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Horizon on Everest

Comments

  • Rob
  • 30 Apr 07, 06:30 AM

Dear all

I am sorry that up until now you haven't been able to post comments on this blog, but that has all changed now. I have finally worked out how to enable comments from Mount Everest so please feel free to respond to our blogs, ask questions, etc. We'll do our best to answer.

Rob

Western Cwm Conveniences

  • Graham
  • 30 Apr 07, 06:25 AM

To continue the toilet theme, people always ask me “where do you go to the toilet on Mount Everest?” well the answer is simple. If you want to have pee you do it into a crevasse, for anything more solid you have to crouch over a pile of rocks kindly placed there by a Sherpa. As you squat there a little human ant you gaze from your feet right up to the ice heights of Mount Everest and Mount Lhotse, truly from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Base Camp Tour

  • Rob
  • 29 Apr 07, 10:26 AM

I thought I’d put together a little tour of the essential side of Base Camp life (yes including how to pooh) so here it goes:

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Welcome to Caudwell Extreme Everest’s section of Base Camp. Behind me is the centre of our area, with the BBC tent (red) in the background and the lab (green) a little further behind. Circling this area we have all the accommodation tents split into nice homely areas like Bolder Alley and ‘The Ghetto’ (where I live). There are normally about 40 of us staying here plus about another 35 Sherpas, so we’re not a small outfit.

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This is my tent, my home from home. As I said before I live in the ‘Ghetto’ and am surrounded by many of the climbing team, with Graham and Dave perched at the top of the slope above me. I have a river side pitch which is nice in the afternoon but not so good at night as all of Base Camp seems to trudge up it on the way to the Ice Fall at 4am. Still I get to stay in my nice warm sleeping bag whilst they brave the cold and the dangers of a moving waterfall of ice.


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Living for three months in a tent requires an element of routine. So every night after dinner I fill my water bottle with hot water and stick it in my sleeping bag to warm it up. I have stuff stacks for different kinds of clothes, underwear, t-shirts, etc. But there is also the trial of washing – as you will see from other blogs this can be a struggle. I have a new washing line system that finally dries rather than freezes my clothes – the secret is hanging it inside the tent!

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Now the question you have all been asking – how do you go to the loo on Everest? Well the answer is separately. To have a Pee the boys have a little latrine with a lovely view of the Ice Fall. The girls have a tent to hide their modesty.


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But poohs have to be done separately – no peeing and poohing at the same time. For this task we have a delightful barrel, complete with toilet seat. Not the most pleasant place in the world but spare a thought for the guy that has to carry this lot down the hill. At the end of the expedition our excrement is weighted to make sure teams don’t dump it and pollute the area. Nasty.

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Finally we get to the place we spend most of our time (well when we’re not all working). The Mess tent. Here we eat, drink and watch movies. It’s big enough to seat 40, just, and get freezing at night. We all sit in here, dress in all the warm clothes we have and watch movies when the sun goes down. In the morning it rains inside as the frozen condensation melts off the ceiling – a novel breakfast experience. This prompted the invention of the BBC Breakfast Terrace, situated just outside it is a lovely spot to have breakfast in the sun free from precipitation.

And that is the end of our tour.

Feeding Time

  • Rob
  • 29 Apr 07, 05:53 AM

Now the climbers are up the mountain Base Camp has become a noticeably quieter place. Instead of the manic meals with 40 or so people squeezed around a long table in dark tent our group has dropped down to about 20.

The chef does the most amazing job cooking for all these people. The kitchen is set up under, basically some raised tarpaulin, with all the cooking on pressurised butane stoves. So food for 40 people comes out here, plus all the drinking water, and any hot water for clothes or people washing. But the meals we do get are pretty bizarre. All the constituent parts are rather nice but the combination is odd. A usual evening meal is spaghetti with potatoes and rice and peanut sauce. Those on the Atkins diet would do well to avoid coming to the Khumbu!

So it is not that surprising that after being here for about 3 weeks now and the most popular conversations (well the most popular I can write about) is food we’ll have when we get home. My dream – a roast chicken with roast potatoes, peas and ratatouille.

Camp 1 to Camp 2

  • Graham
  • 29 Apr 07, 05:48 AM

As you climb Everest so life in each of the camps becomes more unpleasant and extreme. Last night Dave Rasmussen the cameraman just could not sleep at all and tossed and turned and had to listen to me snoring all night.

We left camp one early to miss the incredible heat of the Western Cwm, but perhaps left too early, the temperature was -20 degrees Centigrade. My fingers were slightly damaged by frost bite on the summit in 1993 and I just couldn’t get them warm and indeed I couldn’t feel them for the first two hours of climbing.

As we climb up the snowy valley we use three main devices clipped to our climbing harness. There is an abseiling device, a figure of eight in aluminium, with which we slide down ropes. Then there is a Jumar, a ratchet device which we climb up ropes. Finally there is a snap link Karabiner which we slide along ropes as we jump across crevasses. If the ice fall collapses frankly this would only be useful to find our bodies.

The sun hit us at 8am and the temperature rocketed and we were soon toiling along in immense heat. The Western Cwm is like huge parabolic reflector and the sun just bakes you even though the air temperature might still be below zero. We got to the camp at last and collapsed into the Mess tent. In here the temperature climbed to +35 degrees Centigrade, a range of 55 degrees wearing the same clothing.

Poor Dave suffered another sleepless night, we have to stay here over a week filming the scientific experiments so I hope he settles in soon. After that we climb the steep and icy Lhotse face to the hell of Camp 3, then up to the South Col for 2 nights at Camp 4. At 7900 meters this isn’t the best place to go camping but it is where the science is happening.

Washing

  • Rob
  • 27 Apr 07, 11:15 AM

One of the major parts of Base Camp routine is washing. Now this isn’t something that happens every day (you might not be surprised at this). So the game goes like this, daily washing of oneself is of the wet wipe variety. But the full body wash has to be timed carefully. You need to find a warm part of the day when you can get hot water. This is tricky as a poor Sherpa go down to the glacier, break the ice, fill a barrel with water and haul it up to the kitchen where it is heated on a Butane stove. Once water is successfully obtained it is down to a little ‘shower tent’ where you poor jugs of the stuff over you as quickly as possible, scrub with a bit of soap and then dry off before a cloud covers the sun and the temperature drops.

We’re all into recycling up here so the remaining water is ideal for washing clothes. This is another reason to be careful of your timings. Clothes washing is easy enough, clothes drying is the challenge. Although in the sun the temperature raises to over 20 degrees somehow every time I have washed my clothes they have frozen solid. This isn’t too much of a tragedy if they are mostly dry, so getting the washing done early is essential. So as long as my frozen solid pants are mostly dry all I do is each night stick them in my sleeping bag with me at night and then hey presto in the morning you have clean, dry and most importantly warm underwear.

The Ice Fall

  • Graham
  • 21 Apr 07, 06:57 AM

In the 21 years I’ve been coming to Mount Everest I’ve never seen the mountain looking so..interesting. The reason is the notorious Icefall. In the 1950 reconnaissance expedition Bill Tilman pronounced this obstacle unjustifiably dangerous, but since then thousands of ascents have been made through it, and this year we continue. It’s the only way up the mountain from the Nepali side. Two days ago the climbing team climbed through the Icefall to spend a night at Camp 1 and so we were able to reacquaint ourselves with this great natural feature.

The fact is that it has changed. The Icefall is a great frozen river pouring over a cliff. In the past it seemed to break off in great slices which were relatively easy to climb. Now, perhaps due to less precipitation, it seems to have collapsed in on itself so that the breakpoint occurs further up the valley and the great slices of ice seem to have fragmented.

As a climb it is full of interest. You start from your tent at Base Camp and put your crampons on as soon as the bare ice starts. Crampons are sharp steel points on a frame which clamp to your boots. Then, puffing hard in the thin air, you start climbing up and down the frozen waves of ice. You skirt round little ponds and haul yourself up icy crests. Soon you are hopping over crevasses in the ice, then you will encounter your first ladders. Balancing over three ladders tied together across a bottomless crevasse is a nerve-wracking experience. Then the fixed ropes start. These are woven up the Icefall by a group of brave Sherpas called the Ice Doctors. They are thin white ropes attached to the ice by stakes and ice screws, and the idea is to clip yourself in as a sort of extreme stair-rail. If you fall off the ladder they might just hold you. After the three ladders there is a collapsed section of ice called Popcorn Alley, because the metre-wide blocks do look like a vast popcorn spillage down some giant staircase. It is very hard to find something solid to stand on in here. After this is The Hammer, a 50-tonne beam of cracked ice bridged across the route. As you try to rush under this you try not to think that one day soon it is going to fall. Unfortunately some joker has put a knot in the fixed rope right under the Hammer so you come to a twanging halt and have to unclip.

After this comes Happy Valley, a collapsed section of such terrifying insecurity you only dare whisper to your companion for fear of dislodging the tottering blocks around you. Some are extraordinarily like a block of ice cream, except that they are the size of a detached house. Other parts of the ice are exactly like a Glacier Mint: clear, hard and transparent.

Climbing as hard as we could in air that contained only half the normal amount of oxygen we eventually came up to the Great Slices: the top of the Icefall. Here we relaxed a bit, but Camp 1 was still hours away. Base Camp radioed a warning of bad weather so we pulled extra clothes on and climbed up into a snowstorm.

As we got out of the Icefall the terrain flattened out and we entered the Western Cwm, the huge valley under the peak of Everest. As we trudged along in the whirling snow I thought about the history of this place. It was named by George Mallory, the great pioneer climber of this mountain, whose body my expedition found high on the North face in 1999. Not for the first time I wondered whether he had summitted before he died: a mystery I have been trying to solve for a lifetime. Then I thought about my brother Denys who is sailing around the Isle of Skye this week. I wished I was with him.
Eventually ten tents loomed through the mist and we threw our gear into one of them. We dragged food out of the store tent and started melting ice to drink. One by one the rest of the climbing team came in to camp after us.

After the worst night for years (the mats were hard and my sleeping bag soaked), we descended back to Base Camp. Running as fast as we could we got down in two and a half hours- half the time it took to come up. The Icefall is not a place to linger.


Graham Hoyland was the 15th Briton to climb Mount Everest and is the high altitude director on the BBC 2 Horizon production.

High Tech Everest

  • Rob
  • 19 Apr 07, 07:56 AM

It is a marvel of modern technology, I am currently sitting in a tent in Base Camp with two monitors in front of me beaming pictures back from the helmet of Mike Grocott nearly a vertical kilometre above. The images are perfect and offer a rather eerie armchair view of someone climbing a mountain -or in this case coming down.

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Yesterday the climbing team set off through the vicious Khumbu Ice Fall to stay their first night at Camp 1. The climb took most of them about 8 hours, some even longer, Pasang one of the Sherpas can do the same journey in just 3 hours! On the way up we sat and watch and as I do now on the way down. The landscape is a bewildering mix of ice boulders the size of houses, deep crevasses crossed by rickety ladders and smooth open snow plains. Amazing scenery, but the most dangerous part of Everest on the south side, 3 were killed here last year.

But our technological advances don’t stop at helmet cameras, yesterday we also successfully tested a live link to London Television Centre, and tomorrow we’ll set up so Mike Grocott can be interviewed live at Everest Base Camp from a nice air conditioned studio in west London. It’s a miracle, if it works that is.

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PS. A special mention of Nick Bonner the amazing man who invented our head camera system, nice one mate.

Home from Home

  • Graham
  • 8 Apr 07, 05:53 AM

Well, here we are again at Everest base camp: home from home. I’ve now spent nearly two years of my life living on this mountain in the course of 8 expeditions, and I’d like to give a flavour of what it’s like.

For a start it’s a stunning location; we are surrounded by the world’s highest mountains, and just above camp the infamous Icefall tumbles its way down from the upper slopes of Everest. This vast ice-stream pours over a 600 metre cliff and its jumbled maze of tottering ice blocks and yawning crevasses is threatened by avalanches from the mountain slopes either side. When the Icefall reaches the valley bottom it becomes the Khumbu glacier, and that’s where we are camped.

My tent is the size and shape of a VW Beetle, and it is bright orange. It is home for the next two months, and is pitched on pure ice. Inside I have thick mat between me and the glacier, and there is a double down sleeping bag, which I will use up the mountain. Otherwise all I have is some clothes, a few books and some climbing gear in two plastic barrels. I have an ice axe, a harness and a few bits of hardware to attach me to the mountain.
During the night the slowly flowing ice cracks and groans its way downhill. If you’ve ever broken a pane of glass by standing on it you’ll know exactly what this sounds like. Last night the temperature inside the tent dropped to minus 12 degrees C, and both the water bottle and pee bottle froze solid. The pee bottle is vital because you really don’t want to get out of your bag in these temperatures during the night, particularly high up.

In the morning the Sherpas arrive with Bed Tea, a welcome hangover from the British Raj. As I sip my tea I feel rather sorry for our scientific colleagues who aren’t allowed any before their early morning tests. When the sun hits the tent the frozen condensation from my night’s breath melts and it starts to snow. Very soon, though, the temperature shoots up to around 30 degrees C and it is impossible to stay inside. You can see these extremes of temperature on the washing line outside; at one end is a frozen sock in shadow, and at the other end is its companion steaming in the sun. Further up the mountain, above the Icefall, camp life becomes even more extreme. I’ll report from there soon.

Arrival in Base Camp

  • Ben
  • 8 Apr 07, 05:41 AM

This is our third day at Base Camp. With setting up tents and camera gear I’ve only just got round to writing a blog entry. It’s also been extremely difficult to muster much energy in the last couple of days. We’re now at 5300m, and just walking from A to B is a bit of an effort.

I’m starting to acclimatise now, and things are becoming easier, but when we arrived it was about all I could do to make it into camp and have a cup of tea. The night before I hadn’t slept particularly well, which is apparently a normal side effect of altitude. We then walked for about three hours to Base Camp.

We’d been filming the team arriving just outside camp, and I ended up carrying two backpacks the remaining 500m or so. It more or less wiped me out. How the Sherpas, who carry most of the expedition equipment, do it, I have no idea.

We’re now settling in to life at Base Camp, and the Xtreme Everest team has got the science under way. It’s a pretty hostile environment here. It got down to -12C last night, and everything freezes. As you breathe out at night, the water vapour freezes on your sleeping bag and inside your tent. In the morning most of my stuff ends up covered in ice. We’ve got a couple of months living here. Should be fun!

Life on Ice

  • Rob
  • 7 Apr 07, 12:58 PM

Everest Base Camp is set on top of a glacier, it is a bizarre landscape of what appear to be gravel hills and valleys. My tent sits on top of a small gravel ridge over looking the Khumbu Ice Fall. Getting from my tent to the mess tent, or the loo, or anywhere for that matter is a dicey obstacle course across loose shale, large boulders and ice – it will be a miracle if I survive the next two months without spraining an ankle.

But it is at night that I am most reminded we’re on a river of ice. Under my tent is a thin layer of gravel and then a thick moving stream of ice. Lying in my sleeping bag (the aforementioned wonderfully warm sleeping bag) I hear the ice creak and crack all night long. Sometimes it is a deep crack in the distance, other times I can feel it right under my back.

But far more disturbing than this is sound of avalanches. It starts with a deep rumble and then the unmistakeable crash of the snow and ice hurtling downwards, the trouble is in the pitch black of my tent there is no way to know if it is miles away or about to engulf the lot of us. The first time I heard it I leapt up, grabbed a torch and rolled into a ball. I felt rather foolish when the rumble stopped and the tent was still intact.

Chortens

  • Rob
  • 3 Apr 07, 02:03 PM

Today we’ve left the bleak valley that Pheriche sat in and climbed higher to an even bleaker spot. We are now 4900m above sea level in an outpost called Lobuche. Lobuche is set in a wide valley carved by a glacier that falls of the slopes of Everest itself. This rocky desert does have charm though our trek today took us steeply up to a plateau marked with memorials to Sherpas who’ve lost their lives on Everest.

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There are over 60 little towers of rock called Chortens, set on the ridge of a plateau they are a beautiful and somewhat spooky sight. They also stand at one of the most spectacular views we’ve seen yet with the high peak of Ama Dablan raising directly behind them.

Today we’ve been doing our best to capture this environment on camera. It is a frustrating challenge it seems almost impossible to get the scale of the landscape we’re in across for television. There are one or two types of shots that I think really give an idea of what it is really like and today we were after one in particular. It is a shot of the Xtreme Everest team coming over the horizon with a peak looming in the background. It took us all day to find a spot that would work but I think in the end we managed it.

Tomorrow it’s onwards and upwards – Everest is so close now. I can’t wait to get to Base Camp and set up home for the next 2 months.

Club Nam Ché

  • Ben
  • 1 Apr 07, 04:13 AM

We left Namche Bazaar two days ago, leaving behind us the team who will be conducting experiments in the lab there. By way of a send-off, they arranged an underground disco, complete with glitter ball, flashing lights and tunes.

It was called Club Nam Ché, and to be honest wasn’t the best preparation for a long walk and filming the next day. For me, the low point came when Dr Roger McMorrow, who had won the team photography competition earlier in the evening, began sharing his prize – a bottle of Everest whisky. Apparently it’s very nice, but it didn’t agree with me at the time.

We’re now in Pheriche, and it’s very different up here. The village is at about 4200m, and we’ve left the trees behind us. We’re in a glacial valley with boulders and scrub across the slopes. In some ways it’s bleak, but it’s strikingly beautiful, with huge mountains everywhere you look. Every afternoon a huge bank of cloud rolls up the valley, and by about 5 pm this tiny village has been completely smothered.

This morning, we went on another acclimatisation hike, and walked up to about 4850m, roughly the same height as Mt Blanc. On the way back we thought it would be a good idea to take a short cut across the river.

I got a bit stuck on a boulder and had to wade out, so now my boots are drying out, stuffed with toilet paper, and I’m wearing rather fetching sandals with bright blue walking socks. Stylish.

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