Camp 3 is a special place and my favorite camp on Mt. Everest, by far. Camp 3 is located at approximately 23,500 ft and is about one-third the way up the Lhotse Face. The Lhotse Face is a steep ice wall that extends continuously for about 4,000 ft above Camp 2 at an average slope of 45 – 55 degrees with several extended vertical sections. Platforms for tents are chipped out of the slope with tremendous effort and the steepness and exposure, even within the camp, requires being attached to the fixed rope at all times. No exceptions. There are frequently repeated warnings of climbers who only steps from their tent have slipped and fell from Camp 3. The mountain affords very little forgiveness for errors on the Lhotse Face.
And, needless to say, the views from Camp 3 are simply amazing.
I had been to Camp 3 once before during our second rotation for a short visit then returned to Camp 2 the same day. It was a sobering experience. My first visit to Camp 3 was without supplemental oxygen and it was extraordinarily difficult. I recall the experience of being just a few hundred yards below camp and it feeling like it was an interminable distance. Each step was all that I could muster and was punctuated by four deep gasping breathes, then another step. It was extraordinarily challenging.
On the summit rotation I had full confidence that I would make it from Camp 2 to Camp 3. The uncertainty was how much easier it would be climbing with supplemental oxygen. The first visit took all of my physical and mental effort and I knew that to make it another mile higher to the summit, the second visit with supplemental oxygen had to be significantly easier. Otherwise I was in big trouble.
So the great unknown for me was whether or not breathing supplemental oxygen would provide the extra energy that would be required to go high on the mountain. I had only one experience breathing supplemental oxygen at altitude and that was for a single night at Camp 2 at a flow rate of 1 liter per minute. That night I slept uninterrupted, warmer and more deeply than any other night on the mountain, including my nights at Base Camp. I was planning to climb to Camp 3 at a flow rate of 2 liters per minute and I remained hopeful that it would make a significant difference.
When the weather forecast finally improved and we left for Camp 3 after six nights at Camp 2, I was amazed and incredibly thankful for the difference that the supplemental oxygen provided. As advertised, supplemental oxygen was a “game changer.” My best day of climbing on the entire expedition was the day from Camp 2 to Camp 3. I was full of energy, I felt warm, and arrived to camp with a newfound confidence that the summit was possible.