Today we woke up at about 6.30 to a snowy and cold world at Camp 1, our third or fourth morning here, I can no longer remember. Looking out of the tent however gave no suggestion that we were going anywhere soon. The wind was still howling down the valley, and there was at least two inches of snow and ice outside. On the upside, the sky was blue – bluer than we’d seen it so far in fact. That also made it colder though – the temperature outside was about -10C.
We were visited by Peter at about 8am, to say that the move was on. We didn’t need to be told twice and began packing immediately. By around 10am everyone was fully laden with group gear, food, tents and our own kit, and we were moving slowly up the mountain. This was the same section where I’d had my ‘turn’ two days before, so I was not a little apprehensive. But I had to put those thoughts behind me – I’d been passed fit, and I was here to give this pig of a mountain my best shot.
We moved at a pretty slow pace, which suited me just fine. The strategy was three breaks for water, but no other stops at all. The sun continued to shine, and sadly I have no photographs to show for it. My camera battery died in the cold this morning, my iPhone is dead and has been for days, and I have no spare camera batteries with me. Lessons learned and all that.
The whole group stayed together and worked well. There were also at least two other groups headed up alongside us, one from RMI and the other I believe from Alpine Ascents. Everyone had been stuck at Camp 1 for at least four days, so this was moving day for everyone (due to the forecast), cold or no cold. At times the wind gusted brutally, and we had Goretex layers on top of down, plus long johns etc. I wondered just how colder this mountain could get.
I passed the point where I had previously ‘wobbled’ without incident, and we all got into Camp 2 (5,550m, or 17,900 ft) at about 2.30pm. By the time we had erected tents, using boulders this time instead of rocks, it was about 3.45pm. Camp 2 is wonderfully perched with spectacular views over the Andes, and I just wish I could take a picture. It was also due to be an altitude record for me in terms of sleeping, the previous highest being Gorak Shep in the Himalayas, so I just hoped I could sleep at all. Just being still in my sleeping bag, my resting heartbeat was over 100, and if you moved or sat up too quickly you were out of breath very quickly.
Having settled in, we figured that the plan from here should get us to a summit attempt around the 6th January (this is the 2nd as I write this). We’d move some stuff tomorrow, then come back here tomorrow night. Then weather permitting we’d move tents and Camp to High Camp at 19,800 feet or so on the 4th. A rest day on the 5th should give us a summit attempt early on the 6th January all being well.
But just after a dinner of pasta, pesto and sun dried tomatoes, Peter came to our tent to give us an update on the weather forecast. It seemed that bad weather (high winds of 50mph plus) was coming in on the 6th, and the 5th didn’t look much better either. There was however a full moon on the 4th, with potential winds of just 25kph, almost unheard of on this mountain. There was therefore a change of plan…….
We’d now move camp again tomorrow morning to High Camp as long as everyone felt up for it after our night here, and then after a brief sleep we’d go straight for the summit on the morning of the 4th. That’s about 36 hours from now! As explained to us, it was basically a one shot attempt, as if we didn’t make the weather window, we were going down.
I think we all knew at this point in time (or maybe it was just me, who knows) that to get 5,000 feet higher than we were now inside less than two days, having just come up 1,800 feet today, on the World’s tallest mountain outside of the Himalayas, that not all of us would make it. But it was on, and we’d get a shot, hopefully, and that was what we were all here for. It doesn’t, and couldn’t, get any more exciting than that.