For one reason or another, we don't manage to get away that promptly and end up leaving at about 9am which is not the best start for a long day! We are not stopping at Interim Camp this time and doing the whole 22km trek to ABC in one go. We also take a number of longish rests throughout the morning. So whilst we move at a reasonable pace at times, we make pretty slow overall progress up the mountain. There is a bit of a split in the group with a couple of hours to go (partially caused by a pretty meagre lunch of a couple of pieces of cheese and some biscuits).
and, shortly after, the promised late afternoon snow arrives. This leads to a pretty miserable final hour or so walk up to ABC in the gloom and snow and with little left in the tank.
I get into camp at about half five, which is a lot longer than it should have taken, and get our cook team to put on the kettles for hot drinks and noodle soup to be ready when the others arrive.
By 18:15 there is a pretty bedraggled group of us sitting round one of our gas fires and I start to feel terrible. I am pretty surprised and disappointed that the trek has put me in such a state and soon it gets worse as I feel dizzy, nauseous and very sleepy. I try to get up but almost fall off my chair; I have not been able to sit up straight for quite a long time, but am now slouching to such a degree that I am almost slipping off. All of a sudden I realise that these are the classic signs of carbon monoxide poisoning from our quality heaters so I head out into the cold, wind and snow and immediately start feeling better.
I head back in for some supper in a bit but after eating quickly I feel the telltale signs coming back - there are still some burners on and I probably haven't cleared my body of the last dosing yet - so head off for an early bed.
Pretty lazy days; reading, chatting, sleeping and getting ourselves organised for our next rotation up the mountain.
My itinerary to keep me on track for an oxygen less ascent is head up to the North Col (7,000mtrs) and stay the night, then head up to Camp 2 (7,600) and stay the night, then head up to Camp 3 (8,300) or so just to see what it is like in the Death Zone and how I cope, before coming back down to the North Col and then back to BC hopefully. There is the big BC party that night which it would be nice to be back for - but it is a long way to get back so we will see how I feel.
Last time I was up here I picked up a nasty cough. I thought that I had got rid of it back at BC but it seems to have returned. I am taking a lot of cough sweets but I fear that is only holding it at bay rather than actually getting rid of it, but we'll see.
I am really struggling to eat with all these rest days as I just don't build an appetite and as such never really feel as though I have much energy. This translates to only a few hours or perhaps less of good energy on days when we are walking. So I am a bit worried about how today will go.
None of us feel that good when we set off and within the first hour or so two people turn back who really just aren't right for the long trek up the head wall. The rest of us carry on but whilst this is a bit easier than the first time it is not by much. As before I have a few good hours but then really start to fade - this is not something I have experienced before so I am really going to have to make an effort with my food on this rotation to see if that can resolve matters.
By the time we get to the North Col it is snowing pretty heavily and quite windy as well so we all retreat to tents for the rest of the day. After a bit of a sleep I make myself some supper but the meal is pretty terrible and I am nearly physically sick trying to eat it - this is proving to be a real problem - but luckily the desert is much more palatable so I do get some calories. This food situation is becoming a real worry - not eating enough is probably the single most common reason for not summiting that is not outside your control - I might see if I can exchange some of my packet meals for the summit bid because this can't continue.
The strain of the day also seems to have made my cough worse which is pretty annoying as that plays havoc with your sleep and efficiency on the mountain.
In the end I have not slept too badly but I think I have done something to my side during one of my coughing fits; I just happened to be at an odd angle at the precise time I had a very violent cough. This could be pretty disastrous but we'll see how it goes today on my trek up to 7,600.
[Whilst I would not find out until we got back to Kathmandu, it later turned out that I broke two of my ribs!]
Breakfast is a real chore but I do manage to get it all down - it's an 800kcal meal so that is a very good sign!
Missing yesterday's supper has its predicted effect as I really don't feel energised today but far worse is my side. Breathing is painful although just about ok, but I am coughing a lot and this is pulling at my side each time and I am concerned as to the implications of making this any worse.
So I have to make the tough but unquestionably correct decision that pushing on for another couple of days up to 8,300 would almost certainly rule me out of any summit bid at all and thus abandon this acclimatisation rotation and with that go my hopes of climbing the highest mountain in the world without oxygen!! That is a very sad realisation for me personally but I have to remind myself that summiting Everest is still a huge challenge and I now need to do what is right for that. And that is to turn around now and focus on healing my chest and clearing up this cough in time for our summit bid.
Even on the decent back to camp have a few racking, coughing fits and my side is decidedly more painful by the time I get in my tent - even stretching a little too far sends shooting pains up my side. I am going to rest here for today and then head back down to ABC tomorrow.
Our tents are the ones nearest to the camera and, crucially, past the point where the ice shelf above provides good protection from the winds!
I have a very bad nights sleep as I am continually troubled by my side and my mattress has completely exploded leaving me only a very thin section that I can sleep on - about a foot - that provides protection against the cold hard ground. It has been a pretty demanding 24 hours.
The descent back to ABC is a real joy - I make it down the headwall in about 20 mins and then back to camp in another 50 mins which is a very good time and not too much effort either.
However, once back I have a bit of an issue with coughing and my side is really sore - I think I may well have cracked my ribs; something that will need very careful management from now on if I am to make a bid for the summit, let alone get to the top.
The rest of the day is the usual resting and chatting.
This is the long slog back down the Rongbok glacier. Things are going fine until we get trapped behind a slow yak train for about 40 mins.
But we make it in about 6 hours which isn't too bad. This gives me time to think about how things are going and what I can do to improve them. Basically this comes down to exercise and diet.
The food has been pretty miserable on the trip so far - we have been joking about the iconic meal of the trip which which has been spaghetti, rice and potatoes and some form of potato sauce. Although carbs are good on a mountain, on a trip of this length there needs to be variety and taste to help deal with the natural struggles with appetite that you have at altitude. We are all finding that we are eating pretty minimally given the poor food and whilst you can get by like this when you are resting you have nothing in the tank when you head up the mountain. I am going to do something about our diet when we get to camp - I assume that this will mean that we will need to pay for some decent food but at least this will improve us on the mountain.
Connected to this, is that my metabolism pretty much switches off when I am resting for a few days and it can take a couple of days for it to normalise when I start being active again and by this time I have got pretty exhausted. The solution here is to be exercising or at least starting to exercise towards the end of the rest period to avoid such a shock to the system when I head up the mountain.
When we get back to camp I chat to the cook / camp manager. As is typical for this expedition, the generator is broken again and the main battery through which we run the solar panel continues to drain all the power making it next to useless and so we still have virtually no power in the camp. And yes, we have to pay for any decent food that we want - we have also finished the last tin of sardines so there is nothing really left in the kitchen apart from carbs and lentils - so I get the cook to order in a lot of chicken and pay about $200 for it! This is very unimpressive for what is the key rest and powering up week of the expedition that is meant to be preparing us for our ascent of the highest mountain in the world!! But it is better to just take it on the chin and pay to sort things out to ensure I summit rather than keep the money and complain later when we just haven't been in the right condition for our summit attempt.
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