This rotation was supposed to happen significantly earlier, but weather issues kept us grounded at Everest Base Camp (EBC). We had blue skies every day, and it felt warm and even comfortable at EBC. Yet, we could see that at higher altitudes, high winds were making any ascent completely impossible. This is one of the disadvantages of climbing Earth’s highest mountain, which reaches well into the jet stream.
On May 2, we finally received a favorable weather forecast and decided to go for our rotation that was scheduled to get us to camp 3, past camps 1 and 2, via the Khumbu ice fall.
This is a rotation where altitudes up to 24,000ft/7,300m are reached. It can really be considered a test of how well the body is going to handle even higher altitudes (e.g., on summit day). It’s also the last rotation that doesn’t involve the use of supplementary oxygen.
But, nothing’s ever easy, and we already encountered our first major obstacle while climbing through the ice fall. Overnight, a huge serac had fallen on the only established route through the ice fall. On our way up, we kept running into climbers and sherpas that had turned around.
Having already lost so many days due to high winds, we were not willing to give up, and fortunately our brilliant sherpas managed to build a temporary bypass around the destroyed section. However, the bypass required us to actually climb a vertical ice section, which caused a major backup. Yet it got us up there under circumstances that would normally have required us to abandon the rotation.
The rest of the day was straightforward, and we reached camp 2 where we got to rest for a day.
On May 4, we went up to camp 3. The climb involved following the Western Cwm to where it terminates at the Lhotse Face of Mount Everest. One of the unusual characteristics of the Western Cwm is that during the day, and despite the glacial environment, it can get extremely hot. Temperatures of up to 95°F/35°C have been measured. To avoid this heat, we left in the middle of the night, when temperatures are lower, requiring some of the warmest clothing, typically full down suits.
A transition from the almost flat Western Cwm to the steep-ice Lhotse Face is formed by a massive bergschrund.
The Lhotse Face is essentially a wall of blue ice. It rises at a 40-50 degree pitch with occasionally much steeper sections. It’s typically climbed using fixed lines placed by sherpas.
Video: Climbing the Lhotse Face: blue ice and windy conditions. [Video credit: Jim Davidson, author of “The Ledge.”]
At this altitude, the climb takes serious effort, and at times I did no more than 10 steps per minute. Unfortunately, the climb of Lhotse Face, all the way to camp 3, was so exhausting that I didn’t get a chance to take a single picture. I hope I can provide pictures after climbing it again when heading for the summit.
Upon arriving at camp 3, everybody immediately disappeared to their tents to rest. These tents were built into the steep slope of Lhotse Face, meaning that one could not safely leave a tent without being connected to a rope for protection. We spent a mostly sleepless night at the 24,000ft/7,300m of camp 3. We were all glad to return to the more reasonable altitude of camp 2 the next morning (May 5).
The return to EBC on May 6 was uneventful, and we’re now resting for a few days before the summit bid. As soon as we feel recovered and there’s a window of stable weather, we’ll give it a shot…