Paul Pottinger’s Adventures from the Top of the World

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Football Field

Everest 2016  •  April 16

Part of our training and acclimatization involves getting halfway up the Khumbu icefall, to a relatively safe spot called the “football field.”  Last year this was a challenging task, although hauntingly beautiful.

Today, as last year, we left EBC circa 4 AM. I felt pretty good at the start, and was keenly interested to see how things were different this year.  For one thing, the trail to crampon point was remarkably clean, with almost none of the debris that was there when I left last year.  Farther out on the ice, there were a few shreds of tarps or sundry bits of trash frozen in the ice, but very little overall.

Justin, Tunang, and Mingma Dorjee at crampon point.
Justin, Tunang, and Mingma Dorjee at crampon point.
Getting the spikes on.
Getting the spikes on.

At crampon point we got the spikes on and kept moving over undulating glacier terrain.  The frozen pools from last year have mysteriously disappeared… and have been replaced by large sheets of frozen ice stretched over rivers of cold water braiding through the rocks beneath.  Occasionally the ice would emit loud cracking sounds, a creepy hollow sound like a plate being hit with a hammer.  But it felt totally solid underfoot.

We clipped into the fixed lines just after dawn, headlamps no longer required.

Justin and Cristiano keep it light at the bottom of the fixed lines.
Justin and Cristiano keep it light at the bottom of the fixed lines.
Emily really really likes her hot drinks on the trail.
Emily really really likes her hot drinks on the trail.
Kim is contemplating this morsel of food... "If it will get me to the top, I'll eat it." Nice.
Kim is contemplating this morsel of food… “If it will get me to the top, I’ll eat it.” Nice.
Some of our amazing Sherpa team mates: Ang Pemba, Mingma Dorjee, Pemba Gyalzen, and Pasang Kami.
Some of our amazing Sherpa team mates: Ang Pemba, Mingma Dorjee, Pemba Gyalzen, and Pasang Kami.
Steven Hess prepares to clip in.
Steven Hess prepares to clip in.
A closeup in telephoto of a big serac... this one is the size of a small office building.
A closeup in telephoto of a big serac… this one is the size of a small office building.
Bullet proof, pock-marked, twisted, cracked... beautiful.
Bullet proof, pock-marked, twisted, cracked… beautiful.
Bob and Nicky at the start of the fixed lines.
Bob and Nicky at the start of the fixed lines.
Ang Pemba, my amazing Sherpa guide on this rotation.
Ang Pemba, my amazing Sherpa guide on this rotation.
Our route above.
Our route above.
This year it runs a bit closer to Nuptse than last year in certain places, which has some advantanges for us.
This year it runs a bit closer to Nuptse than last year in certain places, which has some advantages for us.

There was very little similarity to the route from last year.  In fact, it felt entirely different to me.  Much steeper, much more solid ice, much less snow.  Crazy beautiful.  Crevasses much bigger than last time.  Good progress and good pace.  We made the football field in about 4 hours, which was great given the challenges of the route.  Heart and lungs were working at full capacity.  I had to pause to catch my breath on several occasions.

Sometimes I am asked whether Mt Everest is a technical mountain to climb.  I like to say that it’s highly technical if you make a mistake.  The route you see here was put up by the amazing “icefall doctors” of the SPCC… without them I would have no chance of making it safely up this mountain.  Does that make it a “walk up?”  Please take a look at these photos and decide for yourself.

Justin and Kim ascending out of a fractured pit I affectionately call the Toilet Bowl.
Justin and Kim ascending out of a fractured pit I affectionately call the Toilet Bowl.
As Kim tops out, others in line move into position.
As Kim tops out, others in line move into position.
Justin's POV as Kim climbs out of the toilet bowl. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Justin’s POV as Kim climbs out of the toilet bowl. (Photo: Justin Merle)
This overhanging ice is not a good place to wait... beautiful, but unsafe. We backed out of there pretty quickly.
This overhanging ice is not a good place to wait… beautiful, but unsafe. We backed out of there pretty quickly.
Siva and his sherpa make progress in the early upper icefall. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Siva and his Sherpa guide make progress in the early upper icefall. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Kim cannot stop smiling. She just can't. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Kim cannot stop smiling. She just can’t. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Hanging glaciers on Nuptse show themselves in the early dawn light. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Hanging glaciers on Nuptse show themselves in the early dawn light. (Photo: Justin Merle)
A random part of EBC seen in telephoto, across the glacier.
A random part of EBC seen in telephoto, across the glacier.
Steven hot-foots it through a broken section.
Steven hot-foots it through a broken section.
Moving with speed and authority.
Steven moves with speed and authority.
I and Ang Pemba near a break spot. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Me and Ang Pemba near a break spot. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Siva pulls into a break. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Siva pulls into a break. (Photo: Justin Merle)
I really needed this rest stop... football field (our turnaround spot) still close to an hour away. (Photo: Justin Merle)
I really needed this rest stop… football field (our turnaround spot) still close to an hour away. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Steven Hess comes in for a landing. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Steven Hess comes in for a landing. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Sunlight hits Pumori across the valley long before it reaches us in the shadow of Everest.
Sunlight hits Pumori across the valley long before it reaches us in the shadow of Everest.
Me and Ang Pemba heading up some steep ice. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Me and Ang Pemba heading up some steep ice. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Steven and Ang Tsheri framed by Pumori. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Steven and Ang Tsheri framed by Pumori. (Photo: Justin Merle)
The lower icefall, then the glacier, and EBC in the distance on the lateral moraine, almost in sunshine. (Photo: Justin Merle)
The lower icefall, then the glacier, and EBC in the distance on the lateral moraine, almost in sunshine. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Our first view of the "pit of despair," including 5-part ladder. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Our first view of the “pit of despair,” including 5-part ladder. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Siva starting the 5-ladder leading out of the pit of despair.
Siva starting the 5-ladder leading out of the pit of despair.
This is the quality of the ice seracs surrounding the pit
This is the quality of the ice seracs surrounding the pit
As you can see not very stable.
As you can see not very stable.
Steven Hess, Himalayan climber.
Steven Hess, Himalayan climber.
Ang Pemba Sherpa, my 1-on-1 guide today. Awesome.
Ang Pemba Sherpa, my 1-on-1 guide today. Awesome.
Siva making progress on the ladder... hanging glaciers of Nuptse above.
Siva making progress on the ladder… hanging glaciers of Nuptse above.
I make progress out of the Pit of Despair. (Photo: Justin Merle)
I make progress out of the Pit of Despair. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Steven at the top of the ladder. Farewell, Pit O' Despair. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Steven at the top of the ladder. Farewell, Pit O’ Despair. (Photo: Justin Merle)
I have just crossed the last bridge before the football field... buddies waiting there for me on the right side. (Photo: Justin Merle)
I have just crossed the last bridge before the football field… buddies waiting there for me on the right side. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Steven and Ang Tshering contemplate the double-wide. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Steven and Ang Tshering contemplate the double-wide. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Steven goes for it.... (Photo: Justin Merle)
Steven goes for it…. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Welcome to the football field: Cristiano, Kim, Steven, and Pasang Kami.
Welcome to the football field: Cristiano, Kim, Steven, and Pasang Kami.
The wall overhanging the football field....
The wall overhanging the football field….
Pumori in full sunlight... we remain in bitterly-cold shadow.
Pumori in full sunlight… we remain in bitterly-cold shadow.
Some crevasses are deep, but easily stepped across. (GoPro screenshot)
Some crevasses are deep, but easily stepped across. (GoPro screenshot)
Others require a leap of faith. In this case, I unclipped and walked left to a much narrower gap. (GoPro screenshot)
Others require a leap of faith. In this case, I unclipped and walked left to a much narrower gap. (GoPro screenshot)
Most crevasses are under 100 feet deep. (GoPro screenshot)
Most crevasses are under 100 feet deep. (GoPro screenshot)
Justin descends into a fractured area just below the football field. (GoPro screenshot)
Justin descends into a fractured area just below the football field. (GoPro screenshot)
Siva prepares to cross a 2-part horizontal ladder. (GoPro screenshot)
Siva prepares to cross a 2-part horizontal ladder. (GoPro screenshot)
Sometimes the route skirts big crevasses... we spend some time on top of "ice fins" that crisscross the route. (GoPro screenshot)
Sometimes the route skirts big crevasses… we spend some time on top of “ice fins” that crisscross the route. (GoPro screenshot)
Some are too big to jump, but require just one ladder to cross. (GoPro screenshot)
Some are too big to jump, but require just one ladder to cross. (GoPro screenshot)
Ang Pemba flies across a ladder with ease. (GoPro screenshot)
Ang Pemba flies across a ladder with ease. (GoPro screenshot)
Justin makes haste across the double-wide. (GoPro screenshot)
Justin makes haste across the double-wide. (GoPro screenshot)
Rickety, but gets the job done. (GoPro screenshot)
Rickety, but gets the job done. (GoPro screenshot)
Ang Pemba stiffens the safety lines for Siva, which makes for an easier, smoother crossing. (GoPro screenshot)
Ang Pemba stiffens the safety lines for Siva, which makes for an easier, smoother crossing. (GoPro screenshot)
Siva on the double-wide. (GoPro screenshot)
Siva on the double-wide. (GoPro screenshot)
Nicky tops out nicely from the 5-ladder vertical. Justin is preparing to rap down the adjacent line. (GoPro screenshot)
Nicky tops out nicely from the 5-ladder vertical. Justin is preparing to rap down the adjacent line. (GoPro screenshot)
Siva confirms: THE GO PRO IS ON! (GoPro screenshot)
Siva confirms: THE GO PRO IS ON! (GoPro screenshot)
Justin negotiating the overhanging ice atop the rappel. (GoPro screenshot)
Justin negotiating the overhanging ice atop the rappel. (GoPro screenshot)
Bob tops out as I rig my figure-8. (GoPro screenshot)
Bob tops out as I rig my figure-8. (GoPro screenshot)
Ang Pemba helps me keep my glove on my hand! Not sure what is up with the Tyrollean Traverse line above. (GoPro screenshot)
Ang Pemba helps me keep my glove on my hand! Not sure what is up with the Tyrollean Traverse line above. (GoPro screenshot)
Rapping with ease. (GoPro screenshot)
Rapping with ease. (GoPro screenshot)
Justin assisting a climber on the 5-ladder. (GoPro screenshot)
Justin assisting a climber on the 5-ladder. (GoPro screenshot)
I give a thumbs-up to Ang Pemba, while Emily Johnston makes her way up. (GoPro screenshot)
I give a thumbs-up to Ang Pemba, while Emily Johnston makes her way up. (GoPro screenshot)
Sunshine! The rays first hit us here, climbing out of the Pit of Despair. (GoPro screenshot)
Sunshine! The rays first hit us here, climbing out of the Pit of Despair. (GoPro screenshot)
My safety and ascender. Lifesavers. (GoPro screenshot)
My safety and ascender. Lifesavers. (GoPro screenshot)
Eddie atop the ridge overlooking the Pit. (GoPro screenshot)
Eddie atop the ridge overlooking the Pit. (GoPro screenshot)
Steven Hess rapping down the Pit. (GoPro screenshot)
Steven Hess rapping down the Pit. (GoPro screenshot)
It has been a season of "little" snow, but as you can see in cross-section, there is still quite a bit up high. (Photo: Justin Merle)
It has been a season of “little” snow, but as you can see in cross-section, there is still quite a bit up high. (Photo: Justin Merle)
The Pit of Despair, features to climber's right, which may prove useful in future revisions of the route. (Photo: Justin Merle)
The Pit of Despair, features to climber’s right. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Eddie deals nicely with a double-horizontal. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Eddie deals nicely with a double-horizontal. (Photo: Justin Merle)
The lower icefall in full sunshine. Ang Pemba is raring to go. (GoPro screenshot)
The lower icefall in full sunshine. Ang Pemba is raring to go. (GoPro screenshot)
Nuptse looms over the Pit. (GoPro screenshot)
Nuptse looms over the Pit. (GoPro screenshot)
Ang Pemba negotiates an ice fin above the Pit. (GoPro screenshot)
Ang Pemba negotiates an ice fin above the Pit. (GoPro screenshot)
Jumping from fin to fin. (GoPro screenshot)
Jumping from fin to fin. (GoPro screenshot)
My shadow is a welcome feature... until it starts to feel like 90F. For now, I like it. (GoPro screenshot)
My shadow is a welcome feature… until it starts to feel like 90F. For now, I like it. (GoPro screenshot)
Ang Pemba descending the icefall. (GoPro screenshot)
Ang Pemba descending the icefall. (GoPro screenshot)
I wave to a helicopter filming a documentary. Other team mates had a different gesture in mind. "They're messing with my nature chi, man!" (GoPro screenshot)
I wave to a helicopter filming a documentary. Other team mates had a different gesture in mind. “They’re messing with my nature chi, man!” (GoPro screenshot)
You can see why this section is often called The Popcorn. (GoPro screenshot)
You can see why this section is often called The Popcorn. (GoPro screenshot)
When major seracs fall, lots of ugly debris may fill the void. We avoid the void! (GoPro screenshot)
When major seracs fall, lots of ugly debris may fill the void. We avoid the void! (GoPro screenshot)
A big snow bridge makes crossing this crevasse a breeze. (GoPro screenshot)
A big snow bridge makes crossing this crevasse a breeze. (GoPro screenshot)
Sometimes it is necessary to duck under the line while on the move. Trick: Not getting it looped on my ice axe. (GoPro screenshot)
Sometimes it is necessary to duck under the line while on the move. Trick: Not getting it caught on my ice axe. (GoPro screenshot)
Steep sections can be descended quickly with a friction technique... few spots require a true rap. (GoPro screenshot)
Steep sections can be descended quickly with a friction technique… few spots require a true rap. (GoPro screenshot)
I give Ang Pemba a big thumbs up. (GoPro screenshot)
I give Ang Pemba a big thumbs up. (GoPro screenshot)
This granite boulder was lodged at the top of a ladder... creepy, but stable. (GoPro screenshot)
This granite boulder was lodged at the top of a ladder… creepy, but stable. (GoPro screenshot)
Ang Pemba on the same ladder. (GoPro screenshot)
Ang Pemba on the same ladder. (GoPro screenshot)
Focus... focus... (GoPro screenshot)
Focus… focus… (GoPro screenshot)
Pounding off with colleague Alan Arnette, a surprise meeting on the ice. (GoPro screenshot)
Pounding off with Alan Arnette, a pleasant surprise meeting on the ice. (GoPro screenshot)
Fractured.... twisted... amazing. (GoPro screenshot)
Fractured…. twisted… amazing. (GoPro screenshot)
A French documentary film crew set up shop right in the middle of the trail. No lie. (GoPro screenshot)
A French documentary film crew set up shop right in the middle of the trail. No lie. (GoPro screenshot)
It was quite a "production." (GoPro screenshot)
It was quite a “production.” (GoPro screenshot)
Shade is valuable... but distance from overhanging seracs is priceless. I think these are members of the documentary team. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Shade is valuable… but distance from overhanging seracs is priceless. I think these are members of the documentary team. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Nicky rappels like a pro. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Nicky rappels like a pro. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Looking down into the Toilet Bowl before descending with a friction technique. (GoPro screenshot)
Looking down into the Toilet Bowl before descending with a friction technique. (GoPro screenshot)
A climber at the top of the Toilet Bowl. (Photo: Justin Merle)
A climber at the top of the Toilet Bowl. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Pasang Kami Sherpa.
Pasang Kami Sherpa.
Ang Pemba Sherpa.
Ang Pemba Sherpa.
Siva Hota.
Siva Hota.
Cristiano Muller.
Cristiano Muller.
Kim Hess.
Kim Hess.
Yours truly.
Yours truly.

We now have two days of rest before taking our next rotation up the mountain to C1 and C2, two nights at each location.

Phrase of the day: Avoid the void.

15 thoughts on “Football Field

  1. So impressed with how you are documenting this climb! Most are focused just on getting to the destination, but to take the time and energy to take these photos is amazing…especially considering most of them aren’t even of you. What a great team mate. You are ready Paul for Camp 2…I can feel it!

  2. The photos ARE amazing but, please, don’t let them be a distraction. Those ladder crossing require 100% of your focus. Yikes! Enjoy your days of rest. xox

  3. Julie was right – I’m a mom and I shouldn’t be looking at these pictures! Pictures are scary awesome. Mama Hess

  4. This pictures are amazing!! Thank you so much for documenting your journey. It is awesome to see the Icefall up close. get some good rest and I am excited to be following your climb.

  5. WOW on the pictures! Thrilled you are sharing them and the blog. Many of my FB family and friends are following you and the team, too. Hope you are able to get a lot of rest before you continue on your quest. Love and prayers continue.

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