Blog #42: Into the storm.
I must admit that I had a pretty uncomfortable night – not just from the constant battering of the wind on the tent, but also the rocks underneath my sleeping mat (which also wasn’t doing a particularly good job at insulating me from the frozen ground) – and tossed and turned most of the night. It was with some relief that it started to get light at about 4am, and warm(ish) by 7am. Given the continuing maelstrom outside, we decided that we were in no particular rush to leave camp, and would wait for the conditions to abate before venturing out, and onwards up to C2.
We’d spoken to the Sherpas in C2 at 7am on our scheduled radio call, and they said that conditions in C2 were incredibly windy, and that they would stay in C2 unless the conditions improved significantly before about 10am. By about 0830, Di and I had got bored in the tent, and so had suited up in preparation for our journey up to C2. As we ventured out of our tent, the conditions couldn’t have been more different from the previous day’s glorious sunshine. The wind was still pretty strong, snow and spindrift seemed to be flying uphill, and we were right in the cloud, so visibility was about 100m or so.
Pretty quickly Di decided that these were not the conditions that she wanted to be climbing in, and that she would remain in C1 (or at least until conditions improved). I on the otherhand was a bit more bullish about the conditions. I was fully dressed, warm and up for a challenge, and a bit of wind and snow wasn’t going to stand in the way of me getting to C2. Up I went.
As I climbed the ropes up out of C2, I kept on looking back down at the tents in C2, where I could see people milling around and watching me climb. Of course at the time, I thought that they were merely preparing to head up themselves, but it didn’t take long to realise that there was no one following me! Oh well, I guess I’ve got the route to myself today.
Di later said that another 30 people arrived in C1 that morning, a mixture of those planning on heading straight to C2 and those who’d be staying in C1. Apparently it all turned into a bit of a cluster as people were desperately trying to seek shelter in tents and get out of the storm. Whilst there is a bit of an unwritten rule that if a tent is empty, then you can stay in it (as long as you don’t eat their food or use their gas and leave it clean), but similarly, if you are in a tent and the tent’s actual owners turn up, then you have to get out pretty sharpish. Most of the time this isn’t a problem, and hopefully you’ve actually sought permission and checked with the owners that the tent will be free on a particular day (we’ve often let the Pole’s use our tents in C1) – however in a storm this can create a lot of problems when people get inadvertently stuck in a camp, with more coming up that same day.
Anyway – I was none the wiser to the problems of overcrowding at C1 as I bravely (or foolhardy) continued up into the storm. Even though the route winds around numerous rock buttresses, it seemed that the wind and the spindrift came from every direction, and there was little or no shelter on the way up. Gusts would buffet me on the steep sections of climbing, and the ice particles would sting my face (fortunately I was wearing goggles, so my sight wasn’t affected) as they pummelled me with a thousand frozen needles. If ever I had impetus to climb as quickly as possible and minimise my breaks, this was certainly it. My fingers were cold inside my gloves, so I would regularly have to ball my fingers up inside the palms to try and rewarm them. This of course isn’t always easy when you are regularly having to swap hands for the ascender, or use your hands for gripping the rock.
Below House’s Chimney, there is a small flattish section of snow which can fit around seven tents (we call this lower C2, and it’s at about 6500m), as I passed the tents (a couple of which had been destroyed in the wind) I shouted a cheery ‘Hello’, to see if there was anyone in there. Rob (an American from Colorado) unzipped his fly(sheet!) and poked his head out. He was incredulous that I was out in these conditions, and even more so that I was still going up (especially through House’s Chimney) – ‘You’re crazy!’ Shouted his partner Jacob through the wind!
Gusts of snow and ice seemed to come both up and down the narrow gulley that makes up House’s Chimney – but the verglas on the rock actually helped give me more purchase for my crampons, and whether the climbing was therefore easier, or the conditions ‘encouraged’ me to move as fast as possible, I think that I probably got up the Chimney in a personal best time.
It was only another 20 minutes into C2, and as I arrived, I again called a cheery ‘Hello’ as I shook our two tents (which are now pitched right next to each other). There was a surprised ‘Hello?’ from Phurba who was in one of them, and he tentatively unzipped the door (it was still very windy outside). ‘Wow – it’s you!’ he exclaimed when he saw who it was – I must admit, that with a completely iced up beard, it wasn’t completely obvious at first glance. ‘Wait, wait’ he said as he reappeared with a camera to take a photo of my ‘Father Christmas face’. After taking off my harness and crampons I crowded into the other tent, which had Mingma and two of his Sherpa friends (one of whom, Sona, I later found out is Mingma’s brother!). With 4 of us in a three man tent (which also had a lot of extra gear in it), it was very cozy, and we spent the rest of the day dozing (as much as you can when the constant buffetting of the tent makes it seem like Armageddon outside). I’d quickly realised that whilst I’d brought the stove pan up from C1, Di had the actual stove in her rucksack, so it meant that we only had 1 stove between 7 people (and two tents) in C2, which made boiling water an even more laborious process. Fortunately the Sherps are so used to this, that it didn’t seem to be too much of a problem, and just necessitated a bit more planning and moving between tents.
That night we managed to rehouse one of the Sherpas from our tent, which meant we were a slightly more manageable 3 people, and we made a nice bed of roll mats and down suits which we slept on, and whilst I had my sleeping bag, Mingma and Sona insisted on sharing a sleeping bag, which they draped over them like a blanket. Wearing all their clothes as well, they appeared to be quite comfortable during the night (now that’s what I call brotherly love!). Once again, I didn’t have a particularly comfortable night (there was a large rock sticking into my hip, and I just couldn’t get comfortable), but I think this was also partially to do with the amount of dozing I’d done during the day, so I wasn’t particularly tired.
At about 10pm, the storm outside started to abate, and soon, other than the occasional gust, it turned into a relatively quite night.
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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