Moving to Camp 3, May 21
Andy, Marco, Evelyne and Robert are hopping past Camp 2 adding an extra 400 meters to today's climb.
The Sherpas, Phurba and Karsang (Nepal), are pushing from Camp 1 to Camp 4. This will allow them to set up some extra tents and organize the camp for our arrival. Lobsang, Karsang (Tibet) and Dawa will go from Camp 1 to 2. And Chuldim, Danuru and Dorje will go from Camp 1 to 3, then return to sleep at 2. This complicated plan is needed to set ourselves up for success: Oxygen will begin to be used at Camp 3, additional tents need to be set up, all sorts of small pieces are being moved around.
Asmuss, the climbers and I set off around 7 a.m. and begin to climb up the long rocky ridge crest. While not technical, this section is strenuous and exposed to the weather. We quickly become spread out, passing through the camp sites of a dozen other expeditions. As the day before, Asmuss and I push on rapidly (climbing the 400 meters in 2:15), hoping to get to Camp 3 early enough to set up more tents. We would love to have everything ready to go, so that the climbers can simply slip into a tent on arrival, hiding from the winds and beginning to recuperate from the effort.
To our surprise, two of the tent platforms we have carved out over the years, have been "stolen" by other teams. Asmuss and I manage to carve away at the slope and within an hour have a tilted platform for a second tent. We set this up as some of our climbers arrive. Five people are shoved into two tents, allowing them to escape the weather and begin to re-hydrate and suck on the bottles of Oxygen.
I slide down the rocky face a few feet and begin to dig again, but after an hour, I've barely made a dent, never mind a tent platform, so I slide a bit further down. Now I'm hacking at the frozen remains of a Russian tent. Tuna cans, match books and frozen socks emerge with every other blow of the ice axe. Surely this pile of wind torn nylon can be transformed. But alone, I am too winded and barely make a dent.
Maybe its just a math problem: five clients and two tents. I get on the radio: "Russ, can we use the American tents 100 meters below us?" "Checked in with them and that's OK," he answered "We'll have Andy and his gang stop there and Asmuss and I will descend with all of the needed gear," was my response.
Then Marco shows up, ahead of schedule as usual. Six climbers in two tents that are dangling off the edge. Of course there is a little personality problem and no one wants to spend the day and night with a particular person so we massage a few egos and beg for help. I know its 7,900 meters but can't we all be nice?
Ahhhhh!!!! Saved by the arrival of the Sherpas. These guys love to dig. Now we've got a seven person wrecking crew carving out tent platforms like its a carnival event. The Russian site is torn apart and we put up a tent. Next we move to my other abandoned site and level it off. The mathematics change: four tents, six climbers and two guides. Andy, Robert and Evelyne will stay in the American camp.
We are soon all swaddled in down suits and overstuffed sleeping bags. The afternoon passes slowly, as we all begin to test the Oxygen systems (we had a detailed class in ABC), and "brew" up. The word is passed around: this is our last great chance to fully hydrate and eat. The next two days should be torturous.
Camp 4, May 22
Asmuss and I are drill sergeants, barking orders to dress and depart. We want to move up and have been brewing up since 5 a.m. Ironically, the rest of the mountain is on a different schedule. The Sherpas are climbing up from Camp 2, Andy's gang is trying to crawl out of these tiny pup tents in which they could barely sleep. A certain lassitude has descended upon the team. Departure is delayed from 7 am to 8 am. Later this is updated to 9 am. We tell our gang to brew up ... quickly.
Finally, unable to control ourselves, we begin replacing each climber's oxygen cylinder with a fresh one. The slower climbers are pushed out the door. The miracle of Oxygen begins to take place. Yesterday I climbed twice as fast as the team, today I can barely keep up.
Its a three-hour climb, starting with rising traverses across snow-covered ledges. Turn a few corners and the route steepens, going directly up long strips of snow. Off to our right, the summit pyramid rises, a snow-covered triangle capped by a rocky crest. The true summit is just out of sight, lost by the rounding effect of the long summit ridge.
We've made a deal with the Americans to use a few of their tents at high camp. The deal is an old one: Russ and Eric Simonson, leader of the commercial American expedition, have been swapping favors, fixed ropes, food, alcohol and just about every other tradeable commodity. Russ and Eric have been competitors and allies for years. Together they've formed the trade organization IGO-8000 (International Guides and Operators for the 8,000 meter peaks), of which there are now a dozen or so members.
There is a tremendous strength in alliances such as this. When no one could seem to "break through" to the summit, Russ and Eric were planning on our combined efforts, twice the number of Sherpas, guides and clients, to push the route. Happily, though, a sub-group of Eric's was able to bust through on the 19th. With the doors wide open, everyone's summit push was on.
As we were climbing to Camp 4, we watched others climbing to the summit. We could feel ourselves getting closer and closer. Fifteen of us climbed into high camp and were assigned tents. Naoki and I crawled into an American tent. If we were on our honeymoon it would have been ideal: a few boundaries and Naoki nicknaming me "Honey" and we managed to survive. Each climber was given three fresh Oxygen cylinders for the summit push. The discipline of melting water, preparing our packs, and eeking out some rest occupied our efforts. By 5 p.m. we dozed off and by midnight I was up again. "Honey, can you make me some tea?" "Honey, can you empty my pee bottle?"