Posted by Evan on Tuesday, 23 August 2005 at 4:24 pm
We started day five of our trek with renewed vigor after eating the first substantial food we’d had in several days and getting a good night’s rest in the Tibetan tent village at EBC. Having met up with Jacek, the day before, he’d informed us that in the four days he’d spent at EBC he’d twice tried to climb higher but been forced to turn back by intense headaches and shortness of breath. As he was feeling constantly ill at ease, due to the altitude, he went back down the mountain, with the intention of meeting us in Shigatse the following day.
When we’d arrived at EBC we’d met an experienced French hiker named Jerome, who was planning to climb further up the mountain. As such Sergio, Jerome and I left our main packs at EBC and set off on a day hike to reach Advance Base Camp I, at 6,100 m. We took as little as possible with us–a couple of liters of water and some nuts and lollies–with the intention of making a speedy ascent and descent in the same day.
Crossing the river that runs past EBC we began our ascent of Rongbuk Glacier–a rubble strewn glacier that runs along the base of Mt. Changtse on the way to Mt. Everest. As August is the summer rainy season in Tibet the climb proved quite treacherous as an extensive surface area of the glacier had liquefied beneath the covering dirt and rock, creating a myriad of streams and undermining the stability of the ground. Keeping a fast pace we soon reached advanced base camp I, only to find a large professional mountaineering expedition, complete with a team of yaks, taking up all the space. As we’d made our ascent in such a short time, and we were all feeling at ease with the altitude, we continued with our ascent.
The climb to advance base camp II, at 6,500 m, proved to be significantly more strenuous. We’d already covered a much greater vertical distance from EBC to the first advance camp, however, getting to the second advance camp involved repeatedly ascending and descending steep and unstable undulations in the glacier. As our pace was still quite fast we passed two other hiking groups during this time, all of whom were burdened down with camping gear. As we reached advance base camp II Sergio was feeling the effects of the altitude to a dangerous degree, but despite his obvious discomfort, agreed to continue for another 30 minutes, as Jerome and I were both keen to climb higher.
At the end of the Rongbuk Glacier we could see the North Col and knew that advanced base camp III (7,010 m) was close, but out of our reach. Looking back down the valley that we’d ascended we could see foreboding black storm clouds moving towards us. As we lingered at the end of the glacier, Sergio quipped “So when are we gonna get naked?” (see Songpan - Day 3). Taking my bag off my back and handing Sergio my camera I crossed to the edge of the glacier, beneath a towering ice protrusion, and stripped naked. With the sharp rocks cutting into my sore feet and the freezing wind reducing me to shivers it wasn’t quite the liberating back-to-nature experience that it had been in Songpan. I quickly dressed myself and switched places with Sergio as he took his turn in front of the camera.
As the storm clouds had only intensified during our photo session we were forced to turn back. Jerome and I stood looking wistfully up the mountain, as Sergio hurried on down the valley, keen to get away from such exhausting altitude. It was shortly into our descent that we suddenly realised how tired we all were. On the way up we’d had the enthusiasm of the climb to propel us, and energy from the large breakfast we’d all eaten. On the way down, however, we’d not eaten a proper meal in hours and the fatigue of climbing at over 6,000 meters had drained all our energy.
Whilst the climb from advanced base camp I to II was hard, it proved even harder the other way as the trail was less visible, resulting in several wrong turns and dead ends. The steep undulations that comprised this area of the glacier were no easier to descend, as very little was actually downhill. By the time we reached advance base camp I we were all completely exhausted. I repeatedly considered the possibility of curling up on the ground and sleeping rather than continuing–something that would certainly have resulted in death from exposure. The physical and psychological effort to continue despite fatigue unlike anything I have experienced before was immense.
After what felt like days of walking we finally reached the end of the Rongbuk Glacier. The joy of being within sight of EBC soon faded as we were confronted, once again, with the river that runs by the camp. Swollen from the rain that had pelted us on our climb down, and the melt water from the glacier, it was no longer crossable by jumping from stone to stone. After searching for the easiest point to cross we had to take off our shoes, roll up our pants, and wade through the freezing cold water. By the time I got half way across both my feet had gone numb, which at first was a blessing on the sharp rocks, but then proved to be a curse, as it made it increasingly difficult to walk steadily. Eventually we all made it across and returned to our tents, compelled to lie down and rest before being able to rouse the energy to eat.
Check out the Tibet photo gallery.
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