Everest/First Ascents: Viesturs & Whittaker Climb to Lhotse Face

Extreme temperatures and altitude work our climbers at Camp 2, but creature comforts (a Coke!) await at basecamp.

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This spring, superstar mountaineers Ed Viesturs, Dave Hahn, and Peter Whittaker will tackle Everest as the First Ascent team. Joined by some of climbing’s best and brightest young talent, this Eddie Bauer-sponsored group of all-stars will chronicle their trek to the top of the world right here on BACKPACKER.com with daily blog updates, videos, photos, and more.

When trekking into Everest Base Camp (BC) two weeks ago, it felt high, rugged, and hostile. Man, what a different perspective this morning, as Viesturs and I returned to BC after 5 days at Camp 1 (19,000′) and Camp 2 (21,200′). What fun to enjoy the creature comforts that we did without for the last few days…thick air (yes, 17,500′ feels thick compared to 21,000′), a shower, a shave, and a Coke. It never ceases to amaze me how much I appreciate the little things that we typically take for granted. A bit of suffering and “doing without” gives great contrast to our relative comforts of BC, where living on a pile of rocks and ice can seem quite luxurious.

Our 5 days on the mountain went well and we accomplished all we set out to do on this rotation. Our night at Camp 1 was uneventful though light on sleep, as we listened to icefall and rockfall crash down from Everest’s west shoulder and Nuptse. Camp 1 is in a good place but you never know “if” or “when” the big one might decide to come down. At daybreak the next day, fueled by high-octane caffeine, we blasted out of there and 2 1/2 hours later arrived at Camp 2.

Camp 2 is in a much nicer place on the lateral moraine of the Khumbu glacier and is free from objective dangers…icefall, rockfall, etc. We still slept poorly, though not from worrying about things falling from above, but from the significant altitude jump we had made from BC to here…about a 3,500′ increase over the last 36 hours. Altitude symptoms affect everyone, even Ed Viesturs, and I was happy to know I had a partner to share my mild discomfort with. The next two days we made forays up to 22,000′ on the southwest face of Everest and to the base of the Lhotse face.

These two morning climbs were not only great for acclimatization, but let us soak in the amazing beauty of the world’s highest peaks. We would start walking by 8 a.m. before the sun crested Lhotse, when the entire Khumbu is arctic blue and silent…and COLD. Then, within the hour, the brilliant sunlight would ignite the snow, rock, and ice around us and our world not only brightened but warmed up considerably. Up here there are two sources of heat…what your body generates and the sun, and you quickly learn how to maximize both. At the end of our stay at Camp 2, we were feeling pretty good. Our bodies had adjusted to the altitude and we were falling into the pace and cadence of high-mountain living.

Ed and I are now back here at BC for 2-3 days of rest. Melissa stayed at Camp 2 for another day of acclimatization, and Dave Hahn and his team just headed up to Camp 1 for their first rotation on the mountain. I’m really pleased that all team members are on track and making steady progress. Next we will head up for another rotation up high, which will include spending a night at Camp 3 (23,500′), climbing above to about 25,000′ and then descending all the way to BC for more rest prior to our final push.

We are one month into this expedition and so far, so good. Each day is its own challenge. My mantra is “short-term focus on a long-term goal.” One step at a time, literally. But hey, I’m down here at BC resting my body and my mind, so I’m going for another Coke.

—Peter Whittaker

The content of this blog has been provided by Born Out There, the First Ascents blog. For more on the expedition, go to http://blog.firstascent.com. And for more climber footage, watch our video interview with Viesturs, Hahn, Whittaker, and more.