First the important news: our Everest team is all back down safely in base camp. Now...the rest of the story.
We left base camp as expected at 1:00 am on Monday the 25th. The route up through the icefall is different this year following the tragic avalanche of 2014 that killed 16 mountain workers. While safer from overhead risks, it is a much more demanding route vs prior years. I was climbing quite steadily with Sange Sherpa, my friend and guide. The night began very cold but I tend to generate a lot of heat when exerting myself and soon layered down to my shirts and a soft shell jacket. I slowly became colder and colder but didn't want to stop to add the needed layers of insulation.
Eventually I became super cold and I think this coupled with the very high respiratory rate required of moving quickly up through the glacier brought on my first ever asthma attack. My mom and son both suffer from asthma and I've heard all the descriptions of the near impossibility of breathing but actually feeling it was more than eye opening. I would stand still for several minutes and breath with all my might and could not find any oxygen for my aching lungs. I would hesitantly take a few steps and then be forced to a halt to just gasp for air.
The hardest portion of the climb was still ahead of me. There's a near vertical wall about 35 feet high at the top of the icefall. Everyone agreed there should be a ladder there bot there isn't. To make things worse, the bottom 8 feet have been kicked by so many cramponed feet that the wall is concaved inward. The result is a bulge of ice a little higher than your head that forces you away from the wall just when you absolutely don't want that to happen.
I failed to negotiate this section several times and retreated back down to consider my options. Eventually Sange downclimbed to me and took my backpack. That made just enough of a difference and I was able to get over this difficult 8 feet using every ounce of strength I had. Once over the worst, all I could do was lean into the ice and desperately gasp for air. A few more minutes and I reached the top which was thankfully flat snow. I fell to the ground and lay on my back for perhaps ten minutes desperately trying to not vomit in front of all the other people who weren't feeling much better than myself.
Another hour of slow plodding and I reached the camp 1 tents. I more or less fell into my tent and pretty much stayed there for about 18 hours. I recovered quite well and made the trek to camp 2 in three hours which is respectable as many are taking four or more hours to go the distance. My recovery was not due to anything I did but to the tremendous care Sange gave me. He melted snow, made tea, gave me food, deployed my sleep pad and bag and just looked after me. I'm truly grateful.
Camp 2 is a bleak place surrounded by magnificent scenery. I was unable to sleep at all at C1 and managed a few minutes my first night at C2. I also "enjoyed" a very bad headache. The wind almost never stopped our first night and it was cold. The second day there was spent just like our first partial day: resting and trying to eat. I slept better the second night, maybe 4-5 hours.
The third day was spent with a little exercise. I walked about 80 minutes uphill to the bottom of the Lhotse face and managed a good speed. It took 35 minutes to get back to C2. The third night was better and worse. The wind and its associated noise went away and I slept perhaps half or more of the night. But, it got desperately cold. I wore my down vest, a light and heavy down jacket, three shirts, warming pants, long johns, down pants and down booties inside my zero degree sleeping bag and still shivered for hours.
We woke at 4:00 am, had breakfast and headed down at 5:15. There had been a collapse in the icefall which slowed us a little and it took
Sange and me about six hours to reach base camp. During this time the temps went from extremely cold to so warm that I was overheating in a t-shirt!
I know I'm better acclimatized for having done this rotation and will be stronger when it comes time for the summit push. But right now I'm just enjoying not being cold and hungry!
Thanks for reading along with me!