Paul Pottinger’s Adventures from the Top of the World

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Up the Cwm

Everest 2016  •  May 16

Cold temperatures, low winds, and clear skies greeted us in the morning.  I had hoped for some cloud cover to spare us from cooking in the solar oven of the Cwm, but it was not meant to be.  No worries, we got moving early enough to avoid the brunt of the sunshine.  We should top the rollers before the sun hits.  It is what it is.  

I looked back at Camp 1 for the last time.  It struck me as tiny, spartan, and exposed in every sense.  And crazy beautiful.  I memorized the views one more time, quickly.  I will never come here again.

Saddling up at first light for the move to Camp 2.
Saddling up at first light for the move to Camp 2.
The Cwm: Deep & Quiet.
The Cwm: Deep & Quiet.

Because it was late in the season, we were able to enjoy established steps up the roller faces… in fact, in some cases, the steps were so worn that they had cut trenches in the snow up to 4 feet deep, which was a pain in terms of getting my trekking pole up and over.  Yes, although it may seem odd, we use our poles on the Cwm, where they help alleviate the drudgery of marching hour after hour.  When we come to vertical terrain or ladders, the easy thing to do is to stash the poles quickly across the small of our backs, between our jackets and the underside of our packs.  Works great… unless you are trying to ascend a deep snow trench cut by your predecessors.

Heading up the first roller of the day. Steps have been kicked in nicely by this time of the season, even cutting a deep trench in the face near the lip.
Heading up the first roller of the day. Steps have been kicked in nicely by this time of the season, even cutting a deep trench in the face near the lip.
Cristiano and Mingma Dorje prepare to tackle a roller.
Cristiano and Nima Dorje prepare to tackle a roller.
The double-ladder crossing of a deep crevasse, our last roller of the morning. Looks like Jai is going left, up the vertical face. I opted to follow Siva to the right... easy is good for p2.
The double-ladder crossing of a deep crevasse, our last roller of the morning. Looks like Jay is going left, up the vertical face. I opted to follow Siva to the right… easy is good for p2.
The sun rises above the summit of Everest just as I approach the first horizontal ladder of the day... as always, Pasang Kami prepares the way for me.
The sun rises above the summit of Everest just as I approach the first horizontal ladder of the day… as always, Pasang Kami prepares the way for me.

I performed well.  I was genuinely surprised when the sixth and final roller face came and went so quickly.  So much easier than last time.  As hoped, the sun did not hit the bottom of the Cwm until the moment I gained the top of the last roller.  Now just cruise.  I was relaxed, and my lungs felt good.  In fact, this was by far the most pleasant of the four trips I have made up the Cwm.  The final 30 minutes walking through camp to IMG’s home were perfectly fine—nothing like the agony of last time, when I needed to be revived with hot tea and relieved of my backpack just to make the last steps to my tent.  Holy cow, I must have been really sick last time.

We move towards Camp 2, barely visible atop the pile of dark rocks at photo center. (Photo: Justin Merle)
We move towards Camp 2, barely visible atop the pile of dark rocks at photo center. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Justin and Siva... an epic bromance.
Justin and Siva… an epic bromance.
Looking back down the massive Cwm from well above the rollers... and at least an hour from IMG Camp 2.
Looking back down the massive Cwm from well above the rollers… and at least an hour from IMG Camp 2.
Pasang Kami at a break on the way to Camp 2.
Pasang Kami at a break on the way to Camp 2.
The fearsome wall of Nuptse as we approach Camp 2, on the opposite side of the Cwm. Those seracs on the top left look a bit dodgy....
The fearsome wall of Nuptse as we approach Camp 2, on the opposite side of the Cwm. Those seracs on the top left look a bit dodgy….
Looking up the route at IMG Camp 2... and camps from several other outfits.
Looking up the route at IMG Camp 2… and camps from several other outfits.
And looking down the Cwm.
And looking down the Cwm.
The formidable South West face of Everest. Only one party attempted it this year, and they required rescue. Hard to believe Doug Scott made it up this face in 1975.
The formidable South West face of Everest. Only one party attempted it this year, and they required rescue. Hard to believe Doug Scott made it up this face in 1975.

We settled into camp without difficulty.  Cristiano and I were glad to share a tent.  He seems to know everyone on the mountain, and it was fun to meet climbers from around the globe who came to pay him a visit.

The Hessians tucking into their tent.
The Hessians tucking into their tent.
Siva strutting his stuff at Camp 2.
Siva strutting his stuff at Camp 2.
Tibetan prayer flag flaps noisily (so very, very noisily) in the wind next to my tent.
Tibetan prayer flag flaps noisily (so very, very noisily) in the wind next to my tent.
Route from Camp 2 to Camp 3. Tough for you to see on this low-res image, but I have blown it up on my iMac and easily counted 81 humans... there may be more hidden in the tents of Camp 3. A big day on the Lhotse Face.
Route from Camp 2 to Camp 3. Tough for you to see on this low-res image, but I have blown it up on my iMac and easily counted 81 humans… there may be more hidden in the tents of Camp 3. A big day on the Lhotse Face.

Our job at Camp 2 was to rest, eat, and prepare to move up… when conditions allowed.  Our guides were in touch constantly with Greg at EBC, who was receiving and digesting weather forecasts at least twice a day, from at least two independent sources.  The day we arrived was favorable for climbing up higher, and our friends form the classic team ascended that day to Camp 3.  We knew that there would be wind the following day, 5/17/16, but it was predicted to quit shortly after sunrise, meaning the Classics would be able to ascend to the South Col that morning, then summit 24 hours later.

At least, that was the plan.  In fact, the wind up high accelerated on 5/17 to a constant gale-force howl, and stayed that way well past noon.  For us at Camp 2, everything was peachy, including nice sunshine and very little wind.  But, high above on the Lhotse Face, it looked grim.  Everest and Lhotse were capped by lenticular clouds, indicating high wind velocities. We did not need to see those clouds, however, to know that things were bad up there.  In the background of all our conversations, above all else that happened that day, I remember hearing the deep, terrifying roar of the jet stream as it slammed into the summit of Everest.

Lenticular clouds blossom atop Everest and Lhotse, a sign of very high winds. Our friends are at Camp 3....not good.
Lenticular clouds blossom atop Everest and Lhotse, a sign of very high winds. Our friends are at Camp 3….not good.
Summit of Lhotse, with countless climbers ascending the Face in brutal winds.
Summit of Lhotse, with countless climbers ascending the Face in brutal winds.
Summit of Everest.
Summit of Everest.

 

The Lhotse face... I can count 149 individual climbers in this image when full-resolution. Not sure they are all headed up, but most were... gives you a sense of the traffic on the route this day.
The Lhotse face… I can count 149 individual climbers in this image when viewed in full-resolution. Not sure they are all headed up, but most were… gives you a sense of the traffic on the route this day.

Over the radio their guide, Johnny Schrock, remained totally calm, cool, and collected as he reported the situation and coordinated the plan.  The tents were being destroyed, and replacement parts would be necessary after the storm… one extra fly had already been deployed successfully, but more would be needed.  They were running out of food, and staying an additional night at Camp 3 would ideally mean getting resupply, if the winds allowed that to happen.  They had enough fuel to melt more snow, but later that we learned the wind was too strong to allow the stoves to be used, because they would blow out immediately… this meant no fresh water could be made until the winds stopped, a real issue when dehydration happens quickly up high.  At least they had enough oxygen stockpiled to get them through another night.  We shook our heads and shuddered at the thought of what they were going through.  Ultimately, the wind did die down, but hours later than had been predicted.  The plan to stay up there for a second night and move higher the next morning was ultimately changed because of concern for avvy risk: snowfall had not been too heavy, but wind loading was a worry.  Thus, late that afternoon, our weary friends began to arrive back at Camp 2.  Holy cow, they looked beaten up.  Coming down was clearly the right choice: Now, they could rest for a few days and regain their strength for another attempt.

Sunset in alpenglow.
Sunset in alpenglow.
Cristiano's pack, which was sitting in some condensation water on the tent floor the night before... next morning he had to rip it from what had become a pool of ice. Nice.
Cristiano’s pack, which was sitting in some condensation water on the tent floor the night before… next morning he had to rip it from what had become a pool of ice. Nice.
Panorama of Camp 2, looking up the Cwm towards Lhotse.
Panorama of Camp 2, looking up the Cwm towards Lhotse.
... Looking a bit to the left, towards Everest...
… Looking a bit to the left, towards Everest…
... And finally, looking down the Cwm towards Camp 1, hidden around the corner and below the rollers.
… And finally, looking down the Cwm towards Camp 1, hidden around the corner and below the rollers.
IMG Guides Mike Hamill, Emily Johnston, and Jonathan Schrock pose with Classic Climber Bart Williams at Camp 2.
IMG Guides Mike Hamill, Emily Johnston, and Jonathan Schrock pose with Classic Climber Bart Williams at Camp 2.
The Lhotse Face on the morning of 5-18-16... open for business. I count 105 individuals in the shot, plus five headed to Lhotse high camp. Many are the same folks we will encounter 48 hours later, when we head to the South Col. Tragically, two of these individuals would not survive their climb.
The Lhotse Face on the morning of 5-18-16… open for business. I count 105 individuals in the shot, plus five headed to Lhotse high camp. Many are the same folks we will encounter 48 hours later, when we head to the South Col. Tragically, three of these individuals would not survive their climb.
Cristiano and Steven savor the evening air outside our dining tent at Camp 2.
Cristiano and Steven savor the evening air outside our dining tent at Camp 2.
Ragged edge of the glacier on Everest above Camp 2. This is about as high on the mountain as you will find this sort of suncupping or scalloping... above this point, it seems to stay too cold for this process to happen.
Ragged edge of the glacier on Everest above Camp 2. This is about as high on the mountain as you will find this sort of suncupping or scalloping… above this point, it seems to stay too cold for this process to happen.
I'll say it again: Everest's South West face is a cruel mistress. Delighted to know that the only team to attempt it this year was successfully rescued with their lives.
I’ll say it again: Everest’s South West face is a cruel mistress. Delighted to know that the only team to attempt it this year was successfully rescued with their lives.
Watching the usual afternoon cloud show down-valley.
Watching the usual afternoon cloud show down-valley.
In the dining tent at Camp 2. Discovery of a new can of pizza-flavored Pringles causes quite a stir.... (GoPro Screenshot)
In the dining tent at Camp 2. Discovery of a new can of pizza-flavored Pringles causes quite a stir…. (GoPro Screenshot)
Quite a stir indeed. (GoPro Screenshot)
Quite a stir indeed. (GoPro Screenshot)
This barbecue sauce was like nectar from heaven. Everything tastes better with some Sweet Baby Ray's. (GoPro Screenshot)
This barbecue sauce was like nectar from heaven. Everything tastes better with some Sweet Baby Ray’s. (GoPro Screenshot)
In yet another brilliant move, Nicky discovers the sole purpose of the caramel sauce: to turn canned pears into a delectable gourmet delicacy. Well done! (GoPro Screenshot)
In yet another brilliant move, Nicky discovers the sole purpose of the caramel sauce: to turn canned pears into a delectable gourmet delicacy. Well done! (GoPro Screenshot)

 

That meant that we were up next.  5/18  would be our final rest day, and we would leave before sunrise on 5/19.  This put us on track to summit on 5/21, the same date we’d had in mind for some time now.  Weather was predicted to be favorable through 5/22, so all systems were go.

Our last look at Lhotse, under an almost-full moon, from Camp 2. Several hours later we set out for Camp 3.
Our last look at Lhotse, under an almost-full moon, from Camp 2. Several hours later we set out for Camp 3.

Was I anxious?  You bet.  But, I was even more eager to see the upper mountain, and to give this a shot.  My lungs felt good.  Conditions were favorable.  The roar from the summit had ceased.  My family was with me.  Our team was as prepared as seemed humanly possible.  I tried to sleep that night, but per usual my mind was spinning too much to allow meaningful rest.  The next time you will be here, you will have stood on the summit.  Or not….  Just stay focused and stay safe.

Mantra of the night: You can do it.

8 thoughts on “Up the Cwm

  1. Thank you for the amazing pictures, videos and commentary. I loved following your summit, and can’t wait for the next post.

  2. Thanks again for posting such great pictures. It really brings to life what you all went through. Especially liked the videos in the “gourmet” dining tent! Nice to put voices to the faces…

  3. I’m glad I’m reading these exciting accounts after you are safely home. The tension of reading them in real time, and seeing the awesome, terrifying photos would have been too much! What a feat! Xox

  4. Really enjoy reading your posts. They are the best ones I have read, not to mention the outstanding photos. I think I am too old (65) to summit Everest but would love to hike to camp 2. Following your posts it’s like I am climbing Everest myself.
    Steve

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