When we awoke this morning, we all had to drag ourselves out of the tent lethargically. After a breakfast of porridge, my staple whenever I'm climbing, myself, my guide John and Darrell, who I've climbed with many times before, set out for camp three. I planned to take it easy on the trail today, if I made camp three it would be the highest point I'd ever climbed to, about 24,000 feet above sea level.
Almost right away I realized my climbing partners were not having a good day. Two of our Sherpas were carrying our sleeping gear to camp three, they went on ahead. By the time I got to the Bergschrund, which is at the top of the Western Cwm and just below the Lhotse Face, John and Darrell had fallen far behind. It's perfectly normal for us to get separated on the trail as we all settle into our own climbing paces. When I radioed back to John, he told me to continue up the fixed lines towards camp three if I was feeling strong. I was having a good day, feeling strong and excited to be moving up the mountain, so I did.
Unfortunately, John and Darrell decided to pull the plug on making camp three. After about an hour of front pointing on my crampons up the Lhotse Face, John's voice came over the radio to let me know he and Darrell were headed down. At first I didn't know what to think. I was disappointed that two of my good climbing friends were not coming to join me. Then I thought "I guess I'm going to have to descend too and stay with my guide." But John reassured me and told me to keep going up.
"You can do this," he said. "There will be a Sherpa waiting for you in camp three who will take care of everything food and water wise. Tomorrow morning, if you're feeling strong still, you will continue to camp four and another Sherpa will ascend with you, giving you the support of two of the strongest climbers on the team."
So with mixed emotions I settled into camp three. I'm breathing bottled oxygen now, to offset the thin air we're now climbing in. Tonight I will sleep with the oxygen tubes in my nose, probably for the first time since I was last in hospital - I'm sure there's some irony to be found somewhere in that. I'm thinking of my friends, with a heavy heart. In all of my thoughts of climbing Everest, I hadn't thought I'd be doing it without them.
The way this season has gone, I know I can't afford to dwell too much on the team's situation. We may not get another chance to ascend. Each hour that I spend up at this elevation I will gradually grow more tired. If I wait for them, I may not have the strength for the summit. If I descend I may use up my strength climbing back to this elevation. I have to trust in my ability to climb and in the strength of the two Sherpas who will climb with me. John and Darrell are only a radio chat away. I believe I will see them higher on the mountain soon. Our paths will likely cross again in camp four, me on the way down and them on the way up.
The wind is slowly receding right now. The weather looks like it is going to finally cooperate for us. It's not too cold, yet. But we expect temperatures of around -30 overnight. I'll wake up around 5 AM, have a quick radio chat with John and then if I'm feeling up to it, start heading towards camp four, by no later than 6 AM. Tomorrow's climb is going to be very challenging. I need to arrive in camp by no later than 11 AM or 12 noon if I'm going to have enough time to rest before heading for the summit at about 9 PM. Thankfully we have lots of bottled oxygen. If I don't make it to camp four before noon, I can always wait until the following evening, breathing bottled oxygen at a high flow rate to compensate for the lack of it in the air at 27,000 feet.
For more details, visit Rob's No Guts Know Glory Everest Expedition blog.