Daily Dispatches

Title: Dick Morse - Lhotse Expedition 2012

24th May, 2012 - Camp IV (26,000 ft.) to Summit (27,677 ft.)

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24th May, 2012 - Camp IV (26,000 ft.) to Summit (27,677 ft.)?

We were all up at 1 AM (Sherpa’s Lakpa and Pasang and I).  It was still windy, but after hot drinks it seemed to be dropping.  We got our down suits on, packed our essentials- spare mitts, a few snacks, hot water etc.  We left our tent at Lhotse Camp IV by 2 AM and slowly moved up the steep snow field above Camp IV.  When I climb at night it seems that everything is steeper and longer.  Fortunately our route had new fixed line set just days before.  At least most of it did.

The route moved up to some rock ledges and then into a steep gully (about 40 to 60 degree slope) that initially had good snow and ice in it.  These sections were quite enjoyable.  While still dark we could see strings of light far down at Camp II moving up to the Lhotse face towards Camp II.  These climbers were aiming for the climbing window through May 26th or 27thy.  When it started to get light our view of Everest was incredible.  It started pink than bright red.

Lakpa leading us up the gully before daylight
Lakpa leading us up the gully before daylight

As we moved further up the gully our snow and ice all but disappeared.  We found ourselves scratching our way up a narrow gully of rock.  It was made worse by the fact that the rock quality was poor.  The gully became a steep bowling alley with rock fall instead of bowling balls coming at us.  At times it was like being in a video game where rocks would be bouncing their way down the steep gully at us and we had to do our best to dodge them.  Numerous times we were all hit by small rocks.  The challenge was to dodge the larger ones that could inflict some real damage.  Both Pasang and I were hit by a larger rock (6 – 10 inch).  I got a bruise on my left shoulder and Pasang had his right sleeve on his down suit tore and a bruise to remember it by.
Near the top of the gully our fixed line ended.  We got out our ice axes and each of us soloed about 200 yards before reaching some old fixed line that at least gave some sense of security.  We were able to salvage some of the old fixed line to use on our way back down to protect this section.

At about 7:30 AM as we neared the summit Lakpa noticed that just below the last rock section leading to the summit appeared to be a climber.  As we got closer it was clear that we had come upon the missing climber from the previous week on Lhotse (from the Czech Republic).  We had to climb next to him and use the fixed line he was still attached to for our ascent to the summit.  He had attempted Lhotse without oxygen or Sherpa support.  It appeared that he was descending because he still had his ATC attached to the fixed line off the summit.

All three of us moved slowly by him and climbed up the Lhotse summit (27,677 ft.) at 8:30 AM.  It was pretty emotional for all three of us.  On my second attempt I finally got to the top of Lhotse.  This was Pasang’s first 8,000 meter peak.  He is now an official climbing Sherpa.  This was Lakpa’s second successful Lhotse climb and he seemed thrilled that we all mad it up safely.  After hugs and handshakes we went about the business of summit pictures on our small perch.  We stood on a steep snow covered summit about 15 feet long.  On the Tibet side it drops off nearly vertically for thousands of feet.  On the Nepal side we had about 10 feet of steep snow than nearly vertical rock for about 50 to 60 feet.  It was still windy, but nothing like the previous days.  The forecast for a good weather window starting on the 24th had been accurate.

Our perch on the Lhotse summit

Our perch on the Lhotse summit

 

Lakpa and Pasang on the summit of Lhotse

Lakpa and Pasang on the summit of Lhotse

 

Looking across at Everest from the summit of Lhotse

Looking across at Everest from the summit of Lhotse

After about 30 minutes on the small summit we started down.  Our repel off the summit was made a bit more difficult because we had to avoid landing on the climber that had died on the end of the summit fixed line.  On our descent down the narrow gully we stayed as close together as possible so that rocks we knocked loose had little time to gain speed before hitting the person below.  This process worked because we had no injuries on our descent.  We were very lucky that there were no other climbers on our route on Lhotse today.  I can’t imagine being on this route under these conditions with additional climbers also on the route.

We got back to our Camp IV at noon.   We were shocked to find about 40 climbers and Sherpa’s had moved up to Lhotse Camp IV for their summit attempt on the 25th.  As I mentioned before – with just three of us on the route Iwas uncomfortable at times with the rock fall.  What will it be like with as many as forty folks on the route at the same time?

After getting back to Camp IV we had some soup and noodles and lots to drink.  Then by 1 PM I headed down while Lakpa and Pasang packed up the tent and gear at Camp IV.  I got back down to Camp III by 3 PM.  While I took a break Lakpa and Pasang caught up.  By 3:30 I headed on down to Camp II.  Lakpa and Pasang again caught up with me just as I arrived at Camp II a little after 6 PM.  We were all pretty tired after being on the go for over 16 hours so we decided to stay at Camp II for the night.  The Camp II cook actually had a beer for me and all three of us had some dinner and additional hot and cold drinks.  By 8 PM we were all off to our sleeping tents.  Tomorrow we would be up early to get back to EBC.  I only have one day left before my scheduled flight home on the 26th.