Paul Pottinger’s Adventures from the Top of the World

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Find My Way Back

Everest 2016  •  May 5

I slept poorly, eager for the move back to EBC.  I had a feeling that if I could just get through the next few hours, everything would be OK.  EBC: Hot meals, hot showers, my own warm tent, internet, phone… all the luxuries I could want.  Just get down this, smoothly and safely, and then you can collapse.

As usual, the frenetic start at Camp 2: final touches to the pack load, rice bags destined for different locations, a tent to clean out and make tidy.  All in the pre-dawn darkness and intense cold.  However, we were blessed with near perfect conditions: clear sky, calm winds, no precip.  This will be easy.

I carried my crampons by hand until we reached the bottom of camp, our little crampon point before we spilled out onto the broad Cwm proper.  The metal frames were intensely cold, and the chemical warmers I had used in my Point’NChutes were totally ineffective—no surprise after they had been rotting on the mountain for a year, but still a disappointment.  I grabbed the ‘pons by the plastic-coated toe bails (I wear Petzl Vasaks with levels locks), but even this was crazy cold, even with my smart wool liner gloves underneath… although these were ravaged by the rotation, full of holes and tears.  Dammit I should have put them on my pack.

Soon enough we got the points on and got moving.  And, as always, my hands began to warm up.  We made great time on the Cwm, and before I knew it we had reached Nuptse Corner, filled with small horizontal ladders and switchbacks.  Dropping over the roller faces was a bit painful because of traffic: we were not the only ones with this plan in mind, and so there was some waiting on top of the rollers, but nothing too bad.  Besides, the views were spectacular.

An unusual double-independent ladder crevasse crossing below a roller above Camp 1. (Photo: Justin merle)
An unusual double-independent ladder crevasse crossing below a roller above Camp 1. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Climbers preparing to drop onto one of the two ladders. (Photo: Justin merle)
Climbers preparing to drop onto one of the two ladders. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Looking back at the double ladders. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Looking back at the double ladders. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Emily Johnston pulls into Camp 1 in high style. (Photo: Justin merle)
Emily Johnston pulls into Camp 1 in high style. (Photo: Justin Merle)

We dropped some gear at Camp 1, in anticipation of the next rotation, then moved out towards the icefall.  Today had been predicted to bring heavy snowfall, but the morning was crystalline…. When we moved below Camp 1, the truth became clear: The upper mountain would be perfect today, but the icefall and below were totally socked in with dense fog.  This was a first for me, seeing such a well-defined layer below us.  Over the radio we learned that EBC was intensely cold and miserable.  Perfect.

Unusual weather pattern on Everest: Clear above, and dense fog below. This is how things looked from Camp 1 as we began our descent.
Unusual weather pattern on Everest: Clear above, and dense fog below. This is how things looked from Camp 1 as we began our descent.
Moving towards the top roller... note that fog to the left. Looks chilly!
Moving towards the top roller… note that fog to the left. Looks chilly!
A glance back over my shoulder at the Cwm. Crystalline blue, calm, inviting. I was eager to get the hell out of there and hit EBC!
A glance back over my shoulder at the Cwm. Crystalline blue, calm, inviting. I was eager to get the hell out of there and hit EBC!
Morning sun his Nuptse... we are still in dense, cold shadow.
Morning sun his Nuptse… we are still in dense, cold shadow.
I think this is a "lost crampons" sign. Sherpa often leave their crampons staked out on the route when descending, and use them only to go higher upon return. My sense is that this poor bloke was not able to find them when he came back... must be a super unusual occurrence.
I think this is a “lost crampons” sign. Sherpa often leave their crampons staked out on the route when descending, and use them only to go higher upon return. My sense is that this poor bloke was not able to find them when he came back… must be a super unusual occurrence.
And here we go into the gloaming, one last moment in clear air.
And here we go into the gloaming, one last moment in clear air.

Down we went, into the maneating fog.  Visibility dropped to about 30 meters, and the world was silent, still, and creepy.  And beautiful.  At least we won’t roast in here.

Pasang Kami at the top of the headwall, preparing to rap. The Sea of Destruction below is almost totally obscured.
Pasang Kami at the top of the headwall, preparing to rap. The Sea of Destruction below is almost totally obscured.
Justin checks the route from the top of the headwall.
Justin checks the route from the top of the headwall.
Kim is all smiles as she drops into the frozen abyss. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Kim is all smiles as she drops into the frozen abyss. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Me, too. (Photo: Justin merle)
Me, too. (Photo: Justin Merle)

In the fog, everything looked a bit different, and this made the journey more interesting.  I kept my pace up, strong as ever, and made sure my technique was solid.  Not sure whether it was the promise of salvation at EBC, or whether I was just having a good day, but things felt good.  I will not pull into crampon point feeling like a wet noodle, the way I did last time.  Today I am long and strong.

Justin rapping down the headwall.
Justin rapping down the headwall.
Pasang Kami drops into the Sea of Destruction... at least, what we can see of it.
Pasang Kami drops into the Sea of Destruction… at least, what we can see of it.
The Great Wave has calved off its uppermost overhang.... must have been one hell of a show. Now it looks like any other giant serac.
The Great Wave has calved off its uppermost overhang…. must have been one hell of a show. Now it looks like any other giant serac.
And, across from it, more collapse of the opposing "gate" feature since we last passed this way.
And, across from it, more collapse of the opposing “gate” feature since we last passed this way.
Avvy debris compressed over years into solid, bubble-free ice. (Photo: Justin merle)
Avvy debris compressed over years into solid, bubble-free ice. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Me on the left, Pasang Kami second from left, and two climbers from another team on the swell of ice just beyond the Sea of Destruction. (Photo: Justin merle)
Me on the left, Pasang Kami second from left, and two climbers from another team on the swell of ice just beyond the Sea of Destruction. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Striations in ice. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Striations in ice. (Photo: Justin Merle)

We had some traffic in the icefall, which always presents a challenge to my patience and good nature, but there you go—it is what it is.  Overall, the mountain felt almost like our private paradise, and Pasang Kami, Justin, and I made fine time down.

Me friction-rapping into a small depression above the Football Field. (Photo: Justin merle)
Me friction-rapping into a small depression above the Football Field. (Photo: Justin Merle)
As you can see, Pasang Kami is built for speed. (Photo: Justin merle)
As you can see, Pasang Kami is built for speed. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Cloud and Clear skies battle for dominance above the icefall. (Photo: Justin merle)
Cloud and Clear skies battle for dominance above the icefall. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Hanging glacier on Nuptse over our icefall route. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Hanging glacier on Nuptse over our icefall route. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Funny moment as we break out from below the cloud layer, revealing a gloomy, cold valley below. (Photo: Justin merle)
Funny moment as we break out from below the cloud layer, revealing a gloomy, cold valley below. (Photo: Justin Merle)
The horseshoe glacier above revealed in sunshine. (Photo: Justin Merle)
The Horseshoe Glacier above revealed in sunshine. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Now the hanging glacier is exposed to the full brutality of the sun... and so are we. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Now the hanging glacier is exposed to the full brutality of the sun… and so are we. (Photo: Justin Merle)
I approach the ladder below the Fearsome Head. (Photo: Justin Merle)
I approach the ladder below the Fearsome Head. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Pasang Kami is already ahead of me. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Pasang Kami is already ahead of me. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Here I go... (Photo: Justin Merle)
Here I go… (Photo: Justin Merle)
The Fearsome Head from below. Pretty stable compared with last time we were here. (Photo: Justin Merle)
The Fearsome Head from below. Pretty stable compared with last time we were here. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Looking back over our shoulder as we drop down. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Looking back over our shoulder as we drop down. (Photo: Justin Merle)
A random section of icefall below the Pit of Despair. (Photo: Justin Merle)
A random section of icefall below the Pit of Despair. (Photo: Justin Merle)
I think those two seracs look like hands clapping... what do you think? (Photo: Justin Merle)
I think those two seracs look like hands clapping… what do you think? (Photo: Justin Merle)
A climber in front of us negotiates his descent of the Toilet Bowl. We elected to take a little-used rap line well to the right. Fun!
A climber in front of us negotiates his descent of the Toilet Bowl. We elected to take a little-used rap line well to the right. Fun!
Pasang Kami looks at the final steep portion of the route, the Toilet Bowl, between us and the lower glacier.
Pasang Kami looks at the final steep portion of the route, the Toilet Bowl, between us and the lower glacier.
A closeup of home sweet home...
A closeup of home sweet home…

Back at EBC, life could start to normalize again.  Off came the filthy clothing, sleeves clotted with bloody snot, layers stinking of days of effort.  The hot shower was almost like a rebirth, the food and drink pouring energy back into my system.  I still coughed plenty when I breathed in the withering wind, and certainly when I laughed (which we do all the time here).  But, I had a sense that things were on the mend.

Today was also auspicious because it’s my brother’s birthday; wish I could celebrate with him in person.  When I get home, we will have a three-way party (me, my redneck twin Katie, and Matt).

Phrase of the day (Kim to a climber from another team, flummoxed in the icefall): It’s not meant to be a puzzle.

14 thoughts on “Find My Way Back

  1. Dude. I had NO IDEA there was this much up and down. Up to this camp, back down to that camp. Over and over. I mean, thank god you do it, for the acclimatization, i guess. But still what an unelievable, tremendous, soul-testing slog.

    Godspeed, as always. Also, why is Pasang Kami’s face purple? Tattoo? Birth mark? Physiological reaction to hauling your sorry ass up that damn mountain?

    Filled with admiration and awe not only at your perserverance, but also your cheerful, detailed chronicle of this epic journey.

    1. Yep…. if it were easy, everyone would do it. Just one more rotation to go…. NO idea why PK’s face looks purple! Dark skin in shadow makes the Sony sensor go crazy I guess. I assure you, in real life he is hale and healthy! Will keep chipping away, not much longer now until this crazy story reaches some sort of conclusion….

  2. Those hand seracs look freakily like the giant hands statue at Oral Roberts University (also known as Six Flags Over Jesus). Sorry ‘bout that, hon.

    Praying Hands

      1. I have! I’ve been to Tulsa twice for work, and they keep putting me up at the hotel that’s right across the street.

  3. Matt and I are hanging on every word. Can’t wait for the next installment. I’m praying that your lungs don’t give you too much trouble. And for decent weather of course. Be safe! Love you.

  4. Paul:

    This is exciting and fascinating. The pictures are just incredible. All the best, old sport, and stay safe!

  5. Glad that you are back in the relative luxury of EBC. Awesome photos, Paul! Sending good Khumbu karma.

  6. What an incredible journey you’re on; thank you so much for sharing this adventure with all of us. I’ve got half the Colorado Mountain Club following you. Rest, stay strong, persevere, and the mountain will be yours. Continue to climb safely.

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