I’ll start my Everest Chronicles today, with a story I hope you’ll find amusing, and of course my best attempt to describe the undescribable!
First, a slight introduction to context - in April 2013 I accompanied a merry bunch of incredibly talented and reknowned young climbers onto an Everest Expedition.
We were left to our own devices during the climbs (unlike the large majority of expeditions on the mountain), which gave me the freedom to experience it alone when so desired, and what’s more, at a photographer’s pace - which can be considerably frustrating for accompanying parties.
The Sherpas, our incredibly brave friends without whom none of these adventures would have been possible, carried our tents and sleeping bags to camp a few days ahead of us. Otherwise we would carry all our gear and food.
I’ll do my utmost to share an accurate narrative of the sheer beauty of the Himalayas and their undeniably breathtaking sights!
For a couple of months you wake up in a cold tent at questionable altitudes, open the tent flap and voila - you feast your eyes on unadultered alpine beauty.
I can understand how some climbers can become accustomed to the daily dose of the superb, and how their appreciation of the surroundings would eventually fade, but in my experience the great variety of landscapes keeps you fully aware of just how fortunate you are to be standing where you are standing, living what you are living.
When you take your first steps into the Ice Fall, it feels like you’ve landed on a different planet.
Admittedly, the romance of the adventure is diminished by the consistent traffic of tardigrade climbers, overly dependent on their sherpas. During the long hours of the climb you inevitably end up asking taking a step back when confronted with a ridiculous situation concerning an amateur alpinist and you have to determine for yourself where your opinion of the Fall will bend towards : magic or tragic ?
I remember one of the crevasses in particular was obscenely wide, I would crap myself senseless every time, and repetition of the deed in no way made it more approachable.
On our final summit attempt, we’d heard that a few of the screws on the fixed lines had come loose as a result of the heat - that tidbit of useful information rested comfortably at the back of my mind whilst crossing over an ostensibly depthless maw.
Of course it was in the middle of this relatively precarious endeavour that my crampon got stuck between two rungs.
Fortunately, a few painfully loud heartbeats of faffing around later, I stepped onto blessed snow again. My previous exeperiences on this part of the mountain led me to believe that the journey from here on would be easy and breezy, thus I expertly let my mind wander during the rhythmical walk up to Camp II.
The path through the Western Comb, a human boiler for all intents and purposes, is dotted with seemingly unconsequential narrow holes that can be bridged by a lazy jump, and are therefore generally beneath notice in regards to dangerous situations.
That’s when my leg punched through, into the chasm.
The snow that should have been my stepping stone to reach the other side had grown soft from the heat.
So there I was, my right knee bona fide on firmer ground and my other leg, not as fortunate, quite jealous. Both my hands grappling for snow and whatever rope came within reach - an unbecoming position really.
I did spare a few seconds to reflect on the situation, “well you’ll never guess who’s just become another brick in the wall, blasé on Everest you hapless fool.”
I pulled out (surprise!) and had a good laugh about it, whilst lying on my back counting my lucky stars.
In the end, for all its ladders, ropes and sluggish climbers, the Ice Fall was truly a wonder to me, every twist and turn unveilling a new challenge, and regardless of the exhaustion I couldn’t help but smile.
To all my fellow climbers and sherpas, thank you for the stories!