I have been out of internet connection for quite some time. Our second and final rotation up to C3 has been complete and most of the IMG climbers had chosen to take their rest days before the summit rotation down in the villages of the lower Khumbu valley where the air is thicker and some traces of vegetation can be found. I have been resting in Pangboche for the last 4 days and have started proceeding to base camp once again.
I met up with Dr Gayathri when I was in Pangboche. She has completed her medical service in 2 villages and has proceeded to Pangboche to finish up with the last part of her 1.5 month stint in the valley. She started off working in Phortse village taking over the clinic where I was at. She then proceeded to Kunde hospital to assist Dr Kami (the resident doctor there) for a week and then returned to Phortse when Lhakpa Yanjee (the healthcare worker at Phortse) had arrived from KTM after her extended maternity leave. Dr Gayathri could finally then proceed to teach Lhakpa Yanjee the essential medical education that would make her more confident, and make the villagers more confident in her rendering medical services to the village. This was the initial plan that we had in the beginning to make the clinic more sustainable but the healthcare assistant wasn’t there for the longest time for us to execute our plan. I was elated to hear the news that we could finally execute what we initially set out to do. Dr Gayathri also went on to conduct mass health education classes on women’s and children’s health to the villagers which on top of being a socializing session for the women of the village, was also well received by them. She is now in the village of Pangboche assisting the health care post there and educating the health care worker similar to what she was doing in Phortse. I am more than happy that there is someone rendering these essential services to the villages when I am not able to be there personally executing our plans. There is no way that the bulk of the medical help to the villages could be rendered without the presence of Dr Gayathri whom I am most grateful and thankful of having in the team.
Our camp 3 rotation proved harder than I expected. The route had been changed due to heavy rock fall on the old route which injured about 8 climbers on the expedition due to the very dry season we were having. The new route had us veering right on the Lhotse face onto a snow ramp which zigzagged up and led us to a vertical ice face. IMG’s plan on our 2nd rotation was for us to sleep at C3 for a night before returning back to C2. On the day we left towards C3, the winds picked up to about 100km/h and we had to turn around just before the ice face halfway up to C3. Exhausted, we were instructed by the guides in base camp to try the route again the very next day. The weather was good the next day and this time we managed to reach lower C3. Even though we didn’t sleep there for the night, it was the highest elevation I had been to (7100m) and it was great acclimatization for our summit rotation.
Most people think that climbing Everest is solely a physical venture. From 1st hand experience, I can say that being physically fit is only half the challenge. Most the time, what makes or breaks people is the psychological and emotional stress on the mountain. Staying away from the comforts of family, friends and the familiarity and warmth (both literal and metaphorical) of home surely takes a toll on every individual. The simplest of things can break you after a period of sustained stress. I was walking in the ice fall about to reach C1 during my 2nd rotation when I heard from the radio that a fellow climber from IMG was calling it quits after he experienced an small avalanche while he was walking in the ice fall just a few moments before I passed by the exact spot. Immediately I got emotional knowing a fellow climber who had gone through the same lengthy ordeal as me was suddenly pulling out due to the dangers involved when I was still choosing to carry on climbing. Listening to his story when I met him in C1 about the avalanche and how he didn’t want to compromise being with his girlfriend back at home, set me back even more. Finding the strong compulsion to carry on after hearing and experiencing these kinds of incidents is always difficult. You keep asking yourself why you’re putting yourself through this ordeal and risking it all when family back at home is worrying as much as you are on your safe return.
IMG and Himalayan Experience (Himax) are the biggest companies with the largest number of climbers climbing from the south side of Everest. Each has about 40 clients. It came as a great big shock to everyone at base camp when Russel Brice (who heads Himax) announced that his whole company was pulling out of the expedition this season. The reason remains unknown but many speculate that he had pulled out due to the bad weathers this season which left the ice fall in a very dangerous and precarious state. I wonder what reason he gave his clients and whether there would be many angry lawsuits awaiting him if climbers from other agencies summit this season.
To date there has been 4 deaths on the mountain. 1 sherpa who fell into the craves in the ice fall while crossing the ladder, 1 sherpa who died even before the expedition begun due to alcohol poisoning/AMS, 1 Indian who suffered a massive stroke and another Sherpa who suffered a stroke and fell into a crevasse from C1 to C2. There have been numerous others who have suffered injuries and have had to be evacuated. Other than the frequent avalanches that occur on the slopes surrounding base camp which wakes us up from our slumber, the helicopter noises from the frequent emergency evacuations are another source of disturbance everyday.
There have already been 5 people from IMG who have left the expedition to date. Some due to medical conditions (high altitude pulmonary edema, deep vein thrombosis which was diagnosed in KTM after evacuation) and some due to psychological issues. I’ll never forget something that one of my team mates who had experienced the massive avalanche off Nuptse from C1 to C2, said:
“I have been very lucky so far. I have got to see what I have read about in books for my whole life and that I feel, is already a gift. My ego wants me to reach the summit but I know I’ve got more to loose by doing so. I have respected my father a lot and know how it is like to grow up without one and I don’t want the same thing to happen to my 5 month old child. So for me, this is it.”
The fixed lines have only been fixed to the south col so far and the weather forbids any further fixing to the summit. The sherpas have been busy ferrying loads up to the south col and storing it there awaiting the right time for them to be transported further up the mountain. My expected summit day of the 15th of May has to be postponed to the 3rd week of May now, due to the current strong winds and bad weather. Hopefully the ropes get fixed soon during some of the good weather window pockets that pop by now and then and all the anxious climbers waiting patiently at base camp can have a go at the summit.
I will be reaching base camp today and resting there till the Everest weather window opens and the ropes get fixed. After which, I’ll have to cross my fingers and trust all the training that I’ve received through the years so far. It’ll be the summit push real soon.