We’re up at 7am packing our stuff away, separating what needs to go in our backpacks to go down and what can stay in Camp 2 ready for the summit push when it comes - higher rated sleeping bag, mats, summit suits, spare thermals/socks, snacks if we have them, its a slow difficult process for me in our tent, my back is letting me know the previous days exertion isn’t going unpunished and I’m finding it very hard to move around - the trek down is going to be fun!
We have breakfast and get ourselves ready, me contorting some strange shapes trying to get my crampons on my feet with my back playing up but eventually I’m done and throw my backpack on pull the straps tight as possible again and slip my gloves on, I’m good to go but the Sherpa guides don’t seem to be so keen to get off for some reason and its another 20 to 30 minutes before Pem, the lead guide Sherpa has his pack on and turns and walks out of camp without a word - I’m a bit confused, is this it are we off, yes no? Those close seem to follow so I do too and yes were off (I’ll be kind and say I must have missed the call but my hearing is fine), the pace is quick and determined and immediately I know its too fast for me, I presume its to get through the icefall before the sun starts to melt it too much so I persevere and try and keep up and then one of my bloody crampons comes off.
The team don’t stop and a gap immediately starts to open in front of me as a I drop to one knee to sort out my crampon properly, I put it on so its my fault its come off no one else’s so I kneel there and curse loudly furious with myself trying to get it reseated on my boot and fastened as my back give me a steady jolt to remind me its not happy either, eventually its on and I’m on my way again and then catch up with Remy who is searching for sunglasses and realised she has left them behind, I have a spare pair so dig them out and hand them over and we both set off to catch the group up - Remy, like a gazelle is gone in no time and soon catches the group up whilst I hobble along behind cursing and swearing - today has not got off to a good start at all and this is the ‘easy’ bit!!
Eventually we get to camp 1 and I arrive behind the group as they have their packs off, taking on snacks and water and stripping off layers as the day starts to heat up in the sunshine which is now out in full force and before I know it were off again and climbing down the first steep section of the icefall, fortunately Mingma David has slipped in behind me so as the group gets ahead he stays with me to make sure I get down. It’s a gruelling day, every rappel being a hard effort, I’d forgotten that even going down there’s a fair bit of going up as well and my legs screamed at me with every step.
The ice fall is busy as everyone tries to descend and bottlenecks occur at pinch points and the more difficult abseil points, at one particular gully we have to abseil down adjacent to a semi vertical ladder jump into the bottom of the gully and then jumar up out the other side, there’s a huge serac hanging over the gulley so its a case of moving as quickly as possible and hope the serac doesn’t choose to give way when you’re underneath it.
I can see my team about 20 or so people ahead of me waiting to go down the abseil when there a crack and everyone tries to scatter, away from the edge of the gully assuming the serac is falling, it holds and after a few minutes everyone edges back but with a new found speed to get down, across, up and out, I watch people as they go over the edge, look at the serac move close to my turn and wonder what on earth I’m doing here for awhile before moving on. My turn comes and the girl in front of me starts having a semi panic attack as she starts to abseil, her Sherpa guide rappels down the ‘up’ rope to go and try and assist her as she squeals and cries for help in order to get her to the bottom and up the other side as I wait patiently for her to get off the rope so I can get my turn over and done with, eventually she’s off and I’m on and down and up the other side in record time and Mingma David and I press on past a few climbers who have taken the opportunity to have a rest on the other side, the more we can pass the less delay we will have later on.
I keep moving as best as I can, a part stumble part climb down but steadily making progress, as I go down into another gully to traverse across I hear another crack and look up as a large section of ice breaks off high up to my right and crashes into the gully, its high up and doesn’t seem to be coming directly my way or dislodging anything else so I continue with barely a side step, looking up to catch another climbers eye who seems to have a much greater look of concern on his face than I do - I think I’m too tired to worry about it, it hasn’t hit me so no harm done.
My main concern at the moment is I’m out of water and my throat is so dry as the thin dry air strips it of any moisture, Mingma David gives me some of his water but his water bottle only has about two inches of water in it as well, I can tell I’m already fairly badly dehydrated from not just todays hike but the previous few days too and lack of food has sapped my energy levels - note to self EAT and DRINK more!
Several more hours pass before we reach the lower level part of the icefall where I can relax that we’ve made it, high danger avoided and its just a 60 minute romp over the quarry type ice floor back to basecamp, a couple of the Elite team guys have brought up some juice and cokes to us and I grab a coke swigging it down to try and hydrate, I get a third down me before it reverses direction and projectile evacuates from me onto the ice, no one bats an eyelid as I wipe my mouth straighten myself up and sip it more slowly like I’m in a cocktail bar somewhere - the rest stays down thankfully.
Eventually we get back to camp, I’m exhausted, dehydrated, my back kills but we’ve done the rotation so not all bad, I head into the cafe and slump into a chair opposite some team members who have been back maybe an hour before me, the camp doctor is also there and slips me some super strong painkillers for my back as I nurse another coke. It takes me probably an hour to ‘come round’ but eventually I’m back in the land of the living, getting hydrated and manage a camp shower (which feels amazing) before dinner.
Dinner is quick as I can’t wait to go to sleep and we just get chance to have a brief discussion about what happens next, an extended rest break follows the rotation so are we staying in camp, going to Namche/Kathmandu? It seems its up to us, so four of us decide on Kathmandu and start making preparations for the heli flight plan down, hopefully tomorrow we will be sliding under the bed covers in the Kathmandu Marriott Hotel.