The objective over the rest period is to recover from this rotation, reorganise ourselves and recharge in time for our bid for the summit. The big unknown is when we will set off again as that is entirely dependent on the weather and especially when there is a period of light winds and hopefully not too much snow which will provide the window for us. Each team here has a slightly different source for their weather information so we will be speaking to the other groups much more than before. It will also be interesting to talk to them and see a bit more of their set up. I have been pretty critical of the organisation and equipment of this expedition so far so it will be interesting to see whether or not I am being fair!
The Russian group are famed for always having a party at the beginning of this trip and this takes place the day after I get down to BC. Russians are usually great hosts as you know that the drink will be flowing all evening and that they themselves will be seriously tucking in!
Their set up is very impressive with a huge mess tent, wifi and a series of generators and heaters providing plenty of heat and power. The food is also excellent and there is plenty of it. We feel very much the poor relations and then pretty annoyed when we find the organisation's brochures and see that their expedition is also considerably cheaper!
I meet a few people who were down in Antarctica and a number of others doing the 7 Summits or similar challenges so it is very interesting to swap stories and plans. Everyone has achieved what they needed to have done by this point so there is a real atmosphere of celebration and relaxation and a number of the groups are heading down to Tingri to get some time away from altitude to help them recover for the summit push so there isn't going to much holding back tonight! Over the course of the evening there are numerous drinking challenges and dancing competitions which have the predictable results at such an altitude with more than a few people left slouched in the corners later on.
The final surprise of the evening is a firework display which is fantastic having Everest as a backdrop!
Enthused by the other expeditions heading down the mountain for some R&R we discuss that ourselves. A few of us are carrying little niggles which it would be good to get rid of and it would be more relaxing mentally to be in a different place for a bit so we are relatively keen to try to organise it. However this is not included in our expedition and so we would have to go through the CTMA who know that they have us over a barrel and so it would be pretty expensive and, perhaps more crucially, our visas are specific Everest ones which don't allow us further into Tibet and so our only real option would be to head to Zhangmu back on the border which would be a good part of a day's drive each way - which would make it very expensive and not really very restful. That means we are going to remain in an eerily empty BC until we head up for our summit push.
Unfortunately, the forecasts show the wind getting stronger for the foreseeable future and so it is very unlikely that we are going to move up the mountain anytime soon. There only seems to be a bit of a respite in the wind in late May - spending two weeks here is going to be tough!
Most days follow a similar pattern. We get up for breakfast at about 8 then sit in the mess tent chatting and reading until lunch at about 1 then the same in the afternoon until about 5 when it starts to get cold and we put on warm clothes for supper which is at about 6 after which we watch a film before bed. Variations are playing cards and making / receiving visits to / from other groups at base camp.
In general the weather is very windy down at camp as we feel the repercussions from the storms up top. The mountain is sometimes clear and then we can see the snow being stripped off the top.
As mentioned above, we haven't got the best spots for our tents at the North Col and there is quite a bit of concern as to what has happened to our camp and more importantly the equipment that we have left up there. There are a couple of Sherpas who have remained up at ABC and we are waiting for the winds to die a bit so that they along with Sherpas from other groups can go and assess the damage. Broken tents are ok as we have spares but the real concern for all groups is tents being blown away in the winds. After a few nervous days of waiting (and discussing how to compensate for lost equipment) we get the good news that whilst there is some damage to the tents it doesn't appear that any equipment has gone.
We have dinner with a couple of the other groups and are again impressed by the infrastructure that they have in place - both these groups, it turns out, fly their cook teams out to Europe to learn how to cook properly and also provide quality ingredients for them to use. As a result, they have plenty of good food and no occurrences of the stomach bugs that go round our group every now and then.
We go for a couple of walks to keep moving / allay boredom etc. We head up the other side of the valley this time but this means crossing the river coming down the glacier:
Then all of a sudden there is talk that a number of groups are heading up the mountain in a day or two. The forecasts show a drop in the wind but at 35kph these are still levels which most people were saying was too high a couple of days ago. But I suppose we are now approaching the end of the season and the thinking is that we might as well be in place up the mountain in case the wind drops further on those days and secondly this is probably the only chance there may be and so we may have to climb in conditions that are far from ideal - probably the worst that there have been since the disaster of 1996!
There is a renewed buzz about the camp as everyone starts to get ready to head up although people are also starting to think through the implications of a summit attempt in such tough conditions.
We go for a walk to see the memorial to Irving and Mallory and the general one to climbers who have paid the ultimate price attempting to summit Everest - this is a very stark counterbalance to euphoria of finally heading up the mountain after 10 days waiting at base camp.
These memorials are at the limit of where non-climbers can come up the Rombuk valley and so some Chinese tourists are very excited to meet some climbers whilst they are there:
We have an early start to head up the mountain - 8 hour trek up to ABC. It is a pretty hot sunny day for the steep first three hours and then cooler for the second long slog up to ABC. I wear my face mask for most of the trip as I am trying to avoid exacerbating my cough and chest which really don't seem to have healed anywhere near as well as I expected over our rest days - I just hope that these do not become too problematic when we get higher up.
We don't make great time on this hike but generally feel pretty ok on arrival which is probably more important as with any luck we will be heading up for our summit bid in a couple of days and we need in the best shape possible for that. The next couple of days are going to be resting at ABC, making our final plans for our summit bid and getting organised for that.
We are hoping to summit in just over a week as the wind seems to pick up after that. There is a final meeting of all the main groups on the day after tomorrow to compare forecasts and try to agree some form of cooperation to avoid having 70 or so people all trying to climb at the same time. We'll see how that goes given the very tight timescale this year.
Pretty quiet day today but there is a noticeable tension in the camp as people's minds move ahead to summit day and how things are going to work.
Some of the smaller groups are very anxious to be off and there are some mini meetings being held - it will be interesting to see if any of these try to summit early.
Apart from the usual rest day, the big news is the new forecasts that the teams have. These unfortunately show a significant increase in the forecast summit winds for the planned summit day of up to about 45kph.
This is now moving into dangerous levels - not so much being blown off the mountain but the wind strips heat off you very rapidly and we will be spending all night walking in the wind. This drains your energy and gives rise to a real risk of cold injury - especially in your fingers.
If there was anything like another summit opportunity we would not be going for this one, but the forecasts show little else in the next week or so, so we are going to be heading up tomorrow and just hoping for an improvement!
In general the food has been a lot better of late and I have been having large portions of everything which should hopefully give me the necessary energy for the mountain. I say in general as the chicken tonight had a rather concerning taste and I just hope trouble is not going to follow...
I wake up at about 5am with an ominous rumbling in my stomach. After a couple of minutes enjoying the warmth of my sleeping bag I decide (sensibly) to head to the toilet tent where the chicken has its revenge. After that, a bit more sleep and then organising for heading up the mountain today.
At breakfast it seems that others are feeling the after effects of the chicken as well but we soon start up the mountain for the last time! My focus on eating seems to be paying off as for the first time I feel that I have plenty of energy. I am also wearing my face mask again with the restricted airflow that comes along with it which seems to moderate my breathing. I end up walking with a group of Sherpas which is no mean feat but it turns out that it is a slow group (slow for Sherpas) as some others pass us on a tricky, steep section.
This is quite a different climb to previous ascents. There has been a huge melt since we were last here and whilst we have lost the pure white of before there is a lot more character and variation to the area. There are probably about 60 people (possible more) heading up this morning and this provides excellent views back down the headwall with snakes of people on it and coming up the glacier from ABC.
Things aren't so good when I get to the top. Our tents are in the most exposed part of the camp and there is quite a wind coming over the Col. We have lost two tents in the wind and so all the equipment has been put into the other two meaning there is little space for shelter. I head in for about 15 mins until some of our Sherpas turn up and then it is back into the cold and wind to pitch two new tents - starting with digging out the snow and ice to try to get flat and even sites for the tents.
Once that is done we head in to rehydrate and eat - tomorrow we head up to 7,800 or so which is a pretty big day and preparation is key! I manage to eat quite a bit which should hopeful stand me in good stead for tomorrow.
It turns out that one chap had come down pretty badly with the chicken bug and turned back about half an hour after we started up the mountain - it is not clear what opportunity he will get to make an attempt on the summit now; what rotten luck!
My ribs have taken a significant turn for the worse. I have no idea what has caused this but any form of cough or sneeze is terrible and deep breaths are painful. I have been taking Ibuprofen for quite a while now to deal with the pain and now up my dose to 800mg but am not seeing much difference - I can't sleep on my left side any longer which can't be good! The only positive here is that it doesn't really seem to be impacting my walking yet unless I push too hard on a very steep section and need to take some very hard deep breaths.
I sleep pretty poorly which is far from ideal but this seems similar to what I have suffered from on previous expeditions so I am not too worried. This was probably exacerbated by the fact that 3 of us are sharing a '3' man tent and (despite our valiant efforts given the conditions) there is a reasonable slope so very shortly I am sleeping in a 1 foot corridor between the side of the tent (where all my gear is stored) and one of our Sherpas (the joys of heading for the summit) and things are probably only going to get worse as we head to the highest and most uncomfortable campsites in the world!
As is usual at the North Col, we are woken by the sun at about 6 am and start getting preparing for the trip up to Camp 2 - which will be a record height for all of us. I struggle with my breakfast but am not sure whether this is my appetite going or simply that I am not keen on rehydrated porridge and strawberries. As a result I take a wider range of food for the next few days than I had planned which means that my bag is quite a bit heavier than I had hoped.
Gus doesn't appear to want to get out of bed and hasn't really moved by the time I leave at a bit after 8, complaining of stomach issues - I just hope that this is not a continuation of the revenge of the chicken!
Right from the start I am feeling strong and soon end up walking with some Sherpas again - eating two meals a night seems a recipe for success; I will just have to see how long I can carry it on for.
The plan is to start using oxygen at some point today as the key to summiting Everest is using as little energy as possible on these two days to start your summit bid with as much energy as possible. I end up leaving this until quite late on and am surprised at how little noticeable effect there seems to be. So I try a few things out and it appears to be that the regulator provides a set flow of oxygen (I was using 1.5 litres a minute) and this doesn't do a lot to the large amount of deep breaths that I take. If I move slower and breathe slower and deeper, I seem to get a much better return from the oxygen. This was something I was always concerned about as I use a very large amount of air when scuba diving.
The day is a snow slope for about 500m vertical with a range of gradients and then rock and rubble for another couple of hundred metres; there is quite a bit of scree which makes the final route into camp pretty tiring. Camp is very spread out with tents on any available ledges and many of these ledges are rather concerning with most tents having up to a couple of feet hanging in thin air - especially worrying as we are being buffeted by the high winds keeping us off the summit! These make putting our tents up a cold and tiring business but provide great relief when we finally get inside - the sun is pretty strong so it is actually quite warm in the tents.
Food goes well again and I manage two meals in the afternoon / evening. It's a shame I haven't been able to make more of a dent in my snack bag as that is really pretty heavy - quite a few snickers, mars and other assorted sweets. But they will (hopefully) keep me going on summit day!
My main concern at the moment is my ribs which continue to deteriorate. I am in agony when I cough, sneeze, sit up, roll over etc. the only good thing is that it is not quite so painful when I am breathing normally; the pain goes as soon as it comes so unless there are any funny moves on summit day I should be ok and will just have to deal with the consequences when we get off the mountain.
Unfortunately, Gus hasn't been able to make it today and has returned the North Col camp. I have not been able to make radio contact yet but hear a ‘highest altitude’ attempt may be on the cards for tomorrow!
At this camp it is just me and one of the Sherpas so we have a spacious tent for a change - lucky as the 'space' is in fact where the tent is hanging off the ledge and so usable for bags etc but little else.
Today we are heading up to 8,300. The first part of the climb is up through the rest of the campsite, which is spread up over about the next 200m of the hill, and then some traverses on a mixture of rock and snow - nothing too tricky but I spend most of the morning trying to overtake those who have got up earlier but are walking far slower. This is a bit of a concern for summit day where these sorts of speeds cause hold ups and bottle necks.
By the time I get to camp (at about 1pm) the wind has picked up and it is rather amusing again trying to put up a tent on half a ledge in this wind; I have taken my oxygen off to breathe some fresh air but that makes any form of exertion tricky.
The rest of the group arrive a bit later on and we end up in one tent with the Sherpas in the other (a bit of a change of plan from earlier in the day). We have about 7 hours to rest now with the plan to set off at about 10pm. We talk, drink and eat for a bit while discussing the plan for the next 24 hours and then try to get a couple of hours sleep - the plan being to wake at 8 to give us a couple of hours to get ready.
Weeks 7 & 8
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