Last Friday, we set out from base camp right after an early breakfast at 06:00 a.m. The objective of the second acclimatization session was to set up Camp 3 and spend at least one night up there.
The slightly lighter backpacks – we had already taken a lot of gear to the top on our previous tour – weren't all that light after all. I was, however, able to pass through the Khumbu Icefall rather quickly, which I appreciated considering the tall, unstable ice structures along the way. I only paid a very short visit to Camp 1 just above the ice fall to pick up some of our equipment. Hannes would take down the tent and bring it to Camp 2 – our Camp 1 would then be entirely dismantled.
The terrain above Camp 1 is much flatter, but the sun was burning down upon us, and the heat turned this section into a very tough one. I reached Camp 2 after roughly five hours. Everything was OK, nothing was missing, and our tent had withstood the weather in our absence. Even our sleeping bags, mats, stove, etc. were still dry and ready for use. I made myself at home and waited for Hannes to arrive. In the afternoon, we were reunited, chilled and started planning our next steps.
On Saturday morning, we waited for the sun before leaving Camp 2 for Camp 3. Many other teams had already left in the dark, but we wanted to climb when it was warmer. The goal for that day was to pitch a tent as high as possible in the Lhotse wall. Despite the load that I carried, I moved quickly, and it didn't even take very long to get through the steep sections of the Lhotse wall, which were well secured with fixed ropes. The lower portion of Camp 3 was very crowded and barely offered room to accommodate another tent. I had planned to go higher anyway, knowing that there was another option about 200 meters higher. I climbed a bit further and quickly found a great spot, a bit hidden and well protected. I was able to claim a small spot under a huge wall of crevasses. Physical work at almost 7,400 meters above sea level is a bit painful, but after an hour, the spot was flattened, and I pitched our tent. Hannes didn't do all that well. The direct approach into Camp 2 the previous day, the heavy backpack and the steep Lhotse wall took their toll. He deposited his gear when he reached the first tents – about 200 meters below my location – and turned around to Camp 2. I joined him after I was done with setting everything up. A nasty afternoon rain shower complicated the trip across the glacier because – in the absence of visible traces and flags – you quickly find yourself in a whiteout. Because the last two days were extremely exhausting, we decided to take Sunday off. A quiet, sunny day in Camp 2 at 6,500 meters!
On Monday, it got serious again. With maximum loads on our backs we started another ascent to Camp 3. There weren't many people, the conditions were great, and we were well rested. I reached our tent after approximately three hours. Our red McKinley tent sits on a huge ice balcony in the middle of the icy landscape of the Lhotse wall. Hannes struggled with the weight and the steep terrain and arrived several hours later. Unfortunately, there were too many clouds to enjoy the views. Total lack of wind at this altitude is absolutely rare. On our satellite phone, we received the latest weather report directly from Tyrol from Karl Gabl: No wind, some rain, no significant change. Everything was good. Depending on the conditions that night, we wanted to decide how long our stay at 7,400 meters would last. Sleeping at high altitude, the last days' efforts and a gathering storm were enough reason to go back to base camp the next morning. For my part, the second acclimatization session was quite satisfying. Our network of campsites along the route is all set up, and we were able to spend a night at Camp 3. But the nights at high altitude, general exhaustion and his lack of appetite wore Hannes out. A few days at the base camp will probably allow him to regain energy and motivation. At this point, we will recuperate for a few days here in the base camp and recharge our bodies with enough energy for the upcoming endeavors.