[11 April 2021, by Sanna Raistakka]
We took a couple of days rest after arriving to Everest Base Camp (BC), the icy home for several hundred people each spring. We had all our gear to sort through for one, and secondly, it was nice to get comfortable in our new surroundings: this was going to be our home for the next six to seven weeks after all. We’ve been the first climbers to arrive in our camp, but more will come soon. And so far, the BC service has been outstanding, but more about life at BC on another post.
We’d seen head torches head up the #Khumbu Icefall for a couple nights now, so on the second day we scouted along the glacier for the beginning of the route through the #Icefall to Camp 1 (C1), which we found. That same night at 4am we had breakfast and headed off on our first rotation.
Not a Sunday walk…
There is something magical about being out as the first light begins to color the world around you and this was even more so, because we were now heading into the (in)famous Icefall we’d heard so much of. The icy, pointy pinnacles made you feel small and the millions of shades of blue were simply… amazing.
I was not sure how tricky the Icefall would be, but what we ended up having at the day’s end was far harder than I had imagined. It made our previous trip to #Manaslu seem like a Sunday walk in comparison.
The Icefall began with a short, vertical icewall, where the fixed ropes were attached. Iceaxes came in handy immediately as we climbed up this technical section. It was a bit tough to start with, I thought, especially when you have all your gear in your bag. It eased off and some parts were nice to climb.
But soon we got to the first real section of complicated terrain, which required speed (easier said than done in these altitudes), and from then on it rarely gave up anymore. You had to look carefully for your next rest stop and sprint as fast as you could in other places. The winter had been dry in the Himalayas and the evidence was right here: impassable crevasses; 20-30m high ice towers; snow bridges that will collapse; barren rock face above higher up, which had enormous blocks waiting to fall. Incredibly a route had been found through this maze of slowly moving ice, but it was far from easy. Or safe.
Fighting all of the elements
After several hours we finally started to get close to C1, or so we thought. It was now getting flatter and with relief we were out of the Icefall proper, but then there were other unpleasant surprises: rotten, icy crevasses we had to downclimb 20 metre into, only to climb back up again on the other side; cross narrow snow bridges with a fierce, nasty wind gusting over the flat surfaces. We’d been on the move for seven hours and tiredness was seeping in, both mentally and physically. And just when I felt it was getting too much, we realized we were at C1 at 6,100m. It had taken us eight hours with breaks.
At least we had made it here, but now the next challenge was to get the tent up, but it was gusting about 80+ kms an hour. It was near impossible and often we just held on to it through the worst bursts, hoping it would not blow us all off. It was some local wind that hammered us all through the night so we got about three hours of sleep that night, often sitting up against the inward bending tent poles. Around midnight the wind died down a bit, luckily, so by morning we could make a hasty retreat to BC.
Back to base
The plan had been to continue the next day to Camp 2 (C2) to leave some gear, but after the last 24 hours, the mental and physical drain was such that we just wanted to get out of there. I was dreading the dry Icefall for the return, but it felt less scary now and it was faster going down too.
Since there were only a few Sherpas carrying loads, we never needed to wait anywhere though when the season is in full swing, it’ll be different and difficult unless an alternative route can be found. We’d also read reports about 20 ladders being in place. Well, this was not the case. There was only one on the entire route so far through the Icefall.
It took another four and a half hours until we finally stumbled in to our BC, tired to the bones, but relieved that we’d made it back in one piece.