Day 48 – Breaking News on Grant’s Descent. May 28th

David Lim: Having survived the summit push. Descending from North Col to ABC, May 2001


1215am, Singapore time, Just in from Grant on his satphone:

” Just got into North Col campsite with 3 other members.We are exhausted beyond words. Had to help a team member who was too exhausted to handle the fixed rope or abseil down the ropes. Got here safely in the darkness ( around 0230am Nepal time). The weather forecast was totally incorrect today. Bloody winds. We haveat least one with frostbite. Singaporean Kenneth Koh made the summit with 3 sherpas in support but got some snowblindness from corneas freezing from the wind/cold.

(note:  Grant didnt say where he was but we can assume C3. I have seen this kind of injury before and people who had it say it’s like rubbing sand on your eyes for hours. Usually after 24 hours, the corneas grow a fresh layer of cells, andyou can begin to see again. Until then you are literally blind)

Esther, the other Singaporean did not make the top and she has some frostbite on her face. All exhausted. I helped kiwi team mate Jim – who did amazingly well today. Tomorrow – down to ABC to reassess our condition for a 2nd attempt. ”


David’s note: For a feel of what it is like working hard on a climb and a retreat on Everest, I attach an excerpt from my book Against Giants describing my abortive summit push on the North Ridge in 2001:

……………As usual,

it was hard to get all our stuff together in time and we only left at 710am, about half and hour late.

A conga line of gaily coloured climbers snaked its way up

the fixed line to Camp 5. Ahead of me I could already count

more than a dozen anoraked figures, staggering up under

their loads like some latter-day Sisyphus. Gil jugged his

way up on the mechanical ascender in a steady rhythm. The

self-assured man from Brazil was having a good day. I

watched his cadence until he left my immediate line of

sight. Far behind, Roz struggled to shake off the effects

of his bad night. Pretty soon, clumps of climbers would

form parties at different stages of the climb, sharing the

one thing they had in common – a pace which matched the

others. I fell in with Gia Tortladze, a well-known high

altitude Georgian climber, he looked strong but refused to

overtake me at my rest stops.

In between breaths he said,” Slow is good!”

I looked up at the ever steepening and lengthening north

ridge. The snow ridge was an aesthetic line, with

significant drops from either side of the ridge. Up high

and to my right, Everest revealed itself in the bright

morning light. In 1998, to maximise the team’s chances, we

had an excellent sherpa team which supported us most of the

time. Even on the big haul from the 7400m camp to the 8000m

summit camp, most of our team carried nothing more than a

few personal effects and an oxygen bottle to help them get

to 8000m. On May 20th, we laboured under a pack of about 10

kilos each and were hoping to climb to nearly 7900m without

‘0’s. It was a hard prospect but one which could be done by

ordinary mortals ( I count sherpas as a different class of

human altogether ) in seven hours. With my bad leg, I gave

myself about nine hours to make it. Close to me was a

European lady who was accompanied by two sherpa climbers.

One carried all her belongings in addition to his own so

she climbed free of any encumbrances. The other helped give

her water at stops as well as lending a hand in assisting

her to put her bulky mittens back onto her small hands. She

gradually pulled away from my group With my bad leg and

climbing higher than ever before without bottled oxygen, I

wondered if I was stupid or if she was smart. Therein lay

the difference, I thought. mountaineering’s beauty lay in

the freedom of climbing in any style you wished. It only

dictated that you were open about how you climbed the peak.

Later that morning, I met a delighted Mike and Terry

descending. Against the odds and in some fickle weather,

their gamble had paid off and the had bagged the summit. It

was the first summit success of the season. I was really

happy for Terry in particular. He had been ever so modest

and quiet about his other climbs and had reserved his

energies just for the climb. So many climbers wanted to

shake their hands, they must have been late getting back

for lunch at ABC. It began to get harder and harder at around 7500m. Again,

as on the headwall going up to the Col, there was

insufficient climbing traffic on the route to create large

bucket-like steps in the wind-packed snow. Unable to climb

on my toes, I was forced to climb crab-like just so I could

sink in all the points of my cramponned boot. I began to

rely more and more on my upper body to gain upward

progress. I envied the able-bodied climbers for their

natural balance and gait . One by one they passed me. Roz

had long passed by, having gained his second wind. The

radio call at 2pm was taken by Brent Okita, one of Eric’s

team members, now at basecamp. His voice had a calming

effect in the building winds.

“ Remember ” he said, “ Save some strength if you think you

need to go down ”

My diary described what happened next:

“ Then all hell broke loose with clouds of spindrift and

wind pounding me on the ridge. Gusts merged into a

continuous droning sound – hellish wind, raked me “

At 215pm, I reached the top of the snow ridge. Ahead, a

knot of multi-coloured flapping nylon were the numerous

tents belonging to other expeditions. Oh – to have our

tents located here, I mused, quite tired from my efforts.

From here, it was just a height gain another 200 metres to

our campsite. Screeching across like banshees from the

west, you could ‘see’ the gusts. Like some malevolent

supernatural force, the winds would toss up small pebbles

and fine spindrift that dressed the rocks as they

approached. Like the sound of a jumbo jet passing overhead,

each gust would pin me down momentarily blast me with a

faceful of tiny, sharp ice crystals. Separated from Gil and

Roz, I reached for the fresh rope on the rocky face and

began climbing. It was much harder now as the route began

to become less distinct as it threaded its way through a

jumble of boulders and rocks sloping down at about 40 – 45

degrees. A few sections demanded a high step up. Balancing

myself while simultaneously thrusting upwards, I made some

progress up the rock sections. But I had slowed down

tremendously, winded by each effort and each difficult

move. I could no longer use the rope to help me make upward

progress. Slack in many places and there purely as a safety

precaution, the rope was almost useless to me. Many simple

moves while rock-scrambling demand that you step up on your

toes in balance and then make a the next move; sometimes

using your hands. Without functioning calves, I had to

flat-foot almost everything, making progress clumsy and

energy-sapping. The interval between the gusts, up to

100km/h grew shorter and shorter . My left hand, long

affected by severe cold hand become dead. My fingers

refused to move to the commands my brain was sending down.

I paused and began to put on a warmer set of mittens,

warming my frozen digits inside my down suit. This took

more than five minutes and the result was no better. The

gusts also kept jerking me from side to side. I leaned

against a large boulder, half standing and half crouching,

just hoping I could scavenge enough strength to make the

final few hundred metres.

I turned around and caught a gust face first. My warm down

suit had a beautifully designed hood that covered most of

my face and anchored with three broad straps of Velcro. In

one shredding sound like a wet T-shirt ripped from top to

bottom, the hood opening exploded and snapped backwards. My

elasticated goggles, so secure on my face whipped backwards

and was almost torn off my head. Never I had I faced such

wind on the mountains. At some point in those desperate

moments, I radioed Roz to say that I was in some trouble

and would be heading down. My frozen hand, exhaustion and

hypoxia had befuddled me and I could not understand the crackling voices coming out from my radio. I tucked it away

and made my way down, At that time, I thought selfpreservation

was a lot more important than the summit. In

retrospect, it was an easy decision. I stumbled down, and

turned a corner, only to come face-to-face with the last

person I’d expect to see huddling by a large rock

“ Gia!”

We stumbled and bum-slid our way down the rocks until the

snow shoulder. Stefan Gatt, a kindly Austrian guide,

offered us one of his tents as temporary shelter. We doffed

our packs and dived into some cover. We said nothing for

while. I was shivering from cold exhaustion and chilled to

the bone. I just lay back, my mind in a broken jumble of

thoughts. I was at my lowest and weakest moments of the

climb. Outside , the wind kept hammering away at the


Gia and I shared a few moments and some refreshment. He

wanted to go back up; thinking he could make his Camp 5 by

sunset. I was exhausted and thought that climbing back up

200 metres would surely be less risky and shorter than

descending 700m to the North Col alone. In the midst of all

these competing and difficult thoughts, I picked up the 4pm

radio call. This time it wasn’t Brent but the steady and

firm voice of Eric. An ever cautious mountain guide, he

must have been fuming mad because I had lost communications

for an hour, not to mention being stuck in an unenviable

position. Far below, he must have only been thinking of

worst case scenarios. In a 1994 expedition to the north

side, Eric had been involved in a dramatic event where

Mike Rhineberger, a very driven climber, had pushed for the

summit long after his oxygen had gone and long after he

should have turned back. He and Mark Whetu, a climbing

guide, summitted at sunset and descended in the darkness.

Then Rhineberger lost it completely, blinded from a high

altitude-induced stroke. Unable to see, the two struggled

through the night. Whetu became badly frostbitten but

refused to leave Rhineberger although nothing more could be

done for him. Eric had to cocordinate a rescue attempt

which included persuading Whetu to leave Rhineberger and

descend to safety. It was a highly charged and traumatic

incident which must have since coloured Eric’s view on

difficult situations on the peak.

We talked through the options. With Gia going up and the

wind subsiding, one part of me stubbornly felt that to go

down would be too risky and too tiring. Few non-sherpa

climbers had energy to climb up to this point and descend

on the same day. I even contemplated spending a night at

7650m despite a lack of any significant resources. But Eric

was tough and insistent. Going down was the only acceptable

option to him. I took a few deep breaths to clear my head.

Somehow, the tough talk from Eric had cut through my

muddled hazy thoughts. Eric had already radioed our sherpa

team to come up part of the way on the ridge to meet me as

I descended, About a quarter to five, I finally donned my

crampons and made for the North Col. I bid a quick farewell

to Gia as he went up. I saw him go with just the slightest

tinge of envy, the envy of someone who no longer had the

strength to complete the climb up.

But more importantly, I had a long climb down. The one

thing I remember was the orange tinged light of a fading

day. Going down, I kept talking to myself to keep alert and

not get dreamy from exhaustion and hypoxia. After about

half way, I was reduced to plodding down 50 steps and then

sitting down to rest. The intervals began to get shorter as

all my gas ran out. I was reduced to moving twenty steps

down at a time. To my left, the winds had died out and the

curling clouds were a contrast to the jagged peaks to the

west. Ahead of me and about level with my eyes was the

bulky Changtse, a 7000m peak . Between where I sat and

Changtse lay the dip and the saddle which formed the Col. I

took one last snapshot of the dying light and pressed on. I

had no idea where Roz and Gil were, only that I knew that

they would have made the right call. I hoped they had

reached camp safely and were tuning into my progess. There

was no one else coming up or down by then. I was alone. At

7 or 730pm, I can’t remember when, the sky darkened, and

the snow turned a deep blue before the light really began

to seep away. Below, I spied four dark dots that were

moving up – the sherpas. I kept descending until about

7300m when they finally caught up, their headlamps like

welcome fireflies, buzzing around. The first to come up and

check on me was Pemba Tenzing who hugged me around the

neck. Next up was none other than my old friend Man Bahadur

Tamang. Their shiny white teeth was like the teeth of the

Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. In the darkness, all I

could see were those gleaming ivories and a warm feeling of

safety and friendship. Their calmness was contagious. A

stainless steel flask of hot tea was produced. My cracked

lips sipped the dark , hot and sweet liquid. It as the

first drink I had for as long as I could remember. Deep

inside my pack, what was left of my water must have turned

to slush by that time of the day. I was groggy from fatigue

and MB roped me up for safety. Then I heard the sound of

footsteps behind me. It was Gil and Roz. They had a quite

story to tell later.

As I was being windblasted, Roz was within 20 minutes of

reaching Camp 5. He heard my brief radio communication that

I was descending and decided that he had to drop down to

see if I was OK. He met Gil who was labouring up but not

far from camp as well. They had a moment discussing the

situation and in the end decided to descend as well,

catching up with me and making sure I got down safely. It

was a tough call, especially for Roz. On May 19th, 1998, he

had reached the South Summit of Everest, with only 100m

from the top, only to have to turn back. The treacherous

route ahead needed more rope to create a secure safety

line for descending ( and ascending ) climbers. All the

teams had run out of rope or had not brought what they had

promised. My own team’s 400m of line was all used up and

they had to descend. I did not pick Roz to make up the

final team for the second, and ultimately successful

ascent. For him, this was his second and possibly last

chance to climb Everest. It was heartbreaking.

Gil had struggled a bit more with the issue, proposing that

he and Roz climb to the Camp first and then assess the

situation. But after some discussion, they decided to

descend. Then Gil, in his fatigue, tripped on the difficult

ground and took a cartwheeling fall until some rocks

stopped him. His down suit was slashed in a few places.

It was a tremendously tiring day, a full 15 hours with the

last two hours in the dark of night. Each rise on the ridge

raised my hopes that the campsite would lay on the other

side. But my hopes were dashed each time. Finally, and

without fanfare, I saw the faint glow of headlamps inside

thin-walled nylon tents. I made the last few metres to my

tent on my hands and knees; looking up once at the starry

skies as a weak sign of thanks. Once inside, MB brought

mug after mug of hot tea. I drank about four before

collapsing, dressed as I was, into a deep sleep.

It was a beautiful morning, the kind that brings birds to

your window sill and the kind that has flowers craning

heads to catch the glow of the sun. At North Col, we had a

lazy start to things. I ate half a packet of instant

noodles and drank some tea. We left, as planned, at 1030am.

We hardly spoke about it it but no one was really in shape

to think about going up and so we did not dwell on the

issue. The climb to the summit was over.

(from “Against Giants” 2003, Epigram )


Posted on May 28, 2011, in Everest 2011. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Good to hear you’re safe and making good decisions bro.


  2. I echo that…..was with number of scc guys last night and all thinking of you mate


  3. Ivan and I were speaking about you yesterday – all hoping it goes well for you and you recover sufficiently for another push to the summit. Cheers and keep safe.


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