JUST BEFORE THE SUMMIT!
The return to camp 1 from base camp was much easier this time partially because our gear was already up and mostly because we were well acclimated from the previous two nights spent up high. We spent a very cold night there with almost no sleep. When the sun came out it brought with it vicious winds and bone chilling cold. We watched as the other climbers who started ascending towards camp 2 earlier huddled on a ridge, some even turned back. We decided to wait it out for a few hours and see if the weather would let up a little. Patiently we waited while the winds died down and the sun slowly started to shine. Around 10am we put on our crampons and heavy packs, as we still needed to take gear to camp 2, and started our ascent. We climbed steadily through the snow and ice and each steep ridge was quickly followed by another. Each step at 7000 meters is an unexplainable amount of work. As I climbed I focused mainly on breathing and foot work, trying to establish an efficient rhythm. We soon reached the serac, the known technical aspect of the climb. At the same time the clouds rolled in surrounding us in a sheet of white. There we were at the huge overhanging serac and in a total whiteout. There is always something mystical about climbing in a whiteout or climbing at night, as you can only climb in the now, only what is in front of you. Camilo assaulted the serac first and I followed tediously behind, one step at a time. Fortunately the snow was good and the steep blue ice on the exit was perfect for front pointing. Camilo and I both overcame the serac without difficulty and soon found ourselves on the large plateau before the final push upwards to camp 2. The weather continued to bring moments of complete whiteness with intermittent rays of burning sunshine. Since we left camp 1 later than most climbers and because many had turned around in the early grueling morning wind, Camilo and I were completely alone. Amazing for this mountain that's known for its crowds and it's base camp being a small city. We set up our tent on the plateau right below camp 2 at 7,200 meters and enjoyed the serenity. I was honestly spent. What a relief to take off that heavy pack! That night I slept better than any night, even at base camp. The next morning we woke to radiant sun shine and finished off the final 200 meters to camp 2. Upon reaching camp 2 I was not feeling so good, I was very tired and dragging the whole way. I think it was due to, of course, altitude, but also dehydration, and lack of food. At camp 2 we met our Italian friend Roberto. He told us to use one of their other tents, saving us the work of setting up ours! I gratefully jumped inside and started a brew while Camilo, feeling ok, arranged things outside of the tent. I started feeling much better after some sugar, fluid, and rest. As night fell so did the temperature, Camilo and I both in our down suits, shared the one sleeping bag for another bone chilling sleepless night at 7,400 meters. We were awake all night and in the morning Camilo had had enough, he was ready to go down. Earlier that morning we heard the Italians rushing around packing their gear and putting on their skis to head down. They had just witnessed a huge avalanche right below camp 3. It covered the trails from camp 2 to camp 3, coming within meters of camp 2 tents, exactly where we were. On top of that the wind was blowing with extreme force. Camilo and I discussed whether we should leave our gear stashed in the Italian's tent or take it down, only to call it all off and head home. In the end we decided to stash the gear and head back to base camp, if anything we would have to do a gear retrieval mission later on. We descended in the gale force wind, the kind that knocks you off balance in a second! We made it to camp 1 quickly overcoming the serac once again without difficulty. It's so much easier working with gravity and not against it. As we arrived in camp 1 the wind was tolerable and we made a brew and both agreed to finish the decent into base camp, where we could rest and eat more efficiently than in camp 1. There were many climbers in camp 1 when we left for base camp. We had discussed the conditions of camp 2 and the avalanche with them before heading down. We arrived at base camp right as the sun went down, our cook , Gopaul made us momos and we drank coke. The next day we rested and on september 25th the snow started to fall all night and all day. By evening there was 24 plus inches on the ground and we had to shovel our way out of the tent. The mountain was covered in white, while we made a great decision to come down, there was stories of others, collapsed tents, loosing vision, too fatigued to walk. Even word of someone dying on the serac and one climber is still missing. All of this a reminder for me, this is for real here, people do die. The mountain is a huge force and we are all small and insignificant. Today is september 28th, the sun is once agin shining, snow melting, and only a slight breeze. The word is the jet stream will not come until the 3rd of october, who really knows. Tomorrow we will once again ascent to camp 1, then camp 2, then camp 3, and if we are fortunate enough, to the summit! This will be the final attempt, no matter what happens the experience here in the high Himalaya has been of comparison to no other, completely amazing!
Wish us luck and stay tuned for an update on our final ascent!
Anna and Camilo