Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What does a typical Everest expedition look like? Post 8: Climbing Everest - ABC to the North Col (Camp 1)

Climbing Everest - ABC to North Col (Camp 1)

Total distance:  12 miles (22 km)
Approximate Time for Route:  2 days 1st time; 1 day once acclimatized

As I mentioned in the previous post, we spent almost 3 weeks getting to the point where we might be ready to start climbing.  The first two weeks were bus rides and waiting around after short day hikes.  Most of us will be itching to start the climb but starting the climb before being fully acclimatized is a dumb move.  Here is a map of the entire route up the North Col to the summit (courtesy of Alan Arnette who is one of the finest chroniclers of Everest climbing - go see his site for more information on climbing Everest):

The image above does not really show the route but it does provide some perspective on the general locations of each camp or geographically important point on the climb.  Provided we are ready, we press on at about 18 days for our first functional day hike to Camp 1 on the North Col (7,000 m / 23,000 feet).  Here is a picture of Camp 1 from above, courtesy of Everest News:

North Col camp (aka Camp 1) from above (picture courtesy of Everest News).

Camp 1 is higher than any peak in North America.  In fact, ABC is higher than Denali (20,322 feet or 6,194 m) so before today's hike, I would have been higher at ABC than I have ever been before.  The day hike to the North Col, Camp 1 takes us up to a point where we can begin to acclimatize to higher altitudes and lower oxygen levels.  How do we get up to this camp?  Easy, sort of.  We climb the North Col wall (photos courtesy of Mark Horrell) with a few relatively steep points to get from ABC to Camp 1 located on the North Col.  Here is the wall:

See those little dots?  Those are climbers all lined up to get to the top of the wall.  Those lines are what makes Everest a complicated climb - not because of technical difficulty but because of congestion.  The traffic jam down here is less of a problem than higher up.
Here is where the little dots tend to cluster:

All it takes is one slow person who does not let others pass to hold up the whole show.

At this point in the climb, I am now higher than any training altitude I had at home.  Remember, I am simulating the low oxygen environment using the Hypoxico device.  All my workouts take place at 22,000 feet or lower so Camp 1 provides a new experience for me at 23,000 feet.  The North Col camp is a typical high alpine camp filled with tents on a bumpy glaciated surface.  Here is a great picture of the camp in 2008:

Notice how clustered the tents are together?  Well, the place ain't large and there are a few climbers vying for a summit push.  Remember that line we saw in the picture above?  Well, those folks need a place to crash and here is the next stop.  Everyone wants in and there is not enough room on that ridge to space the tents apart.  Looking up, we can start to see the objective or half-way point of our expedition (i.e., the summit):

Please be sure to thank Mark Horrell for providing these images by purchasing his book and reading his blog.  You can find his work at  Onward to Camp 2 after we descend to ABC after today's day hike and rest for two days.  My next post will show you what the climb looks like from Camp 1 to Camp 2.  We do this in 3 days after we return from today's hike to Camp 1.

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