I just got back to Everest Base Camp after spending 5 nights up on the mountain. On April 20, we climbed up through the Khumbu Icefall to Camp I. We departed our base camp at 4 a.m. and arrived at Camp I around 10 a.m. and the snow had already started that day, continuing for the next 2 days. On April 21,we elected to take a rest day at Camp
I and fortify camp in case of more snow, which we had that night. We awoke to about 3 feet of total snow accumulation the morning of April 22 and decided that, instead of moving up to Camp II as planned, we should remain in camp and dig our tents out. Only a few Sherpas came down from Camp II that day on their way to base camp, so we were very content to sit tight and enjoy our winter camping experience.
On April 23, we moved up to Camp II and spent 2 nights acclimatizing. The weather was very nice, light winds and sunny mornings/afternoons. We hiked up a scree slope next to the West Ridge a few hundred feet for acclimatization and had a great view of the Lhotse Face, which now has a lot more snow on it than before the storm. I think the route on the Lhotse face will be great for climbing this season, as well as the Lhotse couloir route to the summit of Lhotse.
Today, 2 of our Sherpas (Fur Kancha & Karma Sarki) arrived at Camp II to join Sherpas from other companies to begin the route fixing of the Lhotse Face. I am hoping that 2 days of fixing work (April 26 & 27) will allow them enough time to complete the route up to Camp III. The weather looks good for the next few days, so hopefully they can complete this work and then continue fixing up to the South Col and complete that work by April 30.
Fixing to the South Col early means that the summit fixing work can commence sooner rather than later and hopefully allow for many teams to attempt their summit bids when periods of calm winds open up in early- to mid-May. This would be great as it would spread out the many climbers over several summit weather windows and allow for less crowded summit days, hopefully avoiding the debacle of last year when only 2 summit window's existed after the route had been fixed.
There are some real concerns with climbers on the mountain that do not seem well organized. Today on our descent we encountered a new team called "Rowaling Expeditions" that had about a dozen members jugging the fixed line very close together, and clogging the route in the Khumbu Icefall. As our team members descended fixed lines and ladders efficiently and quickly spread at least 5 meters apart, we became "stuffed" by this team that was trying to ascend one of the vertical ladder sections in the Icefall. Unfortunately there was no other alternate route around and we were forced to wait until each one of their members ascended the ladder until we could descend. In most parts of the Khumbu Icefall, you can walk around someone that is moving slowly, but in this case it was like the Hillary Step, a one-person-at-a-time section.
There is one massive team that everyone is watching carefully. Seven Summit Treks is a Nepali company that has over 70 members on the Everest permit and over 85 Sherpa to support them. They have no western guides but rather rely on Sherpas to guide their climbers. Their camp is like a city, complete with a full bar & helicopter landing pad (I counted 6 landings today after we got to base camp). They have 5 dining tents for their members/clients and one kitchen tent devoted entirely to supplying their Sherpa staff with tea!
Fortunately since Mingmar Sherpa's death a few weeks ago there have been no other fatalities. However one Adventure Consultant's client fell in the icefall and broke her arm, ending the expedition for her and her husband. There have been other small 'falls' reported in the icefall but fortunately all climbers have been clipped into the fixed lines and have not suffered any serious injuries.
The Icefall route from Base Camp to Camp I is very direct and straightforward compared to recent years. Other than the brief section just above the football field the route seems very safe. This section involves climbing through ice debris and some sketchy towers that lean near the route. Above that the exposure to serac fall (icefall) from the west shoulder seems minimal, whereas last year the exposure seemed much greater (think lot of big blocks of hanging ice...)