Project 314 Blog #11 – Preparing for the summit push

May 17, 2023

Jake Meyer

Client Accounts' Director
Photo of Jake sitting down clearing snow from the crampons on his boots

Monday 8th May – Saturday 13th May – Days 30 – 35 (Basecamp 5500m)

Basecamp Lassitude.

I’m purposely lumping these six days into one update. Whilst initially we hadn’t planned to be in basecamp for 6 days straight – a mixture of changes in weather, and the fixing team not having made quite as much progress as hoped, the dates for the summit push have been pushed back. When we’d got back down to basecamp from our second rotation on Sunday (7th May), it was looking like there would be a good weather window from Thursday-Saturday, meaning that we’d head back up the mountain on Wednesday (10th).

It wasn’t until Monday evening that Nuri informed us of the changes to the plan, and whilst there was a bit of grumbling that we’d now be waiting an extra 3 or 4 days, ultimately no one wants to play Russian roulette with the weather, and similarly, there would be no point of pushing back up the mountain to find that the ropes stopped just outside C3… that would be too much of a challenge for our team to fix the remainder of the mountain whilst on our own summit push.

So, with acceptance that we wouldn’t be moving until Sunday 14th, we settled into the gentle routine of basecamp life. In some ways it’s probably a bit like being in prison (although possibly with better views, but less perks). You can spend around 18-20 hours a day in your tent – a small box measuring 7ft by 5ft, and around 4ft high. If the weather is bad, you probably only come out of your tent for meals (0800, 1300 and 1900).

If the weather is nice, then there is more of an opportunity to soak up the rays, either basking on a rock like some mountain lizard, or going for a short walk. You can go and visit the other inmates from the different wings (sorry – other teams), share a brew and see if they have any snacks which are different from your own. In fact, perhaps it’s less like being in prison and more like being in an old people’s home – in that when you’re with others, you tend to spend half the time sitting in silence staring into your mug of tea, or the rest of the time having the same conversations that you had the previous day. Lots of small talk and pleasantries – “how are you?”, “sleep well?”, “doing anything interesting today…?”.

The most significant highlight tends to be having a shower – carefully planned and co-ordinated. This morning at breakfast I asked Manse the kitchen boy if I could have a shower, and he said “yes – 11 o’clock”. Brilliant – that’s my morning planned then – preparing, getting dirty clothes together to wash and counting down the minutes till 11. And of course, at 11 on the dot there was a bucket of steaming water ready for me to take to the shower tent. Absolute bliss.

Regarding the showers, there are two schools of thought: Mid-morning showers – feel like you’re starting the day a bit fresher, and more likelihood that your washed clothes will have a chance to dry by the afternoon. The flipside, is that by the time you’re nice and clean at 1130, you’ve then got about 4 hours of sitting in your tent inevitably getting hot and sweaty again. Second option, mid-afternoon showers. You’ve sweated your way through the heat of the day, so at least once you’re clean, you’ll stay that way – but it gets a little chillier, and your clothes won’t dry that day – leading to having the inside of your tent festooned with board-stiff frozen t-shirts, underwear and socks. On average, it’s probably a shower every 3-4 days, so you learn to appreciate the experience, regardless of which option you choose.

Other excitements to report from the last week. I spent around 6 hours painstakingly making Velcro patches for my expedition badges on my down suit. Initially I’d sewed ‘Kanchenjunga’ badges onto the suit (which is always easier said than done when trying to sew onto any item of down-filled clothing). However, I realised that naturally, after Kanch, I’d need to then change these for Everest badges, and then potentially change them once again for Lhotse badges. This would be tedious and inconvenient, and so, given that I had plenty of time to do something as equally tedious and inconvenient, I decided to retro-fit the 3 sets of badges with Velcro, so that they could be easily changed when required.

When I’d had the badges made up, I’d specifically asked for them not to be given a Velcro backing, so this this process was going to take some time. Fortunately, Bremont had given me some extra-large logo patches with Velcro backing and attachment plates, so I carefully unstitched the hook and loop plates from those badges, and then cut 10cm circles which I could then sew onto the down suit and the corresponding three sets of mountain patches. Disaster struck when I snapped my only needle on the 3rd patch – however luckily, after some asking around, one of the cooks had a spare needle. Slightly inconveniently, it was the biggest needle I’ve ever seen (probably more suited to industrial leatherwork), but at least I shouldn’t be snapping this new one. It did mean that I had to use a pair of pliers to help me push/pull the girthy needle through the double width of the patches and Velcro plates, but I had nothing if not time… so onwards with my housework.

In the evening we tend to meet about half an hour before supper, for a pre-dinner drink. Whilst of course we do have access to a broad selection of teas to quench our thirst, between us, we also have a half decent booze selection – mainly whiskey! It’s also an opportunity to share specific food from our respective countries (or at least brought from home). Semba provided some delicious pork jerky from Japan; Ali, a very good bag of nuts and seeds from Iran and I’ve been providing the classic British snacks of Biltong and Dröewors…

It would be easy over such a long time of limited activity to soon lose focus and motivation. I’ve seen it on many expeditions where people who are used to achieving something every day despair at the sense of groundhog day that can prevail when stuck in basecamp for more than a couple of days. This malaise can manifest itself in numerous ways – people retreating to fester in their tents all day; tempers fraying; or even periods of hyperactivity leading to risky decision making.

It reminds me of the quote (please excuse the paraphrasing):”Lord, give me the strength to change the things that I cannot accept, and the patience to accept the things that I cannot change”. Patience is absolutely the name of the game in high-altitude mountaineering. The running joke here is “…but we’re mountaineers… we don’t actually do any climbing!”.

A colleague of mine, Craig, spent a lot of time training in the jungle when he was in the Army – and his mantra was “Don’t fight the jungle – because the jungle will always win. The key is to make the jungle work better for you than anyone else”. It’s the same with the mountain. You can’t impose your will on the mountain – especially the snow and weather conditions – because, guess what? In a one-on-one battle of wills, the mountain comes out on top every time. And when a mountain bites, it bites hard. The key is making sure that you are fit, healthy and prepared for when the mountain does give you a rare chance to make a push.

As I sit here in my tent on the eve of our departure up the mountain, I’m filled with a familiar myriad of feelings. Excitement, apprehension and a little bit of nervousness (borne out of respect for what we’re doing). The current plan is to push direct to C2 on Sunday, C3 on Monday, up to C4 on Tuesday, and then most likely leave on Tuesday evening (anything from 6pm-10pm) to try and reach the summit on Wednesday (17th May) morning. [NB: this has subsequently changed to Monday (15th) departure with a target of Thursday (18th) summit]

The weather window is looking okay for a summit push on Wednesday or Thursday – which at least gives us 24 hours leeway if we need it.

Whilst I remain committed and hopefully for a successful (safe) summit and return, of course, no one really know what fate holds for us over the next 4/5 days. Even with the planets aligning and the weather being on our side, there are so many variables which can change on a dime and make or break our plans.

The analogy that I use is that of ‘Schrodinger’s Lottery Ticket’. I nearly always have in my wallet a Lotto/Euromillions lucky dip ticket. They normally sit there for weeks after the draw. As long as that ticket is in my wallet, and I don’t know my numbers or the drawn numbers, then I potentially have both a winning and losing ticket in my pocket. Naturally, I don’t buy a lottery ticket in the hope that I may match 2 numbers and get a free spin – I buy the ticket because I want the multi-million jackpot. However I also fully accept that my chances are small, and that the vast majority of the time, when I do check my numbers, I haven’t won the jackpot.

It’s very much like climbing. I come to these mountains because I want to get to the top (and return safely) – that is my jackpot. Up until the point of departing on the summit push, I have the chance of both a successful and unsuccessful expedition… Only as we start up the mountain for the final time do I start checking those metaphorical lottery numbers. Each step taken, each camp reached, each continued clear day is another number matched… all hopefully leading up to getting the full suite and getting to the summit.

However, I also recognise that at any point, something can change and you have to retreat, without the summit. Every single step that I take up the mountain away from basecamp is an entirely legitimate albeit arbitrary turn-around point. If something changes, then we may have to make a decision (of varying ease or difficulty) to continue or turn back. I talk about the summit being the jackpot – but whilst the summit might be the target of the expedition (and the ultimate turn-around point), the sole unequivocal goal of the trip is to come back home safely. Every decision that I must make over the next five days must balance the pursuit of the task (the summit) with the delivery of the main effort (safe return). If the quest for the first starts to put the latter in jeopardy, then that becomes a clear sign to re-evaluate my decision-making.

These are the rules of the game that we play. We accept the unknown odds, because it is the sense of trial and the unknown which is what makes it such a worthwhile challenge. If it was easy and guaranteed, then there would be no sense of achievement, and anyone could do it. Ultimately, the definition of an adventure is a journey with an uncertain destination. There will be two unchecked lottery tickets in my rucksack going up the mountain. I do someone appreciate that my chances of getting to the summit is slightly higher than my chances of winning a jackpot – but that is part of the excitement of what we are doing.

Anyway – the dinner bell is ringing… let’s go an have a wee dram of the good stuff.

“Tonight we drink, ‘cause tomorrow we climb…”

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IDG UK
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IDG India
301, Tower 2, Montreal Business Center Baner Road Pune 411045 India
+91 955 271 5800

IDG Middle East
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+44 (0) 1276 686644