Today we are heading up one of the nearby slopes to get to about 6,000m as our final preparation before starting our rotations up the mountain.
I feel pretty poor in the morning and have very little energy - this really doesn't bode well. We have done virtually nothing for about a week now and so my appetite and metabolism seem to have greatly reduced. This is something I have been monitoring as I am concerned as to how I will fare on the long rests between our rotations up the mountain. A couple of days will be great for recovery but then I need to start exercising lightly to avoid this lapse into a state of inactivity. Although I think that I am a bit ill which is obviously going to exacerbate matters.
We head up a fairly steep scree slope that turns into a boulder field which is tough going. The few people that we meet have turned round at 5,700 and are surprised that we are heading higher up. We carry on plodding on and then come across a body - a middle aged Chinese lady who is wholly inappropriately dressed for the conditions and seems to have curled up with a blanket and then frozen to death on the mountain side. We build a small cairn for her and take a GPS reading so that we can alert the authorities when we get down. This creates a rather sombre mood and reinforces the point that our expedition is now getting serious and that mistakes up here can have fatal consequences.
We stay at 6,000m for about half an hour and then head down as some pretty nasty looking weather is coming down the valley. I am now feeling very drained and quite unwell and my ankle starts to react to the poor terrain so descend very slowly indeed - it really isn't very enjoyable.
We have a quick hot drink when we get back and then I head to bed for a couple of hours before supper to try and recover a bit. Supper is pretty good - roast chicken - but I then head back to bed soon after.
I have got a bit of a fever and feel very shivery and just plain exhausted. My stats (oxygen saturation and heart beats per minute) are quite a lot off from the norm so some rest should do me good - tomorrow is a rest day which should really help as you really don't want to head up the mountain in such a state.
We have been having ongoing problems with the mess tent heaters which means that we are all cold every evening and end up donning our down gear. This is pretty disappointing for what is meant to be a well provisioned camp and adds to the general frustration - there is a decent solar panel which provides a direct current and so needs to run through a battery to be converted into an alternating current - this battery however is faulty and so there is very little power that comes through it. There is also not much fuel for the generator so we can only have it running for short periods each day. This is really quite a contrast to the well lit, heated and powered camps all round us!
I feel a lot better this morning and my stats are much improved. The big task for the day is organising the mountain food - ie freeze dried meals, snacks and drinks.
Then after lunch it is radios and the Ganmov bag (this is a very large, tough bag which you can put a person in and pump up to create an effective 2,000m drop in altitude which is vital when for some reason that person isn't able to get to a lower altitude). Keeping in tradition with the rest of the trip we have a serious problem today - one of the base station sets turns out to be an FM one rather than the VHF system that the individual radios run on. Luckily there is another group coming out here next week to do the lower part of Everest and their list of spares and replacements to bring out for us is getting really rather long (solar panel, toilet tent, high altitude medicine, heaters) I am not sure what would have happened if they were not coming out!
The afternoon is final packing for the mountain.
We are up and ready to leave in good time but as previously feared there are problems with the yaks in that we need far more than have been booked. This is all being organised by the local team although I imagine that there is quite a culture clash with the Chinese run CTMA that run this side of the mountain. A couple of other groups are moving up the mountain today so the scene is fairly chaotic with all sorts of people and yaks wandering about.
After a bit, we are told that everything has been sorted out - on further pressing this means that we will use the available yaks today and other ones later. The big discussion then is what is going to be left behind - some emergency medical oxygen is high on our list of priorities as we will be hitting 7,000m in the next few days! Anyway, after impressing a few key items we head off hoping that nothing too significant will get left behind.
Apparently the hike to intermediate camp should take about 6 hours and the yaks will do it in 4 hours. We need to be there by about 5 as the sun goes behind the nearby mountains shortly after that and the temperature plummets then. I have packed a pretty heavy rucksack as I am still using these days as training and to help force my acclimatisation.
We walk as a group for the first hour along the flat glacial valley but then we turn left up a side valley which is much steeper and trickier terrain and so end up spread out as we wind our way up the valley. There is a well established path but it becomes really very steep in a number of places which are very tough as our bodies struggle for the oxygen required for this degree of exertion at such an altitude. In fact the walk takes us a bit over 3 hrs to 4.5hrs and we have been overtaking yak trains all morning.
Interim Camp is very windy and I try to take some shelter in one of the yak / tent placements whilst waiting for the others to arrive. These are small flat platforms made on the hillside that will accommodate either a yak or a tent - whilst they do provide a bit of protection from the harsh wind, they are rather pungent!
Over the rest of the afternoon various groups of people and yaks turn up, have a congratulatory chat with each other and then get in their tents out of the wind. There must have been a lot of further discussion over the yaks before they were able to set off as we only just get our tents up by the effective sunset at about 17:45 - over 5 hours after I arrived at camp. I get the feeling that our fun and games with this move are not yet over.
Whilst we are getting some nice panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, we are mainly walking in and amongst moraine. We will gain altitude pretty rapidly from now and that should start to provide much more beautiful sights and photos.
Over breakfast we are shouted at by the yak men to 'let's go!' At least an hour prior to the time we agreed we would be setting off. Not very polite, but no real issue as we have all been up for some time so we start packing up. Unfortunately one of them spies a half empty kit bag, grabs it, puts it on his yak and promptly sets off. This kit bag was mine and should be carrying my overnight camping gear. Every other bag apart from the sharps bag is full and despite helpful suggestions from others, I am not keen on risking damage to my down jacket, sleeping bag etc by having them in the same bag as our ice axes, crampons etc. This means that I am carrying over 25kg on our first trek up to 6,400m which isn’t ideal. However we have a rest day tomorrow so it will probably do me some good - the day turns into a long, slow painful one for me as what should have been a 3 hour jaunt up the valley turns into a 5 hour schlep!
Like the end of yesterday, we continue up a steep rise until we get to the corner at about 6,000m and then it is a long, long walk on a gentle gradient until we have passed Changtse and turn right into the valley just beneath the North Col. The glacier up the main valley is covered with moraine in the middle and there are penitentes on the sides of the glacier with the startings of a river flowing down - this will no doubt get significantly bigger as the snow and ice melt over the next month or so. The glacier undulates significantly - especially in the first half and it is pretty tiring to always be steeply ascending or sharply descending. The second half is generally much flatter until we turn the final right hand bend into the valley leading steeply up to base camp.
The rest of the day is relaxing as people are pretty fatigued and this is followed by a few surprises as we start to discover some of the equipment that has not made it up. Key on the list seems to be the fuel for the generator - having no light after about 6pm combined with little heat makes camp a pretty depressing place to be so we all head to bed early
As we get used to living and breathing at 6,500 after coming up the mountain pretty quickly we have another rest day to recover before heading on up to the North Col at 7,000m. It is also fairly standard to sleep poorly on the first night at a new altitude so this also gives us a chance to catch up on lost sleep over the past couple of nights.
Over the course of the day it becomes clear that we aren't going to be moving on as quickly as we hoped as other equipment remains in the next yak train to come up. We also need to do the Purja (prayer ceremony for safety on the mountain) before we can head up from ABC and the Purja paraphernalia is with the yaks which won't arrive until tomorrow afternoon at the earliest. We plan to go for a bit of trek up the valley tomorrow morning to help acclimatisation and help reduce itchy feet!
We go for a trek up to Crampon Corner (about 150 vertical metres above us) which is where the moraine ends and you start walking along the glacier to the end of the valley at the steep headwall onto the North Col which is where we join the North Ridge that leads to the summit. It feels so much better to be walking without the 25kgs on my back and now being acclimatised to the altitude. The headwall looks very doable and I am raring to go - could be a tricky couple of days waiting until we set off. The walk back down to camp is great and it feels very reassuring to be moving at a good speed over tricky ground.
The afternoon turns into a cards marathon although concerns arise as the evening wears on and there is no sign of the yaks as this will mean yet another day's delay. We discuss this with the Sherpas who are here but they are very reluctant to even approach discussing a decision when the Surdah (head Sherpa) is not around - he is with the rest of the equipment.
Then out of the blue at shortly before sunset the Surdah turns up but our excitement is short lived as it turns out that the yaks have only made it to intermediate camp and won't get here until midday tomorrow. That means that we will have the pujah tomorrow and head up to the North Col the day after.
Whilst we have gotten used to the altitude, the cold is a bit of a challenge here as it gets down to about -20 in the late evening and even lower at night. We do have gear to deal with that (down clothing and sleeping bags) but it is actually quite mentally draining to be in a cold atmosphere the whole time, especially on rest days, as opposed to say skiing to the poles when you are active every day. This should be much less of a problem on later rotations as the temperature warms.
There was quite a storm over night and we have woken up to a very different landscape. The ugly moraine now has a carpeting of snow!
Today is the Puja when a local monk will bless us and our equipment and ask the mountain deities and spirits to treat us kindly.
The ceremony is mainly the monk chanting to communicate with the mountain deities and spirits and then he blesses our equipment and us by throwing holy rice over everything. Then we drink and eat the blessed food and drink and finally have blessed flour thrown at us! It actually takes quite a long time!
Late in the afternoon we start to get more news from the terrible avalanche on the South Side - both the scale of the incident and the fact that the South Side seems to have closed for the season.
We start to get worried that our team may call things off, either in fear of the mountain or because of issues with family back home. Not knowing why the South Side has been closed leads to a lot of speculation. Unsurprisingly, problems arise but at first it is not clear what they are but it seems to be about money. Well, we thought that something was coming and at least if they are just asking for more money we can go ahead with the climb and sort the finances out later. Having to call off the expedition and come back next year would be really disappointing and interfering with other aspects of life - it is hard to get a job when you want to take more than two months off for a dangerous expedition in the first year!
In fact, it turns out that the agreement between our company, the local agents and the Sherpas is very unclear and they are saying that they won't continue until it is resolved. Quite how this has happened and why it has taken until now to arise is not clear but is yet another concern at the organisation of this expedition. A few frantic phone calls later, it appears to have been resolved quite amicably - a flash in the pan but one that was very worrying for a time.
Once this has been finalised, we turn our attention to camp infrastructure with the equipment that came up with the yaks yesterday. The key issue here being communications as this is where the transceiver will be that covers the upper mountain and the cornerstone of our safety systems. Rather concerningly, this sort of works but only sort of at best. Again I don't want to make a big issue out of this as the expedition has been teetering a bit of late!
I am starting to feel a little unwell from late afternoon on - little bit feverish and a sore throat. I manage to force down a good supper but go to bed pretty much straight after. Hopefully I can sleep this off and be in good shape for tomorrow as I am really keen to get moving.
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