May 11 – Irvine’s body and the summit day route
Summit day route
Attached below is a zoomed up photo of the north east ridge of Everest – taken by myself from here at basecamp. I have zoomed in significantly on the high portion of the ridge and the route from high camp 3 at 8300m to the summit. Of particular interest are the three rock steps, clearly visible even from basecamp here around 20km horizontal away and 3000m lower.
It will take our team around 5 – 6 days to reach high camp 3 at 8300m. From Camp 3 we launch for the summit in one push. Camp 3 is the highest campsite in the world. I aim to reach camp 3 around mid afternoon. Camp 3 is more of a rest stop for a few hours than a camp. It is so high it is in the deathzone. The deathzone is that area above 8000m where the human body cannot survive. You count your time in the deathzone in terms of hours. The longer you stay the weaker you become. Until you die. Hence getting up and down from the deathzone as quickly as possible is crucial. The slopes at Camp 3 are very steep and the tents are cut into platforms on the side of the mountain. Its not a place to slip as you will have a very long 3000m fall down to the Rongbuk glacier.
After arriving at Camp 3 mid afternoon I will have a few hours rest until around 10PM when I will start preparing to leave the tent for the summit. Melt snow, drink something, dress, put on harness and climbing gear, head torches, spare’s of everything and the many other tasks required to leave the tent safely into the freezing night. I will leave around 12pm (midnight) to begin the climb to the summit. I will have two bottles of oxygen. Each bottle will last for 8 hours (at a flow rate of 2l per minute). That’s 16 hours in total. Hence I need to get to the summit and back to camp 3 within this time. Running out of oxygen is not an option. Climbers who are too slow and do run out of oxygen generally remain forever within a few feet of where the oxygen runs out.
I will climb directly straight up the exit cracks, onto the north east ridge proper. The climbing will be in the pitch dark, by light of my head torch. It will be very cold, maybe around minus 20 or minus 30 degrees. I will have a full down suit, goggles, oxygen mask, triple insulated boots and crampons on, making my movement over the steep terrain cumbersome and awkward. I will have 3 layers of gloves on my hands, the outer layer being a huge thick mitten which makes clipping and unclipping from the ropes very awkward. Frostbite is a huge concern. Any exposed flesh will freeze within minutes. Taking my hands out of my gloves to work the ropes, even for a short time can result in the loss of my fingers forever. Contact lens freeze in people’s eyes. Even breathing bottled oxygen, my mind will be working very slowly and my thought process will be fuzzy and unfocussed. I will have the problem solving skills of a 7 – 10 year child. I know, I was there last year.
From here I will follow the highest ridge traverse in the world. For almost one horizontal mile and 500m of vertical height gain to the summit of the world. The route is littered with corpses of climbers who have died, mainly on the descent.
The ridge traverse is extremely exposed. I will be placing one foot in front of the other, often with a 10,000 foot drop directly below my feet. As Phil our team leader keeps reminding us, If you fall on the north ridge and you are not clipped in to the ropes you will die. It’s so steep.
Of the three rock steps, the most infamous is the 2nd step. This is around a 30m high vertical rock cliff. The 2nd step is involved with endless speculation regarding the first ascent of Everest. Could the British climbers Andrew Irvine and George Mallory have scaled the 2nd step in 1924 on their way to the summit? Or was it to much of a vertical obstacle at 8500m above sea-level in freezing conditions for them to climb? Thankfully these days there is a short section of ladder which allows the hardest part of the step to be more easily overcome.
Hopefully I will arrive at the summit in the early morning as the sun is rising. It will be a very short time on the summit. 10 or 15 minutes maximum. Take some photo’s, try and enjoy the time there, but ever mindful I am only halfway, and my oxygen and strength levels are becoming less and less, minute by minute.
Now time for the descent. The most dangerous part of the climb. When I am most tired. And down climbing is harder than up climbing. 80% of the accidents and deaths happen on the descent. Slowly I will retrace my steps, being careful to stay clipped into the rope, but even this wont stop a fatal fall. After a few hours I should reach camp 3 completely exhausted. A temporary safe haven for an hour or two. But its still camp 3 at 8300m, its still in the deathzone and its so high that my body is dying. Staying here is not an option. I will need to drag myself up and somehow find the energy to descend further down the mountain, as far as possible, into the thicker air and also lower down where there is more shelter from the threat of bad weather. Being stuck at camp 3 with the return of the jetstream winds between 100 – 300km/hr is also a death sentence.
Hopefully I will make the North Col that day and rest there that night. The next day making my way down to ABC for more rest before the long plod back to basecamp. I will be completely exhausted for days after the summit climb.
Andrew Irvine’s body – Axe’s theory
One of the greatest mountaineering mystery’s of all time is whether or not George Mallory and Andrew Irvine made it to the top of Mt Everest in an early British expedition in 1924. They were climbing exactly the same route as I am climbing the North Col, North Ridge route. They were last seen in 8th June 1924 disappearing into cloud high up on the ridge, either above or below the second rock step. Exactly where they were is not clear and this is the source of huge debate. If they were above the second rock step then the ground becomes easier and there is a very high chance they could have made the summit and been the first people to climb Mt Everest (instead of the Sir Ed Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing in 1953 from the south side almost 30 years later).
George Mallory’s body was found in 1999 as marked on my photo here. He had a broken leg and appeared to have taken a long fall probably from high off the summit ridge on descent. See the below YOUTUBE video of the actual discovery of Mallory’s body in 1999.
But did he make the summit? The pair were allegedly carrying basic Kodak camera’s, but no camera was found on Mallory. He had mentioned he would leave a photo of his wife on the summit and no photo was found on his body. The hunt continues therefore for Andrew Irvine’s body and the camera. There is a chance after all these years that the film in the camera could be developed and maybe show proof that they did or did not stand on the summit? There are many theories floating around about where Irvine’s body maybe. I have added my theory about his body’s position to the photo below.
I believe Irvine and Mallory were descending together in bad weather (I do not know if they made the summit or not). They were following the ridge line and were roped together, Mallory took a fall, Irvine tried to arrest him with his ice axe. The rope pendulum’ed and snapped, Mallory fell a long way, broke his leg and died in the position marked on the map. Irvine continued downclimbing the ridge, but died of exposure/fall a short time later in the approximate position I marked on the map. Thats my theory anyway!
Well that’s all from basecamp here. A huge hello to the class from St Patrick’s School in Inglewood, New Zealand. Thank you for your nice messages and thoughts. Also a special hello to Sonia Rova and her father Gerard. Thanks also for your kind messages and I hope to meet you one day in Inglewood!
The next two weeks are the culmination of years of training and preparation. Its going to be a very exciting, exhausting and nerve wracking time. I can’t wait. Stay tuned!