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Final Post from Base Camp

Two mountaineers navigating a glacier on a Gasherbrum II Expedition
Narly, Billi and Nigma Chhiri on the top of Lhotse.JPG
The temporary health post in the Himex dining tent.JPG
Makalu from the top of Lhotse.JPG
Everest seen from the top of Lhotse.JPG

The following blog is Billi Bierling’s final post from Everest Base Camp:

A successful season

After having had a successful Everest expedition, the Lhotse team also added to Himalayan Experience’s accomplishment this season with three members, two guides and four Sherpas summiting the fourth highest mountain in the world on 26 May at around 5am. “The views from up there were magnificent – especially of Mount Everest,” said Adrian. The summit team consisted of Jing Wang, Liang, Billi (‘the Blogger’), our guides Adrian and Narly and Phurba Tashi, Tashi Tshering, Nigma Chhiri and Lhakpa Nuru, who reached the top of Lhotse in perfect weather. “I think you picked the best day of the season,” Russell said over the radio when we called him from the summit.

The team left Base Camp at the crack of dawn on 22 May, unfortunately, without Sissel, who had decided to leave the expedition for personal reasons. Due to the strenuous trip through the icefall and the long slog through the Western Cwm, which becomes like a furnace once the sun hits this geographical bowl, the team was supposed to spend two rest days at Camp II before carrying on to Camp III, from where our team, like most teams, start using oxygen.

However, on 22 May – the day when we arrived at 6,400m (21,1000ft) – turned out to be less of a rest day than expected as the Himalayan Experience team got involved in the rescue of a Spanish team, who got into trouble after having reached the top of Lhotse the previous day. “Our dining tent turned into a small hospital,” Narly said. After a search and rescue operation conducted by two Argentinean guides and Sherpas from different teams (including three from Himalayan Experience), our dining tent was used as a rescue station and hospital to help the climbers, who were in need of medical assistance.

Fortunately, Erin, a young American doctor, who was just about to graduate, happened to be at Camp II, and despite the fact that she had summitted Mount Everest the previous day and was probably exhausted, she stayed half the night to tend to climbers’ frostbites, administer intravenous fluids, or simply fed them hot water to re-hydrate. “It was fantastic to have Erin up there,” said our doctor Monica, who spent all night on the radio giving advice to the team at Camp II on what they should do to help the climbers. (A full report on the rescue has been released).

The rescue, which happened only a two days before our own summit attempt, was quite difficult for our team, and even though I cannot speak for the others, it made me wonder for a short while, whether climbing this mountain would be a good idea. However, I was also aware of the fact that I was with a very well-orgainsed, commercial expedition and that there was no way that our team would ever get into such a situation.

On the morning of the 25th, a helicopter came to pick up the most severely injured and our kitchen team turned the temporary health post back into our dining tent. The day was obviously spent resting and recuperating after the busy night and the following morning we left Camp II for the Lhotse Face to reach Camp III – the penultimate stop before the summit of Lhotse. Unfortunately, our guide, Brian, who had been having problems with his eyes, had to turn back just below the ‘Bergschrund’ (the place where the glacier is connected to the mountain) as his vision got worse during the short trip. “My vision is so blurry that the headlamps look like big moons so I had better turn back even though this is very hard for me.”

Quiet Ascent

The trip up the Lhotse Face was extremely pleasant as most Everest expeditions had finished their summit bids and it was unusually quiet. On a busy day, hundreds of climbers, guides and Sherpas move up and down the steep face, but due to the fact that we were climbing at the end of the season, the wall was our own. Once we reached Camp III at the height of 7,200m (23,700ft) we started inhaling supplementary oxygen to keep our strength for the next two days.

The next day we ascended to Camp IV, which is slightly lower than the fourth camp on Mount Everest, and we were impressed to see how our Sherpa team managed to create flat platforms for our three tents. “I am so happy to see my ‘Toread’ tents so high up on the mountain,’ said Jing Wang, who runs a big outdoor company in China. Our guide, Adrian, who together with Phurba Tashi, had already summited Everest twice this season, joined us at Camp IV to reach the top of Lhotse with the team. “I am so excited to be going up a new mountain,” he said with a big smile when he walked up to our tiny camp. The space for the tents at Camp IV is very small and every time someone left the tent we had to clip into a safety line.

On 26 May at 1am, Phurba Tashi, Tashi Tshering, Nigma Chhiri and Lhakpa Nuru came up from Camp II, which they left at 8.30pm the previous night. “Good morning,” I heard Phurba Tashi in his usual jolly voice when they arrived during the cold night. The team was very slick and within ten minutes the whole group was ready to go for the summit. After about four hours of steep climbing and Phurba Tashi breaking the trail, we reached the summit just in time for the sun to rise. It is always difficult to take in the beauty of the surroundings when you are on the summit, firstly because you know you are only half way there as you have to get down again and secondly, because of the cold, however, the views of Everest and Makalu from Lhotse were magnificent.

After having spent about half an hour on the summit, we quickly made our way down towards Camp II, where we were going to spend the night – and even though we had reached our camp at around 9am, we could not descend further all the way to base camp. “The Khumbu icefall becomes more treacherous later in the day as the ice is melting, so we are only going through it in the early morning hours,” Russell told us as we were trying to convince him to let us descend all the way to our comfortable basecamp. However, with Chhakra and Ang Nuru looking after us at Camp II, we spent all day eating, drinking and resting to be ready to leave the camp at 5am the next morning for our descent to Base Camp.

We arrived here this morning and the camp, which was the temporary home to hundreds of people for more than two months, has changed significantly. Most teams have moved out, the glacier is melting around those few tents that are still standing and while I am writing this, our Sherpa team, the Everest guides, Russell and Monica are packing up our tents. Fortunately, the White Pod is still standing, where I am comfortably sitting watching the mayhem outside.

On Saturday morning, our two Chinese members will take a helicopter flight to Kathmandu while the Himalayan Experience Team will finish packing up and then walk to Namche or Lukla from where we will get a flight back to Kathmandu to officially finish the season.