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Advanced Base Camp Advanced Base Camp
Last Trip Up
by Liesl Clark
May 12, 1999

This morning the baby wipes were frozen solid, a hypoallergenic brick of sweet smell. Two pens had already exploded, leaking blue ink onto my climbing harness, and the water bottle near my head was pure ice. Minor mishaps, considering where we are. Rock falls could be heard all night, fueling brief dreams of avalanches.

People often ask what life is like at altitude: Imagine not bathing for 10 days, wearing a hat to bed to keep the warmth in, eating out of necessity, not hunger. This is life at 21,300 feet, where a plate of warm food becomes cold within seconds. Even liquids are difficult to swallow, as a gag reflex is common after the tenth cup of hot Tang.

The whole team gathered in the sun outside our dining tent at 8:00 a.m. to work out the game plan for the upcoming days. Eric Simonson and our sirdar, Dawa Nuru, determined the number of tents, sleeping bags, pads, radios, fuel and stoves that need to be carried up to Camp VI, the last camp before the summit. "In five days we could be on our way home," said Eric. After seven weeks of being together, the first words hinting at our departure seemed as distant as the plume cloud above us on Everest's summit. The team looks tired, most have high-altitude coughs, and more days spent at altitude will only take their toll. Today will be the climbers' last trip up to the North Col.

"Don't waste your batteries," Andy Politz reminded everyone about their radios. "Sleep with them, keep them warm. We need them to work even after a summit attempt, if things go wrong." Just five days ago, the Ukrainians lost radio contact with their climbers who had disappeared above Camp VI.

Cooking Conrad Anker cooks a meal at altitude.

At noon we waited for the climbers with the 16mm camera by the crampon dump at the top of the moraine just below the base of the North Col. This is where climbers cache their crampons—about 40 minutes above Advance Base Camp—the spot where they have to sit for a moment and put on their harnesses, crampons and get out their ice axes. It's the point where hiking stops and climbing begins, where every step beyond is on the mountain itself, on the glacial ice and snow that moves slowly off Everest, down to lower ground.

Simonson's strategy is to put our strength in the summit team. Conrad Anker will attempt to climb the Second Step as if it has never been climbed before, as Mallory and Irvine would have tackled it in 1924. By analyzing the rock face as a rock climber would, Anker's climb will help us piece together Mallory and Irvine's final hours. Could Mallory and Irvine have surmounted this technically challenging part of the route? Anker will not use the ladder that is there today, carried up by a Chinese expedition in 1975 and used by every climber since. We want to determine the amount of time it will take Conrad to "free" the Second Step, a clue to the puzzle of whether Mallory and Irvine could have made it to the summit before nightfall. Jake Norton, Tap Richards, and Andy Politz will also be climbing with Anker. And all but Politz will be climbing Everest for the first time.

Check back in the days ahead as the team moves up the mountain.

Unanswered Questions (May 25, 1999)
Forty-Eight Yaks (May 21, 1999)
On Top of the World (May 17, 1999)
Summit Team Moves Higher (May 16, 1999)
Still at Camp V (May 15, 1999)
Snow Bound (May 14, 1999)
Outsmarting the Weather (May 13, 1999)
Last Trip Up (May 12, 1999)
Up to ABC/The Rescue (May 11, 1999)
The Image of Mallory (May 8, 1999)
In Extremis (May 7, 1999)
Pieces of the Puzzle (May 6, 1999)
Dearest George (May 5, 1999)
Mallory's Discoverers Return (May 4, 1999)
Mallory Reported Found (May 3, 1999)
Waiting in Silence (May 1, 1999)
Up to the Search Site (April 30, 1999)
To the North Col (April 29, 1999)
Waiting out the Wind (April 28, 1999)
Search About to Begin (April 25, 1999)
Pitching a 1933 Tent (April 23, 1999)
Early Camp Found at 21,750 Feet on Everest (April 20, 1999)
Up to Base Camp (April 23, 1999)

Photos: (1) Liesl Clark; (2) Thom Pollard.
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