Q&A: Part II 

Kathy: 

  • Will your team still be in the same queue as you originally were, once you can head out again? (i.e. willl you still be one of the first teams to head up the mountain?) Good question! The order at which teams summit is completely based on their ability to position themselves favorably for good weather windows. The summit ridge of Everest is extremely narrow and does not offer many opportunities to leap frog slower climbers. This is one of the primary reasons that the strongest teams on the mountain had moved up in anticipation of the lines being completed. We were looking forward to smooth sailing up the ridge, without being slowed by weaker/slower climbers, which could be the difference of 2-4 additional hours of climbing above C4. Now that about a week of time has been lost, it will result in a condensed timeline and a lot of jockeying for position between teams. This is one of the reasons that I was most frustrated with missing the awesome weather window opportunity. The short answer to your question is that it will be much more difficult to get our team on the front end of summit attempts but we will do everything in our power to do so, including moving up before completion of the lines to ensure that we are ready when they are ready.  

Tanta Lisa: 

  • What exactly is an extreme temperature on Mt. Everest? Tough question. Ambient temps at basecamp are sub-freezing throughout the day and sub-zero above C2. Summit temps vary greatly but if I had to generalize, I’d say that they were usually between -25 and -50. While this sounds awful, you have to remember that the sun creates a great deal of solar heat, which results in what feels like much warmer conditions than the ambient temps might suggest. What makes a temperature extreme is the windchill and overcast skies. A summit day with temps at -25 is great but throw in overcast skies and 30+ mph winds and you are in extreme/dangerous territory. That is why the primary variable that we watch for summit windows is wind speed, not ambient temps.  
  • How many pairs of socks do you wear at one time? When climbing, I wear a pair of liner socks to prevent blisters and a pair of mid-heavy weight knee high climbing socks. I can usually get about 5-7 days of climbing out of them before they are unbearable. 
  • Have you learned to like eggs? I’ve liked eggs for a long time and look forward to them every time I get them up here. I still have no idea how they get them up here without breaking 90% of them. The porters and sherpas will literally carry them on their back for miles.  
  • To Geoff: What is John’s more endearing trait? Geoff is planning on writing a post soon, so I will let him answer this when he does to avoid anyone accusing me of giving myself a compliment.  

Anonymous: 

  • Do the Sherpa’s have a union? I feel like a formal complaint should be lodged. Agreed but unfortunately the setup is based on a few Westerners at EBC organizing a group of Sherpas that come from a number of teams. Teams that do not have Sherpa representatives will pay their portion for the gear and labor. It usually works but when it doesn’t it becomes quite the cluster… see 2017.  

Pol: 

  • In the summit push will you use a flow rate of 4lpm? I think that two canisters is not very much, and more oxygen is very beneficial. We will most likely not use a flow rate of 4lpm, unless the route is clear and we are able to move quickly. When we were planning on being one of the first teams to summit, we were planning on running at 3lpm and bumping up to 4lpm if we could move quickly. I guess this is a good opportunity to give a lesson on supplemental oxygen usage… Oxygen flow rate is measured in “Liters per Minute” (lpm) and can be adjusted in increments of 0.5 lpm. When at rest at high altitude, a person using supplemental oxygen will normally run it at 0.5-1.5 lpm. When active that range can increase up to 4 lpm with some regulators allowing up to 6 lpm. So why not just run at max flow while you climb? Well, each canister weighs about 8 lbs and when oxygen is released, some of it is pushed out of the mask when you exhale. The goal is to have a balance between speed, weight, and time climbing. If you are slowed by climbers in front of you, you will most likely drop your lpm’s to conserve O2 because you will not be moving as fast. If you are moving quickly, you will most likely increase flow because you will expend more energy. Now that I’ve provided the lesson, we will each carry three canisters and will adjust flow based on the speed at which we ascend. If we have a clear path, we will probably use a flow rate of 3 lpm, which will allow for two canisters to last 8 or so hours.  
  • What are you using to have Internet? Thuraya IP+? Do you have unlimited Internet? Our satellite phones are Thuraya’s and we do have a Thuraya IP+ for internet, although it is only used by our leads for outside communication, due to limited bandwidth. There is a service called Everest Link, which is available throughout EBC, and is used by most climbers. It definitely isn’t free or unlimited, with a cost of $50 for 1 GB or $225 for 7 GB. I’m about $900 in the hole so far.  
  • I also have readed that there is controversy about Hypoxico tents to acclimatize at home. What do you think about altitude tents? Personally, I have never tried one and I have heard mixed reviews on their success. We have four team members that have used them; one of which already went home with HAPE, two others that seem to be having normal altitude issues, and a fourth that used it supplementally and hiked in on the normal routine. It is a fact that they will increase your hemoglobin count but without a pressurized chamber, it is impossible to simulate the lower barometric pressure that is present at altitude. While people continue to find some success using them, most experts agree that they aren’t a sufficient alternative to the normal acclimatization process. Personally, they scare me and I don’t plan on ever using one, especially after seeing the challenges that some of the users have faced. 
  • And the final question is about medicine. What medicine do you bring and what medicine have you taken so far. What do you use or prefer to treat the khumbu cough? We have a lot of medicine up here, some for altitude and some to supplement our weekend immune systems. We also takes lots of vitamins and some supplements because our bodies are constantly under stress and nutrition can be lacking up here. As for altitude needs, there are three primary meds that we carry: Diamox for Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), Dexamethazone for High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), and Sildenafil (Viagra) for High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). Diamox can be taken proactively or to treat AMS, while the other two are only used in case of emergency. I will sometimes take a small (125 mg) dose of Diamox when moving to a higher altitude because it helps me sleep better. In regards to the Khumbu cough, it’s a real thing, primarily caused by the dry and cold air. My nasal infection caused me to breathe through my mouth and resulted in me picking up the Khumbu cough. Some people also get it from sucking in dust on the trek in. Unfortunately, it’s not bacterial or viral so you have to get used to it until you descend. The only thing that you can do is take throat lozenges, mucinex or other cough suppressants to ease the symptoms.  

Jason: 

  • What does Everest sound and smell like? What are some sounds amd smells you will remember? I guess the best way to answer your question is to separate into the sounds and smells of nature vs the human element. The three sounds from nature that I constantly hear are wind, snow and avalanches. In the Western Cwm you can hear the wind coming down the valley and it quite literally sounds like a freight train, even before it hits anything. Snow is constantly peppering our tents or our jackets and has come to be very soothing. Avalanches are unpredictable but we hear one about ever 1 to 2 hours, each varying in sound and duration. Some of them sound like a bomb, while others sound like a train derailment, neither of which is very soothing. As for smells, it’s a relatively sterile natural environment, so the only smells that are present are caused by humans. The most recognizable of which is the smell of burning kerosene, which the Nepali people prefer to burn at C2. It’s pungent smell gets on everything and even the boiled water takes on it’s odor. At EBC, there are all kinds of noises and smells, it is like an international market but with sounds and smells drowned out by the vastness its footprint. You only have to walk a hundred yards to hear a new language, smell a new cuisine, or hear music that you have never heard before.  
  • What piece of gear are you grateful/surprised how useful it has been? What gear should you have left home? Most of the actual gear that we use is necessary at some point or another so it is difficult for me to put my finger on anything that has exceeded or fallen below expectations. I would have to say that the most valuable item that I brought was my mini all-terrain stereo because we have it running about 90% of the time that we are climbing and then most of the time at EBC. We take turns DJ’ing and it definitely helps to keep morale up. As for least useful, I’d have to say it’s the pile of alkaline batteries that I brought. For whatever reason, it completely slipped my mind that Alkaline AAA batteries are more or less worthless in this environment. Luckily, I brought a handful of Lithium AAA’s that have to do all of the work. Let’s just hope that those four workhorse Lithium batteries in my headlamp don’t go out on one of the nights that we are pushing for a summit or I’m going to be in trouble. 

Heidi: 

  • Is it true that there is human waste all over the mountain? Despite what you might have heard, I was surprised by the cleanliness of the mountain when I arrived. There has been a number of publications that have critiqued the Nepali government for not better regulating garbage and human waste on the mountain. It’s definitely no Denali but the government and climbers have done a good job of cleaning up over the years and now the only waste that you see is usually from the current year. The reason that human waste can be such an issue is because we are in a sterile environment. Without insects and bacteria, there is nothing to break it down and it remains frozen in the ice for years. Luckily, the only human traces that I’ve identified is vomit in the Icefall, from people who are having altitude issues, and the occasional emergency defecation.