Everest Update 9 April: Scott Parazynski: Icefall Revisited, then well-needed rest

Image (from 2008): Scott Parazynski using a fixed laddder to cross a constantly shifting crevasse on the Khumbu Icefall. These ladders are put in place by expert Sherpa "Ice Doctors" and are constantly readjusted as the ice underneath shifts.

Days 19 & 20/April 9 & 10, 2009 (Thursday & Friday): Reveille at 04:45, courtesy of a give-away, battery-powered alarm clock that thankfully didn't fail me in the sub-zero temperatures of 17,500 feet. It had been another blustery night, with what I anticipated would turn out to be a foot or more of fresh fallen snow. It turned out the snow hitting my tent was mostly wind-driven snow, a little fresh, mostly old, and therefore conditions were excellent for Danuru and I to make a go on the Khumbu Icefall.

After donning my climbing pants, fleece jacket, down jacket, hat, buff, headlamp, extra socks, pile gloves and mountaineering boots, I gathered my backpack, trusty SPOT, ice axe, climbing harness and crampons and waddled over to the dining tent; mountaineering boots are excellent on mixed snow, rock and ice provided you have crampons on --- and a bit tenuous without them... After a quick breakfast, Danuru and I (plus Matt from Discovery and Mingma Sherpa) visited the puja altar to pay proper respect, and then hiked over to "Crampon Point," the true start of any south side Everest climb. Points were on at 05:50, and we began the long, (mostly) upward climb.

First, a bit about Danuru... He is rather legendary among Sherpa climbers as one of the most powerful and skillful climbers in the Himalayas. While he isn't as tall as I am, he stands a head taller than many of his contemporaries. Aged 30, he is the father of two daughters, and hails from the Khumbu village of Phortse (where the annual ice climbing school is held, and where he has trained for several years). He has three other brothers who are also climbing Sherpas, all of whom also work with IMG. Bottom line: I am very, very fortunate to climb alongside him, but also very challenged to keep his pace!

The route up the icefall this year is slightly to the left of where it had been in 2008, and as such is much closer to the avalanche-prone west shoulder of Everest. Perhaps an hour and a half into our ascent, a large, unconsolidated snow avalanche ripped off the west shoulder --- perhaps 1000 feet to our side --- but was never a threat to our path. I happened to be on a vertical ladder at the time, and inexplicably hurried my climb to the top --- not sure how 6 feet of altitude gain would have helped me if we had been in its path!

I did notice some of the fixed lines from last year a few hundred feet to our right, taught between anchor points on frozen blocks of ice, slowly cascading their way down the mountain. Beyond that observation, however, it was all business: careful foot placement, keeping a steady pace of motion and breathing, and generally looking and listening to the path in my immediate environment (blocks of ice are often cantilevered, and may creak or groan if you step on them: definite cues to chose another spot to step!). No photos taken (hopefully Keith and Miles will chose a few of the photos I took last season to represent the climb), only a couple of very brief rest stops --- no desire to spend any more time in here than I absolutely had to... Danuru and I went to the end of the road, climbing up into the clouds: we followed fixed lines up above the "Popcorn" or heavily fragmented section, to the beginning of the "Football field" --- a gently sloping but crevasse-laden section of the icefall. All told there were 21 ladders, but none lashed together (i.e. all single ladders). I expect we'll see several multi-ladder sections as we crest the tall seracs above, on our final path to Camp I.

It took 2 and a half hours to get to our high point, and a full 2 hours to return to Crampon Point ("Crampoff Point?"). I was totally exhausted coming back into camp, and after lunch I completely cratered in my tent for the rest of the afternoon! In retrospect, I didn't stop to drink and rest often enough, and as a result ended up with a mild altitude-related headache in the evening. This morning I feel much better owing to lots of warm tea and orange drink (I think a knock-off of Tang, which I used to love as a kid, but can hardly stand now!).

My friend Rohan from the 2008 season on Everest is camping with another team about 5 minutes walk from IMG, and I look forward to maybe trekking to Pumor Ri Camp I tomorrow. He stopped by this morning with his climbing partner, Tenzing Sherpa --- they plan to hike to Kala Pattar today, which should be ideal. This is the first deep blue clear sky day we've had since arrival at EBC, and the views of the upper mountain should be fantastic.

I mentioned to Ang Jangbu and Eric that it would be great for my back if I could maybe switch to a different type of tent here in EBC, similar to those we used last season --- they allowed for a "boot barn" and an ability to sit upright in the vestibule of the tent to don boots, etc. My low back is a bit stiff from yesterday's exertions, and crawling underneath the fly several times each day might exacerbate the condition. Within minutes, Danuru and his cousin, Mingma Tenzing, were chipping away ice at the front of my tent, and afterwards we went below camp to quarry slate. Danuru was particularly skilled at cleaving thin (1 inch) thick pieces to line the boot barn, and now I'm able to sit in the vestibule of my tent, and then fully stand up. Much appreciated!

My remainder of my rest day today includes laundry, a shower and even a pit stop at the Everest bakery. Yes, there really is a microbakery up here, and I'd recommend the apple pie...

Image below (from 2008): Scott Parazynski climbing up the Khumbu Icefall, part of the South Col route up the Nepali side of Mt. Everest.

Image below (from 2008): Looking up at the Khumbu Icefall from Everest Base Camp. There are constant avalanches and loud ice movements during the day - some of which can be rather noisy and leave a light coating of snow across Base Camp.

Image below (from 2008): Scott Parazynski climbing up the Khumbu Icefall.

Image below (from 2008): Scott Parazynski climbing up the Khumbu Icefall.

Image below (from 2008): Scott Parazynski using a fixed laddder to climb over large ice chunks or "seracs" that comprise the Khumbu Icefall.

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