Paul Pottinger’s Adventures from the Top of the World

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Drop Like a Stone

Everest 2016  •  May 4

We predicted that descending the Lhotse face would be much easier than climbing it had been.  This proved to be true: my ascent took just under 11 hours, and the total descent was just over 4 hours.  I am convinced that if traffic had not been so horrendous on the route, we would have made camp 2 in closer to three hours.

But, there is no room for haste in the mountains… especially on the Lhotse face.  In preparation for this expedition I have read virtually everything on Everest I could place my hands on.  I know the legacy of this portion of the route.  Far finer mountaineers than I have perished here.  We have encountered their remains at the bottom.  A moment of focus was called for before we left Camp 3.  This is the real thing.  One mistake, and you are gone…. Take one step at a time.  The safety lines are here for a reason.  They are solid.  Use them and you will be fine.  Use two safety ‘biners.   Remember your ABC’s: Always Be Clipping.  Remember: Gravity never sleeps.

And so we made our way down with tremendous focus and unflinching care.   And it was uneventful, easy, slow travel.  If the scenery had not been so spectacular, I would say it was a boring morning.  But, spectacular it was.  And busy!  So many people on the mountain!  Every one of them sharing the same line… only a small portion of the route just above the ‘schrund has two parallel lines.  Everywhere else, we are required to clip past the up-traffic (or slow down-traffic) just as though they were snow anchors, with one safety line at a time.  Painstaking, unapologetically careful work.  Slowly, we made our way down.

The close chaos of Camp 3 as we get ready to roll.
The close chaos of Camp 3 as we get ready to roll.
The catwalk is narrow up here. (GoPro Screenshot)
The catwalk is narrow up here. HimEx green tents below and to the left.  (GoPro Screenshot)
HImEx prepares to move out at the same time.
HImEx prepares to move out at the same time.
"Upper" IMG Camp 3, a couple of tents sitting just above the other few. Snow blocks chopped from the face make a bulwark against the slope.
“Upper” IMG Camp 3, a couple of tents sitting just above the other few. Snow blocks chopped from the face make a bulwark against the slope.
Our view up from Camp 3. Everest on the left, and the Geneva Spur on the right, with the Yellow Band snaking along beneath.
Our view up from Camp 3. Everest on the left, and the Geneva Spur on the right, with the Yellow Band snaking along beneath.  Our next objective, the South Col, lives just beyond the Spur.
Sun peaking out from behind the South Col.
Sun peaking out from behind the South Col.
View down the Face towards the Cwm. High cloud cover this morning is a blessing.
View down the Face towards the Cwm. High cloud cover this morning is a blessing.
Closer view of our objective: Camp 2.
Closer view of our objective: Camp 2.
Justin: Lord over all he surveys.
Justin: Lord over all he surveys.
Justin Merle and Emily Johnston. Could we possibly be in better hands?
Justin Merle and Emily Johnston. Could we possibly be in better hands?
Pasang Kami and I are psyched to get moving!
Pasang Kami and I are psyched to get moving!
Pasang Kami hits the Face first. (GoPro Screenshot)
Pasang Kami hits the Face first. (GoPro Screenshot)
Looking down the route as we drop below Camp 3.
Looking down the route as we drop below Camp 3.
We are not alone up here....
We are not alone up here….
We are always clipped to the safety line twice, so that at anchors there is never a moment when we are unclipped.
We are always clipped to the safety line twice, so that at anchors there is never a moment when we are unclipped.  (GoPro Screenshot)
Maybe this will make it clearer....
Maybe this will make it clearer…. moving beyond an anchor in the ice, I clip the new line with one carabiner, then the next.  Thus, never unclipped from the mountain.  (GoPro Screenshot)

Above is a short video of us descending the Lhotse Face, so you can get a flavor of the terrain and technique involved.  Somehow the wrong video got uploaded from Namche, but this will do.

Here comes Siva.
Here comes Siva on blue ice.  Summit of Lhotse at left.
Siva pulls up to an anchor. Nice.
Siva pulls up to an anchor. Nice.
Looking back at the ridge joining Lhotse to Nuptse. Blue skies are stalking us.... generally a good thing, but makes UV management an issue.
Looking back at the ridge joining Lhotse to Nuptse. Blue skies are stalking us…. generally a good thing, but makes UV management an issue.
No worries, we have UV covered.
No worries, we have UV covered.  Down suit peeled to the waist, a single zip-tee blocking me from the elements.  Loving my MEE Barkeaters by ZeeGoggles.
Mingma and Kim prep for a Figure-8 rappel.
Mingma and Kim prep for a Figure-8 rappel over an ice bulge.
Breaking from the heat in high style.
Breaking from the heat in high style.
Making progress.... (GoPro Screenshot)
Making progress…. (GoPro Screenshot)
Sometimes the ropes at anchors are a bit of a mess. (GoPro Screenshot)
Sometimes the ropes at anchors are a bit of a mess. (GoPro Screenshot)
Sometimes, a REAL mess. This extra rope is ready to be put to good use... I hope we can establish more sections of parallel lines, it really makes descending faster! (GoPro Screenshot)
Sometimes, a REAL mess. This extra rope is ready to be put to good use… I hope we can establish more sections of parallel lines, it really makes descending faster! (GoPro Screenshot)
Down we go.... (GoPro Screenshot)
Down we go…. (GoPro Screenshot)
One of our great IMG Sherpa making a move above a traversing section near lower Camp 3. These guys are simply amazing. (GoPro Screenshot)
One of our great IMG Sherpa making a move above a traversing section near lower Camp 3. These guys are simply amazing. (GoPro Screenshot)
The last traverse before Lower Camp 3. (GoPro Screenshot)
The last traverse before Lower Camp 3. (GoPro Screenshot)
"Should we take a break here? I need Chu (water)." (GoPro Screenshot)
“Should we take a break here? I need Chu (water).” (GoPro Screenshot)
Looking back as we descend below Lower Camp 3. "If you camped here, you'd be home now." (GoPro Screenshot)
Looking back as we descend below Lower Camp 3. “If you camped here, you’d be home now.” (GoPro Screenshot)
Happy to see my buddy Bart rocking the fixed line. (GoPro Screenshot)
Happy to see my buddy Bart rocking the fixed line. (GoPro Screenshot)
Ditto for IMG Guide Extraordinaire Johnny Schrock. (GoPro Screenshot)
Ditto for IMG Guide Extraordinaire Johnny Schrock. (GoPro Screenshot)
Wide stance is helpful at anchors. (GoPro Screenshot)
Wide stance is helpful at anchors. Here I am preparing to rap past a knot of climbers via a blue ice bulge, just above the bergschrund.  (GoPro Screenshot)
That's the group we want to avoid. (GoPro Screenshot)
That’s the group we want to avoid. Thank goodness for the second line.(GoPro Screenshot)
I love rappelling (GoPro Screenshot)
I love rappelling!  Note the remnants of lines from prior years frozen into the face. (GoPro Screenshot)
Looking up from the bottom of the rappel. (GoPro Screenshot)
Looking up from the bottom of the rappel. (GoPro Screenshot)
Dropping into the 'schrund. (GoPro Screenshot)
Dropping into the ‘schrund. (GoPro Screenshot)
Tight fit down there... (GoPro Screenshot)
Tight fit down there… (GoPro Screenshot)
Emerging from the other side (GoPro Screenshot)
Emerging from the other side (GoPro Screenshot)
Headed up & out. (GoPro Screenshot)
Headed up & out. (GoPro Screenshot)
Heded towards the last break.  (GoPro Screenshot)
Walking towards the last break. (GoPro Screenshot)
Water, calories, and movement towards Camp 2.  (GoPro Screenshot)
Water, calories, and movement towards Camp 2. (GoPro Screenshot)
Pasang Kami is happy to be down.
Pasang Kami is happy to be down.
So is Emily.
So is Emily.
And... so is Justin.
And… so is Justin.

Nothing even close to the breathing trouble or fatigue of the day before.  This was smooth sailing for me.

I was tuckered out when we made it to Camp 2, but very happy and indeed excited by the prospect of getting back to EBC the next morning.  The toll of Camp 3 began to come clear as I worked on logistics for the next morning.  Some gear needed to stay in my pack, some needed to stay at Camp 2, and some needed to go to Camp 1.  Getting things sorted and catalogued took longer than expected, and at the end of the day I was ready for my sleeping bag in a big way.  As I closed my eyes, and drew breaths in through the stinking buff, I watched the Face inch by in my mind, step after step on blue ice with a world of exposure below.  We did it.

Word of the day: Focus.

14 thoughts on “Drop Like a Stone

  1. those anchors of the fixed line better be good ones!

    Paul: No doubt, I am person # 500+ who tells you how well written this is. No matter what the outcome you are living life to its fullest. Be careful, be focused, be strong!

    1. Thanks Urs! Yep, we test the anchors every time, whatever that is worth… so great to hear from you, and eager to come home and catch up!

    1. Thanks much Josette…. not the same, as in better? Do tell. Eager to come home and see all of you. Early June, one way or another…..

  2. P2,

    I am honored to be your friend and I am grateful that I can read your amazing blog and look at your beautiful photos. Keep up the great work! Onward and upward!

    1. OK buddy, wish you were up here with us, this would be easy for you! Eager to get this done and get home, we will bring the clans together….

  3. Love that two-clip system. Glad to see you got some rest in Namche before heading up again. Step by step.

  4. Great job once again P2.

    Funny to see that down suit getting floppy as you shed the pounds up there. Mine looked ridiculous by the end.

    This brings back a ton of memories from the Big E adventure. I am jealous. Sort of…

    Have some more Spam.

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