Bittersweet

Posted: April 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

The first foray onto the mountain is always bitter sweet.  You are excited for the project to get underway and to begin making progress towards the goal for which months of thought and planning have gone into.  Anticipation is high for the adventure to come.  In the back of your mind, however, you know the many hardships of the trip are just about to begin.  The days of wandering, taking in the sights and smells and immersing yourself in the local culture during the trek to Base Camp are over.  You are now faced with the pain and suffering that you have pushed out of your thoughts during the long, pleasant journey in.

There is nothing glamorous about the process of acclimatizing.  You try to accustom your body to something it dislikes by incrementally subjecting it to what it rejects.  It’s the same process as receiving an immunization but rather than receiving a quick and painless injection acclimatization is achieved one step at a time.  Your body and head hurt, you often feel nauseous, you can’t eat and you can’t sleep.  Unfortunately when it comes to climbing the worlds highest peaks there really is only one way to skin a cat.

It is unthinkable to enter the Ice Fall until you have had a Puja, a Buddhist ceremony in which you ask for the blessing of the Gods.  The morning after we arrived to Base Camp the wind was calm, the sky was crystal clear, and temperature was balmy.  Kris, Hennie and I sat cross-legged behind one of our High Altitude Sherpa, Lama DJ, as he recited prayers from Buddhist Texts neatly situated in front of him.  Periodically we would sip from our Sherpa tea consisting of butter and salt.  A rock structure containing an alter called a Chorten was constructed in the center of our camp with prayer flags radiating out in all directions.  Offerings of food and drink adorned the Chorten. After three hours we celebrated the conclusion of our Puja with a couple of beers with friends and our camp staff.  At over 5,300 m even a small amount of alcohol is quick to grab control of the senses.  High with anticipation and a bit of intoxication we stared into the broken mass of ice looming above us wondering what the following day would bring.

After only a couple of nights in Base Camp, at 7:00 am on the 23rd, Kris and I started into the Ice Fall.  The goal was to spend two nights in Camp I, hopefully touch Camp II, and during the process shuttle a load of equipment onto the mountain.  For some reason I don’t think I have ever packed a bag and thought, “Wow, this is lighter than I expected.”  Our loads ballooned beyond their intended size but remained manageable: barely manageable.

We started through the undulating terrain leading to the Ice Fall.  Soon fixed lines indicated the route and we started to gain elevation.  The occasional ladder provided safe passage across crevasses.  The route maintained it’s upward trajectory through a particularly broken section known as the “Popcorn.”  After an hour and a half of climbing we reached the “Soccer Field,” a flat section in the Ice Fall fractured with deep, blue cracks.  We were a little over half way and feeling strong.

We continued our path upward.  The route through the Ice Fall this season appeared to be surprisingly direct.  Near the top, a serac on the West Shoulder of Everest loomed menacingly over us.  Coincidentally, the altitude began to kick in, our pace slowed, and we were faced with the largest crevasses on the route.

Kris and I watched nervously as a Sherpa stood wobbling back and forth on four ladders lashed together with rope spanning a chasm of rich blue.  The crossing required our full attention but went by with no consequence.  Glad to have the largest of the crevasse crossings behinds us we continued on, our movements becoming ever slightly more lethargic with each step.  “I feel like someone threw on the parking brake.” I told Kris with a smile.

Four hours after leaving Base Camp we reached Camp I.  We quickly ditched our loads, set up a tent, and began brewing up.  Our legs were tired and a dull pressure radiated in our heads.  We couldn’t be happier, though.  All things considered, we felt strong and our slow, time taking ascent of the mountain had begun.

Kris and I sipped our hot liquids and took in our first view of the Lhotse Face.  We shielded our eyes from glare of the ice.  “Well, I sure hope we get some snow, because that doesn’t look too inviting.  It’s a good thing we gave ourselves some time on this project.”

words and photos: Jamie Laidlaw

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Comments
  1. Chris Rubens says:

    Hey guys,

    Following keenly, best of luck, hope it snow for you!

  2. D Watson says:

    Best of luck fellas! Send!

  3. Ryan says:

    Good luck guys!

  4. Emma says:

    Hoping for another update and pictures soon. Enjoying hearing about your amazing adventure.

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