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Archive for April, 2013

23 Apr: Base Camp Rest Day

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Rob Marshall checked in just a few minutes ago from Base Camp. After yesterday’s venture into the Khumbu Icefall in snowy conditions, he reports a bright and sunny day at EBC, with the Air Force flag flying high over their campsite! The team is taking a rest and recovery day today, attending to chores like doing laundry and sewing their USAF 7 Summits patches onto their down suits.

Tomorrow the team will ascend through the Icefall again to Camp 1 at 19,900, and spend two nights there before moving up to Camp 2 at 21,000’ for two additional nights of acclimatization. (Remember, you can track the team’s movements in near-real time using the GPS tracking application on the USAF 7 Summits website. If you haven’t checked that out, make sure you have the Google Earth plug-in for your browser, and then go explore!)

Snowstorms over the past two days have dumped a lot of new snow on the mountain, and the Guides and Sherpa will be keeping a very close eye on avalanche danger. Rob reports the team have felt the rumble of many avalanches throughout the night, which is actually a good sign. As the mountain’s steep slopes shed snow due to naturally triggered avalanches, the subsequent danger to climbers is reduced. (EBC, for obvious reasons, is established a safe distance from avalanche paths.) As the team moves higher on the mountain, weather, especially storms and high winds will become increasingly important, and that’s where the science of accurate forecasting and the experience level of Everest veterans becomes invaluable.

Conditions permitting, the climbers will ascend to tag Camp 3 at 23,500’ before returning to EBC for a few days rest. This technique of “climb high, sleep low” is part of a carefully thought out acclimatization schedule to reduce the chances of altitude sickness. Keeping everyone healthy through this process is the primary objective, and several team members report they are already shedding the extra weight they put on in preparation for the climb. Everyone’s appetite tends to decrease at altitude, and “fueling the furnace” takes extra effort. Still, most climbers can expect to shed 20 to 30 pounds. No one will be sweating the PT test waist measurement after this trip!

Thanks again to everyone who is cheering on the team!

– Rob S.

Everest Voice Update

Sunday, April 21st, 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.

21 Apr: Everest–A (very) brief climbing history

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

As we wait for word on whether the team has made it’s first of several trips through the Khumbu Icefall to Camp 1 at 19,900’, we’d like to offer a short history lesson on Mt. Everest climbing. 2013 is an auspicious year to be on Everest, as it is the 60th anniversary of the first ascent by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, and the 50th anniversary of the first ascent by an American, Jim Whittaker.

The first detailed reconnaissance of Mt Everest by westerners was carried out in 1921 by a British Expedition. One of the members of that expedition, George Mallory, was asked by a newspaper reporter why it was necessary to climb Everest. His reported reply has become probably the most famous phrase in mountaineering: “because it is there.” Mallory returned to Everest in 1922 and again in 1924 to attempt the summit from the north. On the early afternoon of 8 Jun 1924, Mallory and his climbing partner, Sandy Irvine, were sighted high on Everest’s northeast ridge. Shortly thereafter, they disappeared into clouds and were never seen again. A controversy has raged ever since about whether either man reached the summit, a debate that was reenergized by the discovery of Mallory’s body in 1999. Whether they summited or not may never be known, but one thing is quite certain: the rules of modern mountaineering dictate that reaching a summit is not enough. A climber must also get safely down.

In 1953, Edmund Hillary of New Zealand, and Tenzing Norgay, a Nepali Sherpa, accomplished just that. On 29 May 1953, they reached the highest point on Earth via the South Col route, and returned safely to take their places in the history books. The route established by Hillary and Norgay is the most commonly used route on Everest today, and the one the USAF 7 Summits team will be climbing.

Ten years later, an American expedition came to the Khumbu with the intent of reaching the summit by not one, but two routes: the South Col route pioneered by Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, and the much more difficult West Ridge. (For an excellent account of this expedition, see this month’s Outside Magazine.) Jim Whittaker of Seattle reached the summit via the South Col route on 1 May 1953, together with Nawang Gombu, a nephew of Tenzing Norgay. A few weeks later, the American team attempted an audacious feat: climbers Willi Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein would attempt the unclimbed West Ridge, while two other Americans, Lute Jerstad and Barry Bishop would ascend from high camp on the South Col, with the intent of all four rendezvousing on the summit. Jerstad and Bishop reached the summit first, but after 45 minutes with no sign of Unsoeld and Hornbein, they began their descent.

Unsoeld and Hornbein did each the summit, the first climbers to do so by the treacherous West Ridge. But they did not arrive there until 6:15pm, dangerously late in the day. In fact, their summit attempt was a desperate gamble. With no means of retreat along the West Ridge, they were committed to summiting Everest, and descending via the unfamiliar South Col route. Had they linked up with their teammates as planned, they would have had the benefit of their experience on the route to guide them down. Now, they had only their footprints in the snow.

The four climbers did eventually join up. Jerstad and Bishop had stopped to rest in the darkness, when they heard voices at about 7:30pm. It was another two hours before the climbers found one another. They continued together for several more hours, until the point they were in no condition to complete the descent to the safety of the tents on the South Col. Instead, they chose to bivouac, with no tents or sleeping bags, at an altitude of 28,000’. The chances of survival under such conditions were bleak, but the story has a happy ending. All four climbers made it down safely, although not without a high cost. Bishop lost all ten toes to frostbite.

Climbers today stand on the shoulders of these giants who pioneered the routes to the roof of the world. But today’s climbers have also learned much from the mistakes of their predecessors. Mountaineering poses certain risks, but those risks are managed by careful planning and sound decision-making on the mountain. The USAF 7 Summits team is committed to carrying the Air Force flag to the summit of Everest, but even more so to the goal of bringing the team home safely.

20 April Check In – Happy First Birthday

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

Rob made a special call from EBC today to wish his goddaughter, Eden, a happy first birthday. What a great surprise.

He also reported the team spent today (20 April) resting and recovering at EBC under snowy skies. Their next move is to get up at 3am on the morning of the 21st and navigate the Khumbu Ice Fall for the first time. Rob says about 2″ of snow fell during the day, so they plan to evaluate the conditions when they get up in the middle of the night to determine if they will actually make this shakedown/acclimatization push up to the “Football Field.”

Apparently the best part of the rest day was hot showers for the team. IMG has a barrel high on the hill above camp that is filled with snow and melted for water. A propane water heater warms up the water at the shower and makes for a pretty amazing backcountry amenity. Sure beats the wet wipe or snow baths they normally rely on!

Rob said Kyle is fighting an upper respiratory infection, but is resting up and not feeling too bad.

Thanks for the call today Rob!

-Mark U

20 Apr: Training for the Khumbu Icefall

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

With the team back at EBC and resting from their summit of Lobuche, they are now focused on the first obstacle between them and the top of the world: the infamous Khumbu Icefall. The Khumbu glacier is a constantly moving river of ice that descends from the upper slopes of Mt Everest and Lhotse. Like the white-water rapids in a river, when a glacier descends rapidly over a short distance, it creates an icefall where great chunks of glacial ice known as seracs break off and tumble downhill. Seracs can be huge, often the size of a multi-story building. Safely navigating this maze of ice requires careful route-finding, and involves not only traditional climbing techniques, but also crossing a series of aluminum ladders laid across yawning crevasses.

The glacier moves three to four feet every day, so a new route has to be established through the icefall each year. This task falls to a dedicated group of Sherpa known as “the Ice Doctors”, who set the route and maintain it throughout the climbing season. Each group of climbers practices the tricky art of crossing the ladders while wearing heavy boots and crampons. Unlike a rope bridge, there are no hand lines strung under tension to aid in maintaining balance. Instead, the climbers hold a guide rope in each hand, leaning forward to keep the ropes under tension as they cross. The better everyone masters this skill in the safety of base camp, the safer they will be in moving through the icefall.

The Khumbu Icefall stretches from just above EBC to Camp 1, which is at approximately 20,000’. Traversing the icefall for the first time can take climbers 10 hours or more, so the day starts early. The risk of a serac fall increases throughout the day as the intense sun baking the large bowl of the Western Cwm warms the surrounding ice. In order the mitigate risk, climbers always try to cross the icefall early in the day before temps climb.

As always, we encourage everyone to visit the International Mountain Guides website (http://www.mountainguides.com/everest-south-photos.shtml) to browse their photo gallery, so you can get a better idea of the terrain. We’ll send team photos periodically, but our data connection is limited at the moment. Also, please check out the new “GPS Tracking” link at the top of the webpage. This will take you to a page maintained by the good folks at Thermopylae, who loaned us a GPS tracker and are posting the team’s progress on their website. You can follow the team’s trek up the valley to EBC, and our climb of Lobuche. It’s a pretty fun tool and will really help you to visualize the terrain in the Khumbu region.

Thanks to everyone for all the words of encouragement!

The Khumbu Icefall.  Everest Base Camp is at the bottom center of the photo, where the glacier turns. Photo credit: Eric Simonson, IMG.

The Khumbu Icefall. Everest Base Camp is at the bottom center of the photo, where the glacier turns. Photo credit: Eric Simonson, IMG.

Apr 18: Lobuche Peak Climb!

Friday, April 19th, 2013

USAF 7 Summits Team on summit of Lobuche, 20,161"

USAF 7 Summits Team on summit of Lobuche, 20,161″

What a great day to be alive! It’s 7:45pm on the 18th and most the team is already asleep in their tents. We are at Lobuche Base Camp and recently finished up a meal of curried rice, cauliflower, roast chicken, soup and cake. Yes- somehow the Sherpas baked two cakes in their rugged camp kitchen- one for a climber’s birthday and one to celebrate everyone’s successful climb to the east summit of Lobuche.

We woke up at 2:50am this morning in Lobuche High Camp (maybe ~17,000ft) and ate breakfast (porridge, omelette, fry bread, and mugs of coffee) standing up outside under amazingly bright stars and the Milky Way. It was cold, but spirits were high. We hit the route at 4am by headlamp and slowly worked up the granite, ice and snow. The weather was perfect: no wind, mild temps (~18F at high camp) and a clear sky.

We used crampons, ice axe, and many fixed ropes to work towards the summit ridge. It was a pretty steep ice/snow face for the last 500ft, but it proved to be great training for what we’ll have to face on our way up Everest. The sun hit us hard and many climbers were reminded of the critical need to stay covered from the intense UV rays and to also stay hydrated.

From the east summit, we had an amazing view of Mt. Everest, Nuptse, the Khumbu Glacier, Pumori, Everest Base Camp and dozens of breathtaking peaks in all directions. A panoramic photo is attached (hopefully!). The six USAF Everest climbers were real strong and all were real excited at the outcome of the climb. Maj Malcolm Schongalla and Dr Edie Marshall both made the summit as well, which was the primary goal of their participation in this USAF 7 Summits trip. They joined us and one of the IMG guides (LtCol Jenni Fogel of the AF Reserves) for a great team photo that should be posted now or very soon! We also did push-ups to celebrate this high-point and to honor our fallen AF friends. The team did additional push-ups to honor those killed or injured in Boston- an incident we’ve only heard very little about. Malcolm and Edie’s journey with us has come to a great conclusion and they will begin their trek back to Lukla and Kathmandu tomorrow. It was great to have them with us and we wish them a safe and enjoyable return home.

Tomorrow, the morning of the 19th, we will hike the ~8
miles back to Everest Base Camp (going through the small village of Gorak Shep, where we will hopefully be able to send this update and some photos). Many folks are tired from today’s climb, but we have a schedule to stick to! After a day of rest at EBC, we will then make our first foray into the infamous Khumbu Icefall. You can bet we will do our best to get you photos and details on that!

The team is looking real good and we are excited to begin our incremental push onto Everest now that our Lobuche training climb is complete. We have dialed in our climbing gear and refreshed our steep snow/ice climbing skills. Some are starting to pick up the dreaded Khumbu Cough, but we have the meds and knowledge to deal with it. Our preparations, in terms of physical fitness, technical knowledge, and proper gear are all paying off. Now we just need to stay healthy and focus on slowly adjusting our bodies, and minds, to the extreme altitude between us and the top of the world.

Word has spread about a team of US Air Force members climbing Everest. Our American and Air Force flags have been proudly flying where we climb and camp, and our blue team jackets with American flags on the shoulder and USAF 7 Summits Challenge patches on the chest are widely recognized around the area. We are proud to be here and excited for this next step on our way towards putting the USAF and America in the record books!

18 Apr: Lobuche summit bid

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

By the time you read this, our USAF 7 Summits climbers should have returned from 20,161’ Lobuche peak. They moved to high camp yesterday, and expected to summit on Apr 18. We hope to hear word back from them (and hopefully get some summit photos) as they make their way back to Everest Base Camp (EBC) tomorrow, since they will pass through the village of Gorak Shep, which has Wifi.

Most of the team has climbed at this elevation before, but it’s still important to use caution and make sure their conditioning has prepared them for this trip. This shakedown climb is also a chance to check out some of the gear they will be using in the weeks ahead on Everest. Observing each other closely on this climb is an important control measure for risk management: if anyone has weak areas that need to be addressed with additional training, there will be time to tackle that next week at EBC. It’s important for everyone to be feeling strong and confident before the team begins it’s first crossing of the Khumbu Icefall to Camp 1 on Mt Everest, which will happen on Apr 21/22 if the weather cooperates.

We encourage everyone to visit the International Mountain Guides (IMG) website at: http://www.mountainguides.com/everest-south13.shtml. They have some great photos there that will give everyone an idea of what lies ahead for our team. You can track the location of the team through the link at: www.t-sciences.com.
And as always, please share this story with friends and ask them to spread the word about the USAF 7 Summits Team!

– Rob S.

Photos on FB

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

We dumped some great photos onto our Facebook page. Check em out. Still crippled w data comms, but working a solution.

Follow our exact location and trail at www.t-sciences.com.

Off to climb Lobuche now. Should be on the summit ridge the morning of the 18th.

15 Apr: Puja- Spiritual Event for Good Luck

Monday, April 15th, 2013

We are trekking down from Everest Base Camp to Lobuche Base Camp. Passing through Gorak Shep, they have wifi. Stopping just long enough for photos. Mote coming from SSgt Gibson.

Ladder Training at EBC

Monday, April 15th, 2013

We are trekking down from Everest Base Camp to Lobuche Base Camp. Passing through Gorak Shep, they have wifi. Stopping just long enough for photos. Mote coming from SSgt Gibson.