THE EXPEDITION – ALL CHANGE
After a few days acclimatising at Base Camp(BC) at 5200m and following a practice with oxygen tanks, regulator and mask we moved up to Advanced Base Camp(ABC) at 6300m via an overnight stop at intermediate camp.
The route took us along the East Rongbuk Glacier with towering pinnacles and glacial moraine. The trek took 11 hours over the 2 days and was a bit of a struggle. Breathing was hard work and the effort felt like the last mile of a marathon repeating itself. No energy!
ABC itself was ok with my own tent, a mess tent and a toilet tent. Everything you’d need! A thicker sleeping bag was required as temperatures ranged between +7 by day and -20 degrees C at night. Once the sun dipped below the frozen horizon, the mercury plummeted.
After a day’s rest, we tackled the North Col. It’s a 500m wall of ice and snow at the head of the valley with added hazards of looming seracs (overhanging crests of snow) and cavernous cravasses. It’s angled between 40 and 80 degrees. Fortunately, the Chinese Mountain Association rope it up at the beginning of each season so all you need to do is haul yourself up using an ascending device, ice axe and crampons. I struggled at the back of the team but persevered. Whilst everyone else turned around I carried on to 7000m. With no one in sight, I made my solitary retreat back to ABC, returning dead on my feet by 6.30pm. it had been a big day!
We went back to BC the next day, allowing us to rest and recover before returning to higher altitude. Food was plentiful but not often popular. Breakfast would consist of porridge or rice pudding followed by egg and toast (without butter). Typically lunch would include chunky garlic soup and a rice dish. Dinner was similar; soup followed by Dahl Bhat (rice, vegetable curry and lentils). Oh, and hot canned fruit salad! It would vary but not much. Our Nepalese cook tried his best.
Saturday 25th April started like any other day. BC is a square mile of flat stony ground in the middle of a steep sided valley of loose rocks. Just after lunch the ground started moving from side to side. We all ran out of our mess tent and stood and stared. It felt like a fairground ride. There was no noise but the ground under our feet was shifting side to side by a couple of feet while the hillsides appeared still. Some people were sitting on the ground. Such was the force of the earthquake, you would have fallen over if you were still walking. After 30 seconds it was over, except from the rock fall on one of the sides of the valley. Boulders the size of cars were crashing down the slope, gradually smashing themselves up as they fell over 1000m towards the valley floor, half a mile away from our tents. Nobody was hurt. At first it seemed it all seemed a bizarre curiosity. Gradually we started to receive messages letting us know what had happened on the south side of the mountain and across Nepal. Our mood turned sombre. We all let our loved ones at home know that we were safe.
Everything had been normal, now it wasn’t. As the impact of the earthquake grew, rumours spread that the Chinese government were going to close the mountain. We were devastated, but at the same time understood that this was the only decision to be reached.
Our focus over the last 12 month or more had all been about reaching the summit of Everest. Suddenly, it was now all about getting home safely and quickly. Firstly, we had to revisit ABC to pack up out kit left up there. Next, the yaks had to be called in to collect our bags, tents and other equipment from ABC and return them to BC. Then, arrange our transport away from the mountain before arrange transport for the sherpas back to their families in Nepal, along with tons of equipment and supplies. Returning to Kathmandu by road was out of the question and landslips had destroyed many miles of the route back to the city. Our only way out was further into Chinese Tibet, to Lhasa.
Ten days after the earthquake we were finally on flights home via Lhasa and Cheng Du.
It had all been quite an experience. Now, the big question is will I return some day to try again? ……..Maybe