Journal Excerpt

March 30, Tuesday; Base Camp

Up at 6:15 a.m. to get loads ready, but Dougal’s 6:30 radio message caused a bit of panic. He asked for four Sherpas to come up to spend the night, so Gary, Wolfgang, and I scrambled around under Jimmy’s glowering eye to scrounge up their needs. Meanwhile, ten Sherpas left with Harsh and Michel plus loads of Advance Base gear, and another ten left with Odd and Ito to bring all abandoned logs up to the dump.

After a fine breakfast of eggs, bacon and pancakes, Wolfgang and I worked on equipment until about 11,then worked with Colliver and Isles on food. We actually only got six 4-man-day packages made up, but we did get the high-altitude rations figured out and an assembly time arranged for more packing of intermediate rations tomorrow.

Carlo, Leo and Naomi came down this afternoon, leaving Harsh, Ito and Michel up in their place. From time to time the advance party was visible on what looked like pretty touchy territory.

Tomorrow, I go up to stay a while with Wolfgang, while Pierre, Odd, and the four Sah’bs already above will come down. I’m very pleased to be going up again, and also that we won’t be leaving early, so it looks like I won’t have to get out of the sack until nearly breakfast!

Oops! Ian Howell (better known as “Pin”) just walked in to announce that he and another BBC filmer were also going up tomorrow to stay and do some filming. We’ll probably just keep four Sherpas high for the six of us.

April 1, Thursday; Base Camp

Didn’t expect I’d be down today, but the altitude got to me around noon and I decided to call a retreat.

Left yesterday shortly after 10 a.m. with Wolfgang. When we met the first Sherpas coming down, they told us of a great serac collapse above. Then when we met Dave Isles he elaborated to say that about 10 minutes after he and half a dozen Sherpas had passed the old dump site the whole area had collapsed! When we got there we found that many troublesome crevasses had closed, and the area actually seemed safer than before.

Went on to the camp, then while Wolfgang and Odd looked for a better way around a menacing serac, I went down to the dump with Annu to bring up a tent and food for the rest of the crew. Had a lovely evening and slept very well.

This morning, Odd made tea and the Sherpas fixed sausages and a huge batch of porridge. I felt I was really packing it away but couldn’t quite finish everything. Had good radio contact at 7a.m. and left about 8. Tenzing Gyaltso went with Pin, and Mingma, Lhakpa Nuru, and Annu each carried up a log. Pierre was not sick-so he said-but was going very slowly. The route above the dump is such that a rope is not needed for about the first half hour, but there are some very dangerous-looking seracs to scamper beneath. Wolfgang and I did minor route improvements as we went.

The route crosses some house-sized blocks which are precariously supported over huge ice caverns, making some stretches virtually impossible to protect, and things generally got worse the higher we went. The Sherpas dropped their logs about 9:30 a.m. within view of the crevasses in question, and headed back to the dump for ladders. Between this point and the crevasse was a huge ice cavern, which had to be skirted on a narrow walkway of angular blocks of ice.

Beyond the crevasse was the last of the Cwm’s major defenses-a 60-foot overhanging ice wall with the rope fixed by Dougal a couple days before. We all sat there for half an hour with our hearts in our mouths, then worked our way with the logs over to the crevasse. Odd was particularly impressed, as the footprints that he and Jon had made four days before were now separated by a gap ten feet wide and thirty feet deep. Not only would our logs not bridge the crevasse, but to make matters worse the walls on both sides appeared to be so unstable that we again sat for half an hour wondering what to do.

Finally, we decided we should wait for the ladders and make a long bridge with them. I was struck with a tremendous feeling of lassitude, and Pierre was sick and soon started his solo descent. It seemed like it took a long time for the ladders to arrive, and in the meantime, it clouded over and started snowing. The ladders finally arrived about 1 p.m., and an hour later we had a pretty good three-section bridge.

The Sherpas went back down, and Odd, Wolfgang, and I decided to place the remaining two ladders at the next vertical step. I was now feeling very sick, so came third with a pack full of pitons and pickets, following Odd and Wolfgang-each with a ladder. The step was only 100 feet or so from our bridge, but the way was over a ridge of ice blocks. Just as Odd reached the fixed rope he realized that his position was unreasonably precarious, and we retreated to our bridge. We decided that perhaps if we could manage to liberate a long Japanese ladder we’d seen below the dump, we might be able to bypass the worst spots. With that in mind, we cached our gear at the bridge and retreated to the dump.

Here we found many loads of gear and Colliver, who’d come up for the night. He told us that Norman, Tony, and Anthony had just left to go down to Base. I was feeling rotten, and flaked out in the tent while Odd and Wolfgang went off to try to get the Japanese ladder. After an hour, I was no better, so decided to go down with Pin. We left about four and made a very slow descent in steady snowfall. We were welcomed at the roping-up point by Michel and Dave Peterson with tea, and several Sherpas with soup. How nice of them to come out in the snow with the goodies! They also took our packs.

I was feeling immensely better but still had only soup at dinner. Had a council-of-war in which it was decided to discard our idea of making a teleferique over the last difficulties. I think this is the right decision-but I sure hope the route can be made safe, as it’s easy to see how it could be a real killer.

 

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