Now that I have climbed up to Camp 2, where I could see Camp 3 on the Lhotse wall, Camp 4 on the South Col and the Everest summit right in front of my eyes, I realize what kind of a challenge I will be up against.
Climbing Khumbu Icefall to Camp 1 was less intimidating but harder than I had expected. We started the ascent early in the morning before sunrise. Climbers’ head lamps and the stars were lighting our way. Right after the sunrise the heat started draining us and after a while, even a lightweight sports shirt wasn’t cool enough. The sun burns with such intensity on the glacier that skin needs to be covered from head to toe. We crossed larger crevasses on ladder and jumped across the smaller ones. We climbed up and down in the middle of huge blocks of ice using jumar (ascender), fixed ropes and rappelling gear. It was great to ascend and descend in the middle of the perpetual ice, which is nearly one kilometre in length. It was hard to think about the hidden dangers. All I could think about were the beautiful surroundings and how much I enjoyed climbing. We also passed the point where a few days ago a large block of ice had collapsed in front of a group of climbers. The group had decided to call it quits and head home.
By the time we got to the point where the Icefall seems to be getting flatter, the sun was really starting to beat down on us. I have to keep my face covered with a buff because my lips and nose are sunburnt and because I still suffer from cough and sore throat. With the buff on my face the heat felt suffocating. My Sherpa was gasping for air as well and the last two hours of the seven hour climb were torture. After getting to Camp 1, I kicked off the boots, which are made for -40°C, I changed my wet clothes to dry ones and started melting snow to rehydrate my dehydrated body. A guide and three other members of our group had got to the camp just before us. The last ones reached the camp three hours later, when it had already begun to snow. For the last ones, it was a ten hour climb. I was completely exhausted, my head was pounding due to new altitude (6100m) and the rest of the evening I spent rehydrating, trying to eat something and resting. I was glad that despite the problems with my respiratory system I had done quite well and the altitude wasn’t affecting me too much either.
In the morning at 6 a.m. we were ready to start the climb up to Camp 2. Though tired from yesterday, soon we were once again crossing crevasses and climbing on ladders. First I proceeded very slowly: I could feel each step burning my lungs and it felt unbearable to go further. I had to push myself. I needed to focus on crossing the crevasses and I kept going as if I was in trance. It took three hours for me, one guide and three others to get to Camp 2. The rest of the group didn’t come this far. I was lying under the sun watching the incredible view: there it was right in front of my eyes, the route to the Everest summit. The top of Everest seemed to be closer than it really was and it was time for a reality check: the last days had been rough and reaching the top would be the hardest and the most challenging thing I’ve ever done.
I was the last to leave back to Camp 1, and suddenly I realized that I was all alone in the middle of the glacial valley of Western Cwn. There was nobody in sight, and the only sound I could hear while descending in the calm and sunny weather was the tinkling of my gear. I jumped across blue crevasses, watched the rocks come down the snowy mountains and I thought that this solitude was mountaineering at its best. This was before I got to the first crevasse that needed to be crossed on ladder. The sun had nearly melted the anchor that was supposed to secure the ladder. I decided to wait for some company and it didn’t take long before Sherpa Mingmar got there. Climbing in the sunshine with some company fools you into thinking that you are safer than you really are.
After another night at Camp 2 it was time to get back to Base Camp to get some rest. I “ran” down the Icefall rappelling on fixed ropes as fast as I could. I couldn’t wait to get to my tent, to take a shower and to get some much needed rest. Luckily, once again the weather was on our side and we got down safely. The people who had stayed at the Base Camp told us that in the morning a massive avalanche, which had almost reached the Base Camp tents, had come down Nuptse mountain. Reality struck again. And right after we had heard about the avalanche, a helicopter came to rescue someone who had fallen sick.
The oxygen level even at the Base Camp is only about half of what it is at sea level, but compared to the upper camps, I feel great. The weather changes from sunny to hailing just as fast as at higher altitudes but the conditions compared to upper camps are substantially more decent. During the following days I will concentrate on recovering and getting ready to climb the same route even higher. Although I am one step closer to my dream, I keep thinking about everything that could happen and how hard I must work in order to actually make the dream come true. Right now I am hoping that the persistently sore throat or the so-called Khumbu cough would ease up. If it doesn’t, I can only hope that it won’t make this challenge all the harder.
After getting back to Base Camp, I was told that a few people had been looking for me. A group of Finnish trekkers had been at the Base Camp when I was still on my way there. Too bad they had already turned back down. Thanks to Heikki Reponen for delivering my letters to Finland! An American filmmaker had also been looking for me. He is working on a documentary of Apa Sherpa, who holds the record for reaching the summit of Mount Everest more times than any other person. Tomorrow I get to appear on a video for Climate for Life campaign together with Apa. We will be discussing the climate change on the Himalayas both from a local’s and a Westerner’s point of view. Supposedly, it will be possible to watch the video online on WWF’s and international news agencies’ websites and on YouTube.
Now it’s time to rest. I will get back to you before we head for new heights.
Best regards to all,