On a Knife Edge

On a Knife Edge : 3rd May 2011

I’m standing on a knife edge 20,000ft high. On one side is a sheer drop, on the other is a steep ice slope. If I tripped, I would have the choice of falling straight to certain death, or sliding for a few seconds, and then falling to certain death. I feel so alive. All around me are the most amazing mountain views: Ama Dablam, Pumo Ri, Lhotse, and Everest all rising majestically. I feel on top of the world. Some people say that climbers have a death wish. I say we climb because we love life.

We were climbing Lobuche peak. The day before we had climbed to the summit apart from a final 30 minute traverse (above). We camped overnight on a slightly sloping platform on top and tackled this last traverse the next morning. We did rope up but you never know if it will hold you in a fall, and your mind has a way of focusing on the danger and ignoring the safety precautions. It was a beautiful morning with the sun shining brightly and only a light wind. The traverse rose in a series of small peaks. At each one, I stood still and looked around, and took photos to capture the beauty of the moment. To quote a book I’m reading at the moment:

‘Nothing is more important
than that you see and love the beauty
that is right in front of you,
or else you will have no defense
against the ugliness that will
come at you in so many ways’

Quite a bit of mountain climbing in the Himalayas is a slog up huge slopes. It’s a challenge but only in the ‘mind numbing, exhausting effort over many hours’ kind of way. I like it purely to test my mind and body to the limit, like a marathon, but when we get to the more exposed parts like ice walls or the knife edge traverse above – it’s brilliant. I’m suddenly wide awake and more alive. The adrenalin kicks in and total focus is needed to tackle them. You quickly notice the thin air as you get out of breath almost immediately, and when it’s finished, I’m often leaning over trying to catch my breath before continuing.

With the fixed rope climbing which is common on the biggest peaks in the Himalayas. People can be climbing up as well as climbing down on the same rope so we all need to perfect the technique of passing each other. We took of the opportunity of doing this on the knife edge traverse of Lobuche peak above. When there is only 18 inches available to stand on you can imagine that’s there a bit of body hugging involved. We have two carabiners attached to our harness so that we can detach one and reach round and clip it back on behind the other person then side step round them mumbling some kind of thanks in the process, then unclipping the other ‘crab’ and moving on.

Tomorrow we start climbing Everest itself. Starting at 3am up the dangerous Khumbu Ice Fall crossing crevassess as wide as buses with up to 5 ladders roped together, and vertical ice walls to climb. Our aim is camp 3 (25,000ft) at the top of the Lhotse face, we will be gone for a week.

See you when I get back. Knackered and thinner…