Six exhausting days end in a terrifying arrival
After six days away from home (Basecamp) and a terrifying arrival, it is time to reflect. The accumulated fatigue and extreme situations have taken a toll on me and made my rest difficult. Therefore, at this time of the morning, I need to unload all my thoughts and feelings and make you part of what I went through during these last few days. I hope you enjoy it!
On the 17th, Carlos and Chepal left for the C1 at 6050 meters to spend their first night at this height.
I want to highlight the work of 10 people who in just 6 days equipped the famous Khumbu waterfall – a dangerous, demanding job that requires a lot of dedication.
It has been carried out by eight Nepalese climbers (two ice doctors, Nima and Ghense; and six climbing friends, Norbu, Nuri, Chhepal, Furba, Lakpa and Pemba), plus Carlos and me. Six very intensive days of heavy weight and full of mistakes from our side, but with motivation and affection helping us move forward.
On the 19th we departed – Nuri, Norbu, Furba and I left at 7am, and in four hours we reached C1 at 6050m.
We each carried more than 30 kg, each of us with 400 meters of ropes, stairs, etc. We arrived at C1 while Chepal and Carlos had already started ascending to C2 at 6400m.
The wind was very strong, we had to throw ourselves to the ground with each strong gust. We solved all the obstacles the glacier offered us - crack after crack. At least we have been lucky or we have calculated it well. Once the last bottomless crack is overcome, we enter into the valley of silence, which nowadays is far from silent. The wind barely let us hear each other. For the first time, the six of us (Norbu, Nuri, Furba, Chhepal, Carlos and me) climbed the very technical slope.
I thought that the two Ice Doctors would join us at C2, but this time, or at least for this expedition, this is not case, so from here on we are only eight climbers: Norbu, Nuri, Furba, Chhepal, Lakpa, Pemba, Carlos and me.
The six of us continued ascending with a lot of weight, and the wind kept blowing with increasing intensity. At one point, I saw something was not going well: Carlos was suffering a lot, he was carrying more than 30kg which may have been the reason. When we arrived at C2, we set up the tents in pretty tough conditions.
We spent the night the best we could. The next day dawned cold, but our motivation was so high that from the six members of the group, three decided to start the work between C2 at 6400m and C3 at 7300m. Norbu, Nuri and I left camp very, very heavily loaded, while the others stayed to rest at C2.
We left C2 with the same fear as the previous days, as we enter into unknown terrain; it´s winter and were three alone. We crossed the glacier, and at 6700m our first problem of the day, the bergschrund, costs us more than two hours to visualize, understand and then attack the weakest and of course its safest flank.
We started to fix and we reached about 6900m more or less within my calculations. The day was normal and after finishing the work we started descending, quickly reaching C2. There we met Chhepal, Furba and Carlos, who were resting, and Lakpa and Pemba who had brought more equipment; eight of us at C2.
We spent a very good night, united as a really good team with a common goal. A team where everyone knows what to do. Carlos had a normal night, however we all decided to rest on the 21st after two intensive days for all of us. This was the fourth night for Carlos and Chhepal at that height, and not a complete rest as we moved the location of our C2 ten minutes up from the old C2, as it was on a hostile field, cold and gloomy, with just four and a half hours of sun.
Something was not going well, Carlos’ situation was getting worse: we had walked ten minutes but for Carlos it was a much greater effort – he could walk only 6 steps. I communicated with basecamp. Aitor, Carlos and I took the right decision.
In his evacuation, I would like to thank to the pilot and Seven Summits for their speed and agility in this dangerous maneuver, extracting Carlos from 6400m. An extremely dangerous flight.
When we heard the helicopter around 4.30pm, I could not believe what was happening. This was like a miracle come true as one more night for Carlos would have been very hard and I think he would not have had enough strength to descend to CB.
All the protocol that we followed was very hard and very exhausting. Finally the helicopter took course for CB with Carlos on board, and our initial plan disappeared, leaving the team very touched but not shaken.
Carlos, you have given us a lot. Your motivation, eagerness and the desire says a lot about you. As a person you are a great guy, we miss you Carlitos.
When Aitor from BC told me that Carlos was safe and well in Lukla, we decided to leave the following day. Therefore in the morning of the 22nd, we set off towards C3 at around 7300m with the intention of reaching C3, fixing it and sleeping there. The day was very hard with strong winds but we left, being naïve enough to think that the wind would slow down.
We left: Norbu, Nuri, Chhapal and I, the four. We were again heavily loaded, and after significant work and effort of porting and fixing, we were soon inside a tiny tent at C3, between 7300 and 7400 meters. From the tent we heard the intensive gusts of wind and the creaking of a serac that was awaiting us.
We had a very hard night, cold and unable to sleep because of the strong wind. We knew that it wouldn’t be simple or easy, but very hard times were waiting for us. The morning of the 23rd was clear and with a little wind. We get up at 6am. Yay!! Who wants to get out of the sleeping bag in this situation?!?! Aitor and Pablo from the BC had told me the day before that the temperature was less than -30 C to -35 C, and light wind. Also that the sun wouldn’t hit C3 until 11am, and indeed that´s what happened.
Chhepal was not well and decided to get off, so we were only Norbu, Nuri and me. We left C3 with the intention to fix the route as much as possible. OMG, it was a mistake to go out without sun!! I told you that, Norbu and Nuri!!!!
We started to climb and I could barely keep the heat in fingers and toes. It was like gambling. What a long hour and don´t you think the sun changes the conditions a lot! The cold was very intense and the wind began to blow. Both Norbu and Nuri want to step on the summit of Sagarmata 8848 m.
Norbu has climbed it 7 times, Nuri 3. But they would love to do it in winter, so we gritted our teeth and.. three, two, one.
We progressed and gained meters. We three climb without using artificial oxygen. I calculated 7500m. Later 7600m. If we passed the bands or yellow stripes, we should be around 7800 meters or perhaps more. We were very happy and full of joy about what we were doing, even being a very small team, with a lot of disadvantages for such a project.
We descended as fast as we could by rappelling down the fixed ropes with tremendous pain in our fingers and especially toes. We rushed the bergshrund, and Furba met us with some water and hot tea. Our sore and ill bodies thanked him for that. The pride and satisfaction for the work done was so great, that exhaustion or fatigue did not seem to flow in our bodies.
We arrived at C2. Lakpa and Pemba had cooked a dallbhat, rice with lentils. Fuck! What a moment to reach C2 from 7800m and find such a delicacy at 6400m. I contacted the BC and spoke on the radio: Carlos is in Kathmandu. I was happy although he was still in the hospital. Very well, all day long it had been niggling in my head.
We ate the dalbhat and our bodies fell like in damnation. A damnation, which we must leave by ourselves.
The morning of the 24th was clear as almost always, but cold, and the rays of the sun calmed our fatigue and made the moment more bearable. We got up at 8am.
Soon we were on the way: Norbu, Nuri, Chhapal, Furba Lakpa Pemba and me. We went down very fast to the valley of silence; we marked the glacier with bamboo reeds. I like always to mark it because it avoids errors and better traces the route. How happy we were!
I arrived in less than an hour from C2 to C1, right for the 'hamaiketako' and I'm excited. I wanted to go down to BC and tell Pablo and Aitor the moments from Carlos's rescue and if I did everything right. I was literally running down the fixed ropes.
And suddenly, the damnation: we were alone by ourselves and the Khumbu waterfall had fallen!! Nobody said it was going to be easy or simple, but the commitment was very high and we would have to take out the chestnuts from the fire by ourselves. We are on the mountain with the descent route collapsed, in a very difficult and dangerous place. Could we continue with the equipment we had?
After talking to the two Nepalese on the radio, there were no positive faces or encouraging expectations. I think they wanted to go back to C2. I heard the word “vivac”. I asked "Are we really alone?" The two ice doctors had been working super hard for 6 days. Nima had gone home, and Gelchen alone was not able to help us. Therefore, is was our turn to look out for our lives. There was silence.
I proposed a first plan, very kamikaze: to take the risk of passing under the Everest seracs, who spit constantly. It would be for a very short time under the seracs… we finally discard it. At least the weather was favorable!!!
I took a rope, secured myself and tried to find a way out of the labyrinth, trying to escape the damnation. It was crazy, we were fucked!!! Think Alex, think! I had a possible exit, dangerous but at least not kamikaze. I gave Nuri the relief and …finally! Joy! Our damnation was over!!!
Unfortunately our damnation had only just begun. Three times more the waterfall completely collapsed and we had to look for the way. We were seven alone and we had done it once - we would be able to do it three more times!!
What was going to be a simple homecoming became a whole day of work, looking for a way with the resources and ideas that each of us had. In the spring, there are many people climbing through this waterfall. There are 20 climbers, ice doctors in charge of the maintenance of the Khumbu icefall. Today we were to be alone!! This served us a lesson that between C1 and BC we will also be alone. No one told us it was going to be simple, but we are here because of the beauty of winter and its loneliness!! We will see what we are capable of!
Norbu, before reaching the last rappel, told me: "Alex, you know what? I believe for more than 20 or 30 years, no Westerner has done what you're doing." I thought about it and I believe it is not the case, but I just answered to him that I would like to go up there and go down again. And when we are all safely down, it will be when we have climbed the Sagarmata. And to do that, you have to work very hard.
I hugged him first and then one by one the rest of the team. I thanked them for their work, one by one. I was excited and I told them that I think we are doing well. I believe it.
Now it is very late here, but I am very happy writing for all of you. I have you all here with me.
Thank you very much!