Month: May 2016

Rope fixing on Everest (and Lhotse) has stalled temporarily.

Everything is on hold above Camp 3 for the moment. The ropes have been fixed to within about 400m of The South Col but over the last few days there have been some missed opportunities to complete fixing to The Col.

Which means that teams can’t supply The Col in readiness for the summit push.

Which means that the first decent weather window won’t be a summit window.

Which means that those teams who could be ready aren’t.

So they won’t be able to summit and clear off the hill making for a quieter time for the next window.

Which means there’s much more likelihood of queues and the intrinsic risks and difficulties when the first summits do happen.

There are a few teams like ours where the Climbing Sherpas are ready to push supplies up the hill from C2 (in fairness they’ll probably carry them rather than push them) but this will have to wait for the time being – meaning that what could be the first summit window will be a logistics day instead.

The way things work regarding ropes on the hill is that the SPCC (Sagarmartha Pollution Control Committee) are paid from each team on behalf of their team members and the SPCC are then responsible for equipping and maintaining the route through the Khumbu Icefall.

Beyond there, however, it becomes a bit less structured. Money is again collected from each team but this is collected in KTM and the kitty is banked. This pays for the summit ropes, snow bars, ice screws etc etc to be delivered to EBC. This year there was a heli lift of gear to C1 (to reduce the number of journeys through the icefall for the Climbing Sherpas) which was also paid for from the kitty. Then what happens is that ANY Climbing Sherpa from ANY team who carries or fixes is paid a bonus from the kitty. Their daily wage is paid by the expedition team but the carry / fixing bonus is topped up from the kitty … but not here at EBC as cash in hand. They have to go and claim for their bonuses in KTM and unfortunately this often takes WEEKS to be paid.

This, understandably, puts some of the guys off making themselves available for work.

Another glaring issue with the current model is that some teams never ever contribute whilst the burden is mainly taken up by a few of the regular contributors.

This is obviously slightly unfair for those who contribute as the daily wages are being paid by that team and their Sherpas are working longer and harder than others.

Having said that there are definitely some teams where it’s better that they don’t get involved because their Sherpas are not knowledgeable or skilled in the art of fixing ropes (mind you they could still carry and assist on fixing days).

Then there are always going to be the slip streamers and hangers on who don’t contribute but are certainly willing to clip the ropes. Occasionally teams manage to slip through the net and not even pay in to the fixing kitty!

So, the model that kind of used to work with mutual cooperation and a sense that it was all for the greater good hasn’t quite proved to be as successful this year as it ought to. The previous 3 days have been almost perfect for getting that final stretch fixed to the South Col but there’s been either miscommunication, insufficient willingness to release staff or, in one case, staff on stand by that others didn’t realise were available. The result has been no fixing for 3 decent enough weather days and now we are faced with a few days where cloud and wind are forecast (which probably means no fixing).

Evidently the model definitely needs renewing and it’s only a matter of time before we will have either a dedicated fixing team from C1 to summit or it will come under the remit of the SPCC guys.

The only issue of SPCC taking on responsibility is that not all of their team are capable of fixing above the South Col. Indeed any Climbing Sherpas who are suitably well qualified and capable for fixing above the South Col would probably want to be working with their regular team where a) if they get involved with fixing they get the bonus (available in KTM) AND b) they can then summit with clients and get the additional summit bonus.
Why would they forgo the additional income to work for SPCC?

The answer is of course that whether it be a separate dedicated team or a branch of the SPCC they will need to be suitably remunerated.

Presently their equipment allowance, insurance and daily wages (plus food, BC tents, mountain tents etc) are covered by their team and the carry / fixing bonus comes from the kitty so the figures will need to be looked. But if we are going to have a dedicated fixing team there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work. They should be paid up front for their contractual period and then paid as they depart Base Camp for any additional work for carrying and fixing.

Indeed there would be no reason why some Climbing Sherpas from other teams couldn’t get involved in the same way as they do now (especially if there had been delays through, say, illness or weather delays). At least that way everybody pays in, there’s no lack of collaboration, there’s one team who know exactly what their task is and there’s no political manoeuvring / shirking / brownie points / criticism / not pulling ones weight etc etc.

And who knows – perhaps the fixing Sherpas could also be available afterwards for some summit action with clients as well (but I’m not quite sure how that would work but it’s got to be worth looking at).

Which ever way you look at it it needs changing and we all hope that a more streamlined and efficient system will be in place by next year.

Post Script:

We’ve just returned from a meeting organised by the leader from the Indian Army team that was called about fixing ropes on Lhotse.

The task in hand is that 9 loads need to be taken to Lhotse High Camp and 4 Climbing Sherpas are needed for fixing. The Indian Army team offered to take 3 loads & provide 2 fixing Sherpas. Our team are currently ferrying 12 loads to from C1 to C2 so we are a bit stretched but we’ve promised to get a load to Lhotse High Camp. IMG promised some load carries. Himex are busy focussing on S Col fixing but are supplying oxygen for the fixing team.

Then there was just awkward silence with team representatives looking at their shoes and avoiding eye contact. After a bit of gentle coercion we were eventually one fixing Sherpa short of a full compliment. It’ll be sorted but it really was like pulling teeth.

And guess what? Some teams haven’t paid!


And even better there’s a team who have 15 people on Lhotse permits but they claim that none of them are climbing – they’re just going to C2. Everyone needs to be on a permit to be at EBC or above but if these people aren’t climbing Lhotse then why, oh why, didn’t they put them on a Nuptse permit? This would still allow their clients to go to C2 but would be US$1,000 per person cheaper.

There’s something fishy going on off the coast of Grimsby.

To pee or not to pee? – that is the question.

Clearly Tim has gone off his rocker I hear you say. But this is just one of the aspects of high altitude mountaineering that I thought I’d share with you.

Chris and I are off to Camp 1 tomorrow night and even though we’ve been getting to know each other for the past 4 weeks we are about to be thrust in to a new level of intimacy (perhaps thrust isn’t the best turn of phrase).

What generally happens on the hill is that after we’ve eaten we are tucked up in our down sleeping bags by around 8 because it is just too cold to be sitting around playing cards or standing outside staring at the stars.

So after a few minutes wrestling out of clothes and in to sleeping bags it’s time for a quick read and then slumber. And when sleep comes it can be really really deep. I generally have a fantasticly deep sleep and then wake up bursting for a wee (a side effect of being at altitude is that the body makes you pee more because of a pH imbalance that occurs).

But it’s cold out there and I’m all toasty in my bag. And, hey, I can hang on for a while until it’s time to be getting up. Or can I? I generally doze on and off for ages trying to get back to sleep but the feeling of discomfort is soooo overwhelming that returning to sleep is nigh on impossible. Best check the time to make sure I can make it until breakfast, and it’s then that I discover that it’s only around 11.30p.m. Aaarrrggghhh!

So clearly I’m not going to make it until getting up time, in which case it’s pee time. Now I used to always get up and go outside and admire the view of the stars whilst having a tinkle but that was on lower peaks where the temperature is generally a few degrees warmer. But since having been introduced to the ‘pee bottle’ I have been converted. I won’t go in to the gory details but basically you pee in to a bottle and do the top up. Depending on the time of night depends on whether you are advised to empty it straight away or not. If you empty it straight away then this tends to send a shower of frost crystals from the inside of the tent over your unfortunate tent partner as you open the tent zipper and discharge the contents at full arm stretch outside into the snow. But if you decide not to empty it then the risk is that it freezes, thereby rendering the bottle unusable again that night – which could be a BIG problem if you decided you desperately needed to go again. And when you sometimes have to go three, four or even five times a night this could suddenly become a BIG problem.

Anyway, enough of that, I’ve had a pee in a bottle and emptied it. Back to sleep? Er, no. What happens next can only be described at H.A.T.A.T. (High Altitude Tossing And Turning). You try for all your worth to sleep but it just doesn’t happen. Every time you turn over you get showered with ice crystals. Your tent partner does the pee bottle thing and showers ice over you. You get bouts of sleep apnoea and feel that you are suffocating. You breath freezes on to the inside of your sleeping bag and forms an icy crust around your head and shoulders. Your sleeping bag liner acts like a boa constrictor as it winds around you every time you move. And so it goes on. All the way through the night. Until about 5 in the morning when you eventually doze off only to be woken up at soon after 5 when the tent starts getting very light as the sun come sup. So another hour or so of tossing and turning until it’s time to get the stove on and start preparations for breakfast. And then the frost starts melting and dripping in your ear.

And that just about sums up the average night on the hill.

Now that we have been at Base Camp for a few nights we are generally getting some really deep long sleeps. Until tomorrow night, that is, when we are off to Camp 1 (6,000m) where we will start the whole ‘peeing at night’ process all over again.

It’s all part and parcel of ultra high altitude mountaineering. No one said it was going to be easy!