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April 16,1999


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Location:  Everest Base Camp (back from Camp 2)
Thursday,  4/16/99
Elevation:  17,800 ft

Hi Again Everyone:

Well, were back at base camp after four days higher on the mountain.  As of my last update, our plan was to move up and establish camp 1 at 20,000 ft. and return to base camp.  As it turned out, we were feeling quite well and acclimatizing well and as such, decided to move even higher to establish camp 2 at 21,250 ft.  So, three nights higher on the mountain and feeling quite good. 

The route so far has been quite colorful to say the least.  As mentioned in my last update, the route to camp 1 is quite involved and negotiates the Khumbu Ice Fall, a treacherous portion of glacier cascading down the lower flanks of Everest, and is one of the main crux's of the South Col route.   I believe I discussed the details of the ice fall in the last update,   and as it turns out it was all and more than it was expected to be.  The weather, at least down low, has been quite good for the most part, although quite cold.   The ice fall, however, according to a few Everest veterans currently up here, is the worst it has been in years.  The route is very involved and moving much more than normal.  Movement in the icefall means that many of the larger blocks and bridges collapsing and tumbling throughout the day, some with the force of a small nuclear bomb.   It's moving so much, that we have already had to change the route twice and probably many more times before the end of the trip.  It's quite a frightening sight to say the least, but luckily, most of the movement takes place only after the sun hit the face, and we usually try to leave base camp around 3-4 am so that we can be through the ice fall before this starts.  For those of you that know me, you know that this is a problem.  Oh well.

The real exciting part of the icefall however, is crossing the crevasses, of which there are many.  This is done by the use of ladders, tied together end to end, sometimes four ladders across.  The ladders will span the width of the crevasse, as much as 30 feet wide and several hundred feet deep.  Then, in the darkness of night, by headlamp, with full winter gear, climbing boots and crampons, we will delicately tightrope walk across the ladders, one after the other.  There are over 40 sections using ladder crossings, and to say that your underwear gets a little tight in these  situations is an understatement.   It's definitely a white knuckle situation. In some respects, however, the icefall is quite fun.....its like the ultimate jungle gym....only one that you don't want to make a mistake on... anywhere.

Once you top out on the icefall, you find yourself at the base of the Western Cwm and the site for camp 1.  From there, the route to camp 2 winds its way up through the upper Khumbu Glacier and through the Western Cwm which is essentially a great valley or canyon bordered by massive rock and ice walls on both sides, finally ending at the great Lhotse Face....4000ft of steep ice, housing camp 3 in the middle and camp 4 at the South Col at its top.

From there its only 3,000ft of expose ridge to the summit. The Cwm, although nothing like the rubble heap that makes up the ice fall, does maintain some of the largest crevasses I have ever seen.  The route negotiates back and forth, between and around these crevasses, some of which are big enough to swallow a greyhound bus....lengthwise.  Some, we actually have to rappel down into and climb back out the other side.  The worst ones, however, involve the use of ladders again, 5 and 6 ladders wide, tied end to end.  Some of these crevasses are literally bottomless, we estimate at least 1,000-1,200 feet deep, basically black holes.  There are six major slots like these (and many smaller ones) that must be negotiated in this way, and let me tell you, it's nothing short of horrifying.  This morning, as I was writing this update, we got word that one of the larger ladder bridges on the lower cwm collapsed as one of our  sherpas was carrying a load up to camp 2.....frightening.  Luckily, he was able to extract himself with little more than bruises and cuts, although if it was me, I think I'd need a little psycho-therapy right now (no comments please).

So anyway, I'm back in base camp resting for a few days.  On the 18th, six members of the team and myself will leave to push the route higher on the mountain.  The plan is that we will go back through the icefall, passing camp 1 pushing on to camp 2 and spending a night and a rest day there.  We will then move halfway up the Lhotse Face (which unfortunately is a giant sheet of steep blue ice right now) and attempt to establish camp 3 at just under 25,000 ft. and spend a night there to further our acclimatization. The next day, assuming that we are feeling well, we will attempt a day trip to the South Col at just over 26,000 ft and drop a load in preparation for establishing camp 4 there on our next trip up the mountain.   Then we will head back to base camp for some well needed rest and lots of eating. The food so far has been quite good, although appetites at altitude tend to lack.   The team has been doing quite well and bonding nicely.  We did, however, lose our first member two days ago to altitude sickness.  He  simply wasn't acclimatizing well, even at the altitude of base camp, and he finally threw in the towel and headed back to Kathmandu and eventually the UK.  Certainly a shame, because he was a really good guy.  I fear that we might have one more member not too far behind, but only time will tell.  The rest, however, are doing quite well, knock on wood.   

So, that's it for now.  The next push will be quite difficult, physically and mentally and very taxing.  If all goes well and we get the weather, it will be about eight days before I am back in base camp and will have a new update ready.

I hope you are all enjoying the adventure so far, I know I sure I am.  I really appreciate all the support I have had from everyone and thank you all for the nice words before I left.

Take care for now and we'll chat again soon.

Peter

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