Hitting the Reset Button

I know that everyone was anticipating a call from C3 today with an update on the move to C4. Unfortunately, that is not the case, as those of you who have been monitoring my GPS tracker have noticed. I appreciate all of those who have already reached out to check on my teams health and to make sure that everything is OK. While we encountered some obstacles today, I can assure you that everyone is safe and healthy, albeit a little grumpy. Before I elaborate, we are in fact back at EBC and we will be heading back up in a few days. 

I woke up at 6:33 AM this morning and was wide awake. I had an overwhelming feeling of anxiety and could not go back to sleep if my life depended on it. Now this anxiety wasn’t the type of nervousness that you might get before a big presentation but rather, a feeling of being overwhelmed by the workload that lies before you. I knew that starting today around 1 PM that I would have to climb 10,500 vertical feet over a three day period, all above 20,000 ft in elevation. Strangely enough, I wasn’t scared just a little overwhelmed by the workload and the minimal sleep that I would have over the next few days. I laid there for about two hours, as each possible scenario ran through my mind and I found solutions for every possible challenge that I would encounter. After those two hours, I suddenly felt calm, as I felt confident in the daunting task that lay ahead of me.  

It was no more than five minutes later that I heard Phurba Sherpa (our head “sirdar” Sherpa) walk over to the tents to say good morning. He then said, “I have some bad news”. He explained that the Sherpa teams that were high on the mountain had pulled back due to extremely cold temps and white out snow conditions. This is the team that is responsible for fixing new lines (ropes) on the steep sections of the climb. These lines were supposed to have been completed by today or tomorrow, which is why we and several other teams had moved into position for early summit bids. The weather forecast for the 11th through the 13th is fantastic for climbing and offered a safe opportunity for those teams that were prepared to move early, including ours. This initial news was bad but we needed more before we could make any decisions.

Brent, Geoff, Anders and I met in the dining tent to discuss. As we did, one of the British teams moved passed, led by one of Brent’s old friends, Kenton. Brent went out to talk to him because he is one of the guys that always knows what is going on. When Brent returned, he had a half smirk and half look of disappointment on his face. He said “Well the outlook isn’t good but it is almost worth it because Kenton almost fell over because he was so mad”. Kenton’s team had moved to C3 the day before and was attempting to be the first team to summit but were now moving down to EBC to rest because the outlook was so bleak. That was about the point when we all started to see the writing on the wall. We watched as team after team packed up and headed down valley to EBC. 

We spent the next few hours on the radio with our team at EBC, trying to figure out what had happened and if there were any other options. The clearest story that we have is that the Sherpas that were responsible for fixing the line, had grown tired from fighting the poor weather and called off all efforts until further notice. They had descended from C4 to C2 and then returned all the way to EBC for rest that morning. Just to give some background, the team of Sherpas that are responsible for fixing the lines on Everest and Lhotse is comprised of Sherpas from various teams on the mountain. No single person controls the team but there are generally a couple people directing the group. Unfortunately, this year, a few teams pulled there Sherpas back early and then the poor weather his, so things quickly fell apart.  

After receiving the initial news for Phurba, around 8:30 AM, we waited several hours. We made calls to try to rally a new group of Sherpas that would be able to get back up the mountain in the next couple of days but had no luck. I even lobbied to climb without the fixed lines, a plea that was met with a lot of eye rolling. Geoff and Brent know damn well that we are capable but it is much riskier and would be frowned upon by the others on the mountain. This left us with very few options, either we rallied enough Sherpas to get things moving in the next couple days or we would need to head back to EBC, where our bodies are able to rest and recover. 

Around 3 PM, Phurba walked over and informed us that the earliest that the lines would be fixed would be the 15th. We knew what that meant, we were going down. C2 is at 21,000 ft and our bodies really struggle to remain healthy at that altitude, so with our climb delayed several days, we had no choice. We were all upset, angry, frustrated, etc because of the work that we had put in and knowing that we had done everything right on our end. This effort and great weather window fell victim to poor leadership, a lack of organization and zero accountability by all parties involved. Our team had had the opportunity to be one of the first few teams to summit this season but instead, we were heading back to EBC to lick our wounds. 

Our team begins the descent to EBC.

I’d like to tell you that we got over it and enjoyed our climb but we didn’t, except for Geoff. He is so damn optimistic all of the time and never misses an opportunity to check to see how everyone is doing or crack a joke to try to get a smile out of you (Beth, you did a good job). Unfortunately for him, it was tough to crack the frustration. Personally, I was ecstatic to only have one more descent through the Icefall but now we have to do an entirely new lap through it, our fourth. If I haven’t made it clear, it’s not fun going through that maze of death. Out of our six trips through it, four have been over new routes because of collapses on the original routes. Despite my dramatic description, we made it from C2 to EBC in a blazing time of 3:45 and only spent the last 1:30 in the dark.  

View of C1 and Pumori just before sunset on our descent. 

It felt good to be back at EBC but it remains a very challenging day. I can’t begin to describe the roller coaster of emotions that I experienced today, from psyching myself up for the climb of a lifetime to realizing that I had to go back to the starting line. I know that it will work out, all it’s going to take is a little more time and effort, but that doesn’t soothe the sting of today. That will fade over the next couple of days and once I make it back through the Icefall and set my eyes on that mountain, I’m sure it will be business as usual. I just find it so strange that it is so easy for me to get caught up in the day-to-day here, when in the grand scheme of things, the cost of a few more days is minuscule. Luckily, I can rely on all of you to keep my head screwed on straight.  With that, I’m heading to bed to rest up for my 4th Rotation in a few days…