Wow what a big day this was!! We all assembled in the dining tent at 2am for breakfast, ready to go but by the look of most people everyone had been up and ready waiting for most of the night with little sleep in anticipation of finally heading towards the summit. Everyone rushed around checking equipment, food, water, head torches, batteries, gloves, backpacks - it’s an endless list of checks and stuff that we need whilst also only trying to pack the bear minimum we need to keep our backpacks as light as possible, our Sherpa’s carry some equipment for us but this is also kept to an absolute minimum as they have heavy packs already and for some will be the fourth or fifth time heading up through the icefall to the high camps - they are strong but also have limits like everyone else.
By 3am everyone is ready and we meet up with our Sherpa guides to get going, we leave via the puja and do a final ceremony request for safe passage up the mountain (I’m happy to do this as often as we can if it means we get back safely), three handfuls of rice over the puja and once round the stone memorial and a quick prayer and then we’re off, out of basecamp as the kitchen staff wave us off and cheer and and clap, along the rocky path by the icefall towards the main entrance into the abyss beyond.
Fortunately the weather is surprisingly mild (give the location) so the going is not too bad and my heated gloves are keeping my hands warm which is a relief, we enter the icefall and head towards the crampon point as usual but within 20 minutes we’ve got to stop to reduce some layers, both Mingma David and I are boiling and the last thing we want now is to start sweating and have excess moisture inside my clothes as when the icy wind’s come later that would be a problem. Recent avalanches and melting in the icefall has altered the route quite significantly so parts of the hike through the icefall are new to us but we manage ok, Mingma David leading the way at a fairly brisk pace. At the crampon point we adjust clothing again, change gloves, grab a drink and get comfortable for the next 5 to 6 hours of hiking up through the icefall.
We hear a few avalanches around us as we move up, in the dark it’s fairly scary to hear the groans and moans of the moving ice and then the loud ‘crack’ of an avalanche, the noise bouncing off the surrounding mountains so you’re not really sure where its occurred but just hope its not coming your way! Crevasses have got bigger in places so its a long jump to get across, with a backpack and big boots on harder than it sounds but I manage ok and tackle the seemingly endless jumar ascents and ladder crossings as we move up slowly through the icefall, navigating the new route and moving as quick as we can where it looks even more precarious than normal.
As the moon dips down and the sun come up, visibility becomes better and we are close to the end of the icefall with the slightly easier rolling hill finish that will get us into Camp 1 but its still another couple of hours before we get there and can have a short rest and a drink and then we’re on our feet again and leaving Camp 1 for the hike to Camp 2, the heat of the sun quickly becomes very intense and its hard work to keep going.
Camp 2 comes into view quite quickly which is a relief but only short lived as the scale of the landscape plays tricks on your mind and it feels like hours and hours before we are close to the camp and then it takes another hour just to get from the start of the camp upto our tents, but finally we arrive, exhausted, hungry and tired but at least we are there and get a rest now before we head out again.