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Everest 2003: Charlie Wittmack
Dispatch 20


(Transcribed from interrupted and partly unintelligible satellite phone voice messages received April 18, 2003 at 5:37AM and 6:35AM)

Camp Two 21,300 feet officially

Call this fiction, fable, or fairytale, but it was an honest-to-goodness 85 degrees on the Khumbu Glacier today! By a miracle of only Mt Everest doing, the glacier remained hard as a rock and not a drop of water was to be found anywhere.

 

Our plan to head up the Lhotse face today…

(Communication lost; 6:35 AM call reestablished communications) 

Our plan to head up the Lhotse Face was delayed a day on news that the establishment of Camp Three is a few days off. Today we hiked up to the base of the face for a look around. On Everest the face is nearly vertical lessening in angle as it approaches the chute that falls from the Geneva Spur. The route heads to the right of the chute winding through the glacier. The route snakes vertically … height as it climbs through … up the face.

On our return to Camp Two today I was surprised to find our mountain was being quickly absorbed by the “invading” Indo-Nepalese Army. The expedition numbers 205 members and they are honestly the best neighbors you could hope for. In base camp they actually have a movie theater featuring the best from the Indian box office. At Camp Two they have a cup of tea to offer, as well as good conversation!

Their tents each sleep 7 to 8 and they are all curious and amused with my tiny one-person model. I will be the first to admit that mine looks a little silly surrounded by so many giant military models.

Shawn heads back to Base Camp tomorrow to meet his wife who had just trekked in. Robert and Rudy are in Pheriche working through a strategy that is to remain as low as possible, as long as possible. That leaves Chris and me to look over Camp Two for the next five or six days before returning to Base Camp to rest for a few days before making our first attempt on the summit.  

(Transcribed from satellite phone voice message received April 19, 2003 at 7:07AM)

Camp Two 21,300

When I was in the planning stages of this climb, I told many of you that I had done plenty of climbs more difficult than Everest. “Everest is just the highest, not technically demanding,” I said. After today’s climb up the Lhotse Face, I have the deepest respect and admiration for anyone who can even make it to Camp Four. Wow this is a big mountain!

It only took four hours to make it up to Camp Three, but every step was earned. The face is comprised of blue, black and alpine ice, at least half of which is vertical. The steepness of the terrain and the altitude make every five steps feel like running a fifty yard dash. The terrain isn’t for the faint of heart and if you don’t care for the prospect of climbing a 2500 foot wall of ice, you won’t find any consolation in the gear supporting the fixed lines.

Now I have climbed some scary routes before, but this line is terrifying! “Four and a half” chord runs the length of the face anchored off every 200 feet or so. The term “anchor” is used very lightly here as many of the points are composed of a single ice screw inserted half way, chord clipped to the end. The “hard men” in the crowd may find this adequate for a hard lead in the box canyon but now picture four or five climbers all weighting it while “jugging” the line.

My solution? Leave early so I am the only person on the line and never weight the chord. If you hook it to the line for backup, then lead, the climbing is quite pleasant, if a bit more strenuous.

On my way to the wall today it was so cold that my hands literally froze around my ax. After yesterday’s heat wave, I was traveling in a pair of light ice climbing gloves instead of the required down mittens. It does get cold here!

After all of that, it only took thirty minutes to get down.

I ate four tuna sandwiches for lunch, and followed it with a three hour nap. When I awoke, I discovered my resting heart rate to be over 100, which brings me to the point of concern on summit day. What I have just described is the second leg of what will be a four leg battle.

The first day is actually two days of climbing pressed into one for the weathers sake. It heads up through the Icefall, some difficult climbing terrain and some very difficult technical climbing.

Day Two is what I have already covered, with the addition of a pack filled with several stones worth of equipment. Today I had no pack. Day Three looks promising but at 24,000 feet even walking across a flat field will be exhausting. And remember it is day three. And Day Four brings the big show!  The trip to the summit takes around 12 hours and the Sherpas have promised me that it is all the Lhotse Face is, only three times as long. Rest day tomorrow, which really isn’t all that promising as it is nearly impossible to sleep here... dehydration, cold temperatures, and lots of bathroom breaks planned.

Does it sound like I am complaining?  I’ll tell you one thing; this is probably one of the most beautiful places in the world… the “membership” is just tough! Charlie

Dispatches

 





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