We have already achieved a great deal, a few things are still missing, and we also had to experience tragic moments - but only on the fringe. But let’s start from the beginning.
On Friday, we left base camp up a bit later than usual at 6 o'clock. On the first few meters, we really doubted that we could carry the 20-kilo backpacks anywhere at all. Hiking at over 5,000 meters is already tough without additional weight, and with the backpack it's even tougher. The path took us through the probably highest, but certainly largest alpine campsite towards the Khumbu icefall. Many spectacular images raced through our heads. How will the route through this labyrinth of crevasses be like? Will we succeed?
The Khumbu Doctors, the men maintaining the ladders and fixed ropes every single day, have done a really great job. They laid a path through countless crevasses, high-rising ice formations, deep abysses and a labyrinth of ice. The impressions are hard to put into words, but you can always feel one thing during this ascent: How small and tiny we are here amidst these natural forces. I felt really good on Friday, and despite the heavy backpack, it took me only about three hours to get from base camp to high camp 1. I am in shape! Despite the beautiful scenery, I am glad that I made it safely through this dangerous section. At the upper end of the icefall, but still surrounded by huge crevasses, I pitched our first high-altitude tent. Again, I found a spot somewhat away from the general hustle and bustle. Hannes arrived only a few hours later and was obviously happy that everything was already set up. We spent Friday afternoon cooking water and food, chilling, and getting some rest after the many strenuous hours up to this point.
On Saturday, we left Camp 1. We also left our tent behind, because I had a second one for camp 2 in my backpack. In the beginning, the stamped-out trail winds back and forth between the gigantic crevasses before it starts to slightly ascend through the Western CWM towards camp 2. The ice and rock walls beside the trail are very impressive. Despite the 20kg on our backs, the climb went very well. I reached the first tents after only 90 minutes. I was impressed by the size of Camp 2 at 6,500 meters: Tent after tent lined up along the glacier moraine - one could almost mistake it for the base camp. I hiked past all the tents until I found a suitable spot for us at the far upper end. I pitched the tent at 6,500 meters above sea level, directly at the foot of the gigantic west face of Everest and in visual distance to the route to camp 3, which will be in the middle of the Lhotse face. Once again, Hannes arrived a bit later.
Our afternoon program was very similar to yesterday's, the only difference being the view and the higher altitude. Sunday was a rest day, and we hardly moved an inch away from our camp site. A slight headache and short breathing quickly reminded us of the altitude and urged us to rest for once and allow our bodies to adapt.
Unfortunately, a very tragic accident happened not far from us on Sunday. At first, we did not even notice it – except for a helicopter landing near Camp 2. Ueli Steck had a fatal accident in the Nuptse East Face. We cannot understand or explain the exact circumstances, the ‘why’ and ‘how’. What remains is great emptiness. Finding words is hard. We did not notice the accident itself and only learned about it when we received a text message on our LiveTracker. And even at that point, we did not realize how close we were to the incident. Despite the tragedy, we left Camp 2 this morning to proceed to Camp 3. What were our choices? Nothing could have changed what had happened.
We would have liked to reach Camp 3 in the middle of the Lhotse Face at 7,000-plus meters. During the night, we had already noticed a high-altitude storm moving in like an express train, surrounding the peaks of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse. But except for the noise, we could not feel anything in Camp 2. Shortly before the sun hit our trail, we left Camp 2 after breakfast. The higher we climbed, the colder and stormier it got. Soon we ran into the mountaineers and groups that had left hours earlier. All of them had turned around and warned us. Because of the storm and a weather front approaching us from the west, I decided to return to Camp 2 when I was not far from the ravine at the base of the Lhotse face at roughly 6,700 meters. Hannes, a few hundred meters behind me, simultaneously decided to do the same. Camp 3 was not an option today. On my way back, I caught up with Hannes, and we decided not to stay another day and/or night and return to the base camp. We quickly storm-proofed Camp 2, stowed away the equipment to be left behind and got ready to leave. Many others had the same plan, and so it was quite crowded on the way through the Khumbu Icefall. Rush hour! We snuck through somehow and reach base camp just in time for lunch. Now we enjoy the base camp comforts such as tables and chairs, a hot shower and being served food and beverages. With the inclement weather also came snow. But we don't really mind down here. We haven't discussed our plans for the upcoming days yet, but we will certainly rest for a bit before we set out again for our next acclimatization trip back to the high-altitude camps.
We are left now with our thoughts; we reflect; we are sad because of the tragedy and Ueli Steck's death. We would like to send Ueli's relatives the infinite power of the mountains at this difficult time. It may serve as a tiny bit of consolation that he lost his life following his passion…