Category Archives: Everest 2012

Sayang Omak Orphanage, Duri, Sumatra Indonesia – Local people helping local people.

It was a real honor to be invited to the remote oil fields located in Duri, Sumatara Indonesia last year to conduct presentations on climbing Everest.  As a result of the talks and the generosity of the attendee’s – a local orphanage named ‘Sayang Omak’ received some assistance recently.  See the attached images to learn more (you can click on them to enlarge).

Thanks to Greg Moore from Worley Parsons for coordinating and arranging the trip.  Thanks also to his lovely wife Yoke and family for putting us up and a  huge thank you to all the wonderful people who attended the talks and supported the local community!
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Its summit time on Everest! Climb the most famous route on the worlds most famous mountain in 3D in only 3 minutes!

Morning folks! May is the month on Everest when the weather is most settled, the temperatures are not as extreme as normal (although they still can be) and climbers are getting ready to head to the summit of the world. For some people it will be the climax of a lifelong goal. For others who do not make it, it will be a bitter disappointment. After two Everest expeditions, I count myself lucky to have had been through both of those experiences. I learnt so much from the failure. I went back a stronger and better climber the second time and it changed me as a person. No longer do the negative things affect me so much in my life as I know its completely in my power to change my circumstances and direction. Failing is all part of the journey. Pick yourself up and move on, because when you get to the top after going through some tough times, the victories are so special.

If you want to experience what the climbers will be going through on the Southeast ridge route on Everest (the most commonly climbed route and the route first climbed by Tenzing and Hillary in 1953) then watch the attached video I just put together. It takes 3 minutes and takes you from basecamp all the way to the summit.

Off belay!

Axe

An interview with Margaret Watroba

One of the great joys I have discovered in mountaineering, has been the friendships I have struck up along the journey.  I have shared tents in remote mountain ranges with people of different colors,  races and religions.  From different countries and from different cultures.  Yet despite all these differences, I have learnt we are all very similar.  We desire similar things.  Peace, security and safe environments for ourselves and our families to grow up in.  Personal freedom.  A desire for education and knowledge.  And most of all a passion to explore and experience the world. 

Below is an interview with a special lady whom I had the pleasure to meet whilst climbing the North Ridge of Mt Everest in 2012.  Hear Margaret Watroba’s story in the interview below.

Margaret – this is your 4th Mt Everest expedition. Can you give us a brief overview of your last 4 expeditions and what drives you to go back again this time?

Yes this is my fourth expedition on Everest.  I have also attempted Lhotse on another expedition. [Ed’s note: Lhotse is the world’s 4th highest peak and is next to Mt Everest.  The standard route up Everest’s south side shares the standard route with Lhotse for most the way before the summit push]

In 2011 I reached the summit of Everest climbing from the south side. That was after a failed attempt the previous year in 2010. Last year in 2012, I made an attempt to climb from the North side.  I was unsuccessful due to  my chest infection which I got a day before the summit push.  So I am going back to try to summit from North again this year.

What drives me? – I like to compete with my body and mind -:) I love Himalaya I love mountains and being there.

Margaret on the summit of Everest, 2011

Her face showing the pain, Margaret Watroba enjoying a sweet moment of success on the summit of Mt Everest, 2011 after climbing the south ridge.

I do all my Everest expeditions with Altitude Junkies, run by Phil Crampton. I regard Phil Crampton as a very safe and diligent operator. I also did with him Manaslu [Ed’s note: Manaslu is the 8th highest mountain in the world].

I was 2 x on south side which I love and regard more picturesque then north which is extremely windy and the trek to ABC is a chore -:) While climb through Ice Fall is fantastic and very picturesque although regarded by experts the most dangerous part.

North Face and Lhotse face are very similar , they are both steep, can be very icy, very windy and either very cold or very hot!

Summit day on south side requires to climb 1000m vertically, while on North side only 500m.  But the horizontal distance on North is longer so I find both are equally demanding.

Summit push on both sides are very similar, very demanding and hard. Views, if the weather is good, are fantastic on both sides.  From both sides you can see the beautiful majestic Makalu. The icon, the land mark of pictures taken from the top of the world.

How important is the goal of being the ‘first’ Australian lady to summit from both sides to you?

Not at all. I truly didn’t think about it when I made the decision to go back

I would just love to conquer my body & mind , since as you know 90%+ climbing is in the mind.  Being the first Australian woman to do so would be just  very nice.  So to say, the “icing on the cake-:)” An extra big bonus!

You have a very interesting background being born and raised in Poland.  Can you share with us a little of your journey from growing up in communist Poland to your life in Australia?

I love Poland.  It’s a country with rich history and culture. It’s in Poland  I got the bug to trek and climb and fall in love with mountains. Every holiday in Poland I spent with my father and twin sister trekking mountains and hills in the south of Poland. However, the worst thing living in Poland before migration was that lack of freedom. Bad economy and then after finishing university, pressure to join the political party or face not being promoted in your professional life.

Then one day when I was 12, I asked my father if we can go overseas for holiday. His reply was “not really, because it’s very difficult to get passport”.  I  realized then that some government thugs are having power over people and can dictate what we can and cannot do.  I clearly remember my thought “no way,  if that’s the case I don’t want to live here”.

This thought came again when political situation in Poland become worse and worse with years and then when we had two daughters. I started again to plan and think to take them out to live in a free country as I didn’t want them to live in a country with a restricted freedom and very poor economy. The opportunity came when Australia was taking migrants in 1980.

One of the best things in Poland was access to education.  Many schools, universities , society had a huge appreciation to be educated; in my family and around me it was not important how much money you have but how well are you educated. I remember my parents were continuously doing courses and encouraging us to do the same.  From very early age I knew I will study at university and biggest goal was always to be the best at school , best in class and eventually to work as a scientist.

Well I didn’t end up to work as a scientist because of Tad! [Ed’s note: Tad is Margaret’s husband]. I fell in love, married , have two daughters and live very happy and still manage to fulfill my professional and sporting dreams.

My other passion was sport , as far as I remember I always did some sport. I was in the top hand ball team in Poland I represented my school in swimming and athletics. That passion for sport still stays with me till now.

Why did you and Tad choose Australia as the destination?

Because Australia was far away from political problems with neighbors had mining industry and fantastic weather.

So do you consider yourself Australian or Polish? Or a mix of both?

When Australia play volleyball vs Poland Tad and I said ” whatever outcome whoever wins we will win …..”-:)

I consider myself Australian, of Polish background.  It’s difficult issue, Australia gave me the best life, the best opportunity.  But Poland become free country around 1990 so maybe if we stayed I would have the same opportunity, who knows?

I’m so grateful and so happy to live in Australia it’s the best country in the world (next to NZ) ha ha!!

Has Poland changed much since those days of your escape?

Oooooh yes!! It’s totally politically free country and doing pretty well economically.

You are also very successful in your working career. Tell us a little about your job and how you manage to fit in climbing around it?

There was a time when I worked long hours but always had time for gym and sport i.e. tennis, running etc.  I always wanted to see Himalaya but because work commitments I was putting it away and postponing till one day I literally woke up and said enough!  That very day I went to the Peregrine agency and booked a trip to Nepal.

From then on through the network of engineers I created a circle of few colleagues who know my job and responsibilities and can do my job in my absence.  You just have to plan that sort of thing ahead, this way I can take 2 months off and my position and duties are attended and look after.

But I also made a sacrifice not to ‘climb’ the corporate/professional ladder any further not to apply for higher position as a higher position would be more difficult to leave for such a long time as 2 months and find someone to act in my place.

Margaret on the summit of Everest in 2011.

Margaret climbing mountains of a different kind at work as an electrical engineer.

I love being an engineer doing design solving problems going to mine sites etc. It’s very rewarding.  I only ever work with men but have no major problem or issue with it.  Although I would love more women to join the ranks in the mining in resources as engineers and technical staff.

Whenever I have time I talk to forums promoting ‘women in engineering women in resources’.  Last year I got the award of ‘outstanding profession woman’ from CME (Chamber of minerals and energy) and that is an achievement I’m most proud of and want to pass my experience on other women as much as I can.

Are there any themes or values from your working life that you carry over to your climbing life (or vice versa) that you apply to be successful?

Definitely.  The most important is ‘safety first’.  In mining we are constantly analyzing ‘is it safe, what are the consequences of pushing ahead when in doubt?’. That helped me to make the tough decision in 2010 when I was about 50 vertical meters from the summit of Everest but due to the late time and changing weather I decided to go down.  And last year on the North side when I reached about 8600-8700m  but due to my chest infection and continuous cough I was getting weaker and I had to think: ‘OK I can summit but will I have enough strength to descend?’.

Vice versa – lots of different experiences from climbing can be use in private and professional life, being on the mountains with people I don’t know in a very tough environment teaches me cooperation with others, not giving up but looking for solutions in moments of disagreement or when a decision has to be made, accommodating others point of view and opinions, reinforces importance of safety, increases appreciation of family friends and lifestyle I have in Australia.

Last year on 19th May 2012, I climbed past you at 8600m on the north ridge of Everest. You were going through the process of making the decision to turn back from your summit bid. How tough was this decision and what were the key factors that affected your decision at the time?

It was extremely tough specially since I was very fit all the time and then as you may remember I got sick just before the summit push.

Margaret making the difficult decision to turn back from her summit push on 19 May 2012 at 8600m on  at 8600m, just below the third rock step on the North East ridge of Everest.

Margaret making the difficult decision to turn back from her summit push on 19 May 2012 at 8600m, just below the third rock step on the North East ridge of Everest. The summit is clearly visible behind her.

Then during the summit push every day every hr was so difficult so tough.  It was tough because I knew that if not for that infection I most probably could have summitted.  The weather was perfect and the summit distance on the north is much shorter then on the south  but then I could not stop coughing and it made everything much more difficult in high altitude than at sea level.  As you know – you are in the climbing gear it’s clumsy to move, it’s difficult to take gloves or mask off to cleanup your nose to cough.

The key decision was safety, it’s not just about summiting but also being able, having enough energy to safely descend.  I would not risk my life my health I have my family I love them dearly.  Losing that is not worth any amount of money or achievement goals.

You are a happily married to a wonderful man Tad, with two daughters and 3 grand children.  How does your family take your everest expeditions?

They are very supportive.  My daughters last year straight away said if you want to try again go for it.  Tad was sure I will not go back so when I told him I emailed Phil to go north again his face show total disbelief!  But he knows me, he knows he cannot stop me so he is fully supporting me now.

Your approach on Everest is very low key from a media perspective. You do not have a website or blog or market yourself to sponsors.  It seems like the word ‘quiet achiever’ would describe your style. Do you agree with this and why do you prefer to climb like this?

The major thing for me to achieve anything like sport or science was to conquer myself.  Yes I’m very competitive and I would lie if I deny that I love to win.  But I always realized that the main thing is to achieve your best, to bend your own body and mind to the limit because there will/may be always someone better than me.  So what then? Give up? Not do it?  Cry? Conquering yourself is the best feeling and then everything else, like getting the first prize is a huge bonus.

You are a very strong and fit lady – how do you prepare physically for your Everest expedition’s and how has your training and preparation changed over your 4 previous expeditions?

I’m very often asked that question. I always train as long as I can remember.  And I always was doing sports.  So it’s not like ‘ok I’m going to climb lets train’.  Instead , once I decide to climb I just increase intensity , although over the last few months  and following your comment/advise after you read my training regime I was doing in 2011, I took it a bit easier in 2012 to leave some margin and not push my body to the limit.

Some of the media in Australia have dubbed you affectionately as ‘Supergran’. Due to the fact you are a grandmother and yet such a fit active woman pursuing extreme activities.  You are indeed inspiring many people through living your dreams.  How do you feel about this?

I didn’t like the term ‘Supergran’ at all for many reasons.  But if I can inspire a person, then this is most important, most fulfilling.  It is the biggest reward.

I would love to fulfill the following motto :

“It’s not just about your achievements but how many people you can inspire”

Margaret, you are an amazing woman, thank you for taking the time from your busy schedule with only 2 weeks to go before you leave for Everest, to take part in this interview.  We wish you all the best this year on the North side of Everest and look forward to seeing you back safely to inspire so many more people.

Margaret is a regular guest speaker at events around Australia.  All money she raises from her speaking she donates to charity.

 

Margaret Watroba eyeing up her next challenge - the North Ridge of Everest 2013.

Margaret Watroba eyeing up her next challenge – the North Ridge of Everest 2013. (Photo: Grant ‘Axe’ Rawlinson)

Passion unleashed

For me, standing on the summit of Mt Everest was the result of following a process.  The process of mountaineering.   I love mountaineering. I am passionate about it.  I love the months of planning for an expedition, the months of sweating and training to prepare my body physically.  The meticulous preparation of my equipment.  Most of all I love the huge mental challenge I have to overcome before each climb to confront my own fear.   All these reasons are why I climb, they are why I climbed Mt Everest and that is why I continue to climb.

Passion is an enormously powerful force.  It gives us the strength to get through hard times and setbacks.  It gives us strength to overcome our fears, to ignore what other people think of us, to be disciplined and make sacrifices in pursuit of our dreams.  Passionate people do not want to take shortcuts – they consider that  ‘learning the process’ is an important part of the journey.

In mountaineering it’s easy to spot those who are not passionate about the process.  They want to stand on top of the mountain but they are not really interested in the process of climbing the mountain.  I feel for these people.  Success without hard work is a hollow, empty feeling.   They never last long in the sport.

Just as in life,  successful mountaineers are the ones who are passionate.  They are not there just to stand on the summit.    Their passion gives them the energy to work the hardest, fight the longest, and in the words of Winston Churchill “never, never. never give-up”.

By following my passion it took me to the top of the world.  Next week I will be talking on the importance of following your passion at the Singapore Management University. See the flyer below for more information. I hope to see you there!

 

Come to Axe's next talk on 12 March, 2013 - click the image to enlarge!

Come to Axe’s next talk on 12 March, 2013 – click the image to enlarge!

Close Up – TVNZ, 4 October 2012

Click on the below link to watch a 5 minute TV segment on Axe on Everest 2012, featuring my sister Debra, the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust and a visit to the Inglewood St Patrick’s Primary School.

This was filmed back in August but was delayed in airing due to the tragedy that unfolded on the Paritutu rock  two days after the filming where 3 people tragically drowned.

http://tvnz.co.nz/close-up/mt-everest-climber-talks-experiences-charity-video-5116650

Axe on Everest in support of Indonesian orphanages

During 22 – 23 September 2012,  together with my wife Stephanie we traveled to Rumbai and Duri, Riau, Sumatra, Indonesia.  Here we visited two schools and the  Chevron onshore oilfields.  During the weekend I gave 5 ‘Axe on Everest 2012’ presentations  to various sections of the local community, each highlighting the fulfillment of dreams, having a passion, motivation, setting goals, mental control, time management and planning.  The weekend was arranged by good friend, ex-mountaineer and fellow kiwi, Mr Greg Moore and his lovely wife Yoke and family.

As a result of the weekend, US $2000 was raised in support of three local orphanages.  Stephanie and I were lucky enough to have the opportunity between presentations to visit one of the orphanage’s named Sayang Omak.  It was a very basic structure which housed over 30 children in two separate rooms.  The money raised will definitely be very helpful in improving their facilities.

It was a hectic yet immensely rewarding weekend.  Having grown up in a remote part of the world where  I attended primary school with less than 10 children in the entire school, I have a fondness, an understanding and an instant connection with small communities.  People are so friendly in small communities.   Throughout the weekend we had the honor of meeting many lovely and interesting Indonesian people as well as many others from various parts of the world.

Stephanie and I would like to express our sincere thanks to the sponsors who supported the weekends events (sponsors listed on the flyer below).   Also a huge thank you to the tireless work of Mr Greg Moore and wife Yoke, for their planning, preparation and 1st class hospitality during the weekend.

Attached below are some photo’s from the weekend activities and from our visit to the Sayang Omak Orphanage.  All photos are copyright to Greg Moore.

Sponsors for the weekends events

Presenting to the International School Rumbai

Being presented the International School Rumbai’s donation to the local orphanage as a result of the presentation.

Presenting to the American School, Duri

Being presented the American School, Duri’s contribution to the orphanage.

Presenting to Chevron contractors in the RekindWorleyParsons Office.

The Sayang Omak orphanage. A basic home for over 30 students.

With some of the students (L to R in middle: Robby, Aslina, Mariana) and staff from Sayang Omak orphanage. I presented them with  ‘Axe on Everest’ postcards and a poster.

This little man ‘Bayu’ is the youngest member of the orphanage and has a huge smile.

Preparing to present at the BBar in Duri

With Mrs Rawlinson before I present at the BBar, Duri

A public presentation to 60 people at the ‘BBar’ on Saturday evening

Entering the Sebangga Catholic School

With the students from the Sebangga Catholic School after my presentation which was conducted through an interpreter (Thanks Mr Benny!)

Axe on Everest heads for Indonesia

A huge thank you to Greg Moore, fellow kiwi and ex-mountaineer now based in Duri, Sumatra, Indonesia.  Greg has made a huge effort to arrange a series of Axe on Everest 2012 presentations next weekend in Indonesia.  I am very excited to be heading  there together with Stephanie to meet the friendly folk which are nearly always found in the more remote locations in our world.  The weekend has a jam-packed schedule with 4 presentations (at last count!), school visits, BBQ’s, and all proceeds  going towards some great local groups including an orphanage.  A big thank you to the sponsors involved below as can be seen on the flyer.

Meanwhile in other corners of the world I am eagerly following the progress of the ‘Qinghai Virgin Peaks Expedition 2012’.  The team consists of  two good friends David “Daisy” Lim and “Dr’ Rozani. They will be attempting to climb at least one, never before climbed 6000m peak.  Together with Rozani and David, I had the pleasure of climbing three virgin peaks in the Tien Shan mountain range on the border of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in 2009 (see write-up in the American Alpine Club Journal).  It was a truly memorable experience being the first human being to stand on a mountain top and knowing you had climbed it under your own steam, sharing the rope with two close friends without the use of any guides or outside assistance.  The nature of this  independent climbing, with the necessity for complete self-reliance is a style that is immensely appealing to me and I salute both Dave and Roz for thinking outside the box and doing some real exploratory climbing.  Good luck to the team and you can follow their progress here.

Axe on Everest presents at the Singapore Cricket Club Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Axe on Everest goes down under in August

August has been a busy month for Axe!  I recently returned from a very successful speaking tour to New Zealand.  Over 6 days I spoke to 3 schools and conducted 3 public presentation evenings, speaking to over 700 people in total. Through the 6 days, over NZ$ 11,000 was raised for the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust(TRHT).  Considerable exposure was also generated for the TRHT through media coverage of my visit – namely radio, newspaper and television. A huge thank you to the presenting sponsor JSL – Jufferman’s Surveyors Limited – for arranging the talks.

I was reminded constantly of the warmth and friendliness of Kiwi people during my trip.  Sometimes we Kiwi’s take this for granted. I had a good reminder on the evening of my final talk which held in a French Restaurant in Auckland.  The manager that night must have had a rough sleep under a bridge the previous night or some bad snails for breakfast, as she was in a foul mood, smelled of garlic, was quite unhelpful and hated jokes about the Rainbow warrior. Never the less – the evening was very successful and a big thank you to Helen and Mark Taucher and James J Bentley for organising the evening.

My trip home was also covered by Close Up.  Close Up is TVNZ’s nightly current affairs show.  Close Up air’s on TV1 at primetime viewing (7:00PM – 7:30PM) throughout the working week.  This was filmed over a very enjoyable and action packed two days. One day was spent with the TRHT and my sister Debra.  Debra was involved in a horrific car accident on 24 February 2012 and the TRHT helped to save her life by flying her to hospital.  The very nice crew from the TRHT flew Debra and I into the St Patrick’s primary school in Inglewood, to meet the students there who had been following my  journey for the last few months and have been ardent supporters.  I conducted a talk to the students along with the TRHT crew and we had a small tour around their beautiful school before re-boarding the helicopter and flying back to New Plymouth.  It was definitely the most scenic and exciting way I have traveled to a speaking engagement.

The second day filming was on the beautiful Paritutu Rock in New Plymouth (See photo’s below).  I spent 5 hours scurrying up and down this rock with camera’s on remote-controlled helicopters following me.  The climbing footage should air on Close Up shortly and I will send the link at the time.  Unfortunately 2 days after the filming on Paritutu, a terrible tragedy unfolded at the same spot as 3 students were swept into rough sea’s whilst rock climbing, only one body has been found so far (click here to learn more). It was sad news to hear as I returned from my trip, but heartening to see the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter heavily involved in rescuing by winch the remaining 10 students who were stuck on the rock.

I also made an attempt at climbing Mt Taranaki.  In poor weather conditions and low visibility we turned back about 200m from the summit.  It was a good reminder to me of how dangerous New Zealand mountains can be in bad weather. The combination of very wet and cold conditions makes it difficult to keep warm.  As compared to somewhere like the Himalaya where it is very cold but dry and is much easier to keep warm.

A huge thank you to also to the team from the  TRHTMichelle, Jayden, Fergus, Sam and Phil, a huge thank you for your support throughout the week.

I am very proud to say that John Foord Axe on Everest 2012 has raised to-date over NZ$26,000 for the TRHT. Thank to you all who have donated or supported by attending the talks.

Below are some photo’s from the trip, and some links to the various media articles from the trip to New Zealand.

I also returned this weekend from a short visit to Phuket, Thailand where I presented Axe on Everest to a staff retreat for Catlin.  The retreat was called a ‘Wellness weekend’ and was arranged by UFIT.  Located  in the stunning resort of Indigo Pearl in Northern Phuket it was definitely the nicest seaside resort I have ever stayed in and the most interesting and enjoyable corporate retreat I have experienced. Fitness boot camps, amazing races with bungy jumping, zorbing, go-karting, bowling and many other activities, beautiful beach side BBQ’s and bonfires, community service and even a beer or two thrown in. If you are looking for a value for money and excellent corporate retreat then I can thoroughly recommend this – please contact UFIT.

More John Foord Axe on Everest talks are coming up over the next two months in Indonesia and Singapore. Watch this space if you want to know where and when.  If you are interested in hosting a talk then do please get in touch with me at rawly@singnet.com.sg

Cheers for now!

Axe

Newspaper’s

(click on links below to view)

August 2012:  Stratford Press – ‘Climber thanks rescue crew for saving sister’

August 2012:  Taranaki Daily News – ‘Everest hero drops in to meet students’

August 2012:  Taranaki Daily News – ‘Axe from the top of the world for funds’

July 2012:  Taranaki Daily News – ‘Busy time for rescue helicopter’

July 2012: Taranaki Daily News – ‘From one road to another’

Photos

The Close Up camera crew filmed me climb Paritutu using this remote-controlled helicopter carrying a camera. Over NZ$100,000 worth of equipment zooming around!

The helicopter in action – it has a range of 2km and a flight duration time of 11 minutes.

The cameraman always has the hardest job!

But he finally got there.

My sister Debra Avery meets the flight crew from the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust who flew her to hospital after her accident on 24 February 2012. L to R: Jayden Strickland (Chief Crewman), Debra Avery, Roger Blume (Paramedic), Fergus MacLachlan (Pilot)

The students from the lovely St Patrick’s primary school in Inglewood awaiting our arrival as we land in Taranaki Rescue Helicopter

TRHT pilot Fergus MacLachlan lands us at St Patrick’s primary school in Inglewood, students visible in the background.

Being presented a cheque from St Patrick’s Primary School as a donation to the TRHT. St Patrick’s raised the money through various activities including a sausage sizzle – well done!

With the students from St Josephs primary school in Stratford

Speaking to Catlin group in Phuket at the UFIT Wellness weekend. Photo credit: Cheryl Lin

A view of Paritutu rock in New Plymouth from the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter.

CEO of JSL, Mr Allan Jufferman’s hands over the cheque to TRHT PR and Sponsorship coordinator Mrs Michelle Zender. Awesome effort JSL and TRHT!

The Taranaki Rescue Helicopter searches for three lost climbers in heavy sea’s after falling off Parititu Rock, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand. Photo credit: Jeremy Beckers

Axe on Everest presentation heads to NZ in August!

Greetings to all folk in various parts of the world who have been following my blog.

In the last week I have presented to 300 school students, a public presentation evening at CITYGOLF in Bangsa, Kuala Lumpur, students from the Humaneity Youth Development Program at the Singapore Management University (SMU) and a radio interview with BFM Malaysia.  As well of course as fitting in my day job!

I am very excited to be heading back to New Zealand in August to my home province of Taranaki.   Three presentation evenings have been arranged in conjunction with presenting sponsor JSL – Juffermans Surveyors Limited.  The presentations will be in Hawera, Stratford and New Plymouth and more information on the dates and locations can be found in the attached flyer.

As usual with my public talks – all proceeds from the events go to the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust.

I hope to see you there. If you can’t make it and want to hear the story then let me know!

Cheers,

Axe

Axe on Everest in Kuala Lumpur – 9th July!

Axe on Everest presentation evening will be in KL next Monday evening 9th July at CITYGOLF bar in Bangsa.  Check out the flyer for more details! Looking forward to speaking in Malaysia!

Image

$2000 for the Taranaki Helicopter Rescue Trust

Last night I gave a talk at upstairs Harry’s bar in Singapore on my Everest journey.  It was a full house and some people unfortunately had to stand at the back of the room as the seats were full, so I apologise for this inconvenience.

A huge thank you to Harry’s bar for offering the venue. Thanks to my wife Stephanie and Alicia for selling the raffle tickets with prizes generously donated by Citygolf and UFIT.   Congratulations to Mr Mark Lamb who won a one year gold membership at Citygolf which should see either his golf or his drinking improve, and Mr Mark Siew who won 5  bootcamp sessions at UFIT.

We  managed to raise a whopping $2,000 through the evening for the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust.  Thanks to all people who attended the talk and especially for your generosity.

I have a busy schedule of ‘Axe on Everest’ presentations to various organisations coming up in in the next three months in Singapore, Malaysia, Phuket and New Zealand.  18 presentations are currently booked to schools, organisations, clubs, corporate’s and the public.  All proceeds go to the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust.  Kindly contact me by email (rawly@singnet.com.sg)  if you are interested in me coming to your venue for a presentation!

Speaking at Harrys Bar, Singapore. Photo: Eric Ho

Axe on Everest Presentation Evening – Thursday 28 June 2012, Upstairs Harry’s on Boat Quay

Looking forward to Axe on Everest 2012 presentation evening at upstairs Harry’s Boat Quay this Thursday 28th June from 7PM – See you there!

Rowing from Home to Home

I will be holding an ‘Axe on Everest 2012’ public presentation evening at Harry’s bar on boat quay on 28 June 2012.

Admission is free, first come first served. Be there from 7PM.

We will be holding a raffle on the night for some great prizes:

– A one year gold membership from CITYGOLF

–  Free UFIT bootcamp sessions

–  Climb with Axe sessions

ALL PROCEEDS to the TARANAKI RESCUE HELICOPTER TRUST

I look forward to seeing you there for a great evening and a few drinks!

PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD!

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Axe on Everest Presentation Evening – Thursday 28 June 2012, Upstairs Harry’s on Boat Quay

I will be holding an ‘Axe on Everest 2012’ public presentation evening at Harry’s bar on boat quay on 28 June 2012.

Admission is free, first come first served. Be there from 7PM.

We will be holding a raffle on the night for some great prizes:

– A one year gold membership from CITYGOLF

–  Free UFIT bootcamp sessions

–  Climb with Axe sessions

ALL PROCEEDS to the TARANAKI RESCUE HELICOPTER TRUST

I look forward to seeing you there for a great evening and a few drinks!

PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD!

Axe on Everest 2012 – YOUTUBE photo slideshow

Hi folks, please enjoy a short 5 minute slide show of photo’s on my last two years Everest journey. If you like please share it with a friend!

Tuesday 5th June: Live Interview with Radio New Zealand

This morning at 9:30AM New Zealand time, I did a live Radio Interview with Radio New Zealand’s ‘From nine to noon’ show with presenter Kathryn Ryan.  The subject was ‘Are to many inexperienced climbers attempting Mt Everest’.

The interview lasted 9 minutes – you can hear a recording of it here.

http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/remote-player?id=2520976

I better get ready to go to work, what a shock going back into the office!

Axe out from Sea-level in Singapore.

May 30th – It’s A Wrap – Grant On Flight Home!

(from David Lim)

Grant is on his flight home from Kathmandu today and will be landing at Changi International Airport at 2015hrs at Terminal 2. I’ll be there, together with his fans to welcome him home. I’ve enjoyed the vicarious thrill of posting and updating this site when he was unable to do so personally and thank all of you who popped in to visit and share the experience. Until next time….

Off belay,

David Lim

The Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust – An appeal

Well the hard work climbing Everest has finished, but my work to raise money for the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust has just begun.

For those of you who have only started reading my blog in the last two months you may not be aware of the connection between my climb and the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust, through my sister, Debra’s serious car accident in February 2012.  You can read more about the accident here.

I have tried very hard to bring you as readers along with me on my journey to Everest.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience, especially the interaction with readers and  I hope that if you have enjoyed the journey together with me then you would consider making a donation to the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust through the link below.

100% of this money goes directly to the Helicopter Trust – it does not come through me.  The Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust provides such an awesome service to the community and relies on public donations to keep running.  It saves lives on a weekly basis, be they local Taranaki folk involved in accidents or tourists who get stuck or injured while visiting the province and climbing the mountain.  The online payment option below is secure and you can donate using Credit Card or PAYPAL.

Please click on the DONATE button below to donate.

In the ‘Purpose’ Field please put ‘Axe on Everest 2012’

Axe on Everest Slide Presentations

I will also be giving slide presentations on my Everest climb to raise money for the Helicopter Trust.  If you are a club or society, school or corporate, please contact me to hear all about the  stories I couldn’t write about, the lessons I learnt, and the journey to the top of the world and back down again!

Email me on rawly@singnet.com.sg

Check out what other people who have heard Axe on Everest presentation’s have to say – click here.

Once again – thank you so much for your support.

Axe signing out from the Courtyard Hotel in Kathmandu.

Debra being extracted from her smashed vehicle by emergency crew’s. The Rescue Helicopter is in the background which helped save her life by flying her to hospital for the urgent medical attention she needed. (Photo: TRHT)

May 27th: Back in Kathmandu and the press

Hi all!

I am happy to report I am back in the beautiful and relaxing Courtyard hotel in Kathmandu.  The hotel owners, Pujan and Michelle cooked us a beautiful steak dinner last night in a welcome back party.  After chewing on Yak steaks for the last 50 days, having an air flown Australian steak, my 4th hot shower in 50 days and sleeping in a real bed with sheets was absolute heaven.

What wasn’t heaven was reading some press articles in NZ papers which were cut and pasted from my last blog (click here to read).   I have seen at least two articles with the headlines “Kiwi climber repulsed by inexperience” and “Climber has no sympathy”.  Reading the short ‘cut and paste” articles gives a different emotion or feeling than the one I was trying to portray when you read my story as a whole.  I was not merely trying to make statement about inexperienced climbers on Everest and how they create dangerous situations by holding up other climbers.  I was attempting to give an honest as possible account of my climb to the summit of the world and what happened along the way.   Unfortunately the articles miss 95% of my story and make me sound negative. I have as a result received some very ugly emails from strangers criticising my character.

I can’t help what the media write, however should you hear of anyone incorrectly drawing conclusions about my character from the short article in the newspaper I would appreciate it if you could at least ask them to read my blog in its entirety before drawing any conclusions.

OK now that’s off my chest, I must head for the Singapore Airlines office to change my flight ticket back to Singapore.  I am really looking forward to getting back to Singapore and back to seeing Stephanie.

Cheers for now!

Axe

May 24: Climb to the roof of the world

For the first 4 weeks being here on Everest, I would spend long periods standing and staring at that high section of the North East Ridge from basecamp. My eyes would follow the line from Camp 3, up the exit cracks, along the three rock steps to the summit. As we prepared to leave for the summit push I consciously stopped looking up at the ridge. Standing and looking at it was not going to help anymore. I had a job to do. I concentrated on my own tasks and preparing my gear. I prepared for a battle.

After studying the forecasts daily for two weeks, the summit window came upon us faster than expected. The chosen date was 19th May. This allowed us just enough good days beforehand on the 16th, 17th and 18th to climb higher on the mountain and get into position at camp 3 to make a dash for the summit on the 19th. However this meant we had to leave basecamp and move steadily up the mountain, camp by camp, day by day with no rest days. As I packed my gear in basecamp I wondered to myself if I had the stamina to do the job.

I left early from basecamp at 6am for the 17km walk to Advanced basecamp(ABC). I have grown to hate this walk. I consoled myself with the fact that this would be the last time I would ever do it, no matter what happened on this summit push. It’s long, rough and very hard physically, mainly due to the altitude. I walked slowly with Phil for the first hour. Soon he left me. Mark Horrell also soon passed me. I had one aim, to get to advanced basecamp with as much energy left as possible. The next 5 days were going to be the toughest physical challenge of my life. I could not afford to blow all my gas on day one by setting to fast a pace.

I arrived at ABC after 8 hours of walking. Very glad to get there, and fortunately not too exhausted. I re-hydrated with cup after cup of milk tea and sat in the cooking tent with the Sherpa’s which is much warmer due to the gas cookers.

After a bad sleep that night at ABC, I packed my bag the next morning for the north col. I went through my gear over and over, down suit, sleeping bag, mittens, harness, crampons and axe etc. Did I really need this? Did I really need that? Anything deemed non-essential I left behind. I didn’t pack a toothbrush, I left the camera case behind, spare batteries were kept to a minimum. As I zipped up the door of my tent I took one last look inside. A single morose thought entered my mind, would I see this tent again? ‘Of course you will you dick – think positive’ I told myself.

I left ABC at 10AM, Ian joined in behind me and I set a slow steady pace up the glacier towards crampon point. After one hour we stopped here, and put on our crampons. It was hot in the sunshine and out of the wind. I walked alone for the next 45 minutes to the base of the fixed ropes where I sat in the sunshine and had a drink and a rest. The climb up the fixed ropes to the North Col is a grind. This was my 5th time doing it and it had well and truly lost any appeal. I attached my jumar to the fixed ropes and started working my way up. Slowly, one foot after the other, slide the jumar. After 2 hours I popped out on top of the North Col, feeling cold and tired. We shared tents, three persons to a tent. My tent mates were Mark Horrell and Chongba Sherpa.

I did not expect to sleep at the North Col as the altitude is to high. I was not wrong. For 12 hours I lay in my sleeping bag looking at the ceiling. Time passed by so slowly. It felt like I was in prison. I knew from last year that spending nights at the col drains me of energy very fast. Morning could not come fast enough. I felt lethargic and groggy as we drank tea in the tent and I ate some noodles for breakfast.

Today’s climb from the Col to Camp 2 was going to be hard work. Phil had deliberately placed our camp 2 higher than normal camp sites. At close to 7900m, it meant 800m or 900m of vertical climbing. He did this to make the climb from Camp 2 to Camp 3 the following day shorter. I expected to take around 8 hours to reach camp 2 and be exhausted when I got there. I put my down suit on for the first time. For the next three days I would live in the down suit. I slid a full 4kg oxygen cylinder into my backpack along with regulator and mask. We planned to climb to around 7300 – 7500m before switching on the oxygen. It was a hot day with little wind as I set-off up the North ridge. I soon became too hot and stripped my downsuit down to my waist, tieing the arms around my stomach tightly. I climbed with Phil and Pasang Nima Sherpa. We slowly trudged up. I would take 5 steps at a time then stop for a rest and recover my breath and energy. I felt lethargic from the altitude and lack of sleep the night before.

As we climbed higher and the air became thinner the climbing became harder and I got slower. At 7300m we finally donned oxygen masks and turned on the gas cylinders. Ahhh…. the cool sensation of oxygen flowing in over my face through the mask. I dialed the regulator onto 1.5 litres per minute. This one oxygen bottle had to last me all the way to Camp 2 then over night to the morning while I slept on it. Immediately I felt better breathing the oxygen, stronger with more energy.

As I started off again up the snowy slope of the north ridge I could move continuously without stopping. As I got higher and started to pass people I started to think something was wrong. Why was I feeling so good? Maybe the oxygen was turned up too high to the maximum flow rate of 4l minute instead of 1.5? I should not be feeling as good as this? Last year even breathing bottled oxygen I did not have much energy. Paranoia overtook me and I stopped and took off my backpack to check the oxygen settings. Sure enough it was only on 1.5l. I shrugged my shoulders, put my backpack back on and kept climbing. It felt great to feel so strong and I moved steadily up and soon arrived at Camp 2.

Camp 2 is perched on the North Ridge and the tents are set-up on rock platforms. Its not a place where you get out of the tent and wander around as it is too steep. There are some lovely views down onto the East Rongbuk glacier, Changste, the North Col and Advanced Base Camp. As I lay in the tent, I dialed my oxygen down to 0.5l/minute which is enough for resting and sleeping. I waited for my tent mates, Chonga Sherpa and Mark Horrell to arrive. After sometime they turned up, both looking pretty knackered. Mark came into the tent for a few seconds then promptly threw up in the vestibule. “You ok dude?” I asked him? “Yes – just exhausted” was his reply. Chongba came into the tent and lay down. “Camp 2 so far” he mumbled. You know its been a tough day when the Sherpa’s are exhausted.

I was looking forward to sleep that night. The previous night at the col I had none, but I knew that breathing bottled oxygen I would definitely sleep better here at 7900m. Dinner was a packet of freeze dried chicken rice which I shared with Mark and I thought was quite delicious. This was a great sign, I even had appetite at this altitude. As I settled into my sleeping bag to sleep, I hoped that the strength I had found today would not desert me for tomorrow’s climb to camp 3. A climb that I remembered from last year when I arrived I was completely spent.

What a sleep that night. I woke only 3 times, twice to pee into my pee bottle. I felt refreshed and so much better than the previous morning on the North Col when I had no sleep. Phil climbed past our tent, “it will take 4 – 5 hours to reach Camp 3 today” he shouted into our tent. I opened the tent door to a wonderful view down onto the Rongbuk glacier. I poked my camera out and took some photo’s as other team mates slowly climbed up past my tent on their way to Camp 3.

I finally dragged myself out of my sleeping bag and started getting ready. Amazingly I even felt better today than I did the day before. I loved the feeling of being so high. I have a technique I call the crab which I use for climbing steep snow slopes which I developed in New Zealand quite by accident. I put my ice axe in front of me and hold the head with both hands. I point my feet out at 45 degree angles either side and waddle my way up the hill, taking very small steps with my feet, and plunging my axe higher and using my arms to help pull me up. It looks very weird. Kami Sherpa was laughing at my style. But it is extremely energy efficient and I can zoom up steep snow slopes continuously without tiring. I ‘crabbed’ my way up towards to Camp 3, passing people along the fixed rope and arrived in 2 hours flat.

Climbing from Camp2 to Camp 3

Entering the deathzone, above 8000m

Bloody hell, my paranoia overtook me again. Why was I going so much faster than last year? Was this power just some enormous surge of adrenalin rushing through my body? Would it suddenly run out any moment and leave me in a wasted and spent heap? Then again maybe the Pulmonary Edema (H.A.P.E) last year must have weakened me more than I realised. When I tried to climb high again after contacting H.A.P.E my lungs were probably not fully recovered. I had also trained hard for months with Darren Blakely and the team from UFIT for this climb. Not just low intensity walking around with a pack on my back like many climbers seem to do for training. But high intensity training aimed specifically at maximizing my performance at high altitude. Maybe this was paying off? I didn’t know exactly what it was, I was just happy I felt so good and hoped it would last.

Mark Horrell enjoying the view at camp 3 – highest campsite in the world.

After some time Mark and Chongba turned up at the tent at camp 3. Chongba melted snow for drinks and we all lay in the tent with our oxygen masks on resting. It was a hot day with little wind. You cannot talk easily with the oxygen mask on so we lay lost in our own worlds. My mind was busy going over and over summit evening coming up in a few hours time. We had planned to leave around 11PM. An issue was that there was a large Chinese team also leaving for the summit that evening. There climbers seemed inexperienced. They had a ratio of either one guide to a client or in some cases even two guides to a single client. I was nervous about getting stuck behind them. Getting stuck behind slow climbers can make you very cold as you queue and wait. Then again to leave in front of them might mean having to leave around 10PM or earlier. This could mean getting to the summit very early in the morning – probably in the dark. I really wanted to summit in the light so I could at least see some views. After some negotiation between the groups it was decided the teams would leave on staggered starts. The Chinese would leave before us. We would leave at 11:30PM. Phil called on the radio from his tent and told me to leave first out of our team along with Pasang Nima, who I would be climbing with.

It is so important to have a good start from the tent on summit evening. By good start I mean leaving with all your equipment working properly and most importantly being warm. Warm hands, warm feet and warm body. It’s so cold during the night when you start to prepare, and you have to do so many small things with your hands that you need to take your gloves off. It becomes very easy to get cold fingers as you prepare and if you start with cold hands then it can be very difficult to warm them up again.

As I lay there I went over and over in my head my preparation for leaving the tent. I loaded the pockets of my down suit strategically. Everything that is not inside your down suit pockets close to your body freezes solid. Sun cream, water bottle, camera, head torch, satellite phone, spare goggles, all have to be in the pockets inside the suit next to my chest. I placed my crampons in the vestibule. I opened a pack of chemical hand warmers at 9PM, to give them enough time to reach max heat by 11PM when I would need to use my hands. I placed my crampons strategically in the vestibule so I only needed to swivel my legs out the tent and could sit and lace them on without having to get outside the tent. I ran through the procedures over and over. How to put on my harness lying down, how to put on my boots inside the tent. Then I lay and waited. Waited for 10:30PM when we would start to preparations to leave for the top of the world. I could not sleep. I kept looking at my watch every 15 minutes, until finally 10:30PM came around.

Within less than 30 minutes I was ready to leave the tent. Pasang Nima (from now on referred to as the ‘pocket rocket’ due to his small stature but explosive power) came down to the the tent to check if I was ready. I gave him my hand warmers which by now were quite hot and opened a fresh pair and put inside my gloves.

The pocket rocket helped switch me to a new oxygen bottle, load my backpack onto my shoulders and sort the oxygen hose then we climbed up to his tent where he did his preparations. 11:20pm and we were off climbing the North East Ridge!

As I looked up into the darkness I could see the pin pricks of other climbers lights higher up who had left earlier. The pocket rocket took off out in front and I struggled to catch up with him. To access the North East Ridge proper you follow the exit cracks up for a few hundred metres. This is rock scrambling and is a good warm up for what is to come later.

I was so excited to be finally doing some real climbing, with real exposure, rather than the dull snow and rock plodding over the last few weeks. Very soon we caught up to the first groups of Chinese climbers. Climbing the exit cracks, it is relatively easy to pass climbers. The guides would normally let us pass as they felt our presence behind. I was glad to catch up to some groups as it slowed the pocket rocket down and gave me a chance to catch my breath.

Climbing in the pitch dark, I had very little idea of where we were on the mountain. I was sure that I had crossed the 1st step at one stage as I scrambled up a steeper section. Then I came to the first major bottle neck of the night. A line of around 15 climbers were waiting at the base of a cliff. Ahh, this must be the second step I thought. I waited in the queue impatiently. As I got closer to the cliff I could not see any ladder, which I know is fixed to the second step. Bloody hell, someone stole the ladder I thought to myself!! The climbers trying to climb the cliff were going so slowly, pulling on the rope and not trying to climb the rock at all. There were two climbers in particular who both had teddy bears on the outside of their packs who were struggling.

As I waited my toes started to get cold and I concentrated on wriggling them back and forth to try and keep them warm. Finally after 30 minutes it was my turn. Instead of pulling on the rope to pull myself up, I climbed the rock using the plenty of available footholds. It was much easier and faster than trying to pull yourself up using the rope. “Who the hell would have taken the ladder down from the second step?” I thought to myself as I climbed. Then it finally dawned on me. This was only the 1st step, not the 2nd step!

We came to a large rock with a small cave underneath it. I knew exactly who was resting under here. Green Boots, the first dead body along the route. So named because of the green Koflach boots he wears. Green boots has been lying here since 1996. I passed 6 corpses in total on the way to the summit. Green boots is the only one who looks peacefully asleep and does not look grotesque. The rest of the corpses do not appear peaceful, and are in awful positions, upside down with their heads downhill and arms sticking out, curled up into the fetal position, or in one case still attached to the rope and hanging onto the side of the cliff. I said hello to Green Boots as I walked past. Seeing him somehow made me feel secure, like I was seeing an old friend.

The ground from the 1st step to the second step becomes a very exposed traverse along the side of the ridge on downwards sloping rock slabs. The rock was very dry with no snow. With crampons on, great care was required with each footstep so as to not slip off the rock. Even though it was pitch dark but I still got the feeling of the exposure under my feet.

Traversing between the 1st and 2nd step is also rather exposed.

Soon I arrived at the second step. Even in the dark, looking up at the shadow of the cliff it looks impressive. Once again there was a queue here. Once again the two climbers with the Teddy bears were having a difficult time. High altitude climbers become fixated on weight. We weigh and compare almost every item we wear or carry and think of ways to cut down the weight. Carrying things at altitude is much harder than at sea-level. They feel much heavier and in an environment where it is a huge effort just to move your own body weight you definitely don’t want to be carrying any surplus. Yet here were these two climbers who could not even drag themselves up the second step who could afford to carry teddy bears on the outside of their packs? My feet once again grew cold as I sat waiting for them to haul themselves up the ropes. They would pull themselves up a short distance then sit and hang there for what seemed forever as they got their breath or energy back. As I waited I contemplated pulling the teddy bears off their backpacks, setting them on fire and shoving them up their backsides. Maybe this would motivate them to climb faster?

Climbing the infamous second step

Finally it was my turn. Wow, I am climbing the famous second rock step. There is a short ladder followed by a scramble then another longer ladder. At the top of the long ladder you have to step out onto a ledge. Even in the dark as I stood on the ledge I felt the awesome feeling of exposure, of a huge drop off. Its like being punched in the stomach as you look over into the void, and imagine whats down there. It was awesome.

From the second step to the third step is an easy walk with no exposure. As we worked our way up to the base of the third step, the sun started to rise and I was treated to an amazing hue of colours lighting up the summit pyramid of Everest. The third step is easy to overcome, 2 or 3 rock moves and you are on top of it. There before me was the mighty summit pyramid of steep snow. It looks very close to the summit, however its not a direct line and still at least an hour away. I was feeling a little tired here so asked the pocket rocket to turn up my oxygen from 2l to 3l for the last push to the summit.

Climbing the 3rd rock step, summit directly behind still one hour away.

Up we climbed, exhausting work, step by step. The first summiting group which had left around 9PM passed us on their way back down from the summit. Towards the top of the summit pyramid, the route sneaks off to the right onto an extremely exposed rock traverse. A fall from here would see you having a very exciting roly poly for 3000m down to the glacier below, by which time your body would be in lots of little pieces. I concentrated hard, with every foot placement, as my crampons struggled to find purchase on the downward sloping slabs.

The pocket rocket on an exposed traverse at 8800m

A sharp zigzag in the traverse to gain height and finally we popped out onto the snow ridge, with just 100m to get to the summit of the world. Wow the summit! Finally I could see it. It looked busy with maybe 15 people standing on it taking photos etc. I was feeling very tired but not exhausted, and slowly plodded my way up the final snow ridge. Prayer flags lay scattered over the summit. An aluminium survey stake stood proud on top. And wind, all morning we had been in little wind, now here at the summit the wind was blasting in.

Axe on Everest 2012, 7:10AM(Nepal Time) 19th May

With immense relief I took the last few steps to the top of the world at 7:10AM. I say relief because I was very glad I did not have to climb any higher. I sat down in snow just a few feet below the summit and for the first real time admired the view. And what a view it is. Phil turned up also just a couple of minutes behind me. I took out the John Foord and UFIT flags and took photo’s with them.

John Foord on top of the world

I had always intended to make a voice post using my satellite phone from the summit. When I pulled out the phone however it was completely iced up and would not turn on. “Oh no, looks like I have wrecked the phone” I thought.  I then made a short video from the top.

What happened next could be described differently by different people. Phil would say I acted like a spoilt princess. I prefer to say I had a small panic attack. As I stood on the summit, my oxygen bottle ran out. The oxygen lasts for around 8 hours per bottle at a flow rate of 2l/minute. I went from breathing relatively normally to having a suffocating feeling. I realised immediately what the problem was and came down to Phil and the pocket rocket. “I am out of gas, please change my bottle”. I knelt down in the snow as they switched over bottles for me. “OK you are back on” said Phil. I took a deep breath through the mask, nothing came in at all and I still had a suffocating feeling. In fact I could not get any air at all, even through the ambient air valve which allows air from the outside in. “Fuckin hell, its not working” I shouted. “Yes it is, I can hear it” replied Phil. I tried to take more deep breaths. Still no air. As I breathed out hard the seal above my nose broke and the air rushed up past my glasses fogging them up. In my by now hypoxic state I did not realise what had happened and thought I was losing my vision. “Fuckkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk, whats happening, there is no air”. Phil realising what happened then grabbed my head in his hands and put his mouth over the valve on my mask and blew as hard as possible. The valve had iced up hence the reason I could not get any air. A couple of quick blows and finally the air came back in. It was all a little traumatic, especially having another mans lips so close to mine.

I have no recollection of the next ten minutes or so as we descended the snow ridge. From here the descent becomes dangerous as you have to wind back down the very exposed rock zig zag. I told my self to switch on and be careful. We slowly and carefully picked our way down we passed other team members on the way up, Ian, and the two Mark’s. It was great to see that they would soon too be standing on the top.

I would like to day the descent was fast and simple, however I once again got caught up behind some climbers going very slow. Coming down over the 3rd step, we were help-up by a girl who seemed petrified of downclimbing. She was having all sorts of arguments/discussions with her guide, and making lots of high pitched whining sounds(similar to the noise an englishman makes when you ask of him a favor). I sat down and waited. And waited. And waited. Her guide finally had to set up another rope system and belay her down. Once our turn, with two or three simple rock moves, we were both at the bottom in less than a minute. We moved off towards the second step. We passed Margaret on the way up moving very slowly. She had a very bad cough and chest pains which were affecting her performance. I moved quickly past her, but later on found out she had decided to turn around here. This was the best decision she ever made in her life. Otherwise she would still be up there. I stopped quickly to make a voice update on my sat phone which by now had thawed out. I couldn’t think of much to say so kept it short.

The second step turned into more drama as the whining girl really put on a performance. She was shouting at her Tibetan guide at the top of the step. Descending the second step is not technically difficult, however it is extremely exposed in some parts and you don’t want to fall. She seemed completely freaked out. I sat and waited while her and the guide ‘discussed’ back and forth. The guide set up another belay for her. She looked like she was going to start crying. I felt absolutely no sympathy for her whatsoever. You don’t come to the North East Ridge at 8700m and start getting climbing lessons while you hold everyone else up and they sit there using up there life blood supply of oxygen.

I thought of my journey to Everest. 12 years of climbing independently around the world. How I had studied the North East Ridge route and the technical difficulties and trained specifically for that. Sunday mornings at dairy farm quarry in Singapore rock climbing with my crampons. Climbing the west ridge of Malte Brun in NZ, chosen specifically for its exposed ridge traverse and similarities with Everest’s North East Ridge. And this girl had turned up here without even the ability to downclimb a ladder. The spectacle I was seeing repulsed me. People turning up with no respect for the mountain. The desire for instant gratification without the discipline to do the hardyards, the research, the training and the preparation. Her guide held up his hand to me and said in broken english “very sorry, I do not know why the girl cannot climb down the mountain”. I shrugged my shoulders back at him and mumbled no problem through my mask. It was a complete lie.

If you fall here you will go for 3000m, all the way to the Rongbuk Glacier

As we downclimbed, I photographed some of the dead bodies on the way down. I had been thinking on the way up whether or not to do this. Some people say it is unlucky. After some careful consideration and respect for any family members or friends who may be reading this I decided not to put any of the photo’s into this blog post. Little did I know that at the end of the day there would be two more fresh bodies to climb over on the North ridge.

Finally the girl managed to get down. The pocket rocket and myself descended carefully and swiftly and managed to get in front her and her guide and her guide as we made our way along the exposed traverse to the 1st step. In daylight I could see all the way down to the glacier below. It was a beautiful feeling to be carefully edging along the ridge, aware of the consequences of each step.

Downclimbing the 1st step

Soon we got stuck behind yet another group of 5 climbers who were moving 5 – 7m apart each. They were exhausted and would downclimb about 5 m only then sit down and rest for a few minutes. It looked very difficult to get past them so we eventually resigned ourselves to patiently downclimbing slowly behind them. Finally around 12:00PM we arrived back at Camp 3. The first thing I did was answer a call of nature. I told the pocket rocket what I was about to do, and he said ‘ok’ and sat down right beside me as I did my business. I was too tired to care and so was he.

As we made our way back to the tents we noticed one of the tents had blown away and had only been caught by another tent. We tried to lift the tent back to its platform but with sleeping bags and gear inside it it was to heavy especially in our weakened state. I went into my tent and lay down and promptly went to sleep. A little while later Phil turned up and shouted for me to come and help. I took off my oxygen and staggered back up to help. We were all knackered and without oxygen especially at 8300m I had the strength of a 3 year old kid. Slowly we took out the gear from the tent and I bundled it into a sleeping bag. Only then we managed to right the tent back onto its platform. I looked for a rock to tie the tent down with and eventually just sat down and stared at the tent for about ten minutes, too tired to move. “I better get back on the oxygen” I told myself and staggered back down to my tent.

I was tired, however I still had enough energy to get down the mountain further, at least to the North Col and probably all the way to ABC. A quick discussion with Phil, who suggested the team stay at Camp 3 tonight as the other climbers were not back yet and they would be too late to descend. I contemplated descending alone. Hmmm, maybe I will have a small rest first. It was a decision I came to regret.

Around 5pm Mark Horrell and Chongba Sherpa turned up. They were exhausted. Mark crawled into the tent and promptly started dry reaching and vomiting through exhaustion. I had full respect for Mark’s performance and commitment the last 5 days. He had put everything he had and a more into getting up and down the mountain safely. He was completely exhausted when he got to each higher camp but kept pushing on every day. He never complained once about anything even when I know he must have been hurting. He had been petrified today on certain parts of the climb but was able to push on through. “How was it dude?” I asked as he slowly recovered from his retching attack. “The most exhausting and terrifying day of my life” he mumbled back. “do you have any water?”

Damn! I had been lying here for 5 hours in the tent and had not even bothered to melt any water for Mark or Chongba who were very dehydrated after being on the go for 16 hours. I felt terrible. What had I been doing? I had done nothing except wallow in the tent, I hadn’t even descended when I had the time and energy. And worse, I had not even bothered to make my team mates a brew which is an unwritten code in the mountains. I took the stove from Chongba and guiltily started melting snow. It’s a long slow process. It took at least 1.5 hours to melt enough snow to make one pot of tea for the three of us, plus some soup. “Axe can you empty my pee bottle please” Mark asked me just before he drifted off to sleep. I took it from him, unscrewed the cap and leaned as far out of the tent as possible. Damn, the tops frozen up I realised. I leaned out further to bang the frozen pee against a small rock. “whats that smell – somethings burning… shit the tent!!” As I leaned out I had pushed the tent against the stove and burnt a big hole in the tent.

“Grant your feet are cold, you need to warm them up!” I was dreaming. Margaret was telling me over and over again “Grant your feet are cold, you need to warm them up!” I woke up slowly from my sleep, wondering for a moment where I was. Shit my feet are freezing, as were my legs and my backside. It felt like being in a deep freeze. The wind was pounding the tent outside and spindrift was coming into the tent coating everything. I turned on my head torch and unzipped the tent door. My boots in the vestibule of my tent were completely full with snow. I had left the tent door slightly unzipped to let in air during the night. Spindrift had blown in through the burn hole in the tent and the unzipped door and covered my entire sleeping bag and almost everything in my side of the tent. I was lying in an icy tomb.

My legs and feet were the main problem. I got up into a kneeling or praying position to minimise my body contact with the floor. I must have sat there in the praying position for an hour. Rocking back and forth to try and get warm and telling myself:

“you stupid idiot”

“you stupid idiot”

“you s stupid idiot”

“You had the chance to go down this afternoon and you stayed here at 8300m in the deathzone. You know you should have gone down. Now you are freezing. Everything is wet. Getting down tomorrow morning will be a nightmare”

As it always does, morning did eventually come around. As I found out later the other members had bad evenings also and were not in good states in the morning. It gave me new respect for staying at 8300m, especially in bad weather. There is only so long you can last the intense cold.lack of oxygen and horrific winds. “Chongba I will melt some water for breakfast” I said. “No point – too windy for stove” Chingba replied. I settled instead to have the traditional mountaineers breakfast of a look out the tent door and a couple of breaths of fresh air.

A cold night at camp 3 at 8300m

Slowly we got ready to leave our icy tomb. My gloves were wet and my hands were freezing. I would work for a few minutes then stop and put my hands under my armpit to warm them up again. I was the last one to leave Camp 3. The wind was howling in as I started down the fixed ropes. I soon caught Margaret with her Sherpa Chedda. She was huddled over at an anchor point trying to put her second layer of gloves on her freezing hands. Her chest infection was really taking it out of her. I knelt down and put her gloves on properly on her right hand hand while Chedda worked on her left hand. I then checked her oxygen and noticed she was only on 1l/minute. After a quick chat with Chedda we turned it up to 2l, which would make her feel warmer and also give her a little more energy for the descent. I walked on past her. I felt really sorry for Margaret, she was in so much pain and so sick yet, there was nothing I could do, she had to get herself down the mountain as fast as possible.

I soon caught up to Phil, Ian, Mark and Mila and walked slowly down with them for a way in the strong winds. They struggled down slowly, occasionally tripping over, or just sitting down on the rocks through exhaustion. I took several video’s of them to highlight the wind.

Eventually we all made it to the North Col, where we were sheltered from the wind and could sit and relax for the first time in 3 days without our oxygen masks. I sat for one hour here, drank some water and ate almost a whole bag of winegums. They tasted like heaven. I then headed off for ABC, for the last time down the fixed ropes. I felt stronger the lower I got and in no time was back in ABC sipping on hot milk tea. One by one the others rolled in, some looking like they had aged 10 years in three days. Margaret was so sick when she arrived and in so much pain I could hardly bear to look at her. But she is made of tough stuff and even though she could only talk in a whisper she told me a funny story about what happened to her the night before. She also asked me to call her husband Tad to let him know she was all ok.

Back at ABC after the summit – relief

The next day at ABC we rested. We started to hear various reports of deaths coming in. Two people on the North Ridge, a Spanish doctor succumbed to exhaustion, a German climber fell and broke his leg on the second step and died. 4 people from the south side. And an older climber was stuck high up in the deathzone in camp 3 in terrible conditions getting weaker and weaker by the day.

After dinner that night I left the dining tent, picked up my satellite phone and wandered a short distance down the glacier to get some privacy to call Stephanie. I overheard someone talking loudly on another Satellite phone in heavily accented English. “he is stuck at camp 3 and will die if he does not come down. Do you want to pay money US$5,000 – $10,000 for a rescue team to try and reach him tomorrow?” I realised this was the older climber stuck at camp 3’s team mate talking to his family back home.

I called Stephanie who was at home in Singapore. After our usual small talk I told her about the death toll.

“6 people died in the last 2 days”I said.

“what, what happened ?”she said in surprise

“oh they died on the way down from summit, another climber will die tonight, he is trapped at camp 3. I just heard his team mates calling his family to tell them and ask if they want to pay for a rescue mission”

Stephanie remained silent for a long time.

“Do you realise how scared I have been the last few months, dreading the time I would receive a phone call like that about you? Some stranger telling me you were dieing or were dead high up on the mountain? And you stand there and talk about it so calmly, you tell me there is man dieing above your head right now while you stand there like its normal? Its not normal.

Whats wrong with you?

Do you realise how scared I have been waiting here while you are on the mountain last year and this year?

I cant talk to you right now”

Our conversation ended.

“Whats wrong with me? I thought. I knew that I had unlocked a chamber of emotions and fears in Stephanie that she had been trying so hard to keep under control – for many months.

I stood on the glacier in the cold night air holding the phone in my hand. I looked high up on the North Ridge to the position of Camp 3. I thought of the old man lieing in his tent alone. Freezing slowly to a lonely death as he struggled for oxygen with every breath. What an awful way to die.

The sound of celebrations came from another tent where victorious climbers sung in celebration of their successful summit. I thought of the old man’s family, how would they be feeling now, having just received this phone call. I thought of the other climbers who died. The German guy at the base of the second step, the Spanish medical student. How would their families, their brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, wives or girlfriends be feeling hearing the news?

I thought of how Everest seems to bring out the best and worst in humanity. The craziness of what I had seen over the last two years. The ego’s that came to ‘conquer’ the mountain for their bragging rights, stepping over corpses en-route to the summit as if they were mere objects, high altitude theft of equipment, false claims about making the summit, queuing up behind incompetent climbers who could not even climb a ladder and finally standing here listening to people celebrate as a man lies dieing in his tent 1900m above my heads.

Yet at the same time Everest has some amazing stories of inspiration and hope. Heroic, daring rescues of fellow climbers, the warmth, loyalty and bravery of the Sherpa people and the triumph of the human spirit over the adversity of mother nature.

12 years ago, Everest cast her spell on me. Along the way my obsession with the mother of all mountains has changed me. She has given me pain and suffering. She has also given me great joy. Lately the obsession has started to overshadow my sense of compassion, my balance on life and my relationships with the people I love. I will say goodbye to her tomorrow, I know I will miss her intensely in the future, but I should never come back. It’s time to find other mountains in my life.

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