One week ago we headed up the mountain with a goal of reaching Camp III, at 24,000 feet, to sleep, and to spend six nights above 22,000 feet. Today is April 25th, and with the exception of Jeff Evans, Steve Gipe, and myself (Eric Alexander), this goal was accomplished and the acclimatization process necessary for summit day has truly begun. Those who chose to sleep at Camp III had a wonderful night high on the Lhotse face: sleepless, cold, windy, headaches, nausea, vomiting, panic attacks, and even talk of giving each other shots of altitude meds in the rear (even though this is not where they are normally injected). It was good to hear them joke from below at camp II knowing that things must not be so bad.
So what happened to Jeff, Steve, and Erie (my nickname from last years permit misprint)? Why didn't we sleep at camp III? Jeff had a bout with the gastro intestinal beast of the Khumbu, and Steve, upon seeing some of the debris falling towards us off the Lhotse face said, "not today, Pooky and Paul would not approve". Steve continued to Camp III the next day. As for me, well I had not slept in 4 nights and my resting heart rate would not go below 100 telling me I best not push it too hard until I recover a bit. Brad Bull and myself climbed with Erik W from camp II to half way up the Lhotse face, at which point, I turned around and P.V., Luis, and Didrik took over. They moved on despite the falling ice and bits of rock, which come dancing down the 45 degree slope like marbles and superballs loosed from above.
I am constantly impressed by Erik's strength, endurance and inner resolve. He also demonstrates patience like no other climber on the team. As we guide him through obstacles and over narrow bridges vocally telling him how best to navigate the terrain we often make mistakes. "Hey Erik this bridge is ten feet long and one foot wide - go left a bit, oops no I mean right er no left, left, left!!!" He scans with his poles and continues without getting mad perhaps not knowing his life was put in jeopardy by an oversight of mine. It also makes me realize how independent Erik really is on this climb, relying on his senses and abilities more than anything else. As he jokingly tells me, "You just ring the bell boy. Your job is not to be funny or conversational. Your job is to perform one function -- ring boy, ring!" So I asked Erik, "What if I have trouble high on the mountain and require your help?" To which he replied: "Are you ringing the bell? If not, then it ain't my problem."
A trip from Base Camp to Camp II, with what seems to me to be a heavy load takes me five and one half hours. In that same time one of our climbing Sherpas has already returned to Base Camp for some tea. It is truly humbling to know that they carried twice the weight and did it twice as fast. They arrive with a smile then get to work serving us a meal knowing the next day they will be carrying more loads. To get to camp three it takes us anywhere from 3-7 hours on the first try from camp II. A climbing Sherpa on the other hand will get from II to III in two hours and come back in time to serve us lunch. To climb this mountain requires focusing on one's self, and it becomes easy to overlook the amazing abilities of others, especially of those who make the whole climb possible. I am thankful for these guys and their humility - it certainly forces one to keep his pride and perceived abilities in check.
Now, as I sit in base camp writing this piece, the team has begun trickling into the relative comfort of base camp from the icefall.