I feel like an indulgent sloth, having been told today is a rest day as part of our acclimatization. Okay I get that, but no climbing, no serious exertion. No rush to get out of bed in the morning. I only woke once during the night so that tells me how settled and warm I was despite the snow on the ground and the freezer air that descends when the sun moves on. I loaded up the pee bottle in a half asleep stupor and dropped off to sleep straight away. I have no idea how cold it got but my water bottle froze solid and it was inside the tent so I guess it was pretty cool. But the sleeping bag was more than up to it and I felt very warm. A Sherpa started the day for us with hot tea and sugar at 0730. Even as the thermos was emptied into my mug at my tent door the sun broke into the valley and heated up the tent very quickly. It is only a matter of minutes before I am forced out of the sleeping bag and out of the first couple of layers of clothing. The sun suckers me into dropping the tent open but the frigid air forces me to zip it back up a little.
Porridge breakfast followed and then, despite plans to be more indolent, a short stroll to a point 250m above the camp before returning for lunch. The morning is clear and crisp and even though there are others at base camp few have started up this track to the higher camps and the summit. A few tracks in the snow betray a handful of other climbers ahead of us though we can’t see anyone on the peak. Maybe these are the sherpas of other groups going ahead to get the other camps ready.
A breeze snaps up in the early afternoon and that chills us considerably. Cloud muscles in out of the valley below us, slugging its way up the ridges and coiling and swirling on the breeze with a menace that is commensurate with the cold it ushers in. It moves up the valley we have just come down from, wraps around the Ama Dablam peak high above us then, as if it had been surveilling us all the while it was circling us, stamps down and attempts to blot us out. But the cloud is all mixed up with that wind and I is dispersed for the moment and the sun is still is able to get through. My tent is ideally situated to block the breeze but allow me to soak up the sun so I lie in my tent doorway and make the most of it and jot these notes. Soon, despite the breeze my legs are too hot. But I leave them there and make the most of it for when that sun is blocked out there is an instant sensation of cold.
The murmur of the sherpas from their tent remind us how critical their presence is for our success. That and the constant background noise of the yak bells which clonk their melodious presence all around us, tonking away as the yaks graze. I have learned that this afternoon many of the sherpas have pushed up to the Advanced Base Camp and set up our site and some have even gone on to Camp 1 and set up tents. The plan is to spend the next week with a series of ascents and descents between Base Camp, Advanced Base Camp (ABC), Camp 1 and Camp 2 as part of our acclimatization before a final push to the top. I am lying here at 15,300’, ABC is at 17,600, Camp 1 and 18,800 and Camp 2 at 19,000’ and the summit at 23,000. I have a look at the acclimatization plan and then sketch it out. By the time I am done I am impressed, and appalled, at how much climbing is involved. So be it. At least I know. But that little pull from Base Camp to Advanced Base Camp – that is a 5-6 hour round trip!
We discovered today that no lines had been set for the mountain but the season is just under way and we are one of the first groups up here. We are assured ropes will be set in time for our push. However Base Camp is filling up by the moment and there will be plenty of climbers behind us wanting to get onto ropes as soon as possible. Again, I have no point of reference for these aspects of the trip so can only listen to the others discuss the options and likely outcomes and trust Dan’s assurances that everything will be properly in place for us. I’m going to put this notebook down and have a nap in the sun, such as it is. It’s a rest day after all. And sleep at altitude is the best defence against acute mountain sickness. I‘ll keep telling myself that.
17 October 2014
Another day at Base Camp and I can feel the acclimatisation kicking in. We spent the morning practicing using the ascender/jumar and I have appreciated refreshing on the figure 8. The latter is always helpful but this is the first time I have used the ascender and, given I will climb 3000’ with the thing getting some basic drills sorted on it is a good thing. Two of our Sherpas set ropes on a steep section above Base Camp and ran out 60 or 70 metres or so of rope that looped up over some boulders as well. It was a reasonable climb up from the camp and with a bit of luck the work out at the increased elevation will help in the acclimatization process. While we were messing about on the hill with ropes, ascenders and figure 8s the more experienced of the team climbed to Advanced Base Camp, and even pushed on towards Camp 1.
We had just scampered down from off our perch on the hill and were walking back towards our camp when I heard a shout and looked up in time to see someone fall off a large boulder that is used by some for training. It is 5-6metres high and sits out in the base camp basin all by itself, though it does have a collection of soccer ball sized boulders littering the base below where people practice whatever it is that they are practicing. A shout, a fall and a thump and I watched the crowd stand stock still for a moment before there was any movement. I was about to head over then saw Danny running to the site. He has trauma training but I turned to Omer walking behind me. He had missed the fall and I pointed out what had happened and suggested a doctor over there might be a useful thing. If he is alive he was sure to have broken ribs or even back. But even as we watch, Danny has him on his feet and moving towards his tent. We re fortunate to have so many doctors and folk with some trauma training but it is a revelation to discover how many teams have zero medical resources at all. The accident drops a slight pall over the camp. No one can work out what has happened but the most sensible speculation is that the climber got to the top of the boulder and went to set up a rappel through his figure 8 but failed to clip any safety line in, slipped and fell. He is lucky to be alive. He is also luck y that Darren arrived back from his acclimatization trek up to ABC. His Australian years of GP type training means he gives the most pragmatic medical diagnosis and advice. Pneumothorax injury of some sort it would seem.
A chopper has been called but cloud swirls up from the valley and pushes into our protected little basin. If the weather gets any worse he may be stuck here overnight. We wait with some anticipation to see what pans out, all the while thinking to ourselves how important it is to check each step you take, every part of a clip in , clip out process. Check, check and check again. An injury up here is not what you want. The cloud continues to roll in but we hear a chopper beat its way up the valley, and a eventually an AS350 Écureuil slides up to the camp and shunts to a stop in the snow. It pauses only long enough for Darren and others to load him and then it disappears in a storm of beaten up snow and drops away into the valley below, dragging its rotor beat with it. The place is silent again, leaving us to wonder what the long term prognosis for the patient is going to be. Darren seems pretty phlegmatic about it all so we shouldn’t have to worry about the patient. Just check yer routines!
The cloud brings a strange sort of sleet with it. A kind of small pellet of ice that reminds me of super phosphate. It is a toasty 14 degrees in my tent at the moment but the sound of the sleet on the nylon sends a shiver down my spine. Time to put another layer on and to get into the sleeping bag as the temperature plummets. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom should keep me awake for oh, two minutes. I feel a nana nap coming on.
18 October 2014
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