July 20 - camp 3 - 24,000 feet
Rock climbing at 24,000 (7,300 meters) feet while wearing crampons and a down suit SUCKS.
There's only one obstacle between camp 2 and 3. It's 1,500 feet (500m) of unstable rock and ice. The black pyramid, as it's called, is not only exposed but includes vertical sections of rock and ice, one of which was aided today by a steel rope ladder. Even with the benefit of supplemental oxygen climbing up here was hard. Really hard. Several times my body wanted to stop. And each time I asked myself "Is this all that I am capable of?" And each time my honest answer was no. So I kept moving. It helped to shift my focus to how my body was moving on the tricky terrain. I'd scan the rock above me and look for the best place to put my free hand (while the other clenched my ascender). Next I'd look down between my legs to find the best chunk of rock to balance my crampons. Then I'd breathe. And breathe again.
I was initially relieved when I finally reached the top of the black pyramid and the rock gave way to snow. But unfortunately climbing on steep powdery snow wasn't much easier. All of the fresh snow that's accumulated over the past two days is loose and sugary and one step up often leads to sliding backward for several feet until either my ascender or snow accumulation under my boots stopped my slide. This was more mentally challenging that physically because I felt like I wasn't progressing upward. By early afternoon the clouds became so thick that when I looked up all I could see was a wall of white pierced by the bright orange rope of the fixed line. I found some comfort in this sensory deprivation. It was comforting to just be in my bubble and not consider the challenges above me or the free air below me. In fact, I couldn't even see camp 3 until it was right in front of me. Seeing the smiling faces of my teammates and knowing that I'd safely climbed the black pyramid lifted my spirits instantly.
Inside my tent, I took my oxygen mask off as I unpacked my sleeping bag and food. When I was done, I measured my oxygen saturation. 53%. As a point of reference, if I were at home I would be admitted to the hospital if my oxygen saturation were less than 90%. It's laughable that I felt satisfied when I put my oxygen mask on and it shot up to 70%. Oh my poor brain cells!
Although it's cloudy now, it's hardly snowing and reports from above sound like we should be able to complete the short climb to camp 4 tomorrow.