Day 21: Up to the North Col!

Finally I’ve have good rest at night for the first time at ABC. Fixing the surface underneath the tent yesterday and removing the inflatable matt definitely helped last night.

We’ve had an early breakfast and set off to the crampon point which is about 40 mins easy walk through the moraine from our tents. From there we’ve crossed the glacier on another 30 mins not too steep ice slope covered by thin snow. There are fixed lines at the end, right before the giant North Col ice wall, but not presence of crevasses yet. These might develop as we approach the dates of our summit push, when the glacier will get warmer. Compared with other climbs I’ve done before, the rope fixing on this section of Everest seems to be fine work. The tibetans taking care of this crucial task know very well what they do, and most of them were instructed by our Expedition Leader Phil Crampton during his six years as resident teacher in the Chinese Mountaineering Association in Lasha. We Altitude Junkies feel proud of being on his team and quite safe here, since he has great contacts and knows the local culture, rules and people, better than nobody else 😉

I was doing my way trough the glacier with two of our team members and our Sherpa Sirdar Dorje, when we approached a crowd of Chinese climbers moving very slow. Then I decided to leave my group and overtake some of them before getting to the vertical icy wall. Very soon I’ve realized the number of Chinese climbers on the North Col was quite large, about 30 I’d say, and so I’ve decided to stop the race and going with the flow. The rest of my team was already far ahead of us, I had no intention to join them, and so with my head fully covered I became one more Chinese chap. Nihao! Am I spelling correctly? 😛

At a certain point one of the Chinese Sherpas was taking care of my safety carabiner and clipping through the anchors on my behalf, hehehe. Was that because he thought I was a real Chinese dude, or because the Chinese folks are super nice? Well, after climbing few hours with them I’d say it was the latter 🙂

I felt safe and comfortable with them. They are not super skilled and they move slowly, but they don’t panic or do stupid things when crossing the aluminum ladders and other tricky points. They don’t smile too much, but it’s because they are extremely focused 🙂

They get too much support from their army of sherpas I’d say, and I personally prefer what we do in my Team. The Altitude Junkies Everest Expedition is not guided, but a fully supported expedition led by Phil. He takes all crucial decisions up the hill, but ultimately you climb on your own. The climbing strategy is built as a team, and we are trying to move as a team as well, but we don’t need to stick together like the Chinese do, and we don’t have the constant supervision from sherpas of guides, specially on this early stages of our climb. Only one climber in the Team has a personal Sherpa, which is equivalent to a guide, meaning that he is all the time following the climber and assisting in all possible ways. The rest of us are climbing independently, but on the Summit Day we’ll have 16 sherpas going up and down the lines to make sure everything is all right. Now all our Sherpas are working hard to provision high camps, so today we only had Phil leading the rope, and our IMAX Sherpa Dorje closing the line. I really like the feeling of climbing by my own knowing that if I’m stuck I can pull out the radio and getting help right away. On the summit push, when I’m going to be totally brain fried, Phil will designate a Sherpa to follow my steps and make sure I don’t do something stupid. This Sherpa will also decide what oxygen flow I should set on the regulator on the different sections to climb from about 7500m. This personal sherpa will be my shadow on the summit day but won’t do baby sitting such us carrying my load or holding my hand while climbing the 1st and 2nd steps. I just hope if I’m totally brain fried he’ll take the precious summit photo! 😀

At a certain point the wind turned into something brutal, but I was warm and excited to reach the highest point on the North Col where our Sherpas are setting Camp 1. Then I saw one of our stronger team members turning down with a Sherpa, “dude, I don’t wan’t to risk a frost bit today!”. I’m very happy with my performance this morning, and specially with the setup of my climbing gear for the North Col: Warm underwear down to the knees, thermal pants, and brand new ice climbing pants on top. Thermal long sleeve with zippered neck to compensate overheating on the hard sections, and two primaloft hoodie jackets on top. Regular mountaineering socks and my brand new high altitude boots, expedition globes and the in-expendable buff with the UAE flag stamped on it 🙂 I did not even have to use the goretex hard sell, or expedition mittens I’ve had in my backpack. Trusting my gear is fundamental to feel strong mentally. Almost everything I wear if the The North Face, and American Brand I trust for many years, and I normally don’t buy from others because I know this work pretty well.

Thirty minutes after, when I’ve climbed about two thirds of the North Col, I’ve spotted all my team members turning down under the crazy winds. I didn’t want to stop the game, so much fun at that point, feeling so happy… But I’ve didn’t hesitate to come down with them, with a huge smile on my face… what the heck, I’m freaking climbing Everest!!! We moved down as a team, and I helped one of my colleagues who got stuck going down on a tricky section without a figure of eight. Once we’ve got to the safety of the glacier I’ve took pictures of my climbing buddies, and then I felt so emotional… I’ve got tears in my eyes and remembered with photographic precision the day I’ve climbed Kala Pathar in the Khumbu Valley, and I’ve stared at the Holy Mother, Mt Everest.

Today dear friends and followers, I’ve climbed Mt Everest. Today is one of the happiest days of my life as mountaineer. Today I’m ready to fight headaches, sleepless nights, pain on my knees, cold hands and feet… so that tomorrow I will conquer this mountain. I will stand on the Top of The World as I envisioned few years back from the summit of that small peak.

Always keep the climb, one step after the other, Up to 8000m, with unlimited potential to do or become whaever you want… if you dream it out loud 🙂

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