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Game Over

Mon 26 Nov 2012 08:50 » Jon

We arrived at Camp 2 on Friday afternoon full of enthusiasm, and slept surprisingly well given the altitude and the terrain the tents were on. Unfortunately things started to unravel early on Saturday.

We were up and packed, ready to head for Camp 3, when Pasang put his head through the doorway of the tent and told us to hold fire, as the wind was too strong again. The forecast was for 100 km/h winds at midday, but the Sherpas wanted more like 40 km/h to negotiate Mushroom Ridge, an exposed knife-edge ridge between Camps 2 & 3. The route wiggles around on either side of the ridge without enough anchors, so there is a fair amount of loose rope and a fall could end up being quite significant.

The winds on Sunday 25th were supposed to be milder, so the next iteration of the plan involved leaving Camp 2 at 04:00 in the morning and heading straight for the summit, skipping Camp 3. That would have meant a longer day, but with a lighter bag (no sleeping bag or Thermarest), and seemed like a good plan for a while. By lunchtime though, the plan had changed again due to an updated forecast, and our aim was to go only as far as Camp 3 on Sunday, then the summit on Monday.

As the day wore on, the effects of the unusually strong winds hit home: as we looked down at Base Camp about 1,400m below, we noticed half the tents had gone. After a brief radio chat we established that the mess tent and 4 of the 6 sleeping tents had been blown away and hit the rocks behind camp, smashing the contents and the poles, and shredding the tents. Looking down from Camp 2 at the remains of our home, I began to understand how Princess Leia must have felt when Alderaan was destroyed.

By the end of the day, the winds were as strong as ever, and spirits were beginning to sink. Living at 6,000m begins to take its toll pretty quickly, especially somewhere as unhygienic as Camp 2, and both Jon and I were suffering from dodgy stomachs as we settled down for our second night there. Although we’d been careful to boil the water we’d had during the day, it had all come from ice chipped off the slopes by the Sherpas, and given the lower boiling point at 6,000m, probably hasn’t been purified enough. The impeccable timing of the dodgy stomach meant that I spent the night making repeated journeys, clipped into the rope, from our tent down to the area we’d agreed to use as a toilet – probably the worst place in the world to have diahorrhea.

In the morning the winds were still howling up the ridge, blowing the prayer flags vertically upwards, and blowing snow plumes off the summit of the hill. As the forecasts were received, reality began to bite, and we realised the summit attempt was on its last legs. Options of staying another night at Camp 2 were considered, but we had no idea if Camp 3 was still there and the chances of the wind falling sufficiently on Monday or Tuesday were considered too low, so by mid-morning we’d agreed to call it a day and head down to Base Camp.

The retreat to Camp 1 seemed to take a very long time – the whole thing is on fixed lines, so queues form wherever there are abseils, as that section can only have one person on it at a time. Every now and again the route crossed over onto the exposed side of the ridge and we were battered by the Baltic wind that was ruining our plans.

Eventually we made it to Camp 1, paused to change from mountaineering boots into normal boots and to have a drink, then abseiled down the last bit of fixed line and began the long walk back to the remains of Base Camp.

We finally reached Base Camp after dark, in a cloud that meant visibility was about 30m. We were fed in a rebuilt mess tent, then headed for bed. For most of us, this meant one of the tents from Camp 1 that had been brought down to replace the tents destroyed by the wind. Given the time of our arrival, we didn’t have the chance to go through the debris of the old tents to recover our stuff, so we spent the night in the same clothes we’d been wearing since leaving Base Camp 5 days earlier.

Today we’ve washed, sifted through thousands of pounds worth of tent-wreckage to retrieve what we can, and scoured the rocks behind Base Camp searching for various missing items. The yaks are leaving with our kit tonight, then we’re heading off to Pangboche tomorrow.

The mood in Base Camp isn’t too depressed today. Although everyone’s disappointed, it will be good to get home after several weeks in the mountains. It’s annoying being beaten by the weather though, as we all felt we could make it, but that’s the nature of mountaineering.

9 Comments »

  1. So sorry to hear you couln’t summit & that you’ve had such a grim time with stomach etc. But still an amazing achievement to do what you have done, so well done. There’s no way you’d get me perching on that rock at camp 2, even if I could make it up there! Looking forward to hearing more about it over lots of wine & cheese – that is, once you’ve washed several times first!! H xx. P.S If there’s any consolation to losing loads of kit, it’s that now you’ve got an excuse to buy loads more!

    Comment by H — November 27, 2012 @ 09:57

  2. Sorry to hear you didn’t make it – but sounds like you were in a good position to had the weather had been kinder. Happy trekking on the way back to Lukla – hope you get a hot shower and some good grub soon. xx

    Comment by Zoe — November 27, 2012 @ 11:09

  3. Very sorry to learn that you couldn’t make it to the top – but much relieved to get some news. Being perched on the tiny shelf that was Camp 2 in 100km/h winds sounded somewhat hazardous – and news of safe descent was very welcome.
    Anyway – well done getting as far as you did!
    Hoping that the stomach has recoverd and the walk out goes well. Safe journey home!

    Comment by George S. — November 27, 2012 @ 11:28

  4. Is there a red and black Mountain Equipment jacket blowing around base camp or is it hiding from the cold in Hammersmith?

    Comment by Steve — November 27, 2012 @ 13:38

  5. Sad news Bob, but very pleased to hear you are ok and back in one piece and pragmatic and calm as ever. I know that must have been pretty awful on Camp 2 (understatement).
    The mountain remains, as does your hunger and ability to beat it. There will be another time. In the mean time you have some amazing stories and experiences from the last couple of weeks I’m sure. I look forward to chatting about it over pie and a pint.

    Comment by Pete (Twoshedz) Smith — November 27, 2012 @ 14:10

  6. Ma :-( Sorry to hear you didn’t make it to the summit but glad you are safe, all sounds pretty scary. You must be gutted.
    Anyway, glad you managed to get in yet another story about your ass, it wouldn’t be the same without some ass related problem!
    A question… If you knew you had diarrhoea could you have not used the bottle rather than risking life and limb on the windy outcrop?!?
    See you soon I hope, safe trip home :-)
    Ger?

    Comment by The Chief Otter — November 27, 2012 @ 18:07

  7. Congratulations on the initiation old boy.. it’ll make the next one feel much easier! Looking forward to seeing your undoubtedly underweight scraggly ass at Westway soon ;) best wishes..

    Comment by The Captain — November 28, 2012 @ 07:24

  8. A really compelling account of your time on Ama.
    We moved down from camp 2 as you moved in. The avalanche that had taken out camp 3 put an end to our initial summit bid, then you guys being pinned down by the wind was the reason we called it a day.
    Glad you all made it down safely – hope your digestive system has recovered and also that you got most of your stuff back after the wind lashing.
    All the best – Daryl Godfrey

    Comment by Daryl Godfrey — November 28, 2012 @ 10:40

  9. Sorry to hear about the windy top and lost gear but glad you down to base camp OK – I particularly pitty the person that went before you & your dodgy backside on the way down the abseil, I just hope they could get well clear in time.

    The biggest disappointment though is surely not getting the “I’m a Dablam” picture at the summit, you realise you can never rest until you get that? Better luck next time!

    Comment by Spanner — November 28, 2012 @ 11:46

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