Sherpa’s reach the South Col – Everest 2019

With the fringes of a cyclone looming for the weekend, Sherpa’s sneaked through to the South Col as reported in the Himalayan Times, on the afternoon of Thursday, 2 May. That opens the way to start carrying the many loads up to the final Camp, and for climbers to follow.

Crossing the bergshrund and heading for the hard ice commonly found on the Lhotse Face.

Of course if the cyclone streaming out of the Bay of Bengal delivers its projected 30 cm of snow to the South Col over the weekend, climbers may just want to sit tight for a day or two before braving the Lhotse Face.

From Kathmandu, the thunderstorm echoing in the Friday morning sky means something is certainly on the move through. With mini-monsoons moving through Kathmandu nearly every afternoon, it isn’t the weather patterns that many of us have seen before. On our recent trek up to Everest Base Camp, In Hillary’s Footsteps, we experienced many on-again, off-again days of changeable weather.

With the route now set to the Col, the Sherpa’s begin the long but relatively well paid load carries from Camp 2 to Camp 4. The Sherpa’s, wisely, have never really used Camp 3, set in the middle of the Lhotse Face. Sleeping there in the midst of a big storm, attempting to acclimatize without oxygen, is never guaranteed to allow you much rest anyway. If anything, the next time around you are at least somewhat accustomed to the hardship and the dawn start for the South Col.

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Camp 3, a great view, a scary Camp, wisely avoided by Sherpas at all costs.

Many climbers now simply climb up and have a quick cup of tea at Camp 3, having acclimatized on Lobuche or even Pumori. Their night is then a single rest at Camp 3 hopefully, en-route to the South Col and on to the summit. On the way down, few even deviate off the rope to the Camp, preferring to descend back to Camp 2 or even Base Camp as quick as they can.

The reports of hard ice on the Lhotse Face are consistent with many seasons – but it is nothing different than usual as Guy Cotter from Adventure Consultants commented at dinner in Kathmandu this week. With time the ice will be beat into a more stair-like track to assist those less comfortable on their front-points.

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Headed up the Lhotse Face for Camp 3, ice steps being hammered into place by the passing throngs.

As much as there can be storms anywhere on Everest, from the base of the Lhotse Face to the summit has a very different feel and climbers will sense it isn’t a place you want to spend long in. Most climbers will be on oxygen, so time is limited. When the sun goes behind a cloud the temperature drops precipitously. You know that even with a Sherpa or Guide close by, you, are much more on your own up there and you better be pretty good at looking after yourself.

The days of proving any altitude affinity and toughness are well past, and when climbers commonly went to the South Col sans oxygen just to prove we could do it, many climbers now turn to oxygen as low as Camp 2. Which is fine, until it runs out and you are so poorly acclimatized you end up waiting in line, your heart rate spikes and you have to turn and run down the mountain as fast as you can.

Of course this is also the place where feeling well, you will get views down into the Western Cwm and out over Pumori that you won’t need pictures of because they will be imprinted on your memory. If you should have a rare good time climbing across from Camp 3, the Geneva Spur has some surprisingly fun scrambling if you just clip the rope and climb up through the rock bands. With a very early start you may just be out in front of the crowds.

Climbers, lower left, heading over the Geneva Spur and to the South Col. Far above, on the snowy crest at the very top of the photo, you can just see climbers ascending the snow ridge to the South Summit on their way to the top of the world.