From the Chinese Base Camp, our main operations base at the North Side of Everest, there are six different camps followed by six features or obstacles on our way to the Top of the World.
- Base Camp (Camp 1), 5200m
- Interim Base Camp (Camp 2), 5800m
- Advance Base Camp (Camp 3), 6450m
- Camp 1 – North Col (Camp 4), 7050m
- 7500m – O2
- Camp 2 (Camp 5), 7850m – O2
- Camp 3 (Camp 6), 8300m – O2
- 1st step, 8501m – O2
- Mushroom rock, 8549m – O2
- 2nd step, 8577m – O2
- Summit Pyramid, 8699m – O2
- 3rd step, 8690m – O2
- Summit Ridge, 8800m – O2
Elevations go from 5200m of our Base Camp, up to the 8848m of the Summit as per the Chinese geography. That makes a total of 3648m elevation gain we´ll have to negotiate during what we call the Summit Push. That is a specific period of time when we climb with the solely intention of conquering the summit, and it´s primarly mandated by three factors:
– Rope fixing progress on the route stablished to the summit. This is weather and politics dependent.
– Weather window. This depends on the climatology (winds and precipitations) and conditions of the terrain (morphology of the glacier, snow and rocky sections)
– Health condition and acclimatization. These depends on too many variables to be listed here.
In order to increase their possibilities to summit Everest, climbing teams use state of the art technologies from their Base Camps to obtain sophisticated weather forecast reports that can be a combination of predictions formulated by both westerner and asian agencies.
Simultaneously, these teams develop what we call a Climbing Strategy, that allow climbers to work on acclimatizing their bodies to the extreme conditions that they´ll have to face during the Summit Push. These strategies varies significantly from one team to another. We can see teams going through a very strict series of “rotations” between camps, trying to spend time at high altitude forcing their bodies to accommodate by triggering changes such us raising their hemoglobin levels, changing food habits and sleeping patterns.
Our Climbing strategy is more relaxed, and it is mandated by all three different factors listed above. Initially we programmed a full week rest at Base Camp followed by two rotations from Advance Base Camp to tag the North Col. We don’t sleep any higher than ABC before our Summit Push. Plenty of interesting food and sleep, plus easy exercise at Base Camps, are key ingredients on our recipe. We’ll go on six bottles of oxygen during our Summit Push from approximately 7500m, and sleep on 0.5l/h of O2 both at Camp 2 and 3. Two climbers have 1 and 2 personal sherpas, and there are 14 more helping the rest of the Team on the way up to the Roof of the World (not all of them climbing at the same time most probably).
Weather conditions finally limited our program to one rotation with plenty of downtime at ABC (7 days). We were aiming for another full week resting at BC before we start our Summit Push. However the high winds above ABC are forcing us to extend our stay a bit more (12 days so far). Once a favorable weather window opens, hopefully in the next 4 to 5 days, we’ll move straight to ABC with no stop at the dirty Interim Camp, one full day rest at ABC, and hopefully one single night at each High Camp before reaching our goal. One last night at Camp 3 before retrieving to ABC, with the option of extra night at Camp 1 if we feel weak, otherwise just a few hours break.
Summit Push schedule:
– Day 1: ABC > C1
– Day 2: C1 > C2
– Day 3: C2 > C3
– Day 4: C3 > S > C3
– Day 5: C3 > ABC (rest at C1)
– Day 6: Rest at ABC
– Day 7: ABC > BC
The military style programs we are observing this year on the North Ridge Route include spending several nights at Camp 1 or even Camp 2, with a crazy number of rotations, 3 or 4. Long and extenuating treks to the neighborhood peaks at BC, or regular walks from ABC to Crampon Point (6500m) are also included to burn out all energy accumulated before starting this trip. Some teams are having poor diets both at BC and ABC, carbohydrates based (i.e. cheap rice and noodles), and at this point we can see many climbers abandoning the expedition with weak physical and mental conditions. We estimate a 15% or climbers have already left the expedition on the North Side due to these unfavorable conditions, two of them evacuated with severe illness.
It is also interesting to learn from many climbers trying to climb The North Ridge Route this year on “suicidal style”. We have a group of six Ecuadorian guides, some from the Seattle based expedition company Mountain Madness (see my previous blog post) apparently climbing with no Sherpa support nor oxygen. There is another Ecuadorian climber that I had the pleasure to meet recently, who will try a speed climb on the same route without O2. Apparently he had already tried this last year, but he had to turn back at 8600m when his personally Sherpa had half his body paralyzed. This climber is sharing BC and ABC services provided by a Nepali company with an American guy who is solo climbing the same route, means no support nor oxygen whatsoever. Considering the harsh conditions experienced this year above ABC, looks like he has not been able to set any camp above the North Col, and so at this point we all wonder what his strategy will be once the weather window opens… It is very sad to say so, but if we look at the climbing statistics on the North side for the last five years, we will most likely see some of these climbers being evacuated or even worse… I’m not sure what solo climbing means for some of these guys, but I hope they at least contemplate having a plan B, and if things go wrong they will have someone on the radio ready to rescue them. However it looks like this is not always the case, especially for someone climbing Everest with a budget around 8000 USD. Every year there are few cases like these, and it looks like they rely on the well organized teams to get help when things up the hill don’t go as they expect. Oooops, I’m at camp3 and I don’t have a tent, would you mind making some room in yours for me? Some of my climbing idols have been involved in nasty experiences, such us Edurne Pasaban who did a hard work to set up all camps on his climb to Everest without O2, just to find one of them was used and assaulted before she was doing her Summit Push. Today’s celebrity Simone Moro, was caught last year “borrowing” oxygen cashed by one of the big teams on the South Side (no wonder why he has so many fans within the Sherpa community…). All this solo climbing stories and incidents bring a big controversy onto the table… I have my own opinion, however I’m not sure what my position would be if I’m struggling to keep my fingers unfrozen and one of this guys is agonizing on my way down from the summit. I just hope I never have to decide on a extreme situation like that… All the best for these especial climbers working out their Everest Dream on such special way. I hope they make it up to the summit and back home save and happy!
It’s been few days reading the weather forecast from from a Swiss company and a reliable company based in Seattle, and now we have a good idea on when we could have our summit day. Tomorrow I’ll post some more details on the dates we currently have in mind to execute our climbing strategy.
Stay tuned, looks like we are very close to start the action 60 years after the first Everest summit on Normal South Route, and almost 90 after George Mallory and Andrew Irvine opened the North Ridge route and probably summit the Highest Peak on Earth 🙂