After a very relaxed acclimatisation schedule at base camp, with the simple goal of reaching 6000m over 5 days, in your own time, it was time to move up to Advanced Base Camp(ABC).
The trek up to ABC from BC is 22 kilometres and covers different terrain, starting with rocks and boulders and then moving on to the Rombuk glacier. Once fully acclimatised climbers will complete the trek up to advanced base camp in one day, though for the first trek to ABC it is normal to use an intermediary camp to aid acclimatisation. Interim camp remains established throughout the time of the expedition in the event of team members needing to use it as part of an evacuation or simply to rest if struggling with illness or fatigue.
The move from BC to ABC created a lot of excitement around camp. Until now the general consensus seemed to have been that while we were in the Himalayas and were trekking daily, what we were doing was very much preparation for our expedition to Everest rather than the actual expedition itself. Moving to ABC seemed to symbolise the start of the expedition.
The night before we set off we had a briefing in the mess tent. It was decided that team members could set off at their own pace to interim camp, though should aim to be there before dark. The walk up to interim camp normally takes about 3-5 hours depending on how you are going, though normally the first time you do it, it is closer to the latter. The team, having varying degrees of fitness and experience, decided to set off at a range of times varying from right after breakfast at 8 in the morning, up to 2 in the afternoon after a long lunch. Geordie, my tent mate for camps above BC, and I chose the latter and were in fact the last two to leave BC. Having already completed the trek 3 times the previous year we knew what to expect, so felt confident that we could catch up with a fair number of the team who had set off earlier and reach interim camp in good time.
The first part of the walk involves an easy trek along relatively flat terrain with the occasional boulder field to cross. On one side of the worn yak path we walked along there are long dangerous looking scree slopes from a small 6000 metre peak, which are very prone to rock fall. On the other are beautiful frozen lakes scattered in between boulder fields and crevasse, and straight ahead is the north face of Everest. A daunting view which stirs the imagination to envisage what challenges may lie ahead.
After a hour or so of walking, the yak trail takes a sharp turn to the left and around and up the final scree slope, where the trail become ever so slightly more challenging. The trail picks up gradient gradually before you suddenly find yourself clambering up and down small hills covered in boulders, trying to find your way up to interim camp just below the glacier. Unlike the previous hour of walking there isn’t much to see and enjoy, you are walking up a valley covered in boulders with a couple of 6000 metre dirt covered mountains on each side. Consequently your mind starts to wander and you quickly get bored. Having had previous experience of this uninspiring part of the walk, I had downloaded a number of eBooks before leaving the UK in order to combat the boredom, and I now happily turned my iphone on and drifted away into a world of fiction, for the remaining trek.
As we arrived it was starting to get cold, so Geordie and I quickly unpacked our rucksacks and found our kit bags which had been carried up by yaks. Once our beds where set up for the night we went into the considerably smaller interim camp cook tent for some hot tea. The area at interim camp where teams can set up tents, unlike at BC and ABC, is very limited. The tents are therefore pitched very close together in order to maximise space. Unfortunately this makes the camp much less hygienic than the other camps. With everyone living in such close quarters, including the yaks which have carried up our kit bags, it is very important to look after yourself and iodine all your water at interim camp. Although all the water is collected from the river about a 20 minute walk away, down a scree slope, one cannot be certain that yaks have not wandered off and polluted the river further up stream. A lot of climbers get ill at interim camp from poor hygiene.
As the sun started to set we all retreated to our tents. Due to the size of interim camp there is no mess tent so our evening meal, which consisted of dalbat and rice followed by tinned fruit, was brought to us in our tents. As the sun sets their is not much to do, unless you have brought a book or a laptop up with you, thankfully I had been given a wee notebook by my mother before coming out so Geordie and I were able to settle down to a few episodes of entourage, before falling asleep.
Sleeping in a tent has many pro and cons, probably more of the later but undoubtedly one of the most annoying things is that when the sun rises so do you, as your tent starts to slowly turn into a sauna. On the plus side the sun acts as a natural alarm clock and the teams normally tends to wake up at roughly the same time. Unless, as a few members of the team did, you dose yourself up with sleeping tablets and valium in order to try and claw back a few extra hours of sleep. Once you’re up and about and moving it is not too bad, it is getting out of your sleeping bag and changed that is the hard bit, as early in the morning the air can still have a bitter chill to it.
Unfortunately at interim camp, unlike at BC and ABC, a cooked breakfast is not on the menu; instead porridge was the preferred option for a hassle free get away. The walk up to ABC follows the ridge along the Rombuk glacier and curves round the back of Changste before arriving, a couple of hundred metres short of the head wall of the north col. As you progress along the trek amazing pinnacles or stalagmites of ice start to appear slowly getting bigger, till you are finally engulfed by the height of them towering over you, some as high as 4 or 5 stories. After a couple of hours of walking you come off the ridge and move onto the glacier where you are greeted by a sea of ice pinnacles and crevasses. Thankfully for our safety and fitness levels we don’t go straight through them instead we skirt along the side where the going is very much easier and safer. This is not to say the going is totally safe, after heavy snow a previous night, one of the yaks carrying equipment up for another team fell down a cravas.
The walk to ABC from interim camp, especially the first time, is exceptionally tiring despite it only taking 4 to 6 hours. The terrain and the lack of oxygen start to take its toll and for the first time the effects of altitude are really noticeable among fellow climbers, who stumble, exhausted, into camp.
Normally climbers on larger peaks such as Everest take two sleeping bags out with them so that they can leave one sleeping bag at BC, and not have to constantly carry one up and down.