Hi everyone, it’s Paul here.
This morning we woke up at Camp 4, it was extremely cold & windy as usual, and we knew we had to get out of there. During the night 2 separate sets of climbers had tapped on our tent asking to be let in, but with our frostbite we didn’t want to risk it. In both cases we gave them some water, offered them some food. They gladly took the water, but declined any food. My frostbite on my feet caused me a lot of pain during the night, which is a good sign, however it took 4 Panadols for the pain to go away sufficiently so that I could get to sleep. Fiona’s thumb wasn’t giving her too much pain, and the swelling had reduced.
So in the morning when we woke up (about 6am), I took 6 Panadols, waited half an hour for them to take effect, and then we started to pack up our tent. It was painful moving around on my feet, and it was extremely cold, given the wind & the altitude. However much pain I experienced, I knew that there was simply no other option. At 6400m you are above the limits of a helicopter, and given the very steep terrain you are certainly not going to be carried out.
As we were packing down our camp site we nearly lost the tent. I pulled out all of the pegs except 2, the wind just ripped the remaining pegs from the ground and sent the tent hurtling towards the edge, complete with most of our stuff still inside. Fortunately Fiona was standing near the edge and got wrapped in the tent, saving us from disaster.
We had decided to go to camp 3 at the minimum, and if we were feeling up to it then we would try and make camp 2. We really hoped to be able to make camp 2, because this was on “our” side of the mountain, where we knew just about everyone. We made pretty good progress down to camp 3. My feet weren’t hurting too much and Fiona’s thumb wasn’t giving her much trouble. The weather deteriorated, but we decided to push on to camp 2. To get to camp 2 from camp 3, you first have to climb Chapayev, which is about 250m above camp 3, and took us the best part of 2 hours. As we were climbing it became a total white out, with strong winds blowing snow almost horizontally. Fortunately small bamboo wands had been placed at 10m intervals, showing us where to go. There are dangerous cornices on one side and some bergschrunds on the other, so its very important that the right path is taken.
When we got to the summit, the clouds lifted slightly, allowing us to see to descent route to camp 2. We descended to camp 2 in about 2 hours, much of it involves abseiling down steep rock & ice slopes, and then a long snow slope to the camp. Fiona’s thumb had worsened in the afternoon with the deteriorating weather, and coming off Chapaev, I had to set-up all her abseils (about 30). The route down from Chapaev is in full view of the people at camp 2, and the fact that I was doing all her rope changes did not go unnoticed.
When we got down, people immediately went to Fiona and took off her glove, knowing that something was wrong. She was whisked off into an old Russian tent, by a Korean and local guide. I started setting up our tent with the assistance of a Polish climber. About 2 minutes later, a gruff Korean voice from inside the tent where Fiona, was yelled out, “Paul come here”. I walked slowly towards the tent almost not wanting to know what was the extent of my frostbite. When I got to the door, I was pulled inside, boots and all.
They took my boots off and their exclamations gave it all away. The local guide quickly finished with Fiona’s finger and wrapped it in gauze, then he & the Korean started work on my feet. They put some ointment which smelt like Deep Heat and then they started massaging my toes & feet. This continued for about an hour, and was extremely painful.
The Polish climber stuck his head in half way through and said that our tent had been set up and they had unpacked our bags and setup our sleeping bags, stove etc. When the guides had finished, they both looked pretty impressed with their handiwork, and I was relieved to notice that some of the color had returned to my toes. Then they started to point to certain individual toes, and make snipping motions with their fingers. This caused me great concern, but a guy who could translate, said that some of the skin had died, and would need to be cut off, but would all grow back. The doctor at base camp would look into this further.
We were trotted off to our tent, and were given food and hot water bottles from the Koreans. We have put the hot water bottles on our affected areas, and this is helping blood flow, but causing immense amounts of pain. I have taken 6 painkillers, but still the pain is so severe, I can’t get to sleep. So I am writing this update! Tomorrow we plan to go down to base camp.
Paul and Fiona at camp 2, feeling very appreciative of all the support we have received.