Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Blustery, gusty, brutal winds and unwelcome ice

Freight train wind conditions prevail at Camp One today, making last night and today "freakishly" cold according to Randy.   With sustained winds of 35mph and gusts up to 50 or 60mph, the team is now hunkered down in their tents, trying to stay warm.

Last night was a pretty eventful night, the kind that makes me want Randy to call it a day and head back down the mountain.  His team slept at a slightly higher Camp One (at 16.6) which is just about 1/4 mile up the mountain from the regular Camp One (at 16K) where some other teams are encamped.  Around 3 AM, Randy said there was just a deafening noise which woke him, even with ear plugs.  No one knew quite what was going on.  They heard loud crashing noises and the wind battering their tent, but being pitch black and bitterly cold, he and Bissel just stayed in their tent.  Everything settled down after a while, and they rested on an off.  Early this morning, they woke to many hundreds of pieces of ice all over the camp.  One giant piece, around 50 lbs, had actually torn into the vestibule of their teammates tent (the two sisters and brother), but miraculously hadn't touched any of them.   Randy's tent was torn at the apex, as was a third tent.  As we spoke, two guides were repairing those two tents, and one had descended back to base camp to get a new tent for the siblings.  Thank God no one was hurt at all, but they basically had one of those extremely rare ice falls assault their campsite.   Evidently, higher up in the mountains, a huge chunk of ice had broken loose, shattering into pieces as it crashed down the slopes.  

After much discussion about the ice and wind, the guides decided the team should still try to carry to Camp 2 at 18,000.  So they packed everything up and set up onto the frigid slope.  For the first half hour, they were slipping so much, that they had to stop to put their crampons on.  This was a tough task as they had to sit down on a pretty exposed side wall, secure their packs, not let anything drop, and attach their crampons.   They managed this with gloves since it was too cold for exposed hands and  persevered on.  But even with crampons, the wind was literally knocking them off their feet. They had climbed about 700 ft vertical of the 1500 ft vertical to Camp Two, but the guides had them head back down to Camp One.  Once back down, head guide JJ at first said it was okay to camp in the same higher spot, that the ice fall had been a freak occurrence, and they would be fine.  So with the wind battering them, they set their tents back up, got organized and crawled inside to get warm.  Unfortunately, after a while, JJ noticed some more ice falling in the distance and decided it wasn't prudent to remain there.  So, he had the team get back up, pack everything up again and haul everything down closer to the "normal" Camp One.  Randy said you just can't imagine what goes into moving camp even that 1/4 mile.  Unlike when they carry up to a higher camp, lugging half the stuff up one day, and then the rest the next day, today they had to transport all the tents, equipments, stoves, clothes, food, etc.  So Randy had a full pack plus two full bags in each hand, stumbling down a trail pummeled by the frigid wind.  Once again, they had to set up all their tents and stow their gear.  Randy called me after they finally were settled, wedged between two big boulders so he could talk above the howling wind.   Is someone secretly paying him to do this, or is this really something fun?

So, what does this all mean?  With no forecasted abatement of the wind, Randy thinks their summit chances are going down.  They will probably have to wait at Camp One at least a couple days before trying to climb again.  And they can't stay up there forever, so they need a break in the weather to move forward safely up to Camp Two (18k), then Camp Three (19.5K), from which they would be poised for a summit attempt of this 22.8K beast.  He's still doing well though, feels very strong and very physically prepared to keep moving ahead if they get the chance.  He has a little shortness of breath, but that's expected as they acclimate to the higher altitudes. He's not worried about the cold as he says he has the warmest boots and clothing of the whole gang. This is when I am thankful he is such a gear guy and definitely biased towards high end equipment!   

I probably won't hear from him again tonight as it's too cold as the sun sets to venture out and find a protected spot to talk, so let's just hope that ridiculous ice assault was in fact a freak thing, and that they all stay safe and as warm as possible while they wait out the wind.
Views of the mountains above Camp One

Camp One

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