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Alex Txikon on Everest | Report IV

Author: Feb 15, 2017. Alex Txikon

Gossiping at almost 8000 meters

They gave us  a good forecast for the 14th, so we went for it.

We left on the 10th, not too early, Norbu, Chhepal and me. No major problems with solving the icefall. We reached camp 2 (6350m) in about 8 hours. Chhepal arrived somewhat later, around 19.00. We were inside our bags at -32 degrees below zero, the night was very cold.

Soon it was dawn but the others were still snoring. I was tired of being in a sleeping bag for 14 hours. I woke them up and we prepared something to eat: rice. Thanks to Endika and Beñat, they brought us a lot of things from Basque Country, and among so many, a couple of chop ribbons from Tolosa (thanks to Tedi !!!!).

Day 11 was our day of rest in camp 2 and we assembled it well. At 16.00 hours Nuri, Furba and Pemba arrived. We talked for a while… and then retired to the sleeping bag; it was even colder than the day before.

Day 12; Day of work: Norbu, Chhepal and me, team A, left for camp 3. Team B would jump up to camp 4 on the 13th. We left 2C at about 11 in the morning and in 5 hours we arrived at 3C. The rays of the sun warmed us well into the evening. Later we got into the sleeping bags, and we talked with camp 2 and BC.

The weather was confirmed. The plan was to start day 13 at 3 o’clock in the morning. It was midnight and I was anxious to get out. Suddenly our tent moved. The serack creaked with great force and my heart rate tripled. In three seconds Nurbu and I were out of our sleeping bags, with headtorches on, looking at our faces of fear, thinking we were sliding down the slope. I half got out of the tent, but then we both looked at Chhepal who had not heard of anything and we start laughing, I had been silly and too fast, like a little bird outside the tent. We put ourselves back into our sleeping bags.

I looked at the clock and at 1.30 we were melting snow. The night was very fierce. It was very cold and the wind hit us very very hard.

We wanted to leave at 3.00 but ended up leaving at 6.00. Team B had finally got out at 2:00am from camp 2, and we were practically caught out at camp 3. The wind didn't subside; I carried all the clothes I had and still I was frozen!

Chhepal and Norbu followed me, and my mind only thought of counting steps, imagining the height we were at. The idea around my head was where I caress those longed and desired rays of the sun. It wouldn't happen until 11.00am, but where would we be?

I had measured at what time the sun begins to stick in different areas and that served to cheer me up. How long it took me. It wasn’t until we were at about 7,550m, crossing the yellow bands, when the sun began to shine with great timidity. I hadn’t felt my feet for two long hours, neither I nor the rest of the team.

Things got complicated at about 7650m, Chhepal came and told me to go down. The wind hit us more intensely,  but we got together and I told everyone to trust me; the weather would change, and the wind would subside. It was currently hitting us from the west, and was planned north, northeast.

We couldn't cope with the cold and after talking through  the plan I told them to please use the bottles of oxygen that they carried. Usually they use 3 in a summit attack, but each of them carried just two bottles. Pay attention to me and connect the regulators.

The wind blew more steadily and with much greater force. We were at 7800m across the spur of Geneva. They didn't see it clearly and I put myself in the lead. I didn't know if I could keep a good rhythm for them since I didn't use artificial oxygen, but I think the intense cold didn't stop me. The wind sometimes caused us to fall to the ground. The situation was overly difficult and compromised.

I spoke and tried to encourage the party, it was very mentally demanding. For a moment I thought of talking with Aitor on the walkie, since the forecast was not being fulfilled. But  to stop and use the walkie is to lose fingers, we were at 45 below zero and with 60 km per hour of wind! I don’t know how I stood! The Nanga Parbat was much easier compared to these moments!

Chhepal approached again and told me to go descend. I told them again that we will not do anything stupid, and reassured them that the wind would stop. I told them: follow me.

The fixed rope was broken. I picked up a stake and started to re-equip the climb I left at camp 4. We saw the camp already but the wind was unbearable, we couldn't take more than two steps without throwing ourselves to the ground. I put another 100 meters more for our safety since the previous time we took old intermittent cords.

We got to camp 4. Norbu, Nuri and Pemba followed me. We couldn't stand. I took out the first tent and even with four of us it is impossible to assemble. We waited for Furba and Chhepal. Meanwhile one of the poles has been broken. On the southern hill at 7.950m, there are at least 50 tents. It’s such a bleak place!! And there I went fishing, to try to catch a pole, and it happened that the tent to which I went is a deceased person! Fuck!! In the conditions we were in many things go through your head and one of them is that you can end up the same.

We tried among the six to set up the second tent but it was impossible. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before; being unable to build a tent among six!

We threw some stones on and I went fishing again. As we had arrived, we had seen epigas cartridges and none of us had sleeping bags, so extra gas! It would make us spend, less badly, the hours prior to the summit attack.

I approached the tent I had noticed and I couldn't believe it. Another deceased person!!!. I don’t know their identities. A huge hug to family and friends!

I left the cartridges and made a second attempt to mount the tent. We could hardly move, and we gave it up as impossible. I quickly talked to everyone, deposited all the material and started down.

I told Nurbu that I couldn't feel anything, and to please accompany me on the descent and… the rest will catch us. They were all plugged in. It was 5:30 p.m. Either we moved, or our lives moved to another stage.

I asked for a walkie and after a moment of total confusion I got one. I spoke at last with the Base Camp where I confirmed that the plan had changed and that we must get out of there.

Finally I didn’t pull it off. I felt responsible for my team, at all times. I had pressed to get up here and everyone had risked their lives. It was difficult to calculate but the wind was constant and its intensity was surely in excess of 80km per hour at least!

I don’t know how we have been able to overcome all these moments. We started to rappel and we all got to one. I noticed that we lost height, but I couldn’t feel my nose, hands, not to mention my feet!

I had calculated that I would get to camp 4 and there I would warm them. The extra drop to camp 3 would be costly! We passed the yellow bands and there were 8 rappels to camp 3. We arrived at night and I couldn't even cry from the pain I had!

We decided to spend the night in camp 3. I offered my bag and mat in case anyone wanted to sleep. Finally we got everything inside the store: crampons …. Nurbu, Chhepal and me.

We melted some snow, just two sips each and we put everything inside the sleeping bag. Second night without sleep: I couldn't stand the pain and the cold. Chills accompanied me all night and the pain in my feet hadn't let me rest for a minute.

At 7.00am Nurbu woke up and suggested that we go down. It had been a long, hard night! I become focused and I knew there was one more step to go.

My worst suffering had been putting on my boots. In 10 minutes I was prepared and I left first, followed by Chhepal and Norbu. What he didn’t know was what was about to happen.

Four rappels and I looked up. I saw Chhepal enter the vertical and Norbu still very close to the site of camp 3. The wind was blowing hard all the time!, All night blowing and it still didn’t leave us for a second. It blew with a lot of force, it was very very cold!!

I  had stiff hands. I rappelled with gloves, but it doesn’t help. At one of the knots, while wearing mittens, I tried to pluck my safety carabiner to the next line, but the trigger became hooked on the thumb of the glove …

Something hit me, I didn't know what was happening! I couldn't see anything. I was only concerned that the safety carabiner had passed by the rope. I was falling faster and faster; I knew I was in an avalanche, and I knew I wasn't in for a good time! If I hadn’t closed the carabiner I knew that I would die but if it had closed, I would stop after falling  to the next attachment (a minimum of 100 meters)!

I think I hit the slope in these 100 meters three times. I fell at a great speed, and finally stopped short. I broke the fall at a screw, and I can’t breathe. I was very overwhelmed; I could barely breathe.

I am watching and waited for as long as I could. Fear took hold of me since it was more than a minute without air in my lungs! Finally, I began to breathe! The avalanche turned to rockfall, and hundreds of stones started to fall.

I looked up and see Chhepal holding up; Norbu had more luck and had not fallen. I sat looking down the valley, hundreds of stones hitting me, waiting for death.I was very exposed and I could do no more… After almost ten minutes they stopped falling. I looked up and I thought "oh my god, I’m alive! One among a thousand!!"

With all my energy, I started to rappel again with the gloves, as fast as I could and Norbu and Chhepal followed me. We met again at the base, and Chhepal was bleeding from the head, it had a gap.

Tomorrow he will be evacuated to Kathmandu.

We have had a lot of luck! What fear we have gone through! Every time I see myself falling at full speed, a shiver runs through my body and I still do not know how I have not broken anything.

Every part of my body hurt. We hope tomorrow is a better day. We helped Chhepal.

We started for Base Camp, the wind still blowing hard. We were all on the edge, but smiling, and thinking about the waterfall. We had had enough today. It had been a hard few days; very very intense, with a very high commitment.

We got to the icefall. I had only just enough strength so I go very quiet. I begged every serack in the exposed areas to not fall now, please! I got to other side and there Pablo and Aitor were waiting for me.

I think I’ve wanted this moment since I left Base Camp on the 10th, but right now after what I suffered and suffered ,I have to say that I feel a little more alive.

The team is very touched. We lost Carlos, then Lakpa, now we are without Chhepal and only 5 left, I feel very strong to try again. We’ll see what happens in the next few days.

Alex Txikon