Alas, we are heading home to comfortable Base Camp. The “Dream Team” !!! Jason, Eben & myself, left at 4:30am down the Western Cwm blazing fresh tracts in about 6” of new snow. In the early light of dawn, with the white duskiness and new white snow, the visibility was deceiving, and identifying the cracks and crevasses was tricky. Eben did a masterly job of finding the way and uncovering the dangerous snow bridges. More below, including an essay from Louis Carstens … We down-climbed in the Ice Fall using the ropes and ladders, arm wraps and figure eight rappels. There are already some serious route changes in the Ice Fall from the continuous shifting and moving of the 2000 vertical feet of the jumbled massive blocks of ice. I took a video using my helmet-mounted camera as we descended the Ice Fall, and the footage is absolutely amazing. Hopefully when I get back home, I can put together a short video for the website. Finally, we are back at BC for several days of rest. All our rotations to fully acclimatize are over. We need to eat and rest well. Most of the team has lost weight. We are now ready when the weather is ripe, to ‘go for it’. Our next climb up will be the one. This is what we have been preparing for the last 6 weeks, and having been training for over the years. Our ‘summit bid’ will soon begin. The story of success or failure of reaching the summit is at the doorstep. The pressure is on. We are all feeling confident. So many factors will determine the outcome for each of us. All we can do is our best. Of note: photos 1-13 are on the Lhotse Face; photos #14-22 are in the Ice Fall; #23 Mayk Schega from Germany; #24 myself; #25 Louis Carstens from South Africa. You can see all the pics in photo album #9 “Up n Down” here. The other day at C2 in the dining tent, we were talking about climbing in general. Louis Carstens had some really interesting comments about the nature of climbing. I believe you will find this essay that he wrote for this website truly enlightening.
EVEREST SOUTH SIDE EXPEDITION: 2010 The lure of the mountains For non-climbers, there is just one question they ask of us climbers: “Did you summit?”. That is the wrong question. Climbing is a fundamentally different sport that does not lend itself to such an oversimplified view of outcome – let me explain why. When I want to run a marathon, I get up at 5am each day, go run 15km’s or 20km’s, and build up my stamina to a decent level. I then choose the marathon I want to run. In all probability, I will run the marathon in such a way that the outcome more or less equals my input, i.e. the number of hours I trained. The same with say a road cycle race. I get up at 5am, go ride 50km’s or 70km’s, choose my race, and in all probability, the outcome will once again more or less equals the input. Clearly in the above two examples, I will watch my diet, ensure I have the right equipment, read up on the races I choose, etc. I will be properly prepared. Mostly the unknowns in the marathon and the cycle race will be anchored in unpredictable weather, health concerns, and concerns about injuries during the race – spraining an ankle, or falling off my bike. But the probability of a good outcome, more or less equal to what I put in, is for all practical purposes almost guaranteed. Now let’s jump to mountaineering, and specifically this expedition to Mt Everest. Yesterday we came back from our final rotation up the mountain. We are now in Base camp, resting, rehydrating, and building up our mental preparation for the summit bids, which might start anytime from next Monday to – I don’t know when. In all probability we will get a summit window. But maybe we won’t. Currently we all are reasonably healthy – if we dismiss the fact that all of us have been sick at some time during the expedition. But maybe one or two of us will get really sick between now and when we go for the summit – to the point that that unfortunate soul might not even get a shot at the summit. We might get to the South Col (8,000m), and get sick – like I did last year. I did not summit. A friend of mine, in 2005, told the story of a fellow climber whose oxygen regulator failed close to the summit. The climber had to turn around. A range of other uncontrollable variables lie between each one of us and the summit: potential avalanches, collapse of the route in the Ice Fall, bottlenecks at critical points, ropes that are frozen into the ice, cold feet or hands that force one to abandon a summit, etc. Some might not be up for the mental challenge – for lying in a sleeping bag in a tiny tent, and longing for loved ones back home is very hard. Others might not be up for the cold, or the physical discomfort of spending 8 weeks on a mountain. Still some others might have to head home, back to business problems or personal problems. What other single event in a sports tournament lasts for 8 weeks? So, is “Did you summit?” the right question to define the outcome of an expedition to Everest? No, it can never be – there are too many unpredictable and unmanageable variables that we climbers face in our quest to climb a mountain. Two quotes by Barry Bishop, who summitted Everest on 22 May 1963 as a member of the first American expedition to successfully climb Everest, illustrate how some – not all – mountaineers might view their sport: “What do we do when we finally reach the summit and flop down? We weep. All inhibitions stripped away, we cry like babies. With joy for having scaled the mightiest of mountains; with relief that the long torture of the climb has ended.” “Everest is a hard and hostile immensity. Whoever challenges it declares war. He must mount his assault with the skill and ruthlessness of a military operation. And when the battle ends, the mountain remains unvanquished. There are no true victors, only survivors.” Some mountaineers like to view themselves as a special breed, superior to other sports people. This arrogance is fundamentally flawed and very dangerous. We are not special as climbers. Most of us are simply amateurs who love the unpredictability of our endeavour, for mountaineering is a sport where the outcome, more than often, does not more or less equal the input. Who in our team of 6 climbers and 2 guides will summit Everest in the next few weeks? Nobody knows. And that is the magnificent beauty of our sport – nobody knows, even though each one of us trained immensely hard for this climb, and spent thousands of dollars on equipment and buying a seat on a commercial expedition. Nobody knows. Louis Carstens