Sleep seemed to elude me last night as I listened to the wind raging outside our tent, I think Mingma David got a great nights sleep next to me though as I spent half the night being a pillow for him I think! The oxygen had made my throat sore and I searched out some water as soon as I woke up whilst Mingma made some hot sweet tea and gave me one digestive biscuit for breakfast - as a diet plan this trip was working successfully so far as I’d lost around 9kg in weight since the start!
Inside the tent we wiggled around to get our summit suits on and ready our backpacks, the oxygen cylinders now going in too adding around 5kg in weight to the load and adding a level of complication that we needed to keep the masks on, and the connection tube clear of snags as we got all our gear on, you can take the mask off but within minutes your breathing is laboured and movements slow as the altitude takes its toll on you, eventually after what seems a monumental exercise I’m dressed and ready to go, leaving more stuff inside this tent that I will collect on the way down .
Mingma pulls me out of the tent, checks I’ve got everything and then pushes me towards the edge of Camp 3 to set off saying he will catch me up, I head out deep in my own thoughts doing a mental health check on how I feel, legs ok, back ok, not too hot/cold, plan for the day - one step, two steps, repeat, repeat….
Up I head the Lhotse face, this section more steep than the first, the ground a combination of blue ice and snow -neither of which is easy to walk on and I double check more carefully than ever that I’m clipped into the rope at all times, to fall here and not be attached to the rope is probably certain death so I’m being extra careful and precise with everything I do. Pemba, another Sherpa has caught up with me and has my back, making sure I’m doing what i should be doing all the way up. Eventually at around 25,000ft we step onto the Yellow Band, a steep section of the climb with no snow and my crampons struggle to grip the rock face as I continue pulling myself up, towards the top it becomes an almost vertical section, complicated with old ropes hanging all over it and a traffic jam has started to form and a climber comes abseiling down almost into me, I shout for him to watch out and he shouts back he has snow blindness in his right eye and can’t see anything - fair enough I tell him to go left a bit more and then straight down and he does so and disappears down below me, hopefully he will make it down ok but I don’t envy him doing so on his own, blinded in one eye and probably waiting for the other to go too.
Pemba and I have been watching the ever increasing traffic queue ahead of me on the vertical section as a climber is clearly struggling getting up and I see Pemba start to move right quite quickly and realise he’s decided we wont be joining the queue, nor following the main route and before I know it he’s in clipped from the rope and stepped out and around everyone, seeing an impossibly small gap on the vertical wall that we are clearly going to climb. There’s no discussion or debate about whether we are doing it or not or if I want to, it’s just do it. I clamber away from the main rope, trying not to look down and climb up after Pemba, alongside the queue of people pushing a few out of the way to get past, I can see a few looking at me wondering what were doing (I’m thinking the same too to be honest) but to my relief I’m pretty good on the vertical rock climbing sections and zip past everyone with relative ease before stepping onto the top of the yellow band and rejoining myself onto the rope with a sigh of relief and a cheeky grin that I’ve just overtaken a load of people on Mt Everest and probably saved myself two hours or more queuing to get past the donut who is still at the front of the queue flaying around on the rope trying to climb up.
Once we’re over the yellow band I can see the Geneva Spur, an anvil shaped black rib of rock that looks enormous to get over but I press on regardless. I can see a collection of tents just before it and for a brief moment think that must be camp 4 which seems closer than I was expecting but then realise its Lhotse Camp 4 not Everest Camp 4 and that I will still have to get over the Geneva Spur today to reach Camp 4, it’s a bit of a physiological blip and it takes me awhile to recover my composure and keep going before I accept I’ve got a fair way to go still and put my head down and keep on - one step, two steps, repeat, repeat………
We glide pass Lhotse Camp 4 and just keep on going, the Geneva Spur just another obstacle to get over towards Camp 4, I must have been day dreaming a bit but its not long before I’m up and over the black rock of the spur, Nims is on top and and gives me some words of encouragement as we hike on towards Camp 4 together and as soon as it comes into sight Pemba has me unclipped again and is pulling me past Nims (who isn’t using oxygen) and the rest of the team he leads into Camp and then onto our tent for a few hours rest.
Our tent now houses me, Marta, Pemba, Mingma David and Karma (Marta’s Sherpa), all our rucksacks, oxygen bottles, summit gear and cooking gear so its very cramped and we squeeze in together trying to find a comfortable space, we’ve got maybe 6 hours rest here before our final summit push so, it’s more noodles, tea and then rest of we can - the whole expedition has come down to this point, I’m exhausted and the thought of hiking anywhere at the moment fills me with dread!