We went up to camp 2, with the forecast good, and had a rest day there, then continued to camp 3.
The route to camp 3 up the Lhotse face is interminable, and SO hot with the sun being stronger at altitude, but since we were planning to go all the way up, we were doing it in down suits/jackets & pants...boil-in-the-bag.
The air is getting thin too - it's the last part of the route we will be doing without oxygen. So, arriving very sweaty and a bit jaded, we discover that the weather has changed and we will, in fact, be going back down to camp 2 the next morning to await another chance -so no sleeping with our oxygen mask on tonight........I don't think I've had a worse nights sleep in my life - chain-stokes breathing they call it (although probably not spelt like that), where you kind of stop breathing until the CO2 build-up has you gasping for breath. Completely harmless, but it does keep you awake.
The next day had us back down to camp 2 yet again, but with a weather window potentially pending, it was not the time to be going all the way back down to basecamp. Anyway, the thought of going all the way back through the icefall again only to return a couple of days later was not appealling, even though BC is more comfortable and has more oxygen around.
Two days later we were on again; first day for the dreaded climb back up to camp 3 on the Lhotse face; it looked like we were ahead of the game; already part way up the mountain and a 3 -4 day weather window opening up in a couple of days time.
This time at camp 3 it was very different,sleeping on O's (oxygen) made all the difference, and this time it felt more real that we might actually be going up!
The next, up day to the South Col (camp 4, 7900m) was actually pretty enjoyable for me; on oxygen, which made it a bit easier, and up the last bit of the Lhotse face before traversing over to the Geneva Spur which had some interesting scrambling, and alovely traverse to the infamous South Col.
By that stage the wind was pretty brisk and we had to rush to help hold the tent down as it was being put up by our amazing climbing Sherpas. One 5-man tent into which we all clambered, laden with down clothing and sleeping bags.
The idea is generally not to sleep at the South Col on the way up, but to rest for a few hours and set out at around 9-10pm for the summit in order to get there early the following morning, and have the luxury of the whole day to get down again in case of incident.
This , however was scuppered by a message from BC predicting a weather spike, with high winds, making a summit attempt dangerous, so we all settled down to spend a night and a day in the 'death zone'.
I have to say, it didn't feel very death-y, lounging around in a tent all day eatng snack bars and getting hot (some of us were in our underwear in the tent, it got that hot in the sun of the day).
Nervousness mounted as it came to the appointed hour, and we tried to get ready amongst mountains of down in an enclosed space. Everything on except crampons before leaving the tent for the frozen outside.
We could see a trail of lights from headtorches winding up the mountain; dammit, the crowd had caught us up and there were SO many people on the mountain that night......
So, off we went, up into the darkness, with all our efforts resting on us keeping putting one foot in front of the other, and following the person in front, step after slow step.
Too many people, really, and soooo slow, but on most of the route it was not safe to be unclipping from the rope, or, was soft snow to either side of the path that would see you overtaking a few people, only to be left puffing and panting with the effort as the re-took you.
Lots of standing stoically waiting for those in front to overcome the frequent small difficulties of rocky scrambles or awkward parts. Toes and fingers getting cold, and huge icicles formong from our oxygen masks.
Step by slow step into the night as the sky began to lighten into dawn, with its's vertiginous views across the Tibetan plateau far below to one side, and the familiar mountains of Nepal the other - all dwarfed by the giant we were clinging to.
I knew as we approached the South summit that it was close, but found it hard to believe there could be more. The South summit is a snowwy dome, and the other side it dips slightly, and up soars the true summit ridge, with it's famous Hillary step, and a series of rocky parts and snowy parts to summit itself.
The entertainment of the Hilary step gives way to the last slow trudge up snow, until finally the mountain runs out, and a pile of prayer flags fluttering in the wind marks the top of the world, and the ground plunges northwards into void.
A stiff wind, and temperatures of around -25 to -30 ensure a short stay on the summit (along with the knowledge of a long way down) - around 20 minutes for me, it was lovely that Tim wasa there when I arrived, and Susan arrived just before I left, so at least some of the team were together on the summit.
And that's it! Down was much quicker than up, obviously, but knowing we were tired and apt to make mistakes made us very wary, so we slept at the South Col again, then camp 2, and today saw us through the icefall back to basecamp, and so very, very pleased to be down safely.