What started out as a good day turned into one of the strongest wind storms I’ve experienced and ended the attempt within a few hours of starting.
After walking back up to abc again and spending 2 nights there, I climbed to the North col (7000 m) at which I also spent 2 nights to consolidate my acclimatisation. The forecasts (yes, two of them) predicted good climbing conditions (low wind and humidity) for the night of the 26th and morning of the 27th of May. With that in mind, I climbed to camp 2 at 7650 m on the 26th (a beautiful day). The 650 metre climb took four and a half hours, which is actually pretty good going at that altitude, given the load – sleeping bag, food, stove, fuel, downsuit and all the other layers of high altitude clothing & equipment, including some nifty battery operated foot warmers. At sea level of course, that climb would take about 30 minutes but thus is the joy of high altitude climbing!
The afternoon was spent melting snow to rehydrate, trimming equipment to the barest minimum, and trying to get a few minutes kip before the big day, whilst a few centimetres of fresh snow accumulated in the regular afternoon shower. A stunning sunset through clearing cloud precipitated the savage cold and pitch black of a moonless high altitude night. At 8.30pm I donned my crampons and set off into a light breeze. With 1200 metres of vertical ascent ahead, into ever decreasing oxygen, I anticipated a climb of about 15 hours which would see me on the top just before midday.
And then…the wind picked up. And up and up and up. Within an hour I was battling into the full fury of an Everest gale. In three and a half hours I climbed only 250 metres as I was blinded and battered by the driving snow and relentless wind. After hunkering down for 20 minutes in the hope that it would ease (it didn’t), I had to choose between continuing with all the encumbent risks or retreating and retaining the ability to scratch my own nose. (And retaining my nose for that matter) I chose the nose. Even that was an epic as I couldn’t find my tent as I downclimbed in the storm. Eventually, and somewhat chilled, I found it, crawled inside and spent the rest of an enjoyable night hanging onto the sides as wind gusts literally lifted it off the mountain face. Thank goodness for the dead weight of the nearly dead climber inside.
The wind didn’t ease and I didn’t fancy staying there, so at first light I re-anchored the tent and retreated down the hill to safety. Yesterday, just for fun, I walked the interminable 22kms back to basecamp for some warmth and thick air.
What a difference a day makes. The forecast for the 26th was good and so was the day. Unfortunately there was a minor technical issue with the forecast for my summit day. But that happens; mountains are notoriously unpredictable sods. And I was able to get away with my fingers and toes still attached which is a positive result and worth more than the summit. Go the nifty foot warmers! I know that two members of a commercial expedition, using oxygen, suffered frostbite and frozen corneas on the same day, so I feel satisfied with my decision to turn around.
The new forecasts say high wind for the foreseeable period (huh – they say that NOW) which pretty much negates any opportunity for another go this expedition. Still, they’ve been known to be wrong…