Everest from the South Side
Base Camp - 17,500 feet (5350
This is a
picture of the popular South Col Route up Mt. Everest. Base camp is located at 17,500 feet. This is where climbers begin their
true trip up the mountain. This is also where support staff often remain
to monitor the expeditions and provide medical assistance when necessary.
Many organizations offer hiking trips which just go to base camp as the trip is
not technically challenging (though you must be very fit).
From base camp,
climbers typically train and acclimate (permitting the body to adjust to the
decreased oxygen in the air) by traveling and bringing supplies back and forth
through the often treacherous Khumbu Icefall. This training
and recuperation continues throughout the climb, with the final summit push
often being the only time to climbers do not go back and forth between camps to
train, bring supplies, and recuperate for the next push.
The Icefall is
in constant motion. It contains enormous ice seracs, often larger than
houses, which dangle precariously over the climbers heads, threatening to fall
at any moment without warning, as the climbers cross endless crevasses and
listen to continuous ice creaking below. This often acts as a testing
ground to judge if less experienced climbers will be capable of continuing.
The Icefall is located between 17,500 and 19,500 feet.
Camp I - 5900
Icefall, the climbers arrive at Camp I, which is located at 19,500 feet.
Depending on the type of expedition, Camp I will either be stocked by the
climbers as they ascend and descend the Icefall, or by Sherpas in advance.
between Camp I and Camp II is known as the Western Cwm. As the climbers
reach Camp II at 21,000 feet, they may be temporarily out of sight of their
support at Base camp. Nonetheless, modern communication devises permit the
parties to stay in contact.
Camp II - 6500
As the climbers
leave Camp II, they travel towards the Lhotse face (Lhotse is a 27,920 foot
mountain bordering Everest). The Lhotse face is a steep, shiny icy wall.
Though not technically extremely difficult, one misstep or slip could mean a
climber's life. Indeed, many climbers have lost their lives through such
Camp III -
23,700 feet (7200 meters)
To reach Camp
III, climbers must negotiate the Lhotse Face. Climbing a sheer wall of ice
demands skill, strength and stamina. It is so steep and treacherous that many
Sherpas move directly from Camp II to Camp IV on the South Col, refusing to stay
on the Lhotse Face.
Camp IV -
26,300 feet (8000 meters)
As youíre leaving C4Öitís a little bit of a down slope, with the uphill side to
the left. There are typically snow on the ledges to walk down on, interspersed
with rock, along with some fixed rope. The problem with the rope is that the
anchors are bad, and thereís not much holding the rope and a fall could be
serious. Fortunately itís not too steep, but there is a ton of exposure and
people are usually tired when walking down from camp. The rock is a little down
sloping to the right as well, and with crampons on, it can be bit tricky with
any kind of wind. Thereís a little short slope on reliable snow which leads to
the top of the Geneva Spur, and the wind pressure gradient across the spur can
increase there as youíre getting set up for the rappel. Wearing an oxygen mask
here can create some footing issues during the rappel, because itís impossible
to see over the mask and down to the feet. For that reason, some people choose
to leave Camp 4 without gas, as itís easier to keep moving down the Spur when
itís important to see all the small rock steps and where the old feet are going.
Navigating down through all of the spaghetti of fixed ropes is a bit of a
challenge, especially with mush for brains at that point. One lands on some
lower ledges which arenít so steep, where fixed ropes through here are solid. At
this point, itís just a matter of staying upright, and usually, the wind has
died significantly after dropping off the Spur. The route turns hard to the left
onto the snowfield that leads to the top of the Yellow Bands.
Camp IV, which
is at 26,300 on the Lhotse face, is typically the climbers' first overnight stay
in the Death Zone. The Death Zone is above 26,000 feet. Though there
is nothing magical about that altitude, it is at this altitude that most human
bodies lose all ability to acclimate. Accordingly, the body slowly begins to
deteriorate and die - thus, the name "Death Zone." The longer a climber
stays at this altitude, the more likely illness (HACE - high altitude cerebral
edema - or HAPE - high altitude pulmonary edema) or death will occur. Most
climbers will use oxygen to climb and sleep at this altitude and above.
Generally, Sherpas refuse to sleep on the Lhotse face and will travel to either
Camp II or Camp IV.
Camp IV is
located at 26,300 feet. This is the final major camp for the summit push.
It is at this point that the climbers make their final preparations. It is
also a haven for worn-out climbers on their exhausting descent from summit
attempts (both successful and not). Sherpas or other climbers will often
wait here with supplies and hot tea for returning climbers.
From Camp IV,
climbers will push through the Balcony, at 27,500 feet, to the Hillary Step at
28,800 feet. The Hillary Step, an over 70 foot rock step, is named after
Sir. Edmond Hillary, who in 1953, along with Tenzing Norgay, became the first
people to summit Everest. The Hillary Step, which is climbed with fixed
ropes, often becomes a bottleneck as only one climber can climb at a time.
Though the Hillary Step would not be difficult at sea level for experienced
climbers, at Everest's altitude, it is considered the most technically
challenging aspect of the climb.
29,028 feet (8848 meters)
climbers ascend the Hillary Step, they slowly and laboriously proceed to the
summit at 29,028 feet. The summit sits at the top of the world.
Though not the closest place to the sun due to the earth's curve, it is the
highest peak on earth. Due to the decreased air pressure, the summit
contains less than one third the oxygen as at sea level. If dropped off on
the summit directly from sea level (impossible in reality), a person would die
within minutes. Typically, climbers achieving the great summit will take
pictures, gain their composure, briefly enjoy the view, then return to Camp IV
as quickly as possible. The risk of staying at the summit and the
exhaustion from achieving the summit is too great to permit climbers to fully
enjoy the great accomplishment at that moment.
As most readers
of this page know, the return trip can be even more dangerous than the climb to
Pictures from Enrique
Guallart-Furio web site http://ww2.encis.es/avent/