Everest / Alpine Expeditions

Everest Update: Scott Parazynski’s High Adventures: An Epic 2nd Rotation

By Keith Cowing
Scott Parazynski
April 28, 2009
Filed under , , , , ,
Everest Update: Scott Parazynski’s High Adventures: An Epic 2nd Rotation
View Camp III to Summit
Scott Parazynski

Days 32-37/April 22-27, 2009 (Wednesday-Monday)
“Home” safe at EBC after epic 2nd rotation

Exhausted but clean-shaven and showered, I can now transcribe my journal notes from my pre-summit bid rotation up to Camp III, 24,500 feet. As I wearily trudged down the final portions of the Khumbu Icefall this morning, I reveled in the thought that the next time I’d pass this way, I’d be on the way to the summit of Mount Everest.

It’s been quite a hard path to follow on very many levels, but very exciting to be on the verge of fulfilling one of my life’s biggest dreams. I’ll probably spend the next several days here in EBC with camp’s newest resident, Keith Cowing, who arrived from Gorak Shep at almost the same instant I dropped down from the icefall. We’ll be doing some NASA field science, preparing for educational outreach events with the Challenger Center and the Boy Scouts of America. I also expect to let my body recover from the adventure you’re about to read, while awaiting a “weather window” in which to go for the summit.


Day 32/April 22, 2009 (Wednesday)
Khumbu 2-Step to Camp II

At home most people would consider me a “morning person” — up at 04:30 or 05:00 to catch a spin class at my gym, lift some weights and still have time for a overpriced caffeine before work. Up here on Everest, an early day starts at 03:30 or even earlier, and you aren’t exactly getting up out of your warm bed: every move you make in your Everest “microcosm” rubs off ice crystals from the roof, and your exhaled breath reminds you that its well below freezing.

Camp II

Porridge with 6 blocks of sugar, 2 cups of coffee straight up and a fried egg on toast: Kaji does his best to load us with the calories our bodies will need for the assault ahead.

My climbing partner today is Rejean, from Quebec, and he thankfully seems to enjoy my very rusty French. Danuru, myself, Rejean and his Sherpa, Dawa, passed before the puja altar, paid our respects to the mountain via burning juniper and throwing rice. By the time we have our gear on at “Crampon Point” and are ready to proceed uphill, it is 04:40.


I thought with such an early start, we’d have no issues with traffic. Qu’est que sais que sais que ça? There were headlamps from crampon point all the way to the lip of the Western Cwm! The first hour or so was stop and go, and I had visions of an 8 hour icefall ascent — over double the time I wanted to spend in this “bowling alley.” My strategy has been to minimize my time here, such that the icefall always rolls “gutter balls.” About an hour into the ascent we arrived at the first ladder, and this gave Danuru and I the opening we’d needed to pass. I had been perhaps 5 to 10 minutes away from making the call to turn around, but miraculously traffic opened up, and we had a very quick climb from there: 3 hours 30 minutes total time to Camp I.


Once at Camp I, I went into the cook tent, revved up for the Sherpa traffic of the day: the elite “Fixing Team” was passing through. Top climbing Sherpas from each of the largest expeditions (IMG, Himex, RMI, etc.) were headed up to Camp II to begin the process of fixing lines to Camp III and Camp IV (South Col). One 28 year old from Himex had summitted 9 times from the North; this would be his first south side summit. In addition to their strength, the Sherpa people strike me as remarkably gracious at all times: even though they had arrived 10 minutes before me, they absolutely refused to take the 1st cup of tea from the pot. I fought a good fight, but eventually realized the best I could hope for was a stalemate, and then all of us would go thirsty…

I was really enjoying the down time in the cook tent, anticipating a mid-afternoon departure for Camp II, after the peak heating of the day had passed. Out of the blue, Danuru comes into the cook tent and says that Dawa and Rejean will be ready to leave in 10 minutes. I thought we were leaving in about 6 hours! It was cool and gusty, so I guess it wasn’t a bad idea to go ahead and get the oftentimes miserable Western Cwm out of the way.


I wasn’t mentally or “nutritionally” prepared for the slog ahead, however. I should’ve stopped and snacked a few times along the packed-snow, inclined route. An hour into the hike I could’ve sworn I was on a hampster’s habitrail: everything was exactly the same, except my pace, which had noticeably dropped off. Just shy of 2 hours I was in “lower Camp II,” upon which I resorted to a Gu shot and a “stop-n-go” method of upward momentum. I briefly considered letting the glacier bring the camp to me, but realized I might miss lunch… Two hours 15 minutes from Camp I to Camp II.

The jet stream still hovered around Everest’s summit, so torrential winds still batter our tent on an infrequent basis. One particular gust last night might’ve taken us airborne, were it not for additional anchoring ropes over the top…

Overall its great to be back here at Camp II. I feel strong: no headaches, etc. We’ll see how quickly they can fix to Camp II; Danuru suggested we might go up and spend the night of 4/24 there, which would be outstanding. I could complete my last rotation in time for the arrival of the NASA trek team on 4/28.

Day 33/April 23, 2009 (Thursday)
Get Ready, Get Set, Don’t Go

Today was a planned rest day at Camp II, full of Sherpa tea, carbs (dahl baht) and watching the fixing team from below. They did a masterful job from what I can tell from my perch, 2000-3000 feet below. They installed both an “up” and a “down” line all the way to Camp III, with plans to head for the South Col (Camp IV) tomorrow. Regrettably, they won’t establish Camp III until the day after tomorrow, but another rest day here won’t be a bad thing either.

The excitement of the day came as my friends Kamen and Petia were moving up separately through the icefall. A huge avalanche came off the west shoulder of Everest, seemingly covering a portion of the upper route. Kamen, who was a bit behind Petia at the time, was unhurt by the avalanche, but owing to weak batteries in his radio was unable to communicate his wellbeing to Petia and base camp. [He could hear their inquiries, but he didn’t have enough juice to transmit back] This was certainly a long 15 minutes for Petia, until a Sherpa could downclimb and see that Kamen was OK. Of note, today was their 21st wedding anniversary!

Day 34/April 24, 2009 (Friday)
Hike to the Bergshrund, Packing for Camp III

New arrivals today: John Golden and Justin Merle arrived in first, followed by Daws. Rejean, Dawa, Danuru and I took a brief (~45 minute) gentle climb up the glacier to see the base of the Lhotse Face. The bergshrund is the separation of the mountain’s ice from the glacier’s ice, in this case a 25-30 foot wedge that has to be circumvented to move higher on the face. The face itself is impressively steep, perhaps 50 degrees on average, and covered with extensive blue ice. I’m anxious to get this next major milestone — climbing to Camp III and spending the night — underway.

Ascent to Camp III

Ascent to Camp III
Day 35/April 25, 2009 (Saturday)
Steep Blue Ice to Camp III

Absence makes the heart grow fonder: the year since my last trip up here has certainly blunted my recollection of how painful and steep the Lhotse face really is. The route follows the same general topology — the underlying rock — as before, but this year involves much more hard, blue ice. As few Sherpas and climbers here have ventured here this early in the season, even the softer snow sections lack boot “steps.” Several sections seem quite a bit more technical this season, in particular the steep bulge just below IMG Camp III: the very highest encampment at 24,500 feet. One dramatic pitch is a 20 foot vertical section with faint crampon marks into blue ice: armed with a pair of technical ice axes in Ouray, it wouldn’t have given any of us issues, but with a simple mountaineering axe at 24,000 feet it was impressively exhausting.

The next rope length was on steep, bulletproof ice, requiring an ascending traverse under limited control with your ascender device. An added bonus was a knot in the middle of the traverse, requiring you to remove and reinstall the ascender under less than ideal conditions: wind gusts added an unnecessary degree of difficulty to this pitch… To make sure we really got a workout in, the next 300 feet or so to camp was on especially steep, brittle ice: the last thing I wanted to do was front-point to my final destination! Total time from Camp II to Camp III was 6 hours; last season this general route took me about 4:30. I suspect the difference is due to the newness of the route (few people have had a chance to kick in steps), the more difficult routing, and the extensive blue ice (instead of hard packed snow).

This was an absolutely exhausting day of climbing, but as I flopped down onto the snow ledge in front of my tent I could see Camps I and II impossibly far down valley, Cho Oyu (the 6th highest mountain in the world), and noted that I was almost eye-to-eye with Nuptse. Moreover, all the famous landmarks I’d read about for years were my neighbors: the Yellow Band, the Geneva Spur, the Balcony and the South Summit of Everest (the true summit is obscured from this vantage point). I found myself once again within striking distance of Everest!

View Camp III

As is IMG custom, our Camp III is the very highest: great on your summit push, but worse than a root canal without novocaine on your acclimatization rotation here. Our site consists of 3 tents at present, with room for growth. We have a 10-15 foot “patio” in front of our tents, but we’ll eventually need some fixed rope “banisters” to clip onto when outside. A trip, slip or fall might mean a long, one-way trip to your final destination. We are the first occupants of Camp III this season: Rejean, Ed, Dawa, Samduk, Danuru and I. Many other Sherpa teams will come to further enhance and provision this camp in the days ahead.

Black tea with sugar and MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) were the fare, and they went down quickly. God knows I’ve had more than my fair share of MREs in my day, but this was perhaps the best Beef Stew ever consumed. There’s not much nightlife up at Camp III, and since it’s pitch black between 7:30 and 8:00, you just brace yourself for a cold and hypoxic evening — hoping it will pass quickly.

It did not.

Day 36/April 26, 2009 (Sunday)
The tent was imploding around us

Our every-other-day forecasts (daily reports begin May 1) suggested the chance of high winds in the vicinity, but our direct observations were of generally clear skies and modest, intermittent gusts. The route to the South Col was being established and multiple teams were outfitting their Camp III’s. It seemed a safe bet yesterday morning to move up to Camp III for a night of acclimatization, as the jet stream had been our neighbor for several days without becoming an “ugly neighbor.”

Well, around midnight we felt the full brunt of it, with tent walls compressing and flapping as if to take flight. The noise was outrageous, like a heavy metal rock concert without rhythm. I was in a relatively safe environment: I had a tenuous shelter, I was wearing my down suit, and could have donned the rest of my gear within minutes. It would’ve been an epic descent, but my teammates and I could’ve slowly worked our way down the fixed lines to the safety of Camp II.

[A few years back, my friend Don and I had a similar experience on a winter attempt on California’s Mount Shasta: as our tent shredded at first light of day, we managed to get geared up and off the mountain very quickly. One word: adrenalin] I somehow managed to get some fitful sleep, with hopes that the wind would die down somewhat with direct sunlight. Dawa popped his head in our tent at 05:35, with directions from our Sirdar, Ang Pasang: break down the tents and descend as soon as possible. Rejean and I were packed, harnessed and cramponed by 06:00. On my way out of camp I noted the hole in the tent fly shared by Ed and Samduk! Ed later described the tent as intermittently pressing down on his face with successive gusts… Definitely time to get out of town!

Danuru and I paired up, obviously, and made quick work of the descent: 2 hours 30 minutes, mostly with arm wrap rappels, along with several figure 8 rappels on the steepest terrain.

Once back in the upper Western Cwm, I was blown around by fierce gusts and visually challenged by minimal contrast in the snow. For a brief spell, I was only able to stabilize myself with my iceaxe, or by sitting down to let the full power of the wind pass.

I am so glad to be back at Camp II, where the sun now shines and the wind has abated. Tomorrow: down to EBC for much needed rest. Rotation #2 nearly complete — almost ready for the summit push!

Day 37/April 27, 2009 (Monday)
Descent to EBC, Keith arrives

Uneventful descent through the icefall this morning to EBC. Keith has arrived in great shape; many electronic gadgets to charge, tours to give. NASA trek team arrives tomorrow, with a planned call up to the International Space Station. Details to follow!

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻