There were 2 camps at Lobuche base camp. One was dominated by the green tents of Russle Brice’s team and on the other side of Awi Peak, was the yellow tents of IMG. We had to take the longer detour to the other side of Lobuche to reach our campsite. For the 1st time, I was trekking with my climbing team mates and gosh, they were super fast. We practically didn’t rest at all during our 4h fast march from EBC to Lobuche Base Camp. I thought my 1 month acclimatization stay at high altitude would be of some help but it turned out that these fellows were doing much better than me.
The IMG climbers were split up into 3 main groups – the hybrid team, the classic team and the Lhotse/ Lobuche climbers and EBC trekkers. I was part of the classic team -which meant that each climber would have 1 Sherpa attached to them throughout the climb and the whole classic team would be under the oversight of 2 western guides. There were 15 of us in the classic team. The hybrid team would also have 1 Sherpa attached to 1 climber but on top of that, there would be 1 western guide to oversee every 4 climbers.
Since there were so many climbers/trekkers coming along with IMG during this expedition, they split the groups into 3 and had them flown into Lukla at different times so that there would not be overcrowding at the lodges and so that the logistics could be planned smoothly. Thus I was with the 2nd group climbing Lobuche peak. My team had a Latvian couple, a German lady, a Norwegian guy and myself (Singaporean). The rest were Americans. So sometimes, conversations would get rather stale as the Americans would go on about jokes and conversation topics only Americans would understand.
We reached Lobuche base camp (4800m) and stayed there for a night before heading up to high camp (5200m) the next day. It was an early rise for us that morning at 0245h to prepare to head off for the summit. We left camp at 4am sharp and were along the way up the mountain. The sun started rising at 5am and it started getting warmer and the vertical vastness of the mountain was finally revealed. Crampons were adorned at about 5.30am at crampon point and from there onwards it was jummaring up the fixed lines all the way up the steep slopes of Lobuche peak.
It took me 5h to reach the summit. The fastest members in my team had gone up in less than 4h and were already on their way down even before I hit the summit. On the way up, I met this Swiss lady who was the only women to have climbed all the 14, 8000m peaks without supplemental oxygen. That was quite a memorable moment. I didn’t know who she was but there was this lady smiling and leisurely walking down the slopes of Lobuche without any safety lines and as she passed me, she told me to take smaller steps to save energy. Only later did my Sherpa tell me who she was. Inspirational indeed. On the way up, I also met Khoo Swee Chiow (from Aconcagua) and Jamling (my Sherpa from Ama Dablam) and their team of climbers who were attempting Lobuche peak. It was extremely heartwarming seeing familiar faces after being alone in a foreign country for sometime. We just stopped in our tracks and had a conversation at 5900m which was to the annoyance of other climbers who were trying to pass us.
The view on the summit was excellent. We could see nearly all the mountains of the Khumbu valley (except Cho Oyu which was being blocked by the true summit of Lobuche). Even though it was just an acclimatization climb, the view form the summit made everything worth while. We could see the jet stream blowing the ice and snow from the summit of Everest. Everest seemed super high and far from where we were. I was wondering how I would ever be able to stand on the top in a few weeks time. The anxiety of summiting Everest (at times like this) gets the better of me and the nervousness of how I’ll ever do it starts playing repeatedly in my head. Pushing away negative thoughts and taking one step at a time doing the best you can at each step is something I’ve learnt to do through this journey. The end might seem so immense and impossible, but if one was to take bite size pieces at the task ahead, everything may become possible.
In 2009 when the NUS MIR 8 team had our island peak and EBC expedition, for the 1st time, I saw the massive beautiful Khumbu ice fall standing right in front of me. There I was wondering when would be the next time I would have a chance to return to this majestic place and maybe even be fortunate enough to traverse across it.
I’m resting now at EBC and waiting for my rotation on up to Camp 1 and 2 on Everest itself. We will be heading out tomorrow climbing into the icefall and into the western cwm. Its exciting to just think about it. The hybrid team has already set off and is at Camp 2 at this moment. Its exciting but scary at the same time thinking about how we would be maneuvering across the ice fall. Each night when I’m sleeping in my tent, I’d be woken up by the sound of huge avalanches all around us in the ice fall and from the surrounding mountains. The best time of the day to navigate the ice fall would be at night as the temperature would be cold and there would be no sunlight to melt the ice. This maximizes our chances of making it through the icefall safely without any seracs breaking off or being caught in any avalanches
We just finished our dry run on the ice fall this morning. The ice fall proved more challenging than I thought it would be. Even though it looks relatively flat from afar, there are a lot of steep sections with fixed lines and jummaring involved. The ladders are a whole different story. We only walked into the ice fall for about 2hours (for practice) before turning back but we had to cross 4 ladders bridging huge crevasses by then. I heard that there were a total of 21 ladders till we reached camp 1. Walking on crampons over 2-3 light weight aluminum ladders with a few broken rungs tied together with flimsy ropes overlooking an endless crevasse was a harrowing experience. This was accentuated due to the fact that it was my 1st time on the ladders. Since I had arrived out of sync with the main team, I had been deprived of the crucial ladder practice in base camp. My Sherpa however, ensured my smooth passage across the ladders and took his best efforts to ensure my safety. Click here to view a video of my Sherpa teaching me about the ladder crossing during the dry run in the ice fall.
Everything went smoothly during the dry run this morning. None the less, the Khumbu ice fall is the most dangerous part of climbing Everest and the most number of deaths (both from the north and south side) occur in the Khumbu ice fall. Our team will take the as much precaution and I will be as careful as possible. May god look upon and protect all those who traverse past the ice falls.