I start down the headwall and set off three avalanches in the first 50m - this section is a bit of a traverse - which is a real worry for later on but also exceedingly dangerous for anyone coming up. Sherpas will be coming up to clear the North Col at some point today given the beak in the storm and a quick radio call to ABC reveals that they won't yet be on the headwall so I carry on down. Things soon get even trickier as there is deep snow over a very hard, icy base and I lose my footing on a few occasions. As above, most of the anchors here have blown, so there is little protection from the ropes here and again a couple of times I am hanging from my ice axe having slipped down the near vertical sections. After the second one of these I give myself a good talking to - I am so close to getting back to camp and despite my state and the conditions of the mountain, I have the strength and skills to get down safely as long as I am sensible. From then on it actually becomes rather enjoyable aided by the fact that the weather has been continually improving. The last time I came down this, I made it in 20 minutes; this time was nearly two hours!
From there, it is just the long trek across the glacier and then the top of the moraine field back to camp which is just a long, weary slog before I can collapse into a chair back in the mess tent for a well earned drink of green tea and a can of coke! In fact this is pretty much the pattern for the rest of the day but I still have little appetite and can eat little more than noodle soup. My sleeping bag starts calling and in mid afternoon I totter off to my tent to get some sleep.
|ABC is still under a few feet of snow!|
However this doesn't last long and by early evening I am coughing badly and starting to have breathing difficulties again. This is pretty worrying as I have come a long way down the mountain to an altitude at which I am fully acclimatised and all I am doing is lying in a tent! This gets worse and worse so eventually I have to get some medical help from Rob along with yet another bottle of oxygen.
I am first treated for Hape (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) which is basically the lungs being severely impacted by the altitude but this is more precautionary than anything as I don't really have other symptoms and it has actually got worse rather than improving as I have descended. My throat still looks horribly irritated and inflamed which is a typical (although in this case very severe) reaction to the cold, dry air on mountains and especially when using oxygen - and what caused my original cough that started this all off. The treatment for this is to gargle and swallow aspirin dissolved in water. We have no idea what is going on in my lungs or any way to diagnose it here so we will just have to hope that I can deal with it until we get back to Kathmandu and a 'decent' hospital.
With the oxygen on at a low flow rate and breathing through a buff to provide some protection to my poor throat, I feel better and manage to sleep through until 1 am when Rob comes to check me again. My throat feels better but there is little change in my lungs so we continue with the aspirin in water treatment and I sleep relatively well through the rest of the night aside from my continual coughing intervals.