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Throughout the night 50-mph winds screamed across the barren site of Camp IV, scarcely a sheltered spot even during the best of weather. The blizzard ripped at our tents. Visibility was down to no more than a few feet and wind-driven snow threatened to engulf and collapse our shelters. For two days and three nights we huddled and waited. With each hour our chances for making a try for the summit grew slimmer. On the second afternoon the storm did moderate enough for Mackinnon, Jackson and Pemba Dorje to descend to Camp III.
At 5:30 the morning of the third day Tashi, my personal Sherpa, looked out through the tent sleeve and excitedly shouted, "Sahib, it's clear. I can see all the way round from Darjeeling to Everest."
By 10 o'clock we forced on our boots, drank two more mugs of tea, vomited a little porridge after attempting to eat and rolled up our sleeping bags.
With Brown and Evans at each end of the rope and two Sherpas between Mather and myself, we took turns breaking trail. We sank into the soft snow up to midcalf and often up to our knees. Suddenly we realized that we were wading in the debris of a new snow avalanche. Ahead we saw what looked like a Primus stove sticking out of the snow. We mounted a steep pitch and to our horror discovered that the avalanche had scattered the tents, oxygen cylinders, kerosene, cookers and food across the slope.
Numbly, we searched for what was left. What we found we added to our loads and, gasping for breath, wallowed the last few yards to the campsite. The avalanche had been there too. All that remained visible was the tip of a tent.
It was 4:15. The sun here had set and I felt desperately cold. My companions' faces were pinched and blue, with great icicles hanging from their nostrils and beards.
DIGGING AND BATTLING
Despite our condition we could not rest, for it was fast growing dark. During the next two hours we dug for buried equipment and battled against the wind to rig our tents. Somehow we got the tents up, the Sherpas lit a stove and produced mugs of hot tea. Then all of us crawled into our sleeping bags, turned on our oxygen and slept.
By morning we were too exhausted to make an early start so we radioed Hardie and Streather—the second summit team—to remain below and everything was put back a day.
It was nearly 9 o'clock before we got under way the next day. Mather and Evans took the first rope with the Sherpas. Joe and I trailed to save our energy for the summit.