Itâ€™s late at night in Nepal, and the team members are crammed into their tents at Camp 3, breathing O2 at a low flow rate in the hopes they will get one last good nightâ€™s rest before the final push.
The flow of teams on the mountain has worked well so far this year. The many expeditions have communicated well and spaced out their climbers, taking heed of the lessons from previous years when overcrowding caused increased risks for everyone. Our team has been feeling strong and climbing well, making the ascent to Camp 3 in very good time. For that reason, they will want to avoid crowds that might slow them down. When they awake, theyâ€™ll head to Camp 4 on the South Col, crossing a rock outcropping know as the Yellow Band, and then along a rock buttress known as the Geneva Spur. It should take them about 3-5 hours to reach the tents at Camp 4 at 26,300â€™. They should arrive there by midday, and will rest and rehydrate, and eat what they can, although appetites are notoriously suppressed at such elevations. They will try to grab a few winks of sleep (on O2), and hope and pray for calm winds. The South Col is a desolate and windswept place, and just the flapping of tents in the wind can make sleep all but impossible.
The team plans to depart from Camp 4 at about 7pm Nepal time, which will be Sunday morning here in the states. If the GPS tracker works as we hope, we should be able to follow their progress. They will climb up the Triangular Face to the plateau known at the Balcony, at 27,500â€™, where they will swap oxygen bottles. From there they will continue to the South Summit (28,700â€™). From there they will make a traverse of a narrow ridge until they reach perhaps the most famous pitch in all of mountaineering: the Hillary Step. Unlike Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay in 1953 (or American Jim Whittaker ten years later), our climbers will have the benefit of fixed ropes to ascend this near-vertical, 40 foot rock cliff. From the top of the step, it is less than 300 vertical feet to the summit, but at the extreme elevation, it can take the better part of an hour to cover that distance. The effort required for each step at this altitude is a reminder that humans are not equipped to live in this worldâ€¦they may visit it only for a very short stay.
If the team climbs at a good pace, they may reach the summit before the sun rises at about 0445 local time. With a little luck, they may capture some sunrise photos from the summit.
For those who would like to learn more about the route, we highly recommend Alan Arnetteâ€™s excellent website, at:
Read what Alan has to say, and follow along with the GPS tracker, as our Airmen approach the top of the world! Weâ€™ll be making frequent updates tomorrow to keep you abreast of their progress. Go USAF!