August 16, Monday, 7:30 AM; Advance Base
Came up on schedule last Friday AM with Bal Singh and Batton Singh—incredible route involving airy but straightforward rock climbing. The Singh brothers each brought up a load of firewood and I was impressed with how well they handled the rock climbing with such cumbersome loads. I was feeling the altitude quite a bit, and Ridge Camp seemed a receding illusion for the last hour or so.
The route from Ridge Camp to ABC drops down and across a very avalanchy glacier which we hurried across just before noon. Only porters were in residence at ABC, and they helped me get organized in a tent. Couldn’t find my gear.
In mid-afternoon Pete Lev, Willi Unsoeld, and Andy Harvard came down from the face.
[Note slight interruption here; writing now at 10:15 AM on Wednesday Aug 18]
It was really good to see those guys and talk some American for a while. Willi moved into a tent with me. It soon became clear that I’d bypassed my gear down at Base Camp. Felt the altitude pretty much at ABC and didn’t have too good a night.
Saturday was socked in and snowing so we bagged in most of the day. Lots of avalanches on the glacier adjacent to the south. Ditto for Sunday, although I’d had a pretty good sleep and felt quite a bit better. Jim States came down and moved in with me and Willi. Quite an impressive guy–.
Heavy snow again Sunday night; Lou Reichardt and Devi Unsoeld came down Mon. AM—he to take a load up to #1 and she to stay at ABC for a day or two. Willi and I started down for base about 8:30 with all 7 porters. The crossing of the chute went without incident—but was for me probably the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. Not too sure why it hit me so hard; maybe because it seemed so similar to the circumstances of the Krylenko: warm, still, socked in, etc. slide (NOTE: This refers to an avalanche that caught me and others below Pik Lenin’s Krylenko Pass in 1974.) Anyway, I scampered across in my Indian army track shoes just as fast as I could go (6 minutes, I think) and was still collapsed in exhaustion on the far side when the others came calmly and slowly over.
The slope on the far side of the ridge had slid magnificently too, and the descent route was lined with huge snow blocks all the way to where the track crosses the lower gully.
We were acutely aware of our lack of breakfast before we got to Base, and when we arrived we wasted no time in brewing up one of my left over freeze-dried dinners. The porters got out OK to slaughter one of the 2 sheep, and we soon had mutton and rice as well. Went through the boxes at Base and found most of my clothing, but no boots, so it was good that I’d brought in another pair.
Willi took a bath and I harvested a huge batch of rhubarb to bring up (but we also brewed up a batch with the last of the sugar.) Crashed under a tarp about 8:30; skies clearing.
Rained in the night, however, and we got off to a late start Tues. AM, after polishing off my approach-march granola for breakfast. Took it really slow on the climb back up, reaching Ridge Camp about 1:20. We sat there and sang and yodeled for a few minutes before starting down to cross the slide, Willi & I going ahead to cut steps for the porters.
Remembering my apprehension of yesterday, I asked Willi for some words of wisdom and he just replied that he was having good vibes. I decided not to share my vibes, which were telling me that anyone who was dumb enough to go out on the slide deserved what he probably was going to get!
Just in the middle of the first chute we heard shouts from camp telling us to go back. I leaped back for safety and Willi followed off-handedly. I was a bit put off by his complacency and decided to share with him my aforementioned vibes. We speculated as to why they’d shouted us back: my opinion being that the mid-day barrage had not yet begun and that we should wait ‘til 7 or 8 PM. Willi thought—correctly as it turned out—that they’d heard a slide coming.
Anyway, we waited about 5 minutes ‘til they gave us an OK and started out again, me following Willi and improving the steps for the porters. This time I was quite calm, but a few times tried to prod Willi into haste: “Have you tried kicking steps lately, Willi?” Two-thirds of the way across he called back to the porters to follow, and they’d almost overtaken us when we reached the other side. Fifteen minutes later a large slide swept the far side of the chute, and we counted eight more in the next hour! In fact there probably hasn’t been an hour without an avalanche since then.
Had a nice welcome back at ABC, then crawled into the tent to escape the snow which has fallen incessantly ever since. Just came in from digging out the tent but the snow is still building up fast. Doubt if there’ll be any activity for a day or so.