Grace McDonald is a rock star. She is a 34 lawyer like me from Toronto. She fell in love with mountain climbing a few years ago and decided to try her hand at climbing 8000m peaks. She is funny, strong and unbelievably fast. She is on SummitClimb’s all female two-member Lhotse climbing team. Lhotse (8383m) is the fourth highest mountain on Earth and sits right next to Everest. While it is lower than Everest, it is considered to be technically more difficult. Given its proximity to Everest, Lhotse climbers generally use the same route as Everest climbers, up to Camp 3. This means that, up until now, the SummitClimb Everest Team and Lhotse Team have been acting as one and will continue to do so until we part ways at Camp 3. Grace kindly agreed to guest post on my blog.
I’ve been told I can write about anything I want to – no limits. Tempting . . . . but some things you just don’t want to know (or I’m saving them for my memoirs) So at this moment the whole team (Lhotse and Everest – 9 in total) are sitting in a few different lodges in the lovely metropolis of Lobuche (4900m). It’s nasty, foggy and cold outside but we’re all in good spirits because we’re still on our break from base camp which began 4 days ago for some of us and three days ago for the majority of our team who were too lazy to get off their butts and get the hell out of base camp (ed. note: I was one of the so-called lazy people). It’s amazing, if you don’t get out by 11 am, you run the risk of getting trapped there all day with excuses – oh but lunch is about to be ready, oh but the weather is going to turn, or but it will take too long to get down to Dingboche (4400m). Well, eventually everyone showed up in Dingboche and mucho beer drinking ensued. Let’s just say it’s been a pricey few days, but well worth it. Complete relaxation has been achieved. The Snowlion Lodge and French Bakery in Dingboche (GO THERE!) was an oasis for us with warm beds a lovely host and good company. So, as we sit here on the eve of our return to Everest base camp, thoughts turn to what it is we are returning to.
The Summitclimb base camp at Everest is an interesting place, first of all, although it’s right next to the helipad which could well be considered the centre of base camp, it’s kind of hidden off the beaten path. It takes some real effort to find us and so far no one has put in that effort. We’re not taking it personally. The visual clue is the helipad windsock, hang a left, avoid the glacial lake that recently caved in and suddenly you will come upon “Low Town” containing our massive dining tent and cook tents and a few sleeping tents. Everyone who arrived at base camp first took the low tents, thinking it would be smart to be near the dining tent. Turns out it wasn’t the best call because staff wake up and start making noise nice and early. Ha ha – of the folly of the Low-Town residents! A better decision may have been to move into “Mid Town”, a nice part of camp half way up the hill. It’s become an almost exclusive European area, with high class residents from Finland, Holland and Switzerland. There is one resident from England but his sense of humour more than makes up for his lack of high class European roots. Mid town is a fairly quiet place with a lovely toilet tent but a laissez fair approach to rules and regulations. In my opinion the place could go downhill at any time making property investment risky. Lastly, high in the hills above, directly in the helicopter flight path, live the residents of “High Town”. At one time this was the most highly populated area of the Summitclimb base camp, containing the Camp 3 training climb members, visiting dignitaries from the Everest Glacier School and other visiting friends. Definitely the youngest demographic of all the areas, but it takes young legs to make this climb day in and day out. Since the beginning “High Town” has adopted a co-op approach to governance, with random acts of community improvement. We’ve maintained a strong focus on all things relating to the High Town toilet, which in the opinion of all (including rogue visitors from Mid-Town) is simply the finest toilet tent in the Summit Climb base camp. Just so you get the correct picture of the toilet tent – it’s a stand up tent with a barrel underneath, number 2 goes in the barrel for further removal, number one can’t go into the barrel or the barrel will get too heavy. It takes some creative squat dancing to adhere to the rules of the toilet tent but at least for the residents of High Town we’ve all showed great aptitude for this toilet dancing. Back to High Town improvements . . . roadworks were a regular activity early on, and while solid pathways between tents have been greatly appreciated, I believe our greatest achievement to date is the grand curved staircase down to the High Town toilet. A marvel of engineering and sheer strength. One particularly difficult rock lift earned me a “she-man” badge.
Sadly, we’ve had some warm weather lately in camp and it’s quite possible may of us will have some new pool installations outside our tents when we return. We fear one member’s tent is on the verge of falling down into the glacial lake that recently collapsed. And when I say “fear”, I mean, “we’re all really looking forward to laughing our asses off when that happens”. Our group really does get on well. Anyone who didn’t swear profusely upon arrival now swears more than anyone else. We take all opportunities to play tricks on each other, make fun of each other and encourage bad behaviour – but don’t turn this into more than it is, we do our best to be super serious when climbing, but when we’re not climbing, we try to maintain an 80% silliness factor. Not all teams operate this way and I think sometimes other teams get the wrong impression – as one member of another team noted during our drinking festival in Dingboche “OK, you guys definitely get the award for being the fun team”. The fact is we have some incredibly capable embers as well. One morning coming down from Camp 2 after a decent snowfall, a few of us (with the amazing Jon Kedrowski in at the front) led a whole string of people through the crevasses of the Western Cwm after a whole group of climbers went way off course and found themselves at the edge of a new crevasse. One of the mountain guides behind us caught up and asked who we were. I told him we were Summitclimb members and suspected he would turn up later at our camp to complain about us making him look bad, but after he saw how quickly we moved and resolved the situation I think we actually earned a nod of respect and appreciation from him. Of course about 20 minutes later I caught myself on one of my crampons and face-planted in the snow, watched my water bottle fly down a crevasse and looked up to a full audience of entertained Sherpas – gotta keep it silly :)