Category Archives: Accidents

Three climbers missing on Mt Cook – may they have the strength to weather the storm

After the terribly sad news of the QZ8501 AirAsia disaster, I was alarmed to come across more bad news last evening regarding three climbers who are reportedly missing on Aoraki/Mt Cook (click here to read more).  They were reported to be climbing the Linda Glacier route to the summit of the 3754m – Aoraki/Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain.  As with most climbing parties who climb Mt Cook – it seems they left Plateau Hut in the early hours of the morning, to make the most of the cold morning conditions (freezing the snow making it easier for travel) and under normal circumstances should have been back to the hut by evening time. They have since failed to return to the Plateau Hut sparking the Search and Rescue efforts.

The Linda Glacier route to the summit of Aoraki/Mt Cook is a route I know well, having attempted it three times and succeeded twice – most recently in December 2013 during our Peak to Peak expedition from the summit of Mt Ruapehu to the summit of Aoraki/Mt Cook completely by human power.  Climbing Mt Cook, from Plateau Hut by the Linda Glacier route is a massive day, my first attempt in 2009 took us 19 hours for the round trip and in December 2013, it took us 21.5 hours to reach the summit and get back down.

There have been some factually incorrect press statements and diagrams of the route released (which is nothing unusual) – however to get an idea of what the actual route is REALLY like I made a 3-d fly though in Google Earth which you can view in Youtube in 3 minutes below:

There are a number of possible scenario’s that may be unfolding now.  I will not speculate on what may have have happened to the team, suffice to say I am optimistic that these guys may still be ok.  The best case scanario is that due to what ever reason they have been delayed, hopefully they will have found shelter from the storm in a suitable crevasse or snow hole in the Linda Glacier or on the Linda Shelf, of which there are many.  It is possible to be caught out, and survive terrible weather on Mt Cook, I have been in this situation myself. Together with Alan Silva we were attempting to climb the Grand Traverse route on Mt Cook in December 2012.  We got caught on the Hooker Glacier (the opposite side of Mt Cook to the Linda Glacier) and spent a very wet and cold night sheltering from intense wind and rain in a crevasse which we dug out further into a small snow cave.  Whilst not a comfortable evening, we were cold and frost nipped but relatively unscathed the next morning, and were able to make our retreat (you can see a small Youtube clip below about our evening).  Admittedly we were much lower down the mountain than these three chaps but similar survival stories are not uncommon through the years – one of the most notable being Mark Inglis and Philip Doole who were stuck very high on the Grand Traverse route for 13 days in 1982.

You can also see an interactive model in Google Earth showing the route we took up the Linda Glacier as tracked in real time by a satellite tracking system here. Be sure to choose the map overlay as GOOGLE EARTH on the left hand side of screen to see it in 3D.

I am still at this stage very optimistic for these three gentlemen. It is very important to remain positive.  As with all fellow climbers that I know, we venture into the mountains to become closer to life rather than to death.  Do join with me to send all positive energy in their direction.  All storms eventually pass – may they have the strength and endurance to weather this one.

(For a description of the climb from Plateau Hut to the summit of Mt Cook up the Linda Glacier route, click here to download an excerpt from my recent book From Peak to Peak).

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Mt Dixon trip report – A lesson in risk management

“There is only one problem” Alan yelled to me over the noise of the helicopter as it lifted off in a crescendo of noise and wind.

“Whats that Al?”

“We forgot the food!”

Fuck fuck fuck!!!!!! I cursed to myself while standing there in the snow.  We had just landed at Plateau hut, 2200m elevation in the Mt Cook National Park. It had been an eventful day with a great deal of  ‘hurry up and wait’ carrying on.  We had come to Mt Cook 4 days before to attempt a route known as the Grand Traverse (GT).  Unfortunately our trip coincided with the heaviest rain and snow falls over a 2 day period for the entire year.  We had made an attempt on the GT during a short break in the weather.  We tried to make it to Gardiner Hut on the Hooker Glacier but got caught out in strong winds and heavy rain 100m below the hut, and could not find a way through the crevasses to access Pudding Rock (atop of which is situated Gardiner Hut).  We ended up spending a very wet, cold, character building night in a snow cave and retreating the next morning. (read about that here).

So with three days left only we were trying to salvage something from the trip, and had decided to fly into Plateau and attempt Mt Tasman.  We only had one day to climb, Friday 4th January. I needed to be back in Christchurch to pick up my wife Stephanie on Saturday 5th then drive to Nelson that evening to Sea Kayak for three days in the Abel Tasman National Park.  We had been at Mt Cook airport since 12PM that day waiting for the chopper flight to Plateau.  We were stuck in a queue behind a number of site seeing trips and groups of mountaineering courses flying in.  But by 2pm once it was our turn, the weather had turned and we were told the flights were stopped.  So we retreated the 2km back to Unwin lodge, and were called at 3pm to be told the weather had cleared and we needed to be back in 5 minutes to fly in.  In our mad scramble the bag of food got left behind.

So there we were standing on the snow outside Plateau Hut, with our packs slung over our shoulders looking at each other wondering two things.  The first was; whose fault  was it to forget the food? the second; what are we going to eat the next thee days?  Fortunately Alan is not one to hold grudge’s and luckily we had shared a flight with two Australian climbers, James and Jason, who very kindly immediately offered to feed us that evening.

Listening to the radio ‘sched’ at 7pm that evening in the hut was disappointing.  Friday was forecast for a freezing level of 1800m (a good sign) but with morning showers and high winds expected to develop throughout the day.  Saturday was forecast for a  very high freezing level (above 3500m) and  winds from 75km to gale force developing at 3000m.  The whole of are looked like it was the middle of the winter.  There had been so much snow in the past few days everything was covered.  We briefly discussed a shorter climb, possibly the East Ridge of Mt Dixon. Mt Dixon at 3004m, is New Zealand’s 23rd highest peak.  It sits on the main divide, very close to its illustrious neighbor Aoraki/Mt Cook at 3754m.

Getting ready to leave Plateau Hut in the morning. (Photo: Alan Silva)

Getting ready to leave Plateau Hut in the morning. (Photo: Alan Silva)

I awoke at 12:30AM to do a quick weather check.  It was slightly cloudy with some strong wind gusts.  I went back to bed with the plan to check again in 2 hours time.

The next thing I knew it was 7AM!! Shit, I had slept in.  I jumped up and immediately saw the conditions looked great. No clouds and no wind.  I woke Alan and we set about getting prepared.

The previous evening we had managed to find some hut food (food left in the hut by other parties free for others to consume).  This consisted of some oats, milk powder, sugar and some tea bags.  The perfect breakfast!  The only problem was we had no food to take on the climb.  “No worries Grant” smiled Alan as he pulled a small jar of peanut butter from his pack.  From past experience I know Alan has a perverse love of peanut butter and eats it by the spoonful like ice cream.  At least he would be happy for the day. I settled on the fact it would be a long day without food for me but I could enjoy some nice drinks of water from my 1l Nalgene and a good luck at the view if I got hungry.

We set off at 8AM, roped up for glacier travel and headed off for the East Ridge.  We quickly realized we were not the first on the route that morning and followed a line of footsteps on the snow.  (They were from a couple of Englishmen who had set off at 6AM).  We happily followed their tracks for the first hour up the grand plateau, heading for  the wall of the East Ridge.  We had decided to cut off the lower portion of the East Ridge to save time, and head up close to the icefalls coming down the east face and climb one of the steep couloirs onto the ridge itself.

Our ascent route in red, descent in black. (Photo: Alan Silva)

Our ascent route in red, descent in black. (Photo: Alan Silva)

We soon came to the point at the base of the face where the English pair had started to climb up.  We decided to head further along the base of the wall still, closer to the icefalls.  This was hard going in the deep snow, but shortly we spotted a steep, icy couloir which looked in good condition.

Plowing through deep snow, the coiloir evident in the centre of the photo sloping steeply to the right. (Photo: Alan Silva)

Plowing through deep snow, the couloir evident in the centre of the photo sloping steeply to the right. (Photo: Alan Silva)

Still roped up for glacier travel, without any discussion, we started climbing.  What it looked like from below turned out to be true, the couloir was in perfect condition,  It steepened to vertical for a short section and we climbed confidently up still roped together and without placing protection.  It was immensely enjoyable. I forgot about every other thing in the world as I focused completely on my next axe placement, my next crampon placement.  In one short instance it made up the whole last few days of moraine bashing, freezing wet snow cave’s and wandering around Unwin lodge pretending to be a climber.

Me leading up the couloir, beautiful ice climbing conditions. (Photo: Alan Silva)

Me leading up the couloir, beautiful ice climbing conditions. (Photo: Alan Silva)

Alan Silva climbing the steep snow slopes to access Mount Dixon's east ridge

Alan Silva climbing the steep snow slopes to access Mount Dixon’s east ridge

Eventually the angle eased off to steep snow and I kicked steps the remaining 150m to access the East ridge.  From the grand plateau the east ridge looks like a mellow line, which you could jog up to reach the summit.  I was therefore more than a little surprised when I reached it to find was a sharp icy knife-edge as you see in the photo below. I pretty quickly decided not to jog.

The ridge took me a little by surprise at how sharp it was due to the recent snow falls.

The ridge took me a little by surprise at how sharp it was due to the recent snow falls.

Alan Silva negotiates the east ridge of Mt Dixon with lots of snow and a lovely icy knife edge

Alan Silva negotiates the lovely knife edge on the east ridge of Mt Dixon 

By climbing the couloir close to the icefalls we had saved a great deal of time and we bypassed the English climbers.  Looking back further down the ridge we could see them coming up camel riding style, with one leg straddling either side of the ridge, dragging themselves along with their hands.  Very hard on the testicles.

We climbed along the ridge for 30 minutes or so, until we reached the saddle where it steepens up for the summit slopes. In the saddle Alan eagerly opened his jar of peanut butter, dipped his ice axe in and scooped out an enormous ball and quietly munched it down like he was eating an ice cream.  I watched in silent amazement.  “Tastes like shit, its unsalted, here have some Grant” Alan offered.  I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry so declined the offer and had a swig of water.

Alan Silva dipping into his beloved Peanut butter.

Alan Silva dipping into his beloved Peanut butter.

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Climbing above the saddle to access the summit slopes. (Photo: Alan Silva)

The broad summit slopes seem to go forever and it was a slow plod. At times on an icy crust which shattered with each step and rained down like falling glass on the climber below. At other times in hard snow which we could confidently kick steps.

Close to the summit we once again found our way onto the final exposed summit ridge.  This turned out to be the most exposed summit I have stood upon, and once again we inched very carefully across.  I tried not to look down either side at the hundreds of meters of free fall that maybe a base jumper would appreciate however served to intensify my focus on not slipping as we had no protection in.

Alan Silva works his way up the final summit ridge on Mt Dixon

Alan Silva works his way up the final summit ridge on Mt Dixon

Once on top, I gladly sat down straddling the summit ridge with one leg each side.  I pulled out an ice screw and sank it in between my legs and clipped the rope in.  It was 12:30PM, 4.5 hours work to reach the top.  “We made it – great work Grant”, called Alan cheerily.  We took a photo of each other, chatted for a few minutes then very carefully stood up and began to retrace our steps.

Alan Silva enjoying the view from the summit of Mt Dixon

Alan Silva enjoying the view from the summit of Mt Dixon

Me enjoying straddling the summit of Mt Dixon. (Photo: Alan Silva)

Me enjoying straddling the summit of Mt Dixon. (Photo: Alan Silva)

The sun was intense as we started down and we soon realized it was going to be a slow descent.  The integrity of the steps we had placed on the way up could no longer be trusted.  The icy crust covering softer snow underneath would frequently break off and we would start to slide. My crampons were balling badly every second step requiring sharp whack with my axe to knock the snow out.

Slowly we worked our way down the broad summit slopes until we hit the ridge again. Here I preferred to down climb, whilst Alan came down front first.  The ridge was exposed but straightforward in the morning when it was frozen.  However now under the intense sun it was soft and slushy and a completely different experience.

Me down climbing the summit ridge. Not a place to slip. (Photo: Alan Silva)

Me down climbing the summit ridge. Not a place to slip. (Photo: Alan Silva)

We were about 100m from reaching the saddle when the accident happened.  I suddenly heard Alan shout behind me “Grant, Grant Grant!!”.  I turned around to see him falling headfirst down off the side of the ridge. It was so steep and he accelerated so quickly there was no way he could self arrest.  He was headed off the North side of the ridge which had a huge drop off to the Freshfield (?)glacier below.  It happened so fast I hardly had time to think.  As were both roped together, the technique to stop this is  for me to fall off the opposite side of the ridge to catch his fall.  As I was down climbing facing into the slope I let my feet go and pushed myself down the south side  as far as I could.

Time then went from very fast to almost standstill.  I waited for the rope to come tight for probably less than a second, but it seemed like a longtime.  ‘Am I far enough down the ridge? Am I going to get pulled over the top’ I thought to myself.  Then the strain came on the rope, much heavier than I thought.  It started pulling me up towards the lip of the ridge.   ‘Fuckkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk…please stop Alan, if I go over the top I am so fucked’ I screamed in my mind.  He must have been a mind reader because then it stopped.  The rope had bitten down hard into the snow further increasing the friction.  I lay there, hanging onto the south side of the  ridge, not daring to breath, the rope tight on my harness.  I could not believe what had just happened.

Suddenly the weight came off the rope and I started to slide back down the face.  I briefly panicked and kicked my crampons in to stop the slide.  I then realized it was a good sign and it was Alan climbing back up the other side.  “You OK?” I shouted.  “Yes” came back the call.  I crawled closer to the lip of the ridge and peered carefully over to see Alan looking up as he climbed back up.  “Jeez that was close, thanks for saving me Grant” said Alan in his down to earth manner. “How did you manage that, did you jump off the other side?” “Yeah I did, bloody hell you scared the shit out of me!”.  I took a quick photo of him.

Alan Silva climbing back to the ridge after the fall.

Alan Silva climbing back to the ridge after the fall.

We slowly and much more carefully continued down until we reached the saddle.  I noticed blood in the snow where Alan had sliced open his wrist on his ice axe during the fall.  Back on the saddle apart from a nasty looking gash which he covered with some tape, we were both physically none the worse for wear from the incident. Mentally I was a little shaken and could not stop thinking what would have happened if I had been pulled over the ridge also.  I thought what would my body have looked like after falling that distance down.  I thought about Stephanie and for a brief moment I knew what I was doing for ‘enjoyment’ was not justifiable. I had too much to lose to end it all on the east ridge of Mt Dixon.   I felt a little sick.

We had some water on the saddle, I even had a small dip into the jar of peanut butter with my axe but did not enjoy the mouthful of oily unsalted peanuts, so reverted back to a gulp or two of water, content in the fact that I carry enough body fat to last a few days of this type of thing and it really is very good for me to go without food for awhile.

We then got back onto the exposed ridge and continued down.  Now we had a decision to make, how to get off the ridge and back down to the glacier.  The steep couloir and snow slopes we had climbed were by now too soft to descend safely.  So we had to continue along the knife edge east ridge until we could find an easier way down.  It was not appealing at all to have to keep climbing along this ridge with the snow so soft, however we had little choice.  After the fall I was extra careful to inch my way along step by step.

We reached the top of a large buttress after sometime with a 50m vertical drop off to where the ridge continued below.  We only had a single 50m rope, (enough for a 25m abseil when doubled up).  We set up a sling around a large rock and abseiled down to the limit of the rope.  There was nothing very suitable for an anchor to so I tapped my snow stake into the deep soft now.  It went in too easily and I was not happy with so kicked some good steps to stand on, clipped the abseil lines to the anchor and shouted for Alan to come down.  Once Alan arrived he promptly dug in his snow stake as well to back up mine then he belayed me while  I down climbed another 20m until I found a large rock with a crack that took a cam. From here I could see we had come off the North side of the ridge, and had come down to the level of the lower ridge but we needed to do a 50m horizontal traverse over steep ground to get back onto it.  Alan set-off on a great lead across the traverse, with three nuts for protection, kicking steps and some mixed moves on rock, he made the ridge and very soon I came across and joined him.

Alan Silva leads the traverse back onto the east ridge

Alan Silva leads the traverse back onto the east ridge

I then lead a short pitch over the exposed ridge and down a steep notch on the other side where I found another suitable rock anchor which I tied off onto.  From here it looked like a steep but feasible abseil or down climb to the glacier, around 150m below.  I fancied this option more than continuing along the hideously soft and exposed ridge.

Alan Silva on belay whilst down climbing the soth face of the east ridge

Alan Silva on belay whilst down climbing the south face of the east ridge

When Alan arrived he also thought it could be possible to get down here.  He set-off carefully down climbing the steep snow, until he ran out a full 50m to a solid belay point (a large rock which he had two cams in).  He had placed three intermediate runners to protect me as  I followed him down. From this point we accessed the steep snow slopes which lead directly to the glacier.  We did two more pitches of down climbing, then carefully slip over the top of the deep schrund to arrive happily back on the grand plateau around 6pm.  It was a huge relief to be back down safely.  I took out the Sat phone and called Stephanie to tell her I would be in Christchurch tomorrow to meet her at the airport and we merrily chatted away as we followed our tracks back the one hour walk to Plateau Hut.

Getting intimate with a rock whilst down climbing (Photo: Alan Silva)

Getting intimate with a rock whilst down climbing (Photo: Alan Silva)

We arrived at 7PM, 11 hours on the go with 700ml of water and teaspoon of peanut butter, I strangely did not feel hungry at all but had a slight dehydration headache.  I therefore conclude that I normally carry far too much food on climbs and will carry considerably less in the future.

After having sometime to analyse our climb, we made one big mistake which was leaving too late in the morning.  For this route we should have left at 0300 – 0400 hours, and been on the summit around 8:30AM.  Then we could have descended while the snow was still frozen.  Alan has much more climbing experience than I do, and has climbed this route before but with much less snow on it.  He thinks that a more realistic grading for the conditions and the couloir we climbed  was more like 3 to 3+ (New Zealand grading system).

We arrived back to Plateau hut to a hive of activity as 16 climbers (50/50 guides and clients) were preparing to leave to climb Mt Cook that evening.  The freezing levels were very high (over 3500m) so it definitely was not ideal conditions and with the large amount of snow in the area Alan commented on his concern about high avalanche risk.

Around 4AM we were woken by banging and crashing and two climbers returned to our bunk room.  “you reach the summit already” I asked groggily in the dark. “No we just got avalanched on Zurbriggen’s ridge, I have hurt my chest and am having a hard time breathing an my partner has cut his face, we fell almost 200m, buried our rope, lost our axes, I can’t believe we are not dead”.

The two guys were very shaken up and had been through a very rough experience.  Alan very quickly took control of the situation and handled it superbly.  He contacted DOC on the radio to inform them we had two injured climbers in the hut and they may require a helicopter evacuation in the morning.  We made them tea and chatted to them until first light when a chopper came into pick them up.

Seeing the extremely efficient and professional manner in which the DOC, Police and rescue staff handled this situation made me proud to be a kiwi.  What an incredible job they did, after being roused at 4AM from a remote mountain hut, to having the injured guys out 3.5 hours later back safe and sound receiving the care they needed.  Two days later they were all over the front pages of news papers in New Zealand (read that here). They were two very lucky guys, and maybe a good reminder to all of us to be careful in selecting routes when the conditions are not favourable.

By 8:00AM Alan and I were also back in Mt Cook Village. By  5PM Alan was back in Sydney and by 7PM I was in Motueka with Stephanie.

And the trip is but a memory. Thank fully one which every one concerned came back to tell the tale.

Ngima Grimen Sherpa – A tribute

Within the last few days I saw some Facebook posts, that a Sherpa named Ngima had passed away in a motorcycle accident. As many Sherpa share the name ‘Ngima’ I did not pay much attention until I saw his full name listed again today ‘Ngima Grimen Sherpa’. I then looked more closely and recognised his face in a photograph. I  double checked with our Everest expedition leader in 2011, Jamie McGuiness. Jamie confirmed this was the Ngima that had been with us on Everest in 2011.

I had the opportunity to get to know Ngima for a brief period only, in trying circumstances. Ngima was a climbing Sherpa on our team. I had little to do with early on in the expedition until one fateful day at the beginning of May. I contracted High Altitude Pulmonary Edema at Advanced Basecamp. It took a harrowing 11 hours that day to stagger the 19km down to basecamp, coughing up blood, gasping for breath and periodically collapsing through exhaustion. Ngima stayed with me the entire day and I wrote this about him at the time:

“All day long – over 11 hours, Nima was never more than one step behind me. Whenever I staggered or was about to fall I felt his hand on my shoulder supporting me. When I was too tired to move, he would quietly strap the oxygen mask over my face and sit beside for ten minutes until I regained enough strength to move. He fed me food and water. He never once complained or asked me to try and move faster. He was my guardian angel and the compassion of the man whom I hardly knew at all brings a tear to my eye.”

(you can read the full report here)

Ngima Sherpa(on left) with his customary smile, Kaji Sherpa and I share a tent at the North Col, 7000m on Everest's North Ridge

Ngima Sherpa(on left) with his customary smile, Kaji Sherpa and I share a tent at the North Col, 7000m on Everest’s North Ridge

Three weeks later Ngima was assigned as my climbing partner on summit day. We left together from high camp at 8300m at midnight on the 29th May to attempt to climb to the roof of the world. I was still exhausted from H.A.P.E, half-frozen, and made the painful decision to turn back after only 30 minutes. Ngima once again was right behind me.

This year at basecamp I enquired if Ngima was present with any teams, but learnt he was on the South Side of Everest. Ngima was very handsome, with a warm smile which revealed his glistening white teeth. He was blessed with a gentle, caring disposition. He was very humble, patient and well-respected. A wonderful companion on a mountain. The way he looked after me when I was exhausted, sick and scared shitless is something I will never forget.

This short post, is a way for me to try to offer some form of tribute and remembrance to a wonderful man, a father, a husband, a friend, a climbing companion and a strong and brave high altitude Sherpa.

Thank you for all you did for me Ngima Grimen Sherpa.  I am sorry you left us too early.

The Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust – a grisly reminder

On Wednesday morning I went for an early morning run before work together with my wife Stephanie. We both listen to music as we run, escaping into our own thoughts. As we were returning home up Bukit Batok East Avenue 2, I heard Stephanie cry out behind me. Turning around I saw her pointing across the busy intersection to the opposite side of the road. There, the figure of a man lay motionless on the road beside his badly smashed motorcycle. We hurried across the road. When I reached the man, what I saw made me feel like someone just punched me very hard in the stomach. His right leg had a compound fracture of his Femur. Where his quadracep should have been was a huge open wound with the broken bone protruding grotesquely 10cm up into the air. The rest of his body was cut and grazed where he had slid across the road. I knelt down beside him and started talking to him while trying not to look at his leg. Over the course of the next 20 minutes I stayed kneeling and quietly chatting to him as impatient car drivers honked their horns and squeezed a few inches past us on the road. The man’s name was Chan Kee Ming. He was 76 years old. He had 4 children and a number of grand children. One of his children had passed away and his wife was also dead. He clutched his mobile phone in his bloody hands. We gently took it off him and Stephanie tried to contact his family. But it was a pay as you go phone and there was not enough credit to call on it. He had kind eyes and two front teeth missing. He repeatedly told me he wanted to die. I repeatedly told him he was too tough to die. He was remarkably calm, but gradually became weaker and quieter until he closed his eyes and began drifting off. He opened them again and started groaning in agony when the ambulance staff arrived and had to straighten his broken leg to put it into a split. I wanted to vomit. As he was was wheeled off in the ambulance he looked at me and mumbled through his oxygen mask “thank you for your help”.

Its is one of my nightmare’s to come across a situation like this. I feel quite helpless. Talking to him was all I could do as I have such limited medical knowledge. It was very comforting when the ambulance arrived so quickly and he started to receive the treatment he required.

I have the utmost respect for the emergency staff, who dedicate their lives, dealing with these horrific situations every day. As Stephanie and I walked home in silence, I started to think again about Debra and her accident two weeks back. I compared what I had just witnessed with Debra’s accident. I could not help thinking how awful it must have been for Debra, the family and the bystanders at the scene. Unlike the man on the road, Debra was pinned inside her vehicle for a long time and had to be cut free. Unlike the man on the road, not one but both of Debra’s legs were smashed as well as much damage to her upper body. Unlike the man on the road, Debra was not close to a hospital. I once again thought how lucky she was to be flown to hospital by the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust. They truly helped to save her life.

I am very proud to be working with the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust for Everest 2012. Last night with the generous donation of a prize from Darren Blakeley and team from UFIT Singapore, we raised S$1000 for the Rescue Trust. It’s also very comforting to know this money is being used directly to fund a wonderful service which is saving people’s lives regularly.

The Rescue Helicopter in the background and Debra's car at the scene of her accident. Photo credit: TRHT

Two days to go until I leave for Everest ladies and gentlemen. I am extremely excited, very fit, and as well prepared as I can be. I am ready to climb to the top of the world.

Axe

Why do bad things happen to good people?

On Friday night I returned home to Taranaki in New Zealand to visit my family for the weekend.  It was a whirlwind visit to say goodbye before leaving for Everest in 30 days time.

My mother picked me up from the airport and drove me home.  As we reached home and I walked in the door to greet my father, he in turn greeted us with the news that my older sister Debra had just been in a car accident.  What? Where? When? How? Is she ok? A thousand questions, no answers…

We immediately drove to the police station in Stratford to try and learn exactly what had happened to her.  The policeman who had attended the accident scene by chance had just returned to the station.  He updated us what he knew.  Debra had just been involved in a serious head on collision.  She was trapped in her car.  She had to be cut from the car by the fire dept.  She was badly injured.  She was being flown to New Plymouth hospital by the emergency rescue helicopter. She was lucky to be alive.

She was lucky.  I kept repeating these words over and over as Mum and I drove to the hospital.  Each time I repeated them, a wave of relief rolled over me.  As we walked into the emergency department and were shown into Debra’s bed, any feelings that she was lucky immediately dissolved.  Lying on the bed was a broken and shattered human being.   Not any human being but my sister.   Who had nursed me as a child.  Who had come to visit and console me when I first went to boarding school and was crying with home sickness.  Who let me drive her car before I ever had a driver’s license.  Who had us to her place for every Christmas.  Who made me godfather of her daughter.

The extent of Debra’s horrific injuries became apparent as the anesthetist prepared to sedate her for emergency surgery.  Two broken femur’s,  a compound fracture of her tibia, punctured lungs, multiple broken ribs,  concussion, dried blood caked her face, eye swollen shut, a knee joint completely smashed into a raw open bloody pulp, massive internal bleeding, and whatever else had happened to her internally which we could not yet tell.  How could I say she was lucky to be lying there in this state?  Sure she did not die in the crash, however to say she was lucky seemed abhorrent.

Debra nursing me when I am 2.5 months old. My other sister Helen on the left.

Debra is the second oldest in our family of four children.  Trained as a nurse, married with three beautiful children, Debra has devoted her life to caring for her family and to caring for others.  At the time of her accident she was delivering cakes she had baked to her daughter’s school so they could sell them to raise funds.  She was less than 2km from her home.  On a stretch of road she had driven daily for many years.    As a farmer’s wife, working all day on the farm or in the woolshed, cooking and preparing meals for multitudes of family members and farm workers, caring for children and taking them to and from school/ activities, equally adept in a school committee meeting, handling a chainsaw,  on the tennis court, in a nurses uniform, or preparing the most beautiful food you could imagine, she is one of the good people in the world.  She definitely did not deserve this.

As she was wheeled away into the operating room,  she briefly focused and recognized her family. “oh – there is a an email on my computer with a scholarship form I need to fill in for you” she whispered through her swollen lips.  Even in this state, her body broken and bleeding,  Debra was still thinking of others.

I sat with Mum, her husband Paul and children, Johanna and David while she was operated on.  I watched their shocked and  pale faces.  They acted incredibly bravely, Debra would have been proud of them.  I could not help but think that the one person most cutout to handle this situation, the one person who would take control of everyone and know exactly what to do, was Debra herself.

I feel so extremely sorry for Debra.  A sorry so deep it is physically painful.  Like someone is reaching into my chest and trying to tear out my heart.  All our family and Debra’s friends who are old enough to comprehend the situation feel the same.

The next day I visited the accident scene with my mother.  I needed to see the site.  I needed to understand what had happened.  I needed to see her car.  I wanted to talk to the emergency personnel involved who had performed such a wonderful job to save her.  I drove along the road just as she would have driven.  I took photo’s and video’s and replayed them over and over.  I needed to try and work out how and why this had happened.   It left me angry.   Not with anyone in particular. But with life and its outcomes.

We returned to hospital to visit Debra in the intensive care ward.  She was on life support.  Her two femurs had been set with steel rods.  Her knee cap had to be removed completely as it was smashed  into so many tiny pieces.  She had needed three blood transfusions.  But she was alive.  All afternoon and into the evening  we sat with her as she drifted in and out of consciousness.  Her friends started calling and phones were ringing non-stop.  I was eventually  left alone with her for a brief period.  As she lay there, the ward suddenly went quiet, and the last rays of the sun briefly shone on her face.  She looked beautiful and peaceful lying there in her drug induced sleep.  I have never felt so proud of her in all my life.  For the person she is, for the life she has lead, for her strength.  My challenge of climbing Everest, something which had previously loomed so large in my life suddenly seemed so pathetic compared to the challenge she is battling and the courage she is displaying.

I said goodbye to Debra tonight as I left fly back to Singapore.  I kissed her forehead as she lay asleep then turned and walked quickly out of the intensive care ward without looking back.  It was awful leaving, like I was running away.  I felt guilty and terribly sad.  I don’t think Debra would have left me in the same circumstance.

I still struggle to understand why this happened.  Many people are.  The famous mountaineer Edward Whymper once said:  “Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end”.  I think this also applies to life in general.   Because life is definitely not fair.   And we must savor and appreciate the time we have with our friends, sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, children, husbands and wives.  For at anytime, an act so simple as driving down the road to deliver a cake, can be the end.

I wish to acknowledge the wonderful work of the Toko and Stratford volunteer fire brigade services, the ambulance staff, the emergency helicopter crew, the police, and the numerous bystanders who all helped out at the accident scene to save Debra’s life.


Injuries..

After a very frustrating last ten days I thought I would dedicate this blog to injuries.  I have had my share of injuries in the past.  25 years of playing contact sports (mainly rugby, boxing and mountaineering) has seen a long list of things such as; fractured right ankle, dislocated left ankle, broken left leg, two broken collarbones, multiple broken noses, concussion’s, broken teeth,  broken wrist, dislocated fingers, torn ligaments/cartridge’s/muscles and numerous cuts requiring stitches.   

The most frustrating injury I have ever suffered is Osteoitis Pubis (OP).  OP is an overuse condition, affecting the groin area and was a result of over training in boxing and rugby.  This took 2.5 years to recover.  I spent thousands of dollars on physio’s, yoga, surgeon’s consultations, pilates and painful cortisone injections deep into my groin.  However time seemed to be the only thing which cleared this up and I only recovered completely around 6 months ago. 

Last weekend I played a game of rugby (the first in a long time) and woke up on Sunday with sore ribs.  After a strenuous rock climbing session 3 days later my ribs became very painful and I knew from experience it felt like a rib cartilage issue.  A 2 day trip to India on Thursday and Friday saw me in more pain just from breathing and lying down.  A visit to City Osteopathy on Friday confirmed it was in fact torn rib cartilage.  Rib cartilage is a very painful thing to injure, it hurts like hell every time I laugh or cough, breathe deeply, move suddenly or lie down.  And the recommended cure? Rest for 6 weeks and abstain from all physical activity! Not really a very attractive option for someone training for one of the most extreme and dangerous endurance challenges on earth.

Having suffered so many injuries in the past I have a well established routine which I followed here also.  I go through an initial period of sitting at home and sulking, getting depressed and moody before going out and trying to train through whatever injury it is.  So I sat at home  yesterday in a foul mood with ice packs on my ribs before getting up this morning to take part in the Swissotel Vertical Marathon, a running race up 72 floors of stairs which I had registered for together with Stephanie some weeks back.  Not wanting to miss this event I decided to just try and walk the stairs slowly and not put too much stress through my ribs. So around 8AM this morning I set-off up the stairs with a few hundred other people.  Adrenaline kicked in and I pushed harder than I should have on the way up.  After  11 minutes and 9 seconds I popped out on top, in a world of agony.  I was doubled over in pain at the top of the stairs while trying to take as small breath’s as possible to avoid causing  more agony to my ribs.  In complete ignorance of the fantastic view from over 200m ASL in somewhat reminded me of the feeling after summiting a high altitude mountain!   After scrounging up a bag of ice and applying this to my ribs for a half an hour, I felt a little more comfortable and was very proud to see my personal trainer (Darren Blakeley from UFIT) run a very fast 10m 22s race and come in at 5th place in the men’s 40 – 49yrs category. 

As sore as my ribs are, the most painful injury I can ever remember suffering was breaking my leg whilst playing in the Hong Kong Sevens in 2002.  The thought of the pain that swamped me immediately following that injury, as my ankle dislocated and my fibula snapped still makes me feel a little nauseous and I hope I never get to repeat that sensation!  Attached is an XRAY showing some of the plates and screws inserted into my ankle – which are still there.

 

Due to breaking my leg in the Hong Kong Sevens, I was out of rugby action for over a year.  I therefore could not take part in my rugby clubs (Singapore Cricket Club’s) tour to Bali to participate in the Bali ten-aside rugby tournament.   I had taken part in the previous Bali ten aside tournament, had a lot of fun and was looking forward to the next tournament.  I was naturally disappointed not to be able to attend because of my leg injury.  That weekend in October 2002, is sadly etched forever in history.  As my team mates celebrated in Paddy’s bar in Kuta, Bali, two terrorist bombs exploded, killing seven of my teammates and badly injuring the others.  I am not an extremely spiritual person however I often think of fate and that breaking my leg maybe happened for a reason.

None of the injuries I have ever had – can really rival the image you see below!!  This is taken from a health and safety memo, sent out to warn workers who work at heights about the dangers of wearing too loose fitting climbing harness!  I am sure all males who view this will be grimacing and sucking in their mid-riffs whilst imaging the suffering this poor bloke must have gone through here!

Well here is hoping I can recover as soon as possible from this rib injury and get back into my training.  I hope you all remain injury free and healthy. If you are not feeling healthy then I recommend you go and visit Dana Heather at Balanced Living. She has me on a 100% natural nutritional plan which really has done wonders to my energy levels and general health. Of course you need to balance healthy eating with exercise as well, so go and attend some of UFIT’s daily bootcamp training sessions as Fort Canning or Botanical gardens.  These are very reasonably priced and great value for money.  The last three months has been the busiest time of my life.  I have travelled hard for work, trained hard for Everest, had a huge amount of work meeting with sponsors, writing articles and working with charities, moved house and been arranging our wedding coming up in December 20th.  This all takes an enormous amount of energy and I can’t afford to get sick or run down.  No one else will do these jobs for me.  The nutritional plan and getting strong and fit has really helped in this respect.

Please also check out the latest press on the climb released this week. 

A nice article in Expat Living on training for Everest: 

http://www.expatliving.sg/article/body-mind/sport-fitness/climbing-mt-everest-how-to-train-for-it-in-singapore

The second Video Blog on ESPN star.com (Go to other sports -> the hit squad -> Axe for Everest Episode 2:

http://www.espnstar.com/media-player/

Look out for the Expedition FACEBOOK page which will be launched this week also – the name to be released shortly and the winner of the prize to name the FACEBOOK page also will be announced.  The winner will receive one week worth of UFIT training sessions!

Well that’s all for this week folks,  whatever project you are working on, whatever is your ‘Everest’ which you maybe struggling to climb – remember that nothing valuable comes without a struggle, hardwork and sheer determination.  Setbacks, Injuries and disappointments will always come along, but it’s how you  deal with these issue’s that separate winners from losers.

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