November 2nd 2017 –
I woke up this morning in my tent at Basecamp to find the water in my washbowl had frozen overnight. Binoy tells me that this kind of cold doesn’t typically roll in until mid-December. I guess picked the perfect year to attempt Ama Dablam.
This place is a small village although it doesn’t have much soul. Few people walk around visiting or chatting with their neighbours. Everyone is heads down focussed on their climb, and I suspect that half of the tents are empty anyway with climbers at various higher camps. As I am on my own, it would have been nice to meet more people from the other expeditions. The more boisterous groups are the expeditions that have summited and made it back safely, but they are busy exchanging stories from their shared experience. No interlopers.
Not everyone makes it back safely. Most expeditions leave Camp 2 just after midnight to reach the summit. It would normally take about seven or eight hours to get there, putting you on top at about 8:00am. Then you descend; a dangerous time when it’s easy to lose focus, and the exhaustion of straining at altitude takes hold. On Ama Dablam, the descent is not a downward trek, it is a technical route that requires a lot of concentration.
Last night there was a lot of discussion about two Korean climbers in need of rescue above Camp 2. There were rumours about what happened to them, especially the unconscious climber at serious risk around Camp 3. He just couldn’t go any further and had taken far too long to summit. Every climber should have a ‘turn back time’ and respect it, suppressing the desire to summit at all costs. If you’re not moving fast enough, then turn back and try again some other day. At least you’ll be alive. Apparently this climber had been on the mountain for 18 hours. The last news I had (news often feels like a game of broken telephone; you’re never left confident that you have the full story), the Korean expedition had arranged to send two sherpas from Camp 2 to bring oxygen and emergency medicines. There is no way off the mountain at night.
One bit of unsettling news was confirmation that another Korean climber had fallen on his descent from the summit. He fell on the Basecamp side of the ridge tumbling hundreds of meters to his death. His body is being recovered and brought back to Basecamp tomorrow by a helicopter with a ‘long line’. There is no ambiguity about this tragic accident. A sobering experience on my first full day at Basecamp.
Today I was also introduced to the buddhist practices that are hoped will bring blessing on our expedition. A monk came from the Pangboche Monastery to perform a puga (prayer) ceremony. He arrived quite early in his robes and a very warm looking North Face hat with ear flaps. The ceremony took place in front of a makeshift alter of stones near my tent. The monk chanted prayers for quite some time while throwing rice (mostly in my direction), ringing a bell, and just generally directing traffic. The offering on the alter included snickers bars, Danish Butter cookies, Everest beer, bottles of Coke, and a few other goodies. During the entire time juniper branches mixed with snow rhododendron were kept burning, producing a lot of smoke and some flame. Our team, and other teams, burn juniper branches every morning and evening as part of the ritual.
Part of the day was also spent practising our climbing technique. We hauled out a rope, jumars (ascenders), and other climbing gear, and headed over to a 30 foot boulder near Basecamp. The only worrying moment for me was on the repel. The local practise is not to belay someone when they repel. On the mountain you simply attach a carabiner to the line as a safety, which means if you somehow let the line go from your brake hand you fall to the next anchor point. Well, on the boulder there are no anchor points and I had not tested my right shoulder with the severed tendon. So at the top when I started walking over the edge, if my shoulder had given out, I would have gone straight to the bottom. But hey, here I am.