Today we climbed to camp 1; the top of the north col. Depending on the experience and fitness of the climber this took between 5 and 7 hours. Climbing to camp 1 from ABC involved the use of fixed lines. Up to ABC the terrain is not serious enough to warrant the added protection which fixed lines offer.
For the past two days it has been snowing heavily and we were uncertain last night whether we would be able to climb today. Thankfully the snow stopped thereby allowing us to move up and assess the conditions as we went. Our climbing Sherpas were worried there may be a risk of avalanches and had it snowed last night we would have had to stay at ABC for another couple of days. Last year there was an avalanche on the north col which killed 2 climbers and buried a third, consequently people were understandably nervous about the risk of avalanches. Last year’s avalanche was caused both by part of a serac breaking of and the results of an excessive snow fall. However our very experienced guides were confident that the risk of an avalanche solely due to heavy snow fall was small enough for us to climb.
Setting foot once more on the path to the base of the north col really brought back some amazing memories from last year’s expedition. Standing at the foot of the daunting ice wall makes one appreciate the mountains and how beautiful they can be. If you allow your eyes to follow the snow slope up from the top of the col and back along the North East Ridge, you can get an amazing view of the summit of Everest. Unfortunately, today, the visibility was nonexistent, and we were lucky if we could see our team mates a couple of metres in front. Standing at the bottom of the col and tying into the fixed ropes was a great feeling, I was back on Everest.
About a quarter of the way up the north col it started snowing heavily again, and there was a genuine concern that we would have to turn back and attempt to reach camp 1 another day. Thankfully our two guides Zack and Chris were very experienced climbers and took the decision to continue climbing in the hope that the snow would ease off or, better still, stop. Returning to ABC would mean another couple of days rest before attempting the climb again. This would have put us behind schedule. The decision taken by Zack and Chris thankfully turned out to be the correct one and half an hour later rays of sunlight started to break through the snow clouds before completely clearing leaving a beautiful blue sky.
What struck me the most while climbing the north col for the first time this year in comparison to last year was just how much the north col had changed. The force of the glacier moving had resulted in many new crevasses forming, while others had closed up. It was really amazing to see the difference. Last year we had three ladders to cross when climbing up the north col. This year we had only one, just before the top. Amazingly, a natural snow bridge had formed across one of the crevasses which had required a ladder last year, and more importantly was strong enough to support our weight.
In the end five of us made it to the top of the north col along with both of our guides. Those who didn’t were not far behind and reached sufficient height to be able to turn around without having to climb the col again before sleeping at camp 1 and climbing to 7500m. This will be our next stage of acclimatisation.