If I am not wrong, today is Sunday, Feb16. We’ve been working really hard for the last three days. On Feb14 we set off and fixed again the route through the Khumbu Icefall, in a 9 hour-long, tough but rewarding working day. Back in BC, we only had a few hours of rest before leaving again at 2.15am on Feb15. Pechhumbe, Geljen Lama, Nurbu, Oscar and I departed towards camp 2 in a beautiful, starred night. We managed a brisk pace despite feeling rather sleepy, slightly nervous and definitely overloaded with gear in our backpacks. The waning moon cast a magical light upon the Khumbu valley; I couldn’t stop taking pictures everywhere, feeling privileged to be there. Here is the recount of that day and night:
At passing by Camp 1 we take some more supplies to carry up. Oscar marches full-throttle, smiling and powerful: he’s a very strong guy. However, barely 1 km before reaching Camp 2, his pace changes radically. He stops coordinating, starts feeling bad, in pain… I realize he is surely suffering from AMS, possibly HACE. We must make decisions: you’re always telling yourself to be tough and brave, to go down by your own means no matter how bad you feel. But the fact is, tackling the Icefall in his state could be lethal. I check with Sergio and Diego in BC and share thoughts: I cannot imagine Oscar rappelling down among seracs and crevasses right then. We place our bets on waiting and calling for a chopper rescue on the following morning, trusting Oscar will be strong enough as to endure the night. The other option is getting him in a hazardous terrain, risking an open-air bivouac in the dead of winter. It’s too risky. So, we wait. And we are so worried. I start repeating myself: “please, oh please, let it by just a scare, please, just a bloody scare…”
I am carrying my backpack and his… Then I remember that song called “espadrille’s soles” (about those fleeing Spain through the mountains after the Civil War)… Sure, the situation is totally different, those times were really had and surrendering meant death – and , after all, we’re here because we want to… But it helps anyway, to keep me motivated and struggling to get to the tents. Once finally there, I call Dr. Antonio Cid in Spain, a friend of Oscar’s, who reports detailed instructions for me to treat Oscar. Luckily, at a certain moment his strong body starts reacting. Oscar is a professional firefighter, and that counts! He’s performed great through all the stages of the expedition, giving it all, but these things happen and, when they happen at altitude, they’re always serious. At times, Oscar forgets what’s going on with him, he is confused. I barely sleep, I just watch him and get increasingly worried… It’s psychologically very hard, but somehow we stand it until, at 7.40am, the chopper appears at Camp 2 and, in a blink of an eye, takes Oscar away, like in a Hollywood movie.
I know Oscar will return to life in minutes, as they go down. Shortly afterwards the team reports on the radio that Oscar is safe at hospital in Kathmandu. We start breathing again.
Without giving it a second though, Pechhumbe, Nurbu, Tenzen Lama and I gear up and set off again, upwards. It’s not yet windy, but bitter cold. Up the valley, we get engulfed by Lhotse’s shadow, until we get to the bergschrund. With numb fingers, lack of sleep and dehydrated, we start fixing the route to Camp 3, but stones keep falling on our heads from the barren west face of Lhotse. We resist, try different places, but in the end, we decide we cannot go on under such risky conditions. Above us, at 8,000m, the wind is blowing harder and harder. We return to Camp 2.
We are doing fine here, given the circumstances, so here we will endure. As we did yesterday and as we will do tomorrow, with efficiency and a cold head. Honestly, strategy is essential and we’re pretty good at it., although, in the end, the mountain and not us will have the final Word.
Photo: Diego Martínez @DiegoMartinezPh.