Everest 2008 Expedition Dispatches

Dispatch #1 - February 20, 2008 - Kathmandu

Welcome to the expedition dispatches from the Altitude Junkies Everest Expedition, 2008. Our teams are always limited to a maximum number of 8 climbers and this year we have a real experienced group with all members having climbed on an 8,000-meter peak before such as Cho Oyu, Gasherbrum II and Everest. In addition to the Altitude Junkies team we are pleased to be providing logistics for a professional guide company from Boulder, Colorado.

Expedition Team:
Phil Crampton (UK/USA)
Mark Dickson (UK)
Lee Farmer (UK)
Michael Herbert (UK)
Sandy Hoby (New Zealand)
Brad Jackson (Australia)
Steve Lawes (UK)
Wally Reisinger (Canada)

Our expeditions always have a 1:1 climber to Sherpa ratio and this year we have 11 of the best for the two expeditions we are running. Our Sherpas have a combined 60 summits of Everest between them. Due to the Chinese Olympic Torch relay this year we have less Tibetan Sherpas compared to previous expeditions.

Expedition Sherpas:
Ngima Dawa Sherpa (Sirdar)
Phurba Temba Sherpa
Mingma Tenji Sherpa
Chhiring Wanchu Sherpa
Ang Pemba Sherpa
Ang Sarki Sherpa
Chhedar Sherpa
Pasang Dawa Sherpa
Lakpa Sherpa
Thumba (Tibet Guide School Graduate)

Kitchen Staff:
Kumar Gurang (Head Cook)
Homraj Rai (Assistant Cook)
The following assistants are all graduates of the Tibet Guide School

I arrived in Kathmandu to catch the tail end of the festive Tibetan and Sherpa New Year, Losar, to celebrate with old friends. Nepal is getting ready for the Constituent Assembly Election on April 10 and the government has been busy in signing agreements with different Terai region ethnic groups to make sure the elections go ahead unhindered. Nepal seems set to enter into a new chapter of its history and hopefully this will see peace and the country prosper.

Our staff have been busy packing and checking gear. Our communication equipment, thanks to General Dynamics Itronix, has somewhat entered a new phase of mobile computers with a palm sized computer that weighs less than 2lb. Mountain Hardware have supplied us new Trango 3.1 tents and new Space Station domes for our respective base camps.

Our climbers will slowly start to arrive in Kathmandu as some of them plan to trek to base camp on the south side before departing Nepal for Tibet in early April.

The Sherpa crew will go ahead and establish the respective base camps in anticipation of the climbers arriving.

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #2 - March 20, 2008 - Kathmandu

The rollercoster ride began March 10, when the Tibet Mountaineering Association, who regulate the permits for climbing Everest on the north side in Tibet, announced that the mountain would be closed to all expeditions until May 10. This was to avoid any problems that may interfere with the Olympic torch relay that is planning to be carried up the North Ridge route by Tibetan and Chinese climbers.

A few days later rumors started circulating around Kathmandu that the Nepalese government would also close the mountain from the south side in Nepal until May 10 at the request of the Chinese government. Thankfully for the people of Nepal these rumors were untrue and on March 20 we received official word that Everest from Nepal will be open for business as usual bringing much needed tourism to sustain the local economy.

I would like to thank our sponsors for their encouraging support during this time of uncertainty and political discussions between various governments and alpine associations from various countries. With the Tibet side of Everest closed until May 10 and possibly longer if the torch is delayed, we have decided to give the north side a miss this year. We now have to decide on what objective we should focus on as all our team members are committed to continue with their travel plans to visit Nepal. Our main concern now is for the Sherpas and cooks and their families who rely on foreign expeditions for their income so we plan to climb something and hire all our original staff as planned.

Nepal has so many beautiful peaks and the problem now facing the team is which one should we attempt?

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #3 - March 31, 2008 - Kathmandu

We decided some time ago to try and switch our Everest expedition from the north to the south side. We were hesitant to post our plans on our dispatch site until we were sure we would be able to secure a permit. Today our wish was granted, we have our permit and tomorrow our team will fly to Lukla for the start our our Everest Expedition.

We will hopefully make the 6 am flight to Lukla, weather permitting, and start our 9 day trek to base camp. Our Sherpas arrived at base camp over a week ago to establish our camp site and will start moving our supplies up the hill as soon as the ice fall doctors have done their stuff in the ice fall.

I would like to thank our sponsors for their encouraging support during this time of uncertainty and political discussions between various governments and alpine associations from various countries. We have Brad Jackson working his magic with setting up all our internet and communication equipment and hopefully we will sort out our technical glitches on our acclimatization rest days on the trek or at base camp.

Phil Crampton

Dispatch #4 - April 10, 2008 - Base Camp

We finally managed to fix some of our communication problems, hence the delay in posting our latest dispatch from our Everest expedition.

During our trek up the valley we were fortunate to be blessed by two Buddhist lamas. In Deboche we were individually blessed by a 91 year old disciple of the Dali Lama who has vowed to remain in solitary confinement in a bricked up convent. The lady who has lived alone in the building for 48 years blessed us through the confines of a small hatch.

In Pangboche we were ushered into the waiting room of the most senior Lama in the Khumbu, Lama Geshe. We were individually blessed and given a small envelope containing a card, prayer to maintain our safety on the mountain and blessed grains of rice.

Our planned rest day in Dingboche coincided with snow and high winds. We all fully embraced the rest day philosophy by reading, drinking and eating.

From Dingboche to EBC was uneventful and we took advantage of some of the new lodges in the region. All the group arrived at base camp on schedule yesterday, April 9th in time for a wonderful lunch prepared by our head cook Kumar. We spent the last nine days trekking through the Khumbu valley using a cautious acclimatization schedule and all the group are doing fine and are now enjoying the comforts of base camp.

Our 7 climbing Sherpas and 4 cooks are making sure that the group get rested before we tackle the ice fall next week. The ice fall doctors are nearly finished fixing the route to camp one and they estimate will complete the task tomorrow. Some groups have been at base camp for quite some time so we will sit back and let the other groups head up the mountain first. Our Sherpas plan to go and establish camp one on Sunday so we will make our first carry and spend our first night on the mountain hopefully on Monday.

The weather on the trek has mostly been fantastic and we hope that it continues in that direction and allows us to move on the mountain unhindered over the next 6 weeks.

Phil Crampton and the Altitude Junkies

Dispatch #5 - 3 May, 2008 - Namche Bazaar

This is the first dispatch we have been able to make for an extended period on account of base camp restrictions on communications imposed by the government, so Brad Jackson has walked down to Namche Bazaar to send some emails.

In summary, everyone to date is in very good health and we have made two trips through the icefall to load carry to Camp 1 (6,000 m) and further to Camp 2 (6,400 m), and are now waiting to go to through to Camp 3.

In more detail: After arriving at Everest Base Camp, we started to acclimatize and acquaint ourselves with the infamous Khumbu Icefall. Between the 10th and the 14th May we all made our first sorties up the ice field and had our first introduction to the Khumbu Icefall doctors ladder work as used to bridge crevasses and surmount ice cliffs, as well as making sure our harnesses, slings and carabiners were all in perfect working condition. This was also an opportunity to really meet our Sherpas for the first time, and I think once again we were all humbled by the strength and the professionalism of the Nepalese Sherpas.

During the following days, we continued our acclimatization and rest cycle in preparation for our first complete foray to Camp 1. An early 4:30 am alarm was set for the 18th April and at 5am, 7 sleep deprived climbers set out for the Khumbu Icefall after several cups of milk tea. The morning glow provided a cool start but there was no wind and conditions were perfect to negotiate the towering seracs. To be brutally honest, in our early days of acclimatization for many of us, the climb through to Camp 1 was much more strenuous than expected. Our group took 5-9 hours to make the relative safety of Camp 1 but we all arrived in high spirits by early afternoon. After fighting over the choicest freeze-dried foods, we quickly settled down into the laborious process of melting snow and preparing evening freeze-dried meals.

Our initial plans to leave early the next morning were thwarted by morning high winds, so we wallowed in our sleeping bags till 8am and made our way back down the mountain at 9am. The trip down the Icefall was relatively uneventful, although some of us encountered some of the traffic jams on the ladders as other expedition teams made their way up and down the Khumbu Icefall.

The following week required more rest and acclimatization and individual team members made hikes partially up the lower slopes of nearby Pumori,to Gorak Shep, and up Kala Patar as part of this process. Usually, on all expeditions to Everest, climbers are known to return home many kilos lighter,but there might be an exception with our team. Our cook Kumar keeps surprising us with his culinary delights and mouthwatering desserts beyond our belief. Highlights have included, chicken cordon bleu, hamburgers, pizzas, chicken pie, apple pie, fresh fruit, treacle tart and delicious heart-warming soups.

During this week our Sherpas set up Camp 2 with our second big Mountain Hardwear Space Station dome tent and our fearless Camp 2 cook, Lhakpa, valiantly made his way to Camp 2 in preparation for our arrival. On the 27th, six of our team made the same early wake up and bleary eyes congregated in the dining tent to drink tea and a welcoming meal of porridge. Walter thought it prudent to completely recover from a niggling cough and ascended the following day.

With Lee and Phil setting the pace, our team was pleasantly surprised to find our second foray into the icefall much easier. Psychologically, we were much more prepared for the distance and physically we were much more acclimatized. We were all very relieved to shave off several hours of our previous ascent time and arrived at Camp 1 much less exhausted. The icefall doctors had been very productive in our absence. New ladders and rappel lines had been put in place, easing up several congestive areas through the icefall. Phil continued the journey that day to Camp 2 to help Lhakpa prepare for all climbers arrival at Camp 2 the next day.

At Camp 1 we once again tucked into our freeze dried food and with the absence of anything else compelling to do, we were all snuggled into large down sleeping bags by dusk light at 6pm. Camp 1 proved to be consistent and the next morning once again proved to be windy and we were all reluctant to leave the confines of our sleeping bags to make our way to Camp 2.

As had happened previously, the wind started to die down by 8am and we all managed to start off by 9pm. Walter obviously having completely recovered, made very swift work of the icefall and greeted us just as the 6 initial climbers set off for Camp 2.

The 27th of May started off slightly windy but with glorious sunshine and for all of us westerners was our first exposure to the full glory of the Western Cwm. The gradient to Camp 2 was slight but arduous and after several more horizontal ladders we arrived at Camp 2 after 2-3 hours. Lhakpa and the Sherpas had set up the Mountain Hardwear Space Station dome and Trango 3 person tents. After the rigors of melting our own snow and preparing freeze dried meals, it was very well appreciated to have jolly Lhakpa prepare our drinks and meals at Camp 2.

Half of us spent 2 nights at Camp 2 and the remaining climbers spent 3 nights. At dusk we witnessed the alpenglow splashed on to the Lhotse face but the cold bundled us into our tents none too long after the sun set past Pumori.

The descent to Base Camp via Camp 1 was considerably easier than the previous descent. The icefall doctors had attached further rappel lines and improved some of the more precarious ladders. As the word had been given by local authorities for all parties to descend from the mountain, the traffic was basically all one way, that being downhill.

Once settled back at Base Camp we are basically awaiting word from local authorities to ascend to Camp 3 (7,100 m) for our last acclimatization climb before our summit push. The whole Nepal side of the mountain is basically on standby, including fixing ropes to and setting up Camps 3 and 4. We are hoping to be able to ascend sometime early in the second week of May.

Brad Jackson and the Altitude Junkies

Dispatch #6 - May 20, 2008 - New York City

At 9:10 am New York City time, which would be 6:50 pm Nepal time, I received a call from Phil. He said that the first summit team consisting of himself, Steve Lawes and Michael Herbert were going to leave in about an hours time for their summit bid. He said he would not try to call from the summit for fear of the battery of the satellite phone going dead.

The second summit team, which would be the remainder of the Altitude Junkies, would be trying to top out on the 24th of May.

I will let you know more the moment I hear anything further!

Trish Crampton

Dispatch #7 - May 26, 2008 - New York City

The team is well and healthy and at base camp. They have started packing up and are preparing for the 3 day trek out to Lukla, and then the flight to Kathmandu. A detailed dispatch with summits and stories will be posted soon. The weather has been overcast causing trouble with charging the batteries of the satellite phones and of various equipment.

Trish Crampton

Dispatch #8 - May 31, 2008 - Kathmandu

We have suffered from major communication problems with our internet provider and satellite phones during our Everest expedition and we hope to have all the problems resolved before our next climb. We apologize for the inconvenience the lack of news may have caused any of our readers.

Everest was interesting this year as we had to switch last minute from the north side, Tibet to the south side, Nepal because of the Chinese Olympic torch relay. News of the Chinese progress was hard to follow as we had all our satellite phones, laptop computers and internet connections held by the Nepalese Army at base camp until after the Chinese had finished their summit attempt. Hence the first delay in posting dispatches to our website.

Apart from technical problems the climb was a pleasure. Several of our team had climbed on the north side before so we were somewhat aware of what to expect. The south side was new for all of us with all the large budget commercial groups and fewer independent smaller groups that we are used to on the north. Many southern teams seemed concerned that the "northies" were going to overrun the south side making it dangerously crowded but this didn't seem to happen with just a few teams jumping sides after the Chinese decision on March 10. We were told that there were less climbers this year than last.

Now the summit information. Our first summit group of Phil, Mike, Steve, Awongchu Sherpa and Cheddrai Sherpa went for the top on the evening of the 20th. We departed around 8.30pm as we had agreed that our two Sherpas would assist Willie Benegas and the Mountain Madness Sherpas fix the ropes above the south summit if needed. Mike felt somewhat fatigued at the balcony and decided best to turn around at this point as he was concerned about the safety of his team mates for his descent if he continued. He descended with Awongchu Sherpa. Steve reached the south summit where he encountered some problem with vision in one of his eyes so he also sensibly decided that to continue would be dangerous for his other team mates. He and Cheddrai Sherpa turned around painfully just shy of the summit. Phil continued alone and reached the summit around 7.45am. This summit would mean that Phil had become one of the few climbers to summit Everest from both the North, Tibet and South, Nepal sides.

Our second summit group of Wally, Lee, Pasang Dawa Sherpa and Lhapka Noru Sherpa went for the top on the evening of the 23rd. They departed around 8.00pm with Wally reaching the balcony and deciding that the large number of climbers ahead of him and his cold feet was not a good combination. He decided to turn around and generously instructed Lhapka Noru to continue for the summit. Lhapka, Lee and Pasang all summited around 6.00am making the ordinary guy Lee Farmer that little bit more extra ordinary.

Sandy made a gallant climb to camp three but found that her previous sickness at base camp had just fatigued her too much to reach high camp in order to make a summit push. Brad and Mark had been plagued with chest infections at the wrong time which also meant that they were also too fatigued to make a realistic summit attempt at the required time.

All the team are now back in the "Du" in good health enjoying the pleasures of post expedition eating and drinking. We are catching up with old friends and enjoying the new Republic of Nepal and the relaxed atmosphere that seems to have calmed the capital city of Kathmandu.

One small bit of information about our communications. I carried the General Dynamics GoBook MR-1 laptop computer to the summit of Everest and was able to send and email back to the States using it in association with a satellite phone. This was the one time the phone did seem to work.

Phil Crampton and the Altitude Junkies

Contact us: info@altitudejunkies.com