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Archive for April, 2013

30 Apr: Team Rest at EBC

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Good Morning All!

Today is our second day of rest from the upper parts of the mountain. Several of the Air Force team walked down to Gorak Shep to access Internet and upload photos (check out the Facebook page!).

Our first “rotation” on the upper part of the mountain went very well. All six of the USAF 7 Summits climbers made it to Camp 2 (~21,100ft) and a few went up to the base of the Lhotse Face for a little extra exercise (22,000ft).

Temps up at Camp 1 and Camp 2 were pretty nuts! Climbing from 1 to 2 at 6:15am, before the sun hit, was chilly- windchill easily into the negative teens. The cold air bit at any exposed skin and froze around our covered faces. But as soon as the sun hit the snow covered slopes that surrounded us, temps jumped and it was UV radiation rather than frostnip we had to worry about.

It was a sign of our team’s strength that we all slept well and maintained our appetites at Camp 2. I have high hopes (ha!) for how we’ll do at Camp 3 in a few days. Speaking of that- here is our tentative plan:

May 1 & 2: Rest in EBC (Many of our guys have lost a good deal of weight, so using this time to eat, sleep, and hopefully get rid of dry irritating Khumbu Cough).

May 3rd: Climb through icefall to Camp 2 (skipping Camp 1 bc we are feeling strong)

May 4th: Rest at Camp 2
May 5th: Climb Lhotse Face to Camp 3 (~24,000ft). Will be uncomfortable to sleep/eat, so just staying one night). May 6th: Descend to Camp 2
May 7th: Everest Base Camp
May 8th-12th: Rest Days
May 13-???: Wait for good summit weather window. Once we get the green light, we will likely go Camp 2, Rest @2, Camp 3, Camp 4 (short stay using oxygen), leave in evening (9-10pm) for summit (9-10hr to the top)!

Hmm, what else to say?!

I think the hardest part for me right now is dealing with the boredom/repetition. Going to bed cold, waking up cold, eating the same foods, and thinking “There is a lot more of this between now and the summit push!” Luckily this team of American Airmen is awesome. It makes me smile to unfurl the Stars and Stripes each morning and see it flapping above the rock and ice. Meals are always lively as we tell stories and joke around constantly. If it wasn’t for the camaraderie, we’d probably lose out minds and focus.

It’s been interesting to live without news and daily information from home and around the globe. It is actually kinda nice- we get to focus on the mountain, the huge challenge above us, and keeping our personal ties strong. But I know each of us also miss family, friends, and other loved ones. Many conversations center around what we’ll each do when this long adventure is over. I’ve got warm oceans/lakes/rivers, fly fishing, and maybe a little trip to Vegas on my mind. Plus, it’ll be nice to get back into the cockpit and fly!

Thanks to all of you that are following this historic climb and to those of you sending your support and best wishes. We have been on this expedition for over a month and the home stretch is quickly approaching. We wish we could send more photos/updates, but with the great help of Col (ret) Rob Suminsby and Maj Mark Uberuaga, plus the support of the AF Safety Center, AF Public Affairs, and AF Recruiting, the exciting story of this climb is reaching across the United States and beyond. I think that as the Top of the World gets closer, things will get even more exciting. You can bet the six of us are looking forward to it!

Blue Skies to you all.

-Maj Rob Marshall
“Climb High, Fly Low”

Early Morning Photo of Everest from Camp 2 Walking to Camp 1 (black pyramid on left)

Panorama from Today: Using Rest Day to Boulder on Side of Khumbu Glacier

Capt Ackles descending a 3-part ladder in the Khumbu Icefall. I had to keep moving while taking the photo- too risky to stop in this location.

Khumbu Cough

Monday, April 29th, 2013

While the team rests at Base Camp before the next acclimatization rotation, the Sherpas have completed fixing ropes to Camp 3, and will begin supplying that camp tomorrow.

While back at EBC for a few days, one of their highest priorities will be staying healthy.  EBC is a small city this time of year, with hundreds of climbers and trekkers passing through.  That can mean a lot of germs floating around, so everyone will be taking precautions to reduce the risk of catching anything.  Fortunately, most everyone caught the “GI bug” during the trek into EBC, so they’ve developed some immunity by now.   Every cloud has a silver lining…

There’s one malady at EBC that afflicts almost everyone to some degree.  Here’s some words on that from Edie Marshall, one of our trekkers and Lobuche climbers:

Note the neck warmers.

EBC Instruction. Note the neck warmers

 

“I’m still trying to shake off my “Khumbu cough” that is a scourge of trekkers and climbers in and around EBC.  The cold, dry and sometimes dusty air, coupled with an increased respiratory rate to compensate for the low oxygen levels, is rough on the respiratory tract. Folks will try to ward it off by wearing Buffs/neck warmers and breathing through masks or the neck gaiters to try to warm and moisten the air they are breathing. You will see people in the photos wearing them sometimes. Unfortunately, this can enhance the feeling of difficulty breathing, and does slightly lower the level of inspired oxygen, so it can be challenging to maintain the fabric around one’s face through all activities and at night. The Khumbu cough can get so bad that it breaks ribs, so it is a real concern for staying healthy and ready to reach the summit of Everest. Our team seemed to be doing a pretty good job of taking care of themselves for most of the time I was with them. For the Lobuche climb, I threw caution to the wind and figured I needed any and all oxygen more than I needed warmed, moist, and slightly less oxygen, so I got to come home with the Khumbu cough. Let’s hope our guys are faring better!”

 

28 Apr – Everest Climbing Season

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Some of you may wonder why you always seem to hear news from Everest around this same time every year.  There’s a very good reason for that:  the month of May affords by far the most favorable conditions for a summit attempt on Mt. Everest.

Most have you have seen the iconic photos of Everest, with the trademark plume of snow blowing from its summit.  Because the mountain rises to such a great height, 29,035’, the upper reaches of the mountain actually jut up into the jet stream.  That means for most of the year, the summit is raked by winds in excess of 100 mph.  But in May as the monsoon season approaches, the warmed air moving in from the Bay of Bengal pushes the jet stream to the north, affording climbers the opportunity to reach the summit without having to battle hurricane force winds.

View_of_Mt_Everest_from_Buddha_Air_Beech_1900_Hanuise

Ideally, climbing teams are looking for a four or five day window of stable weather with the jet stream pushed well to the north, when winds drop to a more hospitable 20-30 mph. Usually this window opens in early May, and the timing of most expeditions is designed to allow climbers to be fully acclimatized and ready for a summit attempt by then.  The temperature rises somewhat in Spring as well, although the summit of Everest is almost always below zero (F).  Late in May, the arrival of the monsoon season brings heavy snowfalls, which increase the avalanche hazard, and therefore the Everest climbing season is usually over by the first of June.

Since accurately forecasting “the window” is so crucial to success on Everest, large expeditions spend a considerable sum for dedicated meteorological support.  (Smaller groups without such support spend a lot of time wandering around base camp, hoping to glean as much information as they can from the others.)  The forecasts cover a four or five day period, and obviously they are more accurate in the near term than further out.  As the team gets closer to its summit attempt, discussing the weather becomes almost a full time obsession, and an integral part of overall risk management.  (Fortunately, several of our team members are pilots, for whom studying weather forecasts is a very familiar task!)

As you can see, a lot of things have to come together all at once for a successful climb:  a strong, healthy, and acclimatized team, ropes properly fixed on key sections of the route, high camps supplied, clear skies, and favorable winds.  Right now, the jet stream is still fairly close to the mountain.  As “the window” gets closer, keep your fingers crossed that all the stars align for our team!

 

 

 

 

Back to Base Camp

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

After a very successful acclimatization trip up to Camp 2 the team descended back to base camp today.  They made the descent through the icefall with a sense of urgency.  Up at 4 am and on the trail by 5 the team made it back to base camp in just a few hours.  They made the early start in the cold morning to minimize the risk of warmer temperatures later in the day that can result in increased avalanche activity and potential for icefall.

Rob reports the team to be strong and working together really well.

Up at Camp 2, while the team was adjusting to the thin air, the Stars and Stripes waved from a  perch high on a rock over the camp.  Nick Gibson proved once again why PJs are an asset to every team by tending to a climber from another team in need of medical attention.  Way to go Nick.  We’re proud of you for taking care of others!

Next the team will take 4 rest days at base camp.  If we’re lucky they may be able to hike down one of those days and upload some photos.  After this rest period the team will make their second acclimatization trip by moving all the way from BC to Camp 2 and then up to Camp 3.  This will be the highest they go until the summit bid.  After this they’ll descend again and position themselves for the big push all the way to the top!

-Mark U.

27 Apr: Everest in 3.8 billion pixels

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

The team spent yesterday at Camp 2 acclimatizing with a hike to the base of the Lhotse Face, while the Sherpas are hard at work fixing ropes to Camp 3.  Today they will return to EBC for a few days, and hopefully that will give them a chance to make the 2.5 hour hike down to Gorak Shep where they can email out some photos.  Meanwhile, if you want to get a REALLY high-resolution look at Everest, check out this link.  Famed filmmaker David Breashears (who spent a few hours talking to our Wounded Warriors during their trek) has assembled a number of ultra high-res images into a single zoomable image that will blow you away!

http://www.npr.org/2012/12/20/167621313/a-billion-pixel-tour-of-mount-everest

26 April – Camp 2

Friday, April 26th, 2013

The team checked in from Camp 2. Everyone is healthy and doing great. The team’s American flag is the highest point in the camp which sits at 21,100′. The start to the day was cold with single digit temperatures in the early morning, but it warmed up and turned out to be a beautiful day. With the Lhoste face looming overhead the team can see their next objective. Above the camp the IMG team is high on the Lhotse face fixing ropes and the guys can’t wait to get up there themselves.

Everest Voice Update

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

A voice check-in by the Everest '13 team. Press the play button to hear how the team of Airmen are doing- it might be an update from the wounded warriors, trekkers, or summit team.

Flashback: Trekker Trip Report

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

The team is taking a rest day at Camp 1 before moving up to Camp 2 tomorrow. You can see that for yourself on the GPS Tracking link above, and if you haven’t checked that out, please do! If you have the Google Earth plug-in for your browser, you’ll get an amazing 3D view of the Western Cwm and the Lhotse Face.

Our trekkers are back home now, and Heidi and Megan checked in today with their report below about their impressions of the trek to Everest Base Camp. Thanks for coming along to support the effort!

Colin, Heidi and Megan giving a Base Camp Shout-Out to the folks back in Colorado Springs.

Colin, Heidi and Megan giving a Base Camp Shout-Out to the folks back in Colorado Springs.

Heidi and Megan’s Report:

Having been back in the states now for a couple days, it’s fun to reminisce on the trip, and think back to all those good memories; however, those tough times are going to be hard to forget as well! All in all, I would say this trip was a little more difficult than I expected, but in different ways than I initially imagined. The trek itself was amazing! I don’t think anyone would be able to explain just how beautiful the scenery is throughout the entire Khumbu Valley. Standing at the top of Kala Pattar at an elevation of 18,200′, and still straining my neck to look up at gigantic mountains in every direction, is an experience that I will probably never have again in my life. It’s literally breathtaking, and pictures will never be able to fully portray just how amazing those views are.

But the scenery was amazing throughout the entire trip. Just driving through the city streets of Kathmandu was a unique experience in and of itself; dodging mopeds carrying full families, and cows/stray dogs roaming the streets, and getting adjusted to the new meaning of a horn (which you can’t get by without in Kathmandu). From there, we got to experience the wild roller coaster ride that is a flight into the Lukla airport! Flying between mountain ranges, and being able to look out (not down) for views of the rhododendron trees is awesome; and I can’t say I’ve ever been on another flight where the whole airplane cheered once we came to a stop….that was great! Again, trekking through the Khumbu Valley was a unique and awesome experience. We got to witness small statured porters carrying 200+ pound loads suspended from their foreheads and got passed by endless groups of yaks on narrow dirt paths. I will add that it was a nice surprise to be staying in tea houses versus tents for the first few nights. Before this trip started, I was under the impression that this was going to be a full camping trip from start to finish, so entering Phakding that first trekking day and walking into the dining room with a fully stocked bar was a good feeling. Although, the only heat source in any of the tea houses was a fire place fueled by dry yak dung (which smelled awesome by the way), so it was hard to fully appreciate these tea houses like we would a typical hotel.

Another surprise to me was the toilet situation. Now, I realize that most of the group was familiar with squatters, given their mountaineering experience, but I on the other hand had no experience with squatters whatsoever. So it was a little bit of a shock to me to open my first bathroom door in Lukla (our first of 19 days trekking through the valley), and see a hole in the ground with a bucket for used toilet paper in the corner. Really?! It’s supposedly the most “natural” position for accomplishing that task, lol, but I was not comfortable with these at all! I guess it got a little better as the trip went on, but I absolutely loved returning to clean bathrooms in the Hong Kong airport with optional toilet seat cleaners…. it’s definitely a commodity you don’t realize how much you appreciate until you don’t have it. That and showers! I wasn’t too stoked to try the shower tent at Lobuche Base Camp (which consisted of a large bowl of hot water and a cup to pour the water over your head), but it actually turned out to be OK. But again, it really made me appreciate my warm shower at home with consistently flowing hot water.

The obvious concerns I had before starting this adventure were being too cold and not being able to breath due to the altitude. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case. The weather treated us very nicely during the time we were there (although, we heard they had a snow day right after we left, so maybe we were bringing the sunshine). During the day when we were trekking at the lower altitudes, it wasn’t uncommon for us to be wearing shorts and a t-shirt, but nighttime was a different story. When we were sleeping in tents at both Lobuche and Everest Base Camps, it typically got so cold at night that condensation would build up on the inside of our tent, and literally snow on us if/when we accidentally bumped the tent…that was cold! However, I did learn a very helpful trick while I was there (which apparently is pretty common amongst experienced mountaineers), which was to fill our Nalgene bottles with boiling water at dinner, and sleep with those at night to keep us warm; a secondary benefit was that the water was drinkable in the morning! The altitude was a challenge of its own. We brought a pulse oximeter with us to test our oxygen levels at various elevations, and it was a little nerve-wracking when the numbers were dropping to the high 60′s/low 70′s at EBC. I can’t imagine having to go any higher than that! I thought sleeping at those altitudes was going to be difficult, but surprisingly it wasn’t an issue.

The biggest issue I think the whole team had to deal with was the challenge of trying to stay healthy. There’s only so much we can control with respect to keeping ourselves clean; but we have to eat, and when the food we are served isn’t handled properly, it’s easy (and almost inevitable) to catch the so-called GI bug. It was almost a game…. every time we gathered for a meal there was someone else who had been hit with the bug. People kept dropping like flies, and the number of healthy people who hadn’t been affected was dwindling. It was scary to think that we might be next….and we were! There was no avoiding the unsanitary conditions when WE weren’t even given soap and water to wash our hands after using the “bathrooms”….let alone our kitchen crew!

But all things considered, this really was an amazing trip. Everest Base Camp is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before or will see again. A large tent city set up on top of a rock covered glacier! It was eerie to hear the glacier cracking underneath you at night, but the views surrounding you were breathtaking. And getting to meet the members of the USAF 7 Summits Team and learn their stories as well as the stories of the 3 Wounded Warriors was incredible. It was an experience that I will never forget, and I am so glad that I chose to participate in this trek. I wish the team good luck over the next couple weeks while they continue to train and acclimate in preparation for the big day. After meeting the climbing team and their ginormous Sherpa support team, I have no doubt that this will be a successful trip for them. Good luck guys, and bring back some amazing pics!

- Megan and Heidi

Everest Voice Update

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

A voice check-in by the Everest '13 team. Press the play button to hear how the team of Airmen are doing- it might be an update from the wounded warriors, trekkers, or summit team.

24 Apr: The South Col Route

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013
Camp 1, with the Lhotse face in the distance,  Photo by Phunura Sherpa, IMG.

Camp 1, with the Lhotse face in the distance, Photo by Phunura Sherpa, IMG. (Click to enlarge)

No word from the team today, but weather permitting they should be working their way up to Camp 1. Meanwhile. we’ll give you an overview of their route.

As we mentioned in an earlier post, the USAF 7 Summits Team will be climbing the Southeast Ridge of Mount Everest via the South Col, the route that was pioneered by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. Today’s climbers rely on four camps established on the mountain by advance teams of Sherpas. Camp 1, at about 19,500, sits at the top of the Khumbu Icefall, and is used mostly for early acclimatization. In subsequent forays onto the mountain, climbers often bypass Camp 1 and ascend in one day from EBC to Camp 2 at 21,300’. The area between Camps 1 and 2 is called the Western Cwm (a Welsh word, pronounced “coom”, meaning a bowl-shaped valley). Despite the high elevation, this sheltered bowl can become very hot on sunny days, and climbers may find themselves ascending in just a thin base layer and worrying about sunburn and dehydration instead of frostbite.

Camp 2 sits at the base of the imposing Lhotse Face. A 3,700’ wall of glacial ice with an average pitch of 40 to 50 degrees, the Lhotse Face gives climbers lots of opportunity to practice ascending fixed ropes. On a small ledge near the top of the face, lies Camp 3 at 24,500’. The team’s first visit to Camp 3 will be just to tag the camp before descending, but they will return around 4 May for an overnight stay, at an altitude higher than any of the team has climbed previously.

After the Camp 3 overnight for acclimatization, the climbers will descend to Camp 2 and then to EBC for several days of rest. On or about 11 May, they will begin the final summit push, with overnights at Camps 2, 3, and 4. Camp 4 sits at 26,000’ on the South Col, the saddle between the summit of Mt Everest and neighboring Lhotse, the fourth highest peak in the world. It is unquestionably one of the most remote and desolate locations that humans regularly visit, where tents are frequently buffeted by howling winds, and the thin air and freezing temperatures make sleeping all but impossible. Climbers try to minimize their time at Camp 4, and on summit day will get up at about 10 pm after just a short nap to begin climbing the final 3000’ vertical feet to the summit. The goal for summit day it to reach the summit and return to Camp 4 before dark, which requires climbers to track their progress closely, and adhere to a strict turn-around time if they fall behind schedule. This is one of the most important risk management tools for high-altitude mountaineers, and the history of Everest climbing is filled with the names of people who paid a high price for ignoring this simple rule.

If high winds or poor weather force climbers to remain at Camp 4, it can jeopardize the entire climb, as the human body simply cannot cope with more than a few nights at that altitude. Climbers examine weather forecasts very carefully before moving above Camp 2, to ensure that there is a weather window for a summit attempt.

We will be bringing you more reports in the days ahead as the team moves up the mountain. The schedule is bound to change, but our climbers are masters of flexibility, and understand the need to manage risks constantly. The schedule is built to allow changes, with extra days to wait for storms to clear or winds to die down. We’re counting on prayers and positive karma from all of you to bring clear skies and calm winds in mid-May, to help us fly the Air Force flag at the top of the world!