High altitude isn’t an environment that lends itself to races, but there are several going on under our noses. The team spent last night at a windy Camp Two. It will only get windier from midnight on the summit day, so it’s a race to hit the weather window and get back down safely.
Unfortunately most climbing teams also have the same idea, so there’s another race to stop the infamous Second Step becoming a bottleneck (where only one tired climber at a time can heave his way up). You can forget the genteel English habit of queuing patiently. If there’s an incompetent muppet (sorry, climber) above you, there’s a temptation to stand on his or her head and carry on up – crampons and all.
Finally, there’s the classic race against the body deteriorating. Above 8000m, it happens at an alarming rate. It’s why journalists love to call it the “death zone”, where survival is measured in hours rather than days. Even here at a comparatively lowly 6400m in ABC, I had to spend the night on oxygen to combat the increasing fatigue, puffiness, headaches, loss of appetite and constant panting. Not much different to how I am after a night out, some may argue - but this is different. Nobody - organisational bod or climber alike – is acclimatising any more. Each tick of the clock may as well be a starting pistol.
The trudge to gain pole position – a good spot at Camp Three – is going on right now. It’s too high (8300m) for our team to get much sleep there: they should arrive after lunchtime, hydrate and rest, then wait for sundown. Dragging their bulky gear on in the dark, off they’ll go, aiming for a dawn summit. We’ll all be awake here too, listening, watching and waiting for the results.
We’ll provide the commentary later the best we can, as we watch the twinkling of head torches snake up the mountain. Exciting, nerve-wracking, and oh so close…
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