Our Base Camp is at the top of the cul de sac that makes a dead end at the icefall. From here we can see almost all the other camps, and since we are so far away, visitors are scarce. I have been enjoying the silence, remembering that this trip is about climbing more than seeing friends. It is 5 a.m., and I can hear our cook staff rummaging outside the tents. Today will not be a leisurely breakfast in the sun, or a few games of Scrabble. Today will be our first day climbing, aiming for Camp 1 at 19,700 feet. I say aiming because last year I attempted to get there 3 times before finally making it. Some days I was too tired or not acclimatized enough, while others the pain in my leg prevented me from moving up. I cannot help but think of my past here while looking square in the face of a new climbing season. It doesn’t matter if you have summited before or how many times; each day is sure to be a challenge.
David and I efficiently boot up and get our harnesses on while eating some much needed breakfast (I prefer Cheerios while David sticks to the eggs). The cold morning air pushes us outside and we collect our crampons at the Puja altar. The cook boys have begun to burn some juniper and incense to help keep us safe in the icefall. David and I each grab a handful of the blessed rice, tossing it towards the mountain, asking for safe passage. We circle the altar clockwise and head straight into the rocky moraine that edges the activity of the icefall. Before too long, we need to stop and put on our crampons. I have a very specific order that I do this, not because I am superstitious but because it is always how I have done it …. I know that sounds a LITTLE superstitious. First is my left crampon, tight and all the straps tucked in; I move onto my right, kneeling in the ice to get it tight enough. Once my spikes are attached, we can begin the 4-5 hours of climbing that will lead us to Camp 1. I don’t know what to expect this year. As we make our way up and down ice pinnacles, my legs feel strong underneath me. The sun is starting to hit Base Camp but is a long way from touching us, and I need all my layers.
After a few hours, the sun does begin to dust our shoulders, and for a moment it renews my energy. That moment is fleeting as the temperature suddenly skyrockets and I must stop again to shed all the layers I have added. The climbing is interesting and keeps my attention at every turn. Groups of Sherpa have worked really hard to fix rope and ladders to span the ice crevasses so that David and I can move independently instead of roped up. My crampons stick and clink on the ladders, making me a little nervous, but I know I must continue moving forward (and the redundancy of this system is what keeps it safe). Just when my lungs are starting to work hard, we crest over the ridge to see Camp 1, a small city of orange and yellow tents. I can see the First Ascent Logo on our tent, sitting proud at the top of a roll of ice. I breathe deep (or as deep as I can here) and drop my pack, happy to have a transient home on the ice for the night.
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