Just as the Khumbu glacier is metamorphosing, chunks calving off, seracs deforming, some crevasses closing and others expanding, so too is this expedition changing. The Mayo Clinic team, after an intense week of testing—taking lung volume measurements, blood and urine, ultrasound readings, cognitive assessments, sleep studies—have packed up all their instruments of torture and headed home. Pelican cases the size and weight of small refrigerators were hefted onto the backs of porters and down-valley they flew.
The North Face office operatives, Derek Campbell and Landon Bassett, went out with them as well, having completed all their testing of prototypes. And finally, our geologist, Dave Lageson from MSU also departed, leaving his research in the competent hands of Travis Corthouts and the Sherpas (Just today, at lunch, a collection of fist-size rocks from the South Col was brought down to Travis, making him beam like a boy on Christmas morning.)
And they aren’t the only ones to leave Base Camp. The largest guided team on Everest this year, Himalayan Experience, with 24 climbers and even more Sherpas, recently pulled the plug. Their team leader, Russell Brice—in consultation with his Sherpas—decided the mountain was simply too dangerous this year. Happy Feet, another guided team, made the same call. Many other teams have experienced attrition as well. This is common on any expedition.
While the Mayo and TNF teams were here testing, the mountain was not in shape for climbing—too cold, windy and icy—so the timing was perfect. We were all down at Base Camp resting, relaxing and having electrodes pasted on our nipples and knobby foreheads. Now that they’re gone, and a few days of light snow have glued the falling rocks back in place, making Everest safer, and we can refocus on the climb.
The weather forecast is for low winds in the coming four days, so tomorrow the South Col team (Kris and Hilaree, Sam and Emily, Phil and I) is heading back up the mountain. We intend to spend one night at Camp 2, the next night at Camp 3, go back down to Camp 2 and then back to Base. This will be our third acclimatization rotation up high on Everest. The next time we go up, it will be for all the marbles.
Conrad is still hoping that Italian Simone Moro, 44, one of the most accomplished Himalayan climbers in the world, will be his new partner for the West Ridge. If it works out, Conrad and Simone will be doing a one-week rotation up high, hoping to put in a cache on the West Shoulder. They will then come down to Base Camp to recuperate and wait for the summit weather window.
After being stalled out by the mountain for a number of days, absolutely de rigueur on Everest, the fire in the belly has been rekindled. We’re all ready to climb this beast!