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The next morning Evans and Hardie cut their way along a great whaleback of ice, skirting the maze of bottomless crevasses, until they stood on the Great Shelf at last.
It was Friday the thirteenth, a crucial moment for our entire expedition. We had succeeded in reaching our original objective-the Shelf. Indeed, Evans and Hardie had pushed even farther, almost to the Gangway, and discovered a site for Camp V. From here the summit—less than 2,900 feet beyond—seemed within our grasp.
There was an air of lightheartedness at Base Camp where the rest of us had gathered to await Charles' return. We knew now that we were going to make a bid for the summit, and that soon he would be allotting each of us a vital task during the assault.
PLAN OF ATTACK
Charles burst into the mess tent at Base Camp while we were lunching. Someone handed him a mug of tea and quite suddenly he outlined his plan:
Tom Mackinnon and John Jackson would lead Sherpa teams carrying supplies to Camp V—the equivalent of the South Col of Everest. Then the first summit pair, Joe Brown and myself, with Charles, Neil Mather and four Sherpas in support, would move up to camp a day behind. The latter's role was to place Camp VI—the final camp—as high as possible near the top of the Gangway. Streather and Hardie, the second summit team, would rest at a lower camp, prepared to move up in case Brown and I failed. The plan seemed infallible. But we had neglected to calculate the ferocity of the mountain itself.
The first trouble came when trying to stock Camp V. The day before he was to start, Jackson became snow-blind when he lifted his fogged-up goggles. In acute pain, he nonetheless insisted on carrying out his assignment; he felt that he could at least urge the Sherpas on.
The decision was made and Jackson, roped between Sherpas, started out with Mackinnon to climb from Camp III to Camp V. They spent a very windy night at Camp IV and the next morning no Sherpa was in a mood to make up his load. To make matters worse Jacks' snow blindness was even more painful.
It was a rugged day. Deep, soft snow lay over much of the route and the loads of 40 pounds were too heavy for such an altitude. By 4:00 in the afternoon, five of the Sherpas had reached camp and under Mackinnon's direction pitched a tent. The other four Sherpas, still some way off, were forced to dump their loads on an exposed slope of ice and return below.
Our plan was now to pick up this gear and occupy Camp V the next day. But that night the wind ominously changed and it began to snow. Brown and I and Mather and Evans with four Sherpas were in Camp IV; and before dark Jackson, still unable to see, Mackinnon and a Sherpa, Pemba Dorje, joined us.