In 2001, Chris Warner was back on Everest, guiding the North Ridge. On May 23 the team summited. Evelyne Binsack was the first Swiss woman to summit Everest. Ellen Miller was the first American woman to summit Everest from the North Ridge (a year later becoming the first American woman to summit Everest from the North and South). Naoki Ishikowa reached the "three poles" that year. Jaime Vinals climbed to his Seventh Summit. And Marco Siffredi made the first complete snow board descent of Everest. But in the end this expedition may best be remembered for the amazing rescue that unfolded following the last climbers and guides reaching the summit.
A Note from Russell Brice, Expedition
Here is a short note as I
start my 11th expedition to Everest, 10 of which have been on the North side. I
welcome the 10 clients, 3 other guides and 11 Sherpas who will all play an
important part in the expedition over the next 2 months. I am pleased to report
that I have an incredibly experienced team this year. The bio data of these
members will appear else where, but 6 of the 10 clients have been on
expeditions with Himalayan Experience before. Andy Lapkass and Chris Warner
have both worked for Himalayan Experience as guides to Everest before, and
Asmus Norreslet works with my sister company, Chamonix Experience, in France.
Seven of the 11 Sherpas have
worked with Himalayan Experience before, some of the most senior Sherpas are
now on their 15th expedition with me. This year we have some young Sherpas who
will start their training with Himalayan Experience. They will hopefully become
regular staff members of my expeditions in the future. Between the guides and Sherpa
staff we have a total of 11 ascents of Mount Everest.
I also have a small team of
Tibetan yak men who have been working for Himalayan Experience over the last
few years.One of these men, Karsang climbed with us to North Col last year and
then to the summit of Cho Oyo last autumn season. I hope that he will reach the
summit of Everest with our team this year.
For the first time this
year, Himalayan Experience is offering trips to North Col. I have one group of
4 and another of 6 who will embark on this program this season.
In order to support this
large number of people it is necessary to bring almost 11,000kg of freight.
There is 4,200kg of food, 5,000kg of equipment, 450kg of rope, and another
1,300kg of personal equipment. There will be approximately 120 yak loads to
ABC, a two day journey.
So, I welcome you all to
read about my 11th Everest expedition, with 11 nationalities, 11 Sherpas, 11
Everest summits between the staff, and with 11,000kg of equipment. I hope that
our story is a successful and safe one.
Team of Himalayan Experience Everest
Fit to Climb...
Putting together a climbing
team for an expedition is a tricky business. So many people would love to climb
Everest, but you don't choose the team based on who would look best in the
summit photos. You need to choose people who you can count on when the going
gets rough. Each of us will be tied to other climbers. Our lives will be in
their hands. With this in mind we have carefully chosen our team.
In the past, most Everest
expeditions were nationalistic affairs, in which the stars of each country
would be invited by the leader. Edmund Hillary was invited on the 1953 Everest
Expedition, and although a strong climber, had very little Himalayan climbing
experience. This year, we have a total of 11 Everest summits among the staff.
Most of the clients have climbed other 8000 meter peaks (the 14 tallest
mountains rise above the magical 8000 meter (26,200 ft.) level). As you read
through their bios, you'll realize that every member of this team has much more
experience than Edmund Hillary had.
Expedition leader: Russell Brice, New Zealand
Russ is the expedition
leader and the owner of Himalayan Experience. This will be his 11th expedition
to Everest. Russ has guided over 35 Himalayan expeditions and is a founder of
IGO8000, the association that regulates commercial expeditions to 8,000-meter
Guide Andy Lapkass, U.S.A
Andy has been on more than
20 Himalayan expeditions and has summited Everest twice. This will be his
second season as a guide on Russ' Everest expedition. Andy also competes in
adventure races. He and Ellen Miller were on the same team in the Borneo
Eco-Challenge, competing against Owen West.
Guide Chris Warner, U.S.A.
Chris has guided more than
70 international expeditions. He is the owner of Earth Treks' Climbing Center
in Columbia, Md.,
the largest climbing gym and guide service on the East Coast of the United States.
Chris has climbed Cho Oyu and has pioneered
new routes on Ama Dablam and Shivling. He guided with Andy and Russ on Everest
last year, but failed to summit due to poor weather conditions.
Guide Asmuss , Danish
Asmuss is the 4th guide on
the trip. He summited Everest last year via the South Col. On an earlier trip,
he did a number of first ascents in the Karakorum.
Asmuss works as a guide in the Alps, living near Chamonix.
Roy Tudor Hughes, UK
Roy climbed Cho Oyu with Russ in 1998 and has been on a
number of other Himalayan expeditions including Broad Peak.
He is a retired hotel owner.
Kieron owns New Heights,
a group of outdoor equipment stores in Scotland. He also guides treks and
expeditions to the Himalaya. Kieron was on
Everest with us in 2000.
Owen West, U.S.A
Owen lives in New York City,
trades natural gas on Wall Street, and is an author, Marine Corps veteran, and
adventure racer. He has competed in three Eco-Challenges and was the lonely
male on Team Playboy Extreme. You can read all about Owen's experience in the
March 2001 issue of Playboy.
Ellen Miller, U.S.A
Ellen is an endurance
athlete. She has run in the Tibetan Mountain Marathon, the Borneo Eco-Challenge
and several other adventure races. She has climbed Kilimanjoro, Mount McKinley
and Cho Oyu among other peaks.
Marco Siffredi, France
Marco is one of the world's
leading extreme snowboarders. He has surfed Cho Oyu, Dorje Lhakpa, Tocloraju,
Artensonraju and every unimaginable face in the Alps.
Marco plans to snow board from the summit of Everest. He has been a hit in Lhasa, skateboarding
Evelyne Binsack, Swiss
Evelyne is a certified
mountain guide and helicopter pilot. She has climbed the North Face of the
Eiger three times, including a winter ascent. This is her second trip to the Himalaya. She hopes to be the first Swiss woman to summit
Everest via the North. She will be climbing with Robert Bosch.
Robert Bosch, Swiss
Robert is a certified
mountain guide and a professional adventure photographer. He has been high on
the Everest West Ridge and to 8,300 meters on the South Col. He has summited Broad Peak,
Ama Dablam and many other Himalayan peaks. With a grin, Robert says he is here
only to work. His hope is to capture Evelyn's climb on film.
Jaime Viñals, Guatemala
Jaime has climbed six of the
seven summits. This is his fulltime job! This will be Jaime's third Everest
expedition. He has written a Central American best-seller about his early
Naoki spent the last year
traveling from the North Pole to the South Pole by skis, kayaks, bikes, boots
and a plane (to hop the Drake Passage). He has
also climbed six of the seven summits. He is writing a book about his
expeditions to the "Three Poles".
Jess Stock, British
Jess is a professional
adventure photographer. He commutes between homes in Wanaka,
New Zealand and Chamonix, France.
He has been on expeditions to Cho Oyu, Melungtse (with Bonnington), Mera Peak
(which he skied with his wife), and the Golden Throne (on which he briefly held
the high altitude ski record).
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
Russell Brice, of Himalayan
Experience, and Chris Warner, of Earth Treks, will once again be leading a team
of climbers on an expedition to Mount Everest. They will be following in the
snow filled footsteps of Mallory and Irvine,
climbing via the North Ridge, from Tibet. The expedition departs Katmandu on April 1st and
hopes to put climbers on the summit by the end of May. During this expedition
journals and photos will once again be sent back and posted on this page.
This year's team will be
made up of 10 clients, 4 guides, 8 high altitude Sherpas, 4 cooks and 4
Tibetans. This is truly an international team, with climbers from New Zealand, South
France, England, Switzerland,
Scotland, Nepal, Tibet
and the United States.
The team will establish Base
Camp at 17,200 ft. in the Rongbuk
Valley. Base Camp is
literally placed at the end of the road. A convoy of jeeps and trucks will
deposit the team and over 20,000 pounds of equipment, food, fuel and oxygen
tanks at this point. Once ready, we will load the gear we need on the mountain
(10-15,000 pounds) onto a yak train. Each yak can carry approximately 120
pounds. They will need two separate teams of approximately 60 yaks, to
transport the gear on the two day journey to Advanced Base Camp (ABC) at 21,400
ABC is a wind swept place at
the base of Mt. Changste. It literally is a swath of
rubble, strewn like a thin veneer on top of the slowly moving East Rongbuk
Glacier. Throughout the season, this strip will be filled by 4 large group
tents (kitchen, storage, dining and communications), 20 sleeping tents and 2
toilet tents. Above and below, 20 or more teams will have a similar set up.
Viewed from the North Ridge, ABC, with its colorful tents, is a veritable
flowered choked meadow in comparison to the icy white and steel blue glaciers
and the black and brown rock faces.
ABC is the base of
operations for the climb. The team will live out of this camp, going off to
work on the upper mountains for a few hours or days at a time. Two superb cooks
will work around the clock to feed them. Despite the excellent food, they will
each lose between 10 and 25 pounds. The cold, lack of oxygen and the hard work
combined, burn off more calories than can be consumed in a day.
The trail from ABC ascends
the ever more jumbled moraine to its highest reaches. From there they climb
onto the glacier and traverse a plateau to the base of an icy headwall. They
will string a series of fixed lines (ropes anchored in place and left for the
duration of the climb) for more than 1,000 vertical feet to the col (saddle)
between Changste and Everest. Here, at 23,000 ft. they will place Camp 1. The
only shelter here is a large wall of ice, behind which will be placed 6 tents.
Now on the North Ridge, more
fixed lines will lead to Camp 2 at 25,000 ft. The ridge is very exposed to high
winds and they will be traveling as if dressed for the summit from Camp 1 on
out. Last year, the team often encountered winds in excess of 50 mph and heavy
snowfall on this section of the route. The climbing between Camps 1 and 2 is
entirely on snow.
Camp 2 is literally a ledge
carved out of the snow. Four or five tents will be placed here, the only
protection afforded by a twisting of the ridgeline, funneling the snow over
Above Camp 2 the route
follows a rocky ridgeline upwards to Camp 3 (26,000 ft.). Most parties actually
place only 3 camps above ABC. Our team places 4 to better insure their chances.
The climb from Camp 2 to 3 takes them past more than a dozen other groups, each
with two or three tents perched on this wind scoured ridge.
Camp 3 is the site of the early
British Expeditions' Camp 5. Last year, Chris found a piton believed to be hand
forged and placed by the early British just below this camp. Russel found a
ridgepole and upright poles from their tent, along with a weathered can of
food. Chris also gathered a few other odds and ends from the tent, and brought
these down as well.
Camp 4 (27,230 ft.) is the
last stop before going for the summit. By the time this camp is established the
team will have carried more than 18 tents, 50 oxygen bottles (13 pounds each),
35 sleeping bags, 70 foam mattresses, 18 cook sets, 100 fuel canisters and
thousands of feet of rope up the mountain.
In order to aid
acclimatization, each climber will climb to at least the height of Camp 3
during the prep phase of the expedition. Once the hill is prepped, and the
climbers have had at least a few days rest in the oxygen rich, comparative
luxury of Base Camp, the summit bids begin.
The climbers will move up
the mountain, and weather permitting, move from camp to camp. Most climbers
will begin using Oxygen at Camp 3. Statistically, most successful summit bids
on the North Ridge occur in the second half of May.
Summit day begins at 1 a.m. with the melting of ice for hot
drinks. Once dressed, the climbers set out for the top, using the ropes that
are fixed, to follow a series of gullies and ledges to the ridge. There are
three "steps" on the North Ridge, the hardest being the famed Second
Step. In 1975 a Chinese expedition placed a ladder on the steepest of the three
"pitches" that make up the 100 ft. tall step.
The North Ridge ends where
the Third Step tops out on into a snow pyramid. Most climbers traverse up and
right across this section, tackling the final climb, via a rock gully that tops
the North Face. The summit is a stagger away.
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
Everest 2001 Journal Entries
March 2001 The Spirit of Mountaineering: Why am I going back
26 Columbia Maryland What does one do before leaving for Everest?
April 02 Kathmandu: The
bags are packed and we're ready to go!!!
April 03 Winging it past Everest to Lhasa, Tibet
April 04 Lots to explore in Lhasa Tibetan culture
April 09 Arriving at Base Camp
April 11 Prepping for the Climb
April 16 On the Move: Leaving Base Camp and Establishing
Advanced Base Camp
April 20 Advanced Base Camp has been established!
April 24 Chocolate cake and hard work are more reliable than
April 25 So much for the weather reports
May 03 Just What's Up That Hill?
May 07 The Sherpas are heading back up
May 10 Moving Up
May 11 It's Snowing, Again.
May 11 One man's "slow and painful" ascent of
Everest :) - by Owen West and
How Do You Deal with Knee Deep Snow? - by Chris Warner
May 13 Happy Mother's Day
May 15 Ellen Miller: Let Me Tell You About My Team
May 18 It's My Party and I'll Climb if I Want To
May 19 We're off to see the Wizard!
May 22 Last Journal before the Summit!
May 23-25 Reached the Summit
and then prayer needed.
May 26 Mini Update - Summit
and then Near Disaster
May 21-26 The Ascent, The Summit, Then Trouble Up High
June 7 Wrapping up and Final Notes
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
The Spirit of Mountaineering: Why am I going back to Everest?
Last June, Tony Kelly and I
were trapped in a tent at 25,000 ft. The wind was gusting to over 100 mph;
tossing grapefruit sized rocks and sheets of ice bigger than manhole covers
though the air. The tent in front of ours was hit, the nylon covering torn and
shredded, weakening this critical shelter. We spoke to our teammates in other
tents, barely 5 feet away, by walkie-talkie. Even if we yelled from tent to
tent, they couldn't hear over the screaming of the wind. The snow drifted
between the tent walls and the snow slope, pressing down upon us. Every few
hours, one of us would bundle up in our summit gear, crawl from the tent and
shovel the snow into the wind. If we didn't, the snow would bury us, seal off
the needed fresh air and slowly asphyxiate us.
Inside the tent, though, we
were patiently waiting for the storm to peter out. It was warm, acting as a
greenhouse during the day. It would only drop to minus 20 degrees after sunset.
We had plenty of food, but little appetite. We melted snow to brew hot drinks.
We dazed in and out of little naps.
The walkie-talkie began to
buzz, slowly waking me up. "Pull whatever gear you can and escape at the
first sign of the storm slowing," said Russel the expedition leader, to
Andy a guide in the closest tent.
"Let me get this
straight, we are abandoning the climb."
Tears formed, and my chest
began to throb. What had they said: the climb is over, I am at 25,000 ft.
trying for the summit a second time, feeling great and now my chances are over
because of this storm? The tears rolled down my face. Tony, too, was crying, a
glove hiding the stream of tears. Fifteen minutes passed before I could talk,
pushing the button on the radio to say, "We are crying up here, Russ, but
know that you are right. Let's just get off this mountain alive."
Eight hours later, during a
lull in the storm, we escaped the tents at 25,000 ft. and struggled down to
Advanced Base Camp at 21,400 ft. Despite the exhaustion and disappointment, I
knew I would return to Everest the next spring, hoping to make my dream of
climbing Everest come true.
Mountaineering is obviously
a sport of great risk. I've been tumbled by avalanches, fallen 500 ft. through
the air (I did bounce ...once), gone for days with little to no food and water,
suffered frost bite on nine fingers, and rescued many other climbers who
weren't as lucky as I am. It is also an expensive hobby, costing more than
$35,000 to climb Everest and many thousands to climb any other peak in the Himalayas. Let's not forget the months of being away from
home, two showers in two months, canned hot dogs for dinner, and a herd of
exotic illnesses stampeding through my intestines.
There has got to be a reason
why I return to the mountains time and time again. After all, I've been on more
than 70 international expeditions.
Great athletes, artists,
musicians, and thinkers all agree that happiness comes from within, a side
effect of our pursuit of a fabulous dream. "The best moments occur when a
person's body or mind is stretched to the limit in a voluntary effort to
accomplish something difficult and worthwhile."-M. Csikszentmihalyi's Flow
When we set a goal, develop
the skills to achieve it, then go and "just do it," we enter into
what's called the championship zone, the flow state. Everest and most of the
other mountains I climb provide me with the experience of being in the
championship zone. And boy does that zone feel good. When you are in the zone,
your mind is clear, actions flow effortlessly, super-human things seem to
happen with ease. There is no fear, no emotions but satisfaction.
Imagine the sweet
satisfaction that comes from solving the complex riddles of a life and death
struggle. Once you've pulled that off, you carry that ability around with you.
If you are wise, you'll apply these lessons to as many situations as you can.
On one level, climbing
Everest is a test I've chosen for myself. It is a test of the skills and
abilities that I've developed over the years. Standing on the summit isn't so
important really, but climbing the mountain is. A picture of me on the top
would simply be a reminder of my time in the championship zone, just like a
picture of an Olympic athlete with a medal around their neck. These are symbols
of the commitment we make to achieve a goal and the hard work, often painful
but satisfying, we endure in the process.
Climbing Everest is also
more than playing in the zone. Friendships are made. Great books are read. The
dusty villages and ancient monasteries of Tibet are explored. Scenes of
immeasurable beauty unfold with every foot of elevation gained. I think these
alone are great to experience, that time in the zone cetainly sweetens the
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
What does one do before leaving for Everest?
Days of Leisure or a Crazy Schedule?
March 26th, 2001. Columbia, Maryland.
The sun is rising upon a
complete mess. Piles of gear litter the floor, a cup of coffee is hidden among
down jackets and solar panels, all of this needs to be crammed into duffle bags
in the next few hours. I think I'm a bit behind schedule.
The last two weeks have
simply flown by. From March 10-18, I was in Ecuador, working with a great group
from the Wharton MBA program. That team was climbing Cotopaxi,
their first big mountain, while exploring the theme of leadership. That trip
was refreshing for me, allowing me to be in the mountains for all the right
reasons: celebrating partnerships, pushing limits, exploring the lessons at the
center of both mountaineering and business. Not only did it help me physically
prepare for Everest, it helped my mind become centered on the Shared Summits
We flew into National Airport late on Sunday and by 7 a.m. on
Monday I was running to meetings. This past week I met with over 800 school
kids, sharing stories from last year's Everest expedition, while prepping them
for this year's challenge. It was so gratifying to be in the classrooms,
watching some very suburban kids get caught up in the possibilities of climbing
Everest. You could sense, from the lack of restraint, their excitement. The
"fashion shows" were simply hilarious, especially as we dropped the
rear ends of the climbing suit, revealing the answer to the age old question:
"How do you go the bathroom up there?"
On Wednesday I ran from a
photo shoot at the gym (check out the Everest Special in the April 8th edition
of the Baltimore
Sun) to a live web chat at Sunspot.net. Heavy rains slowed us down, but we
arrived within a second or two of going live. I think I was breathing harder
than I do above 8000 meters.
On Wednesday and Thursday
nights I gave an Everest to Ama Dablam multimedia presentation at the Baileys
Crossroads and Timonium REI stores. As always, fun audiences. We raised a few
hundred dollars more for the Khijiphilate School Project. Thanks to that and an
additional $1000 donation from a dear friend, we have raised over $7000 for
that school. We now have enough to tear down the old school and build a new one
(with toilets, windows, desks, books, teachers, etc.). This fund raising is one
of the projects I am most proud of the Earth Treks' community for. Together we
have made a tremendous impact on one of the poorest villages in the hills of Nepal.
On Friday, the folks at
TEKSystems and Thingamajob.com invited me to a "Town Meeting". Over
150 folks wished us luck and presented me with the four laptops they have
customized for our use. Being tech savvy they laughed through my tale of
calling the help desk of one computer company while I was at Advanced Base Camp
"Oh, sounds like you're
hard drive is shot. Don't worry we have 24 hour service for anywhere in the
world. Give us your address and we'll send a technician to fix it."
"Red Tent, Advanced
Base Camp, Everest, Tibet. Sorry, but I don't know the
"W-W-Wait a second. Did
you say Everest? We don't have a service technician for your region."
I wonder if defrosting the
frozen screen, by holding it over a stove flame, voided any warranties.
On Saturday evening things
got even hotter. Over 400 people joined us at the gym, for the second annual
Everest Party. The Ellicott Mills Brewing Company brought kegs of micro-brewed
beer. It was so good, we drained all of the kegs by 10 pm! A blues band rocked
out in the Bouldering cave. A video of Ecuador,
Cho Oyu, Ama Dablam, Everest, the 2000 bouldering comp and Holiday
party was projected on a giant screen. Over $2000 worth of climbing gear,
outdoor clothing and gift certificates were raffled off. Over 100 Shared
Summits T shirts , with a beautiful design by teacher Andy Katz, were sold
(call the gym 1-800-CLIMB-UP to order one). The folks from TASC, Inc. presented
us with a check for $2000 to help cover Shared Summits' expenses. This now
annual event was a huge success.
So, now that my family has
gone home, the parties and presentations are over, the laptops and banners are
collected, the packing can begin. I better find that cup of coffee, or I'll
fall fast asleep on that mountain of socks.
Kathmandu: The bags are packed and we're ready to go!!!
April 2, 2001
On the way to Kathmandu, Edmund Hillary and I flew past Everest,
watching the traditional flag of blowing snow flutter from the summit. Everest
looked almost void of snow, a welcome image in comparison to the snow cloaked
peak we struggled with last year. (Tomorrow, our flight to Lhasa, Tibet
will curve, like a fish hook, past the summit. This will allow us to trace our
route and investigate the conditions from the warmth of the plane's cabin.)
Our good friends Ram and PB
met me at the airport with garlands of marigolds and orchids. They whisked me
through the crowds and off to the hotel. Russel (the expedition leader), Andy
Lapkass (guide), the Sherpas and I had a quick reunion and then launched into
the business of preparing for the climb.
Russel has a new base of
operations in Kathmandu, a house on the
outskirts of town. The place has been hopping for a week now. Shipments of
propane, fresh vegetables, oxygen cylinders and more, enter into this
"factory", are inspected, inventoried, sorted and packaged. The end
result is a blue barrel, much like a garbage can with a lock-able lid, that is
then stacked next to two hundred others. Two large trucks will transport these
barrels to the Tibetan border, where they will be transferred to four Chinese
trucks for the 4 day journey to base camp. Over 13,000 pounds of stuff will be
shipped to base camp.
Our clients began to arrive
two days ago. What a strong group!!! A few are mountain guides, most have
climbed other 8,000 meter peaks and one has just traveled by ski, kayak, boots,
bike (and a small plane flight) from the North Pole to the South Pole. Marco
Saffreidi, the youngest of the team, is attempting to snow board from the
summit. This should be no problem for him...he snow boarded from the summit of
Cho Oyu, Artesonraju, Toclaraju and a gillion other peaks. I guess Russel
discriminated against boring people when choosing this year's team.
In between packing barrels,
wrestling with the computers and listening to my team mates' tales, I've been
finding some time to enjoy my favorite Kathmandu
haunts. As always, there is the fun of "bumping into" old friends and
heroes. Of course everyone knows Russel, so just going to dinner becomes an arm
chair mountaineers dream come true.
This afternoon I was
invited, along with Lene Gammelgaard and Henry (her boyfriend) to lunch at PB's
house. PB and Lene worked together on Everest '96. Lene was on Scot Fisher's
team, while PB handled the logistics. Lene has written a fantastic book about
her experience Climbing High: A Woman's Account of Surviving the Everest
Tragedy. She has slowly weaned herself from climbing, but uses the lessons she
learned the hardway to help corporations in Europe
overcome the challenges they face.
We could have talked for
days. Our topics jumped from the '96 expedition to public speaking to the
deepest recesses of a climber's motivation. It was a rare moment to jump into
the why's of this sport. The how to...well that comes down one's WILL.
Lene and I had actually met
on Mt. Blanc in 1995. At the time she was
training for her Everest climb. After meeting thousands of climbers, it is
funny how we both could remember that meeting so many years ago.
I'll be reflecting on this
afternoon for quite some time. I am now carrying a copy of her book to Everest
The expedition is now ready
to push off. We will be flying to Lhasa,
Tibet early in
the morning. I hope to send a team roster from there. We won't be able to send
regular dispatches until base camp is established on the 9th or 10th of April.
In the meantime, fret not, for we have over 60 pounds of French roasted,
organically grown, Nepali coffee with us.
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
Winging it past Everest to Lhasa, Tibet
April 3, 2001
The year's first flight to Lhasa lifted off the
Tarmac a bit late, but did not disappoint. Circling up and out of Kathmandu, we had great views of the city's brick red
buildings and a dozen temples. The Monkey
Temple, high on a hill,
was the last to disappear.
Rising above the haze, the
sky turned a cobalt blue, and mountain after mountain reached upwards. All of Nepal and Tibet's
8000-meter peaks were lining the flight path: first Dhaulagiri, then Annapurna,
Manaslu, Shishapangma, Cho Oyu, Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and finally Kanchenjunga. Ama Dablam, Jannu, Melungtse, Mera and a
hundred other peaks, all worth dreaming about, filled in the carpet of white
and black peaks far below us.
The flight seems designed
for Everest climbers. We inched up to it, along the southern side, approaching
from the west. Then we began our turn north on the side of Makalu,
angling north and a bit west again. The West Ridge, South Col,
Kangshung Face, NNE Ridge and North Ridge were all in sight at one point or
another. Conditions looked perfect. There wasn't even a plume of wind blown
snow coming off the summit. Marco, our young French snow boarder, sat just in
front of me, pestering incessantly with the one question that mattered most:
"Is there enough snow to go from the summit?" I think so.
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
Lots to explore in Lhasa Tibet
April 4, 2001. Lhasa.
Lhasa, the city of a rumored 1 million people, 60 percent
Chinese, is the capital of Tibet.
It sits (at 3,600 meters/ 11,800 feet) in a wide valley with tall peaks lining
the sides (5,000 meters/16,500 feet). Like the Tibetan plateau, Lhasa is an arid place.
In spite of a large river flowing through the city and valley, there is little
vegetation, except in the cultivated fields. The lure of Lhasa is the Tibetan culture. Today we
visited the Potala, the traditional home of the Dalai Lamas and the
administrative center of the old Tibetan nation. It is a massive building, the
architecture among the most important in the East. Andy and I spent the morning
doing a Kora, or pilgrimage, along with a few thousand Tibetans. We
circumambulated the building, spinning the prayer wheels and stopping to hear
the monks chant. I shot a few roles of film, trying to capture the faces of the
Tibetans and the spirit of the Potala.
In the afternoon we visited
the Sera Monastery and were witness to the "debates". Hundreds of
young monks gathered in an outside courtyard, each with shaved heads and
dressed in the traditional maroon robes. One monk would sit on the ground,
while the other stood above him. Rocking forward on one foot and slapping his
hands together, the standing monk would shout out a question. Immediately the
sitting monk would calmly offer a reply. This debate is essentially a word
game, in which the sitting monk proved their knowledge by offering sarcastic or
obtuse answers. With the slapping and rocking and yelling, at first it seemed
like one monk was beating the other: quite a contrast to the Buddhist belief in
non-violence. In fact, the debates are more like a game show, in which the
winner gets eternal peace, instead of a Caribbean
is rarely what is seems to be at first glance.
On April 5th, we will
explore a few more of Lhasa's
sites. In the afternoon, Andy, Asmuss and I will head into the market to buy
the expedition's meat supply. We will need nearly 450 pounds/200 kilograms of
Yak meat and 66 pounds/30 kilograms of chicken. By the way, on last count we
had 20,000 pounds/9,218 kilograms of gear being shipped to base camp.
On April 6th we depart Lhasa and travel overland
to Xigatse. On the 7th we will travel on to Tingri, where we will spend two
nights. Early on the 9th we will leave Tingri, drive over the Panang La and
descend into the Rongbuk valley.
Base camp is in the upper
Rongbuk, where the road ends. At this stage everyone on the trip is doing
really well. We have been enjoying each other's company. The strength and
diversity of this group has boosted everyone's confidence and enthusiasm.
The jeeps rolled across the
Tibetan Plateau, climbing up dusty hills, passing streamers of prayer flags,
and after a quick new view, dropping down the other side. Eagles and ravens
circled above the passes. Yak men, driving their herds toward fresh pastures,
scarcely noticed our passing. The winds were howling, but the movement of
jeeps, yaks and eagles signaled the return of spring.
We entered the Rongbuk Valley, four-wheeling up the dirt and
boulder strewn road. Streams crisscrossed the road, but each river crossing was
easily passed on a bridge of ice. We rolled up to the Rongbuk Monastery and
paid our respects to the Buddhist Monks and Nuns who live in this desolate
place. At 16,500 ft. it is at the limits of year round human habitation. The
Rinpoche, who is the abbot of this monastery, has been reincarnated many times.
The wisdom gained from those lifetimes may explain why he is in Katmandu right now, not
awaiting Spring's arrival in this beautiful but unheated collection of
A few miles above the
monastery, the valley flattens out. It is on this outwash plain of the Rongbuk
glacier's terminal moraine, that base camp is established. Russel and the
Sherpas arrived a day earlier than us, only to find that our usual base camp
had been taken by the Australian Army. We settled for a site, a bit closer to
the mountain and on the lee side of a small hill.
The 5 large base camp tents
were set up and the cooks (Lacchu, Ram and Kuhl Bahadur a.k.a.
"Koobadoo" ) had lunch ready and waiting. The luxuries of Russ'
expeditions were obvious: the barrels of potato chips, the boxes of candy bars,
the CD player, and the thermoses of freshly roasted, organically grown coffee.
The list could go on. Each climber has his/her own tent, complete with thick
foam mattresses. At 7 a.m. a Sherpa visits each tent with a steaming mug of
tea. Dessert last night was fresh baked apple pie with a whipped cream topping.
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
Prepping for the Climb
It is considered a bad omen
to climb above base camp before having a puja ceremony. This Buddhist blessing
is a sacred act to the Sherpas and to those of us who will be climbing on
Chomolungma (the goddess mother of the earth), as Mt. Everest
is known to the Tibetans. Upon arrival, the Sherpas visited the monastary,
giving an offering of 20 fleece jackets, to find out which day was the most
auspicious for our puja. This morning two monks walked into camp and the
preparations began. A stone altar was built. Piles of food, pyramids of beer
and soda, burning juniper and all of our ice axes, were strategically placed on
the altar. The two monks sat up front, while we gathered behind them. The
chanting began, "Om mani padhme om."
Everest stood above us,
shining in the sun light. The wind hardly blew until we needed it to flutter
the prayer flags, sending good wishes to the heavens. Following custom, we
smeared barley wheat (tsampa) on each other's cheeks and threw handfuls of
blessed rice over our shoulders. The black birds hovered over head, awaiting
the puja's end to feed on the rice. With a final chant, the ceremony ended and
the food and drinks were passed around.
We are now ready to head to
advanced base camp (ABC). Well, almost. Most of the loads had to be
reorganized. The village head man has decided that each yak can only carry 40
kilos, down 10 kilos from last year and 20 kilos since 1999. Of course this
means that we will need more yaks, with no discount being offered. We had been
planning on 50 kilo loads and packed accordingly.
While base camp was being
set up, the loads re-organized, and the communication systems re-engineered,
the climbers have been getting themselves acclimated to this new altitude
(17,200 ft./5200m.). There are so many great hikes from our valley. In the next
few days, each of us will climb peaks that rise to 21,000 ft./6400m. Most of these
can be done in light-weight hiking boots. In between hikes, the cooks will
serve us carrot cake and pizza, or yak steaks and french fries. Take your pick.
A quick note on the weather:
It has been seasonable so far. A few hours each day, high winds (50-80
mph/100-160kph) have been blasting the summit, even though the jet stream is
not in our area. In base camp, the wind seems to blow lightly through the
afternoon. Temperatures here are mild: highs of 60 F/ 14 C and lows well below
freezing. Everest, like most of the peaks, is quite bare of snow. This should
make our climbing easier, although will make Marco's snowboard descent even
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
On the Move: Leaving Base Camp and
Establishing Advanced Base Camp
126 yaks, each loaded with
over 40 kilos (88 lbs.) of equipment, food, propane gas cylinders, rope and
oxygen bottles are plying the pathways of the Rongbuk and East
Rongbulk glaciers this week. Our team is moving up the hill.
The journey from Base Camp
to ABC follows a 22 km (13 mile) trail, climbing to 6400 m. (21,000 ft.). ABC
is situated along a thin strip of rock covered glacier, perhaps 50 meters wide
and 300 meters long. This leaves hardly enough room for the 26 expeditions that
hope to climb Everest this year. With a shortage of space in mind, Karsang, one
of our Sherpas, ran from BC to ABC on the day he arrived, claiming a choice
piece of real estate for our team.
Four days later, the rest of
the climbing Sherpas and the first group of 60 yaks began their two day journey
to ABC. Today, a third of the climbing team left BC for interim camp, a camp we
place half way along the route. Tomorrow, six more climbers, Russ, Asmus and 60
more yaks will leave. On April 18th, Chris and four North Col
trekkers will finally wave goodbye to the relative warmth and comfort of BC.
Advanced Base Camp is really
the launching point for the climb. This camp is the highest place that the yaks
can climb to. It is probably the highest place in the world accessed by yaks.
(Camels climb a bit higher on Mustagh Ata, a mountain in Kashgar.)
It will be good to move
above BC. While it is lower, warmer and more hospitable in most ways, we are
here to climb some this hill we've been gazing at for a week now. A lot of us
are getting antsy here, despite the excellent peaks we have been climbing and
the wonderful moments of relaxation we have earned, (it is hard to beat the
simple pleasure of laying in a sun warmed tent, reading a book). Most of us
feel as if we are getting too fat, here. The food has been so good, and Russ
has stocked up on all sorts of goodies. While we have plenty of potato chips,
fresh yak meat and chocolate covered Easter eggs, we are consuming over .5
kilos of coffee every day. Do the math: we brought 25 kilos for a 60 day expedition.
By the evening of April 2Oth
all of the climbers will be in ABC. I'd imagine that by that time, some of our
Sherpas will have struck out for higher camps, establishing at least a simple
tent at each of the four high camps, weather permitting, in barely a week.
Meanwhile the rest of us will start the long, hard process of stocking each
camp with the sleeping bags, oxygen, stoves, cook sets, medical supplies and
other gadgets we will need.
At this stage in the
expedition, everyone is healthy and happy. Not even a cough can be heard among
us. We're cautiously optimistic.
A quick weather report: we
arrived to a black mountain, with the thinnest of snow cover in the deepest
couliors and barely any snow patches on the faces. Two days ago it snowed, dumping
3 inches in BC, but over a foot high on the mountain. Since then a little more
snow has fallen. High winds have blown some of the faces clean, while creating
cornices on many of the ridgelines. The high winds would prevent any work from
being done high on the hill either yesterday or today. Base camp is clear of
snow, windy but warm.
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
Advanced Base Camp has been
The last of the climbing
team arrived at Advanced Base Camp (ABC) on April 19th. The Sherpas arrived on
the 16th, and with the help of Kharsang, who had arrived a few days earlier,
scraped a fantastic campsite from the rock covered glacier.
Hiking to ABC was a
challenge for each of us. It took two days to hike the 22km (13 mile) trail,
gaining over 1300 m. (4000 ft), on a rock covered glacier. The only trail
markers were the ever present clods of yak dung. Getting lost, no matter how
mind numbed the altitude was making you, was nearly impossible. Just follow
The trail is exquisitely
beautiful, with towers of ice stretching 20 m (65 ft.) into the air. These
castle-like formations have been wind sculpted for hundreds of years and no
where in the world are they as tall as here. Everest stood above us, and on the
19th the wind barely blew from its summit, making it appear so gentle in
comparison to the wind swept days we had been witnessing. (I hope you like the
juxtaposition of the yak poop and the high alpine beauty.)
ABC is a wild place, a strip
of moraine, about 100 ft (30 m.) wide and 2000 ft. (650 m.) long. Just a few
feet or inches beneath this layer of rock, is the glacier. At this point, the East Rongbuk glacier is a few hundred feet thick.
Crevasses criss cross the moraine, a few even radiate through our site. One
false step out of the toilet tent and ......well we have the gear to rescue
A number of teams have been
active on the hill already. Fixed ropes now stretch to almost 8200 meters. This
is much earlier than previous years. Last year only a handful of us fixed any
of the rope, and the rope we did fix was super strong, 11 mm static line, that
survived the harsh summer, fall and winter weather. Our friends from the
IGO8000 (International Guides and Operators on the 8000 meter peaks) company-
International Mountain Guides- arrived a few weeks before us. They were able to
string new rope up to the North Col and then
along the north ridge to 7500 meters, where they intersected our old ropes.
With all of this rope in
place, and the winds blowing up high, our Sherpas have been able to stock Camp
1 at the North Col, with most of the gear
needed for the 4 high camps.
In the next few days, our
members will begin to climb up to Camp 1. Each person will carry a light load,
perhaps just a sleeping bag. Our first objective is to allow everyone to become
acclimated to 7000 meters, while refining their climbing skills. Oddly enough,
except on the highest peaks, most mountaineers will never use fixed ropes. That
aspect of climbing is new to a few of our team members.
I'm crossing my fingers as I
write this part: ABC is warmer this year than last. There is a stream running
across the top of the glacier, giving us easy access to drinking water. Last
year we were chopping and melting ice until late May. Last night, my first at
ABC, seemed quite warm. I even stayed up until 10:30 pm, and the Spanish team
camped below us, stayed up even later, watching a DVD. Last year, you needed to
be deeply buried in your sleeping bag by 7:30 pm.
The morale of the team is
still very high. We have a wonderful stone deck in front of our dining tent and
it has been fun to sit down upon it, sip coffee and listen to Russell tell
stories about the NNE Ridge or Rudy's Coulior, or to listen to Evelyne tell
stories of long-line, helicopter rescues on the North Face of the Eiger. With a
group like this, it is easy to be entertained (especially watching Robert' s
reaction to Jello, a dessert he had never wiggled before).
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
Chocolate cake and hard work are more
reliable than luck!
Almost all of us, including
two "trekkers", have climbed to the North Col,
the site of our Camp 1. This climb can be pretty tough: over 600 meters (2000
ft) of altitude is gained by using a series of fixed lines up the steep
headwall. The terrain definitely keeps your attention, more than a dozen
crevasses are crossed, steep sections exceed 50 degrees, and the single line of
ropes, is clogged in places by climbers heading up or down against the flow of
Climbing to the North Col is another major step in the physical and
psychological battle for the summit. If you can't make it, or do so after a
bitter struggle, you're left with well deserved doubts. Are you fit enough, are
you acclimatized, is your heart really into it?
Having been on Everest for
nearly three weeks, there are plenty of signs of teams crumbling and
individuals struggling. Within hours of arriving we rushed to save one Sherpa's
life: he had been stuffed into a Gamow bag (a hyperbaric chamber) and his
friends stopped pumping fresh air into the air tight balloon. Suffering from
asphyxiation, his panic spread to the group. One of the Sherpas ran into our
tent and we followed him to the scene. We depressurized the chamber and soon
learned that he was suffering from a stomach bug, not from the altitude. He was
lucky to be alive. The misdiagnosis was compounded by this group of Sherpas,
supporting a well funded team, having been sent to base camp without any
medical supplies. The Gamow bag, even though it was almost used as a weapon,
had been borrowed.
The fiascoes continue with a
climber on a commercial expedition suffering from Cerebral Edema for five days,
before his guides sought the services of an Australian doctor. This commercial
expedition had none of the commonly carried medications, and their Gamow bag
failed. The Australian doctor organized an evac, taking two days to get the
climber back to base camp. One of that expedition's members came by to complain
that her two private Sherpas are involved in the rescue and now her schedule is
all messed up.
Then there is the story of
the European climber driving into base camp on oxygen and that same vehicle
being used to evacuate two other climbers (who happened to be suffering from
Acute Mountain Sickness) from that team, leaving the oxygen sucking climber
sitting on a propane tank, surrounded by duffels, but seemingly helpless.
All of these stories, and
I'm holding my tongue, leave me wondering what lies and misinformation people
tell themselves. Everest is a big, dangerous mountain. It attracts fools, even
more powerfully then it attracts skilled, motivated and talented climbers. It
will be interesting to see the dramas unfold this year. Sad, but predictable.
Of course no one is immortal
and luck can not be carried in a backpack, but it is obvious as one looks
around that some teams are prepared and some aren't. (In fact just minutes ago
a team reported that they were running low on food, barely half way through the
expedition.) Tents, too old or cheap, have already been destroyed by the daily
winds at Camp 1. And among the greatest acts of stupidity are the three teams
(one a well funded clean up expedition) that are camped in the ABC water
supply. I'm sure that the view from the toilet seat, of the babbling brook, is
We are among the prepared,
and it is paying off. Almost all of our team members have climbed to Camp 1,
seizing that objective and benefiting from the psychological and physical boost
that comes from reaching that goal. We are all healthy. All of our high
altitude gear is now at or above Camp 1. Two members are now camped there, and
all of the Sherpas are heading up tomorrow to set up Camps 2, 3 and 4. If the
weather cooperates, all of the climbers should have camped up high and
hopefully touched Camp 3 (7900 m), within a week's time.
The prevailing theme of self
inflicted misery, that is sprinkled through ABC, has actually contributed to
our feeling of well being. You can sense it as even our "trekkers"
passed climbers on the ropes to the North Col
(only a single Sherpa passed them). And who wouldn't be fired up by Marco
Siffredi, our snow boarder in residence, as we watched him carving turns down
the headwall from the North Col.
We are ready to go, climbing
Everest by putting one foot in front of the other, and drowning out the tales
of hunger and misfortune by chomping on a nice piece of fresh baked chocolate
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
So much for the weather reports
As I read the weather
report, my palms began to sweat. The summit was in reach, as the winds were to
drop, the temperatures would rise and settled weather would descend upon us.
The Sherpas were preparing to move up to Camp 1 and then boldly establish Camps
2, 3 and 4. Owen and Ellen were spending the night at Camp 1, hoping to climb
to Camp 2 on a sunny, barely breezy day.
I was shaken from my sleep,
just past dawn, to the ripping of my tent's outer layer. I had tied my tent to
another, which having been recently been evacuated by our departing trekkers,
was pried loose from the rocks it was lashed too. Filled with only a few foam
pads, the tent was picked up by a fierce gust of wind, tore itself free of my
tent and flew more than two hundred meters down valley.
I jumped out of my sleeping
bag, pulled on a down coat and pair of boots and chased after the tent. As I
ran through Advanced Base Camp, other tents and plastic barrels were being torn
and pushed about. I saw an expedition's large kitchen tent literally be sucked
upwards, exposing the poor cook boy and his pile of pots and pans to the winds.
Toilet tents were toppled. Cheap dome tents were squished.
A poor Sherpa, trying to
find a quiet boulder to use as a toilet, was hit by our flying tent. Luckily,
this gifted athlete maintained his grip on the flying tent, while pulling up
Above us, black clouds were
swirling around the summit of Everest. Asmuss radioed Ellen and Owen, who were
sheltered by the ice wall at Camp 1. Owen later tested the weather and the two
decided to descend. They were among the last to leave the North
Col and described it as an eerie ghost town, with the black cloud
Their retreat was eventful,
the descent along the fixed lines the easy part. Once on the flat glacier, the
winds kept knocking Ellen over and the 200 pound Owen had to lean into the wind
and fight to stay upright.
As lunch approached, the
snow began to fall. This is the Everest I remember from last year, flexing her
muscles to remind us who is in charge.
Well, our casualties are
limited: one tent destroyed and two others with torn outer coverings. The snow
is piling up around us. Our Colombian neighbors have their DVD player on its
highest volume, providing a dramatic soundtrack to the storm. And I'm making
perfect use of a snow day, getting all caught up in Owen West's soon to be published
novel, "Sharkman Six."
Sometimes I think I come to
Everest for days like this: a mini drama followed by hours curled up with a
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
Just What's Up That Hill?
"Where have we
been?" Can't you tell by the coughing, wheezing, bloodied noses, lip and
gum infections that we've been having fun on the slopes of Mt. Everest?
We've been climbing, putting one crampon in front of the other, sliding our
jumars up the fixed lines, and hyperventilating to the beat of a country and
western song. We even, quite dramatically, lifted our heads and took in the
sweep of mountains on the horizon, but only for a second, of course. Always
have to get back to the important task of hyperventilating.
Owen, Ellen, Marco, Roy and
I left ABC on April 28th and climbed to Camp 1. It was a really nice day. We
each crawled into a nest of two sleeping bags and settled in for the night. By
8:30, Owen, Marco, Ellen and I headed off for Camp 2. Roy, at the wise age of 62, headed back to
ABC to save his strength.
The route to Camp 2 follows
a long snowy ridgeline, from the North Col at
7,000 meters to the rocky part of the ridge at 7,500 meters. Barely 30 meters
wide, and with the wind sculpting from the west, the ridge is a frozen wave of
snow, with a huge overhanging (or pouting) east lip. Once you leave the
security of Camp 1, there is no shelter. You either push into the wind or turn
back. This ridge has been the scene of many epics. Storms appear out of no
where. Our policy: you dress for the ridge, as if you are climbing to the
summit- down suits, summit boots, mittens, face masks, etc.
The climb is a long one,
even though it is only 1650 vertical feet. In the Andes
this would take no more than 2 hours, but at this altitude times range from 3.5
hours (Marco) to over 6.
The Sherpas, who are always
a few days ahead of the climbers, have established a few tent platforms out of
the snow to form Camp 2. When we arrive, there are two tents standing. Marco
and I crawl into one and Ellen and Owen into the other. I was having a rough
day, I could keep pushing, but never felt strong. This was a surprise, since
last year I spent 6 days at Camp 2, always feeling wound up for more action. I
laid in the rear of the tent and Marco keep handing me mugs of tea and asking me
why I wasn't eating.
As we were moving to Camp 2,
Andy, Asmuss, Jamie, Keiron, Evelyne, Robert and Naoki, climbed to Camp 1,
following in our spindrift covered foot steps. Our team goal was to get
everyone to sleep at Camp 2 and hopefully climb above it. This would meet the
acclimatization schedule we had set for ourselves. Once this was accomplished
we could all limp back to base camp, to rest up for our summit attempts.
On the 30th, Marco woke
first and immediately started to melt ice into water. He had big plans, to
snowboard down the North Ridge to the North Col and finally down to the flat East
Rongbuk Glacier. This descent of 1000m/3300 ft., with dips of 50 degrees looked
fantastic. The setting was perfect, but the savings in time and energy was priceless.
Nothing could hold him back.
By 7 a.m. he had his pack on and was standing on his board. I watched the first
five seconds of his ten minute descent. Three turns and he was below the crest
of the top dome of snow. I could hear the shouts at Camp 1 over the radio. He
glided down the ridgeline, cutting close to the rocks where crevasses
crisscrossed the slope.
Now it was time for the rest
of us to move. The sun, which rose early, was now behind a cloud and my toes
and fingers were freezing, even while I was in the tent. Going up seemed
foolish, so we shouldered our packs and headed down (Owen did turn the corner
to snap a few pictures of the upper North Face).
We raced down to Camp 1,
passing Andy and the gang on their way up. At the North
Col, we changed out of our summit gear, into more leisurely
climbing clothes. Our high altitude gear is kept at Camp 1, allowing us to
travel lighter to and from the North Col.
Marco was of course in ABC
enjoying a cup of cocoa, Andy and his gang were struggling up the North Ridge,
and I could barely stay awake, laying in the warm sunlight at the North Col.
Ellen and Owen, ready to go, prodded me into action. They clipped into the
ropes and descended and I stumbled behind them. Halfway down the headwall, I
radioed Russ that I was sick, having trouble breathing.
Hanging from the last ropes,
I yelled down to Ellen to wait for me. Finally unclipping I began to stumble
down the low angled slopes to the flat glacier. My lung capacity was about 15%
of normal, and the world's grossest, most disgusting, revolting,
cover-your-eyes-kids-you-might-puke, clumps of hardened, dark brown phlegm were
pinballing through my throat and escaping past my teeth in an explosion of
UUUGGHHHH!!!!! (Ladies and gentlemen, did you know that Peter Hillary actually
passed out, choking on a phlegm ball, at 27,000 ft on Everest? His partner's
were wise enough, despite the altitude to give him the Hiemlich Maneuver. A
record the Red Cross hasn't yet given due credit for.)
Owen carried my pack, Ellen
guided me down the path, and a Sherpa was sent up with a bottle of Oxygen to
help out the sick man. In 18 years of working as a guide/wilderness instructor
it was the only time, in memory, that I've handed over my pack. I couldn't
believe it, stumbling, hacking up phlegm balls, being stared at by teams of
Russians, Japanese and Americans. I declined the oxygen, preferring to pace
A stethoscope confirmed our
fears, I had a rapidly growing chest infection. After a cocktail of
antibiotics, pain killers and decongestants, I slipped into a two day fevered
Meanwhile, the fit and good
looking were settling into Camp 2. Roy
was heading for BC and Owen, Ellen and Marco were celebrating the end of this
phase of the trip.
By the time Roy reached BC, he had sized up his Everest
and decided his wife was cuter and his bed warmer. I'm sure that this decision
was hard for him, but the more pronounced our limps and gravely our voices, the
more we respected his decision. Its the journey, after all, not the summit.
Roy is the second team member to head home. Jess Stock
left in mid April, being wise enough to come to the same conclusions about a
cute wife and warm bed, even before Roy.
There are 4 married men left and everyone's afraid to share pictures of our
wives. Once the defenses are weakened, its hard to hold back. (My wife, in an
effort to keep a certain temperature balance in the relationship, is in Africa right now. Going home would be pretty lonely.)
Well, back to climbing. Andy
and the gang passed a night at Camp 2. Evelyne, showing off, was back at ABC by
8 a.m. The rest trickled in throughout the day. Robert, actually braved the
high winds and climbed to Camp 3 at 7,900 meters.
Meanwhile, our Sherpas were
cruising up and down the mountain. On the 30th, four of them climbed from Camp
1 to Camp 3, two staying and two descending. On May 1st, Dawa and Chuldim, each
carrying nearly 60 pounds/25 kilos of rope, climbed to Camp 4 at 8,300 meters.
Our Sherpas had been there before, setting up tents and stashing oxygen, etc.
Back at ABC, Russ did some
math, consulted the weather and it was decided that all of the Sherpas and
members would descend to BC to rest, recuperate and wait.
Almost all of us are here
now, at BC. After two weeks above 6400m./21,400 ft., we do have the scars,
chapped lips and runny noses to prove we've been tossed about by the altitude.
Marco even needed a little dental surgery, coordinated by Dr. Drewyer in Burtonsville, Maryland.
A piece of popcorn was lodged under the gum, had become infected and the tough
snow boarder, with the pierced tongue, was reduced to childlike antics to avoid
the knife. "But Chris, I saved your life at Camp 2."
What's our plan? Well, with
the winds whipping the mountain (a giant Lenticular cloud rests on the summit
right now) and with snowfall predicted, no real work can be done for a few
days. Once the forecast is good, the Sherpas have two load carries each, to
Camp 4, on their schedule (32 man days of work from ABC). Robert and Evelyne
will hopefully be right behind them, Evelyne hoping to be the first Swiss women
to the top. The rest of us will head back up soon enough. I'll keep you posted.
Hopefully, during this lull of activity, after the antibiotics finish their
work, I'll get around to telling some of the silly stories and maybe even edit
a video of Marco snowboarding.
A quick wrap-up: Everyone is
doing very well. In fact, I don't know if we have a lens wide enough for the
summit shot. Morale is very high. Jaime and Owen, in particular, seem to get stronger
with each foot of altitude gained. Andy is a source of strength for all of us:
patient, comments-well-thought, smiling. Ellen and Evelyne are such strong,
confident and fun women, brightening up each meal with their laughter (plus
they are babes). Robert, when not climbing, is amazed by Jello. Naoki is
putting aside the draft of his new book often enough to look like a Sherpa.
Keiron, now the remaining United
Kingdom representative did defend the
Queen's honor yesterday. Asmuss coughs the least, laughs the most and rejected
his role as Robin to Owen's Batman. Russ is just fine, he has a new suit
hanging in the comms tent at BC, having recently been off to visit the Governor
of Lhasa. And myself, after the first feverish day, I started to eat, on the
second I walked to BC (22km/13miles), and now I'm waiting to hit the showers.
The recovery period for all of our aches and pains is quick.
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
The Sherpas are heading back up
Clouds are racing past the
summit, changing directions every few hours and dumping thin layers of snow on
the mountain every evening. Some mornings we awake to a dusting of snow, some
afternoons a mini cold front races through camp, dumping three or four inches.
The weather has not been stable.
The first few days of the
unsettled weather has been a blessing for most of us, allowing us to recuperate
from our sore throats and limps. Now, after nearly a week in base camp,
patience (not being a patient) is the problem. We want our chance to climb.
Before we can really make a
true summit bid, we need to finish stocking the camps, a job that falls on the
shoulders of the Sherpas. This morning, they headed back up the hill. Tonight
they will be back with Russ and Ram at ABC. Tomorrow will be a rest day. Then,
on the 9th, they'll be heading up with big loads, stocking the upper camps.
The rest of us will begin
heading up on the 9th or 10th, hoping to get all of us to ABC on the 11th. Once
there, we'll wait for a good weather report before beginning our first attempt.
In the meantime, we really
have had little problem keeping ourselves entertained. Marco is trying to learn
all about east vs. west coast rap from Professor West. Robert and Evelyne have
been working with Swiss TV, part 2 of the 3 part series they are doing on Evelyne's
summit bid (remember that if she summits, she'll be the 1st Swiss woman). The
rest of us have been getting up the courage to clean our socks, or lacking
that, been reading book after book.
One boring morning, a
neighboring expedition's kitchen tent caught on fire. That was exciting. Grown
men standing around and laughing at their own misfortune: until they remembered
the propane tanks.
Even as we speak, there
really is very little action on the hill. A few groups have been establishing
their camp 2, but most have been in BC with us. I think that, like us, most
groups are recuperating this week. By week's end, the hill will be alive with
groups stocking camps and the most hopeful will be setting themselves up for
the first of the season's summit attempts.
Despite the turmoil in the
upper atmosphere and the torpor at base camp, it is getting warmer. Spring is
approaching, making us even more anxious to head back up the hill.
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
As I write the radio is
crackling with the voices of the Sherpas and Russ. Early this morning, 7
Sherpas left Camp 1 at the North Col and
headed up the mountain. They are carrying the last loads of Oxygen bottles to
Camp 4 at 8300m/27400 ft.
In total we will have 95
bottles of Oxygen on the mountain, a few reserved just for medical emergencies.
Each bottle weighs 3 kilos/10 lb. and costs us $380 to buy, fill and transport
to ABC. By the time they reach Camp 4, a bottle must be worth $450-500. Oxygen
bottles are worth their weight in gold, especially when you factor in the
safety and performance they offer. Each climber will sleep on a bottle at Camp
3 (7900m/26000ft.), then climb on a second bottle from Camp 3 to 4. That bottle
will be set at a flow rate (1 to 2 liters per minute) that will allow us to
nap, etc., at high camp.
We will each use three
bottles on summit day (most groups use two). The additional oxygen should allow
all of us to climb a bit quicker and stay warmer. In fact, the most obvious
benefit of Oxygen is relative to staying warm. The normal shortage of Oxygen at
extreme altitudes forces our body to send the Oxygen where it is needed most
(brains and other vital organs), leaving the toes and fingers to shiver.
With these loads being
dumped, there is no need to go back to Camp 4 until we are headed for the
summit. This is a big leap forward for the team.
Meanwhile, Keiron, Naoki,
Jamie and Marco are heading to Interim camp. Robert and Evelyne are on the move
to ABC. The rest of us will push to ABC from BC tomorrow. The 22km/13mi. journey
takes a minimum of 6 hours and is pretty tiring.
Our hope is to get everyone
in ABC on the night of the 11th. A big strategy powwow will follow, using the
data (route conditions, logistics, etc.) gathered by the Sherpas. It will also
involve a lot of self assessment among the members. Without a crystal ball,
everyone's input is critical.
Some quick and interesting
tid bits: Almost all of the team has been out of email contact for the last
week or so. The email set up is in ABC, while most of us have been in BC. So if
you've been awaiting a reply, these should start to flow tomorrow.
Someone's been sleeping in
our tents. Camp 2 has been the sight of guests. Too bad they did not have the
decency to ask permission or simply let us know. No one's done an inventory,
but let's hope they did not steal from our food supplies or use our stove fuel
(odds are they did).
OK enough typing. It's
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
Its Snowing, Again.
Snow seems to be the theme
of the last 24 hours. The Sherpas, climbing from Camp 3 to Camp 4 plowed,
despite the fatigue and lack of Oxygen, through knee deep snow. The two hour
climb took over 4 and only 3 of the 7 Sherpas made it all the way.
The delay in climbing up
made the descent even worse, as an afternoon storm hit them at high camp. They
battled back down, arriving in ABC after 7p.m. For the Sherpas it was a long
and tiring day.
Meanwhile, Evelyne and
Robert hiked back up to ABC. Keiron, Jamie, Naoki and Marco went to Interim
camp. The rest of us delayed our hike, hoping to go in one shot from BC to ABC
on the 11th.
The alarm was set for 5:30
a.m., needlessly, as small avalanches slid off the tent roofs, all night,
waking us at regular intervals. 6 inches (15cm) fell through the night. Now, at
6:30 a.m. it is still snowing and the view up valley is of black clouds.
The folks at Interim will
certainly move up, despite the snow. Interim is a bit too spartan a place to
pass a leisurely day. Those of us at BC will wait to see if any trains of yaks
are headed up. In these conditions, the route, a rock and yak poop strewn mess
in the best of times, will be a slippery, wet obstacle course. It certainly
wouldn't be worth the added hours and the risk of a sprained ankle to push
ourselves up the hill.
Of course this storm will
put a halt to all progress on the hill. I imagine that the folks on the South
Side are also holing up. This is mountaineering: hurry up and wait.
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
One man's "slow and painful"
ascent of Everest :) - by Owen West
All activity on the mountain
self-arrested today when a snowstorm plowed in, dumping knee-deep (well, for
Ellen, that is) snow on ABC and several inches on Base Camp. Chris, Andy,
Asmus, Ellen and Owen are thus spending their eleventh day "resting"
at BC--an Everest code word for "inflating the jowls" --and plan to
hike the 15 miles to ABC tomorrow. The other half of the crew found itself
covered in snow at interim camp this morning but decided to plunge ahead to ABC
when Jaime happened to see some text from Naoki's book: "All work and no
play makes Naoki a bad boy" is apparently scrawled throughout the tome and
when the others saw it, they fled. The capricious weather affects people
Though we are hearing
rumours (highly brittle but we have no other news source: last week we heard
about our own deaths and the week before some of the older guys were crushed
when we heard the false rumour -- that Brittany Spears was engaged) some
expeditions are considering packing up and calling it a season, the snow might actually
speed our summit attempt if the wild weather settles for a few days so a trail
can be broken and packed down. Or so I'm told; the guides are consummately
positive and I'm convinced that if I were caught in a slab avalanche with
Warner he'd shout, "This isn't that bad! This thing could be about a foot
thicker, then we'd be in REAL trouble!"
So in a few days the entire
team should be poised at the foot of the gate (the awesome North Col) in full
battle dress waiting for that elusive window to open--or, if we're already at
25,000 feet when it closes, armed with the professional decision-making
capability and a fit enough team to smash it and pour through to high camp
(27,250') if it looks like it may open again soon.
From ABC, we are four days
of climbing from the summit attempt, moving hard from camp to camp in an
initial climb that will take us from 21,000 feet to 27,250 feet (all the camps
have been established by the Sherpas over the last few weeks in an incredible
display of high altitude endurance and strength that has left the members
totally awestruck). Most accounts of Everest summit attempts start at the high
camp, but there is a huge volume of work to be done before then and as a novice
to serious altitude I thought I'd write a tad about our acclimatization so far
and my two cents on the experience with the thin air.
(NOTE--since I first started
typing 30 minutes ago, the temperature has gone from 50f and bright sun to 35f
and windy, nasty snow to 65f and thick haze)
Everest is difficult from
the moment you arrive at Base Camp (17,000') and, as we have witnessed around
us, any movement higher can be downright dangerous without proper
acclimatization. It's quite arduous just to reach 25,500' for a solid training
platform on which to base a summit attempt, so there are some rough climbs
waiting for anyone who wishes to get the chance at the top. Fortunately, the
HIMEX schedule allowed us a lengthy acclimatization and our problems were
limited to the typical symptoms of climbing high: headaches, loss of appetite,
lethargy, loss of personality (helpful in some cases), excess hair growth.
We spent three nights at
12,000', a night at 13,000', and two nights at 14,000' before arriving at BC.
Most of the group took daily training hikes during this warm-up phase but a
bout of bronchitis limited me to struggling up Tibetan hotel stairs so it's
probably useful to skip the experience here. Then it was six days at 17,000'
--and three tough training hikes--where the initial sensation was
hyperventilation. I simply couldn't believe how heavily I was breathing
compared to my snail's rate of movement during these hikes, lungs heaving,
spittle flying, legs sagging. I stared at my feet and wondered where all the
fuel--and the months of training--had gone. I followed Andy and Ellen to a
personal high point of 20,500' on these hikes (they always went higher, these
descendents of Yaks), each time learning a bit more about the level of oxygen
at my disposal. For instance, just after a rest break I took a big step up onto
a rock platform and found myself gasping for air, totally winded. It took me
five minutes before I recovered enough to realize that 1) you never, ever hold
your breath up here while you're on the move (even drinking must be done in
tiny sips) and 2) you need to take many rapid breaths before any deep knee
movement in an attempt at saturation, however small. Even before you stand up
in the morning it helps to suck in some air in preparation.
We moved to 19,000' (interim
camp) and 21,000' (ABC) during a two-day hike. The training worked: I felt
good--able to keep up with this strong group--and just had tiny headaches each
night. After five days at ABC, we climbed to 23,000' (North
Col) and descended immediately. Hyperventilation wasn't an
issue--my lungs were used to the rate--but rest breaks were. Whereas a training
hike to 21,000' could be completed without many breaks, here, on the steep wall
of snow, rest breaks were coming rapid-fire. I followed the guides' advice but
even using straight-legged rest steps and upper body expansions (the tendency
is to bend over the ski pole/ice axe and heave for air, cutting its flow and
potential--the slopes are littered with exhausted climbers succumbing to this),
I was soon taking a rest every ten meters, then five, and finally one as we
crested the ridge. Still, our time was good (under four hours) and we were
enthusiastic considering it was a fledgling attempt and would be our slowest.
Three days later, we spent a
night at the Col
and descended the following morning. We felt much better, were much faster
(3.25 hours), and had an easy night of rest.
On Day Twelve at ABC, we
climbed the Col,
slept, and went to 25,000' the next morning to spend the night. The climb to
what is our Camp 2 is deceiving: it looks like it should take two hours but for
some it can take eight. Chris had warned us to just press on, no matter how
much rest we needed to take between steps, or it could be a long day. A VERY
long day. This route can be the windiest on the entire mountain--the wind rips
over the ridge and can fold climbers to the ground--and the weather changes are
so sudden here that we set off in full summit gear (sans oxygen). The way I can
best describe this part of the climb is that a deep sense of exhaustion sets in
immediately as you approach 24,000'...and the lethargy eats at your endurance
and willpower as you get higher. It was as if I had just run a marathon and
someone spun me around at the finish and said, "Do another." So, for
4 hours you slog higher, thighs burning, a step at a time, struggling to find a
rhythm that will prove totally elusive. No matter what you try--continous baby
steps with lots of breath, hyperventilation and a few big steps, a step-a
breath-a step--you find yourself thrown out of kilter, forced to just put your
head down and keep driving into the wind. You need to believe the suffering
will end. And it does. And you suddenly have more red blood cells and the
confidence to give the top slice of the pyramid a shot.
The following morning, we
climbed a bit above 25,000', then descended (over 2 days) to BC for the rest
we're experiencing. Now we're chomping at the bit to get up there again. Once
we catch some more rays down here, that is.
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
How Do You Deal with Knee Deep Snow?
While our comrades fought
their way uphill, wading through knee deep snow to reach ABC, those of us at BC
perservered through our own torturous day.
Lacchu made us pizza for
lunch. And Ellen and Chris baked a carrot cake to die for.
Happily we survived this
gastronomic challenge. Everest isn't all that bad.
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
Happy Mother's Day
Can you imagine the
embarrassment of any mom, if they had to see their grown children celebrating
Mother's Day by wearing Russian aviator masks and goggles w/ long hoses
stretching to an oxygen cylinder? I was embarrassed to just be among this group
of Halloween rejects. Seriously folks, dressing up like that is a bit absurd if
it weren't "learn how to climb on Oxygen day."
To an Everest climber, today
is the second most important holiday in the month of May. Simply a coincidence
that it fell on Mother's Day, the most important holiday. Think of the gift of
grey hair and sleepless nights that we've given our moms. Pretty thoughtful,
But none the less, it was
the perfect day to play with our oxygen sets. We all gathered on the
"verandah" in front of the dining and comms tent, enjoying the warmth
of the sun, while listening to Russ' expert advice on fitting and managing the
Ellen and I are even going to
bake another carrot cake: a fitting tribute to our mom's. We do miss those hip
chicks. In addition to the wonderful conversations, who wouldn't love a nice
home cooked meal right now, perhaps a pot roast with mashed potatoes. We did
have canned luncheon tongue for lunch. That made us all miss our mom's cooking
all the more.
Well....we really aren't
sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves all day. We have actually been
enjoying a perfect day. The sun has been shining and there is no wind. We've
been busy with "projects" from charging video batteries, to airing
out wet gear. So many folks have been stopping by for a visit. It is a front
porch kind of day.
Yesterday was almost as
nice, except that Owen, Asmuss, Ellen, Andy and I hiked for 7.5 hours from BC
to ABC, often having to forge the trail through the snow. It was a beautiful
day, with superb early morning light. It was great to get back to ABC, both to
our personal belongings in our tents, but mostly to be reunited with our team
mates. This team really likes each other and even short separations begin and
end with a "knoodle" (Swiss for a warm hug).
Together in the dining tent,
we dove right into the discussion of summit attempts and strategy. Now, as
funny as this sounds, we've been forced to avoid all strategy discussions by
radio, because other teams are monitoring our frequency. While there is no
great magic involved in the development of our plan, we do not wish for 30 or
50 other people to time their summit bids to conflict with ours. There is a
danger in having too many people on the summit ridge at the same time.
And guess what, we're even
keeping our strategy off of the Internet. You'll have to read about it as it
But I'll give you this: the
Sherpas are back up on the hill, carrying the final loads to Camps 3 and 4 in
the next two days. Once this is done, only the weather will hold us back. The
next 10 days should be entertaining.
OK time to bake the carrot
Happy Mother's Day from all
of us to all our moms.
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
Ellen Miller: Let Me Tell You About My
In my debut dispatch from
Everest, I am choosing to write about a subject that I value, and a quality
that exists in our expedition. Call it teamwork, group dynamics, camaraderie,
or just plain getting along with each other. I feel as qualified as anyone to
write about it, as I am the veteran of several commercial expeditions (some
with great energy and others in which the climbers were simply too lazy, old or
unmotivated to accomplish the task). I am also a serious participant in
stressful, international, multi-day team races (Eco Challenges, etc.), where
team interaction is key.
We came together in Katmandu, seven weeks
ago, 10 different nationalities, operating in 5 different languages. What we
have become is a cohesive team made up of strong and rugged individualists.
Here at ABC, we exist in an environment of relaxation, where we can remain
healthy and strong for our ascent. However, don't mistake our relaxed approach
for apathy or fear: each team member is very focused on the summit.
Our team members have enough
experience in the mountains to be humble, and our guides bring years of
Chris, a true "people
person" , is the entertainment director, continually humoring us. He has
guided over 70 international expeditions and pioneered two extremely technical
new routes in the Himalaya. He brings this
accumulated wisdom to the expedition.
Asmuss, the Great Dane,
lives in the mountains of Chamonix and
summited Everest last year. He is a true professional, respecting the process
and adding to the enthusiasm of the team.
Andy Lapkass, the gentle
giant, (who has towed me around race courses worldwide; we are racing
teammates) has a quiet, strong and humble style of leadership..exactly the kind
of guy I want to be with on summit day on Mt. Everest.
Andy is one of the world's leading 8000 meter guides, having successfully
guided Lhotse, Everest (2x) and Cho Oyu (3x). This is his 6th Everest
The Himalayan Experience
Sherpas are a strong team themselves, under the leadership of Lopsang. Russ and
Lopsang have operated 15 expeditions together.
Russell Brice, the owner of
Himalayan Experience is responsible for bringing this team together. He is no
Wizard of Oz, hiding behind a curtain, shouting orders. Russ leads by example
and from a position of earned respect. There is no one guiding Everest who has
his level of experience (11 Everest expeditions and dozens more in the Himalaya). You can even argue that no one else has the
personality, resources and desire to provide the level of care and service that
Russ does, time and time again.
Russell humbly claims that
it is the price point (not the outrageous, perhaps greedy, $65,000 or the
simply ludicrous, perhaps life threatening, $18,000), his humble style of
advertising, and his "no b-s-" approach to operating his expeditions
that attracts us: like-minded clients. We know better. As educated, experienced
mountaineers, it is Russ' reputation that attracted us. We knew that on
Everest, you largely get what you pay for, and our lives are worth the price
tag he sets. Afterall, this team is made up of fit, focused people looking for
value. Consider that 6 of us are return clients. Two of the members are
professional mountain guides.
Before each trip, Russ says
he is always a bit anxious about how we will all interact. It is really hard to
pre-qualify clients based on personality. He does try to meet everyone before
they sign up, but attracting an international clientele makes this nearly impossible.
And even the strongest clients can get homesick, physically sick or burnt-out
by the stresses of two months on the north side of Everest. This is a hard
place to be.
On the mountain, we are
experiencing an ebb and flow of helpful energy, the give and take of true
teamwork. Recently, I happened to be teamed up with Eco-Challenger Owen West
(Yes, the guy that raced with the Playboy bunnies), and hey, although I'm no
Playboy centerfold, Owen saved me at Camp 2. He did our chores, prepping the
tent and brewing some tea, before I pathetically crawled into the tent, after a
cold and windy ascent. Owen had lacked energy our first trip up to the Col, and he was
returning the favor. "It goes both ways, baby," Owen says.
We both know that we will
probably end up depending on each other sometime later in this expedition. This
is not just a feeling that I have in my gut about Owen; I have it about my
other teammates as well. Jaime and Keiron have enjoyed the same energy
exchange. Even here in our luxurious at ABC, respect and kindness prevail. We
treat each other with respect and dignity. Table manners, heart felt "good
mornings" and acts of kindness define our team's dynamics.
It is energizing and
gratifying to be a part of such a solid team, that is blessed with outstanding
leadership. This is a dangerous game we are playing here, and it is important
to me, should I need to, to be able to turn to a teammate, be it client, Sherpa
or guide, and ask for help and never doubt that I will get it. It seems to boil
down to our shared attitude: a positive mental attitude.
There seems to be a
ridiculous belief that somehow, sometimes, optimism lacks intelligence and that
optimism stems from a lack of experience and naiveté. I don't believe that. I
believe optimism is a choice, and I feel fortunate to be a part of a team that
It's My Party and I'll Climb if I Want
You know you're in trouble,
when you roll over in your tent, at 21,400 ft. (6400m.) and the first thing you
see is a crushed cardboard party hat and a New Year's noise maker. As the
battle with hypoxia is slowly won, you begin to remember a few things about the
May 17th is the birthday of
some of the greatest people (my dad for instance), including Evelyne and David
Walsh (David is the leader of a "North Col"
group that is part of the greater Himalayan Experience Everest 2001 entourage).
In little need of an excuse, we decided to host a birthday bash.
Word trickled through ABC, a
place where the average bed time is 7:30. Any excuse to stay up late was
welcomed. Our dining tent was transformed into a dance hall: balloons hanging
from the ridge poles, party hats, noise makers, poppers and well hidden sodas
and beers were dug out of barrels and laid on the tables.
As the guests arrived,
carrying cakes and dangerous bottles of brown liquid, the tent heated up. Soon
over 50 of us, representing at least 10 expeditions were packed together. The
Austrians brought a guitar and the singing and dancing were contagious. Bottles
of the famous Malt Scotch Whisky, Glenmorangie (if you drink whisky, you'll
know that this stuff is beyond the best, perhaps far too good for this crowd),
were uncorked by Russ, and Evelyne and Dave's birthday's were toasted.
The party lasted until late
at night with the revelers happily finding their way home. (The rumors about
Ellen dancing on the table tops are grossly exaggerated.) Morale at ABC
rocketed up, as a result of the party. We've all been hanging around, kind of
trapped by the weather, getting ants in our pants. Last night's release of
energy (dancing, singing, laughing and socializing) was just what we needed.
Hats off to the Austrian's and their acoustic guitar. A special thanks to
"the sixteen men of Tain" who handcrafted the Glenmorangie. This
party, of course, was another in a long line of bashes thrown by Russ. Funny
enough, more than a dozen of us at last night's party were also all together at
a Russ thrown party on Cho Oyu in 1999.
Well, with the mystery of
the crushed party hat solved, we were able to re-devote our energies to the
climb. As you know, we are ready to go, all the tents, oxygen, sleeping bags
and fixed ropes are in place. We just need a weather forecast that says
"go!" We've been receiving three separate forecasts, none of which
are in perfect agreement. When a new one arrives we analyze it closely, even
going back a few days to determine which is most accurate. Forecasting is a
difficult job at best. On Everest, it is nearly impossible. But if we time it
wrong, we could miss the summit at best.
Currently our forecasts
indicate a possible window. If today's forecasts confirm this, we will be
headed out, perhaps before I can even update the websites. At this moment, we
are planning a single, large group, push. We are doing this because we will
need every ounce of energy to push open the route through the deep snows that
lead from Camp 4 (8300m/27000 ft.) to the crest of the North Ridge. We will be
carrying at least 550 m. of rope to fix up high, and we may even have to replace
the ropes which the Americans recently placed just above high camp. Those ropes
were too buried when the Americans made their summit attempt (they turned back
because the snow was too deep).
With every forecast, comes a
re-juggling of our logistical plans. Most folks would be amazed at the amount
of hours devoted to this planning. While we build in contingencies, a Sherpa
not being in the right place at the right time, or a sleeping bag forgotten at
Camp 2, could cause the house of cards to shift and shudder. Detailed notes are
taken at each of these meetings, and these are based on inventories that have
been painstakingly recorded and re-recorded.
Once we leave ABC, it will
take us 5 days to reach the summit. We will update the dispatches as best we
can, but please understand that our efforts will be focused on the climb not on
the computer's screen.
OK, time to pack up the
mementos, the Oreos and the Oxygen mask. There's a mountain out there that I
want to climb.
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
We're off to see the Wizard!
Wouldn't it be wonderful if
the Great Wizard of Oz were giving out certificates of courage, university
degrees on ticking pocket watches on the summit of Everest. He'd be busy right
now, because the Sherpas of the American team just (9:30 a.m.) reached the
summit. Wow!!!! Great news for us all. In ABC, the shouting started in the
American camp and quickly spread among us. The sound grew louder and louder,
200 people spread along 300 meters, banging pots and pans, yodeling and
clapping. Smiles and pats on the back signaling our need to grab a hold of the
fixed ropes and go!!!
Well, we have been watching
the weather forecasts, like crazed sports fans, and yesterday chose the 23rd as
our summit day. Immediately following that meeting, each climber dove into
their tents and finalized their packing. In a few minutes, Asmuss, Ellen, Owen,
Naoki, Kieron, Jamie and I are heading to Camp 1. We will sleep in each of the
four camps and be ready to move summit-ward at 1:30 a.m. on the 23rd.
Tomorrow Andy, Marco, Robert
and Evelyne will head to Camp 1. They will actually skip Camp 2 and meet up
with us at Camp 3 on the afternoon of the 21st. The Sherpas will also be
skipping camps, and 5 of them (Loppsang, Phurba, Karsang, Dawa and Tibetan
Karsang) will climb from Camp 2 to Camp 4 on the 22nd. At that point we will
all be together (16 of us) at Camp 4. Should be cozy.
As I said, we will be
leaving for the summit about 1:30 a.m. on the 23rd. We have plenty of Oxygen
and so we will each be using 3 cylinders on summit day. Our brain cells and
extremities are thankful for that. The climb to the top should take us about 7
But that is along way off.
Think about it: you'll have at least 5 showers, 15 great meals, 10 lattes, a
double espresso, a speeding ticket and a big, wet kiss on the cheek before we
summit. We will, during that same period, consume about 1250 calories (a single
Snickers bar is 270 calories), lay in our sleeping bag for 70 hours but only
get about 12 hours of sleep, climb 8,635 ft (2450 m) and pull ourselves along
21,000 ft (7000 m) of fixed lines. A few of us will vomit (a wonderful side
effect isn't it?). Some of us will cry. We'll all suffer doubts, anxieties and
fears (there is a narrow gap on the ridge, with 7,000 ft. of exposure on one
side and 5,000 ft. on the other).
And from the top, we'll hope
to hear the banging of pots, the cheers and yodels of all our friends in ABC.
The hugs will be emotion-filled. Cameras will capture the memories and record
them forever. The magic of reaching the top will then sink in over the months
Over the next few days, we
will try to send some short dispatches letting you know about our progress.
However on the 22nd, all of us, except the cooks, will be on the mountain.
We'll need every person in place, to insure our safety and to clean our gear
off the mountain. So there will be a short news blackout, at the most exciting
time of the trip. We should be able to send a detailed dispatch on the 24th,
along with photos. Wish us luck! We're off!!!
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
Last Journal before the Summit!
Today the 22nd and we are
now just one day away from our summit attempt. The last few days have been
rather hectic as we arrange for everyone to get to the top camp later today. As
I write this all the members, guides and Sherpas are at camp3 (7,900m) making
final arrangements to leave for the top camp (8,300m). In a few minutes they
will be leaving wearing oxygen masks. They should be at top camp in about 3
hours, where they will rest for the afternoon before setting out for the summit
at about 01.30am tomorrow morning.
In the meanwhile the Jagged
Globe North Col
group has trekked up to ABC. 4 of the 5 members plus David Walsh all reached
the North Col
two days ago. Yesterday was a rest day for them, and today they have departed
for BC and tomorrow they will head back to Kathmandu.
Also we have a small
trekking group who have visited our BC and are now trekking with horse and cart
in the Rongbuk Valley,
they will return to Kathmandu on 06 June.
This afternoon I will go
back up to North Col in order to have better communications and to help direct
Marco during his snowboard descent, and of course film him tomorrow. That will
mean that there is nobody at BC or ABC to send news updates for the next few
days. As soon as I can return to ABC where this dispatch is being sent from, I
will send news of our ascent.
Thank you to all of you who
have sent well wishes, and thanks to all who follow this expedition. The
weather forecast still suggests that Wednesday 23rd is still the best day for
summit, so I just trust that all our members can make the summit and return
with out incident.
Now I must get going to N Col.
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
All are ok!
We got word this morning
that our entire team is now down at a lower level and all are ok.
As a recap if you are just
checking in, we rejoiced on Wed. morning (May 23) when we received word that
most of our team reached the summit. Word had come through Owen who
unfortunately had to turn back before reaching the summit.
Our rejoicing turned to
concern when word came on Thur. morning (May 24) that our team was encountering
difficulty and was involved in a rescue situation.
Evidently one of our
climbers encountered major problems and Andy stayed with him as the two of them
spent the night on the "Third Step"(8700m). They were still alive in
the morning (VERY GOOD NEWS!) and were subsequently rescued by Americans who
were on their way up to the summit and gave up their summit attempt in order to
save lives instead - (THANK YOU to these heroes from the IMG North Expedition!)
Meanwhile back here at home,
all of us were waiting and waiting and waiting for more information. We still
are unsure of what all was taking place with the rest of the team. The only
thing we know is that they were involved in a rescue situation.
On Thurs. evening (May 24)
we heard that they were STILL involved in a rescue situation. So all of us
continued to pray and wait and wait and pray - and hoped for the best keeping
panic out of our vocabulary.
This brings us to this
morning (May 25) when word came that our team is now at a lower altitude and
all is ok.
We still await a personal
word from our team, but rejoice at the news about them. No doubt the next
journal from Chris should prove to be VERY interesting reading!
In the meantime, for the
American Team's detailed account of the rescue go to
Thanks for all of the kind
words of encouragement and support that have been pouring in. Thanks for all
the congratulations that have been arriving, and thanks to all those that
emailed us that they have been praying for our team.
11:00a.m. Here is a little add-on to the info below:
Chris just called Earth
Treks and they are at Advanced Base Camp now. Exhausted and hungry.
Chris called again!
(afternoon) He and the others are exhausted beyond belief. However, he shared
some news that we are happy to share with everyone.
Guide Andy Lapkass, who we
almost lost on the mountain, called his girlfriend, Abby, and proposed! Abby
said "yes". Congratulations Andy and Abby!
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
Mini Update - Summit and then Near Disaster
Hey guys. Yes we did have a
near disaster on our hands, and I did find myself in the unusual situation of spending
two long days at 27,400 ft crying and weakening and hoping and working hard to
find a way to keep hope and progress alive. I will write about it soon, but
right now, my body and mind are not quite in the same place.
I do however want New Jersey to know that
Greg Pickering and I had a great time just a few feet below the summit (which
was too crowded). We laid the Jubuliam cross, a few photos, a string of
Buddhist prayer flags, etc. and then I held his picture aloft to let him enjoy
the view, him with his t-shirt on, and I asked him to look out for us. It's a
long way down and he knew all about falling over and paralyzing oneself.
Certainly he would be an expert at the type of vigilance we needed.
The descent was crazy. So
many people who were there were suffering from Cerebral Edema. I got caught up
in the middle of this mess, with a client and two Sherpas. A Spanish man was
going blind, but he had summited all 14 8,000 meter peaks: too arrogant for his
own good. I had to physically restrain him many times, feed him drugs that he
felt he never needed. In the meantime I gave up my oxygen for Andy, Jaime and
Asmuss, who were trailing far behind. Without O' for over three hours, I really
got cold, to my bones.
Alright I do need to write
this dispatch but I'm not quite ready. I'm not trying to sound pitiful, but my
shoulders are sore, my kidneys hurt, I'm dehydrated, etc.
For now remember that we are
all safely down in ABC. 14 of 15 of us summited (Owen West did not, leaving
Ellen, Kieron, Naoki, Jaime, Evelyne, Marco, Robert, Asmuss, Andy, Loppsang,
Phurba, Karsang-Nepal, Karsang-Tibet, Dawa, Me), Marco snow boarded all of the
North Face, Evelyne became the first Swiss woman to summit, Jaime the first
Gautamalan (his wife thought it was cute that he was camping near the summit),
Karsang the 1st Tibetan Yak man. Andy and Jamie survived (very, barely) an open
bivvy at 8700 m. First time no one died pulling this stunt.
OK, let's hope you have a
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
The Ascent, The Summit, Then Trouble Up High
A Detailed Account
May 21st Moving to Camp 3
May 22nd Camp 4
May 23rd The Summit Bid
Meeting Andy, Asmuss and
Managing the lunatics
Trouble Up High
Moving to Camp 3
The expedition is moving as
two groups from ABC and the hope is that today we will be reunited at Camp 3.
Asmuss and I are climbing with Naoki, Jamie, Owen, Ellen and Kieron. We spent
last night at Camp 2, squeezed into two of our tents and two of the Australian
Andy, Marco, Evelyne and
Robert are hopping past Camp 2 adding an extra 400 meters to today's climb.
The Sherpas: Phurba and
are pushing from Camp 1 to Camp 4. This will allow them to set up some extra
tents and organize the camp for our arrival. Lobsang, Karsang (Tibet) and Dawa
will go from Camp 1 to 2. And Chuldim, Danuru and Dorje will go from Camp 1 to
3, then return to sleep at 2. This complicated plan is needed to set ourselves
up for success: Oxygen will begin to be used at Camp 3, additional tents need
to be set up, all sorts of small pieces are being moved around.
Asmuss, the climbers and I
set off around 7 a.m. and begin to climb up the long rocky ridge crest. While
not technical, this section is strenuous and exposed to the weather. We quickly
become spread out, passing through the camp sites of a dozen other expeditions.
As the day before, Asmuss and I push on rapidly (climbing the 400 meters in
2:15) hoping to get to Camp 3 early enough to set up more tents. We would love
to have everything ready to go, so that the climbers can simply slip into a
tent on arrival, hiding from the winds and begin to recuperate from the effort.
To our surprise, two of the
tent platforms we have carved out over the years, have been "stolen"
by other teams. Asmuss and I manage to carve away at the slope and within an
hour have a tilted platform for a second tent. We set this up as some of our
climbers arrive. Five people are shoved into two tents, allowing them to escape
the weather and begin to rehydrate and suck on the bottles of Oxygen.
I slide down the rocky face
a few feet and begin to dig again, but after an hour, I've barely made a dent,
never mind a tent platform, so I slide a bit further down. Now I'm hacking at
the frozen remains of a Russian tent. Tuna cans, match books and frozen socks
emerge with every other blow of the ice axe. Surely this pile of wind torn
nylon can be transformed. But alone, I am too winded and barely make a dent.
Maybe its just a math
problem: 5 clients and 2 tents. Get on the radio: "Russ, can we use the
American tents 100 meters below us?"
"Checked in with them
and that's OK."
"We'll have Andy and
his gang stop there and Asmuss and I will descend with all of the needed
Then Marco shows up, ahead
of schedule as usual. 6 climbers in two tents that are dangling off the edge.
Of course there is a little personality problem and no one wants to spend the
day and night with one person...massage a few egos, beg for help, I know its
7900 meters but can't we all be nice....
Ahhhhh!!!! solved by the
arrival of the Sherpas. These guys love to dig. Now we've got a 7 person
wrecking crew carving out tent platforms like its a carnival event. The Russian
site is torn apart and we put up a tent. Next we move to my other abandoned
site and level it off. The mathematics change: 4 tents, 6 climbers and 2
guides. Andy, Robert and Evelyne will stay in the American camp.
We are soon all swaddled in
down suits and over stuffed sleeping bags. The afternoon passes slowly, as we
all begin to test the Oxygen systems (we had a detailed class in ABC), and
"brew" up. The word is passed around: this is our last great chance
to fully hydrate and eat. The next two days should be torturous.
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
Asmuss and I are drill
sergeants, barking orders to dress and depart. We want to move up and have been
brewing up since 5 a.m. Ironically, the rest of the mountain is on a different
schedule. The Sherpas are climbing up from Camp 2, Andy's gang is trying to
crawl out of these tiny pup tents in which they could barely sleep. A certain
lassitude has descended upon the team. Departure is delayed from 7 am to 8 am.
Later this is updated to 9 am. We tell our gang to brew up...quickly.
Finally, unable to control
ourselves, we begin replacing each climber's oxygen cylinder with a fresh one.
The slower climbers are pushed out the door. The miracle of Oxygen begins to
take place. Yesterday I climbed twice as fast as the team, today I can barely
Its a three hour climb,
starting with rising traverses across snow covered ledges. Turn a few corners
and the route steepens, going directly up long strips of snow. Off to our
right, the summit pyramid rises, a snow covered triangle capped by a rocky
crest. The true summit is just out of site, lost by the rounding effect of the
long summit ridge.
We've made a deal with the
Americans, to use a few of their tents at high camp. The deal is an old one:
Russ and Eric Simonson, leader of the commercial American expedition have been
swapping favors, fixed ropes, food, alcohol and just about every other trade-
able commodity. Russ and Eric have been competitors and allies for years.
Together they've formed the trade organization IGO-8000 (International Guides
and Operators for the 8000 Meter
Peaks), of which there
are now a dozen or so members.
There is a tremendous
strength in alliances such as this. When no one could seem to "break
through" to the summit, Russ and Eric were planning on our combined
efforts: twice the number of Sherpas, guides and clients, to push the route.
Happily though a sub group of Eric's was able to bust through on the 19th. With
the doors wide open, everyone's summit push was on.
As we were climbing to Camp
4, we watched others climbing to the summit. We could feel ourselves getting
closer and closer. 15 of us climbed into high camp and were assigned tents.
Naoki and I crawled into an American tent. If we were on our honeymoon it would
have been ideal: a few boundaries and Naoki nicknaming me "Honey" and
we managed to survive. Each climber was given three fresh Oxygen cylinders for
the summit push. The discipline of melting water, preparing our packs, and
eeking out some rest occupied our efforts. By 5 p.m. we dozed off and by
midnight I was up again. "Honey, can you make me some tea?"
"Honey, can you empty my pee bottle?"
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
At 1:30 am, we were
congregating outside of Asmuss' tent, dressed for battle, but with the
spiritual hopes of pilgrims. Asmuss was yelling "Where is Chris?"
through his oxygen mask.
"I'm right here," I
yelled back in muffled syllables.
He sounded angrier the
second time, so I took the mask off. I knew right then that communication would
be limited to the person whose eyes you could look into. We were entering outer
space: our headlamps shot forth bright beams of concentrated light, our masks
were fed by tubes leading from the cylinders on our backs, ice axes were in our
hands, and crampons strapped to each foot. A jumar, attached by a tether to our
harnesses, was gripped by our mittened hands and clamped onto the rope that
stretched outward and upward into the darkness.
Andy lead out, followed by
Owen, Ellen, Kieron and then me. Our headlamps pierced the darkness. A few
scattered climbers' lights and a million stars were the only other beams of
light above us. Before we could get a rhythm, Andy was having oxygen issues. I
passed to the front, hell bent on summiting Everest. My world became even
smaller: blackness and my beam.
The darkness, deprived of
warmth and oxygen, remains a bit blurry. Soon we came upon two Austrians laying
in the snow, resting, a silly thought as we had just began. I carved a new
trail around them. Then two other guys collapsed on the trail at the narrowest,
steepest, scariest, dumbest place imaginable. Needing to pass them, I grabbed
the one guy by the scruff of his neck, greatly adding to my security. In
another narrow gully, two Spanish climbers were retreating: New Jersey educated, Peruvian perfected,
oxygen mask muffled, Spanglish convinced those two to sit and wait. "Don't
get in my way, madam, my friends and I are climbing Everest."
Within no time we were
nearing the top of the "exit cracks." But we were no longer a tight
team. Two hours of climbing had spread us out. Owen was showing signs of
Cerebral Edema and Assmus was advocating his descent. Out in front, my focus
remained on moving us forward. Within a few feet we had come to the crest of
the ridge. My directions: Stop there and replace the Oxygen cylinders. Reduce
flow from 4 to 2 liters per minute. Proceed to the First Step.
We quickly moved on. I
wasn't even aware that Owen was heading back. He had been my right hand man
during the first two hours. My job was to move us forward, and I set out from
this cylinder exchange with purpose. Only I was lost. There I was standing on
top of a cornice: the Kangshung face sweeping 7000 ft. beneath my feet and
there wasn't a track to be found. "PHURBA!!!!" It was time to find a
Sherpa, who had been here before, to lead the way.
Phurba leading, my immediate
gang became: Phurba, me, Kieron and Ellen. Naoki was guarded by Karsang (Nepal). Asmuss,
Andy, Dawa and Jamie were behind them. Evelyne and Robert, Marco, Lobsang and
were well out in front. We were pulled like a Slinky along the easier sections
and then bunched up at others. In between our team, were various climbers:
Sherpas and Sherpanis, Rumanians, Australians, Russians, Spanish, Colombians
The First Step surprised me:
if you weren't used to climbing rock with crampons on, forget it. Two twenty
meter sections (60 ft) of hand over hand pulling, required you to look for
subtle edges to rest your weight. This was full on mixed climbing. And about
five of your friends are also pulling on that same piton. Yahoo!!!! Nothing
like adventure travel.
The Second Step was even
worse. PULL, PULL, PULL. But stay in balance. I had a great plan. I'd whip my
video camera out at the top of the Second Step and film Kieron on the ladder
(which by the way is really easy and overblown in it's reputation.) Just needed
a quick breather. By the time I recovered my breathing Kieron was at the top. I
had to move on. Never got a second of video of him and it hardly seemed fair to
ask him to back down and repeat the moves.
The Third Step actually had
the single most "airy" move. The fixed ropes were anchored to a large
rock, which is only held in place by the fixed rope and little bit of snow. As
people step on this rock, it slips a bit more. Now the ropes are piano wire
tight. Here we go, another hard climbing move, at 8750 meters, unprotected by a
fixed rope (too tight and pulled too far to the right to use). Ladies and
gentlemen place your right crampon by your right ear. Now step upwards, rock
over the right foot and shift your weight onto your tippy toes. Pirouette. Continue
In the middle of the Third
Step, a flash of purple crested the summit ridge. It was Marco, on his snow
board, surfing the summit pyramid of Everest. We were psyched. I stopped and
pulled out my video camera and captured a few turns. Giant rooster tails of
snow shot backwards, catching the light and magnifying his whole show.
He surfed by us, and then
stopped to readjust his binding. I tried to wait for him to carve more turns,
but the cold was burning my fingers and the view was destroying my nerve. Marco
was literally standing on a crest of a bulge, no it was a sheer cliff face.
Catch an edge: you fly then die. He needed to repair his binding and then...
Russ was at the North Col with a powerful spotting scope. He could see
the narrow shoots and thin traverses that Marco needed to link up. Problem was
that there is no single clear and correct line to follow. Marco and Russ needed
to work out a route, based more on Marco's boldness than on the logic and
intelligence of their 50 combined years of skiing.
Marco pushed off, cresting the bulge and finding the narrow, rightward leaning,
band of snow that was the only possible secret through the maze of cliff bands,
avalanche prone shoots and dead ends that Russ was second guessing.
Marco's talent can not be
underrated. He obviously can surf rocks as well as snow. He has pushed his
sport to a new limit, first in the Alps, then South America and in the last few
years in the Himalaya. (Remember that he
turned 22 on May 22). Marco pushed Russ ("I'll never watch him snowboard
again.") showing him that rocks were part of the path, jump and push off
of them, stealing tricks from skate boarding to surf Everest.
Marco descended over 6000
feet (1900 meters) from the summit, into the Great Coulior. Russ and he
eventually teamed up in the Great Coulior, where Marco had to spin around on
his board, swing his axe into the ice and then hop over to a safer, softer
slope. Once back on the North Ridge, he set off again, descending another 2000
ft (650m) to ABC.
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
The Summit Pyramid, a big
triangle of snow that dominates the North Side, is far from the top. In the
middle of the slope, our pal Evelyne was descending, the first Swiss woman to
reach the top. I was so happy for her, and we stopped and smiled and hugged. It
was a great hug, filling me with some needed energy.
After filming Marco and
hugging Evelyne, I had become separated from the groups, and continued alone
across this slope and entered even more slabs of rock. The view: thousands of
feet of air leading to the Rongbuk glacier. Thin strips of rope led me on and
into a narrow cleft. With little ledges, the downward sloping rock is
criss-crossed with the scratch marks of crampons. Every crampon that has been
here has slipped at least an inch every time a climber weights it. The
technique: try to fall upward a bit faster than you were slipping downward.
I pulled myself up the last
of this rock pitch and there, a rise or two above me, was the summit. 100 feet
away, an undulating crest, a sprinkling of friends and a summit jammed with
damned people. It was absurd. Isn't climbing Everest supposed to be hard. Where
did these people come from.
At the first crest, I met
Ellen, Kieron, Karsang (Tibet)
and Phurba heading down. We hugged each other and I shot some more video of
them. A bit further along, I watched Naoki and Karsang (Nepal) summit.
Robert was searching for some peace just below the summit, enjoying his own
little place on the top of the world.
I made it to the top just
past 10 am, and searched for a place to sit down. Naoki handed me his camera
and I snapped some photos of him. Clouds were hiding much of the view, but Lhotse looked incredible, with the Lhotse Coulior rising
straight up the black face. Makalu was capped by cloud as was Cho
Over 30 people huddled on
the top. "Want to call your wife?" someone pushed a phone outward.
Guys in red jackets were organizing for an historic presentation. Spanish TV
was trying to broadcast live.
My Everest was obviously down
below. Robert was right, seek peace where you can find it. I slipped from the
crowd and found a wonderful spot. The end of a prayer flag was tied to a stone
and I chose this flat and safe place to lay out the gifts and mementos I had
been given the last two years.
The gold encrusted,
bejeweled Jubilum cross came out first. This was created by the Catholic Church
to be commemorate the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ. I was now a
year late, but...
Greg Pickering was an arm
chair climber, and paralyzed. Greg died this past summer. I was given his
"pointer" to leave on the top. He used the pointer to navigate the
internet, following dispatches from Everest expeditions. A picture of a gym
member's son's wedding, Buddhist prayer flags and a black pouch filled with a
crystal from Mt. Kailas. It all made a nice scene, a kind
I pulled out a laminated
photo of Greg. I laughed at the juxtaposition of him wearing a t- shirt, with a
leafy background, sitting in the comfort of a motorized wheel chair. "OK
Greg, take a good look around." as I swiveled in place so he could get a
360 degree view of the world. "Now you've got your work cut out for you.
Get us down safely." Afterall, I figured that he was an expert at falling
down. Greg's diligence might be just what the team needed.
As Robert, then Naoki,
Karsang and Dawa descended I took the last of my photos. I wanted to get some
hero shots of me holding various banners. No go. I improvised with a rock and
an ice ax. There is a subtle difference in artistic interpretation between the
white snow of Everest's summit and the white snow of my backyard..but I promise
this is the real thing.
I pushed myself up and
headed down. One last glance backwards and I was amazed that the pageants were
still unfolding on the summit. Seeking a bigger stage, people were gathered
near the lip of the cornice. A miracle kept them from falling through.
I crossed the summit snow
pyramid about 11:30 am and came upon Andy, Asmuss and Jaime. "Hey Andy,
you are at least 3 hours round trip. Are you sure you want to be going
"Yeah, we are climbing
smoothly and Jaime really wants to keep going." All three of them were
smiling and patting me with congratulations.
"It's the chance of a
lifetime," Jaime said so lucidly I was impressed.
Russ came on the radio:
"Andy are sure you want to keep going. It's getting late."
"Yeah, Russ, we are
going to pull it off. We've got the strength."
oxygen?" "Russ, Chris here, I can leave my bottle on top of the
second step. That bottle is 3/4 full." "Listen Andy, this is your
call. Your the guide on the spot. But you've got to get moving."
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
Managing the lunatics
Throughout the afternoon, I
heard Russ calling up to them, but I was too busy with my own trials to listen
in. I found myself managing a lunatic asylum. Bottlenecks kept occurring as
tired, perhaps suffering from Cerebral Edema, climbers simply sat down along
the route and zoned out. We'd be stopped for ten to thirty minutes at a time.
My oxygen supplies were rapidly draining.
Just below the Third Step I
passed a cluster of climbers and dragged Naoki, Karsang and Dawa with me. At
the top of the Second Step a Spanish climber, who had summited all 8000 meter
peaks was laying, passed out on the rocks, a Venezuelan was fighting with his
Sherpa at the top of the rappel. I was pulled by two arms at once. The
Venezuelan eventually succumbed to my shouting and let his Sherpa rig his
The Spanish claimed he was
blind, but no worry....Did he have other symptoms of High Altitude Cerebral
Edema? of course not....Well these little tablets will cure your blindness. He
greedily ate the dexamethasone and now would let me touch him and help him, but
not to let himself use Oxygen because this was an Oxygen-less ascent. We got
him down the Second Step, but it was like watching a drunk walk a tight rope.
Once on the slightly leveler ground, he tried to wander off, using the train
track walking technique of speeding up rather balancing out. Ten of us were on
egg shells, waiting to see him peel away from the face and fall to his death.
At the First Step, he
barreled past a few of us, almost running down the bulging crest. Eric, an
Austrian and paternal figure, and I stopped him and eventually he agreed to
follow Eric on rappel. Eric hopped down the face in two rappels. The Spaniard,
attached himself to three different ropes and proceeded to tie himself in a
knot in the middle of the face. I descended to him and freed him, but now he
was unattached to any rope, in the middle of the face. Insisting I go first, I
lowered myself to the bottom and shouted directions up to him. Suddenly he was
bounding down. Ten feet from the end was a knot, where folks would stop
rappelling and climb down to the safety of a narrow trail. He stopped at the
end of the knot, untied the two ropes and was about to jump. Directly below him
was the frozen body of an American woman. Was he going to jump on her???
Eric and I were frantic. We
yelled and screamed at him. He eventually downclimbed and bit, then jumped.
Eric actually tried to catch him. It seemed suicidal to me, but just another
day in the asylum.
I snatched the walkie talkie
from the Spanish and screamed at his team mates on the other side. More anger
and frustration than logic came out of my mouth, but when you learn your
Spanish in New Jersey
the vocabulary is limited to car accidents and failed romances. Besides I had
run out of Oxygen more than two hours earlier.
My own client and Sherpas
were still rappelling the First Step. I needed to wait for them. Some divine
being was keeping the Spaniard alive. I'm sure he was better off with out me.
Until he jumped down another small cliff and thought he broke his leg. He
looked at me with tears in his eyes, "Can you help me with my broken
legs?" "Your legs can't be broken," I said because I knew he was
dead if they were. But I went back to help him, because he was causing a bottle
neck and my client was stuck behind him. "Get up!" I demanded. And he
forgot his legs were broken, now more fearful of me. He pushed, I pulled and he
stood. "I guess they are not broken," with that he scrambled on.
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
Trouble Up High
By the time I got to the top
of the Exit Cracks, two Sherpas were trying to help the Spaniard down. Naoki
was was being pulled by Karsang, his speed and energy had rapidly diminished. I
was becoming hypothermic after more three hours without Oxygen. Russ was
constantly on the radio, first helping me deal with the Spaniard and then
encouraging Andy, Asmuss and Jaime to keep moving.
Before departing the ridge
crest for high camp, I found the bottle with the least amount of Oxygen and
began to suck O's. I made it back to the safety of high camp at about 3 p.m.
Naoki was the only client in sight. By this time Owen was safely at ABC, Evelyne,
Robert and Marco also arrived for dinner. Kieron and Ellen slept at Camp 2.
Naoki and Karsang made it to Camp 3 by dark.
The last of our team (Andy,
Asmuss and Jaime) had summited at 2:30. There were still climbers from the
south side up there at the time. With the North Ridge in daylight until 7pm,
there still was plenty of time to get down. Unfortunately, the oxygen was
draining from the cylinders and cerebral edema was setting in. Jaime started to
complain of fogginess in his contact lenses. Actually, his brain was shutting
off his eyesight. With little to no vision he could barely walk. The descent of
the summit pyramid became a crawl. Andy's eyes began to fog as well. Asmuss
guided them to the top of the Third Step.
Russ knew there was a stash
of Oxygen at the top of the Second Step. Asmuss left to find it, a remarkable
feat when you think of being Oxygen deprived, climbing downwards, collecting
the 4 bottles, adding that weight to your pack, then climbing all the way back
up to your friends who had by now made it down to the bottom of the third step.
It was now obvious that
Jaime could not descend any further without fresh help. I pleaded with Russ to
have Andy and Asmuss secure Jaime and get out of there alive. We could go back
in the morning and see if Jaime were still living and then worry about rescuing
him. We knew that almost no one could survive a night out at that altitude.
There were dead bodies all over the ridge and a few corpses were only meters
away. Our friend Mark Whetu had lost all of his toes, but his partner froze to
death only 60 meters higher. Rob Hall had died clinging to a client a few feet
lower on the South Side. Scot Fisher...the list goes on.
Of course, Russ was steps
ahead of me. During his 11 trips on Everest he had helped with 14 extreme
altitude rescues. In his mind, the details were unfolding. He knew just which
teams to go to for help: who to ask for labor, who to ask for Oxygen and who to
keep out of the way.
Please come down. We can go
back for Jaime.
Asmuss was the first to
realize that Andy, too, was fading. While he dug a nice hole in a wind
protected spot, Andy and Jaime were bedding down in a windy notch. Asmuss
climbed up to them with the Oxygen, placing three bottles among them. He then
headed towards Camp 4.
Chuldim, Dawa and I were the
only ones left at Camp 4. I was convinced that Asmuss and Andy were descending
in the dark. All of our Oxygen was depleted at the high camp, however Russ had
the climbing Sherpas stop at Camp 3, where there were reserves of oxygen. Russ
also had the reserve Sherpas climbing down to the North
Col, in the night, to grab more bottles and shuttle them upwards.
By dawn these bottles were at Camp 2, at 7 am, they were at Camp 3, and by 9
am, the bottles started to arrive at high camp.
Few expeditions put stand-by
Sherpas and oxygen in position for emergencies like this. In the past we've
used these reserves to rescue other teams' members. Now we were putting all of
our reserves and communications resources to the test.
Around 8:45 pm, on the 23rd,
I went to the Americans and woke Dave Hahn. Between gasps of breath, and
fighting back tears, I told him about our epic. Dave is a powerful person, and
his climbing partners (Tap, Jason and Andy Politz) are equally gracious. He
rallied from the fitful sleep of super high altitude and asked about our plans,
fears and hopes.
At that point, we thought
that only Jamie would be there in the morning and that if the Americans could
give him fresh Oxygen and a few other supplies, Jaime could wait there for
Lopsang and Phurba to climb back up and rescue him.
I slipped into my sleeping
bag about 9:30 and called Russ to confirm the American's help. Two hours later
Asmuss shows up, after a harrowing, hallucination filled descent. "You'll
sleep with Chuldim and Andy will sleep with us." "Oh, Andy's not
As absurd as it sounds,
Asmuss' arrival made me aware that gas was leaking in our tent. I tried to
rouse Dawa, but he was passed out. I dug through all of the tent, and there in
my back pack was a compressed gas cartridge that was slowly fizzing out
iso-butane. We were lucky to not be asphyxiated.
I fell back into a fitful
At dawn the radios were
crackling. Russ was trying to contact Andy. Eric was trying to contact his
team. Asmuss was nearly comatose with exhaustion. Sherpas were pushing upwards
with Oxygen cylinders. Our clients were waking up, first to the satisfaction of
summiting, but soon to the realization that a drama was unfolding above them.
Andy and Jaime actually
picked themselves up and found a more sheltered spot just as the sun was
setting. They weren't the only two climbers sleeping on the ridge. A couple of
hundred meters below, three Russians were huddled under the
"mushroom" rock. Andy pulled his "emergency space blanket"
out of his pack, but its thinness made it impossible to unfurl with mittens on.
Taking off his heavy mitts, the first attack of frost bite hit. Later, trying
to change his radio batteries, gave frost bite its second chance. Within
minutes he was unable to rezip his jacket.
Andy and Jaime hugged each
other through the night. They knew that sleep was death and so became each
other's guardian: shaking, pleading, creating incoherent conversations.
Shortly before dawn the
Americans came across the Russians. Despite the cold, each Russian had their
parkas unzipped (a bizarre and often cited Everest dead person phenomena). They
gave the Russians dexamethasone to treat the likely cerebral edema. They also
reported, although apparently lucid, the Russians did not acknowledge the
approach of the Americans.
Later, when approaching Andy
and Jaime, they noticed the same things: no acknowledgement, appearance of
lucidity, jackets unzipped. In fact, on the surface, Andy and Jaime were fine.
They could answer questions, but they were conscious on a superficial level.
The first order of business was drugging them up with Dexamethasone. Oxygen
cylinders were switched. But neither climber could stand up. When the drugs
finally kicked in, Jaime had a small seizure, as if his engine was restarted.
The descent was slow. The
Americans decided to forgo their summit, showing true heroism by guiding Andy
and Jaime downwards.
Phurba and Lopsang, who had
summited on the 23rd, rushed up again on the 24th. Now the quickest ever turn
around has been 5 days, on the north side by the legendary Ang Babu Chirri (who
died this year on the south side). Both of these amazing Sherpas had the
reserves to go back up. By the time they reached the Americans, additional help
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
Back at high camp, the
movement of Oxygen was our primary concern. I stumbled to the Russian Camp, in
which a lone women, who spoke no English was in distress. Her three friends
were missing. Her radio did not work. But it was rumored Oxygen cylinders were
stored in this tent, and we had her expedition's permission to use them to help
both our team and the Russians trapped above. We rigged a radio transfer in
which a Russian team mate in ABC could talk to her, but we couldn't talk back.
With tears in her eyes, she tried to listen, but her heart was so full of
questions. She reluctantly gave me some Oxygen and two more of our Sherpas set
off, laden with the precious gas.
A few hours later a Russian
stumbled down to us, and as we fed him tea and dexamethazone, two new Russians
climbed up to us.
"My partners are
coming, only a short way back, but one has stopped breathing."
"For how long?" I
"More than 15
"Well, after 8 minutes
and it is too late."
"But you are American,
you must have some adrenalin or other drug to bring him back."
"OK try this." and
I pulled a syringe from my kit and gave him the only injectable drug I had:
dexamethasone. "but you better get going."
Within an hour, with
Sherpas, American heroes, Russian optimists, and Jaime the Gautamalan, all
spread along the few hundred feet of rock and snow above high camp, I noticed a
flash of yellow tumbling among the rocks and through the sky. The Russian who
had stopped breathing over an hour ago, slipped from the North Face of Everest.
He would not have to spend eternity, as another corpse, frozen in place along
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
Jaime and Andy were slowly
lead back into high camp. I cried again during their return. The radio
transferred the news to ABC, where Owen called Jaime's wife and Andy's
girlfriend. We had been keeping them up to date. Trying to stay one step ahead
of an internet distorted media.
That afternoon, Asmuss and I
lead them down to Camp 3, at 7900 meters. Phurba and Lopsang met us there with
hot drinks. The next day, around 3:30 on the 25th, we stumbled into ABC. Each
of us had tears in our eyes.
14 of 15 summit hopefuls
reached the top. Evelyne Binsack became the first Swiss woman to reach the
summit, seemingly with ease. Marco Siffredi snowboarded from the top, down an
improbable line, skidding to a stop in ABC. Karsang (Tibet)
became the first Yak herder to summit the mountain that stands above his house
(last year, he summited Cho Oyu with Himalayan
Experience, another peak he can see from his doorway). Naoki finished his seven
summits and three poles. Jamie finishes his seven summits, becoming the first
Gautamalan to do so. Ellen Miller became the first American woman to
successfully climb the North Ridge. Asmuss tags his second Everest summit. Andy
gets his third Everest summit. Karsang has 4 Everest summit, Lopsang his third,
Phurba his second and Dawa his first. And Jaime and Andy both survived the
second highest forced bivouac. Jaime looks none the worse for the wear, and
Andy could care less about a little frost bite, now that his girlfriend
accepted his marriage proposal.
Today we finished cleaning
up all of our camps on the mountain. The yaks are coming tomorrow. We'll be
leaving ABC over the next two days and will return to Kathmandu
on June 1st.
Of course, Russ considers
the expedition far from being over. His criteria involves us all safely
stepping into a hot shower in Kathmandu. The
seriousness of climbing Everest can't be misunderstood. Guiding Everest puts
your life in even greater danger. We depended on more than excellent logistics,
the kindness of friends and the perseverance of the human spirit to climb
Everest. Russ is always well aware of this and endeavors to run his expeditions
as safely as possible. However, Andy, Jaime and all of us were very lucky this
We are packing away the
computers now, and so will be off line until we reach Kathmandu.
Those of you wishing to reach team members should begin to use their personal
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
The descent from ABC to BC
ended up being a long and painful day. We thought we could evacuate Andy with a
team of 6 yak men, each carrying him for a short distance in a jerry rigged
throne. Afterall, he had lost a good thirty pounds. Well, the first yak man
disabused us of that plan, collapsing after 100 meters.
An hour later, we had him
loaded on a stretcher with four guys holding his weight via an improvised yoke
system. This got us a few hundred more meters down the trail. But when the thin
trail contoured around the steep and icy glacial humps, the downhill stretcher
bearers collapsed under the weight and poor footing.
Next...hijacking a yak from
the descending Russian team. Despite centuries of domestication, yaks were
never bred to be ridden. Their backs tilt, from their tall shoulders, steeply
back to their shorter hips. When you sit on one, you are constantly sliding
backwards. However they are extremely sure footed and many are gentle
creatures. The yak chosen for Andy was the best of the bunch, but still took
off like lightning, the second Andy straddled him. 100 meters later and Andy
was still aboard...even with frostbitten hands he could qualify as the Tibetan
Eight hours later, we
arrived in BC.
Packing and cleaning up took
us another two days, but finally we were ready to leave Everest behind. Russ
and the Sherpas went with all of the gear, in four trucks. The rest of us
bolted ahead in three jeeps, racing across the Tibetan plateau, hoping to reach
the border before it closed. Maybe, just maybe, we could arrive in Kathmandu before the better restaurants were closed. The
clock was ticking, as we slid down the final hairpins towards Zangmu, the
Tibetan border town. Suddenly, my jeep blew a tire. The spare was rusted in
place. The jack was too short. And I had the group visa. Without our jeep, no
one on our team would make it to Kathmandu.
After breaking a record for the world's slowest tire change, we hydroplaned
down the freshly paved street that is Zangmu. The Tibet Mountaineering
Association official and the rest of our team were waiting anxiously for us and
the second we skidded to a halt, they pushed us into line at the border check
point. Within minutes we were on our way to Kathmandu.
In keeping with the
craziness, the Crown Prince then shot his family. The city slammed its doors
shut. Crowds gathered, not knowing how they should mourn (peacefully or
violently). Andy, Ellen, Jaime, Owen and I were lucky enough to fly out on the
3rd. While on the 4th, many of the airlines cancelled flights. The City imposed
a curfew and tourists stayed in their hotels.
Now back at home, the
climbing press is trying to come to grips with the "rescue." Climbing
magazine is working on an article. In various international websites and
newspapers, all sorts of half truths and misinformation were reported. Some
poor folks (the Colombians) were even treated as villains. When it comes to
expedition dispatches on the web, including my own, readers need to critically
evaluate every "fact." The web is hardly journalism. There are no
fact checkers nor editors on Everest.
In the end I simply hope
that everyone is positively recognized for their super human efforts: from
Jaime and Andy (who showed the greatest courage), to Tap, Jason, Dave, Andy and
their two Sherpas, to our Sherpas: Phurba, Lobsang, Lacchu, Ram, Kuhl Bahudur,
Dawa, Chuldim, Kharsang, Karsang, Danuru and Dorje, the Russians, Mark Whetu,
Asmus, Russ and myself. Before we even arrived at ABC, the rest of our team
jumped right in, helping Andy with the daily tasks of living and his continued
evacuation to BC, Kathmandu and finally home.
We also want to thank Jim Litch and Rachel Brown, for their excellent medical
advice and treatment.
Back at home, the trip is
slowly morphing into perspective. Besides entertaining reporters, I don't think
too much about the long and eventful descent from the summit to ABC. My mind is
caught up in the wonderful memories of our tight and motivated team, the beauty
of climbing high on the North Ridge, the satisfaction of feeling strong through
out the summit push, and the quiet moments I spent alone just below the summit.
Those are the reasons I went to Everest and I am thankful that those are the
memories I will carry with me.
Until the next climb,
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account
Another Everest season has
come and gone. It was busy, successful and had it's fair share of drama.
Many reports on other sites
have had a good old say about us, some saying a few positive things, and others
saying a lot of negative things. So be it, but at least I should let you know
how our trip went as far as I am concerned.
This year saw the strongest
team I have ever had the chance to assemble. Clients, guides and Sherpas all
mixed and worked very well together. The team was strong, motivated and all had
a keen will to reach the summit.
This year saw some of the
most advanced communication equipment in situation. Combined with the ISDN
satellite phone we used Sony notebook computers that were capable of sending
video and photo images. Although I am not a big fan of spending time sitting in
an office at 6,400m, this is fast becoming an important part of our
expeditions. This all sounds like easy task, but takes a considerable amount of
pre-expedition planning, and requires extensive time and effort during the
expedition. The ISDN satellite phone and two backup analogue sat phones, plus
three laptop computers were configured for use by Chamonix Networks before
departure. Although we have several solar panels for charging batteries, we still
need a generator for charging at peak periods. Of course like humans,
generators do not like to be cold or to breath in this atmosphere, so these are
always a problem. However all this combined with the Icom radios and Panasonic
batteries we were able to have the best communications on the mountain.
The Sherpas continued to
work well past my expectations. This group of young men are all part of the
team that is so essential to getting my clients to the summit. Many teams bring
very few Sherpas, which in turn puts a lot of pressure on the few that are
employed. I have always preferred to hire many Sherpas so as we can train
younger men and some of the pressure off the more experienced men. This year
was no exception. Yet again, Loppsang and Phurba proved how strong they are at
altitude. As usual Loppsang did a great job, as did Sirdar, organizing the
other Sherpas and staying calm under the increased pressure of an emergency.
The weather forecasting was
even better than we have had before. We received not so accurate forecasts from
a new Swedish web site, the ever accurate Bracknell
forecasts which, although they cost a lot, are always accurate, so long as you
have the experience to read them. We also had access to some very informative
Swiss forecasts. By analyzing all these sources with precision we were able to
find a very good window for a summit attempt. There are many expeditions around
us that do not make any investment towards acquiring this information. They
just listen to our calls on the radio. To those people, I trust that you feel
happy that we made the right decision earlier enough for you to get yourselves
into position and go to the summit.
Again it was a pleasure to
work along side the only other IGO8000 expedition on the North side of the mountain.
Eric Simonson was at BC very early this year, so was well advanced on the route
before we arrived. Although many of the teams provided Eric with rope,
equipment and a little money, no other team helped our two teams to actually
put the route in. We provided the labour to carry rope to 8,300m.
As you know, 15 of the 16
people that set out from ABC for the summit reached the top during the day of
23 May. Never before have I attempted to put so many people on the summit, on
the same day, and I am not sure that I would do this again. This year was
exceptional to have so many strong and like-minded people together. With 4 x
Sherpas, 3 x Western guides, 2 x unguided clients (both of whom are guides in
their native land), 4 x guided clients and 1 x yak man, the ratios were still
much higher than most commercial expeditions.
Although we had a very
successful summit day, we also almost had a disaster. I know that so long as I
continue to operate expeditions to 8,000m peaks, and especially Everest, one
day I will have an accident. The statistics state that 8.3% of all Everest
summiteers die on the way back down. I do not want this to happen, which is why
I spend so much time and money on safety during my expeditions. The back up
resources I put in place paid off this year.
You all know that I was
conducting the operation of my expedition from camp 1 at 7,000m on the North
Col. This is an ideal place to be as there is a superb view of the entire upper
route, and very good communications with all parts of the mountain, BC - to the
summit. (From other positions there is limited radio communication between ABC
On summit day, I was in
radio contact with each camp, the 3 western guides, the 4 Sherpas, one of the
unguided members and Marco, who was later to snow board down the Great Couloir.
Communications started at 01.00am with reports about the weather conditions and
the condition of each team member. Also, I was able to see all the camps and
the entire route above, through a very powerful telescope. In fact I could
recognise each of our members by what they were wearing that day. At 01.30am
there was a great fairy light show as about 45 people left the top camp at
Progress appeared to be good
for most members, with Marco reaching the summit just after 06.00, others
getting to the top closer to 10.30. All in all, a very good effort. Marco had
already snow boarded down the top snowfield by the time that many of the others
were reaching the bottom of the field. This gave them remarkable views of this
first snow board descent. For some reason Marco had a problem with his binding,
but with some good handy work from Loppsang they were able to repair this so as
he could continue.
Andy and Jaime were moving
slowly, Asmus was doing as he was asked, and was moving up the mountain as
"tail man Charlie" hence he was with both of them. At about 11.30 I
spoke to Andy and suggested that they were moving too slow for a reasonable
summit time. Andy also talked to Chris who told him that it would take 3 hours
to return to this position. Andy and Jaime decided that they could make the
summit, which they did by 14.30. Although this was late considering the
available oxygen supplies, it was not too late in the day as the sun stays at
the top camp until 19.00. So there would be enough day-light left and it would
remain relatively warm till dusk.
Problems started shortly
after beginning their descent, when Jaime complained that he was unable to see.
This became a big problem for the small group who, by this time, were well
behind all the other team members. Andy did a very good job of getting Jaime
down the summit snow slope, but by now I suspected that this was difficult for
both of them. Asmus was just a short distance ahead of them and had reached the
bottom of the third step. I asked Asmus to do a very hard task. There were
still 3 half full bottles of oxygen stored at the top of the second step, a
distance of about 100m horizontally and 20m vertically. I asked Asmus to go
down and collect these and take them back to Andy and Jaime. Asmus being the
great guide that he is, fulfilled this task with no complaint and no fuss,
meeting Andy and Jaime at the bottom of the third step. At this stage, I asked
Asmus to leave them as it had become apparent that neither man could move any
further that night. With all credit Asmus did as I asked, which in turn enabled
him to get back to the top camp at 11.30pm. Thanks Asmus, with out you the
final out come would not have been so pleasant.
Marco descended on his
snowboard the by way of the entire Great Couloir to a point 100m below the
North Col. I had watched him the whole way and given directions, by radio, on
routes through various passages, which linked snow slopes. On arrival at the Col, I went to collect
his board and made a trail back up the 100 or so meters to the col. Marco was
very tired, but happy to be back on the Col. After a short while here he
descended to ABC. Evelyne was not all that far behind him and she passed by
Camp 1, also returning to ABC that day. Owen, who had decided to turn around
earlier in the day had already returned to ABC, and later in the day, Robert
also passed by on the way back to ABC.
By night fall I had arranged
for 5 of the RAF expedition Sherpas to come up to North Col from ABC and for 4
of Eric's Sherpas, who were going empty to Camp 4 the next day, to carry extra
oxygen up for us. Chris, who stayed at C4, had already been in contact with
Dave Hahn and had asked for help the following day. My Sherpas stayed at C3
where there were still supplies of full oxygen. They left C3 early the next day
carrying the oxygen to the top camp. I asked more of my Sherpas to come down
from C3 to the North Col during the night to
collect even more. They climbed back up to C3 early the next morning. So, by
mid morning the following day, we had another 12 bottles of oxygen delivered to
the 8,300m camp. There are very few expeditions that even have this quantity of
oxygen available, let alone get it to top camp in a matter of hours of an
emergency. I must point out that this did mean a lot of favours from many of my
Sherpa friends from other teams. I appreciate all of this help, and have since
paid all fees requested. Thank you to all the teams that offered assistance
So although many were
sleeping soundly from their summit exertions, I was working for most of the
night making brews for Sherpas and trying to work out what else to do. Others
talk of having to stay by their radios all night long, but few did the
unenviable work that I asked Owen to do. First he made contact with Andy's
girlfriend and then Jaime's wife to keep them informed of the situation.
The following morning dawned
fine with very little wind, much as we were expecting from the weather
forecast. I was pleased to see, through the telescope that both Andy and Jaime
were at least alive, but were making no efforts to come down. I was not
expecting them to move until some time after the sun had reached them, so this
was not a surprising.
I was in contact with Eric
Simonson using his radio frequency which was different from mine. We had begun
to discuss the logistics that were becoming apparent for his members to help
with a rescue.
Dave Hahn, Jason Tanvay, Tap
Richards and two Sherpas made very fast progress up to the first step and then
the "mushroom rock". Here, very unexpectedly, they came across 3
other climbers who had also spent the night out. They took time to help them
and asked one of the Sherpas to leave his oxygen and go down the mountain with
no chance to reach the summit. Knowing that Andy and Jaime were alive, the
American team moved on very quickly to the top of the second step and then onto
reach my two expedition members.
I have known Dave, Jason and
Tap for many years, we have climbed together, drunk beer together and have been
involved with making rescues for our own teams, and others. It is always a
shock to have to do this at all, but even more so when it involves your own
team members. I will never be able to thank these incredibly strong men for
what they did to help Andy and Jaime stay alive, and to keep them alive. They
gave up their summit chance when they were just a few 100m below it on a
perfect day. Having done the same myself, I know how that feels, but because of
the strength of their character, they were able to do this. I also want to
thank Andy Politz, another good friend from previous expeditions, for leaving
top camp where he was going to stay during the day, and climbing up to the
second step just to help my members. To all of you, and Eric who put all of his
efforts into helping my team, I say, thank you. Dave sent another Sherpa down.
He lost his chance to reach the summit so my members could use his oxygen.
Again I agreed with Eric to pay for both Sherpas summit bonus's.
After a tremendous amount of
work, Dave, Jason and Andy, managed to get Andy and Jaime onto their feet and
to start moving down, just a few metres at a time, until they eventually
reached the top of the second step. This must have felt like an impossible task
at the time, and incredibly frustrating. They knew their own oxygen was going
to run out before they would reach the top camp.
By the time this rescue team
reached the bottom of the ladder on the second step, the first of my Sherpas,
Phurba arrived to help. This was just at the right time to be of real
assistance. Loppsang was not far behind. Along with the extra assistance from
Andy and my Sherpas the team was able to make good progress along the ridge and
back to the top camp. Remember that the Americans also helped the other teams members
who were still making their way down the mountain as well. Eventually Andy and
Jaime made it back to top camp where they met with Asmus, Chris and Chuldim.
After some re-hydration they continued on down to C3 at 7,900m. Amazing that
the American rescuers went all the way back to ABC, arriving very late that
night. The following day everyone else made it back to ABC.
We will always learn many
lessons from such an episode, and it is always easy to be wise after the event.
We were lucky this year, but without the resources of Himalayan Experience, the
outcome could have been very different.
Jaime received minor frost
nip, and Andy frostbite to his nose, thumbs and toes. He is currently
convalescing at home, but it is too early for a prognosis of the final out come
During the course of the
expedition we planned on using 94 cylinders of oxygen. Due to the rescue we
used 105 cylinders. All of the cylinders are painted and numbered in Himex
colours and are very noticeable on the mountain. Due to the circumstances that
we evacuated the mountain, it was necessary to leave 6 of our cylinders behind
on the route. This is something that I would never do under normal
circumstances. However, as it turns out, the Sherpas had already brought down 9
empty cylinders from other previous expeditions who had left them behind. Over
the years, I have always paid the Sherpas $10 per cylinder to bring old empty
cylinders off the hill when they have been returning empty from load carries.
This year was no exception. So, despite the emergency I was still able to clear
the equivalent of all of my equipment off the hill. Of course next year I will
make a big effort to recover the six remaining cylinders, plus others as the
situation may allow.
During this expedition there
were many great personal achievements that can go almost unnoticed because of
the other drama. For me personally, I am very pleased that Karsang the Tibetan
yak man who lives in the local valley system, and who has worked for me as a
camp support man for the last 4 years, reached the summit. During the time that
he has worked for me, he has always shown an interest to learn new skills.
Several years ago he asked if he could attempt the summit of Everest as he can
see this from his house. Last year we took him to the North
Col as part of his initial training. Then last season he went to
the summit of Cho Oyo on the same day as Marco and Ellen. So he had ample
experience to summit Everest this year.
Marco made the first snow
board descent from the summit, a great feat. Evelyne became the first Swiss
woman to summit Everest. Ellen became the first American woman to summit and
return on the North Ridge. Jaime became the first Guatemalan to reach the
summit, and the first to finish the 7 summits. Naoki became the youngest person
to finish the 7 summits and also the two poles. Andy reached the summit for the
3rd time, Asmus for the second.
We also had two groups who
joined the expedition to the North Col. Both groups were quite successful in
reaching the Col. Different people have different goals, and to these people
this was their Everest, well done!
I am now back in Chamonix settling the nerves and getting ready for our
next Cho Oyo expedition in 2 months time.
I trust that you have
enjoyed reading about the Everest trip, and hope that you will stay for future
expeditions. To everyone that helped me this year, a big THANK YOU, and you
know that I will always do the same for you if required.
Top | Journal Index | Detailed Account