Jacob checked in on Friday to tell me that he was so impressed with the fitness, skill and motivation of Matt, Mike and Dan that he was planning to head to high camp yesterday (Saturday). I cautioned him that they were only on day seven of their climb, and that heading to high camp on day eight seemed awful quick to me. I advised him to make the best decision he could, based on how everyone was doing, but reminded him that the Boulder crew arrived at the mountain partially acclimatized, Nick just got off a Denali climb, and that, despite having been to 6000+ meters over 30 times, he was living at just above sea level just eight days ago.
It is easy to get excited and caught up in the momentum of an expedition that is moving along well. Add a weather window that appears to be closing over the next couple of days and the increase in pressure to push faster than you would typically push becomes very intense. I definitely felt that Jacob was calling me to get the perspective of someone who is removed from the excitement of the team's building energy levels, and while I supported whatever decision they made in the field (I'm sitting at my desk in Colorado and can only advise from this long arm's length), I did remind him that they have plenty of food and fuel, and that if they spend more days at the 14,200' camp, they will benefit greatly from their time at that altitude when they do move high.
So it was not a real surprise to get the call last night that the team did pack up camp and start up the hill above 14,200' camp to the steepest section of the route known as the headwall. Their progress was slowed as a rescue party made their way downhill, assisting a woman who had pushed too high, too fast and suffered from Pulmonary Edema, a critical care issue that required her to be helped down while on oxygen.
Not too far above the headwall, Jacob realized that he was not moving as well as he always had been able to move at that elevation. It was apparent that they were also going to arrive into the 17,200' High Camp at a fairly late hour. Snow walls to fortify their tents would need to be built and the chances of their feeling good enough to make a summit bid the following day (today) were slim to none. The signs were all pointing toward making the prudent decision to return to the 14,200' camp for further acclimatization.
I'm proud of Jacob for making this difficult decision. It is very hard to interrupt the momentum of a quick moving team, but safety and caution in such an unforgiving environment are more critical. As I mentioned, they have plenty of time, and I suspect they will make a move up high in the next day or so.
Until then- stay tuned!