Hello from Dingboche! We both had great nights—we probably both had about 8+ hours of sleep. Greatly appreciated and certainly needed!
After breakfast, our little gang of six geared up and headed up valley towards Chunkung. By the way, I figured out how things are organized here. There are three groups: The Trekkers, The main climbing group, and our gang of six. Today was a modest day (“rest”) for the first two. Garrett (who runs the show) is trying to optimize for his group of 8 Everest climbers, who have a range of experience and capability, so it made sense for his group to have an easier day.
Our gang of six is being led by Brent and is being optimized around what makes the most sense for Anders and John, our two 30 year olds (well John is 31). Since both of these guys are so strong, our objective today was to climb quite high to help accelerate their acclimatization routine. Of course Kent and I (the two dads) are tagging along and since we’ve been able to hang with it so far, we’ve stayed together as a group.
The initial hike up the river valley was quite mellow where the toughest thing was dodging a Yak or two. We moved quickly and both Anders and I felt great (I felt the best I’ve felt on this trip so far). The views were extraordinary (I know I say this all the time, but they just keep getting better). Aba Dablam, and especially Lhotse and Nuptse were the stars for sure.
We were essentially going up a valley that passes to the west of Aba Dablam and directly below the southern flanks of Nuptse and the intimidating South Face of Lhotse. On the other side of Nuptse and Lhotse is the Khumbu Ice Fall and EBC, where we will arrive soon enough. At one point we passed a Chorten dedicated to three Polish climbers who had died trying to climb the South Fac of Lhotse in the 80s, including one fellow who had summited all 8,000 meter peaks with no oxygen. A sober reminder of what is really going on here.
We eventually passed the village of Chunkung and then headed up the steep flanks of Chunkung-Ri (essentially Chunkung hill). This proved to be quite challenging climbing as we had started at 14,250 feet down valley at Dingboche and the slopes climbed rapidly from the 15,000 or so feet of Chunkung.
This was a full-on effort and I have to say I felt great. After we had climbed 2,000 feet or so, John decided to stop and soak up some of the abundant sunshine. The weather was once again fantastic, although it was colder—probably around 35 degrees with a solid 20 mph wind. Despite this, the effort of climbing led me to wear just my t-shirt and a super light wind shirt.
The four Everest climbers were of course quite a bit quicker and they would stop every now and then and wait for me. Brent had told us that he wanted us to go “slow” today to maximize acclimatization, although slow was a pretty good clip for me. I more or less climbed continuously up the slope of Chunkung-Ri. This was by far the hardest day of our trip but I felt outstanding and I was determined to go as far as Brent would let me.
At one point, a man and woman came down the hill and said: “You must be RC” and then he explained he was very good friends with Brent and we stopped and chatted for a bit. He told me that my objective was the Col that was towering several hundred meters above me. I learned later from Brent that this fellow was one of the most accomplished climbers in the world having summited K2 without oxygen (among other things).
I shouldered on eventually reaching the Col and joining the rest of my team. We were now all at 17,600 feet—essentially the altitude of Everest Base Camp. This was one heck of a climb! I must admit feeling a bit of pride to make it with the rest of my team. The views to the west were now opened up and we could see Cho Oyo (the 6th highest mountain in the world) among many others.
As Brent, Anders, John, and Geoff had been waiting a while, Brent pretty quickly said time to head down (no rest for the slow guy!). We then proceeded to power all the way (4.5 miles), back down the slope and then down the valley, back to Dingboche. In total we covered 9.1 miles in 5 hours and 55 minutes. We ascended and descended 3,800 feet, all above 14,250 feet. I have to say that this was one bad-ass climb and I feel very good that I was able to do it with such relative ease. It will be interesting to see how my legs feel tomorrow, but this was a real confidence builder for me. The rest of the team where so, so strong and I believe they are extremely well positioned (although we have a long way to go) for the coming attempt on Everest.
I chatted with Anders and Brent at length in separate conversations on the way down and we reached some agreements about the plan going forward. Basically, the four Everest climbers (Anders, John, Geoff and Brent) are doing so well that we want to modify the plan going forward to put them higher up Everest, sooner—thus improving both their chances and the relative safety of their climb. I feel very, very good about this, as the only variables Anders and I are trying to optimize are Anders’ safety and likelihood of success. More on this later.
We move to the west and up to Loboche tomorrow. In just a couple days we will arrive at EBC, if all goes well. We both feel great and are truly having a great time!