May 28, 2010 Kathmandu
Great news!!!! I still am trying to believe it. I summited Mount Everest at 8:15am on the 23rd May. It was certainly one of the most difficult challenges of my life, and it was definitely the most technical and dangerous climb I have ever done. Fortunately, I am suffering only a little frostbite on one finger (I may lose it) and some peripheral edema on my face. Considering everything, I am very lucky.
May 18th we left Everest Base Camp at 2:30am on our 4th rotation, climbed up through the treacherous Khumbu Ice Fall to C1. We hung out at Camp1 for several hours in our tents to escape the mid-day sun that heats up the glacier valley like a fish bowl with temperatures soaring over 100° F. Totally surrounded by huge glacier mountains (Nupse, Lhotse and Everest) the sun reflects on all those icy walls so the temperature has nowhere to go but up. The moment the sun gets blocked behind cloud or peak, the temperature plunges back down below freezing. At 3pm we moved up the Western Cwm to C2. Next morning at 3am the winds were howling so we decided to hold and rest.
May 20 we left C2 for C3 at 2:30am. It was still windy but our weather report called for decreasing winds. Once past the Lhotse Bergschrund and climbing up the steep Lhotse Face the winds increased dramatically. We had about 3000 vertical feet (1000m) to climb to reach C3. The winds kept getting stronger and probably were gusting at 70mph (120kph). It was hell, especially the last 500 feet when the slope gets steeper at 60° on black/ blue cement hard ice.
Camp 3, 24,500’ (7500m) is carved out of the icy steep slope. The tents are stepped-up from each other. You must use crampons even to go out to pee. If you slip you are gone. It has extraordinary views but the geography is deadly.
Those high winds literally blasted and imprisoned us in our tents for the next 30 straight hours. Sometimes it felt like our tent would get ripped up and blown off the mountain. The gusts sounded like a freight train as it came over the South Col and careened down the Lhotse Face at us. The South Col is famous among Everest climbers as it is the perilous pass or col between Mt. Everest and Mt. Lhotse at 26,000’ (8000m). Camp 4 is situated there and it is in the ‘death zone’ where the body cannot sustain itself. Effectively the body is breaking down and dying at this altitude. The idea is to make your visit short.
Finally early evening May 21 the winds calmed so we prepared to leave at first light the next morning. May 22nd we started out before 6am and climbed another 500 feet up the Lhotse Face, then precipitously traversed across its face to a steep rocky vertical section called the Yellow Band. It is a famous band of dolomite rock clearly visible from a distance. Next we got to the Geneva Spur and using our ascenders (jumars) climbed up and over this large rock buttress to the South Col, also known as Camp 4. I arrived around noon.
We rested in our tents all afternoon at C4, trying to eat and drink a bit, and mentally preparing for our ‘summit bid’ that night. It was cold, sunny with light winds. We were all intense and psyched. After two months on the mountain acclimatizing, 4 full rotations, getting up at 2 or 3am in the freezing cold mornings, the moment had finally arrived. Each climber was facing his own destiny. There will be no second shots; we will blow all our energy (15,000 calories) on this attempt. Every member of the team has already lost a lot of weight, up to 35 pounds. Tonight is do or die.
I am the first out of high camp at 8pm. It is black darkness but my headlight opens my path on the rock and ice. The winds are stronger now but still ok. I start climbing a 1,500 vertical foot slope up to the only flat patch on the mountain called the ‘Balcony’, where we will change oxygen bottles, drink and snack a little. We are soon climbing on a 45°+ pitch. Mingma Sherpa is buddying up with me. Step by arduous step we move up. I am sucking on a relatively low oxygen flow rate of 2 litres per minute. It makes my body furnace fire-up and helps keep me warm. The O² tank weighs about 8+kg and is in my backpack.
Hours later we arrive at the Balcony at 27,600’ (8400m). It is still in the middle of the night and very cold around 40° below. You must avoid resting long here since your body will quickly freeze up and mentally shut you down. Many climbers don’t get past this point. I change my Oz bottle and immediately start traversing a narrow ridge with black voids on both sides.
Although we are clipped in to a fixed rope with our safety line, the prospect of falling even 50 or 100’ and banging against rock and ice would definitely cause serious damage to life and limb. Rescue above the Balcony is practically impossible. The climbing route up the mountain is technical and unforgiving. Clipping-in temporarily to an anchor is possible but on a steep slope you are very exposed and if you drop or lose anything (glove, pack, goggles, jacket) you are doomed. Loss of a single mitt means instant frostbite and loss of fingers and hand. The room for error is razor thin.
I arrive at a rocky section where the 1st seven feet is a 90° cliff face. Another climber who is unknown to me is already there. He repeatedly try’s to jumar himself up but fails each time. I stand waiting behind him for what feels like a half hour literally freezing until he finally manages to get up. There was absolutely no way around him. I just hopped from foot to foot to keep my feet from freezing.
Honestly, a lot of the next few hours I do not remember clearly. It was dark and I was so focused on every step and detail. It was really one step in front of the next. When I would need to climb over a really hard section or a very intimidating rock ledge, my heart rate would jump exponentially. Frankly, I was on a mission, I didn’t question myself, I had total blind confidence I would make it. I just had to remember from time to time to keep track of my toes and fingers, and make sure my crampon points bit into the ice. Focus! Focus! Concentrate on your every move!!!
Then I saw it. A slither of a band of reddish glow suddenly appeared across the far distant eastern horizon. After more than 8 hours in the black frigid night, a new day was dawning. It meant warmth, hope, and somehow the possibility of success. Next I saw the extraordinary magical ‘pyramid shadow’ of Everest glow in the distant sky. It was like a ghost appearing out of nowhere. I could also see Everest’s true triangular summit far above me, yet I was already higher than every other mountain in the whole Himalayan Range and world. From Base Camp all these mountains appear so huge towering above you, but now I looked down on them as if they were just snowy hill tops. Only Mount Lhotse and Mount Makalu vied for status in this phenomenal panorama.
Step by tentative step my dream came closer. First the South Summit at 28,707’ (8750m), next the unnerving Cornice Traverse, and finally the famous Hillary Step. The Hillary Step is an imposing 47 foot nearly vertical rock wall. You have to jumar yourself up finding tiny footholds as leverage. It is very precarious to scale considering on your right is the 11,000 foot Kangshung Face dropping straight down onto the Tibetan Plateau and on your left lies the 8,000’ Southwest Wall of Everest.
Above the Hilary Step at 28,750’ the slope starts to become gentler as it rises to the real summit. Almost before you know it, you are standing beside Buddhist Prayer Flags left behind by Sherpa’s and summiteers over the years. You are standing on a small oval slanted rock-hard icy stage the size of a big sundeck. You realize that you have climbed to the very ‘Top of the World’. There is nothing anywhere higher than you on the planet. You have, against all odds, accomplished your goal. It has been years of training, preparing, learning. You risked it all. You did it.
Oddly enough, it didn’t really totally sink in. You know it is 40° below. You know that you are standing on the most hostile, extreme geography, on the planet. You know that if you trip you die. But somehow you are only consumed with the simple job at hand – trying to take photos and video. My camera freezes up; my fingers turn to rigid sticks when I remove my gloves to click the shutter. I must go down soon. I just want to hang here a little longer. I know it never was just about the summit; it was about what I was capable of, how far could I push myself? I did however sense a certain feeling I have had from other big climbs: a warm inner glow really deep inside. But, I also knew this was not the place to celebrate. I must be focused to stay alive and get down.
The hardest and most dangerous part of any climb is the descent. Down-climbing the Hillary Step I slipped and found myself hanging precariously over 8000’ of empty space. I recovered but not without seeing my heart almost arrest. “Just because you’re finished with the mountain, doesn’t mean the mountain is finished with you.” You must refocus on the bare reality – one false step may be your last.
I arrived back to C4 (South Col) sometime around 4pm. I was held up by an attempted rescue operation lowering a climber with cerebral edema just above the Balcony. It was a 20 hour day and I was totally exhausted. I crawled into my tent and sleeping bag and passed out. I desperately needed sleep to recover.
May 24th I woke up realizing I had frostbite on my index finger and ‘peripheral edema’ on my face. My eyes and cheeks were all puffed-up and my finger black. I packed up quickly and descended with Mingma down the dangerous and technical terrain of the Yellow Band and Lhotse Face. We arrived at C2 sometime in the afternoon and slept there that night. Next morning the 25th we all descended together as a team down the Western Cwm to C1 and then continued down through the Ice Fall to basecamp. What a relief to finally be finished going through the hazardous Ice Fall. So many climbers have died or been seriously injured there.
After 60 days living on ice and rock the whole team was desperate to get going off the glacier. We packed-up early the next morning the 26th and started our long hike out down the Khumbu Valley. It is about 45 miles (65 km) of trekking over scree and every type of terrain to Lukla and then a short 1 hour flight to Kathmandu. We covered it in 2 days and arrived this morning in Kathmandu skeletons of our previous selves and physically exhausted. However, we were joyously awarded to real showers, real food and a real bed.
T.S. Eliot once said: “Only those who risk going too far will know how far they can go.” Dare to reach, dare to dream, dare to go after your goals. If you don’t try you will never know how far you can go!
(One final note, by lucky coincidence I summited Everest on my stepson’s 18th birthday, David Gordon. Wow.)
A DREAM REACHED
EVEREST EXPEDITION 2010
The Everest challenge was everything and more than my original expectations. Heading back up the Khumbu Valley after 40 years (December 1969) and especially arriving in Namche Bazaar, was a moving moment for me. That original experience of trekking to Everest Base Camp alone 40 years ago and having a dream, even if it was in a distant recess of my mind, to go back and climb this great mountain some day, was a fulfilling and huge life experience. It made me realize that I am exactly the same guy now as I was then, needing adventure, needing challenges, living life with passion. I had no idea if I would make it, but I knew that nothing, at least under my control, would stop me from giving it my best shot. There are some things in life you just have to do.
The climb itself was unique. The time duration was long. Everest Base Camp is a small international community that is a ‘one of a kind’ in the world. I think there is no other comparison to any other sport or adventure that resembles those 2 months every year so many diverse people assemble with one purpose to test themselves and risk everything on this Himalayan icon of mountaineering. The friendship one develops spending literally day and night together with a small group who depend on each other for support and safety. The absolute decisiveness and clarity of mind one must have to hang in there and succeed. The significant cost involved that one is prepared to spend just to have a ‘go’ at it.
The rewards are many. Climbing through the dangerous Ice Fall crossing ladders and crevasses teaches managing fear. Getting up at 2am in the cold, day after day, teaches diligence and strength of character. The long hours of physical endurance teaches fortitude and determination. The passion to want to do it at all teaches spirit and love of life. The beauty, albeit stark, teaches appreciation of life at the extreme end.
Hemingway once said something like this: there are only 2 sports in the world – race car driving and mountaineering, and everything else is entertainment. Last week having dinner with my good friend Martin Husar who formerly was a race car driver in Europe, asked me if I had experienced any truly profound life moments climbing Everest. He had a serious crash in France some years ago and wondered how my recent scary moment descending the Hillary Step may have impacted me. Certainly, over time and through the filters of life, the hues in your personality must get richer. Our experiences either weaken us or strengthen us. I think the more we experiment, attempt, ‘go for’, especially when we dare our limits, broaden our characters more than we can imagine. Picasso late in his career had a period where he painted like a child, yet no child could paint or fathom to the depths of a Picasso. I feel stronger psychologically as a result of all parts of this Everest challenge.
During the climb and sending the updates, I avoided mention of deaths and casualties. At camp 2 some of my team discovered a body emerging from the glacier. A Russian died on Mount Lhotse. At least 3 more deaths occurred on the north side. A lady fell into a crevasse in the Ice Fall and broke her back. The medical tent at Base Camp was usually very busy. I am pointing out this simply because it is the reality of an Everest season. The risks are clear. I read some time ago that 1 in 4 climbers over 60 who have summited Everest will die descending.
Some funny and not so funny moments. Getting a hemorrhoid on our last rotation before our summit bid and wondering how I would explain not summiting because of it. Leaving Base Camp at 2am on our final six day summit push and near the bottom of the Ice Fall breaking through some thin ice up to my knees. I had to remove my plastic boots and pour out the ice cold water and climb the rest of the night up to C1 with cold soggy feet. High on the mountain on summit day and desperate to pee wearing down pants that had no zipper and a waist harness leaving no access, but really having to find a way. Seeing a sparrow size bird alive on Everest’s summit. Waking up the morning after summiting with my face all puffed-up from peripheral edema (probably lack of oxygen during the night) and my finger black from frostbite.
I have been asked repeatedly over the years how I manage to suffer and endure these climbs. The simple answer is ‘one step in front of the next will get you to the top’.
Last, I was very lucky to be part of such a strong, experienced and focused team. We encouraged and supported each other. That all of us were able to summit is an extraordinary occurrence and achievement on such a difficult mountain as Everest. My congratulations again to: Mike Hamill, Eben Reckord, Louis Carstens, Sandhosh Kumar, Jason Vandalen, Tim Igo and Mayk Schega.
READ MY BLOG POSTS FROM THIS ADVENTURE BELOW:
Good news. We are on our way to the summit very soon, tomorrow at 3am is the plan. The weather forecast is promising. It is just a question of team planning and final weather analysis. The Jet Stream is moving north and the window is opening. The final dynamics are unfolding and we will all…Details
Today 5 of us hiked, by way of Pumo Ri to Kala Patthar. It is a 4 ½ hour hike over scree and boulders to a summit pinnacle with spectacular views of the Khumbu Valley, Khumbu Glacier, Base Camp and Everest itself. It is effectively a panoramic view of the entire area. We are still…Details
We are still here at BC waiting for our weather window to make our summit bid. Tuesday and Wednesday, both night and day, there were very high winds at BC, probably 50-60 mph in the gusts. The winds coming off the top of Everest were of course much higher. We were mostly confined to our…Details
Stuck but ready to climb Everest. We are well fed, rested, but nowhere to go until the weather high on the mountain improves. Winds and a low pressure system are preventing us from starting our attack for the summit. Late this week is a maybe. Already it is 6 weeks since leaving home, we are…Details
Alas, we are heading home to comfortable Base Camp. The “Dream Team” !!! Jason, Eben & myself, left at 4:30am down the Western Cwm blazing fresh tracts in about 6” of new snow. In the early light of dawn, with the white duskiness and new white snow, the visibility was deceiving, and identifying the cracks…Details
Storms during the night, but at 4:30 this morning it started to clear, we ate breakfast and hiked up to the Lhotse Bergschrund, descended into it and climbed it’s 90 degree pitch, crossed a narrow snowy ledge and then continued to climb the very steep rock solid blue ice of the Lhotse Face to…Details
Great to get back to BC yesterday. Ate well. Slept well. Unfortunately, it is colder and cloudier than usual. Nevertheless, our Sherpa cook is great. And I can email and update the site with some terrific new photos taken with a helmet-mounted camera I finally figured out how to use. The shots really give…Details
Tomorrow Friday morning at 2:30am we head back up the mountain (Ice Fall) for 1 night at C1, Saturday C2, Sunday we will push up the Lhotse Face (23,500’) to C3, Monday climb higher toward C4 but return to C2 to sleep. Expect to drop back down to BC Tuesday. This will be our…Details
This morning we climbed about half way up to C3 and approximately 1/5 up the Lhotse Face. It was awesome. Crossing the bergschrund (crevasse where the steep face of a glacier meets a more moderate slope) we crossed by ladder and up almost a 90o ice wall, traversed a very narrow ledge, then climbed…Details
Sunny and cold day. Water bottles froze inside our tents last nite. This morning we hiked up near the Lhotse Face for a bit more acclimatization. Can see the Sherpa Rope Doctors putting in anchors and rope high up the Lhotse Face. It is pretty mean looking up through all the seracs. We won’t…Details
At 7 this morning we moved out of C1 for C2 up the Western Cym. The Khumbu Glacier starts high up the Lhotse Face, falls very steeply down to the foot of the mountain, and then flows downhill – called the Western Cym – in the valley between Everest (29,035’), Lhotse (27,939’) and Nupse…Details
There were high winds last night, probably 50 mph (80Km) almost all night. This morning we did a hike up the Western Cym to about half way to C2 (extra acclimatization) and then returned to C1 to sleep. The crevasses here are huge. You have to cross over these deep cracks either by jumping…Details
Son of a gun, it’s my birthday. Thank you all for your comments and feedback throughout my site. It’s difficult for me to post replies directly as the internet connection from base camp is limited … but do know that I appreciate your support greatly! This morning I unzipped my tent door and saw…Details
Late Afternoon, we have arrived back to our tents. Looking forward to dinner.
Will update again soon.
Today, the 16th April- is a rest day. Tim and Eben just created a new game called “high-altitude ice ax horserocks”. The object is to throw 3 rocks and hit the ice ax (1 point) or drop the rock in the ice ax hole (3 points). Tim, Kancha and Eben against Dasona, Sandtosh and…Details
After 1 rest day at BC we headed back down the valley and over some hills to the foot of Mt. Lobuche base camp 16,000’. Next morning the 14th, we practiced some climbing technical exercises and early afternoon headed up to high camp 17,000’. At 3am the next morning we rose, ate and by…Details
Got here yesterday. We are having our Puja Ceremony this
morning. Will try to send out photos later today. I have being having a problem
with internet connection. We leave tomorrow for our 1st rotation, will climb Mt.
We arrived in Gorak Shep this morning and immediately hiked up to Kala Patthar 18,200’ (5550m). Both have spectacular views of Everest, Base Camp, the famous (infamous) Ice Fall, and the Khumbu Glacier. This was also another step to acclimatize more. Tomorrow we move up and into Base Camp. We are all looking forward…Details
Arrived yesterday at Lobuche 16,200’ (4,950m). Forty years ago when I was last here, this small seasonal settlemenst did not exist. Since a number of years many ‘rest-house villages’ have sprung up to serve the many trekkers who come up hiking in the Khumbu and on to Everest Base Camp. For our last night in…Details
Today is a ‘working’ rest day. We hiked up a 1000’ this morning to acclimatize a bit more. I went with Phu Tashi to his village of Dingboche to visit his family and have some lunch. We are high up the Khumbu Valley now. Only low shrubs growing, rocky and windblown. Read-on for short…Details
WOW, I just had my 1st shower since Namche. Feeling like a million bucks. And there is internet connection available by the minute. We arrived at 1pm today in Pheriche (14,400’). We left Namche Bazaar April 4th and trekked far up the valley to Tesing, ate lunch in a tea house by the Dudh…Details
Saturday is a rest day so I can take some time to better detail Thursday’s update. We are spending 3 nites at Namche (11,300’) to acclimatize. We have to gradually increase altitude up to Base Camp (17,500′). By the time you read this, we will have moved up to Deboche (12,400’) on Sunday. By…Details
Wow, it has only been 5 days since I left Montreal, but it feels like weeks. 25+ hours in the air, another 17 hours in airports. Arrived in Kathmandu at noon March 29. In the L.A. Thai Airlines check-in I met Phil and Sue Erschler, and Eric Simonson. Phil is a legend in climbing…Details
The DREAM Forty years ago I spent over 32 days alone trekking over Himalayan mountain passes, climbing up the Khumbu Glacier to 19,000’ to the foot of the Mother Goddess of the Universe, Mount Everest. For 40 years Everest has been in my heart and mind. I have always wondered if someday I would return to…Details