Everest/First Ascents: Waiting For A Weather Window

Bad weather, avalanches force the First Ascents team to miss their planned summit push

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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.

If you follow mountaineering much, you already know that climbers often don’t do what they said they were going to do. And I assure you that there are good reasons for such contradictory and inconsistent behavior. For instance, yesterday I said that I would lead my sub-team of Erica, Seth, Kent and Ang Kaji in an effort to get up early and go on up the hill to ABC. I lied. We did get up early… at 3AM… and we did give it a try, but then we came back down to BC.

It was a beautiful night and each of us got up and out of the tents professing to have slept well. There was a massively full moon lighting things as we swallowed coffee and rice porridge. There weren’t any headlights already in the Icefall, and in fact we were the first to venture onto the route this morning. This didn’t surprise me as many potential summit climbers are well down valley in the tea houses right now, taking a rest before their final bids on the mountain. Their Sherpa teams have, for the most part, already carried all the equipment that is needed for those final bids.

So things are quiet on the climbing route at the moment and we seem to be the only folks still thinking of going up for practice and acclimatization. Being slightly out-of-synch with the general mob is exactly to my liking though. As we strapped on our spikes, I was pleased to contemplate cruising through the Icefall route without any traffic considerations. I led the way and began to experience a strange fringe benefit of being first. The glacier kept popping and snapping with my passage… sometimes playfully, sometimes with a rifle-crack that made one want to duck and cover. Lots of daytime melt water runs on the surface of a big glacier in Spring and it freezes solid in cracks and seams at night… whoever puts weight on it first breaks the new bonds. Knowing this intellectually and being surprised out of your socks by a loud CRACK on a quiet night are two different things.

We’d been walking for just a half hour when the International Space Station whizzed through the dark sky over Lhotse’s summit. Out to the West, the full moon was crashing dramatically to earth over Cholatse’s summit. It was yet another very beautiful morning. But we all knew something was wrong, just the same. We weren’t coming close to our intended pace for the day. Our initial hope was that Erica was just having a slow start, but after a couple of hours, it was clear that she was having more of an “off” day that we needed to pay attention to. Her knee was aching from an old twist and every awkward step up in the ice was a little slower as a result.

These things happen to all of us… even when we’ve got big plans for the day. We’d already passed through the big avalanche scar on the route and were in the “popcorn” section when I did the math and figured it just didn’t make sense for us to try getting to ABC as planned. We’d all be too tired, overworked and dehydrated from so much extra time spent out on the trail with packs on our backs. Better to get on back to BC, have Erica’s knee checked by the HRA docs and with a green light, go for it again tomorrow… hoping for an “on” day.

It was a little strange to be back in basecamp in time for the regularly scheduled breakfast with the gang, but I don’t see it as too big a setback. Certainly not as big a setback as a grindingly slow day through the Icefall would have been. The rest of our team is still in a holding pattern, trying to get over minor ailments and trying to get enough exercise in so as to stay sane in this weather-waiting period. Luckily for their sanity, things clouded over and got cold, mean and nasty for the afternoon at BC.

It is easier waiting for good weather when one feels like one is actually in bad weather, but of course the weather perceived from basecamp is not always the actual -and more significant- weather at 8000 meters. It doesn’t take too much imagination and extrapolation today though to believe that things are rough and grim at 8000 meters, but rumor has it that climbers are camped at the South Col and gunning for the summit tonight. Good luck to them… if they happen to do what they said they were going to do, that is.

—Dave Hahn

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.