Adventure Coaching Blog
Avalanches and Doing the Washing
Sarah on Cho Oyu near Camp 1Well the last few days have been incredible as we did our final acclimatisation trip. I am now back at Advanced Base Camp and having a good rest before we go for our summit bid in at least 4 days time.
You will have heard about the avalanche up high on the mountain. It has taken quite a while for the actual truth to emerge about what happened - when there are alot of frantic sherpa and tibetan voices on the mountain radios things can get very confusing. So the day the accident happened the Chinese Tibetan Mountaineering Association (CMTA) guys were above Camp 3 (above a very prominent feature on the mountain called the Yellow Band) which is around 7500m and they were fixing ropes on behalf of the large number of expeditions here on the mountain. Apparently the avalanche started above them and they were caught in it. Luckily for them some critical equipment held otherwise things would have been much worse. One person was very seriously injured - leg/s and other limbs broken I think - and a number of the other younger guys had broken arms. They were bought down the mountain by a team of around 25 Sherpas and Tibetan climbers.. We saw the guys with the broken arms come past Camp One in the afternoon. It was a very sobering sight seeing these normally effervesant people looking so shattered. Then the guy who was unable to walk was sledged through Camp One when it was dark around 7pm. They did a really good job bringing him down over terrain that is in places very steep and difficult enough when all is going well. No such thing as helicopter resuces here.
My room with a view - from tent at Camp 2So how do you react to this kind of thing happening? Well honestly, when we first heard in all the confusion we thought that at least 3 people were dead. As the story emerged that this was not the case we all felt enormously relieved that this was not the case. Also we have all been aware that most afternoons and evenings there have been reasonably big snow falls and that just before the avalanche there was some wind as well - all perfect ingredients for avalanches to happen. So we are now paying very close attention to the weather and wind on the mountain.
I'll also be really honest about this - something happens in the brain that disconnects. Without even trying it is easy to dissasociate from the accident - the old "oh but it wont happen to me" quickly moves in as a form of protection perhaps. Admittedly I really trust the 2 guides we have on our team - Mike Roberts and Mike Madden are amazing and are very knowledgeable about the snow pack and the Himilayas in particular. I really trust their judgement. However, there is also the stark truth that this is a dangerous business and there are no guarantees. If my struggles to get a breath and walk up a simple slope at 7000metres are anything to go by then really this is no place for humans. We go here on the mountains terms and not our own. It is very humbling - maybe like earthquakes.
My thoughts go to those back home in New Zealand that are dealing with the Earthquakes, flooding and severe storms. Hearing stories of the damage and destruction and the strength of community to rebuild and restore services etc, is very much like here, with the exception we have chosen to put ourselves in this place of extreme hardship.
Sarah outside the tents at Camp 2
Anyway, we made our puffing way up to Camp 2 at 7000 metres - and it was a blast. Here I am modeling my Marmot clothing (BTW Marmot not only make gear that is simply the best I have ever experienced but they have been great in supporting me and also the dZi Foundation ... more about that later). My team-mates pointed out that actually the pics were not great because I still had pumkin tortillini spread over my lovely blue jacket from dinner and my glasses were wonky becos of duct tape!! Not exactly a model photo shoot!!! Oh well, I guess that is reality TV. Fortunately for you all the pictures are low res.
The actual technical climbing was far harder than I imagined it would be - not just because I was gasping for air, but also because the snow was very unconsolidated in parts and the ice-cliff itself is very steep with some nice little ice moves that test the crampons and ice-axe (while trying hard not to pull up on the fixed line). And yes, I managed to smile to myself through heaving lungs at the time!
I was very pleased to find that I felt really good at 7000m - my appetite returned and we had a stunning clear evening to look up at the challenges ahead.
We came down fairly quickly yesterday (took 6 hours to get down what had taken 3 days to get up) although we were all really tired and slept incredibly deeply last night. I slept so well I even dreamed of sheep in New Zealand!
So after all the drama and excitement of going high on the mountain it is now back to doing the washing and resting. We have at least 4 days rest - partly because we need it, but also because there are now some challenges getting the fixed roping completed up high on the mountain. The CTMA team have departed and so the leaders of the major expeditions here have put together a sherpa team to try and fix the sections that need fixing above Camp 2. This may happen between 22-24 Sept. If so there are going to be quite a few teams getting ready to go to the summit - in which case bottlenecks may become an issue as there are a large number of climbers on the mountain. This is something we will need to manage as carefully as we can. However, that is a few days away and the priority for now is rest rest rest.
Thanks so much for all your messages of support and encouragement - believe me I am blown away by them and they are incredibly helpful as this is quite a tough mission. I will be in touch again over the next days but for now I am pretty tired just typing out this message.
Wishing you all a life of inspiration and adventure.
Posted by Sarah Wilson on 21st September, 2010 | Comments
Tags: Attitude, Avalanche, Mountaineering, Altitude, Adventure, Cho Oyu
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