When I talked to friends about my desire to ski Lhotse in the spring season, most of them made some comment about how the west face of Lhotse would be icy, not just icy but old and cold blue glacial ice. I had talked with Jamie about his prior trip to try and ski Lhotse in 2007 and he confirmed what I wanted to believe. During the spring season in the Himalaya, at some point the monsoonal storms would bring precipitation and eventually the face would loose its icy appearance revealing one of the most classic of all ski mountaineering objectives. While the Lhotse face has been skied, the summit of Lhotse remains as one of the four 8000m peaks still waiting for tracks down it’s throaty little couloir. That 500m couloir off the summit is going to be the crux of skiing this notable objective.

The slow walk into base camp left me itching for a real view of how the Lhotse face would look this season. Two days after arriving to base camp Jamie and I had our bags packed and we’re pushing up the mountain towards Camp 1. Our goals we’re simple, reach camp 1 at 6000m and spend the night. We wanted to make a carry of various equipment items that needed to be brought up the mountain and typical for us our packs grew in size to be more than we had hoped. With hundreds of climbers and Sherpa’s using the same route to Camp 1 the process of moving through the series of fixed ropes in the icefall below camp 1 made for easy travel aside form the altitude. We felt strong until 5700m and then as Jamie said, “It felt like someone had thrown the parking brake,” and we started to drag a little. It took four hours but I had my first views of the hard, old glacial ice that makes up the Lhotse face. It was a bit discouraging to see how icy the face looked and I would be lying to say I wasn’t a little worried by its appearance.


Jamie fired the reactor stove to start making water and I began setting up our VE25 tent. We both felt good but a little tired on the climb up to Camp 1 despite the 6000m in elevation we had reached. Within 30 min of arriving it had begun to snow and we couldn’t see any of the mountains that rose above in every direction, in some ways it was reassuring given how icy the Lhotse face looked. I didn’t want a reminder of how out-of-condition the objective looked to be.  The snow continued to fall throughout the afternoon and into the night but by morning the clouds had begun to part and we received a refreshing view of our looming objective. Nearly 5 inches of snow had fallen and the Lhotse face had taken on an entirely new appearance over the course of one storm. Our spirits were beginning to lift.

With plenty of food and fuel for another night we decided to push a little higher and see just how fit we felt. We packed camp and started up the highway towards Camp 2 at 6400m. Despite being only 400 meters higher and on mostly flat terrain, we we’re forced to cross the occasional classic Khumbu ladders which always add a particularly spicy objective hazard to an otherwise mundane walk between the two camps. None-the-less within a few hours we had pounded our way to Camp 2 and we’re settling into the scene that exists at this camp. Camp 2 is sometimes referred to as an Advanced Base Camp and climbers are known to spend great amounts of time at this camp acclimatizing and waiting for the weather to provide a summit opportunity. Since this was our first visit to 6400m, the opportunity to spend a night here was a sure way to gage how well the trek in had been in helping us to acclimate to our new heights. Again in the afternoon the snow began to fall and views of the massive peaks surrounding the upper Khumbu glacier were obscured. Both Jamie and I knew we had made a quick push to reach Camp 2, feeling good we took the process once step at a time. Hydrate, rest, hydrate and more rest. Despite not sleeping well at Camp 2 we had delivered our first load of gear and spent two nights above 6000m, we were off to a great start for the trip. There was plenty of sunshine and the views of the Lhotse face looked even more promising with two afternoons of fresh snow covering all of the ice that had glistened two mornings before. We choked down a few pancakes and 3 hours later we’re back in base camp. I was tired but happy to have made our first steps towards skiing Lhotse.

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

It all begins…

Posted: April 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

Kathmandu is a city of intense energy, Shakti as the Nepali call it.  Millions of people bustle about, trying to carve out their niche and ensure their existence in what for many is the land of milk and honey.  Every year tens of thousands of Nepali’s flee their subsistence-based existences for the capitol city in search of better lives.  Their fervor permeates the air.  It is impossible not to get caught up in it.   Time in Kathmandu is always a blur of obligatory meetings with good friends and government officials, finalizing the logistics and equipment needs, and capturing the vibrant history and culture.

 © Kristoffer Erickson

This trip has been no exception.  Ever since arriving in Kathmandu Kris Erickson, Hennie van Jaarsveld and I have been burning the candles at both ends.  No matter how much you prepare for a trip there are always last minute chores.  Documents need to be obtained.  Supplies need to be bought.  Photos and video need to be taken.  The night of the 11th, our last night in the city, our hotel room looked like a pack of monkeys was cut loose in a gear shop.  Nine bags worth of expedition equipment and camera gear lay strewn about.  Kris and I packed, unpacked and repacked trying to create somewhat of a coherent system.  Meanwhile Hennie sat transfixed at his computer trying to make sense of the hours of video shot over the previous few days.  His attention only strayed from the glow of the screen to answer the occasional question, “No, I’ll be good.  You can pack that away.”

 

© Kristoffer Erickson

At 2:00 am we gave up and shoved the remaining gear into whatever bag it would fit.  Our alarm was set for 4:30 to catch the first flight to Lhukla, the gateway to the Khumbu Region. 

Lhukla was a breath of fresh air, literally.  For the first time since leaving our homes clean mountain air filled our lungs.  We wearily packed our mountain of equipment to a nearby lodge and repacked our bags one last time.  Two bags containing camera equipment and what personal items we would need for the nine-day trek to Base Camp would stay with us for the journey in.  The remaining bags were packed and sent strait ahead to Base Camp at approximately 17,500’.  What takes us nine days in order to properly acclimatize takes our porters three or four.  Some of the porters carry double loads of up to 60 or 70 kg in order to sweeten their payday.    

It’s always a relief to hit the trail.  All of the preparation for the trip is over and you are finally under way.  The pace slows down; after all you can only walk so fast.  You are able to take in the sights, sounds and smells as you make your way down the trail.  You especially take in the smells because you know the environment you will be spending the next six weeks in is sterile, nearly void of living organisms and thus scent.  That is except for your own stench and the pungent aroma of your teammates.

                   © Jamie Laidlaw

The destination of our first day was Phakding, a small village situated on the glacial blue waters of the Dudh Koshi River three and a half hours up the trail.  We stretched and exercised our legs for what felt like the first time in an eternity.  Stone walls lined our path while fields were filled with wheat, cabbage, and onions.  Blossoming rhododendron and apple trees competed with pinks and whites.  Our first day was a collage of color and Buddhist culture.

After a much-needed lunch of the local staple dhal bhat (lentils and rice) and a beer we decided to retire for an afternoon nap.  We woke the next morning, nearly 16 hours later, feeling fully rested for the first time in weeks stoked for the adventure to come.  

Jamie Laidlaw

Welcome to our blog!

Posted: March 31, 2011 in Uncategorized

This is the unofficial blog of The North Face 2011 Lhotse Ski Expedition. Stay turned for lots of exciting photo and video posts as we embark and the journey of a lifetime through the ancient city of Kathmandu and into some of the largest mountains on earth. We hope to make the first tracks off the summit of the 4th highest peak Lhotse at 8516m or 28,102ft.