Everest 2011 Expedition Dispatches
Dispatch #17 - May 18, 2011 – Phakding
We are now relaxing in our sirdar's, “Big Boss” Dorjee Sherpa's Buddha Lodge in Phakding in typical Junkies style before making the short walk to Lukla in the morning.
This is going to be a longer than usual dispatch, and a little more dramatic, so if I cover some points that I have already mentioned in previous dispatches, I apologize in advance.
Altitude Junkies expeditions are classed as professionally managed expeditions, rather than traditional guided expeditions. As I am not a certified guide, but a veteran leader of over 25 expeditions to 8,000-meter peaks, it would be wrong to advertize our expeditions as guided, but what we do, we think we do it well. All of the climbers who join our expeditions are competent climbers and we feel have sufficient experience to warrant being on the mountains they climb with us. What has this description got to do with the summit dispatch? Quite a lot actually.
We had a smaller group than usual this year climbing with our Everest expedition due to a couple of last minute postponements by a couple of climbers. Although disappointing for all concerned, this actually allowed our staff to get the sufficient supplies in place earlier than usual, therefore we were able to make a summit attempt much quicker than in previous years.
Our team in the end consisted of only four climbers. Margaret climbed with us last year on Everest and turned around on the South Summit due to the late hour and worsening weather conditions. Lynette was also on Everest last year with one of the higher priced guided expeditions and had a health issue that stopped her at camp three. Milos had tried Everest before on the north side of the mountain and this year fancied a go at the south. Rounding of the foursome was myself, this being my eight Everest expedition on both the north and south sides of the hill. No rookies here.
We had completed our two acclimatization rotations by late April and got into our usual routine of checking the weather forecasts each morning for a hope of that early window. Well it seemed to have happened and once again the ropes were fixed to the summit by a collective group of Sherpas from three commercial expeditions on May 5th.
Better news happened later in the week when our weather forecast service informed us that there would be a short window from May 12th through 15th, with the 12th looking the most favorable in terms of lower wind speeds. Both Dorjee Sherpa and myself decided this would be a suitable date for us, as all our climbers and staff would be rested and our oxygen was all in place at camp three and four respectively. The date was set.
Our members called home to inform family and friends of our tentative plan but we did not post any definite dates on our dispatches news page in case we changed our minds or the weather changed its.
On May 10th all of the team including Chhedar Sherpa and Ang Gelo Sherpa climbed to camp three. It was a big day as always but it took Lynette longer than she had hoped and she arrived with Ang Gelo Sherpa, somewhat later than Margaret, Milos and myself.
The following day we climbed to camp four to get into position for the summit push. The other Sherpas, Nima Neru, Pasang Nima, Pasang Awangcho, and Dorjee Sherpa now were climbing with us and the team was now complete again. I arrived first to help the Sherpas set up the camp and then Margaret and Chhedar arrived with Milos and Dorjee arriving a few hours behind. Unfortunately for Lynette and Ang Gelo, the top of the Yellow Band would be as far as they would go as they had spent a lot of energy on the climb to camp three the day before and the late hour of them reaching the top of the band meant they decided to turn around and head back to camp two. Another heartbreaking decision for Lynette on Everest once again.
The plan for the summit push would be for Margaret to be accompanied at all times by Chhedar and Nima Neru Sherpa and Milos to be accompanied by Dorjee and Pasang Awongcho at all times. Pasang Nima Sherpa and myself would trail all the climbers in case of an emergency. Both Margaret and Milos would have three, four-liter oxygen bottles for summit day and the Sherpas and I would have two bottles each and also carry a third bottle, mine being an emergency use bottle.
We departed the South Col at 8 pm, earlier than usual as per Margaret request, as last year we had left at 9 pm and got stuck in the most awful traffic jam I had ever seen on the hill. The evening was beautiful, much as our forecast said it would be and left the tents at the Col to see a star filled sky. I was already too warm in my down suit and after putting on my crampons and cranking the oxygen to two liters per minute, I had to unzip the suit and remove my heavy gloves to remain wearing just thin glove liners. It was looking like it was going to be another classic walk up the hill.
We made good progress as we were the first to leave the camp although that left the task of breaking trail to Chhedar Sherpa for the first three hours. He rightly tired as the night progressed and then three strong Sherpas from another team passed us, and we were glad that they were now going to share the task of getting the trail open to the Balcony.
We grouped briefly at the Balcony to take some drink before continuing along the ridge. This is where we got our first taste of the winds that our forecast had predicted. We were supposed to be looking at 25-35 mph winds on this summit day, and this day was supposed to be the calmest of the short three day window. Nothing unusual at this part of the climb, but now I had zipped up the suit and put back on my warm Outdoor Research gloves waiting for the sunrise to happen as I would approach the South Summit.
As we got close to the South Summit, as clockwork, the sunrise started to begin, but I did not feel the usual warmth that I get when I arrive at this location at this time in the morning. Minutes later I understood why. Just as we crested the final part of the South Summit ridge we got hit with such extreme winds that I found it hard to keep my balance. Add to this the complete whiteout beginning to happen and I knew we were in for a very long remainder of the summit day.
Margaret and her two Sherpas were now some distance ahead of Milos and his two Sherpas, and Pasang Nima and I were directly behind them. When we dropped down from the South Summit to the rock area where all the oxygen bottles are cached, did we then only realized the full force of the massive storm that we were now in the middle of. We changed our oxygen bottles and then huddled together to decide what to do next.
When I first worked for Mountain Madness years ago, there was kind of a unwritten rule to read the book “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, just to know the story for when the clients would ask about that infamous spring season on Everest. As we huddled together deciding what to do, I witnessed several climbers descending from the South summit and starting to pass our group, mostly completely unaware of the surrounding conditions. My immediate thought after seeing a Sherpa short roping a young female climber, then proceeding to drag her towards the Hillary Step was, this could be another day on Everest that someone writes a best selling book about.
A few more climbers started to pass, although these were only accompanied by one or two Sherpas at the most, and then Canadian Bill and his two Sherpas arrived at the South Summit huddle. They decided to make a go for it with a few other Sherpas and their clients, only to return five minutes later informing us that it was pointless as there was zero visibility and the force of the winds were knocking them over. It was looking as if our perfect summit day was know going to be a struggle just to descend to the South Col.
Just as Steve Lawes did in 2008, Valerie Parkinson in 2009 and Margaret in 2010, Milos was now facing the tough decision to abort his summit climb at the South Summit due to one factor or the other. His hands had been feeling the cold since camp one, and I was seriously concerned that if we tried to go ahead along the knife-edged ridge in these conditions, for another hour or so to the summit, he would definitely lose digits on his hands. Dorjee looked at me as Milos was trying to warm his hands in the huddle, and we both knew that the only option was to get Milos down as quick as possible.
We tried to contact Chhedar and Margaret on their radios, but to no avail as we were almost sure that their radios were power-dead in the extreme cold, even though the radios had fresh lithium batteries inserted at the Col and the radios would be placed inside the climbers down suits with a lapel microphone. Even though we couldn't contact them, we knew Margaret would be in safe hands with such experienced Sherpas as Chhedar and Nima Neru.
After over one hour of waiting at the oxygen cache at the South Summit for the winds to drop we made the collective decision, the Sherpas, Milos and I, to make the descent to the South Col. The conditions were extreme to say the least but we all worked together to pull out the buried fixed ropes, this combined with the dangerous winds, deep snow and topped off with zero visibility.
Upon getting closer to the South Col, I went ahead of the other climbers to start to make drinks. We had made sure that our tents were sealed on our departure for the summit, now as I approached the tents I noticed that the vestibules were full of snow. I was unable to enter the tents from the front due to the high snow load blocking the entrance, but when I managed to enter the tents from the rear, I discovered that somehow, there was around 18 inches of snow inside them all. This was just another factor of a pretty extreme summit day.
Margaret, Chhedar and Nima Neru arrived at the South Col around 3 pm and soon crashed into a deep sleep, rightly so after their successful summit attempt. We didn't really make much conversation until the morning when we all departed the South Col for camp two.
Margaret's description of her summit day is not quite as dramatic as my version, she just described it as windy and snowy. That's typical of her style, and now she has two 8,000-meter peaks on her resume.
So what now, seeing as we should be back in Kathmandu nine days earlier than this time last year. Milos will hopefully be taking my advice and drinking as much alcohol as possible to aid his frost nip recovery. Margaret will not be climbing any more 8,000-meter peaks, supposedly, and will probably take some well deserved vacations to Europe with her delightful husband, Tad. Lynette is going to work with Ang Gelo Sherpa on a two year plan to return to Everest and this will include a new training plan and some climbs in between for them. For me, I plan to finish the bar I am building in my house/office in Kathmandu, just for entertaining purposes, before leaving for Pakistan and Broad Peak in early June.
Thanks for following another one of our great adventures on the “Big E”.
The above photos show Margaret and Chhedar on the Summit on May 12th and the gang from left to right, Milos, Big Boss Dorjee, Margaret and Phil getting ready to leave the South Col on the morning of the 13th.
Dispatch #16 - May 14, 2011 – Base Camp
We are all now back at base camp safely after a successful summit attempt on the 12th. Obviously we are all tired and in need of some rest and fine wine and dining from our base camp cooks.
When we have finished packing up base camp over the next few days we will send a detailed dispatch about the summit day and the preceding days.
Dispatch #15 - May 9, 2011 – Camp Two
All of the expedition members, both Sherpas and westerners, are now at camp two in position to launch a summit bid in the next few days. We have a tentative summit plan and we hope that the weather forecast holds true.
We will not be taking the laptop computer and satellite internet modem any higher than camp two due to obvious reasons, so we may not post a dispatch for a few days until we return to camp two or base camp.
Fingers crossed for a perfect summit day.
The above photos from our 2009 Everest expedition show the view from the South Col and the last section of the climb as seen from the South Col high camp.
Dispatch #14 - May 6, 2011 – Base Camp
Our Sherpas have now completed the oxygen load carry to the South Col have returned to base camp for a well deserved rest. They received a lot of comments from other Sherpas heading to the Col over the past few days, remarking on how fast they were carrying loads to the high camp. The secret our boys proudly revealed, was the new NASA style oxygen masks and a high oxygen flow rate. We prefer to have our Sherpas use oxygen from camp three, both carrying loads and on the summit push, just as us western climbers do, as we feel this will keep the Sherpas safer and stronger for the summit attempt. They are a strong bunch of climbers, carrying loads to the South Col from camp two and then returning to base camp before lunch is served.
The waiting game has now started and each morning at 5 am Nepal time we check the latest weather forecast via the internet to decide when to go for the summit. We are looking for the perfect combination of warmer summit temperatures and low wind speeds to make a safe calculated summit attempt. Our team realistically realizes that we are not all Olympic athletes, so we want to give it our best shot at reaching the top, first time around, hence the reason we rely heavily on a professional weather forecast service from the States.
As a suitable weather window approaches, we will shift ourselves into position in camp two, where we will continue to monitor the weather forecasts, before making a push for the top.
The above photos show Margaret checking the final fit of her oxygen mask with her goggles and our head cook, Malia, checking the food barrels for some extra goodies for us before the big push.
Dispatch #13 - May 3, 2011 – Base Camp
We are now enjoying our second rest period after our second acclimatization rotation on the mountain. The plan now is to take regular day hikes to keep the body in shape and the mind active.
This morning, the Sherpas made their last load carry to camp two, and tomorrow they will start to move the oxygen into place at the South Col. The Sherpas will be using oxygen from camp three whilst carrying the heavy oxygen bottles, so hopefully, by May 5th, all of our loads are in place at the high camp.
We are now consulting our daily weather forecasts to decide when the best weather window is for our climbers. Wind speed and temperatures rule high on Everest, so as last year, we will not necessarily pick the first window, but the one that gives us ample time to climb high and descend in favorable weather conditions.
There are rumors of some groups making a summit attempt immediately after the fixed ropes are placed by the Sherpas, a similar situation to what happened last year. We have collectively decided that there is still too much Australian boxed wine at base camp to rush anywhere at the moment.
The above photos show the Sherpas leaving the kitchen tent on a frigid morning heading to camp two and Dorjee Sherpa and Phil checking the daily weather forecasts on our trustworthy GD8000 laptop computer.
Dispatch #12 - April 30, 2011 – Base Camp
All the team members and Sherpas are now down at base camp after our second rotation on the mountain. We had originally planned to depart base camp for camp two on the 29th, but there was a storm to the East and West of Everest developing so we decided to bring our schedule forward a day.
The storm that was developing was NOT going to affect Everest itself but we decided to throw caution to the wind, and be down in base camp on the day it was at it's strongest in case it somehow changed direction. At present it seems as if the storm has passed Everest completely unscathed.
On the 28th we all climbed directly to camp two to test our stamina levels, and I am pleased to say that all the team did well. The next stamina test the following morning was to climb and tag lower camp three. In previous years we have positioned our camp three in the lower to middle area of camp three, but due to constant ice being kicked upon us from unaware climbers above, we decided this year to place our campsite at the top area of camp three. With this in mind, we decided to climb to the 7,000-7,100-meter mark for acclimatization, rather than making the longer slog to our established campsite some 150-200 meters higher.
Now we have all our supplies and oxygen at camp three and will wait for the fixed ropes to be finished to the South Col, hopefully today or tomorrow. Our Sherpas then can complete their final load carrying of oxygen to the high camp in anticipation of a good weather window for our summit attempt.
The above photos show “Big Boss” Dorjee Sherpa dressed for a cold day on the Lhotse Face and Cheddar Sherpa and Phil assessing the mad crazy wind conditions at the start of our climb on the Lhotse Face up to camp three yesterday.
Dispatch #11 - April 25, 2011 – Base Camp
We are now enjoying our third rest day at base camp although it's been quite hard for both Margaret and Milos to rest, as they have been taking regular day treks to Gorak Shep. We seemed to have timed our camp two rotation perfect based on the weather forecast services of Michael Fagin from the States. We experienced some wind at both camp one and two, but enough for us to handle. The last two days whilst we have been at base camp, the respective higher camps have seen wind and snow, so we feel very fortunate indeed to have our regular meteorological service assisting us.
Today we reviewed the oxygen system that we will be using from camp three onwards. We plan to review the procedure a couple more times before actually using the system, but practice makes perfect as they say. This year we have the brand new NASA inspired oxygen delivery masks for our climbers to use. A retired engineer from the Space program has been assisting us in the design and manufacturing of the masks, taking elements from all the present masks available on the market and maximizing the design for oxygen efficiency. The mask has been tested over the past few years on Everest and Manaslu so now its ready for it's so called “launch”, excuse the pun.
The Sherpa crew have now completed all the load carries to camp two where all our gear, food, kerosene and oxygen is now in place. When the ropes have been fixed to camp four and the weather is suitable, they will start to ferry the oxygen loads to high camp in anticipation of our summit attempt.
The above photos show Phil demonstrating the correct fit of the oxygen mask with whilst wearing a down suit at the Junkies office prior to leaving Kathmandu for the expedition and our cache of oxygen bottles at camp two.
Dispatch #10 - April 23, 2011 – Base Camp
We are all now back at base camp enjoying the very popular propane showers that we have. The food is even more tastier than we remembered before, especially with the imported sirloin steaks and the wine tastes that much stronger after our four nights on the hill.
The route through the icefall this season is more direct than the past few years I can remember and there are very few ladders indeed. On descent, the route had somewhat altered from when we ascended it on the 18th, but all in all, it's still pretty straightforward. We had a delay of about an hour while we waited for two of the Icefall Doctors to repair the “floating ladder” as it had become known, located just below camp one. We joked with the Doctors in regards to the amount the SPCC charges each climber to use the services of the Doctors. More on this topic later.
Now the plan is to rest and take regular hikes to Pumori base camp to keep us in shape before our next climb to camp two and camp three respectively.
The above photos show the Icefall Doctors maintaining the ladders and Phil about to enjoy his post camp two rotation steak sizzler with the mandatory glass of wine.
Dispatch #9 - April 20, 2011 – Camp Two
The team are now at camp two, at 6,400 meters, enjoying the warm sun that is hitting our dining dome. Kami Neru Sherpa is taking care of us in the kitchen and we will spend three nights here in total for our first acclimatization rotation.
On route to camp two we spent the evening of the 18th at camp one, which was windy and cold to say the least, but our Sherpa cooks took care of us inside our dining/kitchen dome that we had erected.
The plan now is to find ways to occupy ourselves for the next two full days while we sit, eat and drink and allow our bodies to adjust the higher elevation.
The above photos show some of the gang inside the camp two dining dome in the early morning frigid hours and the view of Lhoste from our camp two.
Dispatch #8 - April 17, 2011 – Camp Two
We had mentioned our climbing Sherpas names in a previous dispatch but forgot to mention the hardest working guys on our crew, our kitchen staff. Below are their names.
Malia Tamang (Head Chef)
Lal Singh Tamang
We are now planning to climb to camp one tomorrow and then continue to camp two the following day, where we plan to spend four to five nights to assist our acclimatization. We have a kitchen set up at camp one and camp two so our members are pleased not to be eating any freeze dried meals just yet.
The above photos show the hardest working Sherpas in show business at base camp and the moon and mist over the Khumbu Icefall at dusk.
Dispatch #7 - April 14, 2011 – Base Camp
We held our Puja ceremony on the 12th and it was quite a mellow affair compared to the one we had last year this time. The usual drinking beer and whiskey while covered in flour was switched from an early morning start to a lunchtime event. Several Sherpas from neighboring expeditions came over to be blessed, otherwise known as drinking several cans of the Junkies imported beer.
Some of the gang made their first foray into the icefall today. All went well especially as both Margaret and Lynette are no strangers to the south side of Everest. Miloslav has climbed on the north side before so this was his first experience of climbing Everest with ladders.
Our Sherpa crew have already made a load carry to camp one and two and will repeat this process a few more times in anticipation of our team members making the climb to camp one and two respectively.
The above photos show “Big Boss” Dorje Sherpa, Ang Gelo Sherpa and “Big Boss” Dawa Gelgen Sherpa at our Puja Ceremony and Milsolav watching Margaret crossing one of the ladders in the icefall.
Dispatch #6 - April 10, 2011 – Base Camp
All of our climbers arrived at base camp on the 9th and are all doing well. Dorje Sherpa and myself came a day earlier to help finish establish base camp and now all that we need to do is hold our Puja ceremony on the 12th and then we can start climbing.
Not much else to report on at the moment apart from our amazing kitchen crew taking care of us with yak steaks and plentiful amounts of red wine.
The above photos show some of our gang chillaxing in the dining dome and the view of the Khumbu Icefall from our base camp.
Dispatch #5 - April 7, 2011 – Loboche
We awoke on the morning of the 3rd to find Namche Bazar covered in around an inch of snow. The surprising snowfall made for some nice photo opportunities but the trail to Deboche was quite slippery in places, especially just before we arrived at our lodge. Shortly after arriving the snow stated to fall again so we felt pleased with ourselves that we had manged to avoid trekking in the mini-blizzard like conditions.
The following day saw glorious sunshine and clear skies for us to make the short trek to Dingboche, where we spent two evenings for acclimatization purposes.
Mickey and Milos caught up with us in Namche Bazar and again in Dingboche. We will next rendezvous at base camp.
We are now enjoying the brand new lodge, Mother Earth, in Loboche. The team are all doing well and looking forward to arriving at base camp around April 9th.
The above photos show Pumori from just outside Loboche and the view from the window of the new Mother Earth Lodge.
Dispatch #4 - April 2, 2011 – Namche Bazar
We managed to make our flight to Lukla yesterday afternoon after a long wait at the airport due to delays because of low clouds blanketing Lukla for most of the morning. After a couple of hours trekking, Margaret, Lynette, Dorjee and myself arrived at Dorjee's Buddha Lodge in Phakding. Milos and Mickey are planning on staying here this evening as they will be trekking to base camp a day behind our schedule.
We arrived in Namche Bazar this morning and we will spend another tomorrow night here for cautious acclimatization before continuing the trek to Deboche. Namche seems much quieter than on previous visits this time of year and it seems that the rumors are true that the number of climbers will be smaller on the hill this season.
The above photos show our new found Japanese friends at Dorjee's Buddha Lodge in Phakding and the view from the Camp de Base Hotel in Namche Bazar.
Dispatch #3 - March 29, 2011 – Kathmandu
Our first team member has now arrived in bustling Kathmandu. Margaret successfully climbed Manaslu with the Junkies in 2009 and last year she showed sound judgment and decided to turn around on the South Summit of Everest due to the late hour and worsening weather conditions So she is back this spring to finish the final 50 vertical meters to the summit.
Other team members will arrive in the next few days and some of us will start the trek to base camp on April 1st with the others starting on April 2nd. Our plans are all dependent on the Lukla flights running on schedule as we have had rain in Kathmandu for the past few days and very few flights made it to Lukla yesterday and today because of the weather conditions.
Pujan and Michelle as always, are our gracious hosts at the beautiful Courtyard Hotel where the Junkies expedition members stay in the Thamel district of Kathmandu. We shall be looking forward to socializing in the Library Bar in the next few days before we head to Lukla.
There are now many other climbers in Kathmandu for a few days before their respective departure to the mountains and today I had the pleasure to catch up with an old friend from Everest past. Alan Arnette is back on Everest once again this season and we caught up at the Junkies office for lunch to discuss the upcoming season.
Alan has provided armchair mountaineers with excellent Everest coverage for many years now but he will be climbing this year so expect even more reports on the action on the hill as it happens.
The above photos show Margaret and Dorjee Sherpa at the Courtyard Hotel and our favorite Kathmandu hotel watering hole, the Library Bar with hosts Pujan and Michelle.
Dispatch #2 - March 19, 2011 – Kathmandu
All of our staff and gear are now on the way to base camp to establish the campsites. All that remains to follow are the climbers and the important satellite communication equipment.
This season, as last, we will be using the latest rugged laptop computers on our Everest, Broad Peak and Manaslu expeditions supplied by our premier sponsor General Dynamics Itronix with the GD8000 and MR-1 portable computers.
There is a lot of talk about 3G cell phone coverage at Gorak Shep and at base camp this year but we still plan on bringing our Thuraya satellite phones to use at base camp and higher. We also plan to have full internet access for our climbers and staff at base camp, camp one and camp two throughout the duration of the expedition with the Thuraya DSL and Wideye Sabre BGAN modems.
Another important shout out goes to Rowan and Derek at Mountain Hardwear for their continued support of the Altitude Junkies with providing us the best tents period, made by Mountain Hardwear.
The above photos show some of our communications equipment after being tested at our office and one of our General Dynamics Itronix computers that we operated on the summit of Everest in 2008.
Dispatch #1 - March 14, 2011 – Kathmandu
Welcome to the expedition dispatches from our 2011 Everest Expedition. Our Sherpa crew have been busy and all our loads are now on their way to base camp where we have staff waiting to receive them. Our team of Sherpas this year are again all Everest veterans and even our base camp cook and camp two cook have reached the summit of Everest before.
Our team members will start to arrive in the next couple of weeks and then we will start the beautiful trek to base camp.
Our climbing Sherpa crew this year consists of the following climbers under the directorship of Dorjee “IMAX” Sherpa.
Dorjee Sherpa (Sirdar)
Pasang Wongchu Sherpa
Nima Nuru Sherpa
Pasang Nima Sherpa
Ang Gelu Sherpa
Kami Neru Sherpa
Maila Tamang (Base Camp Cook)
The above photos show the Sherpa crew at the Junkies Thamel Kathmandu office packing the all important beer and wine for base camp and Dorjee “IMAX” Sherpa styling his new found retro shades.
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