Waiting out the Wind
by Liesl Clark
April 28, 1999
It all begins with the zipper noise. Before the sun's rays can be felt, someone
in a tent nearby will rustle around groping for the door zipper of their tent and
then, as predictable as the warmth that comes from the sun's first rays, that
unmelodious zipper noise wakes you up, like a short loud buzz from a mosquito.
Days begin and end here with the zipper noise. It's "good morning" and "good night"
wrapped up in one high-pitched, short-lived plastic whine, a good reminder that,
yes, we're still here on Everest.
Today is another day of waiting for winds to calm and for our eight climbing
Sherpas to carry more oxygen up to Camp V for the search attempt. The Sherpas,
led by Sirdar (Sherpa leader) Dawa Nuru, left Advance Base Camp at 6:00 A.M.
"We're waiting out the wind," explained Dave
Hahn, who called down to us at
Base Camp on the radio. "Can you send up more reading material?"
asked climber Tap Richards.
The team members will all make carries up to the North Col, as more oxygen and supplies
are still needed up high. They will then return to Advance Base Camp to sleep, and
the decision will be made tonight whether they will continue up higher tomorrow and
begin the search sequence. Although we're in waiting mode, life here continues to
turn up interesting news.
Brazilian climbers Paulo and Helena Coelho came by this morning to show our
historian, Jochen Hemmleb,
a drawing of a relic they found last year during their attempt on the North Face of
Everest. This route, different from the traditional North Col route, took them up
the Central Rongbuk Glacier to their Advance Base Camp. "We were walking to the Base
Camp of the North Face and we saw it down the way, just off the trail," said Helena
Coelho while gesturing to a map of their route. The Coelhos are back on Everest
again making an attempt on the North Col route.
Paulo and Helena Coelho's sketch of the old-style bamboo ski pole
they found last year.
They came to our camp with a drawing of their find: an old-style bamboo ski pole
with a wood and leather basket. Metal rivets attach the leather straps to the wood.
At the bottom of the pole is a metal pick. "The pole looks very much like the type
my father used when he started skiing in the mid 1930s," recounts Hemmleb. "There
were only two expeditions in the 1930s that came that way, the 1936 and 1938 British
expeditions. The interesting thing about the 1938 expedition is that it was the
first lightweight attempt on Everest, just seven climbers compared to many on
the previous large, siege-style attempts."
As our tents flap relentlessly in the wind and Everest's characteristic plume
cloud streams across the Himalayan sky, we remind ourselves that the wind must
have thwarted Everest's early mountaineers, too. From our predecessors, we now
know that May is traditionally the best month to climb Everest, in the few weeks
before the monsoon snows arrive, when the jet stream winds move off Everest's upper slopes.
It was in the 1930s that the British began re-thinking their Everest
timetable. The 1935 reconnaissance brought a British team to Tibet
during the months of July and August to collect data about the monsoon.
Needless to say, the expedition did not get very high that year, due to
heavy snowfall. The year, according to Everest historian Walt Unsworth,
went down in history as a good lesson learned: "Snow conditions above 23,000
feet were always abominable. From this it was concluded that the monsoon
period was unsuitable for high-altitude climbing." For us, it will only be
a matter of a few weeks before the snows of the monsoon beset the upper mountain.
Ominous clouds roll in and cover the high slopes of Everest as the sun fades.
A pink alpenglow dominates the upper third of the mountain. At our 6:00 P.M.
radio call, Richards reports from Advance Base Camp: "We all made a carry to
the North Col today. The Sherpas made a carry to Camp V. We'll move up to
the Col and sleep there tomorrow, and the Sherpas will make a carry again
to Camp V."
Check back tomorrow as the team moves up to sleep at the North Col.
They will try to move up to Camp V the following day for their search attempt.