Unfortunately this meant that there were around 50 people climbing (on a series of single fixed lines) to C3, which created terrible queues, especially over the difficult ground through the Black Pyramid. On the previous rotation, when we’d reached C2, I’d asked another climber, Garrett Madison, who’d summited via the same route in 2014, if the Black Pyramid was hard. ‘Not really’ had been his reply. Now climbing over steep rock bands, and along airy traverses, I thought that his reply had been a bit of an understatement. There were a number of vertical sections, one of which protected by another steel ‘rope’ ladder (like on House’s Chimney), and one nearer C3 which was around 8m of vertical ice. Whilst that itself doesn’t sound hard, and many climbers would love a challenge like that, it’s a much bigger challenge at over 7000m with a heavy pack on your back when you are already exhausted. Finally scrabbling ungainly over the top of the ice section (which marked the top of the Black Pyramid), we had another few hundred metres of climbing through a steep snow field before we arrived at C3 (7300m).
Unlike C1 and C2, there is nothing to specifically mark that you’ve arrived in C3. There is no protective rock buttress, no (slightly) flatter section of slope, no evidence even of ‘dead tents’ marking the camp site. You are on a 30 degree snow slope, and people just start digging platforms, it could just as well be 50m higher or lower. Anyone with any knowledge of avalanche danger would be suspiciously eyeing up the slope and the ground above it (in 2013, 2 people were killed when an avalanche swept through C3, completely demolishing it), but I just grabbed a shovel and started digging a platform, deciding that blissful ignorance was the only way to survive the night here. There seemed to be somewhat more planning to the tiers of platforms here, and within an hour or so, around 15 tents had been erected – suddenly C3 seemed to have some substance.
I’d arrived at C3 at about 1500, and after putting up the tents with Mingma and Phurba (I’d arrived around 30 minutes before them), I settled into hydrating and eating. At 1800, with still no sign of Di, Pete or Paul, I turned on the radio for our scheduled call. Immediately Di came on, it turned out that she’d turned back for C2 about half way (she was bored of the queuing, and was only ever planning to touch C3, rather than spend the night there). The guys had carried on, but of course she didn’t know where they were at that point. Fortunately at 1900, they arrived, exhausted, but appreciative at having finally made it into camp. In the end, climbers were still arriving as late at 2100 – which certainly made it the longest and toughest day on the hill so far – with or without the traffic on the ropes.
Being as we were at 7300m, Paul and I had oxygen that we could sleep on if we wanted. Ever since the start of the expedition, Pete had elected to go without oxygen, but I was very happy to take anything that might make me stronger, or make me feel better at altitude. We’d seen a number of climbers climbing from C2 to C3 using oxygen. Personally, I think that’s a bit of a cop out (not only does it make it much easier, but also, if something were to go wrong higher up, then they are not acclimatised to anything above 6700m), but then again, if you’ve got the money, then why not make your life as easy as possible. Those who know me, will know that the latter part of the previous sentence is my politician’s answer: I do really think that using oxygen for climbing below 7300m is a cop out unless you require it for medical reasons!
I turned on my oxygen at about 11pm, as I could feel a headache coming on. I had the bottle, so I thought that I may as well use it. At 0.5litres a minute, I couldn’t smell, taste or hear it, only the pucker and suck of the valve in the mask as I exhaled, but within about 10 minutes the headache went away. Not long after, I felt Pete also fumbling around to turn his system on. Whilst it might have seen away the headache, using oxygen to sleep is not without it’s inconveniences. With the mask harness around my head, at times I woke up with it feeling uncomfortably tight, especially pressing on the bridge of my nose. The other problem, was even when only breathing through my nose, I could feel that there was a build up of moisture in the mast itself, and every so often, as I turned onto my side, there was an uncomfortable slosh (it was probably more like a dribble, but it felt like a slosh) of cold ‘water’ over my face. Yuck!
That said, it was nice sleeping at a significantly higher new altitude and not being kept awake by the pressure behind the eyes, or the pounding in the back of the head. Even with the minor inconveniences, I definitely had my best night’s sleep at a new altitude on the mountain (although that might have also been for the coziness of having Pete and Paul in the tent as well!).
Jake Meyer 2016 K2 Expedition fundraising in support of Walking With The Wounded
Please note, that Jake’s comments are his alone (as are his spelling and grammar mistakes and poor jokes), and do not represent the views of any of the Sponsors, Expedition affiliates or Expedition Team Members. All praise/complaints to Jake on his safe return.
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