Westwrite Blog - Summit Push

Trip Start Apr 20, 2013
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Trip End May 19, 2013


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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Saturday, January 12, 2013

There are no end of personal accounts and blogs to be found on google - and I find access to this information helpful. Spending time in the gym is no guarantee of success at altitude, I will find out how I cope when I am there.

I can however prepare to myself in the best way I can, both physically and mentally. For me this blog has been a facinating read and helps me prepare, in some small way, my mind for what is coming my way.

Enjoy this section about their push to summit on the North Col;

Suz–
We’re about to head to abc for final summit push after resting at bc
for a week/other teammates wanted to do the hike in two days and they
left the day before.
All activity on the mountain self-arrested today when a snowstorm
plowed in, dumping knee-deep (well, for Ellen, that is) snow on ABC and
several inches on Base Camp. Chris, Andy, Asmus, Ellen and Owen are thus
spending their eleventh day “resting” at BC–an Everest code word for
“inflating the jowls” –and plan to hike the 15 miles to ABC tomorrow.
The other half of the crew found itself covered in snow at interim camp
this morning but decided to plunge ahead to ABC when Jaime happened to
see some text from Naoki’s book: “All work and no play makes Naoki a bad
boy” is apparently scrawled throughout the tome and when the others saw
it, they fled. The capricious weather affects people differently.
Though we are hearing rumours (highly brittle but we have no other
news source: last week we heard about our own deaths and the week before
some of the older guys were crushed when we heard the false rumour —
that Brittany Spears was engaged) some expeditions are considering
packing up and calling it a season, the snow might actually speed our
summit attempt if the wild weather settles for a few days so a trail can
be broken and packed down. Or so I’m told; the guides are consummately
positive and I’m convinced that if I were caught in a slab avalanche
with Warner he’d shout, “This isn’t that bad! This thing could be about a
foot thicker, then we’d be in REAL trouble!”
So in a few days the entire team should be poised at the foot of the
gate (the awesome North Col) in full battle dress waiting for that
elusive window to open–or, if we’re already at 25,000 feet when it
closes, armed with the professional decision-making capability and a fit
enough team to smash it and pour through to high camp (27,250′) if it
looks like it may open again soon.
From ABC, we are four days of climbing from the summit attempt,
moving hard from camp to camp in an initial climb that will take us from
21,000 feet to 27,250 feet (all the camps have been established by the
Sherpas over the last few weeks in an incredible display of high
altitude endurance and strength that has left the members totally
awestruck). Most accounts of Everest summit attempts start at the high
camp, but there is a huge volume of work to be done before then and as a
novice to serious altitude I thought I’d write a tad about our
acclimatization so far and my two cents on the experience with the thin
air.
(NOTE–since I first started typing 30 minutes ago, the temperature
has gone from 50f and bright sun to 35f and windy, nasty snow to 65f and
thick haze)
Everest is difficult from the moment you arrive at Base Camp
(17,000′) and, as we have witnessed around us, any movement higher can
be downright dangerous without proper acclimatization. It’s quite
arduous just to reach 25,500′ for a solid training platform on which to
base a summit attempt, so there are some rough climbs waiting for anyone
who wishes to get the chance at the top. Fortunately, the HIMEX
schedule allowed us a lengthy acclimatization and our problems were
limited to the typical symptoms of climbing high: headaches, loss of
appetite, lethargy, loss of personality (helpful in some cases), excess
hair growth.
We spent three nights at 12,000′, a night at 13,000′, and two nights
at 14,000′ before arriving at BC. Most of the group took daily training
hikes during this warm-up phase but a bout of bronchitis limited me to
struggling up Tibetan hotel stairs so it’s probably useful to skip the
experience here. Then it was six days at 17,000′ –and three tough
training hikes–where the initial sensation was hyperventilation. I
simply couldn’t believe how heavily I was breathing compared to my
snail’s rate of movement during these hikes, lungs heaving, spittle
flying, legs sagging. I stared at my feet and wondered where all the
fuel–and the months of training–had gone. I followed Andy and Ellen to a
personal high point of 20,500′ on these hikes (they always went higher,
these descendents of Yaks), each time learning a bit more about the
level of oxygen at my disposal. For instance, just after a rest break I
took a big step up onto a rock platform and found myself gasping for
air, totally winded. It took me five minutes before I recovered enough
to realize that 1) you never, ever hold your breath up here while you’re
on the move (even drinking must be done in tiny sips) and 2) you need
to take many rapid breaths before any deep knee movement in an attempt
at saturation, however small. Even before you stand up in the morning it
helps to suck in some air in preparation.
We moved to 19,000′ (interim camp) and 21,000′ (ABC) during a two-day
hike. The training worked: I felt good–able to keep up with this strong
group–and just had tiny headaches each night. After five days at ABC,
we climbed to 23,000′ (North Col) and descended immediately.
Hyperventilation wasn’t an issue–my lungs were used to the rate–but rest
breaks were. Whereas a training hike to 21,000′ could be completed
without many breaks, here, on the steep wall of snow, rest breaks were
coming rapid-fire. I followed the guides’ advice but even using
straight-legged rest steps and upper body expansions (the tendency is to
bend over the ski pole/ice axe and heave for air, cutting its flow and
potential–the slopes are littered with exhausted climbers succumbing to
this), I was soon taking a rest every ten meters, then five, and finally
one as we crested the ridge. Still, our time was good (under four
hours) and we were enthusiastic considering it was a fledgling attempt
and would be our slowest.
Three days later, we spent a night at the Col and descended the
following morning. We felt much better, were much faster (3.25 hours),
and had an easy night of rest.
On Day Twelve at ABC, we climbed the Col, slept, and went to 25,000′
the next morning to spend the night. The climb to what is our Camp 2 is
deceiving: it looks like it should take two hours but for some it can
take eight. Chris had warned us to just press on, no matter how much
rest we needed to take between steps, or it could be a long day. A VERY
long day. This route can be the windiest on the entire mountain–the wind
rips over the ridge and can fold climbers to the ground–and the weather
changes are so sudden here that we set off in full summit gear (sans
oxygen). The way I can best describe this part of the climb is that a
deep sense of exhaustion sets in immediately as you approach 24,000′…and
the lethargy eats at your endurance and willpower as you get higher. It
was as if I had just run a marathon and someone spun me around at the
finish and said, “Do another.” So, for 4 hours you slog higher, thighs
burning, a step at a time, struggling to find a rhythm that will prove
totally elusive. No matter what you try–continous baby steps with lots
of breath, hyperventilation and a few big steps, a step-a breath-a
step–you find yourself thrown out of kilter, forced to just put your
head down and keep driving into the wind. You need to believe the
suffering will end. And it does. And you suddenly have more red blood
cells and the confidence to give the top slice of the pyramid a shot.

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