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Krakauer's group remains at Base Camp, acclimatizing during this chapter. Keeping everyone (twenty-six team members in all) healthy proves to be a difficult feat, but Hall is a readily impressive guide. He constantly studies figures, data, information and schedules to be sure they do not encounter anything unexpected.
The overview of their climbing strategy is revealed in this chapter: after spending a few weeks at Base Camp, the group will set up four different camps on the way to the top. Each camp will be about 2,000 feet higher than the last, and they will bring food, water and oxygen to each one, even though climbing with that gear—primarily the Sherpas' duty—becomes progressively more difficult. In order to acclimatize, the group must make several excursions from Base Camp before the actual summit climb. The first acclimatization ascent is on April 13. As they assemble all their gear, Krakauer notices that some of his teammates are wearing new mountaineering boots. He worries about those climbers, because one of the elementary rules of climbing is not to wear boots that aren't broken in. He also worries about the fact that most of his teammates hadn't climbed in the last year or two. Krakauer points out the differences between training in a gym, and training by climbing an actual mountain.
Krakauer gives an overview of the route up the lower half of the mountain. The group plans to climb a valley, relatively manageable and safe despite a few crevasses, then up a part of the mountain called the Icefall. The Icefall is a glacier that comes to rest over a drop-off. The glacier on the Icefall moves a few feet a day, causing nails of ice to form. Eighteen climbers had died in the Icefall.
Hall's now almost universally accepted approach to the Icefall is to appoint a team to go ahead and carve out the path that the rest of the climbers would use during their ascents. In 1988, the group that carved out the route demanded money from each climber to pass through, like a toll road. Initially bothered by the practice, Hall accepted it and in 1993, 1994 and 1995 determined the route and collected the toll himself.
Ladders and ropes, put there before the expedition by the Sherpas, cover the glacier itself. Climbing the Icefall is frightening, and requires the employment of an unusual roping technique that prevents any climber from being roped to another. Instead, the climbers ascend independently. Krakauer is relieved to learn that this is the method used on Everest, because it means that his trust in his teammates doesn't have to be as great or as tested as it otherwise would be. Krakauer witnesses an avalanche on his way up, and acknowledges the many dangers in scaling the Icefall. Describing the Icefall as "a three-dimensional landscape of phantasmal beauty," Krakauer's fear is tempered by his enthrallment with the Icefall.
About seventy-five percent of the way to base camp, the group encounters a serac formed by the moving glacier that stands about twelve stories tall. They have to climb as quickly as possible, to avoid being underneath the serac when it crumbles or slides. Krakauer describes trying to climb quickly while not yet being suitably acclimatized. He can only move five or six steps before needing to rest, but makes it up the Icefall.
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