After five nights above base camp, the team returned safely this morning to base camp. We left early the night of April 30th, and headed up into the Khumbu Icefall once again. This time better acclimatized, we were able to move a bit more quickly through the Icefall and found fewer occasions when it was necessary to gasp for breath. I played around a bit with my GoPro camera in the Icefall and got some decent footage, although I am disappointed with the battery life in cold conditions.
After about 6 hours, we made it to camp 1. However, since there have been some big avalanches in the vicinity of camp 1 recently, we decided (beforehand) to go directly to camp 2 in one push. We took a short rest at camp 1, and then continued onwards through the Western Cwm. The climbing in the Cwm was straightforward, but we were all exhausted by the time we reached camp 2. I got a bit dehydrated towards the end and found the last hour and a half particularly challenging as we approached camp. Overall, the team took between 10 and 15 hours to reach camp, and everyone was in agreement that it was our toughest day yet.
Our plan for the rotation was to spend a rest day at camp 2, and then head up to camp 3 for one night. However, there has been an unusually small amount of snow this year and so the Lhotse Face is almost entire pure blue ice. These conditions have left a lot of small rocks exposed, and several climbers have been injured by falling rocks on the face already. Due to the dangerous conditions, we decided not to take this route until conditions improve.
However, some of our guides as well as climbers from other teams managed to find and fix a new route to camp 3 that was much safer. Yesterday we woke up early with the goal of reaching lower camp 3 (on the summit bid we will stay at upper camp 3), tagging it, and coming back down to camp 2 for the night. By gaining this elevation it will ultimately help our bodies better acclimatize for the summit bid. We left at 5 am and headed out towards the Lhotse Face. Unfortunately, a couple hours into the climb Laurence from our team got serious frostbite on his fingers and had to head down quickly to base camp to get treated. Although it turned out that he had first degree frostbite in all five fingers on his right hand, he is recovering well and it looks as though he still has a good chance of being able to try for the summit if he takes special precautions to avoid recurrence.
Michael was not feeling great on the hike to camp 3, so he turned around with Laurence, but the rest of the team continued upwards. Shortly after where Laurence turned around we encountered the Lhotse Face. The new route involved a few very steep pitches (up to 70 degrees), and some sustained difficult climbing. We were all very tired by the time we reached camp 3, but it was an encouraging milestone in the climb. For all of us who made it to camp 3, it was a new high point in our climbing careers at over 23,000 feet.
After resting at camp 3 for a few minutes, we headed back to camp 2 in time for a late lunch. We rested for the remainder of the day, and then had a nice birthday dinner for Leanna. Ueli Steck had been climbing up to camp 3 at the same time as us, and so he ended up joining us for dinner! He was a very nice and humble man for someone who is such an amazing climber (look him up on Youtube if you don’t know who he is). Afterwards, we all headed to bed and woke up early this morning to head down to base camp. Climbing through the Icefall kept everyone on edge as normal, but we all made it down safely. We are all currently enjoying the comforts of base camp, and we will drop back further down valley tomorrow in order to rest and recover in preparation for the summit bid.
P.S. The pictures show Garrett and Marc climbing up through the middle section of the Icefall, Leanna climbing on the approach to camp 3 (camp 2 is on the rocky portion in the middle of the photo), and the team testing out our down suits at camp 2.