rolls of ever-precious toilet paper.

Furtemba holds the lines for me as I make another crossing. I’d been tasked with carrying 12 rolls of ever-precious toilet paper.

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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!

Lhotse. I have to go pretty much straight up seven thousand feet from here. The tiny sliver of snow leading down and left below the summit is the route.

Lhotse. I have to go pretty much straight up seven thousand feet from here. The tiny sliver of snow leading down and left below the summit is the route.

I collected some of the highest plants ever recorded for a partner through Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation.

I collected some of the highest plants ever recorded for a partner through Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation.

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.

Nuptse

Nuptse

Approaching the Lhotse Face on an acclimatization climb

Approaching the Lhotse Face on an acclimatization climb

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.

OK, no tripod or fancy camera, but my attempt at a night shot, Camp 2. Everest towers out of view, Lhotse is right of center.

OK, no tripod or fancy camera, but my attempt at a night shot, Camp 2. Everest towers out of view, Lhotse is right of center.

More coming soon!
Hari

Ama Dablam on my 12-mile hike/run down the valley from Base Camp. I’m now relaxing in the oxygen-rich 13,000ft air at Pangboche.

Ama Dablam on my 12-mile hike/run down the valley from Base Camp. I’m now relaxing in the oxygen-rich 13,000ft air at Pangboche.

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