As the season on Everest drew to a close at the end of the May, attention shifts to other great mountains on our beautiful earth.
Climbing season on the highest mountain in North America – Mt McKinley (also known as ‘Denali’ by its local name) is currently in full flow. The standard route is known as the ‘West Buttress’. Attached here is a 3-d fly through I put together from basecamp all the way to the summit. In 2.5 minutes you can follow the route and see the key features and some facts about the climb.
Denali has had over 32,000 climbers attempt it since it was first climbed in 1913 with a success rate of around 50%. Over 80% attempt the West Buttress route shown in this video.
My former teammate from Everest 2013 Mark Horrell is currently attempting the route so do send him some positive thoughts.
I am yearning to get out into the mountains again and am consoling myself with being there through the eyes of Google Earth. Rock on December when my next expedition will unfold – this one truly a world first!
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.
The weather in the Southern Alps this week is very suitable for ducks. However if you are not a duck, then it really is quite miserable. Strong winds, heavy rains interspersed with huge bolts of lightning and booming claps of thunder.
From Monday to Thursday of this week, the forecast has been doom and gloom and it has proved to be accurate. One small glimmer of (sun) light appeared on Monday morning. A short break in the weather with some patches of sunshine was meant to appear, before the rain, wind and thunder storms came back with fury Monday evening and throughout Tuesday and Wednesday.
So we hatched a clever plan. To walk the 12km and 1000m vertical metres up the Hooker Glacier to Gardiner hut on the Monday morning. We would arrive before the bad weather came in Monday afternoon, then hunker down in the shelter and security of Gardiner hut for 2.5 days in the terrible weather waiting for the clearance on Thursday afternoon. By this stage we would have eaten a lot of our food, have lighter packs and be in great position to start the Grand Traverse.
After signing our intention form at DOC (Department of Conservation), we set-off at 10AM Monday morning. One of the DOC staff had told us NOT to use the traditional access route around Hooker lake, which follows the Ball pass route. Instead he suggested we should skirt around the true right hand side of Hooker lake, high up above the bluffs, then drop down onto the Hooker glacier above the ice cliffs at the head of the lake. This added a few more km to the route but the DOC staff assured us it was probably faster than trying to get down the steep moraine wall from the Ball Pass route to the Hooker Glacier.
We started up the Hooker lake track together with tourists wandering up to the Hooker Lake view-point.
Starting off from the White horse campground, the last time I was dry and warm for a long time
The weather was overcast but was not raining at this stage. Once we reached Hooker Lake we veered off high up above the moraine bluffs. We plodded along slowly dodging the ‘Spaniard’ bushes with their sharp thorns which went straight through 3 layers of clothing and into our skins with painful pricks. We traversed higher and higher until we finally reached a huge exposed gut.
Walking up the beautiful Hooker Valley track, with one of the large new swing bridges visible in photo centre.
Alan Silva heading up above the moraine bluffs above the Hooker lake.
Alan taking a photo of me taking a photo of him at the huge gut which blocked our access. We headed down to the lake shore from here.(Photo: Alan Silva)
There did not seem to be a way higher up to get around this, so we started to head down towards the lake. Alan found a slightly shorter but still very steep gully to down climb. It was too steep and loose for my liking, so we traversed back down further until we found an easier scree slide descent down a gully to the lake shore. From here it is an easy plod around the shore to the Hooker Glacier.
Me traversing around the Hooker lake shore, the start of the Hooker glacier evident as the large white ice cliffs in the distant.(Photo: Alan Silva)
It started to rain about the point we reached the huge Hooker glacier covered in moraine rubble. For over 3 hours we slowly plodded up the centre of the glacier. Glacial moraine is a pain in the ass to walk over, and it bought back memories of the plod up the Miracle highway on the East Rongbuk glacier on Mt Everest. With the strong gusts of headwind and the driving rain pelting and stinging the exposed skin on our faces, it was not a hugely enjoyable experience.
Starting the tiring plod over the Hooker glacial moraine. (Photo: Alan Silva)
The moraine runs out at the bottom of the Hooker icefall. Here we put on crampons. We knew the Gardiner Hut was sitting atop a large rock called ‘Pudding Rock’, Alan had been to Gardiner Hut a few times, albeit many years ago when the conditions were different.
I was starting to get very cold and we were both wet through. Our boots squelched with every step, and the only thing that kept my body temperature comfortable was the warmth generated by movement. I was wearing one short sleeve thermal top underneath my shell jacket, and knew I should stop and put on another layer. But in the driving rain having to stop and take things off and put things on whilst getting wetter and colder was not a nice option. My fingers were also starting to get very cold, and I began to lose my dexterity. I could not clip or unclip my water bottle of my pack to have a drink; my fingers just would not work. I had to seek Alan’s assistance to perform this simple task. He seemed to handling the cold better than me.
Looking up the Hooker ice-fall. Pudding Rock with Gardiner hut on top is behind the large rock visible top right of photo in the mist.
Slowly we trudged with our crampons on up the ice fall. We anxiously looked for Pudding Rock over to the true left of the glacier and after a number of false hopes, we finally saw it. In the mist and driving rain we could also just make out the Gardiner Barrel hut perched atop the rock, around 100m above our head. The problem was – how do we get there?
The way involved negotiating the huge crevasses which dominate higher up the ice fall. Gaping cracks you could fit a three-story building into. We zigged and zagged our way through the mess, as if playing a maze, trying in vain to unlock the pathway through to the base of pudding rock. We crossed small snow bridges where we could find them, in other places we walked along the crevasse until it narrowed enough that I could just reach over with a large step. Falling in was not an option. Not for the first time I cursed my short legs as I struggled with the large leaps of faith. I had soon split my knuckles open on the ice as I dug my axe in and blood dripped down the handle into the snow. I knew we were breaking every rule in the book by not roping up for glacial travel on this ground, however by this stage I was shaking uncontrollably and knew there was no way with my frozen fingers that I could coil the ropes, tie the knots in the rope and set up my system. We needed to reach the hut and get shelter from the wind and the rain.
Dead-end after dead-end dashed our spirits. The cold was draining us both and we got slower and slower. I did not know at the time but Alan was also feeling sick. Finally around 7:30PM, Alan stopped. “What do you wanna do Grant? We can’t seem to find a way through these crevasses”. “I think we should snow hole Al, I am seriously cold and need to get some shelter from the wind and the rain to get warm again, the only other option is to walk all the way out again”. Walking all the way out, another 6 – 7 hours in our tired state, in the dark, the wind and the rain was not an attractive option.
We started searching for a spot for a snow cave and came across a small depression in the glacier with a small crevasse, which was almost cave shaped. The only problem was the base of the tiny cave, had large hole which disappeared down how far I could not tell. It did not look very good so we started digging into the side of an ice bank higher up. After a few minutes of this, with my axe bouncing off the hard ice we gave this up and turned our attentions back to the cave. We took turns at hacking the ice until finally we created an opening big enough I could jump into the cave. I then spent a furious 15 minutes hacking and shattering the ice, scraping out a flat floor area as much as possible. I was glad of the workout as it warmed by body and hands back up to a comfortable temperature. This time it was Alan who suffered as he had to wait motionless outside while I worked inside. He got very cold and I heard him throw up in the snow outside as he waited. Finally I had the cave just big enough for him to get down into. He was very cold and shaking by the time he got in.
As quickly as I could, I stripped off my wet layers inside the cramped cave, and put on dry thermal top and down jacket. Alan has lost the dexterity in his fingers so I helped him out of his wet gear and into some dry clothes. He was not looking in a good way and I was not sure what was wrong. He leaned over and had another large vomit then dived into his sleeping bag, got in his bivvy bag and lay down while I got the stove going.
The snow cave. A welcome if not wet escape from some rough weather for the night.
The snow cave was remarkably sheltered inside from the wind and the rain; it was in a bank to the lee side of the wind. The only problem’s was it was a little small and it was wet. Water dripped off the roof constantly and it was hard keeping anything dry at all. I got the MSR stove going and melted ice to make a brew each. “Brew’s ready Al” I called and a hand shot out of his bivvy sack, grabbed the brew and retreated. Some hot liquid did both of us the world of good. I then cooked some two-minute noodles which were awful and neither of us could eat them. Finally I filled up both our Nalgene bottles with hot water and then it was my turn to dive into my sleeping bag and bivvy bag. I tried briefly to get reception on the Satellite phone, but that meant hanging outside the cave in the wind and rain getting wet and cold and soon gave up. I knew Stephanie would be worried but there was not much I could do.
I took this small video inside the snow cave.
‘What a way to spend New Year’s Eve 2012’ I thought to myself with a grin as I lay in my bivvy sack. By now Alan perked up enough to tell me a few jokes. “I think I preferred you more when you were cold!” I told him.
We both dozed off and on throughout the night. “Ahh fuck” Alan exclaimed after a few hours. “Water is pouring into my bag”. It seems his bivvy bag was not sealed well and the water was leaking in, further wetting his sleeping bag. I rolled over on my side and managed to stay at least comfortably warm throughout the night. I could feel Alan shivering in an attempt to keep warm.
Around 7AM, the weather outside was still blowing and wet. There was only one option, and that was to head out. The cave was so wet that spending more time there would be very tough. We were both using down sleeping bags and jackets which need to be dry to keep you warm. Sitting in the cave with the water pouring off the roof made it impossible to keep dry for any length of time. Plus the fact we knew the weather for the next two days was terrible. Breakfast was also not an option.
Getting out of your sleeping bag in a wet snow cave and getting ready to leave into the pouring rain is quite a pleasure less experience. However the thought of being in back in shelter and warmth that evening was a powerful motivating force.
A cold and wet Alan Silva coils the rope as we prepare to leave in the morning.
For 7 ½ hours we trudged back down towards Mt Cook Village. Down the ice fall, stumbling across the moraine in huge gusts of wind and driving rain until we reached the Hooker Lake. We were not keen on having to climb the steep scree slopes here to get around the bluffs above the lake. Alan led us around the shore of the lake instead. This was hard going, I had twisted my knee coming across the moraine and it was giving me hell scrambling around the rocks on the lake. But it was still much faster than trying to go up higher above the bluffs. We were being careful to watch for rock fall as the rain and wind was dislodging loose rocks higher up which came crashing down into the lake.
Alan Silva scrambling around the Hooke lake shore. This took 1.5 hours and was tough work but faster than trying to traverse up higher up the steep moraine.
Finally we made it back to the Whitehorse campground. Not a moment too soon as we met a DOC worker who was closing the road access out of the campground as the river crossing was getting to high for vehicles. We managed to get through and 10 minutes later were back in the Unwin Lodge, warming up, drying out and looking forward to beer and some food.
The Hooker Lake track was more of a river on the way out than a track. We did not care as were completely wet anyway.
So, in terms of our attempt on the GT, a complete washout! However apart from a lot of wet gear, numb fingers, bruised knuckles and a sore knee there is no adverse side effects. To be able to hold things together when things get bad, in those kinds of weather conditions is a huge confidence booster. Overall I have to say it was a fantastic adventure. Or as Alan would put it ‘character building’.
We are now hunkering down in Unwin Lodge in Mt Cook Village, waiting to see if there will be a weather clearance for one last attempt at a climb on Thursday or Friday. We have run out of time for the Grand Traverse now, but may be able to attempt a slightly shorter route. Maybe Mt Tasman – New Zealand’s second highest mountain is an option. We have tentatively booked a helicopter flight to Plateau Hut tomorrow if the weather has cleared to attempt the route early Friday morning if conditions allow.
I am currently sitting the Hermitage Hotel beside a roaring log fire writing this appreciating the basic things in life like being warm, dry and fed.
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.
Greetings from basecamp on the North side of Everest once again. Thank you for the comments from so many people over the last few days. It’s very nice to get the messages of support and they mean a lot and give a lot of positive energy. Really important on these long expeditions.
Together with the rest of our team I just returned two days ago from a 4 day acclimatisation cycle, back up to the North Col at 7050m elevation.
My mother always used to tell me never to go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. It will lead to me making bad decisions. Well I have decided never to make decisions about my high altitude climbing future whilst on an acclimatisation cycle. It could also lead to me making bad decisions.
It was an uneventful, and successful acclimatisation cycle. However it was tiring and quite miserable with some long days and nights with the inevitable sleeplessness, cold and general lack of energy that high altitude brings.
We made the push from basecamp upto ABC in one long day, skipping the Interim Camp. This is a height gain of 1200m from 5200m to 6400m at ABC, and covers around 17 horizontal km. A morning’s training exercise at sea-level in Singapore, but here at altitude it takes on a different dimension. I set-off at 7:45AM with the single intent of making it to ABC that day without being too exhausted. 7.5 hours later I pulled into ABC quite happy to arrive and still in control of the situation. Mission accomplished.
The whole aim of my movement on the lower slopes of Everest while acclimatising is to arrive at my destination in control. I pay little attention to the time it takes me to get there. I prefer to walk or climb alone if possible as I can travel completely at my own pace. If I can arrive 5,6 or 10 hours later and still be taking photo’s/video’s, looking at the scenery and sitting down on arrival to drink tea and chat, I know I am in control. If I arrive and havn’t taken a photo for the last 3 hours, can hardly talk and head straight for the tent then I am not in control, and am overextended. The problem with getting overextended in climbing is that it becomes easy to make mistakes. You stop putting on sunblock when you need to, don’t clip the rope properly, don’t watch your feet and trip on your crampons, stop drinking, all small things but can escalate into big problems later on.
I thought I was guaranteed a good sleep that night at ABC after a long day of physical toil. Instead I spent all night, lying in my sleeping bag staring at the tent fabric in minus 20 degrees C. Watching the minutes count down on my watch until sunrise. Sunrise on the mountain is a magical time. When the suns rays hit the the tent for the first time in many hours and the feeling of warmth slowly starts creeping through your veins.
We had a rest day to recover from the walk-up. Above 6000m facial edema becomes common. People’s face start to swell with fluid during the night. People really look like crap over breakfast. Margaret summed up the mood we all felt: I don’t feel like sleeping, I don’t feel like eating, I don’t feel like reading my book, I don’t feel like going for a walk, I don’t feel like doing anything. That’s high altitude lethargy.
I spent most of the day lying in my tent reading Annapurna South Face, by Chris Bonington. I had one main aim during the day. Not to pee into my drinking bottle. My drinking bottle and my pee bottle are similar colors. I need to have them both inside my sleeping bags at all times so they don’t freeze. Its very easy to pull the wrong one out at the wrong time for the wrong use. By 4pm I had successfully pee’d into my drinking bottle. At least I did not drink it I guess. On Aconcagua in 2005 I drank my climbing partners pee. She had pee’d in the cooking pot during the night during a storm and forgot to empty it or tell me in the morning. I boiled it up with a teabag. Earl Grey. It didn’t taste to bad.
That night I had another night of staring at the tent fabric. I occasionally dosed off to some very vivid dreams of being stuck in a tent battling up the south face of Annapurna whilst drinking my climbing partners pee. I maybe got 2 hours of sleep.
Daylight could not come around fast enough. And what a day it was. Light snow on the ground, not a breath of wind. Perfect for climbing to the North Col. I was feeling very lethargic after two nights of bad sleep. The problem was not so much the lack of sleep, but not being able to recover from the walk up BC to ABC. I resolved myself to a long day of physical and mental torture putting one foot in front of the other.
Five and a half hours later I pulled out onto the North Col. Physically it was tough. If I listened to my physical being I would have given up at the bottom of the fixed ropes. So mentally I shut off and thought about other things. It was definitely easier climbing up in better weather than it had been the week before. On the Col I sat on the snow beside Phil and Andrew Locke as the rest of the team made their way slowly up to join us. A few photo’s and a couple of Satellite phone calls to the Stephanie and David Lim and it was time to go back down the ropes.
Attached is a short YOUTUBE video of the climbing up the North Col.
The next day after a 6 hour walk I was back in basecamp at 3pm, just in time for happy hour. One bottle of Lhasa beer later I was high as a kite and ready for bed. I am a cheap date at the moment. What a joy to be back in basecamp. A hot shower, clean clothes, but most importantly the luxury of being able to lie down and go to sleep the entire night (well at least until 5am when I usually get up).
One of the first things I also did when I returned was to call my sister Debra, in New Zealand. For those of you who are new to reading this blog, Debra was very nearly killed in February in a car accident in New Zealand(read more here). She has finally left hospital, but not the hospital bed, which has been moved back to her house and she is recuperating there. I havn’t managed to speak to Debra for over two weeks, so it was great to hear her voice. She sounds much stronger and more positive than when I last spoke. She currently spends 4 hours per day doing rehab exercises on her smashed legs. The discomfort I am going through on this mountain is nothing compared to what she is going through and just talking with her as usual gave me strength.
So the situation is now. I am fully acclimatised to climb to the summit of the world. Now it becomes a waiting game. Waiting for:
The rope fixing team to fix the ropes on the mountain(today I think/hope they will reach 8300m)
Our Sherpa team to deliver oxygen and other equipment to the high camps on the mountain
Our Sherpa team to return to BC here and rest and recover from their effort (These guys are supermen at altitude, seriously)
A weather window where the wind drops down to less than 30mph for a few days so we can sneak up to the summit and down without getting turned into icicles or blown off the mountain completely.
This season on Everest is turning to be a real event, especially on the south side where rockfall and other issues have sent some major teams home early. For more info on this please read Alan Arnette’s excellent daily updates on his site: http://www.alanarnette.com/
UPDATE on NORTHSIDE numbers.
A Polish team has turned up here on the North Side. I have updated the post I made on total number of climbers from the North Side. Click here to check it out.
Enjoy the below photo’s.
axe and margaret on north col small
john foord north col small
view of everest out the comms tent window small
mark horrel coming up to ncol small
mila and mark climbing the north col paint
axe and albanian team leader george small
mark dickson on the walk up to advanced basecamp small
mila climbing north col small
axe on the north col small
margaret ands chedda up ncol small
axe writing blog in comms tent with everest view small
dorje sherpa and chedda sherpa chilling out at abc small
Attached below is a 2 minute video of the wind on Everest yesterday and our Puja ceremony. The Puja went very well and was enjoyed immensely by the whole team. It is very important, especially for the Sherpa’s, that the ceremony goes smoothly and fun is had by all. As you will tell from the end of this video, I definitely enjoyed myself. Shortly after standing on my head and drinking glasses of Rakshi (rice wine), I retired to my tent for a very long sleep. Approximately 15 hours. Enough said.
A short update from the North side rope fixing team, who have fixed ropes upto 7700m (Camp 2). It looks like the jet stream will be pounding the mountain for the next three days however. We plan to leave Saturday 21st for our first acclimatization cycle up the mountain.
We we have safely arrived here at Everest basecamp, 5200m elevation on the tongue of the mighty Rongbuk glacier. It is windy as usual and the summit of Everest is covered in cloud and looking exceptionally windy. We have had a busy day setting up tents and organising the camp, but it has come together very nicely and I am very inmpressed with the organisation of the Altitude Junkies team.
Attached is a short video post, 60 seconds only but it gives you an idea of where we are. I am a little hazy in the thinking department as it was a jump from 4400m upto 5200m today. Hence I mistakenly mentioned the date was 24th April instead of 14th April in my post!
Click the following link to watch the video on YOUTUBE.
Attached is a short video clip of our Sherpa team setting up the Puja ceremony this morning, and also the basecamp site itself and the view of Everest.
The Puja is a very important ceremony which is run by our Sherpa team, and is to ask permission and blessing from the mountain spirits for our climb. We each bring our crampons and ice axes and these are blessed as well.
I spent the rest of the day packing gear for the yak team which will arrive tomorrow night to carry our gear the 21km and nearly 1000+ vertical metres to advanced basecamp, sewing sponsors logos onto my climbing suit and also taking short walks around the area.
Yesterday I visited George Mallory’s memorial and found it incredibly moving, especially when I turn and look high up on the mountain and know his body still lies up there.
At the site of Mallory and Irvine's memorial
Tomorrow will be an acclimatisation walk to the Rongbuk Monastary. It’s very windy here, and around 2 degrees at basecamp so I am permanently wearing my down jacket,pants and UGG boots!
Hello from Tingri, backside of Tibet! I don’t mean to sound too negative about the last few days stay at the Tibetan towns of Zhangu, Nyalam and now Tingri, however there is not too many positive things to say about them either! The standards have been declining town by town, and it would be hard to imagine things to be much more rough than what we are staying at in Tingri. Luckily the scenery more than makes up for it the squalidness and filth.
It was a spectacular drive here over the 5100m Thong La (pass), where we stopped for some amazing views of the worlds 14th highest mountain – Shisha Pangma (as seen above my head in the photo below.)
5100m on the Thong La pass with Shisha Pangma over my right shoulder – worlds 14th highest mountain (8024m)
Arriving at Tingri, was like driving into a scene from the wild west. We stay in a part of the town along the main road, which is lined with single story mud buildings. We stay in a ‘new hotel’ which even has sit-down toilets and electric lights. Only problem is there is no running water(not even cold) and no electricity! So the only thing that works in the little bathroom is the mirror!
The main drag of Tingri
The town itself is absolutely full of wild dogs, dogs everywhere which are quite scary and we always carry stones and sticks and walk in groups as they regularly attack people. The people are filthy and crap and pee in the dust in front of their homes(as I have witnessed a number of times), which along with the dog faeces, dries out and then blows everywhere as you walk around the town. Hence I wear a facemask. Ladies, men and children are constantly coming up and asking for money. The food is crap and I am just hoping I won’t catch some bug here before we leave for basecamp tomorrow. It really makes Kathmandu seem like paradise!
Every cloud has a silver lining and we have our first views of Everest from here – still 80+km away in the distance from Tingri – attached is a video showing the panorama.
I have been sharing my room for the last few nights with fellow kiwi Jim Morrow. Jim is as down to earth and as solid as they come, at 60 years old this is his 4th trip to the Himalaya, and has 40 years of rugged New Zealand tramping, alpine travel and climbing under his belt. Jim epitomizes the typical kiwi bloke, tough, uncomplaining, fit and completely humble of his achievements. (Quite a rarity in today’s species!) We have quickly settled in as room mates and he will be good to have on the mountain when things start getting tougher.
With Jim Morrow on the Thong La
It will be the last nights sleep in a bed tonight for 50+ nights. Our elevation gain is 800m tomorrow, from 4300m here at Tingri to 5100m at Everest basecamp. This is a rapid ascent and almost three times the recommended normal daily rate of ascent of 300m/day, so am expecting to have some headaches and feel rough tomorrow night and for the following day or two.
Thanks to people for the comments and messages of support, it really means a lot and is a tremendous boost to morale. So to Mika from Singapore, Darren from UFIT, the father and mother of that little sh%t Kevan Mitchell!, Xray Lloyd in Australia, Josh in Norway, Kevin from Sri Trang in USA,Max Gough in Wellington and Michelle Wan in Singapore thanks very much!
We are about leave Nyalam this morning on a 4 hour drive further up the valley to the town of Tingri at 4300m. Yesterday we did an acclimatisation walk upto 4300, I felt good on the walk but got back down with a slight headache and spent the afternoon taking it very easy. Feeling great this morning after a good sleep last night.
Attached is a link to a short 1min and 40 sec video I shot yesterday of leader Jamie McGuiness explaining the significance of prayer flags from on our walk. This is the first time I am experimenting uploading video. I can’t access youtube from China(they block the site as with many other sites including facebook) so I have to compress the video to a smaller size as possible so that I can email it to Stephanie who uploads it to you YOUTUBE in Singapore then sends me back the link.
If you like the video and want to see more, or have some comments about it, please do let me know (leave a comment on the bottom of this page or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will start to upload more short video segments along the way if you people like it!