Yesterday morning was our first foray into the Khumbu Icefall—AND IT WAS AWESOME!!!!
The icefall is a ~2,000' cascading glacier that separates base camp from the upper slopes of Mt Everest, and aside from the objective hazards (seemingly bottomless crevasses, 3-story tall ice walls, house-sized ice blocks teetering above us, and Mt Everest's west shoulder constantly threatening to fall on us), it is a beautiful, natural jungle gym that gave me the biggest adrenaline rush I've had since my first experience properly mountain biking last summer in Banff.
We woke up at 1:45am, ate at 2:30am and left camp at 3. By 3:45am, we had reached the northern edge of base camp (our camp is the second furthest from the icefall) and donned crampons. Within a couple hundred vertical feet, we reached our first crevasse-spanning ladder (photo below), and soon thereafter we started ascending ice cliffs ranging from 6 to 20 feet tall. Some of the ice cliffs required only good footwork and a steady hand on a rope anchored at the top, while other cliffs had ladders lashed together to help groups move through faster. My Sherpa climbing partner proved that he is not just a 6x Everest summitter but also a ninja, as he sprang up cliffs, danced across ice bridges, and bounded past slower climbers to ensure we moved quickly and safely through the hazards. When I get back to the States, I may just have to resume martial arts or take up parkour in order tokeep the adrenaline pumping.
The Khumbu Icefall is just about the most dangerous part of Mt. Everest, due to the fact that the ice is constantly cascading down. A special team of elite Sherpas (called the "Icefall Doctors") set and maintain the route through the icefall each season, and the route has changed twice in the last few days alone as various ice blocks and bridges have collapsed, resetting the path. During our climb this morning, we heard a massive ice block topple over about a hundred meters north of us, and watching it fall (before seeing a large cloud of debris puff up from its impact) made the risks imminently clear. The sketchiest section of the day involved crossing an S-shaped ice bridge spanning a hole about 30-70' deep. The bridge was less than a foot wide at its narrowest and did not appear very stable. The icefall doctors had installed a rope across the bridge that we clipped into, but due to the shape of the bridge, just about any fall would turn the rope into a massive swing, sending you careening into the walls of the abyss. Today I made three important mental notes:
- If your Sherpa climbing partner starts praying loudly, move quickly and do exactly as he does.
- If your Sherpa climbing partner looks at you with wide eyes and says "DANGER", move quickly and do exactly as he does.
- If your Sherpa climbing partner and you hear something start to collapse, move quickly and do exactly as he does.
As thrilling as it was to move through these natural hazards, I returned to camp grateful that IMG has designed our entire expedition to minimize the number of times (6) that we have to go through it. And thanks to all the time we've spent acclimatizing so far, I feel nimble and strong even moving through the icefall up to ~19,500'.
Today we had a rest day at base camp, and tomorrow we will begin a multi-day rotation up to Camp 2 (~21,000') to continue exposing our bodies to thinner and thinner air.
Thanks to everybody for supporting intercultural youth exchange, and have a great weekend!
PS – I hope the fun I had in the icefall doesn't suggest that I am naïve toward its risks. Indeed, the exhilaration I felt resulted from the total focus and physical exertion required by the dangers, combined with the icefall's altitude and natural beauty.