I just got a call from Trey. They are at 7800m or about 200m short of their day’s goal. Apparently there was very little snow covering the crumbly steep rock between three and camp four so the going was more technical, exhausting and slow than they had hoped. When there is nicely consolidated snow or even hard packed, almost ice, it allows efficient steps to be places because the snow supports the weight of the climber as they step up. When a thin layer of snow covers rock, especially loose rock, it is hard to see where to place your foot and tiresome regaining your balance as your footing crumbles under the weight of your step.
Trey’s voice conveyed exhaustion and insignificant, but evident breathlessness. After a brief pause he delivered the difficult news that they were no longer in a safe situation to attempt the summit tomorrow. The summit push would have begun at 10:00 PM tonight and last through the following day. But the terrain kept their pace slow and they ended up camping at least an hour below the usual camp four. Having arrived at 8:00 PM it would certainly take several hours to dig out tent platforms, grab a few minutes rest and brew enough snow to cook tonight and hydrate for tomorrow’s huge efforts. They had simply run out of time.
The weather was windy all day but it has subsided and they will enjoy a beautiful full moon tonight at 7800m.
‘I am totally wasted…” were Trey’s first words over the time-delayed satellite connection. ‘It took us 12 hours to cover the ground that should have taken us eight,.. and we are still at least an hour from the shoulder. The snow cover was thin and the climbing became technical because all the snow was scoured off by the wind…. We don’t have time to brew up and begin our summit push by 10:00…. So we are not going to the summit….’ Trey has some amazing endurance aptitude and is capable of suffering a great deal. To hear him use superlatives in his description – I knew it was real.
We discussed a few snow issues and recon options they were considering for tomorrow but the meat of the conversation was over when he told me they were not going to attempt the summit. Its hard to explain the mix of feelings accompanied with the decision to retreat. It is the knowledge that every bit your survival is in your hands and the odds are unclear at best – that the ‘never give up’ attitude has little relevance here. Always present is the possibility that the season may afford another summit try and that things will go better then. But noone knows.
How do you rev down the most prominent focus in your life? Doubt lingers differently between the time before the decision is made and after. There is a constant question of whether it was the right call…. Then these entrepid climbers look for the opportunity to do it again at the next weather break. It has been said more than once that climbing big peaks is primarily a mental game. I’d say so.
If there is recon done up to the saddle tomorrow (8000m or camp 4) it may delay their return by as much as a night but most likely they will be back in base camp by the evening of the 27th.
Over and out,