We left basecamp at 2.30am after a breakfast of porridge and boiled eggs, it was icy cold but fortunately the wind had died down and the snow that had been falling when we went to bed had stopped.
From basecamp we could already see a trail of head torches in the icefall as people headed up and we trudged out of base camp, calling at the puja monument as we did to circle it once and throw handfuls of rice over it as they burnt juniper and asked for our ‘right of passage’ to climb the mountain and we headed out of basecamp towards the icefall entry point.
In the dark the entry point looked like a secret door to another world as we climed up over the ice and slipped between large icicles forming an almost doorway into the different place beyond, base camp slipped away from behind us and our head torches lit up the icy and slightly eerie landscape in front of us.
We were a team of 20 when we set off but it wasn’t long before the team split, adapting to different walking paces and each member found their ‘position’ in the troop, I was around eighth in the group and tried to find my pace as we stumbled and climbing over the quarry like floor of the icefall, the sound of the water rushing off the glacier all around us as we navigated our way further inwards.
We’d done the first few hundred metres of then icefall as part of our dry run training days but now in the freezing cold adn dark it seemed harder somehow, the effort was huge and my legs and chest ached as we hiked upwards, vertical in places and long sloping ramps in others.
It turned out to be quite busy quite quickly and it wasn’t long before we hit a bottleneck as queues formed at ascending points where we used our jumar devices adding extra time to our climb. Several ladder crossings tested our nerve as they crossed the wider crevasses, the smaller ones we just jumped over in the dark making sure to fully commit to the jump as the long way down in the crevasses didn’t look like a place you would want to fall down into. After a few hours we came to a deep gulley that we had to descend into and then crawl up a ladder to about halfway up the opposing wall and then climb/jumar the rest to the top, all the while being overseen by a giant wedge of ice waiting to fall into the gulley, you go as quickly as you can and ignore the groans and moans the ice makes and just hope that wedge isn’t going to fall whilst you are in the gully, its pot luck and there’s nothing you can do about it so I hope those prayers round the puja will come good.
After around 6 hours we seemed to be at the top of the ice fall but one false ridge after another proved me wrong and we trudged on for several more hours before finally camp 1 came into sight and we could see a cluster of yellow tents in the distance, exhausted as we were the emotions run high and its hard not to be overwhelmed after such a gruelling hike up a mixture of relief, happiness and accomplishment, I have to admit a few tears fell as I realised we’d made it, it had taken 9 hours and sapped all the energy I had for this day.
In camp I find my tent and I’m sharing with Brodie the photographer and we sort our stuff out as best we can, exhausted and freezing. We try and stay awake for as long as we can to get the benefit of the altitude but its hard work we are both so tired from the hike up, its just another challenge to end the day of maximum endurance.
Camp 1 is fairly basic as its a stop off point on the way to the bigger Camp 2 (Advanced Base Camp) so we stay in our tent and the Sherpas bring us hot water and food, the toilet is a hole dug in the snow with a 2ft high wall to one side made of snow, it lacks any privacy and is just part of mountain life - if you have to go you have to go and probably with an audience to see everything.
The Sherpa comes to our tent to warn us that 6ft in front of us is a steep slope leading to a huge crevasse so if we step out we need to be careful we don't go disappearing off down the slope in the night, just an added danger as we sit in ur sleeping bags, droopy eyes trying to stay awake thinking about the next day and the climb from Camp 1 to 2.