By Doug Pierson on May 27, 2008 6:20 PM | Comments (0)
Jumping out of Camp Three, we were immediately faced with a large queue of climbers navigating a vertical section which many were struggling with. In minutes, we were at the front of the line and had cleared the mini step. I love this stuff! Why others refuse to wear it out of Camp Three is beyond me, but our intent is to move as quickly to the South Col as possible, providing us with adequate time to rest up before tonight's summit push. I have no argument with that.
Beyond Camp Three, we passed most remaining climbers on the smooth upper reaches of the Lhotse Face -- saying "excuse me, pardon me, excuse me, pardon me" almost every few minutes. It was ridiculous. And I loved it.
Camp Three is only half way up the face itself, and there are still several hundred feet to ascend once past the camp boundary until you hit a traverse over to the Yellow Band, a line of rotten and quite spongy rock that as I learned, isn't something that I enjoyed working my way through and over. Short bursts of vertical coupled with rock that screeched and slipped underneath your crampons found me cursing yet again from time to time. Backlogs at trickier sections also weren't that easy to deal with when five Sherpas tugged on the rope behind you while the guy NOT on oxygen three in front of you grappled and shook the rope in front of you. Hurry up, dude. Get going, my crampon is slipping on rock three inches under loose snow. Yee cats.
Once over the Yellow Band, you enter this snow bowl that has a high camp for teams climbing Lhotse to your right, and a trail that slowly winds it's way around and over to a rock wall known as the Geneva Spur. Willie told me that in more common years this spur is covered in snow and ice, making the trail easier to navigate. For us though? Almost pure rock. This trail reminded me in some ways of some of the upper regions of Mount Whitney Main Trail, and at the very end is a vertical section that is essentially the crux of the trek beyond the Yellow Band.
No, I didn't like the end of the Geneva Spur. And to make it even better, most people ditched their crampons at the base of the spur to use boot soles for traction. Willie, ever the perfectionist and wanting us to be prepared for a rocky summit push made us keep our crampons on. That screechy nails on a chalkboard noise was pretty common if you were around us, but we still had on our oxygen so we did fairly whiz through this portion of the trail.
Once you top out on the Geneva Spur, you walk around the corner for a 15-minute traverse at 26,000 feet and - poof -- Camp Four. With oxygen, our trip, continuing up the 60-degree Lhotse Face, scrambling over the rotten rock of the Yellow Band, and moving up and over the Geneva Spur to finally end up at Camp Four took us roughly six hours.
Pulling into Camp Four, it struck me as amazing that here, in this barren, rock-strewn wasteland nestled in between Everest and Lhotse, that a mini-community could exist and thrive. Granted, it only happens for a few weeks in May each year. But you'd never know it based on the volume of crap strewn between the rocks. And man, is there stuff everywhere. Gas canisters, spent oxygen bottles, food wrappers, pieces of shredded tents. Even dex (dexamethasone) injectors.
It's almost as bad as Camp Two. But while Camp Two trash is food and a million other pieces of junk, this trash takes on the unmistakable form of climber trash.
We plodded along to our tents, fully aware that unlike other tents or campsites, this is only for the short term. And thank God for that. At 26,100 feet, Camp Four sits above something called The Death Zone -- a zone roughly about 26,000 feet that above which, your body starts to break down and literally consume itself. Yum. Now that's good eatin'!
But the way the Camp Four / South Col camp is designed to work for us, we are only short timers here -- the goal being to get here, suck it up, suck down the Os, eat a ton, drink like a fish, get some sleep, and then step off on our summit climb in a few hours.
Francisco and Willie take a tent as usual, and this time I'm paired up with Danuru and Tendi, which works out great, and we have tons of fun passing the time. Lhakpa would normally have ended up with the Sherpas in a tent, but his chest started acting up yesterday and he had to head back down to Base Camp to have it looked at by the HRA clinic. Sad for him, and for us -- we will miss him on this climb, he is such an integral part of this team for sure.
As the day passed to afternoon, we tried to get some shut-eye and eat some food, but Willie didn't have that luxury. He has agreed to take on the tough job of roping the fixed lines all the way from The Balcony -- a prominent terrain feature on our summit push -- to the summit. As a result, he has been scrambling around, talking with other team leads to get assistance. Not surprisingly, while many teams are more than happy to use the fixed lines that Willie sets up, not many are willing to help roger up Sherpas to help, or equipment to make his life easier. The one exception is a super Sherpa named Danuru from IMG that agrees to help out.
Day passes to night, and we prepare for our final push as a promising sign -- a beautiful nightfall above the clouds passes. Only a few hours now.