It’s a fitful sleep in Camp 2 I have, almost beyond exhaustion I can’t settle and I’ve developed a hacking cough that keeps me awake and unfortunately probably the rest of the camp too. I’m keen to get going early to avoid the heat of the sun in the icefall, not just heating me up beyond an uncomfortable level but the icefall itself which is already melting at a rapid rate and becoming fairly unstable from that first frozen time I went through it.
I’m ready by 8am but have to wait another hour for Mingma David to get his stuff together, co-ordinate the camp and Sherpas and be ready but eventually we get our crampons on, share some sugared kiwi sweets (interesting taste and in lieu of breakfast!) and stride out of camp 2 for the last time heading down towards camp 1 and then onto the icefall. I’ve a surprising amount of energy given I’ve just completed the summit and the hike down to camp 1 is relatively easy, hopping several crevasses and navigating ladders that seem to be balanced on now by only a few inches either end as the icefall has moved, we made our way down the Western Cwm, through camp 1 without pause and into the start of the icefall.
It really had changed quite a bit since coming up, the ground was heavy with slushy snow and the sound of running water was much louder now as the melting snow made its way own way down the Khumbu valley, we moved fairly quickly through the upper parts using a combination of arm wrap and abseil descents to get down, me mostly in front with Mingma David, Pemba Sherpa and a couple of porters following - no breaks no stops just a slowing if a drink was needed or to take a layer off, everyone was just as eager as me to get through the icefall and down now, back to then relative safety of basecamp.
It’s heavy going on the legs as in the icefall no matter which way you are going, up or down seems to make no difference as it’s a continuous climb up and back down each ice wall it always seems as though you’re going up even when going down, the abseil sections do helps the descent in places but with the melting ice these had become almost water features, cascading waterfalls in places that presented a new challenge to my limited skill set!
At one point I managed to snag my crampons in my own boots hand flew head first into some loose snow, fortunately still clipped to the rope safety so my fall was soon brought to a halt but a reminder that I wasn’t out of danger just yet, the Sherpa’s picked up the pace even more and we descend as quick as we could as the sun started to blare down on us.
It takes several hours still to reach a point where I think we’re just about down and onto the last very steep section before its the long walk across the bottom and into basecamp, I clip onto the rope as I have done a million time before and step off the ice to lower myself down and immediately hear the screech of metal against the ice and the rope failing to take my weight, instinctively I realise something is wrong and turn back towards the slope to see the rope, my carabiner and the metal post holding the rope to the mountain all coming towards me as the fixing had failed - I manage to throw myself backwards against the slope just in time and claw at the ice to try and get a hold, panic racing through my mind that I’ve done all this and will now die on the last bloody section! A Sherpa hand grabs at my jacket and rucksack and finds a hold and together we managed to get me back onto the ledge. Disaster avoided the Sherpa tries to refix the post but to no avail it just wont take hold so gives me a little push forward to continue with some friendly advice of ‘don’t fall’ - brilliant! With a great deal of relief I make it down in one piece, sharing a rye smile with the Sherpa as we reach the bottom of the steep section and share what I have left of a bottle of coke - talk about last minute drama!
After that it’s an easy walk back to basecamp, albeit my energy reserves are now empty and the effort to keep moving is immense but I’m motivated on by the thought of it soon being over and another hour and I’m walking up the slope towards our basecamp cafe - everyone who was ahead of me is outside to greet me along with the film crew and photographers, hugs and congratulations all round along with more than a few tears of relief as the enormity of what I’ve achieved starts to sink in.
A welcome shower in basecamp is ready for me and a coffee in the cafe and then we await the next member to make it back to congratulate them, I sit in the cafe exhausted and tired and share stories with the others for several hours, the rum behind the bar starts to flow for those that drink and the music starts to get louder as it gets later - I suspect this party may go on some time!