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 11, Everest BC [5300m] to Lobouche Peak [6200m] to Everest BC 15th - 17th April 2013.
7 am and minus 18 degrees. A chilly morning for a Puja, the religious ceremony that precedes all Sherpa forays onto the mountain. The venue for this expedition's Puja lay in the center of camp in the lee of a huge boulder adjacent to a small natural frozen lake. In the shadow of this gigantic rock the Sherpas had built an exquisite ceremonial Chorton, from the top of which jutted a long blue metal pole from which they hung the colorful [and very meaningful] prayer flags. The colour sequence, red, green, yellow, blue and white is repeated indefinitely as the flags are extended on three axes, some extending fifty meters - the number three being a very "significant" number.
As the Sherpas bustled around arranging the seating mats, ceremonial foods, drinks and the burning of juniper in anticipation of the ceremony I set about packing my kit bag for the 4/5 day Lobouche acclimatization. This was the first time since arriving that I had handled my "climbing equipment, having lived out of my trekking bag with the rest of the family until now. With equipment checked and packed I hefted the bag on top of a waiting, but severely unimpressed yak, and then took my seat for the Puja.
The ceremony is quaint, mostly unintelligible, full of cringe worthy moments [from a Western point of view], but most of all imperative. There is no way any Sherpa would consider setting foot on Everest without the Puja's auspices presenting favourably. Proceedings concluded with a bout of incongruous Sherpa dancing and flour throwing - things had gone well!
Soon after lunch, and with darkening skies we set off individually on the 2-3 hour trek down to Lobouche BC stopping for an hour to take advantage of the 3G and somewhat hesitant WIFI at Gorak Shep, the first town encountered enroute. Sadly the 3G signal doesn't have the muscle to extend to Everest BC - life would be so much simpler if it did.
The following Lobouche BC morning was spent loading my backpack for the afternoon trek up to "rock-camp", situated a third of the way up the entire Lobouche Peak. It's at rock-camp that we spend the night before rising at 5am the following day and begin the climb to the summit.
So with the weather changing for the worse we all departed Lobouche BC and began the 2-hour haul up the rock and scree slope. Some of the boulders one weaves through in the early stages of the climb are so immense I commented that this was akin to a Hollywood film set. An easily negotiated but sheer cliff waited at the top of the rocky slope. Our 7 tents sat atop.
By now the weather had closed in, blanketing us in cloud and pelting the tents in gritty snow. I hunkered down and tried to make myself comfortable, wrapping myself in two sleeping bags and worshiping my Kindle. Stupidly I had forgotten to pack my Therma-rest, an inflatable, featherweight mattress that not only prevent rocks from digging into to you, but also mercifully insulates you from the icy ground. I was in for an unpleasant night.
As the light started to dim I set about cooking myself dinner, which consisted of "boil in the bag" Thai chicken curry, followed by a Mars bar and coffee. I assembled my cook-set, lit the small gas flame, and started to melt [and strenuously boil] snow and ice in the small vestibule of the tent. The steam and heat soon pervaded the interior, freeing me from my shivering.
The first two or three bowls of melted, boiled water replenished my drinking bottle, but the subsequent boiling efforts "boiled my bag" for the requisite 10 minutes. I have to say it tasted quite nice, but when first poured from the bag it looks as if its been eaten once before! I ate quickly; grateful for the warmth the food brought me, and finished my remaining water as coffee.
The night was as unpleasant as I had anticipated - foolish for not bringing my Therma-rest I suffered the 1000-hour night fate, when the clock doesn't seem to ever move. At 1 am I lay awake, still with 4 hours to go, staring into the endless black, my back and backside seemingly frozen to the ground. I tried everything to get comfortable, warm and sleepy, but to no avail. Finally, at about 04:40 I heard a party of load carrying Sherpas enter camp - the night had finally ended.
With everything squared away, I left the tent and at 05:30 joined both the Sherpas and a couple of other early-riser climbers beginning the long haul to the summit. I felt good and had already decided that I would use this first proper climb of my 2013 campaign as a test-bed. I was intrigued to discover if I felt fitter and stronger than this precise point in 2011. I wasn't disappointed.
45 minutes in to the climb I donned my crampons. I was moving strongly, even pulling away from the Sherpas and not needing to pause at all. I guessed I was working at 85-90% capacity - It was huge boost to my confidence. Luckily the crippling sun was a little obscured by early morning, high altitude haze, as I find heat many times more debilitating than the cold.
As I progressed up the final icy summit slope I closed on two climbers from another team who had obviously set out much earlier than I. With fewer that 30 meters to run, I finally overhauled the now disgruntled pair - nothing like a bit of competition! Thankfully this defeated South African chap had the good grace to take a photo of Shaun and I standing on the summit at 07:15, 1 hour, 45 minutes after leaving rock camp - I was very pleased.
I immediately began the descent, passing firstly the bemused Sherpas and then the remainder of my team, each one going through their own little bit of hell as they clambered slowly to the top. As I passed them I reflected that the next stage of the Lobouche acclimatization demands a 2-night stay atop the peak - sharing tents. However, a number of our team is still suffering from both flu-like symptoms and very upset stomachs, the very ailments I have so studiously tried to avoid since arriving in Kathmandu.
By the time I had reached Lobouche BC at 9am, I had made up my mind to ask Russ Brice, the expedition leader, if I could substitute my 2-night Lobouche Peak stay for a return to Everest BC and a couple of trips, perhaps carrying small loads, though the Khumbu Ice-Fall. The whole Lobouche experience is an effort to avoid the dangers of the Icefall, so my request appeared at first counter-intuitive. However, my desire is to be allowed/asked, when the time comes, to climb with the "rope-fixing Sherpas" [who set the first lines on the mountain], and I felt that having negotiated the Icefall at such an early stage as this, whilst everyone else is languishing on Lobouche will have put me in a strong position.
Thankfully Russ agreed and so at 1pm, with my kit bag rapidly repacked, I started the long, tedious trudge back up the trail to Everest BC, only stopping for a brief 3G infusion at Gorak Shep once again. A hearty evening meal and a corpse like sleep finds me typing this dispatch in the relative luxury of the white-pod. I have showered [and experimented with a range of men's products called Rehab - yes, promotions at Base Camp!], shaved and changed my pants for the first time since leaving home!
However, one member of our Lhotse Team had to descend yesterday with suspected pulmonary edema - apparently having ascended too fast - a reminder to all of us the delicate balance we strike venturing into this most harsh and alien environments. I also hear that an adjacent team's Doctor has fallen ill, the same day as one of their climbers fell from a "ladder rigging" and broke her arm. A very sad and frustrating way to return home.
The next few days will probably see me venture into the Icefall for the first time - always a tense moment. I will leave with the Sherpas at about 2am, negotiate my way to C1 as fast as possible, deposit my [no doubt reduced] load and descend back to BC for breakfast. There was a huge Icefall collapse early yesterday morning and the hope is the magnitude of this collapse has "settled" the remaining ice for a period long enough that C2 can be formally established.
At that point, and with the formation of at least rudimentary Camps 3 & 4, the serious discussion about rope fixing will begin.