Now that Tom has had a few days to acclimate at base camp and do some day hikes part way up the slopes of a beautiful neighboring peak, Pumori, he is ready to get to know Everest.
During these days, our climbing Sherpas--Nima Tashi , Nima Gombu, and Pem Dorjee--have started carrying up tents, sleeping bags, stoves, food, and other equipment needed to establish the team at Camps I and II. Tom also wants to help carry some equipment, but needs to first get experience going through the treacherous Icefall and accclimatizing to the altitude of the camps beyond, in the wide, gently-sloping valley called the Western Cwm ("cwm", pronounced "koom" is Welsh for "valley").
Although the summit of Mt. Everest is not visible from base camp, the huge and deadly Khumbu Icefall dramatically dominates the scene. As a waterfall would cascade chaotically down a precipice, so too does the glacial ice at this steep part of the mountain (only much slower than water of course). As it creeps off the flatter Western Cwm, the glacial sheet fractures and tumbles down the Icefall. The result is a vast maze of soaring ice towers and deep crevasses.
Each year a special team of Sherpas, collectively called "The Icefall Doctors" establishes a relatively safe route through the Icefall, using dozens of aluminum ladders and miles of ropes. Each expedition team that uses this route is then assessed a one-time flat fee for the season by the "Doctors". This is acknowledged to be the cheapest, most efficient, and safest way to get teams quickly through that dangerous part of the climb.
Tom and Nawang will begin climbing together now, going to one of the camps, coming back to base camp, then going back up a following day, this time sleeping at the camp one or two nights, then coming back down. Though this is slow and tedious, it builds endurance, acclimatization levels, and knowledge of how to navigate quickly through the dangers of the Icefall.
Camp I sits at the top of the Icefall at about 19,500ft. on the edge of the Western Cwm. It has great views of base camp and is situated on fairly level snow.
Climbers ascend the final ladders on the headwall of the Khumbu Icefall (small black dots below the prominent rock shoulder, upper left)
© McMillan Associates 2004-6. All rights reserved.
Since the Khumbu Icefall is so active, the Icefall Doctors have to be ready to replace or reposition a ladder or fixed rope many, many times during each climbing season (spring and fall).
Icefall Journeys and establishment of Camp I (19,586ft.)
Here is Tom hard at work, diligently logging tent time at Camp I to force his body to acclimatize to the increasngly thin air as he ascends the mountain. Though he looks comfortable in this photo, his smile could be hiding the fact that he is experiencing the headache, nausea, racing pulse, lack of appetite, and sleeplessness that often plague Everest climbers.
Here is an afternoon photo of Camp I. The beautiful peak drenched in warm sunshine in the background is Pumori. In contrast, the chilly site of Camp I is already in shade.
Bits of base camp trash scattered by the wind? No, base camp as viewed from the top of the Icefall. The Everest: Friendship Beyond Borders Expedition camp can be clearly seen in the upper left--yellow, blue,and white dots next to a gaping white crevasse. The large white tent is the Himalayan Rescue Association clinic and the large blue tents are our shared cooking and dining facilities.