New Altitude Record - Black Carbon Sampling

New Altitude Record - Black Carbon Sampling


By James Holmes


The team headed up for our summit bids of Everest and Lhotse yesterday. At camp 3, I had trouble breathing in the ever thinner air, and I chose to play it safe and end my Everest summit bid there. Fortunately, I got the task of taking our next highest set of snow samples on the way down from camp 3 (~7,050m) to camp 2 (~6,400m). This set of data is now the highest ever for black carbon snow sampling; the current published record is ~6,500m (Mera Peak, Nepal) and unpublished is ~6,700m (Huascarán, Peru - by our own American Climber Science Program). One small step for science!


John and team head for the summit of Lhotse (8,560m) tonight, and with any luck, the 7,050m record will stand for only a couple days. Wishing them luck!


Camp 3 (7,050m) is approximately where the line of ants ends on the right side of the face

Camp 3 (7,050m) is approximately where the line of ants ends on the right side of the face



 

New high point for black carbon sampling (7,050m)

New high point for black carbon sampling (7,050m)

Looking down at the Western Cwm

Looking down at the Western Cwm

New Altitude Record - Black Carbon Sampling

New Altitude Record - Black Carbon Sampling


By James Holmes


The team headed up for our summit bids of Everest and Lhotse yesterday. At camp 3, I had trouble breathing in the ever thinner air, and I chose to play it safe and end my Everest summit bid there. Fortunately, I got the task of taking our next highest set of snow samples on the way down from camp 3 (~7,050m) to camp 2 (~6,400m). This set of data is now the highest ever for black carbon snow sampling; the current published record is ~6,500m (Mera Peak, Nepal) and unpublished is ~6,700m (Huascarán, Peru - by our own American Climber Science Program). One small step for science!


John and team head for the summit of Lhotse (8,560m) tonight, and with any luck, the 7,050m record will stand for only a couple days. Wishing them luck!


Camp 3 (7,050m) is approximately where the line of ants ends on the right side of the face

Camp 3 (7,050m) is approximately where the line of ants ends on the right side of the face



 

New high point for black carbon sampling (7,050m)

New high point for black carbon sampling (7,050m)

Looking down at the Western Cwm

Looking down at the Western Cwm

New Altitude Record - Black Carbon Sampling

New Altitude Record - Black Carbon Sampling


By James Holmes


The team headed up for our summit bids of Everest and Lhotse yesterday. At camp 3, I had trouble breathing in the ever thinner air, and I chose to play it safe and end my Everest summit bid there. Fortunately, I got the task of taking our next highest set of snow samples on the way down from camp 3 (~7,050m) to camp 2 (~6,400m). This set of data is now the highest ever for black carbon snow sampling; the current published record is ~6,500m (Mera Peak, Nepal) and unpublished is ~6,700m (Huascarán, Peru - by our own American Climber Science Program). One small step for science!


John and team head for the summit of Lhotse (8,560m) tonight, and with any luck, the 7,050m record will stand for only a couple days. Wishing them luck!


Camp 3 (7,050m) is approximately where the line of ants ends on the right side of the face

Camp 3 (7,050m) is approximately where the line of ants ends on the right side of the face



 

New high point for black carbon sampling (7,050m)

New high point for black carbon sampling (7,050m)

Looking down at the Western Cwm

Looking down at the Western Cwm

​Summit Snow Sampling Science Explained (by and for a Layperson)

by James Holmes

Some family and friends have asked, why exactly are you there again? What are you trying to achieve by taking snow samples on Mt. Everest? As we idle around base camp again, waiting for good health and clear weather for a summit attempt, let me take a shot at answering this.

The reason we are sampling the snow and looking for black carbon (or soot) is fairly simple. It’s based on the principle that darkly colored things absorb sunlight and then heat up rapidly, whereas lightly colored things reflect sunlight and heat a lot less rapidly. Pure white snow is highly reflective and melts slowly. Dirty snow with relatively more black carbon absorbs more heat, melts more quickly, and contributes to receding glaciers. This is the primary effect.

There is also a secondary effect. The same light/dark principle also affects climate change. As glaciers recede, they expose rock that is darker than the snow. On the large scale, less ice and more rock will absorb rather than reflect sunlight and contribute to warming of the planet.

There it is. Simple. Darker snow means less ice and warmer climate.

Once back in the U.S., the samples can be analyzed to see how much black carbon is in the snow and where it comes from, whether industrial activity, fuel burning, agricultural burning, cook stoves, etc.

 

Focus on Science: High Himalaya Plant Diversity and Elevation

PI: Eric DeChaine, Western Washington University

The mountains of Nepal provide an unparalleled opportunity to investigate the

impact of elevation on plant diversity. Not only are flowering plants vital members of

biological communities, but they are also excellent organisms for studying the impact of

environmental changes. At present, the flora of Nepal is inadequately documented and

thus the processes governing the past and potential future of plant distributions

throughout the region remain uncertain. We will investigate the diversity of the flora to

answer three questions. 1) How does plant diversity change with elevation? To address

this, we will perform botanical surveys along an elevational transect. Documenting the

diversity is a critical, first step for for any management efforts and future monitoring. 2)

How have environmental changes impacted the diversity of plants in the region? Our

transect will include previously sampled locations from 2009/2010 so that we can test for

recent changes in diversity over the past decade. By doing so, we will be able to catch the

community shifts as they occur. An understanding of the relationship between plant

diversity and elevation will provide a strong foundation for conservation efforts across

the region, with important practical implications for agriculture.

The Khumbu Icefall - Our 4 team member perspectives on the Icefall

 Our 4 team member perspectives on the Icefall

1) John

Going from basecamp at 5400 m, through the Icefall, to Camp 1 at 6100 m is the hardest thing I’ve done in a long time.

We left at 3am and had scouted the route out the day before and knew where to put crampons on and where it would get tricky. Because we had heavy loads and would sleep high that night - which is bad for acclimatization - I was walking as slow as possible. Teams would come along and pass us and I would step aside so they didn’t get in our way.

The Icefall itself is actually really safe if you are a decent climber and no avalanches hit you. Ropes have been ‘fixed’ or anchored to the entire route and so all you have to do is attach your rope ascender and pull yourself up the vertical walls. If you would fall, the rope would catch you and if you didn’t stab yourself with your crampons or break the rope, you could keep going.

I slowly kept climbing the steep broken ice. The heavy pack and low oxygen became this fiery hell for my body - especially my back and shoulders and it went on for hour after hour. And the terrain would break your spirit with endless false summits that would inspire you for 20 minutes and then break your heart. It was just an endless uphill climb through purgatory.

As we walked, I could see the overhanging icefall that killed Asman grow closer. I was puzzled that we came so close, but saw that the ice gave us few choices in the route selection. I stood for a brief moment where so many had died before I hurried to safety. It was surprising cleansing and cathartic to be there and pay my respects. It is such a harsh place of brutal stone and ice that screams death. I’m glad I only have to pass that place a few more times before I can summit.

This is also the location where the angle of the Icefall changes. We’ve been fighting our way up near-vertical walls and now we’ve reach the top where it sort of flattens out. Sort of was the operative term. The ice was flatter as a whole, but we still had to fight our way up and down each of the dozens of deep crevasses. It got no easier with each false summit.

And now a new hell emerged as the sun rose. I saw it coming as a huge bright force engulfing the ice. In basecamp, I had feared it because it would loosen the ice, but I forgot to fear the raw radiation as it reflected off of the ice mirrors all-around me and was among the worst sun blasts I’ve ever encountered. I was sunburned within minutes in spite of my spf50 slathered everywhere.

I tried to hurry, but in fact just got slower and slower as my energy levels bonked, I got more and more dehydrated, the altitude affects just increased in force.

And that’s what I did for the next hours - how many each section took was a blur but the total was 8 or so of unending battle. The last couple of hours would have taken a fresh me with no pack maybe 30 or 45 minutes. But I could only stagger for maybe 10 steps before I stopped to pant and catch my breath. And then 10 more.

I’m not sure how I made it to my tent. I felt terrible from the altitude - no matter how slow I’d gone to fight it.

I laid there for a couple of hours, utterly spent. Then I drank some tea. And felt my legs flex. And I began to recover. And I’m so much stronger for having overcome the ordeal...

2) James

Half our team made it up the icefall on their first try for an acclimatization rotation. The rest of us had false starts and went up for the second time two days later early in the morning when things are nicely frozen in place. The icefall doctors have done an excellent job of setting the route to avoid most objective hazards like serac fall and avalanche. My challenge has been finding a good consistent breathing pace. The icefall terrain is so jumbled - up, down, around, clip, lock, jumar, unlock, unclip - it’s hard to stay focused on good breathing. When I don’t, I’m reminded instantly - stop, pant, try to catch breath, calm down. It’s clear to me why meditation and mantra chanting (om ma ni pad-me hum) have become a central part of the high mountain religion here, Buddhism - regular breathing and staying calm are critical where oxygen is so precious.

This second time, we made it up the icefall in fine form. I think a good part of its challenge is the unknown. From a distance, there is no discernible route through the jumbled mess of ice. Once through, the route becomes clear, and the fear starts to melt away. This was especially true on the descent six days later when I felt as strong as ever and had the knowledge of where we are and where we’re going. My strength was bolstered by the fact that we were finally able to take snow samples on the way down through the Western Cwm and icefall. Six weeks of effort at high altitude and we finally have our first data on Everest to show for it. The relief was thrilling.

3) Morgan

During my first run through the icefall I packed too ambitiously, and didn't pay enough attention to my body temperature as the day grew later and the sun grew hotter. Once I caught up to our small group I was extremely dehydrated and probably experiencing some form of heat exhaustion, as I almost passed out multiple times during that break. Dizziness and fatigue hit me hard as I lay on my pack. I decided to turn around at that point with James.

During our journey from camp 1 to camp 2 I developed an air bubble in my neck. Everytime I coughed - which was very often - the bubble would make an alarming gurgling noise. Needless to say it really freaked me out. I was worried it could be an edema and would potentially close off my throat, or anything similar. Again I was dehydrated and heat exhausted. Combined with the newly developed gurgling bubble in my neck, my anxiety and inner conversation was at a borderline panick. I remember during one high point of fear I was kneeling on the snow, praying not to die to whomever was listening, and a huge avalanche passed not 20ft in front of me, crossing the trail perpendicularly. At that point I ditched my pack beside the trail and carried on, enlightened by the passing avalanche and reminded not to break for too long on the trail.

Later Everest-ER informed me the strange bubble phenomena was due to dehydration, altitude, and past respitory illness from Gokyo Valley flaring up. Even more reason to pay attention to my hydration more. Overall the icefall taught me that my biggest obstacle is the sun; in order to be a sucessfull climber and team member I need to moniter my energy and temperature very closely, and need to really take responsibility for stopping and hydrating more often.

4) Graham

My first attempt at the icefall was not an ideal experience. My main fault was being overzealous and attempting to bring too much stuff with me. Through miscommunication and poor planning, I also ended up separated from my climbing partner about 30min into the fixed ropes. I had figured I would just take it slow and slog my way up, but my lack of acclimatization caught up to me (I could barely catch my breath) around 3/4 of the way up and I made the decision to turn around. I ended up spending a total of 11hr in the icefall.

My next attempt at the icefall was a few days later- I took much less stuff, took my time, and made it to camp 1 no problem. After a days wait due to weather, three of us made it to camp 2 meeting the rest of the team on our main acclimatization rotation.

The Khumbu Mambo

Human traffic jams, drones, and generators

by John All

Normally this Mambo headline might make you think about stomach ailments, but in this case, it refers to the ‘backpack to trekking pole’ traffic jam that plagues the Namche every morning as a literal flood of tourists pour out of their tea houses in unison and head towards the Khumbu valley around 9am. Crowding among climbers on Mt. Everest has occupied newspaper and blog headlines recently, but the situation with trekkers is far worse.

Each person steps as the next person steps, slowly shuffling forward - it reminds me of people at Disney World waiting for the latest ride. But in this case, you are also dodging yaks and porters and the children running between your legs. Many of the tourists are not acclimatized and shuffle along with a zombie gait that infuriates the people who are better prepared.

As we moved up the Khumbu valley, we kept expecting the traffic to lessen. Amazingly, the entire valley - a seven day trek from Namche - was packed step for step with tourists. As we crossed onto the Khumbu glacier and the landscape became more and more stark, the traffic thickened as the air thinned. The trip from the highest village in the Khumbu - Gorek Shep - to Everest Base Camp normally takes me 45 minutes when I’m walking at a relatively brisk pace. Now, with the hordes of tourists flooding up the valley to see the fabled Base Camp, it takes two and a half hours as we politely follow the crowds and make way for porters bearing their massive loads.

Once you arrive in basecamp, there are an additional two new denizens that have wrenched this climbing haven into the ugly modern world.

The first was presaged by a loud whirring as a drone came swirling down the line, filming the tidal wave of humanity. We were surprised, thinking drones weren’t allowed in the national park. Apparently, for $10,000 they are and most mornings we are woken up by drones circling camp. My team mates have taken to flipping them off or mooning them. We’ve talked of sending for slingshots to further dissuade them. Taking acclimatization hikes to Kala Pattar or Pumori Base Camp often entails a drone circling the top as we futilely seek solitude as a reward for our efforts.

The final new addition to basecamp resulted from the earthquake emergency in 2015. Many inexpensive generators were brought in to provide emergency power. And they never left.

In the past we all ate dinner in early evening with a small gas heater to provide warmth. Once the sun was truly down and we were fed, in all but the most expensive camps, we all went to our tents and an early bed.

Now, when the sun goes down and the solar panel output fades, the roar of generators begins around camp. A 360 degree cacophony of sound. I thought to see if our camp could eschew the growling monsters. But the amazing array of cell phones, sports watches, cameras, go-pros, radios, and gps that everyone from western climbers to Nepali kitchen helpers possesses is truly dazzling. We have entered a fully digital age of electronics toys and necessities no matter your nationality or economic status. In the face of this global transformation, we lose the peace and silence of Everest Base Camp at night.

Focus on Science: Exploration in Search of the World’s Highest Flowering Plant

PI: Sébastien Lavergne, Laboratoire d’Ecologie Alpine, CNRS - Université Grenoble Alpes, France

This museomics project aims at understanding the evolutionary history and adaptation of one the highest genus of flowering plants (Lepidostemon). This includes

sequencing the herbarium specimens that were collected by Eric Shipton in his 1938

attempt to the Everest. The highest species (L. everestianus) has never been seen in the

wild since Shipton's attempt. We will be sampling some high-alpine plant groups in the

Himalayas (in collaboration with Chinese botanists), and exploring elevated zones where

historical data suggests we could find something -and this Everest/Lhotse expedition is a

critical part of this effort. The plant groups that we are seeking come from:

  • Primulaceae family, in particular the genus Androsace (any species,

especially the ones from high alpine, where some potentially non-

described species remain)

  • Brassicaceae, in particular the genera Lepidostemon, and its close allies

such as Pycnoplinthopsis, Shangrilaia and Metashangrilaia, and Braya

(this last one in less related though).

Focus on Science: ACSP's Main Research Goals in Nepal

Research Goals:

There are two principle research objectives for this research expedition: a) examine climate change impacts on the local ecosystem and the communities that depend up it, and b) sample snow and ice on Mt. Everest and Mt. Lhotse peaks. There are also several smaller projects led by other P.I.’s that will occur during the expedition.

Climate Change and Land Use in Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal

The goal of my work in the Himalayas is to document changes in high mountain ecosystems as they respond to the integrated effects of multiple stressors, including human land use decisions and climate variability and change. I work to identify and analyze patterns of land use and land cover change through time within the Everest region and to determine how management systems and anthropogenic activities are affecting conservation efforts in these protected areas and the livelihood systems at their fringes.

I spent the 2009/10 academic year in Nepal on a Fulbright Senior Scholar award working with graduate students teaching and collecting data extensively throughout the Everest region and the proposed expedition will allow us to resample these areas after a decade of change. To date we have collected 850 ecological ground reference data points and conducted 75 opportunistic and systematic field interviews with our Nepali colleagues to elicit people’s perception on causes and consequences of land cover changes. We used remote sensing data to detect land cover change and forest disturbance over two decades (1990 – 2010) in the Makalu-Barun protected areas that corresponded to the Nepali civil war.

After the collapse of the monarchy in Nepal in the early 2000’s, contemporaneous with a Maoist civil war (1996 – 2006), many government functions ceased. The conflict itself was driven by perceived inequalities in resource availability and this drove subsequent local responses to the abdication of resource management on the part of the central government resource exploitation in the region (Yonzon, 2004).

In lesser-developed countries, armed conflicts are typically associated with detrimental effects on land-based resources and biodiversity (Dudley et al. 2002; Velho et al. 2014). In Nepal, numerous studies have focused on land use - land cover (LULC) change (Zomer et al. 2001; Chettri et al. 2013) but few of these have discussed the potential environmental implications of the Maoist Civil War on LULC change and resources management practices

(Baral and Heinen 2006; Byers 1996; All et al., 2014).

Our 2009/10 initial results revealed that the amount of forestland had decreased by

almost 10 % over the 20-year period. The area also showed a significant decrease in shrub cover

and a significant proportional increase in grass cover. When examining the spatial pattern, it becomes apparent that the lower elevations, where the locals can easily access timber, experienced a significantly higher rate of forest cover change during the civil war. The pattern is more pronounced in the major valleys where the main trekking routes are located and the buffer

zone where the human pressure is higher. However, in the high elevations, there is a large

increase in area classified as forest or woodland as trees move into former shrub/grasslands and

as grass moves into former glaciated lands.

While our findings will be supplemented during the proposed expedition, we can surmise

that social factors including political conflict, the difficulty to enforce park management

strategies, increasing tourist demand, and consequent natural resources exploitation contribute to

explain some of the changes and conversions in forested area. It appears that proximal and distal

human-induced changes might be overwhelming any potentially beneficial climate change

impacts on growing conditions or the length of the growing season and subsequent high

elevation regreening.

Black Carbon Deposition on Himalayan Glaciers and Impacts on Future Water Supplies

The goal of our snow and ice sampling work on Mt. Everest and Mt. Lhotse is to

understand how air pollution and dust deposition increase the rate at which glaciers melt - and

thus threaten the downstream users of this water over the long-term. Our team of five climbers

will sample snow and ice from 5200 meters to 8848 meters on these peaks in order to measure

the surface particulates present. Light absorbing particles (LAPs) such as dust and soot (black

carbon) on snow and glacier ice are of significant importance for understanding hydrological

system functions (Bond et al., 2004). Black carbon (BC) is an organic substance that absorbs

light strongly in the ultraviolet, less so in the visible. BC is emitted from burning fossil fuels

(diesel and coal), biofuels (wood, dung and crop residue), open biomass burning associated with

forest clearing, and burning of urban waste (Bond et al., 2004). Mineral dust absorbs solar

radiation less efficiently by mass than BC, but can be present in much higher mass

concentrations. Dust can come from local sources or long-range transport from desert regions.

In the short term, BC and LAPs can significantly increase snowmelt rates, thus affecting

runoff quantity and timing. LAPs absorb solar radiation, which is converted to heat energy that

is conducted to surrounding snow and ice leading to melting and research has shown that snow

loss rates due to LAPs can be substantial. Painter et al (2010) found that dust deposition on

Colorado snow led to the snowpack melting out 4-5 weeks earlier than would have been

expected without LAPs. Over a 10-year period LAPs were shown to have the potential impact of

melting up to 713 kg/m 2 /year of ice on a Nepalese glacier - equivalent to 26% of observed mass

loss (Ginot et al., 2014). In the long term, persistent LAPs can lead to long term glacier loss,

thus draining natural reservoirs which provide year round water. From a societal standpoint, this

information is critical for water managers in water stressed regions.

Various measurements of LAPs have been conducted in Asia, but none have been

attempted above 6500 meters and so our work will fill a critical gap in the high Himalaya. Past

results have shown a large spatial variability in LAP mass – as measured through refractory

black carbon (rBC). Ginot et al. (2014) saw black carbon values as high as 100 nanograms of

rBC per gram of liquid (ng/g) on Mera Peak, Nepal in the dry season. Much lower values

averaging 2 ng/g but peaking at 32 ng/g were observed by Kaspari et al. (2011) in the Everest

region of Nepal. Ye et al. (2012) who reported values between 20 and 70 ng/g of BC in

northwestern China seasonal snow at altitudes up to 3500m. Our work at higher elevations on the ridgelines and summits should provide a more regional view of LAP deposition.

An additional important property of LAPs is that they do not evaporate or melt with the snow and ice and thus accumulate over time. Ming et al., (2016) showed that this effect, combined with dry deposition on a northern China glacier led to increases in surface BC and dust of 94 and 69 times the values observed fresh snow on a northern China glacier. Additionally, long range transport from desert regions in China, Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula may have effects on Himalayan glaciers (Budhavant et al., 2016). Even if we had good understanding of the transport of LAPs to glaciated regions, there are still substantial uncertainties in the quantity of LAPs actually deposited on glaciers and that is why our field expedition to sample the glaciers is so critical.

Our Puja

by John All

A Sherpa Puja is a Buddhist ceremony where a monk blesses climbers and our equipment and we all collectively ask the mountain not to kill us as we climb. No Sherpa and no experienced Westerner will begin climbing until after the puja.

This year our puja was delayed and it has been bothering me. April 17 is a very auspicious day for a puja (the Sherpa calendar reminds me of the Catholic calendar where everyday day has some obscure meaning and perhaps Saint and some days are more ‘auspicious’ than others) and traditionally April 17 is the beginning of the Everest climbing season as all parties have pujas on this day so they can begin hauling loads on the 18th.

But the 18th is now a day of remembrance for those who died in 2014.

We had hurried to arrive in Base Camp on April 16th in the evening so that we could make the puja. But when we arrived, we found no puja preparations going on - neither in our camp or anywhere.

On April 18, 2014 when so many Sherpas had died - including my team mate Asman Tamang - it messed up the puja cycle and I didn’t know until I arrived. Now there are pujas on the 18th - to show respect for the dead - and on many difference days afterwards.

When we arrived there was only Nepali support staff. No climbing Sherpas had arrived and only a few of the nine climbers had arrived. I really wanted a puja to mourn Asman on the 18th, but it didn’t make sense without the others being here.

And so we waited until April 22nd. Not an auspicious day but not a bad one either. Unfortunately there were three Brazilians coming to climb with us who were leaving from Lobuche (a 4.5 hour hike) that day. We wanted to wait for them, and so our perfect sunny morning 11am puja became a heavy snow shower 1pm puja by the the time they arrived.

By mid-morning we had all faced the bracing 20 deg F cold and ‘showered’ and ‘cleaned/purified’ ourselves with the bucket of hot water that counts as personal hygiene here - so that we were ready for the puja. But we watched the clouds grow to the south and slowly darken as we waited and prepared the last few things.

The puja ritually blesses our gear so we bring out our possessions that ritualistically tie us to the mountain and each other. These include boots, gloves, crampons, and harnesses. As the expedition leader I also included our satellite phone and med kit and some science gear.

The puja is an interesting ceremony. The monk begins chanting while reading from a prayer book. Assistants beat the drum and light the juniper and Rhododendron branches that act as incense. There are small cookie dough sculptures that are blessed and then fed to the ravens.

As he chants and rings the chimes and the drum beats, the Sherpa climbers mount a flag staff into the pure white granite structure that we created over the past few days.

We tie down and anchor the pole - I had to muscle over a huge rock from out of the glacier stream to act as one of the supports. It was so huge that even I could barely carry it.

Once the pole is in place, we tie three lines of prayer flags to it and run these across our camp to include all of the tents so that everyone is covered by the blessing that the flags deliver each time that wind moves across them.

Finally, the chanting ends and we all throw flour to the winds and use the thick flour to cover the cheeks of our friends and climbing partners to bless each other.

We wrap a ‘gift’ of about $20 for the lama into a silk scarf and give it to him. He takes out the money and then blesses the scarf and returns it to us by hanging it around our necks in benediction.

Once everyone has individually been blessed, then ceremonial snacks (in the picture below it is crackers, popcorn and Tibetan bread in the big metal pot), Coke’s and Sprites, Everest beer, and a cap full of Kukuri rum is shared around. We hug each other and reaffirm our friendships and commitments to each other and to team safety.

Normally, we would sit around joking and laughing - Sherpa and Westerner alike. But by this time the snow had been pounding down for quite a while and we were all cold and wet and shivering. We all grabbed our now blessed climbing gear and stowed it in the tents.

Sadly, we then each went our own ways and the Nepalis and Westerners went to our own dining tents and turned on the propane heaters and drank small sips of beer and Chang (a Tibetan fermented milk drink with quite an alcoholic kick) and rockshi (Nepali moonshine) and tried to keep the warm, happy glow going. Slowly people peeled away for an afternoon nap under our warm sleeping bags to shake off the alcohol and the cold.

Tonight the climbing begins for real as the Nepali begin to carry loads through the Icefall and we begin planning our rotations up to higher camps and back to basecamp. And planning our data collection of course.

This was a great day and a hard one. The puja was not the most auspicious, but I reaffirmed my partnerships with my close friends as we head up the mountain soon. I feel surprising good and hopeful about things after this wonderful ceremony.

IMAGE.JPG
IMAGE.JPG

A typical day at EverestBase Camp

By John All

At 8am, the sun strikes the tents for the first time and it is like God brought joy back into the world. At 7:30 this morning it was 9 deg F inside the tent. By 9am it was 50F and it rose into the 80’s by early afternoon.

As the tent warms and we slowly begin to thaw, we pull on thick down jacket and pants and climb out of the tent to go to the toilet tent as well as empty our pee bottles. Last night’s snow is 6 inches deep but begins to melt quickly.

We put out our Voltaic solar panels to begin the morning charging and then head to the dining tent. Coffee mixed with vitamin drink to wake up, and then toast, fried Spam, and an omelette.

The first weeks in basecamp are just acclimatization. We are in no hurry, so we linger over coffee.

The morning is clear and bright and the sun beats us unmercifully. Hats, sunscreen, long sleeves, sunglasses, and lip balm. The snow melts more and more quickly.

We head out for a slow two hour walk. We’re currently at 5400m (17,500 ft) and try to get up to 5600 by cutting through the ice field and boulder hooping up the steep walls in our tiny head of the Khumbu valley. Or perhaps we walk down to Gorek Shep - the closest settlement - for internet and a snack. When we return to camp, the snow is basically gone and the shallow rock layer that covers the glacier is all that remains.

Around noon, clouds begin building. We have a full lunch of soup, rice, meat, and bread and relax in the dining tent for an hour or two. Around 2 we begin to hear the snow pelting the roof as the blazing sun is replaced by an army of dark clouds invading the valley and the snow that just finished melting is replaced.

We head to the tents and either nap or read or practice learning the ukulele in my case. The temperatures slowly begins to drop and then plummet around 4pm. At this point there is several inches of snow on the ground and we pop into the dining tent for some tea and popcorn. It grows colder as the snow continues falling and we turn on the propane heater and sit around chatting and drinking warm beverages to stay hydrated.

At 6pm we eat soup, fried noodles, bok choy leafy greens, and fried potatoes. We have warmed pineapple slices for dessert. We chat and look at pictures and relax until about 8pm when the Nepalis come in and clean up and not so subtly hint that it’s time for them and us to go to bed.

We head through the snow to our tents. Mine is 22F when I arrive and reached a low of 4F around 3am last night. I snuggle first into my Nepali-made sleeping bag (good to about 25F). Then I put my massive -40 deg Ghost Mountain Hardwear bag on top like a quilt. Then my down suit over my feet and my down jacket over my torso. I have three sleeping pads underneath me and I am still slowing melting a hole or trough in the ice underneath me each night.

I snuggle down tightly and begin to read a book on my iPhone - with the phone held several inches into my sleeping bag so my hands don’t freeze.

Around 9pm I drift off to sleep. At 6am the Nepalis begin to move and heat water and prepare food. I cover my head and burrow deeper, until at 8am the blessed sunlight returns to transform the world again...

IMAGE.JPG

Arrival in Everest Base Camp

4/19/2019 Everest Base Camp ~ 5400m (~17,500 ft)

By James and John

We arrived in Everest Base Camp late on 4/16 after successfully crossing Cho La pass and hiking the Dzongla and Khumbu valleys. Setting up our camp for the next two months was an incredible feat of engineering involving two weeks of hauling rock, leveling the rock and ice, and building by our Nepali camp team.

We are sleeping on the actual Khumbu Glacier - walking and sleeping with a mere couple of inches of sand and small rock covering the ice. On our first day in camp, we helped build the puja structure, which will be used in a puja ceremony to bless our climbing efforts and ask the mountain for compassion as we struggle upward. We’ll have the ceremony once the entire team has arrived.  In the meantime, we are burning juniper incense each morning in memory of our friend Asman Tamang who died in the Khumbu Icefall when climbing on our team in 2014.

In front of camp is newer, taller exposed ice that flows from the Khumbu icefall - some of which appears to have shaken loose from the Nuptse face in the 2015 earthquake. These ice pinnacles offer convenient venues for practicing ice climbing and rappelling before we head up the actual climbing route in the next week or so.

In the meantime, we are enjoying plenty of food, rest, and short hikes to recharge and acclimatize for the next several weeks of climbing and data collection higher on the mountain.

IMG_6062.JPG

Everest Base Camp

Our Camp after our daily snowstorm  

Our Camp after our daily snowstorm  

The Khumbu Icefall

Expedition Route Summary

Gokyo (4,790m)

By James Holmes

The enclosed map highlights our expedition’s planned routes. Most Everest expeditions hike directly up the Khumbu Valley to Everest base camp (green line). In addition to the Khumbu Valley, our expedition is covering the Hinku Valley (yellow line) and Gokyo Valley (blue line) in order to examine how differing tourism intensities impact the environment in the neighboring valleys, as well as to acclimatize away from the crowds. Using Lukla as a starting point, we headed east and spent 12 days in the Hinku Valley, including an ascent of Mera Peak (6,470m). From Lukla again we headed north and took the western fork above Namche to enter the Gokyo Valley (blue line). We are now in the village of Gokyo (4,790m) where the oxygen available in the air is less than half that of sea level. We will soon head east over the Cho La pass (5,420m) and hopefully reach Everest base camp (5,364m) by April 17, the most auspicious date for a Buddhist puja ceremony. After completing our environmental work on Everest and Lhotse, we will return to Lukla via the Khumbu Valley (green line) and sample as we go. Hopefully, by the end of the expedition we will have valuable ecology, snow, and human geography data that we can compare across the three valleys and benefit the scientific research and conservation efforts of Sagarmatha and Makalu Barun National Parks here in Nepal.


Expedition Map:

  • Yellow Line - Hinku Valley / Mera Peak - March 27 to April 7
  • Blue Line - Gokyo Valley / Cho La Pass - April 8 to April 16
  • Green Line - Everest & Lhotse / Khumbu Valley - April 17 to approx. end of May

 

IMG_5894.JPG

​2015 Earthquake - disaster or cornucopia?

By John All

This was the first time I’ve been back to the Khumbu since the 2015 Nepali earthquake. Evidence of the disaster is everywhere and unfortunately the ‘recovery process’ has become an ongoing ecological disaster in the buffer zone. But it has also ushered a new millennium of tourist development into the Khumbu and Goyko tourist areas as people flock to Everest Base Camp.

Prior to the 2015 earthquake, people in the regions around Mt. Everest were using the same building technology that their great, great, great grandparents had used - stacked rock walls and large flat rock or tiles for the roof. This type of architecture failed spectacularly during the earthquake  and the most important post-disaster task was to introduce new, safer building techniques and materials. The response has been nothing short of jaw-dropping as nearly every building in the Khumbu and Gokyo valleys that I saw was either rebuilt or retrofitted with a wooden structure, sheet metal walls and roofs, concrete foundations, concrete and rebar reinforced corners and bearing walls, solar panels and marine batteries, and WiFi available everywhere.

The building spree was most pronounced in the buffer zone outside of the park - where regulations seem to have been almost entirely removed and widespread timber cutting has resulted. Seeing so many trees that Edmund Hillary help plant being cut to build gigantic new teahouse complexes for the tourist hordes is deeply saddening. But it was a matter of time before a new development paradigm emerged and the earthquake provided the perfect pretext to remove regulation and allow more explosive development.

And given the huge numbers of tourists pouring into the area, it is no surprise that new huge tea houses are springing up everywhere using the light, quick, and cheap new building materials. The Khumbu I knew is disappearing, but I suppose every generation has said the same thing...

The Maoists have left the building

By John All

The Maoists are finally gone

When last I visited the remote Hinku valley a decade ago, the Nepali civil war still lingered - even though a ceasefire had been signed several years before. When I was there studying climate change in the Himalaya, I saw the Maoist posters on houses and Maoist slogans painted on all structures. I was told by locals that those without the Maoist slogans had been reduced to the burned foundations scattered throughout the valley.

I also saw Maoist foresters clearcutting timber by hand and sawing it into boards. Boards that were used to build the new homes and tea houses that were springing up around the valley as tourists were drawn to Mera Peak - a nearly 6500 m Peak that is one of the easiest 6000 m peaks in the world.

Ten years later, when I was planning this trip I was told by a local that when the Maoist’s made their bid for power in 2014 and closed Mt. Everest, it was a Pyrrhic victory  because they lost the support of the local Sherpa people. He told me that now people don’t care about politics, all they care about is making money.

Our visit and interviews in the Hinku valley over the past week have borne that out. Two students from Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu interviewed the local people while the rest of us took data on the local botany and how climate change had affected it. We found dozens of new stone built tea houses in the valley and none of them had any Maoist posters or marking. The old wooden structures with the Maoist markings were deserted and generally has their roofs collapsing from lack of maintenance.

Now the valley has 24 hour electricity from dozens of solar panels. There is internet and your choice of baked goods in the larger settlements. When the Nepali students asked about the Maoists, they people said things like ‘that was before my time’ and ‘they left a while ago’ - and there didn’t appear to be any regret at the loss.

Overall, it was a great week of research in the Hinku valley - where now we can appreciate a yak burger without fearing Maoist political instability while we work and climb an easy 6000 meter peak.

IMG_4872.JPG

Mera Peak Summary

4/7/2018 Lukla (2,840m)

By James Holmes

From Khare, we departed for Mera high camp (~5,800m). The plan was to summit the peak and then collect snow samples for black carbon research on the descent. Setting off in the dark, the team successfully reached the  6,470m summit shortly after sunrise, although several team members chose to descend early, feeling the effects of the altitude. The summit was windy and cold and offered our first views of our next objectives, Everest and Lhotse, towering above in the early morning sunlight. Ram Kaji and Chris led collection of the snow samples on the descent, and James pitched in below high camp. Back in base camp, John processed the data. The information will be brought back to the U.S. and analyzed to determine what pollution is in the snow, where it comes from, and its effects on accelerated glacial melting. Anecdotally, we noticed the filters appeared fairly dirty, despite our expectation they would be clear with the near-daily afternoon snows. John remarked that the Mera glacier had receded by hundreds of feet in the last 10 years, making it considerably more difficult to access the ridge for the climb. While climbing, we encountered regular patches of deep blue glacial ice exposed to direct sunlight - not good signs for the longevity of this glacier.


From Khare, we retraced our steps to return to Lukla and the Khumbu Valley. It snowed for two days while getting back over the Zatrwa La pass, making the route finding difficult in whiteout conditions. As we neared Lukla, the snow turned to rain, and the vegetation that was covered 10 days ago was now in full bloom - bright reds, pinks, and yellows all over the hillside. It was a welcome return to the Khumbu.

IMG_5837.JPG

Mera glacier with exposed blue glacial ice

IMG_5840.JPG

Everest & Lhotse with snow whipping off

IMG_5841.JPG

The ridge to Mera summit

Getting onto Mera glacier

Getting onto Mera glacier

Mera Peak Summary

4/7/2018 Lukla (2,840m)

By James Holmes

From Khare, we departed for Mera high camp (~5,800m). The plan was to summit the peak and then collect snow samples for black carbon research on the descent. Setting off in the dark, the team successfully reached the  6,470m summit shortly after sunrise, although several team members chose to descend early, feeling the effects of the altitude. The summit was windy and cold and offered our first views of our next objectives, Everest and Lhotse, towering above in the early morning sunlight. Ram Kaji and Chris led collection of the snow samples on the descent, and James pitched in below high camp. Back in base camp, John processed the data. The information will be brought back to the U.S. and analyzed to determine what pollution is in the snow, where it comes from, and its effects on accelerated glacial melting. Anecdotally, we noticed the filters appeared fairly dirty, despite our expectation they would be clear with the near-daily afternoon snows. John remarked that the Mera glacier had receded by hundreds of feet in the last 10 years, making it considerably more difficult to access the ridge for the climb. While climbing, we encountered regular patches of deep blue glacial ice exposed to direct sunlight - not good signs for the longevity of this glacier.


From Khare, we retraced our steps to return to Lukla and the Khumbu Valley. It snowed for two days while getting back over the Zatrwa La pass, making the route finding difficult in whiteout conditions. As we neared Lukla, the snow turned to rain, and the vegetation that was covered 10 days ago was now in full bloom - bright reds, pinks, and yellows all over the hillside. It was a welcome return to the Khumbu.

IMG_5837.JPG

Mera glacier with exposed blue glacial ice

IMG_5840.JPG

Everest & Lhotse with snow whipping off

IMG_5841.JPG

The ridge to Mera summit

Getting onto Mera glacier

Getting onto Mera glacier

Greenhouse Snow

By John All

When I first climbed Mt. Everest in 2010, I found a weird phenomenon I called Greenhouse Snow. Basically, we would get these snow showers that would drop several inches of snow, but the cloud layers were so thin that we could feel the glare from the sun at 6500 meters and the resulting greenhouse effect would broil us even as the snow piled up. Since then, I have seen the frequency of phenomenon grow in mountains around the world as greenhouse gas energy dynamics wrestle with the hydrologic cycle. I’ve experienced it the past week as we worked near Mt. Everest amidst snowfalls not seen in 30 years according to local Sherpa. These Greenhouse Snowstorms sweep in during the afternoon and have been dumping large amounts of snow - I fell off of the packed trail near a 4600 meter pass and I’m 6’5” and was almost neck deep in the fresh snow. But I was also just wearing shorts and a t-shirt during the storm due to the heat as climate change makes a mockery of old weather patterns and the knowledge that our elders have shared through time immemorial about how the weather should work in a local area.

We’re heading up to Everest Base Camp over the next week and will continue studying how climate change is impacting this area...

Greenhouse snow swirling around us at only 4400 meters   

Greenhouse snow swirling around us at only 4400 meters

 

IMG_5808.JPG

A porter struggling up a trail not designed for snow

IMG_5801.JPG

Ram Kaji resting for a moment as we leave the Hinku valley and drop back into the Khumbu

Focus on Science: Sherpa and Climber Perceptions of Glacier Recession in the High Himalaya

PI: Chris Dunn, University of Colorado, Boulder

My research contribution for this expedition will focus on perceptions of glacier recession, particularly comparing those of scientists with the lived experience and traditional beliefs of residents of Sagamartha and Makalu Barun National Parks. I am further interested in how scientific training intersects with traditional beliefs and the implications this may have for conservation and park management. For the most part, I expect this to be a small addition to prior long-term studies. I am also investigating how expeditions and journey narratives can be used as tools in communicating climate it's change, as well as science and environmental issues more broadly.

Khare (4/1/2019)

4/1/2019 Khare (4,900m)

We made it to Khare, the highest tea house village before we set off for the climb of Mera proper. From Khote, we followed the Hinku River heading up the valley for two days of hiking. Unlike the pass, the valley was not full of snow and so we were able to take John's long-term ecology measurements. We took ground control points to see how the vegetation has changed since John last took measurements here 10 years ago. This essentially entails stopping at regular intervals to identify what plants are growing in the area. Botanist, Eric, and botany students, Mehindra and Benup, were invaluable for this work. The full team also pitched in to help the work move quickly so we weren't on the trail unduly long. Chris and Morgan measured the slope and aspect; James took reference photographs. All along the way, the human geography team continued interviewing local people about impacts on their lives - whether tourism, climate change, civil war, etc.

As we neared the town of Khare, the river became frozen over, but you could still hear the water flowing underneath. We're at the source of the river now at the base of the Mera glacier. It's cold here; most of us are in full down layers inside the tea house. We have one rest day and then will set out on our climb of Mera Peak (6'470m) to collect snow samples.