down at the headwall between C1 and C2. The monster crevasse at the lower
photo is the "Fun Bit".
First there is Plan A, back
home, when you have some experience with mountains and climbing and foreign
countries and what you think is high altitude (e.g. 6850m). By the time your
team is assembled you are on Plan E (or so), which includes all sorts of
logistics, travel, and the big unknown: mountain time. Mountain time is of
course divided up into sections you think are logical and realistic, including
time for setting up camps, resting, and of course the big one: acclimatizing.
By the time you reach base
camp, you are on Plan J. You talk with other expeditions and many climbers to
figure out what their acclimatization schedules are and how they compare to
yours. Then you have your first trip up the mountain where you get to really
feel the trail and the scree and the penitentes and the snow slogs. And the
presence or lack of headaches. And you are on to Plan L with a new number of
rest days and days traveling up the mountain or at various camps.
Right around Plan N we were
on our (first) summit push: Eric spent one extra night up at C1 since he had
missed the previous trip to C2, and Monty and I were on our way up for a trip
that included C1-C2-C2 (rest)-C3-Summit-return. The first few days went as
planned, but then at C2 Eric felt the lingering effects of his bronchitis (and
chose to go down), and then some new information (from several different
sources) came along regarding the weather: tomorrow was supposed to be good
weather, but the next day (our intended summit day) was forecast to have
precipitation. Since C3 is at the top of an avalanche-prone couloir, getting
stuck there first in a storm and then having to downclimb seemed a poor
Okay, Plan O. Can we go for a
summit push from C2? Let’s try. Sure many of our friends who had made the
summit hadn’t put in such a long day (or night/day combo), but with potential
weather coming in, we had to try. After consulting with Bemba, the decision
was made for a summit push leaving that evening, direct from C2.
Almost-frantic preparations began immediately. We’d given most of our water
to other summit climbers as they arrived thirsty at C2, so we needed to start
melting snow for dinner as well as two liters apiece for climbing. Finally,
by 7:30pm we left for the summit in pitch darkness.
One thing is for sure in the
mountains: you must listen to your body. And there is a very tricky balance
between pushing yourself hard to achieve a huge goal, and determining when you
need (truly need) to turn around. That particular night push from C2, I felt
many things crowding in on me: the size of the climb ahead of us (our biggest
and obviously highest so far, plus other friends who had attempted less were
completely wiped out), the encroaching darkness, the slow gain of the slope
with every step, the long twelve hours until daylight, the slow gait of my
steps, the wishing that we could have done this climb instead in the daytime.
Slowly my worries were articulated (reaching sometimes a level of
whining--okay, not a normal personality trait), Monty questioned me to check
for cerebral edema (one of the symptoms is a change in personality), but edema
or not, we decided to return to C2. Monty continued to check me throughout the
night. We had aborted our summit push after a few hours and a few hundred
meters from C2; it was a hard decision, but the right decision. We were
partners, agreed to get each other to the summit, and/or protect each other
along the way. Our summit push was over. Bemba cleared our tents and stoves
from the mountain. We cleared our sleeping bags, food, and clothing from the
mountain. Such are the decisions made at C2 after long hard days on the
So where are we now? Should
we go to Cho Oyu? Can we give up so easily on Shishapangma? Down here at ABC,
the weather is beautiful, our bodies recover, and our thoughts clarify...
On to Plan S: S for
Shishapangma, S for Summit; we will try again. We have pushed out the date of
the yak transport of all our gear down to BC, we have coordinated with others
to get Eric to Kathmandu and to use his tents so we don’t have (re-) carry
one, we have (almost) re-packed our packs, we have rested for two days, we
have eaten good food, but most importantly, we have mentally prepared to go
back up the mountain for one more summit push. One more push based on our
schedule, our bodies, and our desires. We leave tomorrow!
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