There is a distinct difference between going first and last on Everest. First opens the route, takes the chances, explores the unknowns. Last, leverages the route, risk the fickle weather and explores the unknowns. Either way, they deserve our respect.
The last wave of summit climbers are making their way to the higher camps on Everest on both sides. On the South they are sleeping at Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face but this time with supplemental oxygen, a similar story on the North at ABC.
Their leaders and home teams are glued to the weather forecasts assuming the predicted solid window holds true for another few days. And, I can say this with confidence, everyone wants this season of Everest to end soon and safely.
With the climber death toll now at 10 on both sides, it has been season of historic events. A huge team calling it quits, unprecedented rockfall, too many high altitude helicopter rescues to count and too many deaths that could have been avoided.
And yet it will happen again next year with even more fervent. History shows that after a difficult Everest year, 1996, 2006, that more people come to mountain than ever. Boredom to adventure, awareness of the challenge, awakened dreams, bugs to light?
The Joy of Climbing
Today, many people are asking the same question asked of George Mallory in 1924, “Why”. This video by Kenton Cool recorded yesterday at Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face shows the satisfaction, excitement and reward of climbing. His enthusiasm is real, it is child like and reveals the answer:
He is now at the South Col, ahead of the main crowds in order to make a film. He is carrying an Olympic Medal to the summit. He reports high winds but they are forecasted to drop starting May 25.
All the other teams are reporting in mostly from Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face with a few hanging back at Camp 2. A similar scenario on the North but we get less information from that side. By the way, the north side has experienced severe satellite communication problems this year mostly with their Bgan units thus the lack of regular news.
To the Summit
The reaction to my “Above the Death Zone” description was overwhelming and left many wondering what the actual summit experience was like so once again using my own personal experience of last year:
The Final Steps
Leaving the Hillary Step, you now know what you know – you are going to summit Mount Everest. As that thought sinks in, goose bumps appear on your down covered arms, not from the cold but in anticipation of those last five steps.
All the thoughts of oxygen, bad food, stinky teammates, endless hours on a stair-master with a pack and stares from people – well, wondering; it has all come down to this.
But you cannot let your mind loose focus so you look at your feet, avoiding a deadly tangle of crampons and rope. The route moves steady higher but at a manageable angle; finally. There are several smaller rock formations you cover, some small rock caves or holes sitting to your right. You know that is a fool’s trap because the transparent cornice is just a few feet away, a trap door to death.
It takes longer than you thought. The “brochure” said it was a short walk, you joke with yourself, a sign that your anxiety is easing; but now it feels long; and then …
You crest a small rise and see a long slope ahead, and prayer flags and people and nothing else. A sudden burst of energy, A sudden wave of emotion. A sudden feeling of –
Of all things, a snow bench has been carved out a foot or so below the summit. It is crowded with people, more well behind. The wind is blowing the prayer flags like a wind sock at an airport. But the only airplanes are flying below you right now as your feet come to a halt.
Feet shoulder width, arms limp by your side, your hear your breathing pause and then slow. Your body relaxes as you scan the horizon – the sunrise to the East casts a glow like you have never seen over eastern Nepal, to the South you look down on the tops of Lhotse, oh there is Makalu looking huge, independent, proud, off in the distance. Ama Dablam, which dominated the trek in is lost in the Himalayas. Off to the west is Cho Oyo, your landmark at Camp 3. You know there might be someone on that summit using the view of Everest as proof of their summit right now.
And the shadow. A smile finally emerges on your face, starting with a small twitch on the left side. The shadow of Everest casts upon the the Himalaya. Confirmation you are standing in a place few have stood over the eons of time.
Your Sherpa calls out your name again, you make eye contact and then hug one another, no you hold one another so tight that it hurts so good. Your Sherpa has been here before but his grin is now as big as yours. Don’t tell me this is just a job for them.
Sitting on the snow bench, you pull out your satellite phone, call home – a private conversation that puts it all in perspective. You’ve done it, it’s time to go home.
The View from the Top of the World
I didn’t know that Panaru Sherpa who climbed with Karim Mella, the first Dominican to summit Everest was taking a video the day I summited with Kami Sherpa of International Mountain Guides (IMG). This video is at 5:00AM on May 21, 2011. The audio at 56 seconds in the video is my dispatch from the summit to this website dedicating the summit to all mom’s with Alzheimer’s. My mom, Ida, and two of my aunts, died from Alzheimer’s.
This is why I do what I do today …
Update: death toll reduced to 10
69 year old Italian Luigi Rampini, climbing on a Monterosa permit and logistics, spent 4 nights at 8300 meters without oxygen. He refused to descend a few days ago but was rescued per this report He was attempting the summit.
Memories are Everything