By Staff Sgt. Robert Cloys
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
It’s been more than a month since Capt. Colin Merrin, a GPS operator from the 2nd Space Operations Squadron here, arrived in Nepal to begin his two-week trek to Mount Everest Base Camp where he has spent time acclimating to the world’s tallest peak.
“It was fun to get up on the [Khumbu] Icefall today and do a little climbing,” said Merrin, April 21 during one of his few phone updates. “I imagine it gets a little crazier up higher.”
Merrin is part of the USAF 7 Summits Challenge summit team bound for Mount Everest, an independent team whose vision since its creation in 2005 has been to reach seven famed summits and plant the American and Air Force flags.
For the initial 40-mile trek to base camp, Merrin had a few friends to cheer him on aside from his teammates. Capt. Megan Harkins, 1st Space Operations Squadron, and Capt. Heidi Kent, 7th Space Operations squadron, hiked the first leg of his journey through Khumbu Valley.
“I don’t think anyone would be able to explain just how beautiful the scenery is throughout the entire Khumbu Valley,” said Harkins. “Standing at the top of Kala Pattar at an elevation of 18,200 feet, and still straining my neck to look up at gigantic mountains in every direction, is an experience that I will probably never have again in my life. It’s literally breathtaking, and pictures will never be able to fully portray just how amazing those views are.”
Although getting to Everest Base Camp took roughly 14 days, the group arrived just as planned despite several members of the group contracting a stomach bug along the way.
At around 14,000 feet, Merrin was putting on his game face, said Harkins.
“He’s a very easy going and funny guy,” she said. “But, you could tell he was pretty focused and excited.”
The base camp is set up to provide climbers with all the necessities they will need to reach the summit of Mount Everest and serves as an operations base for climbers, climbing guides and Sherpas.
“Everest Base Camp is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before or will see again,” said Harkins. “A large tent city set up on top of a rock-covered glacier. It was eerie to hear the glacier cracking underneath you at night.”
Merrin and the USAF 7 Summits Team will climb the Southeast Ridge of Mount Everest via the South Col, a route originally pioneered by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.
The team, for a little more than a month, has relied on four camps to become acclimated to the extremely high altitude they will endure to reach Mount Everest’s summit.
Camp 1, used for early acclimation, has an elevation of roughly 19,500 feet and sits at the top of the Khumbu Icefall. Separating Camp 1 and Camp 2 is the Western Cwm (pronounced “coom”) a bowl-shape valley near the Lhotse Face, where Camp 2 is located.
The base of Lhotse Face sits at an elevation of 21,300 feet, and is a perfect place for climbers to practice ascending fixed ropes up a 3,700 foot wall of glacial ice with an average pitch of 40 to 50 degrees leading to Camp 3 on a small ledge near the top of the face.
The final camp sits in the saddle between Mount Everest and Lhoste, the fourth highest peak in the world. At an elevation of roughly 26,000 feet, Camp 4 is one of the most remote and desolate locations humans regularly visit.
The month of May provides climbers with favorable conditions for a summit attempt of Mount Everest. With an elevation on 29,035 feet, the upper portion of the colossal mountain actually enters in to the jet stream and causes winds in excess of 100 mph. However, as monsoon season approaches, warmer air moving in to the area allows windows of more hospitable winds of 20-30 mph at the summit.
Generally, climbers are looking for a four to five-day window of stable weather to make a safe journey to the top. The latest report from the USAF 7 Summits Challenge Team predicts that their final ascent from Camp 4 to Mount Everest’s summit will take place on or around May 18.
Soon, the dream of reaching the summit of Mount Everest will become reality for Merrin as he and the USAF 7 Summits Challenge Team become the first team of active-duty military members to reach its summit in honor of friends and colleagues who have died in the line of service since 9/11.
You can follow the team’s progress on the 7 Summits Challenge Facebook page.
(Editor’s Note: This is the second story in a three-part series highlighting Capt. Colin Merrin’s journey to Mount Everest.)