My name is David Tait - I'm an NSPCC Trustee and 'charity mountaineer' having now successfully climbed Mount Everest four times - in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011. I climb to raise both awareness and money for the many violated kids - one of whom was I. This is my first of many dispatches that will accompany my effort to summit for the fifth time. I hope you follow along, find it interesting, and spread the word. There are many children in our society who know only too well that monsters truly do exist.
Dispatch 13, Everest C2 6400m to Everest BC 5250m, 21st April 2013.
This place redefined desolate. There was not a person to be seen in any direction. The sun was being beaten into submission by the mist, cloud and increasing snow, giving the landscape a science-fiction feel. For a moment I was reminded of the movie Alien, the crew having been forced to land on a distant frozen planet with the sun only a distant, ineffective and faint glow - the temperature "deep cold". I trained my helmet GoPro camera on the vista and prayed the tiny gizmo was recording.
The exposed, rocky moraine-like area soon to be occupied by Camp 2 extends North-South approximately 150-200m to the Eastern edge of the upper reaches of the Western Cym, just before the beginning of the famous Lhotse Face. Only a few random tents were obvious, but the forerunner Sherpas of the assembled teams had claimed many plots - small flags and a few boxes signaled a team's intent.
I bit into my rock-solid energy bar and tried to rip a mouthful free, at the same time wrestling with my water bottle, the neck of which had completely frozen closed. I poke my gloved finger through the ice and gulped greedily. I immediately felt ill - I knew I had to eat and drink something, but it's a lot easier said than done at such altitude and after such exertion.
It was time to leave - I had "tagged " C2, and now had to descend to BC as fast as possible. By now the snow was significantly heavier and visibility was dropping by the minute. I slung my pack back on my back and started the long trek home. Ahead of me lay white - enormous, endless white - the mountains that hem the Cym to my left and right invisible. Embedded in the ice, every 50m or so, stood a wooden stake with a small red flag atop - a visible reminder not to deviate from the trodden path - crevasses await the impatient or foolhardy.
I just kept walking - one foot in front of another until eventually the tents of C1 loomed up out of the gloom. By now the snow was reducing visibility to 30/40m and the previously trodden path had disappeared. I was relying heavily on the small red flags to orientate myself. Suddenly the flags seemed to just stop - ahead lay the assorted tents, but I was unable to see where the flags began again leading to the head of the Khumbu icefall. I had not the slightest idea which direction to move. My next step could have literally been fatal. There wasn't another human being in sight so I stood dead still.
With the new snow now gathering around my knees, I glanced hopefully back up the fast disappearing track. Three people came into view - Sherpas; I could tell by their gait. Luckily they kept walking towards and up to me. I explained that I literally didn't know where to put my next step and it was immediately clear that they understood the issue - until that point they had been following my own tracks!
One of the Sherpas edged around my and using his right foot "swept" the snow, left and right, from the route in the rough direction of the top of the Icefall. He obviously knew the route a lot better than I, but even these hardy, experienced individuals seemed alarmed by how vulnerable we all had suddenly become. After about 50m of sweeping, the lead Sherpa became a lot more confident that he had rediscovered the track and started striding out. It amused me to see that his cohorts didn't seem as convinced, choosing to let him attain quite a lead! I followed, very relieved.
Before long, the first of the vast lateral icefall crevasses confronted me, forcing one of many long tedious traverses. The route was peppered with small ladder bridges straddling narrow crevasses which one sometimes sees a Sherpa simply leap. With the gradient increasing the difficulty of the passage though the ice multiplied - each jarring step down sucking energy from my legs. The minutes turned to hours and yet BC didn't seem to get any closer. Each significant rise or corner left me disappointed as the colourful collection of tents refused to be discovered.
By now I was very tired - streams of highly acclimatized Sherpas hurtled past me, at times as if I was standing still. The "football field" appeared and passed, then the "popcorn", but still no sight of BC, the snow hammering into my face.
Suddenly, but still with no destination I sight, I sensed a flattening of the gradient - surely I was close to the bottom. My radio squawked into life for the twentieth time - "David, where are you please?" "Near the bottom of the fixed rope" I replied, praying fervently that I was correct. I glanced up and the mist offered me a brief window - I was indeed close the bottom.
I passed the end of the fixed rope soon after, arrived at Crampon point. Enormously relieved I slumped down, sat on a rock, and removed my crampons, stuffing them in my pack before beginning the final leg though "old BC" to Himex BC and "home".
I had been moving for 9 ½ hours, drunk less than a glass of water, eaten half an energy bar and rubbed my heels and shins somewhat raw. However, I had tagged C2 and returned, all in one morning - something the Sherpas do every other day! I cannot conceive how these Supermen do this. Without these modest men and their extraordinary strength few if any Western pretender would achieve an Everest summit. I tried to emulate [and in some way show my respect] for one solitary morning.
With a days rest behind me I feel a lot better, and now sit in the comfort of the White Pod typing the remainder of this two-part dispatch. The weather is appalling, with waist-deep snow now reported at C1 and in the actual icefall - conditions difficult enough to prohibit the transport of scheduled overnight loads. C2 is no further advanced from the moment I gazed upon it - we are all hoping the weather changes for the better, allowing the camp formation and rope fixing to proceed as per schedule. Nature will have the final say.
For now it's a waiting game - sometimes the most difficult of times.
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