IMG, the guiding company, just published the list of climbers of the season. There are a total of fourteen members in the Sherpa-guided group (my group), one guided by western guides, two express climbers, and seven in hybrid team, plus two Lhotse and two camp 2/3 climbers, making a total of twenty-eight under IMG management.
The group is starting on March 28th, the date everyone leaves the U.S. by. I’m here one week ahead of the group to do some extra acclimatization on my own. I plan to head to Gokyo valley, which neighbors Khumbu Valley, where the Everest base camp is located. In addition to gaining extra acclimatization, trekking to Gokyo valley will be an extremely rewarding experience. When you are at base camp, you actually never see the mountain! But Gokyo offers the best view of the area, especially for Everest and Cho Oyu.
To gain access to the area, the most popular way is to fly to Lukla, the last point of modern transportation. From there, it’s a 2 days’ walk to Namche, the capital city of Sherpa— the gateway to Everest region. The trails to Everest base camp or Gokyo both start there. After trekking to Gokyo (7 days), I will return to Namche to meet up with the group, and walk another 10 days to arrive at Everest base camp on April 12.
In order to acclimatize to the altitude, I have to be very patient and gain altitude slowly, otherwise it’s very easy to develop severe altitude sickness. That’s why the trekking takes so long.
The most efficient strategy to acclimatize is called “climb high, sleep low” instead of continuously going up. At extreme altitudes, the body would start to cannibalize itself and one would quickly lose strength if they stay at high altitude for too long. So after getting used to the new altitude, we would retreat to base camp to recover for a few days before climbing back up again to the next higher altitude. Between April 12th and May 10th, we will do several rotations of this “climb high, sleep low” process, each taking about 7-10 days including rest days. From base camp, we will first do a training climb on Lobuje, a nearby mountain. After another few days’ rest, we will start the training climb on Everest by doing two rotations between base camp and camp 3.
Once we are fully acclimatized, we will rest in base camp while waiting for a summit window. Once we spot a break in weather, we will push for the summit by continuously ascending for 6 days. It would only take 2 days to descend back to base camp.
May is the best month to climb Everest, but you still need a lot of luck to catch a summit window. Saying it’s the best month to climb only means it’s less stormy than other months. But because of the extreme altitude, a minor storm condition is deadly for anyone. Sometimes it could take weeks to see a few days that are calm enough to summit, and in some years that may never happen. Who can predict the weather, especially in the mountains and 6 days away? It is a gamble!