Fierce winds stall the best-laid plans of men on ice

Everest Diary; Base Camp
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The Independent Online
PLANS, as they say, seldom survive contact with the enemy. A similar unravelling seems to bedevil plans made for mountaineering trips, though I would never regard a mountain as an enemy or something to "conquer". Its rough fabric and fickle climate have to be worked with in sympathy.

Two days ago I wrote what I believed might be my last diary from Base Camp before moving higher in readiness for our summit bid. In the flush of optimism on returning from our few days' rest down the valley, it had seemed weather and a full moon might favour an early shot around 11 May.

But that idea has evaporated. Winds of up to 80mph are forecast for the summit over the next day or two and little work has been done by any teams to the route between the South Col and the summit - a gruelling 12- to 15-hour return trip even for the fit. Ropes will be placed at the Hillary Step, a 20m barrier of rock and ice not far below the 8848m summit, and hopefully along other awkward sections.

However, none of that is in place yet, so it looks as though our Himalayan Kingdoms Expeditions (HKE) team is destined to spend several more long days festering around Base Camp.

Wally Berg's strong American scientific team - intending to bolt a GPS receiver near the summit to help fix the exact height of Everest - are thinking of moving up through the Icefall to Advanced Base in two days. They have the most powerful team of Sherpas on the mountain - 13 or 14 for four team members, compared to our nine for seven clients and two guides.

The consensus is to let this A Team lay the track. The snow could be chest-high and summit bids have often ground to a halt in such exhausting conditions. With luck, though, the strong winds could strip away a lot of snow.

I was going to say that no one will go before Wally's team. However, one team here may be thinking of making an earlier bid. Sherpas who returned to Base Camp today believe some of the Iranian national team have already been over-nighting at the South Col. At virtually 8,000m and therefore into the so-called Death Zone, the Col is reckoned too high for useful acclimatisation, but who knows what the Iranians are thinking? There is certainly a language barrier and they do seem to be out of the loop of the Base Camp information exchange. Two of them did, however, fix our HKE kerosene generator, pointing out a fairly basic Western blunder with the fuel feed.

Base Camp days follow a pattern which hardly sounds disagreeable. Around 8am, cookboy Pema Tsering unzips my tent and hands in a cup of "bed tea". Very milky, in any other circumstances I could not abide it. But sipped while lying back in the sleeping bag as the sun comes over the Lho-la pass and starts warming the tent, it seems palatable enough.

Breakfast in the mess tent is followed by various chores such as laundry in a bowl with kettle of hot water or a rudimentary shower. Clothes quickly dry on the shifting boulders of Base Camp in the hot morning sun.

For a couple of hours, yesterday, we practised fitting the oxygen masks we will wear on our summit bid. I suspect mine looked better on the Russian pilot it was designed for. It must certainly have been more comfortable without the encumbrances of balaclavas, ski goggles and down hood.

After lunch, I have this diary to write and others fuss around with their e-mails. But there is always a strong temptation to slip back to the tent, climb in the sleeping bag and doze, read or plug in to the personal stereo.

All I fear now is that unless we break out of Base Camp before too long, my folder of 10 CDs is going to prove insufficiently varied for the waiting game.

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