Inside our tent, we weren’t long about togging off and diving into our sleeping bags. It was bitter. We were both wrecked. A combination of the lack of sleep and the effort required to get up here.Zipped up, the tent was surprisingly warm. and our great guides had delivered us hot water bottles and a nalgene full of boiled glacial water to drink.
As we settled in, the weather began to change. The temperature dropped and the wind began to howl. Outside of our toasty sleeping bags, the temperature was below minus 20 and the wind chill made it feel like minus 30+.
Outside, the impish darting snowflakes had disappeared and in its place, the mountain gods had sent driving snow.
Inside the tent, the moisture from our breath gathered on the inside of the material and formed ice crystals that sparkled like diamond dust when illuminated by the head torch.
At about 2am, the wind was ferocious and threatened to rip our tent from its moorings and send us hurtling down the glacier. Suddenly, there is a loud rumbling. Somewhere in the darkness – an overhang of snow had dislodged itself and was cascading down the mountain – AVALANCHE.
We were in absolutely no danger but still, the sound was frightening.
A little later, I woke bolt upright gasping for air. My legs and arms had gotten trapped in the sleeping bag and I was in the midst of a fully formed panic attach. In my exhausted state, I was catastrophising every situation. After rationalizing with myself, I felt I need something with a familiar rhythm to calm me down so launched into a decade of the rosary. I’m not normally a rosary type guy, but it was comforting to have something familiar.
I gave up on finding sleep at 5am and began to get dressed. The outside of my sleeping bag was soaked and my water bottles had frozen. I’d slept with my trekking clothes in the bag with me and dressed while still in the bag. Putting in contacts in the dark at minus 30+ with a head torch is not to be recommended.
Both Sherpa & I awoke with headaches but because of yesterday’s experience, we weren’t all that concerned. I had left my boots in the porch of the tent and this proved to be a big mistake. As I put them on, my toes instantly screamed in protest. The toe cap was frozen.
Finally dressed, I went out into the wild. The wind was flowing a gale and yielding a polar Saber. It would cut you in two.
I hurried over to the guides tent and found them huddled over a one ring stove – boiling water. Having procured two black coffees, I returned to our tent. Coffee was part of the cure for Sherpa yesterday, so we’d try it again.
At 6.30am, Ang Kami gave the signal. We dragged out our duffel bags into the middle of the camping ground to be loaded onto the Yaks and threw on our rucksacks. We assembled at the edge of base camp and gave it one last look.
What a motley crew we looked. Every stitch of warm clothing was employed against the elements. No one had slept last night.
Just two weeks ago we all set off from our homes scattered across the globe to attempt to complete the trip to base camp. The journey would be arduous and we would face individual and collective challenges along the way. For all of us to make it is a tremendous victory and against the odds.
This should be our victory March. But the altitude, the effort to get there and the hostile elements all contrived to make it anything but. We resembled a beaten army retreating from the front. Our beat box was silent, the joyous chattering of previous days was absent and with our heads bowed and shoulders slumped, we shuffled out of camp to a soundtrack of trekking poles striking the ice, chesty coughing and deep gasping.
Within yards we came to a halt. One of the troops was dizzy and faint. A few minutes later and we halted again. Some troops had frozen fingers – bloodless and lifeless.
We were marching on empty.
This was as hard as it’s been.