Everest … here we come!

Intrinsically I am going back to Everest to lead a group of 6 trusty experienced mountaineers aiming for the summit.

5 of us are taking a leisurely 3 weeks to trek in to Everest Base Camp and I’ll be taking them over 3 high passes along the way. We’re crossing The Renjo La, The Cho La and, after a couple of days resting at Dingboche, we’ll be crossing the Kongma La as well. We will be sleeping a few hundred meters below each pass – the idea being that we are spending time at higher and higher altitudes prior to arriving at EBC. We are also ascending a peak called Pokalde as part of our acclimatisation which is just short of 6,000m.

When we arrive at Base Camp we will be joined by our final member – a fellow expedition leader I have worked with a few times – and then we will start our acclimatisation rotations on Everest. This involves going through The Khumbu Icefall which has a bit of a reputation. It is a like being in a maze with ice walls (seracs) towering all around. Some areas are perfectly safe and other areas are places where you wouldn’t want to stop and take a picnic. Other teams will go in, come out, go in and up to deliver gear to Camp 1 (around 6,000m) and back down again and then they’ll go and sleep at Camp 1 and then onwards to Camp 2 (6,400m).

Because we will have spent 3 weeks acclimatising elsewhere it means that we can go straight through and sleep at Camp 1 on our first visit – so lessening the journeys, the nervous energy and the exposure to risk.

At least that is the plan!

Last time it worked really well and there’s no reason why it won’t work out that way again – the main thing beyond our (my) control here is the health of the group but all being well we will be sleeping at Camp 1 and then on to Camp 2 on our first rotation on the hill.

After a few days loitering at C2 we’ll drop down to Base Camp for a few days to rest and recuperate. No matter how hard we try, and no matter how efficient we are with our time, when we are on the hill we won’t eat enough, we won’t drink enough and we won’t sleep enough. There is only so long that you can go in to deficit before it starts to impair performance and judgement. Indeed if someone becomes seriously dehydrated it can lead to other complications making people much more susceptible to frostbite, hypothermia (too cold), hyperthermia (too hot – it can be in the 30s in The Western Cwm and if we are too slow and get caught in there in our down clothing it is difficult to regulate the core temperature and cool down), Acute Mountain Sickness and the two killers that everyone wants to avoid – High Altitude Cerebral Oedema (fluid on the brain which can affect brain function, decision making ability, eyesight, balance and coordination) and High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema (fluid on the lungs which affects the ability to breathe. It is difficult enough breathing up there anyway without having fluid sloshing around in your lungs making them less efficient).

So it’s back down to Base Camp to rest, eat and drink. At altitude, perversely, people often lose their appetite (again isn’t it difficult enough already) so I always provide loads of extra snacks, nibbles and delicacies to make Base Camp a more appealing environment. We’ve got boxes of Haribo, Licquorice Allsorts and other sweet and sticky goodies, loads of crackers with cheeses and pate, tubs of Pringles, bags and bags of cashews and pistachios, jars and jars of olives and gherkins and, my latest find which I’d never come across before, caperberries They are basically stalks with capers on pickled in a jar. It’s all very well having chocolatey and sweet snacks but it’s savoury that everyone tends to crave.

But it’s not all chilling and resting. I’ll also be conducting the final few sessions of instruction and preparation for the group. On the trek in we will already have discussed topics such as avoiding frostbite, how to prevent getting cold hands, dealing with fixed ropes in ascent and descent, the importance of concurrent activity and the like but at Everest Base Camp, where it is most tangible, I start covering the really serious stuff with oxygen protocols,medical protocols and stuff relevant to summit day.

We are one of the only teams who will spend time practicing how to draw up injections. We have some strong steroidal medicine which can saves lives and buy time for that person to descend. Speak to most people on the mountain and they’ll know the drug – Dexamethazone. But ask them the dose they should give, what it can be taken with, what the dangers and pitfalls are and, most importantly, how and where to inject and they will probably look a little bit sheepish. It is a life saver but people don’t know how to use it.

Trying to talk someone through how to give an injection on the end of a radio is nigh on impossible, so we have a go in the relative comfort of Base Camp just in case we have to do it for real in a life and death situation on the hill. We are, to the best of my knowledge, the only team where every member will be equipped with their own personal supply of high altitude medication and, importantly, know what it is for and how to use it.

With the oxygen masks everyone in the team will know how the masks adjust, how it links to the regulator, how the regulator attaches to the bottle and what duration they can expect depending on the flow rate. For many teams the first time they try with their mask is at Camp 3 (7,100m to 7,300m) and if they don’t get it right, or can’t operate the system properly, then it could well affect their summit bid or even their life. Or the lives of those around them.

I do have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about people turning up ill prepared or not knowing their gear and equipment intimately because, at the end of the day, it is The Climbing Sherpas who are going to go out and try to rescue these folk. I have been working with my Sherpas for a decade and they have families and responsibilities so how would they feel if I brought along a client who clearly shouldn’t be there? How would I feel if one of them became injured in some way because one of my clients shouldn’t have been there in the first place?

Don’t get me started.

So the next foray on the hill is straight to Camp 2 and we will ascend to, and ‘touch’ Camp 3. There’s no need to spend time there if we don’t have to – so we spend a few hours there and then back to Camp 2.

After that we are back to Base Camp waiting for the weather and when the window appears we will be in for a 7 or 8 day journey to the summit and back.

But that’s a different story!

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Tim Mosedale