I have been in base camp for a week and it is now time to climb higher to help our acclimatization. We will get up at midnight tonight, have a light breakfast and be moving by 1 am. Why climb at night when it's so cold and dark? Well there are a number of reasons and they vary based on where you are on the mountain.
The first obstacle we face above base camp is the Khumbu Icefall. It's a moving glacier, a river of ice that flows about four feet per day. It is all broken up with chunks of ice (seracs) as small as a football and as big as a house. This river is less active when it's cold which reduces the risk of one of these big seracs falling on us. There is also considerable danger from avalanches falling on us from the two high ridges on either side of the icefall.
Once we emerge from the Khumbu Icefall we will be at camp 1 which is about 19,500'. We will take 5-7 hours to get there. We spend one uncomfortable night at camp 1 and then leave for camp 2 about 4 am. The early start this time is to beat the heat. We walk up the Western Cwm (a Welsh word pronounced "coom" which means "valley") for about four hours. The Cwm is a huge glacier with steep glaciated walls on both sides. It becomes a huge reflector oven in the sun and temps can approach 100 degrees. Camp 2 is at about 21,500'.
We will spend a few days at camp 2 growing red blood cells and acclimatizing. We will make a touch-and-go to camp 3 at about 24,000' to help this process. Camp 2 is the best of the four high camps with a full kitchen. It is often called Advanced Base Camp. It is a balancing act at camp 2. Spend too much time there and you are significantly weakened; insufficient time and you are acclimatized enough. Each person is different so you really need to pay attention to your body. Sleep comes hard, your appetite vanishes and many have a headache. It tends to be either very hot or very cold. I know it sounds like a whole lot of suffering but there is tremendous beauty there and it is a vital step in climbing Everest.