Practice Run No.4: Lhotse (8516m), Nepal

In Practice Run No.4by Steve

Hardly the Ideal Start to a 8000m Expedition.

Hello to everyone once again.

Time to get back to it. Currently on my way back out for my fourth (and final) Practice Run.

Objective: Lhotse, 8516m.

Each practice run I’ve done over the past 18 months has had a specific purpose and this one is no different.

First was New Zealand (My Aspiring) in November 2015. The purpose of that trip was to do an introductory mountaineering course, just to learn the basic skills required to operate safely in the alpine environment. And to put those skills in to practice on a low altitude climb on Mr Aspiring.

Second was Peru (Yanapaccha, Chopicalqui and Alpamayo) in July 2016. The purpose of that trip was to gain experience on semi technical, mid altitude climbs, climbing 1-on-1 with a professional mountain guide.

Third was Nepal (Ama Dablam) in November 2016. The purpose of that trip was to gain experience on an expedition style climb in the Himalayas, and to progressively test myself at higher altitudes.

Now for my fourth outing, the purpose is to see how my body responds to ultra-high altitude. I’ve read numerous books and watched numerous movies/documentaries on high altitude mountaineering. They all describe this invisible layer in the sky at 8000m. A layer above which life supposedly does not exist and any humans who venture above it are on borrowed time. They call it the “Death Zone”. I think that’s a bit sensationalised to increase book sales and viewer ratings, but who am I to judge, I’ve never been there. Hence the purpose of this trip. I want to see for myself what it’s like above 8000m, and see how my body reacts to it.

At 8516m, Lhotse is the 4th highest point on earth. Only Kanchenjunga, K2 and Everest stand higher. Lhotse is actually part of the Everest massif, two peaks on the one mountain separated via the South Col. Lhotse uses Everest Base Camp (EBC) and follows the same route as Everest South side as far as camp 3. From there, the Everest climbers traverse left to the South Col and up the ridge to Everest. While I’ll traverse right, up the Lhotse face, putting in one more camp just below 8000m, and then follow a steep, narrow couloir to the summit of Lhotse. That’s the plan anyway.

Before arriving at EBC, I’ve got two and a half weeks trekking through the Khumbu valley, during which time I’ll also attempt two smaller acclimatisation climbs, Mera Peak (6476m) and Lobuche Peak (6119m). Following that I’m scheduled to arrive in EBC on 15th April. From EBC we’ll probably two acclimatisation rotations up the hill, pushing higher each time and come early May, I should be acclimatised and ready for a summit push. Pretty straight forward…..

My preparation and training for this trip had been going very well. After years of setbacks, I was starting to finally get back to reasonable fitness and was feeling pretty good. But two weeks ago, only two weeks out from departure, that all changed in a flash as I went A over T while riding home from work on a Friday evening. My wrist was instantly painful, but I tried to convince myself it was only a sprain and rode the rest of the way home. My initial concern was just not being able to train properly for the next two weeks. I got home and thought I’d test it out, a slight sprain can’t be too restrictive. Tried a few push ups but only managed one before the pain in my wrist caused me to collapse under my own weight. Ok, so it’s no good in compression, how about tension? Tried a few chip ups, but again only managed half pulling half way up before the pain shooting through my wrist and forearm forced me to let go and drop. So that was a bit of a failure. Moving on to Plan B. Ice and rest for the weekend.

Come Monday morning, my wrist was still sore and quite swollen so thought I should get it checked out properly. It was at that point my worst fears were confirmed. I’d sustained a “mildly displaced intra-articular distal radius fracture”, or in layman’s terms, a broken wrist. Minimum 6 weeks immobilised in a splint. I was gutted, but what can you do…. On the funny side, it had only been a week prior that I was in seeing the orthopaedic surgeon for a 12 month follow up on my left wrist which he had operated on to re-position, plate ans screw after I broke that one. Now one week later I was walking back in with a broken right wrist. We both had a bit of a laugh.

Anyway, the doctors weren’t exactly supportive of my plans to continue my trip, but they also didn’t say I couldn’t go, so that was good enough for me. I do have to admit though, starting out on a trip of this magnitude with a pre-existing injury isn’t really ideal, but I can’t change what’s happened. I really only had two options, give up and quit, or manage it the best I can and push on. The choice was easy.

“Go with the decision that will make for a great story”.