Sunday, May 13, 2012

Drop Back to Deboche

After getting down from the second rotation, we headed down valley to rest and recuperate for the final summit push.  At base camp elevation (17,600’), the air is still very thin and so it is difficult for the body to heal and recover.  Even minor cuts and scrapes will not heal at this altitude.  Thus, in order to be at full strength for the summit attempt, we headed down for a few days to Deboche at 12,500’ above sea level. 


We took two days to get down to Deboche, stopping in Pheriche along the way.  Every step we took led us to slightly thicker air, and soon we were moving quickly and feeling much stronger.  It was nice to get another glimpse of the beautiful views of Ama Dablam and many of the other peaks around (picture attached).  As we got closer to Deboche it was nice to see plants start to pop up and finally Rhododendron trees.  Our appetites also improved dramatically on the drop back.  Most people ordered two entrees at every meal, and I think we probably did about 10% of the business for the year at the tea house we stayed at in Deboche.  We also made sure to make plenty of trips to the Tenboche bakery for apple pie and coffee.  On the way back we took a nice leisurely pace and made it back in 3 days, stopping in Pheriche and Lobuche along the way.  All in all a successful drop back!


The big drama while we were gone concerned Russell Brice’s HimEx expedition which was made famous by the Discovery Channel reality show, Everest: Beyond the Limit.  HimEx was the biggest expedition on the mountain this year, with over 30 clients attempting either Everest or Lhotse.  However, about a week ago Russell decided to formally end the expedition for the season because he feels that the conditions on the mountain this year are too dangerous.  That being said, there are a lot of conflicting views among different expedition leaders as to the validity of his claims.  The argument that he posted on his website deals mainly with conditions in the Khumbu Icefall (although there is considerable speculation that his decision could have had to do with conditions above camp 3, or other issues entirely).  After talking to all of our guides in depth about the situation, here is my take on his argument.  I would agree that there is some truth to his claim that the Icefall is particularly dangerous this year in the section above the ‘football field’ and before camp 1.  The inherent danger of falling ice from the hanging glaciers on the West Shoulder in this section is undeniable.  However, the entire route throughout the Icefall tends to be more straightforward than most years, and thus this helps climbers move faster (and thus more safely) through the Icefall.  All in all, it seems that while exposure to the Icefall should certainly be limited (as always) it is still within the reasonable limits that any climber inherently accepts when choosing the climb Mt. Everest from the south side.  Moreover, I feel that Russell’s decision to end his expedition so early instead of waiting to see if conditions would change (particularly on the Lhotse Face which was also a concern earlier in the season) was premature.  At the end of the day, my personal decision to continue climbing is based on the experience of others.  Although Russell has a wealth of experience leading expeditions on Everest (probably more than any other westerner), the vast majority of his experience is from the North (Tibet) side and he has only led expeditions on the Nepal side since 2009.  Thus I would defer to the experience of the other expedition leaders and sirdars who have more experience on the South side, and are choosing to continue their own expeditions.  Our own sirdar, Lhakpa Rita Sherpa, has been on Everest for most climbing seasons since 1984, and thus I trust his wealth of experience to make the right decision.


Now we are waiting in base camp (see photo of our sleeping tents with Lingtren in the background) for the weather to improve and give us a good window for a summit opportunity.  Right now we are planning to rest at least another day, and then depending how the forecast shapes up we will head up to begin the summit attempt.  If all goes well, we can expect to attempt to summit sometime in the early May 20’s.  Check out the Alpine Ascents cybercast (link attached in the previous post) for continued up to date coverage and even live GPS tracking of our climb through the RainOn Applet (which should be especially useful on summit day).  I will post again when we are back down safely from the summit rotation!


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