Medium start to the day as the move is a tough, but not too long one. However the weather remains tricky - low cloud, snow and wind so we wait a bit to see if the weather improves. A lot of snow has fallen in the past few days and it would be good to let it settle a bit. Some groups have been here for a number of days waiting for an improvement as not only is not pleasant to walk in such conditions (although this can easily be overcome by having the right equipment) there is also an avalanche risk from all the new snow.
A couple of groups have headed off at about 09:30 and our plan (hopefully) is to head off soon and deal with the conditions. There is little point hanging round at this altitude unless we really have to. I take the opportunity to have a quick shave - no reason to let standards drop just because you are on a mountain!
At about 11am we head off - there is still low cloud and snow but the wind has dropped.
First we head up motorcycle hill - so named because it is thought to be very steep and some motorcyclists like to ride up ever steeper hills until they fall off backwards. However, we have reached the top of the slope before I have noticed any real steep section. The top of Motorcycle Hill is 3,600 and there we break through the cloud. Its another hot day and so I am down to my shirt again.
and start to get stunning views and blue skies.
From there we walk across the Polo Field and round Windy Corner (which is surprisingly unwindy and instead we have more blue skies and sun) to our cache site. Quick turn around and a stunning return to camp with much of the low cloud now dissipating as well giving us wonderful views down the glacier.
Camp has grown significantly during the day and there are probably about 10 groups there now. Hopefully we will remain a day or two ahead of them and continue to walk in reasonably deserted slopes.
After supper the clouds clear and we are treated to wonderful views and many people stay up for a bit chatting and looking at the scenery that we can finally see!
Then there is a bit of preparation for the move in the morning. I end up digging the cache hole - 5 feet deep and about the same in circumference. There is quite a bit of group, as well as individual, gear that we will not be using higher up the mountain so we will leave it here and pick it up when we come out.
Up at a leisurely hour (7:30 am) and a leisurely preparation for our move up to Advance Base Camp, finally setting off at about 11:30!
There is fine weather again so our concern is sun burn rather than getting too cold. This is not my strong suit and rather predictably I do burn - will have to wait to see how bad it is.
The walk seems tougher than the move - we are carrying a bit more but not that much more but we seem to go significantly slower. Still this means that there is plenty of time to enjoy the view.
We get into camp at about 17:30 and I need to go for a brisk walk. The pace is just far too slow for me and my body never really gets going. My muscles are full of lactic acid and I walk for about 5 mins to really get the blog flowing to flush my system out - I do get a number of puzzled stares from others in the camp but I feel so much better after. After that, relaxing in the tents and enjoying the views until dinner.
As we get higher up the mountain we are increasingly exposed to the weather (especially the wind) and so the protective snow walls are a key part of the camp. The next few days are acclimatising so should be pretty relaxing. We get our first real taste of the cold when the sun goes behind the mountain and within a matter of minutes the temperature plummets. We huddle in the mess tent for supper before bed.
Given the cold it is vital to keep some key things warm. So each night I pack my sleeping bag with all my electricals and batteries, socks, gloves, water bottles and inner boots. This is much the same as at the pole and it will take a night or two of getting used to again. Also expedition sleeping bags rather than polar bags are more of a mummy shape so there is much less room for all that paraphernalia. Still, no matter how annoying at night, it is nothing to what would happen if any of them happen to be frozen just before an early start - they could potentially mean that you could not set off for the summit!
Today we are going to pick up our cache from Windy Corner that we stored a couple of days ago. Should only be about 20 mins down and 1.5 hours up - we actually descend at a decent pace, it is just the uphill that is so ridiculously slow.
That is all we have to do today so it is going to a pretty relaxed one. We are 'recovering' after the past couple of days and continuing our acclimatisation.
It is freezing first thing but at about 09:20 the sun comes out from behind the mountain and really warms the place up. The frozen condensation on my sleeping bag thaws in less than five minutes; the rest of the tent takes a bit longer to dry out.
Lovely conditions for our cache retrieval - again sun cream and sun hats are the key pieces of equipment.
There is some group training in the afternoon to ensure everyone knows what to do on the fixed ropes and supported areas. Early evening is organising our equipment for our cache tomorrow.
Then a sociable dinner - not as cold as yesterday. Mumple's Tiffin again makes a star appearance on a trip. This time, in amongst all the votes of thanks for her, I at least get a small mention for having carried the treats all this way!
Today is our first proper mountaineering after what has more been trekking in the snow so far. There is a steep climb up the headwall near the camp to the ridge above ABC to cache supplies to pick up when we move to High Camp in preparation for our summit bid.
The slope is pretty steep in some sections and there is a fixed rope towards the top which significantly helps with the ascent. This is both from a technical and physical perspective - from those I have seen on the mountain so far, you would think that getting on for 80% or so would not be able to cope with the slope without it. The rope is anchored (fixed the ground) and you are clipped into it as you walk meaning that if you fall you should not go far. The downside is that really slows progress down as each team of 4 needs to come to a halt each time someone comes to an anchor - but that is almost irrelevant in comparison to the safety aspect.
The ridge itself is petty exposed at times (ie a long drop on one if not both sides) and so we clip the rope we are tied to into carabiners anchored to the mountain when things get really tricky.
There is a bit of wind up here, dropping the temperature significantly, not helped in my case by the fact that given the pace I am standing still for much of the time and therefore I have not managed to build up sufficient body temperature on the climb. The cache is fairly painless, at the base of Washburn's Thumb at 5,120 mtrs. The very slow rate at which we are ascending the mountain means that there is really no issue with altitude. I can't work out if this is sensible or a little bit like cheating - surely it shouldn't be this easy!
On our descent, it appears that our carabiners have all been 'collected' by a Polish team following us. Quite fortunately I am going first at his point and so get to enjoy the opportunity to re-fix parts of our route - jolly exciting with the rather large drops (1,000mtrs +) off to the side of the ridge.
We get back at about 17:30 and the rest of the evening is pretty relaxed - chatting and taking in the marvellous views.
We are not far from the summit how so weather forecasts are increasingly of interest. It seems that tomorrow (rest day) will be good but later on and Monday will be cloudy and snowy with a return to the current clear skies for the middle of the week. Our current plan is to move to High Camp on Monday (which could now become a challenging day) rest at High Camp on Tues and summit on Weds which should be a good day - here's hoping!!
Pretty lazy morning so there is no need to get up early. Even so, everyone waits for the sun to hit camp at about 09:30 to make it significantly warmer for getting out of the tents. We potter down to the mess tent for a long relaxed breakfast.
At about 11:30 we can see some clouds building in the distance so head over to a place called the Edge of the World for stunning views and photos before they arrive.
The afternoon is also a lazy one with people taking refuge in their tents from the hot sun as well as getting organised for heading up to High Camp tomorrow. The forecast still has tomorrow being pretty miserable but hopefully not so bad that we can't move up. The next couple of days should be clear but are now predicted to be cold and windy. That combination can be pretty tricky to deal with!
Our plan now seems to include a rest day on the day after the move - the forecast is better on Weds than Tues so this should work ok. Problems will arise if the summit stays windy as we might have to retreat before having another go later.
Not only will this be difficult for group morale, but this would also put us in a backlog of lots of other groups trying to summit at the same time which will make moving up to High Camp again and the summit day very congested. Anyway let's see how it goes.
Evening is a final chat to cover the plans and preparations for the next few days.
Up early to be ready for the early start up to high camp - there is a bit of wind but nothing that I have not dealt with before. The sky is clear and it will warm up when the sun comes round the mountain. However, I get a bit concerned when there is no movement from the rest of the camp.
Sure enough, it is thought to be too windy and so we are not moving today. As feared, this means yet another boring day in the tents (there are crevasse fields all round us so not really much option for getting a bit of exercise by oneself) and also the concern over congestion higher up as other groups catch up with us. It turns our that there are likely to be about 50 people heading up tomorrow which is going to make it very slow painful progress!
Still this is part of what makes mountain climbing - it is amazing how many stories there are of individuals not summiting through sense of humour failures over such waits.
If anything, the weather gets worse as the day progresses and it gets pretty chilly in the mess tent when we are together as we are not moving around at all. As such people tend to retire to their tents and read / write where it is warmer. Here are some nice pictures to improve this post!
The problems are going to be difficulty sleeping tonight and getting a stiff / sore back and legs from having spent most of yet another day in bed.
We also hear that the Polish team who we were climbing with a few days ago decided rather sensibly to go the extra 200m to the High Camp that day and have now summited in the glorious weather yesterday and are making their way back down now. It really is important to make the most of good weather when you have it in the mountains! The problem is that the US companies take pretty much anyone in their expeditions and so there are people who could not cope with the slightly tougher regime that that would require.
The weather forecast seems to be improving for Weds and Thurs now, so if we can get up to High Camp tomorrow we should have pretty good conditions for summiting.
Again, up at about 7am to get ready for the move and again the call is made to delay - but hopefully today just for a few hours. The conditions are good down here but look a little windy up high. This is getting a little frustrating as I have spent a lot of time in mountains in much worse and windier conditions than this. I just hope that the weather window later in the week isn't a short one which we miss by being so conservative now.
11am - still windy up high so we have been postponed for another day. Down at camp we have clear blue skies and strong sun. Plan for the day (in addition to reading / relaxing etc) is to go for a bit of a walk around the camp (probably about 10 or 20 laps as it is pretty small) and do some glacier camp craft - building snow walls. I am in danger calling on my reserve treat which is watching Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln which I have on my iPad. The windy conditions are apparently here for a bit so I don't want to use this up too early!
Walked and read in the am and organised a snow wall building session in the pm. Completely redid the wall round the sleeping tents as well as the mess tent. It is actually quite tiring work!
The weather forecast has now changed quite a bit with only one non-windy day out of the next five. If we can't get up to High Camp tomorrow and assuming the forecast is correct (which is a big if) the only way to summit would appear to be to go all the way from here on the non-windy day. I can't see the guides being happy with that but if it is that attempt or none at all we are going to have to have a pretty tough discussion. I have made informal arrangements to move onto the next group if this one can't summit so I have a bit of a backup if absolutely necessary - but conditions are so changeable that hopefully none of the above will be required but it is best to have thought about these issues in advance in case things don't improve.
Accounts and photos of completing the Explorers Grand Slam - 2 Poles and 7 Summits. By Sebastian Merriman. Aconcagua, Ama Dablam, Carstenz Pyramid, Denali, McKinley, Elbrus, Everest, Kosciusko, Kilimanjaro, North Pole, Arctic, South Pole, Antarctic, Antarctica, Vinson, vertigo, climbing, mountaineering, skiing to the pole, skiing to the poles, seb2poles7summits, seb27, Seb Merriman, seb2poles, mountains, poles