Paul Pottinger’s Adventures from the Top of the World

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Liftoff…

Everest 2016  •  May 15

The alarm did not need to sound that night—I was already awake at 1 AM.  The usual details needed tending-to in the tent, including a last text message to Julie, and then I was out the door.  As I sealed the tent, I took one last look at the postcard hanging from the ceiling, our annual greeting card for 2015, a collage of photos of the family.  I watch this card in the beam of my headlamp every night as I fall asleep, marveling at our children.  This time will be no different.  You’ll be back in a week.  I wondered how I would feel when I returned: tired but victorious, or beaten and utterly dejected?

Fine conditions for climbing the icefall: just a touch of the Withering Wind, some katabatics, and clear skies.  Let’s do this.

I did well in the icefall, and felt much stronger than last time. I was pleased with the performance of two new pieces of kit I picked up in Namche: first, a lightweight silk balaclava that hangs loosely over my nose and mouth, providing some warmth and re-capture of exhaled moisture without feeling too tight.  Second, a highly insulated Camelbak hydration pack… sounds like madness, as everyone knows these will freeze in winter conditions, but Bob and Nicky and I decided this system looked tough enough to give it a go (provided we start with scalding water, and wear the system under our shells right next to the body).

Initially it looked like we would have minimal traffic, with just seven headlamps countable on the route above.  But, more and more folks appeared from behind us as we made our way through the glacier.  Many were our friends from IMG on different sub-teams, and others were from totally separate expeditions.  “Justin, what are all these people doing on our mountain?  Didn’t they get the memo that we reserved it for tonight?”

“We’ll be alright.”  This is Justin’s 17th Himalayan expedition, and he is shooting for his seventh summit.  He really has seen it all up here.

And of course Justin was right, we were fine.  Lots of constipation at the toilet bowl, including some climbers who just could not seem to get their act together, but beyond that things opened up just fine. I was able to make good progress, in fact one of my faster ascents.  By the time we topped out on the headwall it was just after 7 AM, meaning about 4.5 hours through the icefall, which is just fine.  Just conserve your energy dude, this rotation is all about the summit.

Getting the spikes on at Crampon Point. You can see the headlamps of a handful of climbers on the route above us. Looks busy today, because so many IMG climbers are headed up at once!
Getting the spikes on at Crampon Point. You can see the headlamps of a handful of climbers on the route above us. Looks busy today, because so many IMG climbers are headed up at once!
The way out of the toilet bowl. Lots of traffic on this portion today... not a great place to linger.
The way out of the toilet bowl. Lots of traffic on this portion today… not a great place to linger.
Climbers on my six, approaching the first horizontal ladder of the day, lower icefall behind them.
Climbers on my six, approaching the first horizontal ladder of the day, lower icefall behind them.
First vertical ladder of the day... this one makes me leery because of the granite boulder frozen in the ice at the very top... Don't touch the boulder!
First vertical ladder of the day… this one makes me leery because of the granite boulder frozen in the ice at the very top… Don’t touch the boulder!
A view to the left of the boulder ladder.
A view to the left of the boulder ladder.
Looking back at Pumori from the Pit of Despair, our descent line visible at center.
Looking back at Pumori from the Pit of Despair, our descent line visible at center.
Debris sitting in the bottom of the Pit of Despair.
Debris sitting in the bottom of the Pit of Despair.
Pasang Kami and I await our turn to climb out of the Pit of Despair.
Pasang Kami and I await our turn to climb out of the Pit of Despair.
This horizontal ladder was tricky due to a big bulge of ice, forcing you to lean hard to the right to pass. The line is super rigid, but still requires a stiff upper lip.
This horizontal ladder was tricky due to a big bulge of ice, forcing you to lean hard to the right to pass. The line is super rigid, but still requires a stiff upper lip.
See Kim's expression in closeup? Looks like she's not sure how this will work out...
See Kim’s expression in closeup? Looks like she’s not sure how this will work out…
The Fearsome Head, a house-sized serac looming over a vertical ladder, seems solid enough... still, not a nice place to linger.
The Fearsome Head, a house-sized serac looming over a vertical ladder, seems solid enough… still, not a nice place to linger.
Kim and Cristiano and their Sherpa guides pull into the Football Field.
Kim and Cristiano and their Sherpa guides pull into the Football Field.
Cruising into the break.
Cruising into the break.
Pasang Kami Sherpa and Mingma Sherpa: Brothers, and amazing guides.
Pasang Kami Sherpa and Mingma Sherpa: Brothers, and amazing guides.
Cristiano and Nima Nuru at the Football Field.
Cristiano and Nima Dorje at the Football Field.
Kim and Mingma climb out of the Sea of Destruction to the low-angle headwall base, and approach the vertical portion above.
Kim and Mingma climb out of the Sea of Destruction to the low-angle headwall base, and approach the vertical portion above.
Pasang Kami starts up the headwall, first via a sketchy ladder then snow steps.
Pasang Kami starts up the headwall, first via a sketchy ladder then snow steps.
Cristiano tops out on the headwall without even breaking a sweat.
Cristiano tops out on the headwall without even breaking a sweat.
Atop the headwall. Doesn't even look tired, does she?
Atop the headwall. Doesn’t even look tired, does she?
Mingma tops out on the headwall like a champ.
Mingma tops out on the headwall like a champ.
Pasang Kami atop the headwall, route to Camp 1 in the background.
Pasang Kami atop the headwall, route to Camp 1 in the background.

One the way up, in the Sea of Destruction, I was surprised to hear someone call my name from above: it was my lovely buddy Mary Scannell descending with her crew from Jagged Globe.  Everyone looks incognito on Everest, but I really had trouble recognizing Mary.  She is a beautiful woman who looked… worked over by the summit.  But, her spirit and energy were irrepressible, and we had a quick chat on the lines.  I had not realized they were pinned at the South Col in a windstorm for more than a day after reaching the summit–this explained why I had not seen them descending the prior day.  No time for details, but it certainly sounded hairy up there. I was so impressed with her, with their entire team, and I focused on my happiness for them rather than the horrors of what it must have been like for them up there.  Quick hug and we were each off in opposite directions.

Camp 1 was washed in beautiful, glorious, flesh-frying sunshine.  We made it.  Time to relax.  

I was amazed to think back to my last time here, when I painted the snow red and green with bloody sputum.  Now, I had no cough at all.  The satellite text I sent Julie says it all: “Speedy, solid icefall climb… Hope it’s my last icefall ascent. Relaxing day at Camp 1; Spartan but beautiful, and fine weather. Fit & well.”

One of the best parts of this rotation turned out to be the fact that we were climbing with our buddies from the “classic” IMG team, which allowed us to get to know them better.  Previously we had been on a staggered schedule, but now everyone’s acclimatization was on even footing, and the weather dictated when we would leave as a larger group.  Fun to chat with these buddies, new and old.

Justin set about improving camp, meaning dealing with the latrine situation: It had become hopelessly overfull, and needed to be replaced.  By the time he was done, we had a brand-spanking-new hole in the snow, complete with a privacy / wind barrier.

The clouds taunted us, staying just out of range from providing shade.  So, we sweltered in our tents and in the common ground outside, wishing for cover.  And, of course, when the shade finally came it brought sub-zero temperatures that sent us running to stitch up the tents and dive into our big down bags.

The tents of IMG Camp 1.
The tents of IMG Camp 1.
Emily Johnston and Justin Merle. Awesome.
Emily Johnston and Justin Merle. Awesome.
Cristiano is a professional catnapper, able to sleep on a whim. For me, napping is less likely to happen. I'm jealous.
Cristiano is a professional catnapper, able to sleep on a whim. For me, napping is less likely to happen. I’m jealous.
Our tent... Lhotse in the background.
Our tent… Lhotse in the background.
Nuptse looming over Camp 1.
Nuptse looming over Camp 1.
The Cwm, ending with Lhotse. Rollers in fine form... little traffic today.
The Cwm, ending with Lhotse. Rollers in fine form… little traffic today.
Pumori (obscured in cloud cover), Lingtren, and Khumbutse watch us from across the valley.
Pumori (obscured in cloud cover), Lingtren, and Khumbutse watch us from across the valley.
Welcome to the glamorous world of the Hessians in their lair.
Welcome to the glamorous world of the Hessians in their lair.
Justin prepared to grapple with the human waste left at Camp 1 from the prior rotation. Messy business... and the best part is the Home Depot bucket that says "Let's Do This!"
Justin prepares to grapple with the human waste left at Camp 1 from the prior rotation. Messy business… and the best part is the Home Depot bucket that says “Let’s Do This!”
Even after scraping the waste into a crevasse, Justin is careful to cover the skidmark with fresh snow. It's the little details that count....
Even after scraping the waste into a crevasse, Justin is careful to cover the skidmark with fresh snow. It’s the little details that count….
Camp 1 seen from Justin's new, pristine lavatory. Nice view, right?
Camp 1 seen from Justin’s new, pristine lavatory. Nice view, right?
The cloud deck really truly was about 100 meters too far west to provide any meaningful shade. So very, very painful!
The cloud deck really truly was about 100 meters too far west to provide any meaningful shade. So very, very painful!
Shadows... so... close...
Shadows… so… close…
Some of the tools of the trade... sharps are always kept outside the tent.
Some of the tools of the trade… sharps are always kept outside the tent.

Life at Camp 1 is simple: just tents in the snow, like you’d find on most any mountain expedition.  Usually I think of this as being uncomfortable, but on this rotation it almost seemed like a fresh break from all the cush treatment we’d gotten on the way up.  Almost… I admit that while I was eating my cheese tortellini MRE I missed the fine cooking we get at EBC and Camp 2.

Concept of the day: All systems go.

6 thoughts on “Liftoff…

  1. Sharps in the tent very acceptable in Camp 4.
    Words can’t describe the heat at Camp 2. Oy.
    Another great post P2!!! (with an in house assist?)

  2. Hi Paul,
    You don’t know us, but my wife and I have been following your climb this season from the comfort of home in UK. You are an inspirational mountaineer, writer and photographer – awesome! Absolutely delighted when we heard you had summited and really enjoying your amazing story as you post it. Our ambitions in the mountains are somewhat lower than Everest, but you may be amused to hear that I have ordered a some Bark Eaters from the USA for my next climb! Many congratulations, Kevin and Jenny

    1. So great to meet both of you, thank you for following. And, good choice on the goggles, they are great. Wishing you great success and safety up high!

  3. Can’t wait for the next blog entry- this is amazing stuff, Paul. Thanks for sharing this adventure.

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