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The group goes on their last acclimatization trip in this chapter, from Camp Two to Camp Three, spending the night there, at 24,000 feet before returning to Base Camp. They leave Camp Two at 4:45 am, and the temperature is negative seven degrees Fahrenheit. Doug Hansen and Krakauer both awake feeling terrible—cold, exhausted and suffering from various maladies such as frostbite.
They begin to climb in a wind chill that dips to forty degrees below zero. Krakauer underdresses, anticipating more solar radiation when the sun comes up, and he becomes too cold to climb. His fingers and feet are numb. He stops to wait for a guide when Hall gives a radio command for everyone to descend. Nearly all of the team members have frostbite, and Doug Hansen has an injury to his respiratory tract. Two weeks before the expedition he had minor throat surgery and was now susceptible to infection. They determine he has a frozen larynx. Doug is afraid that he will have to stop climbing, and is particularly disappointed, especially given that he came within a few hundred feet of the summit in 1995.
Morale at the camp is low, and Hall begins to argue with the South African and Taiwanese team about stringing up a rope to climb up a particularly treacherous pass called the Lhotse Face. Initially, members from each group were supposed to ensure that the ropes were in place, but for some reason that plan hadn't come to fruition. When Sherpas from Hall and Fischer's teams leave to secure the ropes, the Sherpas from the South African and Taiwanese teams keep sleeping, refusing to help. Later, the Taiwanese guide apologizes to Hall, but Woodall, a South African, gets angry and begins swearing and making threats. This begins a feeling of animosity between Hall's team and the South African team.
During this time, Ngawang has not yet died, and they receive reports on his condition. The Sherpas maintain that he does not have HAPE. Instead, they believe that Sagarmatha, the goddess of the sky, is punishing him because one of climbers on Fischer's team did something to anger her. That climber supposedly had a relationship with another climber high up on the mountain, toward Lhotse Face. She did this at Base Camp too, but, as Lopsang one of Scott Fischer's Sherpas and Ngawang's nephew, explains that the higher one goes, the more disrespectful sexual activities between unmarried couples are. The Sherpas, Buddhists, attempt throughout the climb to appease Sagarmatha by building altars, raising prayer flags, lighting incense and praying. The Sherpas required each time to participate in a religious ceremony before first attempting the Icefall.
When Ngawang dies, Lopsang descends all the way down the mountain to be there. He then re-ascends, but is exhausted. Fischer is worried—Lopsang is his top Sherpa, and without him at full strength his group is compromised. Lopsang is considered a legendary climber, having summated Everest numerous times without supplemental oxygen, and has demonstrated "such astonishing prowess above 26,000 feet" (168).
This is the chapter in which most of the people in the group start significantly feeling the effects of the journey. Most encounter frostbite or worse, and for the first time the team hits weather that prevents them from going as far as they'd planned. Not yet up as high as Camp Three, they are already pushed back by the unpredictability of Everest. "Even without unleashing the worst it could dish out, the mountain had sent us scurrying for safety" (163).
It seems almost inevitable that the group will run into problems with the Taiwanese or South African expeditions. The genesis of the problem, however, is surprising—these groups agree to help secure a rope up a difficult pass in the mountain, and then refuse to help when called upon to make good on the promise. Securing the rope is not simply something that helps the clients, but it is a necessity for every climber. The fact that these groups, and especially their Sherpas, are unwilling to help upsets the concept of mutual trust. The Sherpas in particular are there to help, and that they cannot be troubled to provide even the most basic assistance lends credence to Hall's prediction that disaster is inevitable. Their lack of cooperation also ads an unnecessary tension to the climb. Everyone on the mountain already has numerous obstacles to overcome without having to worry about inter-expedition animosity. Woodall's response seems particularly immature, and undoubtedly the climbers must wonder what would happen if someone had to call upon Woodall to help in an emergency.
The relationship between Fischer's primary Sherpa, Lopsang, and Ngawang is revealed in this chapter. Lopsang actually makes an entire extra climb when descends to be with his uncle, and then climbs up again to rejoin the group. He covers territory that the other climbers have toiled and sweat over with remarkable speed. Krakauer barely comments on his absence, except to say that the extra trip has made Lopsang tired. This demonstrates the strength and skill of the Sherpas. However, Lopsang is in rough shape—his uncle has just died, and he has physically overexerted himself. With each passing day it seems as if some of the climbers who anchor the expeditions become less and less strong.
Krakauer is fascinated that the Sherpas believe that Ngawang is stricken with an illness other than HAPE. The concept of retaliation by a God on Everest is an entirely new concept altogether. The idea that to make it up the mountain safely, one must appease Sagarmatha is simple and Krakauer seems to embrace it. Perhaps it is a way to reduce the complexities of climbing Everest into one all- powerful entity. While the presence of a god means that humans might not have control over the outcome of situations, it gives humans a chance to control the happiness or appeasement of that god. The Sherpas strict adherence to the Buddhist traditions of prayer, lighting incense and performing rituals is an attempt to reach those uncertain variables that might dictate the eventual outcome of the climb.
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