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The Everest Journals, #7

Ice-Fall Falling?  By: Mike Swarbrick

 Ben radioed yesterday from the Khumbu ice-fall about three hundred meters above basecamp with fear and excitement in his voice.

(Paraphrased) “Ben to basecamp… Shaunna and I just experienced something that has us shaking in our climbing boots. Shaunna had her hands on the bottom rung of a vertical five ladder section above a huge crevasse. I was taking her picture from the side when there was a huge release of ice somewhere below. Like thunder amid an earthquake, the ice below our feet shuddered and shook as something huge let go in the crevasse deep below. I thought we were gonner’s. I instinctively jumped what seemed to be ten feet in the air, tearing one of my gators, while Shaunna grabbed at the ladders for support. Thankfully the ice at our feet did not disappear but I fear this season in the icefall is going to be a bad one. This is the same section that totally collapsed last year closing the icefall to all climbers.

 

For two days the famous “Icefall Doctor” worked tirelessly to rebuild a new route with numerous ladders lashed together.

  During a subsequent radio call, Ben explained his concerns further to me. (Paraphrased)  “Mikey, there is no fresh snow up here and it’s unseasonably warm. I think the icefall is going to deteriorate at least two weeks early this year due to the unusual weather patterns we are seeing. It’s warmer, dryer and windier than previous years. What little insulating snow there was here has been blown away leaving only ice and it’s becoming unstable already. Although the icefall appears to be an easier go so far this year, I’m worried it’s going to become dangerous rapidly”.

     I too, am seeing evidence of Ben’s concerns here in base-camp. Compared to last year, there is much more melt-down in and over the glacier with water running through our camp at least two weeks earlier than last year.

Ben continues:

 “Everest is always a real psychological head game, struggling with the ever present and ever changing dangers. I fear this year will be worse, especially for the less qualified climbers. Just melting drinking and cooking water is more of a chore in the high camps, everything is hard-packed ice. Front pointing into the more vertical sections of ice with our crampons is extremely difficult due to the lack of snow with many more chances of slipping. Weaker climbers will tire quickly, making them more prone to mistakes, especially on the Lhotse face where the pitch can exceed seventy degrees. One mistake here can prove fatal, especially if you are in the midst of unclipping your jumar, (ascender) to get around the many ice screws that anchor the fixed lines to the face.  It’s all about managing your fears here Mikey. The head game continues”.

     On that note, Will Cross, a major character in last years “Ultimate Survival Everest” that Ben and our team, produced for Discovery Channel, reports that one of two climbers sharing his climbing permit, fell in the icefall and although he appears to be physically o.k., he was shaken so badly by the experience that he is packing up and  leaving the

expedition. The other fellow, broke his wrist somewhere between the icefall and base-camp. He too is packing it in.  I guess they both lost their own personal head games. I for one, will not criticize.     

     Ben and Shaunna will spend a second night at Camp One tonight, proceeding to Camp Two tomorrow (Monday the 18th). Here they will sleep over to further acclimatize before heading back to Base-camp Tuesday for a well deserved rest. Next, they will climb high on the Lhotse Face to Camp Three. All of these separate, higher ascents, prepare their bodies to safely face the dangerous effects of low atmospheric pressure at the top of the world. Without acclimatization all climbers here would most certainly die above 26,000 feet.  Given time, the body will develop more red blood cells to carry and process the 33% of oxygen levels at the top of Everest compared to that of Sea level, but it’s still a losing game. Pulmonary and Cerebral Edema (increased fluid leakage into the lungs and brain) are the biggest killers of high altitude climbers who move up too quickly. Even Everest base-camp at 17,600 ft. cannot support human life on a year-round basis. Here, we are significantly higher than any permanent human settlement on Earth. We all feel the effects here,  reduced and disturbed sleep, difficulty breathing, significantly reduced energy levels, a much greater susceptibility to illness and a general lack of appetite. A great place for anyone wanting to lose weight for sure. We call it the Everest diet. 

 Well,  I’m afraid Tuesday is my last day here on the cold Khumbu Glacier. I have other matters to attend to back in Ottawa. I will however be bringing back cool footage of Ben and Shaunna’s climb through the icefall to show you on The New R.O.

 I’ll continue writing through the duration of Ben and Shaunna’s climb to give you more of my personal perspective on their endeavors as Ben reports from this amazing place of high peaks and higher drama.

     You may not hear from me for a while as my walk out, although mostly downhill, will be one of numerous days. I’m glad to have my nephew Chris Swarbrick along to share the awesome vistas and vastness with. His company has made this year’s trip into the wild Mountains of Nepal far more enjoyable for me. These extraordinary but isolated chapters in my life are better served warm with family and friends.

      Thanks to you, my readers, for joining me. It always adds so much more purpose to my job, knowing that I’m sharing the experience.

Take care of each other. When you feel stressed or anxious, do as I do, visualize the immensity of these Mountains and all your troubles will seem small and insignificant by comparison.

Sentimentally yours,

Mike. 

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