Everest 2014: Into The Icefall

Mt. Everest from Gokyo Ri November 5 2012 Cropped669fcb

Communications from Everest Base Camp on the South Side continue to be sporadic, as cloud cover and snowfall limit access to satellites and keep solar panels from charging the comms equipment. Still, there have been a few reports from the mountain the past few days, where the teams are busy making themselves at home, and starting to acclimatize to the altitude. The first groups have even begun to make their way through the dreaded Khumbu Icefall, as they prepare for their first rotations in Camp 1 and Camp 2.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the Icefall is a treacherous section of the climb that sits just above Base Camp on the Nepali side of the mountain. It marks the spot where the Khumbu Glacier begins to calve, which makes it highly unstable. Each year, a special team of Sherpas called the Icefall Doctors build and maintain a route through the Icefall using ladders and ropes. That route will shift and change throughout the season, forcing them to rebuild the route over the course of the three months that it is in place.

Crossing the Icefall is one of the scariest and most dangerous sections of Everest. As a result, teams will try to minimize the number of times that they have to pass through it while on the mountain. IN recent years, that has meant starting their acclimatization on other nearby mountains, such as Lobuche and Pumori. But even that just delays the inevitable, and as I write this, the first teams are venturing into the Icefall to get themselves use to walking on, and climbing, the ladders while wearing their heavy mountaineering boots. It can be a tricky bit of work, but most will become accustomed to it in short order.

The Sherpas have already moved through the Icefall multiple times at this point. Reports indicate that they have been as high as Camp 2 on the South Side, where they have begun building tents and storing gear for the acclimatization climbs, and ultimately the final summit push, ahead. All of this is according to schedule, and before long they’ll begin the hard work of fixing the ropes up to Camp 3 and higher.

Since the comms blackout is preventing much news from coming from the mountain just yet, I’ll make this a fairly short update. But before I close things out, I wanted to point out an excellent essay written by Melissa Arnot for National Geographic Adventure. It is entitled “Everest: Now and Then, Again and Again,” and in it, she shares her thoughts on why Everest is such a special place, not only for her, but the hundreds of other climbers that go there every year. Melissa is back in Base Camp again this season, where she is looking to add two more summits to her resume. With five already under her belt, she holds the record for a western climber, and could claim the record outright if successful this season.

That’s all for today. Hopefully the comms situation will be sorted out soon, and we’ll start to hear from more of the individual climbers in the days ahead.

Kraig Becker