Scarpa North America Blog

Everest in Alpine Style: Gearing Up for the Ascent

Apr. 22nd 2015

This is the second report from SCARPA Athlete Raphael Slawinski, as he attempted to climb a new route on the North side of Mt. Everest.

Everest basecamp, April 16. I looked up from my laptop, distracted by a sound outside the yellow mess tent. It wasn’t the Buddhist chant that’d been playing all morning in the kitchen tent next door. No, it sounded like a four-wheel drive truck bumping over the cobbles. What, here in Everest basecamp at 5100 metres? Well, yes. The days of trekking into Chinese Base Camp (CBC) are gone. They’ve been made obsolete by a dirt track winding its way up the Rongbuk valley on the north side of Everest, all the way to where it’s blocked by moraines.

Basecamp on the North side of Everest.

Basecamp on the North side of Everest.

We arrived here yesterday: a windswept floodplain squeezed between 6000-metre peaks. A small but growing city of brightly coloured dome tents was scattered over the plain. In spite of being in the depths of Tibet, the place felt strangely like home. It was the surrounding mountains: rubble piles of yellow and black limestone, they looked as if they’d been transplanted from the Canadian Rockies. What didn’t look like the Rockies was the mountain rising at the head of the valley. I knew it towered nearly four kilometres above basecamp, but this fact didn’t help me grasp its outrageous size. More than anything, it was seeing the 7500-metre-plus Changtse dwarfed by Everest behind that gave some sense of scale.

View of Everest. Photo credit:

View of Everest. Photo credit: Daniel Bartsch

I felt elated but also intimidated. Fortunately it’d be at least a month before we contemplated climbing to the top. Feeling lightheaded after getting up too quickly after dinner was all it took to remind us that we weren’t even acclimatized to 5000 metres, much less 8000. Daniel, David and I’d been here before. We knew it’d take patient, dedicated effort to adapt to the thin air. This was why today we tried to do as little as possible: our bodies, which only six days ago had been sipping espressos in Kathmandu’s touristy Thamel district, had enough to deal with as it was. Breathlessly slogging up the loose scree behind basecamp could wait until tomorrow.

HikingAboveBasecamp

Hiking above basecamp

And what about the day after tomorrow, and the day after that? After a day hike or two above basecamp, we’d pack for a couple of days and head up toward one of the nearby snow-covered peaks, which our map showed to rise to 6500 metres and higher. I looked forward to venturing off the well-trodden Everest expedition path. Once we’d descended and rested in what by then would seem luxurious surroundings of CBC, we’d pack up and head up the East Rongbuk Glacier. A 20-kilometre hike would take us to the much less friendly surroundings of Advanced Basecamp (ABC). And rising above ABC was the northeast face, our ambition for this trip. We’d already seen the top of it above intervening ridges, and excitedly identified ribs and couloirs that until then we’d only seen in photographs. From ABC, for the first time, we’d see the whole face with our own eyes. Our plan, so long in the realm of dreams, would take a giant step toward becoming reality.

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