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Archive >> July 2009

Untagged  16 Jul 2009 12:00 AM
Dispatch 8: Part 2 of 3; Trouble on the Mountain by Don Bowie

(Webteam: Dispatch 8 is in 3 parts. Tomorrow we will post Part 3 of 3)

At 2am on July 10th I called home on the sat phone for another weather forecast; it appeared that the high winds would be lower on July 11th, and after a discussion with the guys we decided to wait it out a day at the 7300 meter camp. Bruce seemed OK and slept most of the day, even sharing on the brewing-up duties later that morning despite still feeling bad. But by early evening he began to struggle to stay awake, and every time he fell asleep he would periodically breathe deeply. (This means he would take 4 or 5 snoring, shallow breaths, then, stop breathing altogether for 20-30 seconds.)

By late evening Bruce began to vomit again. I again checked his vitals a few times and used the pulse oximeter I had in my first aid kit to monitor his oxygen saturation (sats). Bruce's first O2 sat measurements were low, and, soon began to drop even more. He then became extremely drowsy and could not stay awake. My own sats were hovering around the high 70's and low 80's - which was actually quite good for me at 7300 meters - at least we had that as a baseline.

Bruce Normand sporting 44% oxygen saturation levels Photo Don Bowie

Soon Bruce's O2 sats dipped into the high 40's and I began to really worry - and to add insult to injury, the snow and winds outside had picked up significantly.

 

Winds pound Camp 4 7300m with GIV in the background Photo Don Bowie

The question that evening was: should we wait out the storm or begin descent in the night? That morning I had already started Bruce on various high altitude medicines and anti-nausea drugs, but they seemed to have little effect. (Although I knew that the dexamethasone was helping.) Bruce struggled to remain conscious throughout the evening and by the night of the 10th he was drifting in and out of consciousness, barely able to perform even the simplest tasks. His snoring and gasping for breathe was very loud, and the gaps between his periodic breathing grew longer. I stayed awake all night, stirring him every half hour or so, taking his sats and continuing to feed him appropriate medicines. Outside the winds were howling and visibility had dropped to zero. The last O2 sat measurement I took in the night for Bruce was a staggeringly low 37% - meaning he was functioning (somehow) on 37% oxygen. At this point I congratulated him for officially breaking the Guinness World Record for having the lowest oxygen sats and still being alive. He didn't laugh.

 

Bruce & Don just before the descent from 7300m <em>Photo Don Bowie</em>

At 2am I roused Bruce enough to help him to get dressed - which was a slow and laborious process in the icy, cold tent. Outside Guy and Billy fought extreme cold and wind and packed up camp, but it was too cold and they retreated back to the tents for a few hours. At 7am we finally decided to fight the storm and forced Bruce from the tent. He immediately vomited. Guy put on Bruce's crampons while I got out my GPS - and then noticed that I had insufficient satellite coverage for it to even work. Despite zero visibility and no functioning GPS, we finally wandered off our ledge and into a complete whiteout. We had no choice.

 

Billy outside Camp 4 @ 7300m just befoe the descent <em>Photo Don Bowie</em>

As we walked down the cwm the mist and blowing snow would sometimes lift for a moment. And once I caught a glimpse of the rocks at the base of GIV east face at the edge of the cwm, I then used the compass on my GPS and set a bearing for the rocks. Bruce was doing surprisingly well at this point despite staggering behind on the rope and falling to the snow frequently. Believe me when I say this: Bruce Normand is one strong man!!                                             

After an hour or so - and by the grace of God - I noticed a few meters in front of me a bamboo wand stuck in the snow - the ONLY wand we had placed in the entire cwm. Somehow we were on track. After another rest for Bruce at the wand, I began to see faint footprints in the windblown snow. I followed the footprints and in a few hours we were at the top of the chute and somehow at the edge of the cwm.

 

Guy, Bruce (lying down) & Billy rest in low visibility in the upper cwm <em>Photo Don Bowie</em>

Billy descended first over the edge to set up the first of many rappels. We had only lost 300 meters in elevation, but it had a noticeable affect on Bruce - who was still very lethargic and vomiting but managing along. I "fireman belayed" Bruce the first of the rappels, but despite his continued vomiting and swaying he was able to manage each pitch on his own, yet still collapsing at every stance. Soon we had rappelled to the bottom of the chute and to the start of the mixed traverse. The long 50 degree snow and ice traverse down to Camp 2 looked VERY loaded with snow, so we had one option left: descend the extremely dangerous center of the icefall....

Untagged  15 Jul 2009 12:00 AM
Dispatch 8: Part 1 of 3 by Don Bowie

(Webteam: Dispatch 8 is in 3 sections. Part 2 will be sent tomorrow 7/16 and Part 3 will be sent 7/17.) 

On Monday July 6th, Guy, Bruce, Billy, and I began the hike up the glacier to Camp 1. I wanted to continue up to our Camp 2 nestled in the icefall, but was out-voted by the others, so instead we brewed up and spent a hot afternoon basking in our tents among the small G2 tent village. In the morning we (again) broke trail to our Bibler tent set up at 6300 meters in the lower GIII-GIV icefall, and prepared for our early morning climb up the face and into the cwm. Despite the earlier weeks snowfall, we decided to tackle the face even though it still looked quite plastered with fresh snows. Weather forecasts indicated that we would likely have to summit in some relatively high winds - perhaps up to 70km/h- but so far the weather forecasts proved to be inaccurate due to very unstable conditions - a risk we'd just have to take. Ueli Steck sent me a sat phone sms in the evening that he might try for the summit on the 9th, but it would take us at least one more day to get into position in the cwm. Our earliest shot would be on the 10th.

 

Billy on the lower GIII east face traverse on July 8<sup>th</sup> <i>Photo Don Bowie</i>

 

Guy transverses the lower GIII face on the morning of July 8<sup>th</sup> <i>Photo Don Bowie</i>

In the morning we awoke to cold but clear skies, broke down camp, and once again crossed under the "Keyhole" serac tower above us. At the depot I began to break trail up the lower snow ramps on the GIII face to the bregshrund, and then continued up the 50 degree face unroped. This is how we would mitigate the avalanche danger- by spreading out and climbing unroped. If one of us would get "the chop"- as Billy so eloquently put it - the others would not be dragged down too.

 

Billy & Don on the mixed traverse under the 1<sup>st</sup> tower @6700m <i>Photo Don Bowie</i>

Conditions on the face varied from loose steep snow to bullet-ice to scary avalanche prone windslab. But in a few hours we had traversed up and left to 6700 meters under the lowest of the rock towers.

Bruce & Guy climb to tower chute @ 6800m <i>Photo Don Bowie</i>

Here Billy ditched his pack and took the lead across an extremely loose tongue of rock which had the consistency of a stack of dominoes. He managed to cross the loose pitch in great style, hauled his pack across then set up a rope for the rest of us to follow. I crossed the section next then continued on past Billy up an amazing chute squeezed between huge hanging seracs on the left and the rock towers on the right. About 100 meters up the ice and snow chute I found a flat spot on top of one of the teetering ice blocks and waited for the others.

Don nears the top of the tower chute @ 7000m <i>Photo Don Bowie</i>

 

After a short rest I continued to lead up the narrow 50-55 degree chute to another bench at 7000 meters where the final edge of the serac band met the rocky GIII southwest ridge. After the others joined me we climbed across snow slopes a short distance down the other side and into the cwm until we found a serac ice chunk and set up Camp 3 underneath - directly across from the East Face of GIV. It was a spectacular place for a campsite. We were now among perhaps 15 or 20 other people who have ever set foot in the cwm, and from our tents pitched at the entrance it looked spectacular.

 

On July 9th we woke to light spindrift on the tent walls and began to brew up and pack for the day. Bruce sat up in his sleeping bag, immediately scrambled to open the tent door, then, puked-up the entire contents of his stomach. After a bit more sputtering and spitting out the door he returned back inside and gave me a rather grim stare. Despite his vomiting, I asked if he wanted to continue up, to which he said, "Definitely yes!" We packed up camp under worsening spindrift and began walking up the low-angled cwm on firm snow. After a few hours we rounded a bend and found a serac to camp under at 7300 meters. Finally - after many weeks on the mountain- we had our first glimpse of the north face of GIII and our route.

 

The slopes up to the 7500 meter ridgeline offered a number of lines, and we unanimously decided on the main chute. We planned to leave at 1am, climbing the face in the dark and reaching the first rock band at 7600 meters on the ridge at dawn- but this plan would never happen...

Untagged  9 Jul 2009 12:00 AM
Waiting for stable weather by Webteam

Phone dispatch from Don, 9am, July 9, 2009 (PKT)

Don, Bruce, Billy, and Guy reached the cwm at 7000 meters last night (July 8, PKT). They are waiting there for more stable weather so that they can attempt a summit bid.

Be notified when news or dispatches are posted to this site: send an email to DonDispatches@gmail.com

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