“How cold was it?” is the logical question to ask a climber of Mt. Everest. However the correct question may just as often be “how hot was it?” That is certainly the case for climbers in the Western Cwm.
The Western Cwm runs from the top of the Khumbu Icefall at 20,000 ft to the bottom of the Lhotse Face at 22,300 ft. Cwm is a Welsh term for a bowl shaped valley. The Western Cwm can be thought of as a lazy river of ice and snow that is marked by huge lateral crevasses that guard entrance to the upper sections of Everest and Lhotse. Camp 1 is basically located at the bottom of the Western Cwm and Camp 2 near the top. The Western Cwm was named by George Mallory in 1921.
The Western Cwm is also know as the Valley of Silence because it is windless and therefore extremely quiet. Despite its relatively gentle slope, it can be one of the most difficult sections on the route.
The best way to understand why the Western Cwm can be so punishing is to reference the water boiling systems that are ubiquitous in the Khumbu Valley. Look carefully in the image above and you will see a tea pot set inside a solar refractory. On a bright day it doesn’t take long for the reflected solar energy to boil water. If you imagine the Western Cwm as a solar refractory with reflective glaciers all around, then the climber is a tea pot. It can be brutal.
I was in the Western Cwm for four days on the first rotation and fortunately the weather was such that I didn’t become a tea pot. Instead, I enjoyed some fun technical climbing without all of the drama of the Khumbu Icefall. There was vertical ice climbing, ladder crossings and rappelling, all in a casual and unhurried pace as we worked up and down the Western Cwm acclimatizing to the higher altitudes and then ultimately in our move to Camp 2.
Equally enjoyable was the opportunity to so clearly see the climbing route to the summit of Mt. Everest. It was the first opportunity to feel like I was building a relationship with the mountain and studying the route in a way that wasn’t hypothetical.
It’s not often that I will wish for cloudy and cold weather, but it will certainly be the case for my return visits to the Western Cwm.
Thanks for following along.