I summited Everest on May 21, 2011 and have climbed it three other times (all from Nepal) - 2002, 2003 and 2008 each time reaching just below the Balcony at about 27,500' (8400 meters) before health, weather or my own judgment caused me to turn back. I attempted Lhotse twice - 2015 and 2016. When not climbing, I cover the Everest season from my home in Colorado as I did for the 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 , 2017, 2018 and now the 2019 season.
This page has my real-time dispatches from my first
climb in 2002 on the South Col route. Using a satellite
telephone from Everest Base Camp, 17,500', I sent photos
and e-mails to Cathy every few days. She took the updates
and posted them on this page.
|I climbed Everest in
May 2002 from the South Col route with the New Zealand Adventure
Consultants expedition. There were seven climbers: four from
America, two from Australia and one from Iceland. It was an
honor to be with John Taske, Australian, who was on the ill-fated
'96 expedition and Haraldur Olafsson, Icelander, who had been
to both Poles plus six of the seven summits in the previous
10 months! We had several people who trekked with us to base
camp. It was on a similar trek in 1997 that I saw Everest for
the first time.
It was nice to climb with David Hiddleston, New Zealand, and
Phu Tashi (Pangboche) who were with me on Ama Dablam. Bill
was the lead Guide and Guy Cotter drove the expedition from
base camp. Our expedition doctors were Dr Liesel Geertsema & Dr
Celeste Geertsema (thanks for all you both did for me!)
These dispatches include our puja, my first
trip up the icefall, falling into a crevasse,
first time in the Western CWM, climbing
the Lhotse Face, and, of course, summit
night. I was not sponsored on the climb and these pages
are for the enjoyment of all Everest fans worldwide!
|South Col Route
Lukla, Tuesday 21 May - Alan Arnette
Did You Summit?
No. I reached about 27,200 feet (8250m) just under the Balcony.
So close, yet so -- cough, cough, cough
As previously reported by Cathy, I caught a lung infection that dramatically
reduced my ability to transfer the little oxygen available from my
lungs to my muscles. There is a short
story on my summit day but the very short story is: We left the
South Col about 10:30PM, May 15. I was out about three hours when
I started to cough. My cough was continuous and extreme. At the end
of each episode, I felt as if I wanted to vomit and I in fact dry
heaved and gagged at the end of each coughing session. I know this
is distasteful, but it was what happened. I continued this way for
about an hour. With a Sherpa behind me, I never felt in jeopardy.
I did know, however, that my summit bid was at serious risk. Moving
slowly, I was the last person of the AC team on the Hill. I drank
some water and took some concentrated carbohydrates to see if it
would revive me. I rested. But it was not to be. I thought deeply
and carefully about turning around. My decision was based primarily
on not getting better and considered my ability to safely descend
after gaining more altitude.
And the team.
I am very happy that Haraldur Olafsson from Iceland competed his
Grand Slam (7 summits plus North and South Poles) on this expedition.
It is a great accomplishment for the 30 year-old. The Guides - Bill
and Dave, Ellen Miller and Sherpas -Anj Dorje, Lhakpa Dorje and Pasang
Feelings, nothing more than...
Mixed. Extremely disappointed and good at the same
time that I accomplished my goal of doing my best that night, testing
my limits and learning about myself. I felt great leaving BC after
the 5 days of rest. While I had a cough (I always do in the Himalayas),
it did not seem serious. My health started to deteriorate on the
way up to Camp 2. Even then, Dave commented on my condition. The
climb to C3 was good but to C4 was very difficult for me. I felt
very tired and weak. I knew something was wrong but hoped that it
was just fatigue and with some food, water and rest that I would
be ready for the summit push.
The three day trek from base camp to Lukla provided me with ample
opportunity to feel sorry for myself, blame everything and everybody
and finally get a handle on how I really felt. It wasn't until fifteen
minutes outside Lukla that it all came together. I was stopped by
two young schoolgirls going home to point out a person climbing a
big boulder. They were dressed in school uniforms. I looked at the
climber and asked them their names. They laughed so easily and had
pure and genuine smiles. We talked for about ten minutes and they
were off to their homes. It reminded me of the optimism of life.
The innocence of youth. New life brings new hope. I came down from
the slopes of Everest with all my fingers and all my toes and my
future. I am returning to my family with newfound knowledge about
myself. The Hill will always be there.
It has been quite a journey for me! Needless to say, I am disappointed
that I did not summit. AND (not but) I am very happy to return to
my family will all my fingers, toes and nose in tact! Climbing Everest
was the hardest mountain experience of my life. While not as 'technical'
as my previous summits such as Ama Dablam, the altitude, variety
of climbing (ice, snow, etc) and length of time all combine to test
I am just beginning to recover from the experience but I have a few
thoughts about what it meant to me (and Cathy).
I was pleased that at
the moment of truth that May 15 night I was able to maintain a balanced
perspective and make a difficult decision that ultimately resulted
in my safety. That night, I felt like a car that had just run out
of gas. You can push on the accelerator all you want but it simply
will not go. It was hard. It hurt. It still does. I was thinking
clearly but the body just would not go any further. Each step brought
less energy and more frustration. While I knew something was wrong,
I did not fully understand the extent of the lung infection. All
I knew was that my mind said go but my body said stop. It hurt. But
at that moment, I considered what was really happening and the consequences
of going on. And then just like someone turning on the lights in
a dark room, I said to myself "This is nonsense." And accepted the
fact that I would not go any further. I told my Sherpa I was going
down. At that moment, it was the right thing to do. As a good Friend
once told me, "Once you know the right thing to do, do it." While
it still hurts now, I have no regrets.
After falling in the crevasse, I was forced to face potential death
in a way I have never done so before. While many people face dangerous
situations everyday, this was so 'in your face' that when I finally
reached the safety of Camp 2, I sat on my pack and started to cry.
It was real and it was scary. But, I was committed to climbing this
hill and I was determined to learn from this close call and move
on. I think I will always use this stark and vivid experience as
a reminder that life is precious and not to waste any moment. The
next time I get caught up in the trivia of everyday life, I will
- hopefully - smile to myself and try and make the day worthwhile.
'Cause, just like that - whoosh - you can be gone.
Finally, the whole experience has been very fulfilling for Cathy
and me. She is my partner. We share complete trust and honesty. This
time apart never tested these concepts but rather re-enforced them.
I am very lucky. I had no idea that our web site would serve as such
a strong link between us during the expedition. Each week the number
of hits doubled until we reached 140,000 on summit week! Working
together on the pictures and dispatches kept us in constant communication
on a common goal. It was fun.
I think all this boils down to a few words or phrases:
- do the right thing, even if it hurts
- commit to your goal and make your efforts count
- trust your partner and keep open and honest communication, especially
when times get tough.
Thank you for your support. As I made my climb that dark May 15 night,
I thought about your encouraging e-mails. It provided me motivation
and energy. Thanks. Also, your support for Cathy during my expedition
was extraordinary and sincerely appreciated. Thanks. We feel like
we have created a bond with so many of you. If you have any questions
or comments, please let us know. I will be posting additional short
stories as well as many of the 1,000 photos I took. So, please check
our site over the next month. Thanks again. I am off to bed!
Namaste, Cathy and Alan .
May 10:00 a.m. MDST - Cathy Arnette
After sleeping well the first night back at base camp, Alan decided
to start the long trek back to Lukla that next afternoon. He will
be traveling with Haraldur and his group, so he will be with good
company. It will take them approximately three days walking to reach
Lukla with overnight stops in Periche and Namche. Once in Lukla,
they will wait for good weather to take the flight to Kathmandu.
Hopefully, once they arrive in Kathmandu, I will be able to communicate
with Alan again. Unfortunately, once he left base camp, there is
no communication along the trail until Kathmandu. When I last spoke
to Alan right before he departed BC last Saturday he still sounded
very sick, coughing hard and breathing heavily, but was anxious to
start his travels home. As soon as I next hear from Alan, perhaps
sometime tomorrow, I will post another update. He is scheduled to
arrive in Denver this Friday at 2:30 p.m. I will be there with tears
of joy in my eyes and a spirit filled with pride for what my husband
May 10:00 a.m. MDST Alan at base camp - Cathy
I just spoke to Alan and he has safely returned to base camp. Dr.
Celeste did a preliminary exam and determined that Alan has a severe
chest infection and is very dehydrated. He was going immediately
to the medical tent where he would receive an IV for fluids with
antibiotics. There, the doctor will do a more thorough exam. Fortunately,
she did not detect any fluid on Alan's lungs. He said that the trip
back to base camp was very difficult in his condition. He was able
to make it with the help of the guides, Bill and Dave, and the Sherpas.
He said that he started to feel sick while climbing between camps
3 and 4. I cannot imagine what it would be like to feel as if you
are getting the flu and be at 26,000'. He was about 2 hours out on
summit day when he started to cough so violently that he went into
convulsions. That was the signal to turn around. Hopefully, after
a good sleep, Alan will start to recuperate and start thinking about
0940 hours Nepal time - Suze Kelly, Adventure Consultants
All team members are coming down to base camp today and are expected
to arrive tonight. Bill, Dave, Ellen and Haraldur left from the col
at 9.00am and are already at Camp 3. Rob and Tom have left from Camp
2 to descend to base camp and Alan is already at Camp 2 after descending
with Phurba. Alan is going to wait for Dave and Bill & co. to
arrive and will then descend with them. Today Bill reported 50-60
knots on the col, although it's calm and warm in base camp. No-one
is going up to the summit from this side. The weather forecast looks
not-so-good so maybe yesterday was THE day! The Ministry of Tourism
reported 54 people on top from 8 teams yesterday, a record day. Russell
Brice reported about 12-14 from the North side and 30 were expected
to go today from that side. Bill and Dave reported that they were
all feeling quite dehydrated since it was warm for an Everest summit
day. The Adventure Consultants expedition base camp crew are planning
a big party this evening and then people will start leaving base
camp from tomorrow. The yaks and equipment loads will not leave from
base camp until May 22, as it takes a few days to clean all the camps
from the mountain and get everything packed. In New Zealand the media
have celebrated the Adventure Consultants climbers' ascent of Mt
Everest in various papers, on the radio and on TV.
830 MDST Update on Alan's condition - Cathy
I received a satellite call this morning at 3:00 a.m. from Celeste,
the expedition doctor, regarding Alan's condition. She advised me
that he had safely made it to Camp 3 and would be spending the night
there. She believes he is recovering but is still sick and very tired.
It would be safer for Alan to descend to Camp 2 as Camp 3 is a dangerous
place to stay, but it looks like he was only able to go so far. I
am hopeful that he will be able to reach base camp by Saturday so
the doctor can have a look at him. I have not been able to speak
to Alan myself so I am not sure what happened on summit day. He did
call me after he arrived at Camp 4 and said he was already beginning
to feel sick. Unfortunately, the climbers only rest at C4 for a few
hours before they start the summit bid. Since C4 is in the "Death
Zone" your body never recovers, it only continues to deteriorate.
We both talked about it and I supported him continuing on to give
it his best shot. He sounded like he was still thinking clearly so
I trusted him to make the right decision when the time came. It is
then that you feel like someone has punched you in the stomach and
you try to make your voice sound very calm. You hope you have helped
your partner to make the right decision. I knew he would still try
to start for the summit no matter how he felt to see how far he could
get...that is the essence of Alan. He made the right decision...he
turned his back on his dream but only for a moment...to live another
day to continue that dream...Cathy
I will continue to post updates on Alan's condition as he makes
his way back to base camp. Hopefully, if he feels up to it, he will
send along a dispatch when he returns to BC.
The Chinese say..."May you live in interesting times"...indeed what
a time this has been for all of us. I would like to take a moment
to thank all of you for your continued support of Alan, Ashley and
myself. We received hundreds of e-mails from all over the world.
Alan was so pleased to be receiving your best wishes and words of
encouragement at base camp. He commented to me several times that
he looked forward to each morning when the e-mails would arrive.
It has been a pleasure for me to correspond with all of you. Thank
you for visiting our website and sharing all of our experiences with
1630 hours Nepal time - Adventure Consultants
The latest report from base camp advises the following status of
the Adventure Consultants expedition teams' progress off the mountain.
The summit team have arrived back at Camp 4. Alan and Phurba are
staying at Camp 3 overnight. Tom and Rob are moving to Camp 2. All
members will take a well deserved rest, and may all be able to descend
to base camp by tomorrow night.
1050 hours Nepal time - Guy Cotter, Adventure Consultants
Dave, Bill, Haraldur, Lhakpa Dorje and Pasang have reached the summit
of Mount Everest, and have joined Ellen and Ang Dorjee. Dave said
that the ascent has gone well and the weather conditions are still
good. For Haraldur, this summit success makes him the 3rd person
in the world to achieve the Grand Slam! He has now climbed all of
the Seven Summits and has journeyed on foot to both the North and
South Poles. A notable accomplishment and admirable effort. Dave
is the 15th New Zealander to summit Everest ( 23 ascents by New Zealanders
overall ), and this is Bill and Pasang's second Everest summit. Our
congratulations go out to all! We will update the progress of the
entire team on their descent to South Col, and lower camps. Reported
by Guy Cotter via satellite phone from Everest BC.
| SUMMIT BID
Thursday 16 May: 1010 hours Nepal time - Guy
Ellen Miller has reached the summit of Everest with Ang Dorjee Sherpa.
Ellen is the first North American woman to summit Everest from the
North side (2001) and the South side. Congratulations Ellen and on
your achievement! This marks Ang Dorjee's 8th successful Everest
summit... an outstanding effort and a job well done! Dave, Bill,
Haraldur, Lhakpa Dorje and Pasang are at the top of the Hillary Step
and are expected to summit in 20 minutes.
0930 hours Nepal time - Guy
Everest BC. Update by phone. Dave has radioed BC to say that the
team is now at the Hillary Step making them on target for a summit
around 1000 hrs (Nepal time). All members are going well under ideal
weather conditions. Whilst there are a reasonable number of climbers
attempting the summit today, there appears to be a good flow and
level of coordination between the teams. Standing by for the call
from On Top of the World! Guy Cotter
0830 hours Nepal time - Guy
Everest BC. Update by phone. The team have just left from the South
Summit and are heading towards the Hillary Step, which has already
had fixed ropes put in place. The weather is still calm and clear.
Alan, Rob and Tom are preparing to leave from South Col with Phu
Tashi in about one hour to descend to Camp 2.
0745 hours Nepal time - Guy
Everest BC. Email report from Guy Cotter; Just spoke to Ang Dorjee
and Dave Hiddleston at South Summit. They have arrived along with
Bill, Ellen and Haraldur and Sherpas Ang Pasang and Lhakpa Dorje.
The team left the South Col at 2215 during the night in clear and
cold conditions. During the night Alan, Rob and Tom turned around
and returned to the South Col. They put in their best effort but
made the decision to turn around based on how they were feeling.
Whilst we are disappointed for them that they did not summit after
all the work they put in we respect their decision to turn around
whilst they had some in reserve and did not wait until they were
too spent too descend. Whilst the weather could not be better, the
snow conditions found on the SE ridge above the balcony consisted
of deep snow. This part of the climb took some time to make a trail
and fix ropes. However, the efforts of Ang Dorjee, Chulden and 4
Sherpas from other teams yesterday made the summit attempt possible
They left at 0500 yesterday morning to make a trail in the deep snow
and fix ropes on the route above South Col to the balcony region.
Ang Dorjee reported waist deep snow. It is again a credit to these
Sherpas that they can work so hard at extremely high altitudes several
days in a row. Ang Dorjee is heading towards his 8th Everest summit!
There are many people up on South Summit and the weather is perfectly
fine with no wind and all the members are feeling fine with plenty
of oxygen reserves for the rest of the day. Just now some climbers
and Sherpas have begun making the trail along the summit ridge towards
the Hillary step, a steep rock section along the precipitous summit
ridge. From the top of the step it is about 30 minutes to the summit
itself. We anticipate they will reach the top at about 1000 hours
this morning. We'll update again soon!!! Guy Cotter
0700 Nepal time - Suze Kelly
Dave has just been in contact via radio with Guy at Everest BC, they
are just below the South Summit (8750m). The climb has been going
well, perhaps a little slowly as they have been doing a lot of rope
fixing, but the weather has been good. Alan Arnette turned around
not long after starting and is now back at south col, Phurba Sherpa
came up from south col to meet him. Alan got down very quickly so
Phurba had hardly got going before they met up. Tom Burch and Rob
Plotke have also turned around during the early morning hours and
they arrived back at south col about 0330 accompanied by Phu Tashi.
Haraldur, Ellen, Bill and Dave are carrying on, all feeling strong,
with Sherpas Ang Dorjee, Lhakpa Dorje and Pasang. Report by Suze
Kelly, Adventure Consultants
2215 Nepal time - Suze
The AC team has radioed in to BC ( who in turn have phoned us in
New Zealand) that they have departed just their summit bid,
along with many climbers from other teams. Guy described the weather
as 'perfect - the best night we've had in quite a few days'. The
11 climbers going for the summit in the AC team are; Bill (USA),
David Hiddleston (New Zealand), Ellen Miller (USA), Alan Arnette
(USA), Tom Burch (USA), Haraldur Olafsson (Iceland), Robert Plotke
(USA), Ang Dorjee Sherpa (Nepal), Lhakpa Dorje Sherpa (Nepal), Pasang
Tenzing (Nepal), Phu Tashi Sherpa (Nepal).
10:45 a.m. Colorado/22:00 Nepal - Cathy
I just spoke to Celeste from base camp...the team had just reported
that they had left the South Col for the summit...they are on their
way...our thoughts and good wishes for a safe climb and return go
with them...Chomolungma Goddess Mother of the Earth bless them all...Cathy
Summit Attempt to Begin in 4 Hours
6:30 a.m. Colorado/ 17:45 Nepal time
Alan calls from Camp 4 - Cathy
I just spoke to Alan calling via satellite phone from Camp 4. He
is tired but doing well. He said the climb to Camp 4 was very difficult
and very hot. The team is ready to give the summit their best shot
in a few hours. The going could be slow as there seems to be quite
a bit of snow right now. I will be posting information here as soon
as I receive it. We should here something when the team departs for
the summit in approximately four hours.
The latest dispatch from Guy
Hello one and all, We've received reports in from Guy at Everest
BC as follows; May 15 updates 1.00pm Nepal time Just heard from Dave
at 1230. He's just arrived on the col with the others behind him.
The weather is warm but it's now snowing lightly. Ang Dorjee and
Chulden went up to the balcony to fix ropes last night and arrived
back this morning. Whilst plans were made for Sherpas from several
teams to help with the rope fixing, only a couple of other Sherpas
were there to assist. Waist deep snow on the SE ridge made the going
difficult but the work will very much benefit the efforts the climbers
and Sherpas will be faced with tomorrow. More later.... 3.20pm Nepal
time I just spoke to Bill at South Col. All are resting, eating,
drinking and generally getting prepared for the big night ahead.
It appears there are about 50 people at the col ready to make the
attempt tonight so numbers are not quite as bad as we had thought.
The plan is for one team to go ahead with Sherpas to fix ropes with
the other teams following up later. The Adventure Consultants team
will depart about 10 or 10.30. Wen will be following them from base
camp and sending regular updates with progress. Weather is fine and
warm with some intermittent snow flurries which are dying out. Over
the last couple of hours the weather has improved after the afternoon
thermals have begun to dissipate. that's it for now, Guy Cotter
Wednesday 15 May 0727 Nepal time - Guy
Just had a call from Dave at C3. The team are just departing C3 for
South Col in excellent weather. The team are all feeling strong having
had a good rest last night and report good conditions. Although several
teams were supposed to head for the summit today, no-one has left
South Col to make the attempt today. This is unfortunate in that
it is such a perfect summit day and obviously those on the col made
a call on the weather last night, it just happened to be the wrong
one! The ramifications are that those waiting on the col will now
join the other groups climbing tomorrow increasing the numbers trying
to summit tomorrow. We will update news during the day cheers Guy
May: 2.00pm Nepal time - Guy
Namaste. Yes, we've just heard from the group at C3. They report
being in good spirits having taken a leisurely 5 hours from Camp
2 in cloudy, sometimes snowing, warm temperatures. Now at C3 the
weather has cleared and they can see the impressive panorama including
Cho Oyu, Gyachang Kang and the summit of Pumori which is below them
now. All the team are feeling strong and are looking forward to the
rest before heading up tomorrow to South Col. Ang Dorjee and Chulden
Sherpa are now at South Col with the intention of fixing ropes above
the col tomorrow with several Sherpas from other expeditions.
Ours is one of a small group of expeditions here who are doing the
majority of the rope fixing on the mountain. Disappointingly there
are others who are more content to have the work done for them! Nonetheless
we are happy to see the work completed in preparation for our summit
bid, only two days away now! Bill (AC's lead guide) reports about
80 people going up the ropes today. Some will be climbing Sherpa
dropping loads at the col and it appears that at a rough guess, 40
or so are westerners. Some of these climbers are heading to Lhotse
so we believe that about 20-30 will be attempting Everest at the
same time as our group. Not an unreasonable number. So at base camp
we wait... we will send updates regularly now as we head towards
Monday May 13 - Celeste Geertsema, Adventure Consultants
Well, my name is Celeste, I am Liesel's twin sister and have taken
over the base camp doctor job from her. One of my most important
responsibilities is to update you on what's happening with Alan while
he is up the mountain! He spoke to me on the radio earlier today
and I could unfortunately not send a dispatch away immediately, because
I was halfway on the way to Kala Patar at the time. We have just
returned in the dark after a great adventure trying to navigate the
glacier with headlamps. Everything in base camp is dark, everyone
has gone to bed and I'm typing this with a headlamp on my head. I
therefore apologize if this dispatch is a little short - I promise
it will be longer next time!
Alan has left with the group from base camp yesterday on their final
summit bid. This will involve going up to Camp 2 on the first day,
then having a rest day at Camp 2 and proceeding to Camp 3 the following
day. If they are all well and the weather looks good, they will then
climb to Camp 4 the day after, to be in position to start their summit
bid at 10 or so the same night. When they left base camp, it was
very windy, but clear and not too cold. There was a small farewell
party, who sent them off with good wishes at the bottom of the Icefall.
There were also some Sherpa blessings in the form of a small Puja
and the burning of juniper. I'm in the process of finding out exactly
what everything meant and will report to you, probably tomorrow.
Alan said the group got to Camp 2 very quickly (within 5-6 hours,
which was much quicker than previously). They all felt really good
and slept well. Alan's appetite has returned with a vengeance and
he says he is eating 'like a horse', which is obviously great news.
They talked for a long time this morning about summit day and went
through their gear carefully. Other than that, they had a rest day,
reading and chatting. Alan is feeling very strong and optimistic
and sounded really great on the radio. They are due to move up to
Camp 3 tomorrow. I am sure I'll get another call from him as soon
as they arrive and promise to update you as soon as I hear anything.
Alan talks about you a lot, Cathy, and is obviously very keen to
share this experience with you. Please don't hesitate to e-mail or
call if there is anything you would like me to relate to him - I
would only be too happy to oblige.
All the best, speak to you again soon. Celeste
Guy Cotter and Suze Kelly from Adventure Consultants for allowing
me to post your dispatches to this website...this will give our
readers the most current information on the AC team's summit
Sunday 12 May - Guy Cotter
The AC team rose at 4.00am after a blustery night and headed off
into the icefall at 5 o'clock to begin the climb to the summit. Before
leaving, the team partook in the Sherpa tradition of throwing rice
and walking through the billowing smoke of burning juniper at the
chorten in our camp whilst Sherpa prayers were recited. For everyone
this was a moment to reflect on the climb ahead and focus on the
upcoming adventure. Then the seven Gore-Tex clad climbers began the
ascent on this windy but clear day. Today they will reach Camp 2
and take a rest day tomorrow before moving to Camp 3 on the 14th,
and all going well summit on the 16th. We wish them the best of good
fortune! Guy Cotter reporting from BC
Saturday May 11 - Alan
...Start your engines...
Well, all the preparation is over. The camps are set. The oxygen
is in place. Our bodies are rested, well fed and acclimatized. Our
Sherpas are raring to go. We leave tomorrow morning for the summit
bid. Working with Celeste, our expedition doctor, I will do my best
to radio dispatches from the upper camps. She will then relay them
to Cathy who will post them on the site. Adventure Consultants will
do the same. I will try to add the personal angle. On summit day,
we will be in radio contact with Guy and the team at base camp and
Celeste will let Cathy know my progress at the crucial points.
One step at a time...
First we go to Camp 2, spend the night, and then take a rest day-maybe
two depending on the weather forecast. Then the real push begins.
We will depart for Camp 3 around 7:00AM to avoid the heat. Carrying
our down sleeping bags and summit gear, we will arrive in early afternoon
and begin the water melting and resting ritual. Early the next morning,
we leave for Camp 4 and the famous South Col. The route from C3 continues
straight up the Lhotse Face and then cuts across the Geneva Spur.
It should take us four to six hours for the traverse. We will sleep
with oxygen at Camp 4 since it is in the Death Zone above 26,500'.
Our time will not be long at C4, about 10 hours maximum, since we
leave for the summit between 10:00 and 11:00PM. We will be drinking
water and eating what we can get down all afternoon but starting
the real preparations at 8:00PM. Everything slows down at this altitude
so we are forced to start early.
Organize and visualize...
Put on the two layers of long underwear. Put on the
insulated boot liners. Drink. Rest. Put on the down suit. Attach
the down mittens to the arms. Eat some Cup-of-Soup. Drink. Find the
sunglasses and goggles for after sunrise. Top off the water bottles
- add Gatorade. Put on the harness - make sure the belt is double-backed
for safety. Make sure the carabineer, figure of eight descender and
jumar are on the harness. Locate the ice axe. Drink. Put on the headlamp.
Make sure the extra battery is in the pack. Put the extra down mittens,
goggles and sunglasses in also. Drink. Lie back down. Rest. Breathe
the bottled oxygen. Hear yourself breath. Review the gear in your
mind. Add the two bottles of oxygen to your pack. Visualize the summit.
Put on the outer boots and crampons. Put on the balaclava. Pull up
the down hood. Put on the oxygen mask. Set the flow at two liters
per minute. You are about to climb Mount Everest.
We leave in the dark with headlamps glowing. The sun will not rise
for 7 hours. It will be dark. It will be cold. We will be on auto
pilot. Step. Breath. Step. Breath. Make good time to avoid any crowds.
Arrive at the Balcony in less than eight hours leaving one empty
oxygen bottle there. Switch to a new bottle. Enjoy the warmth of
oxygen. Breath. Keep going. The South Summit. The Hillary Step. The
Summit Ridge. The sun is shining brightly. Step. Breath. Step. Breath.
Almost there. And then, we are there. 12 hours later. On the top.
The summit of Everest. 29,035'. 8,910 meters. The top of the world.
Enjoy. Snap pictures and take the video. A private moment. And back
down. Concentrate. Be careful not to slip on the ridge. Move carefully.
Concentrate. More people die going down than up. Careful. Clip in.
Think. Summit Ridge. Hillary Step. South Summit. Balcony. A new oxygen
bottle. Ahh...breathe. Not too far now. Down the Ridge. Careful.
Back to the South Col. Success. 18 hours. A round trip! Refuge in
the thin nylon tent and the thick down sleeping bag. We did it. Drink.
Sleep. Dream. We did it.
The next day back to Camp 2, maybe base camp. And the party. We did
it. Soon, back down the Khumbu to Lukla, Katmandu and home to my
wife. To our friends and families. And safe. All our fingers. All
our toes. The complete team: climbers, sherpas and guides. A private
moment. Visualize...I strongly believe in visualizing the experience
beforehand to shake out any problems in my mind.
"Did you Summit?"
This has to be the most asked question of any climber attempting
a big hill: "Did you summit?" It has been a case study in human nature
over the past several weeks as we prepared for our summit bid. "Did
you summit?" Each of us has asked each other and ourselves countless
times "What does it mean to you to summit?" Each answer is different
and extremely personal. There is no common denominator. No common
theme. There are those who see the summit as optional. Others see
not summiting as nothing short of abject failure. Each have their
own motivation. Their own goals. As for me, it is crystal clear:
I want the summit badly. Very badly. I have worked hard to get here.
I can feel it within my reach. I am confident in my body but more
importantly in my mind. At this stage it is the mind that will create
problems for the body. That being said, I will do my best. I will
find my limits and if I can summit within my limits, so be it. If
not, that is OK as well. I want to return home safely to my family
more than I want the summit. The mind again. Make the correct judgment
at the correct time to balance the want versus the need. I want the
summit. I need my family. I know the difference.
Down to earth...
It is an interesting time here in base camp. Everyone seems a little
quieter. Everyone is checking their gear for the hundredth time.
Even the Sherpas seem to have a different air about them. We can
all feel the summit. As the team makes our final preparations, we
look at each other with the excitement of a four-year-old at Christmas.
We are all ready. We are in it together and will watch after one
another. Hold on, this should be some ride! Namaste, Alan
Friday May 10 - Alan
Everest Base Camp tick, tock, tick, tock
It is day 6 in BC and we are waiting for the Jet Stream to move north.
Most of us went for a long hike today to stretch the legs and lungs.
While the weather is nice in BC, it remains windy on the summit ridge,
thus the waiting game. The daily lottery is the summit day selected
by the other expeditions: 14, 17, 15, 16. The Lamas select auspicious
days each season for the summit. Many expeditions try to summit on
these days and this year there are two: the 13th and the 26th. The
13th is clearly out for most expeditions and the 26th is awfully
far away. The primary issue will be if all the expeditions try to
summit on the same day. The other issue is if the lines are fixed
above the South Col or Camp 4. Most of the experienced teams work
together to fix the ropes above Camp 3 so it is not a burden on any
one team. For example, Adventure Consultants fixed the lines this
year from C3 to C4. We are working with other teams to make sure
lines are there on summit day, especially at the critical areas such
as the Hillary Step and South Summit. Politics exist even at 8,000
meters! I am glad to be on a team with experience in dealing with
As for the traffic jam, this is a more difficult issue. There is
no central controlling agency that determines who goes up when, so
it is actually a free-for-all. Anyone can attempt a summit at anytime.
This was one of the major issues in the 1996 tragedy - too many people
bottlenecked on the critical parts of the mountain thus causing delays,
frostbite and using up precious oxygen. There are techniques to avoid
some of this but the best strategy is not to be too eager. We will
just have to play this by ear, as we get closer to summit day.
What are you eating under there?
The saying "An army travels on its stomach" certainly applies to
Everest expeditions. Imagine trying to feed up to 34 people three
full, and I mean full, meals a day for over two months. Chhombga,
our base camp cook, has this challenge. He must prepare the menus,
make sure the food is in camp, prepare the meals and wash the dishes
every single day. I am pleased to say he does an amazing job. Chhombga
has been working with Adventure Consultants for over ten years so
he is familiar with western tastes. His menus are filled with variety
One of his secrets is to get fresh vegetables and eggs delivered
to base camp every few days from the villages down the Khumbu. Think
about seeing a porter with a four-foot high metal wire frame on his
back that contains dozens and dozens of fresh eggs! That is a normal
scene every few days around BC. Our normal day starts with morning
tea and then breakfast. It is usually fried eggs, toast, bacon and
porridge. There is always plenty to eat. If the weather is nice we
sit on the rocks outside the communications and dining tents soaking
up the morning sun while listening to avalanches and rock slides
from the nearby mountains. Better than the Today show!
Lunch can be large or small. Yesterday it was spinach
burritos with fresh potato salad and a mixed bean salad and fresh
sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. It just didn't stop. Of course we
are eating all we can to prevent weight loss. I am having a hard
time eating enough at the higher camps so I am enjoying fattening
up down here. Dinner is always special. We have had sushi, roasted
chicken, Sherpa Stew and other dishes that stretch the imagination.
We always start with a soup - garlic, potato, or tomato. Then there
are at least four different dishes including vegetables, rice or
pasta and some kind of meat. Dessert is never optional. Last night
Chhombga made chocolate cheesecake. It is amazing the cakes and muffins
he makes up here! The kitchen he cooks in would make Julia Child
blush. Martha Stewart would turn her head. But we just say thanks.
A huge tent that allows everyone to stand upright covers the stone
floor. There are several LP gas powered burners. The huge tin kettles
are always full of boiling water. Chhombga and Nema cook everything
here and serve it in casserole dishes to the main dining tent. Cleanliness
is critical since one germ can destroy our expedition. Everyone is expected to wash their hands thoroughly
before every meal. Chhombga and his team are constantly washing their
hands and cooking utensils. All our eating dishes are boiled after every
use. I would dare the health department to find a problem. The proof
is that no one on our expedition has suffered from any stomach problems.
So, hungry we are not! In fact I think I am no longer losing weight
and may have to call Jenny Craig on the satellite phone for some
Thursday May 9 - Alan
Dog Days of May
Turn me over, I'm done. It is hot here in base camp about 90F inside
my tent. There is a breeze but it does not help much. At 17,500'
the sun is intense. Most expeditions are down from the High Camps
after completing their acclimatization programs. We have been here
for 5 days now. It seems to happen like this every year on Everest.
Everyone pushes to get to Camp 3 to spend their night along with
the requisite nights at camps 1 and 2 only to get hung up by the
fickle Jet Stream. Patience is one of the virtues it takes to climb
Everest and we are in full test mode at the moment. Adventure Consultants
receives several weather forecasts as do most large expeditions.
We are waiting for a magic four-day window where the winds are tolerable
before we leave base camp. Last year, they waited over two weeks
for the window to materialize thus summiting around May 20. The major
event is for the Jet Stream to move north and off its usual position
on top of the big hill. This happens like clockwork every year between
Winter and the monsoon season. That is why everyone climbs Everest
in April and May.
We remain hopeful that a window will open up next week and continue
to prepare to leave for Camp 2 this weekend, but you never know.
Thus the waiting game. Our Adventure Consultant's base camp is very
comfortable with the toilet, shower and great food so the waiting
is not that bad. I am just anxious to get back up there. I am feeling
great and want to take advantage of the moment. Some expeditions
have gone back down the Khumbu to the villages for their R&R.
We will not do that because the chance of catching colds or other
health problems are very high in those tea houses and we don't want
to take that chance. So we remain homebodies. This is a serious waiting
game since going up at the wrong time wastes energy, food, oxygen,
and Sherpa resources. Also, being up there in gale-force winds is
no fun. There are already several cases of frostbite from people
being exposed at C3 during the storm. One climber's nose is completely
black. I don't know if he will lose it.
I thought while I had a moment (or day) that I would let you know
the magic behind these dispatches and pictures. Here is the flow.
I am always taking pictures with my Photosmart 812 digital camera
(over 800 thus far). In fact, since the camera is so small, I have
it with me all the time - even on ladders - usually in my breast
pocket for easy access! I regularly upload the latest images to the
notebook from the camera using the standard software that came with
the camera. This way I always have space on the storage cards.
I write the dispatches on my OmniBoook 500 notebook computer and
select some images. I then compress the images to make the file size
smaller and attach them to the dispatch. Adventure Consultants has
a satellite phone here at base camp that I then use to 'e-mail' the
dispatch with images to Cathy. She performs her magic with the dispatch
by putting it on the local website (after some editing) and then
uploads the new dispatch page to the server in the sky. Then it is
live for the world to see!
Cathy and I have been amazed at the response to our little program.
The number of visits is growing each week with last week having over
40,000 accesses to our website. When I started this, I never had
any idea that so many people would be interested. We are very pleased
to be able to share our experiences with people. I am personally
very gratified that many so many people are taking their time to
send e-mails to Cathy showing her support as well as for me. Thanks
again to everyone!
I'll let you know when we leave BC. I hope soon. Our team is raring
Wednesday May 8 - Alan
Everest Base Camp
Eat, drink and .. Day 4 of our rest since returning from Camp 3.
This time is critical for our bodies to recharge with food, water
and sleep. Most of us are lying around between meals just talking,
reading or sleeping. We know the 18 hour summit day will come on
the heals of two 6 hour climbs to camps 3 and 4 with limited food
and sleep. So now is the time to prepare.
Turn your head and cough
Today we broke out the oxygen bottles and regulators. This is one
of our most important pieces of climbing gear. Here at base camp,
there is 25% less oxygen than at sea level and at the summit 33%
less. The use of bottled oxygen will only reduce the altitude by
a few thousand feet but it will make us feel warmer. Everyone walked
through how the regulators work, how to read the gauges, adjust the
flow and clear any blockages. It is critical to be not only a user
but also a mechanic for these devices.
First summit attempt this season
We understand the Korean team attempted to summit today but were
turned back by high winds. This is what makes climbing Everest so
daunting. Here at base camp it is a perfectly clear day with a very
light breeze and mild temperatures. In fact some people have shorts
on. We understand they left from the South Col before midnight and
turned around sometime later. We hope to avoid such wasted energy
with up-to-date weather forecasts.
Who ARE those guys?
I thought I would introduce my teammates on the expedition so you
can put some backgrounds with some names. Each person agreed to this
short intro and says hello to their friends and families and sends
a Happy Mothers Day for this Sunday!
Ellen Miller lives in Colorado and was the first
woman from North America to succeed on Everest from the north side
in 2001. She is an avid participant in the worldwide Eco Challenges
with races in Tibet, The Amazon and other exotic places. Ellen is
writing a book about the women who have summited Everest and is an
amazing encyclopedia about what woman summited when and how.
Tom Burch is a lawyer from California. Cycling
and mountain climbing are his passions at home. This is his third
trip to Nepal and he has many friends here. Everest has been a childhood
dream for Tom so, needless to say, he is very excited to be on this
expedition. Tom's climbing experiences include major peaks such as
Makalu, Ama Dablam and Logan. Tom's calm presence is welcome in this
frenzied environment. He says hello to all his family and friends
back at home who are providing tremendous support on this great adventure.
Haraldur Olafsson lives in Iceland and, hopefully
with the summit of Everest, will have climbed the highest peak on
each of the seven continents in the past year (the 7 Summits). He
also has completed crossings of Antarctica and The Artic making him
one of only three people to complete the Grand Slam with Everest.
A well-known individual in Iceland, Haraldur brings incredible experience
and confidence, especially on the glaciers, to our team. A special
surprise was when his father, Olafur joined him in base camp a few
Rob Plotke is an associate partner with Accenture,
a management consulting firm. With Kilamanjaro, Vinson and Aconcagua
under his belt, Everest is now on the radar. Rob and I seem to be
sharing tents and ropes a lot these days which is good since his
careful approach to climbing keeps us all safe. Rob has already achieved
several of his goals on this trip, having always wanted to travel
to Nepal, the trip has already been a dream come true. Well, that
is the climbing team and of course we have our two guides.
Bill, also from Colorado, is the lead guide.
A calm leader with a flair for Thai cooking, Bill has made some of
the crucial decisions of when we go up the mountain or down to lower
camps. Thus far, his calls have been right on. Bill was part of the
1999 expedition to measure the current height of Everest so his knowledge
and experience with that summit is paying big rewards for us.
David Hiddleston is our second guide. Dave,
from New Zealand, also brings his Everest experience to our team
since he came within 100 meters of the summit in 2000. A Professional
Mountain Guide, Dave has already made major contributions to our
safety and good health on this expedition. I appreciate Dave's contribution
on this trip since we climbed Ama Dablam together in 2001. There
will be four climbing Sherpas with us, two of which have summited
Everest several times so we climbers should be in great hands. I
have been on many expeditions where the dynamics just did not work
amongst the team. This one, however, is great. Everyone is supportive
of one another and the communication is excellent. While we each
have our personal reasons for being here, there is unanimous support
that everyone do their best in reaching the summit. I am very proud
to be part of the Adventure Consultants team. I am positive we will
all do our best on summit day!
| Dispatch #8
Sunday May 5 - Alan
Everest Base Camp
Ready, set, go...We have finally spent the night at Camp 3. Everyone
is in excellent health. Camp 3 was our last test before the real
thing. Of course, we needed to spend the night at 23,500' for further
acclimatization and it was great that no one had any breathing problems
there. We are back in base camp for several days of rest before we
climb the Icefall for the last time for our summit push. More about
that in a minute.
Climbing the Lhotse Face was much more difficult than I had thought,
especially the last third to Camp 3. And it was probably the most
rewarding climbing thus far. Imagine the steepest staircase you have
ever climbed. Think about stairs at your office, in a European Cathedral
or similar environment. Now, make the stairs twice as steep. Add
crystal clear, blue ice underneath every step. Make sure you clip
your metal carabineer into the small garden hose size nylon rope.
Add people coming down the stairs fast, and people, primarily Sherpas,
coming up from behind wanting to pass you. Hold every other breath
and pant like a Golden Retriever on the hottest day in summer. You
are on the Lhotse Face. Oh, you might want to add a 20lb pack to
make it realistic. I must admit that my thoughts went to Peter, the
Englishman who fell to his death a few days before. I glanced around
the frozen mountain side and wondered where he slipped, what he must
have felt, how these tragic accidents could be avoided. However,
concentration is critical on the Face so I focused on my own safety
- clipping in, double checking my knots, having solid footing into
the ice with my crampons, watching out for my climbing buddies. We
climbed the 2,450' in about six hours, not bad according to our experts.
Camp 3 is perched on the only relatively flat section of the face.
Keep in mind that there are fixed ropes between every tent, almost
like streets in a residential part of town. Clip in or else. Our
three tents shared guy lines and we could speak to each other in
a normal voice from tent to tent. We arrived at about 2:00PM and
immediately started a stove in each tent vestibule.
The first order of business at any camp is to re hydrate. In spite
of the cold temperatures and low humidity, we perspire an amazing
amount of fluids. We need to drink at least 5 liters of water a day
just to stay even. However, at this altitude it takes over an hour
just to melt a pan of snow and ice and bring it to a boil. As the
sun starts to set, the temperature drops dramatically. The view from
Camp 3 towards the Western Cwm and Pumori was simply breathtaking.
I wish I could have breathed it in like the smell of fresh bacon
in the morning but it was cold and I needed to get to sleep. Sleep
at these altitudes is always tenuous but I was pleasantly surprised
that it was not as tortuous as advertised. I fell asleep around 5:00PM
and woke up ready to go at 9:00PM! A full four hours. Rob put it
well: "I was warm and comfortable. I was ready for sleep but nothing
happened." Ellen, on the other hand, slept for 12 hours straight
waiting for the morning light to serve as her wake-up call. All in
all, we had a great night and everyone felt rested for the down climb
to Camp 2.
Our climb down the morning of April 4 was not what anyone expected.
With the Adventure Consultants' Sherpas having fixed the
rope all the way to Camp 4 and the South Col, all the other expeditions
were hurrying to ferry tents, food, stoves and oxygen to meet the
needs of their clients. Ang Dorje and his team were well ahead. Dave,
Tom and Haraldur left first with Rob and I close behind. Bill and
Ellen waited for the full sun before leaving about an hour later.
We all met an onrush of Sherpas climbing to Camp 3 and beyond. At
one point Rob and I were perched on the Face at a junction of two
fixed ropes. There were fifteen Sherpas climbing fast with loads
up the only fixed line. We shifted our weight from foot to foot making
sure we remain clipped in and our crampons having a solid bite into
the 60-degree angle ice. We decided to wait out the Sherpa train
rather than having to clip and unclip to go past each and every climber
we encountered. It took about twenty minutes for the train to pass
with more on the way. We were cold. Most Sherpas we passed were extraordinarily
polite asking how was our "condition" and patiently waiting for us
to manipulate our carabineers and ropes. We made it back to Camp
2 in about 3 hours, another good time. However, it was not without
another crevasse incident.
Crevasse from the Outside
Ellen, Bill, Rob and I roped up at the bottom of the Lhotse Face
for the half-hour walk to Camp 2. I had not seen any other team from
any country rope up in this section, but we always had. I was in
the lead and we were moving quickly. About fifteen minutes outside
Camp 2 I heard Ellen yell. I felt a slight tug on my rope as I turned
around. Ellen was sitting down with her feet securely wedged into
the snow. Rob was standing up but holding onto the rope. Bill was
nowhere to be seen. Ellen called out his name - silence. She called
again. I heard a faint response: "Wait, I need to catch my breath." It
had happened again. Bill was fine. Rob went over and helped pull
his pack out while I pulled on command. He had stepped on a soft
snow bridge only to fall ten feet onto another. In his 25 years of
alpine mountaineering, he had never fallen into a crevasse. He had
a great attitude and soon we were on our way. Base camp Calling
We regrouped at Camp 2, rested and had some food.
About 2:00PM we left for BC and the 'heavy air' with oxygen plus
better food. We made it through the Icefall in about 4 hours. Bill,
Dave and I were together at the end only to be greeted at the base
of the Icefall by Guy Cotter carrying a pot of tea. Nice touch! Dinner
was short that night with everyone ready for bed.
Dr. John Taske left us this past week for his home in Brisbane, Australia.
John was a member of Rob Hall's fateful 1996 expedition and shared
many of his thoughts about that experience. I felt honored to spend
time with him, not because of '96, but rather that John is a man
of humor, intellect and integrity. I enjoyed the many conversations
we had as well as climbing together. I don't know if he was seeking
anything by returning to Everest but as he left he said he was satisfied
with his effort this time as he was with the previous attempt. Thanks
John for your company in Nepal.
We will rest for a few days and then head back up for the summit
attempt. I will send at least one more dispatch before we leave.
All the hard work is done. Our bodies are acclimatized as much as
possible. Our camps are set. We have proven our ability to reach
just under the Death Zone. I can tell that everyone is a bit nervous
these days. We all speak of the summit push with reverence and respect.
We seem to be at the front of the expeditions at this point, but
there are a couple that could attempt a summit before us - which
is OK. Let them test the ropes and break trail. Sometimes being first
is not best. Namaste, Alan
Friday May 3 - Alan
Hi Cathy I just had a chat to Alan at Camp 3. He asked me to do an
update to you again to let you know what is happening.. The group
(this time without John Taske, who has called it a day) left for
Camp 2 two days ago at 5 in the morning. They made excellent time
and had no mishaps on the way up. In fact, they shaved 3 hours off
their previous time for the trip! The next day was spent lazing around
in the sun on deck chairs (I am told..) and admiring the view, which
included some climbers going up to Camp 3. This morning they left
at 7 am and climbed up to Camp 3 via the Lhotse face. Alan said that
they had been up to about 7000 m on the previous trip, but the camp
is actually a further 300 - 400 m and apparently, the climbing is
very difficult. He said it is almost vertical ice in a number of
places and every climbing skill was tested. Luckily, there are fixed
ropes all the way up and I think that this group is more safety conscious
than any of the others I have seen around here. I think that they
are quite safe. Alan said everyone made it in about 6 hours and they
are feeling very good.
Camp 3 is perched on a ledge cut out of the ice of the Lhotse face.
Apparently, the views down the western cwm towards Camp 2 and 1 are
out of this world and they have all enjoyed the change in perspective.
Alan says that there is an old camp (a bit reminiscent of a refugee
camp) just below them. They are not sure how old it is, but the tents
have been shredded to pieces and it is quite a sad sight. A good
reminder of the realities of life at altitude on a big mountain!
Leaving your tent can be fatal if you do not take the necessary precautions.
They are all equipped with pee bottles to minimize the risk and are
awaiting further instructions for when they do need to leave the
Sleeping at Camp 3 is a necessity in terms of acclimatizing to the
extreme altitude of the summit. The body needs to be exposed to a
particular altitude for a certain length of time (24 hours is good)
in order to induce the changes necessary for acclimatization. Above
a certain level, these changes do not occur any more and acclimatization
is fruitless. Nobody knows exactly where the cut-off is and in fact,
it is different for different people. However, most experts would
argue that anything above Camp 3 is pointless. The night at Camp
3 will probably ensure that Alan and the rest of the group will use
the limited oxygen above 7000 m as efficiently as possible on summit
day. Now all they need to do is come back down to base camp, eat
as much as possible, rest properly, build up strength and then go
for the summit as soon as the weather allows them a few good days.
Most of the preparation is over and the summit is in sight!
They are planning to come down to Camp 2 tomorrow morning (the weather
forecast is looking good for the next few days) and have breakfast
there. Depending on how they feel, they will continue on to base
camp later in the morning. Talking to Alan, I got the feeling that
they will indeed come all the way down as everyone is feeling so
good. I imagine they are getting quite fit going up and down all
the time! Otherwise, they will spend the night at Camp 2 and then
descend the following day. They have now spent so many days at Camp
2, that I think they will be very well acclimatised to that altitude
and any extra bit is a bonus. Ang Dorje, the climbing sirdar, and
his team went up to Camp 4 (the south col) yesterday and today. They
are fixing ropes to Camp 4 and are the first sherpas to the col this
season. They take great pride in being the first... Although competition
between the sherpa teams is not encouraged, it is good for the expedition
that the ropes are being fixed and Camp 4 erected. That leaves only
the weather to play it's part... Well, Cathy, I have babbled on long
enough. Alan (I am sure) sends his love and will contact you when
he gets back down again.
All the best and hope to speak to you again, Liesel
Tuesday April 30 - Alan
Everest Base Camp
We were supposed to be at Camp 2 by now but the weather turned nasty,
once again dropping over a foot of fresh powder at base camp and
more at camps 1 and 2. The changing weather has created chaos from
base camp to Camp 3. Expeditions are acting like 8 year-olds at a
soccer game not knowing which goal is their's with the result of
everyone running in all directions at the same time. Our team, down
for 2 days now since the severe storm at Camp 2, is enjoying an unscheduled
rest day at BC.
With my yellow nylon tent acting like a weak filter, my 'room' gradually
becomes brighter as the sun rises. I soon hear the sounds of morning
at base camp: gas stoves starting, pans banging, Sherpas laughing
and singing. One of the perks of our expedition is 'morning tea'.
Now, I know how this sounds, but hey, take it if you can get it!
Every morning that we are in BC, each tent is greeted with "Good
Morning, milk tea?" from Nima, the base camp cook boy. Actually,
Nima is in his thirties with 5 children and always has a smile on
his face. I will miss this ritual when I get home. This morning is
absolutely stunning: clear sky with a blue tinge that is beyond description.
A mild breeze is keeping the air fresh. I lay in my tent with the
flaps open enjoying the change from yesterday's low overcast clouds,
freezing temperatures and blowing snow. My toes never got warm. As
I look out the front of the tent, I see the jagged tops of the surrounding
peaks - all covered with snow.
The prayer flags from our Puja are in the foreground creating a repeating
pattern of red, blue, yellow, green, and white napkin sized flags
that generate a peaceful sound as they flap in the morning breeze.
I lazily finish my milk tea, put on my regular base camp clothes:
fleece pants, soft top, down jacket, sunglasses, cap and trekking
shoes. I make my way the short snow covered rocky hillside to the
dining tent. The breakfast pattern repeats itself. One by one everyone
arrives, we write down the same thing for breakfast every morning:
eggs, bacon and toast. Chhongba, the base camp cook, collects the
book and begins to prepare the food. Sitting on cloth covered plastic
lawn chairs, we take our position at the twelve-foot table. This
must have been what it was like at the Walton's house. We politely
pass the milk tea or the hot lemon drink as we wait for our food
to arrive. Invariably, the orders are confused. We laugh about who
ordered what: scrambled or fried eggs? Regular or French toast?
It goes on and on. It takes about an hour for us to complete this
ritual and then we look at each other with anticipation of something
new to do today at base camp. Some return to their tents to sleep
or read. Others begin the daily card game that seems to last to dinner.
Clothes washing takes up some time and writing and reading e-mails
is an important part of everyone's day. Today's agenda is progressing
normally with no surprises, conflicts or problems. The talk is about
the weather and if we can go to Camp 3 tomorrow. We are all anxious
to get up there and get C3 behind us. Talk of the summit is much
more common these days than two weeks ago. We are all ready to get
on with it. Then we hear the shocking news...
A Death on the Lhotse Face
Details are sketchy and rumors are rampant. These situations are
delicate and dangerous to the entire Everest climbing community.
Even though it happens every year, it is still a shock, even to the
veterans. The story is told that an unguided English climber spent
two nights at Camp 3 in the middle of the storm. It is not clear
that he had his own tent but it seems he stayed in one from another
expedition. This morning, April 30, he left for C1 or BC. Something
happened and he slipped down the Lhotse Face coming to a rest, dead,
at the bottom. Everyone sat quietly as the story was told in hush
tones. The card players stopped. Lunch was delayed shortly. The veterans
shook their head with confusion about someone being at C3 during
the bad weather. The newcomers to Everest asked about fixed lines
and safety precautions such as clipping in. No one could explain.
No one could understand. Lunch soon started, no one speaking of the
I reflected on Alex's death on Cho Oyu and the similar reaction of
fellow climbers to death in the mountains. Perhaps it is a defense
mechanism, maybe the appropriate reaction to the death of someone
you do not know - like passing a car accident. Denial that it could
happen to me? I think about what his dreams were and why he was climbing
Everest. What must his family be feeling right now...horribly sad
but part of the agreement when you step on the icefall. Confusing
reactions to a confusing situation. The afternoon passes. We are
told to be up by 4:00AM for our next climb to Camp 2 and hopefully
on to Camp 3. I wonder what we will see. Probably nothing given the
strong winds and snow each night. Even if there is something to see,
it is not unusual on Everest. Anyone who dies here stays here forever.
It is almost impossible to recover bodies in this environment. Refilling
my water bottle, I notice the card game has resumed in the dining
tent. The Sherpas are washing the lunch dishes. The guides are checking
the regulators for the oxygen tanks we will use on summit day. Others
have taken a walk, are reading or sleeping. I think everyone has
part of their thoughts with the fallen Englishman. Back to normal
at Everest Base Camp.
Sunday April 28 - Alan
Everest Base Camp
We have had a wild time since my last dispatch:
crevasses, windstorms, climbing the Lhotse face and more. We are
currently in BC for some rest and plan on leaving for another overnight
attempt at Camp 3 on Tuesday, May 1. Everest veterans Pete Athens
and climbing sidar Ang Dorje ranked the storm that blasted Camp 2
on April 26 as one of the worst in the past decade. By not overnighting
at Camp 3 on this past trip up, we have added about 5 days to our
summit schedule. More on that decision later. We are now looking
at May 13 for an optimistic date but you know how quickly things
can change. We still need to spend the night at C3, rest for a few
days at BC and start the summit push which will take at least 6 days
including return to BC. The team continues to be in good health with
a positive attitude.
We have avoided the serious upper respiratory problems that have
plagued many other expeditions this year. Our Sherpas are working
incredibly hard stocking Camp 2, preparing Camp 3 and putting in
fixed lines to the South Col. When I started our family website,
and especially my section on climbing with the short stories, I promised
myself to expose my thoughts to any reader who took the time to explore
the site and not hold back on what I thought or felt during these
climbs. The past week has tested that promise with my fall into a
crevasse. The following is my attempt to be true to that promise.
"Crevasse" It was a cold
and windy day.
We left BC about 4:00AM on Monday April 22 to avoid the microwave
heat of the Western Cwm. Our intent was to continue our acclimatization
by spending at least 5 nights at C2 with one night at C3. We also
needed to prove ourselves by climbing the steep Lhotse face with
loaded packs. The weather turned very nasty halfway up the icefall.
The winds were strong. Temps hovered around 0F and snow started blowing
at C1. These conditions made the icefall challenging to say the least.
Crossing the ladders, especially the longer ones on a tilt, required
strong concentration in the winds. We stopped at C1 for some food
and water and then left for C2. Dressed in full Gortex with goggles,
Haraldur, Rob and I left C1 roped together. The nylon climbing rope
created a single climber with each of us separated by 20'. With Haraldur
in the lead, me following and Rob bringing up the rear we climbed
a short steep section then began the traverse of the upper Khumbu
Glacier. Crevasses are common in this area with several spanned by
ladders. As I previously reported, Adventure Consultants seemed to
be one of the few expeditions roped up in this section.
The visibility was very poor with blowing snow as we moved across
the glacier. I saw the small black hole in front of me, a tell tale
sign of an emerging crevasse. I have crossed many of these at this
point. So I followed the track to the right of the hole and prepared
to take the extra large step designed to clear the visible - and
invisible - obstacle. In a heartbeat, I fell through the trap door
with a whoosh. Everything went dark as snow covered my face. I felt
myself hanging in clear air. And it became silent. All in a heartbeat.
My first sight was of the nylon rope digging into the ice wall. I
intensely stared at it hoping that Haraldur was secured on the other
end. It moved deeper into the ice. Solve the problem.
My mind became focused on getting out
quickly. I looked down and to my right. There was my trekking pole
resting on a snow powder shelf twenty feet below and there was clear
blue ice for as far as I could see below the shelf. To my left was
a brighter prospect, a similar powder shelf within reach of my left
crampon point. About this time, Rob appeared above me anxiously inquiring
about any signs of injury. He called out to Haraldur to hold tight.
I reached out with my left foot to the powder shelf hoping for a
foothold to leverage myself out. The snow puffed away into the crevasse
carrying away my hope for an easy exit. I looked again at the rope
cutting deeper into the ice wall and thought of my training where
you put the handle of an ice axe between the rope and the wall to
create a temporary edge. But before I suggested this maneuver, I
drove the front points of my crampons into the ice wall. They held.
I called to Rob to tell Haraldur to start pulling. Working together,
I began to clear the icy trap. With Rob providing extra support,
I soon stood beside the crevasse.
The walk to Camp 2 was long. My mind was preoccupied with the crevasse.
I had lost all my energy and optimism. Haraldur, Rob, Bill and I
made steady but very slow progress. The weather cleared up and now
the sun was baking each of us. Off with Gortex, apply extra sunscreen,
trade goggles for glacier sunglasses. Arriving at Camp 2, I was spent.
I had absolutely nothing left. The final steps were on autopilot
- no conscious decisions. I found my tent and sat down heavily on
I began to feel the emotions starting to escape: frustration, anger,
guilt and fear. How did I step on the snowbridge? What if I had not
been roped up? What if I had not been properly tied in? What if.
The questions went on and on. Whoosh, darkness, hanging, quiet. The
sequence repeated continuously in my head. How did this happen? I
dwelled on the negative and on the fear. For the first time in the
mountains, any mountain, I was afraid. I knew I needed to get a grip
on myself but the fear was overwhelming. I saw myself hanging in
clear air. I felt my feet reaching out to nothing. I saw the rope
cutting deeper. I saw the faces of my family. It was about 3:00PM
and I was thirsty and hungry but was not ready to do anything about
it. I sat on my pack and thought about the event.
I remembered the story of another climber who had a friend die in
a crevasse and he had to perform miracles to save his own life. I
considered the danger I was exposed to and how many other people
fall into crevasses on mountains. It was part of the deal. I decided
to draw on my teammates for strength. I entered the tent at C2 where
we ate our meals and told the team that I was shaken, very shaken.
Haraldur and Rob talked everyone through exactly what had happened.
I received glances throughout the conversation. Soon, someone made
a joke. I joined in. It was working.
I slept fitfully that night and spent the next half-day dwelling
on what had happened. It wasn't until I read again a letter that
Ashley had given me before I left home that I started feeling better.
I felt my confidence increase and the will to continue the climb
return. I pondered what I had learned. How could I avoid such a misstep?
The experience was turning into lessons. After a rest day at C2,
we left at sunrise for a trip up the Lhotse face. I had one of my
best days on the Hill yet.
" Lhotse Face" We can see Camp 3 from C2 - if you look carefully.
Sherpas from many expeditions had already established ten or so yellow
tents on the icy wall. C3 is at 24,000' about 2,500' above C2. But
it requires ice climbing skills and stamina. We left on Wednesday
April 24 at sunrise to climb about 1000' up the wall. I felt good.
We made the round trip in about 3 hours - not bad. The next day we
set off once again to 'tag' C3 and return to C2 since the weather
forecast was for very strong winds. Once again everyone made great
time and we felt very successful. As for me, I had shaken my confidence
crisis and seemed to have more strength and determination than before.
I climbed the Lhotse face. It was fun. It is a combination of hard
packed snow, soft powder and concrete hard, clear blue ice. This
ice is the most difficult. Even with nylon ropes attached to ice
screws that are driven deep into the face, your legs do all the work.
Using jumars or mechanical ascenders, you tackle steep icy sections
that prevent you from climbing with your legs alone. The wall is
formidable and serves as the gatekeeper to Camp 3, the South Col,
Camp 4 and eventually the summit. I felt good that I was able to
handle it. Our team did well, especially Tom who seems to get stronger
as the expedition goes on. We felt good that night over dinner -
except for the weather forecast.
Camp 2 leveled by winds About 9:00PM April 25
Thursday night it hit. The winds went from a rare
breeze to a steady blow around 40 miles per hour. Rob and I slept
fitfully. The winds stopped conveniently for breakfast on Friday
morning. We gather quietly to watch the snow swirl on the Face, the
South Col and the surrounding peaks. It was obvious that there was
more in store for camps 2 and 3 today. We had a weather forecast
predicting high winds, but not to the level that began around 9:00AM
Friday morning. With a sudden rush of cold air, it began. And it
did not stop until midnight Friday night. 27 hours of non-stop hurricane
force winds left Camp 2 in various states of destruction. Big dome
tents had complete halves ripped to shreds. Small two-person sleeping
tents were flattened, their occupants taking shelter elsewhere. Any
small item left outside was miles away.
At our camp, we escaped serious problems through good planning and
the hard work of everyone, but mostly the Sherpas. Upon seeing the
forecast, Bill and Dave asked that everyone find rocks as large as
you can carry and attach the tent's guy lines to them. And once you
had that done, do it again with larger rocks. I have never felt such
wind velocity. You could hear it starting up the mountain walls,
gain force and then hit the tents like a locomotive. Snow actually
penetrated the outer and inner walls causing it to snow inside the
tent during the strongest gusts. The winds were over 110 mph at the
height of the storm. I layed in my bag sometimes staring at the tent
walls wondering if this was the gust to roll us over or to rip a
side apart. Luckily, we
survived with no damage except for 2 nights lost sleep! The Sherpas
spent some of Thursday, all day Friday and most of Friday night adjusting
lines, adding rocks and most impressively, using their hands to hold
the cooking tent up against the strongest gusts. If you can believe
it, they never missed serving a meal! Throughout Friday, but most
clearly on Saturday morning, the damage became clear. Looking around
the broad Camp 2 site, many expeditions had lost tents or had sustained
serious damage. People mulled around like hurricane refugees. Schedules
Back to base camp
With stronger winds in the forecast and 5 nights at Camp 2 under
our belt, the discussion turned to our own schedule. Almost everyone
was feeling good and everyone wanted to get our overnight at C3 completed.
We discussed the merits of staying Saturday and hoping the forecast
was wrong, going to C3 Saturday or Sunday or staying at C2 until
it became clear we could make C3 safely. Over a light breakfast we
decided to return to base camp to rest and get prepared to return
to C3 as soon as possible. This type of discussion and decision typifies
alpine mountaineering. You consider what you know, factor in the
schedule and team health, throw in a dash of experience and make
a decision. We left C2 Saturday morning feeling good about our decision.
It is snowing with a light wind. I have been gone from home over
one month now. I feel physically strong. I have had no ill effects
from the altitude. My attitude is good AND this is one hard mountain.
Clearly my toughest mountain yet. Everest continues to be everything
I thought: big, changing, impersonal and long. I think my biggest
challenge will be exercising patience as we complete the required
steps for a summit attempt. While I feel good, I know I am losing
weight. The icefall is hard, very hard. Every trip is different.
This week the seracs at the top collapsed requiring a new route and
new ladders. I cannot allow my concentration to lapse-even for a
moment. I miss my family. I miss home. I miss my mattress. I even
miss work! But I knew this would take commitment beyond what most
people are asked to deliver. Thank you to everyone who has sent e-mails
to Cathy. I sincerely appreciate your support for her role in this
expedition. Namaste, Alan
|Saturday April 27 - Cathy
New Photos!!! Kate Smith carried these photos out with her from base
camp to New Zealand when we thought there would be a problem sending
them through the satellite...Thank You Kate! I have also posted
a few of the new ones below. Alan is safely back in base camp and
will prepare his next dispatch tomorrow morning...so keep checking
back. Extremely high winds (80-100mph) and unsafe conditions forced
the team off the mountain before they could reach Camp 3. This could
mean an extra trip up since they must know how the team will do at
Camp 3 before they attempt the summit. This might delay the summit
attempt until May 10 or later. This is disappointing for me as I
was hoping they would only have to cross the Icefall two more times.
| Dispatch #4
Wednesday April 24 - Liesel Geertsema, Adventure Consultants
Hi Cathy! No, the world has not gone mad with computers and sat phones
halfway up the Lhotse face! My name is Liesel. I am the doctor for
this expedition and am doomed to stay at base camp while Alan and
the rest of the crew are playing higher up the mountain... Nice to
Alan has mentioned you several times and I feel as if you are here
with him and joining in the trials and tribulations of every day.
I spoke to Alan on the radio a few minutes ago and he asked me to
send an update to you regarding their progress. They left for Camp
2 two days ago. These days they simply pass Camp 1 and head straight
for Camp 2. They left between 03:30 and 04:00 in the morning. It
was very cold, snowing and windy. Apparently it was a difficult day
for traveling and the going was hard. They roped up from Camp 1 to
Alan was roped between Rob and Haraldur (I presume Alan has mentioned
the rest of the crew to you and you will be familiar with everyone).
At one point Alan stepped onto a snow bridge and into a crevasse!
As is the intention of the rope, the guys held it tight and Alan
managed to get out with Haraldur taking in the rope. He suffered
no injuries, but was a bit shaken! However, he says that the experience
made him stronger for the summit push and wanted to share it with
They have spent two nights at Camp 2 and walked to the Lhotse face
with its fixed ropes today. Everyone is feeling well and appear to
be benefiting from the previous acclimatization trip. It is a great
day up there and they enjoyed the walk. They were back at about 10
and will be resting for the rest of today and tomorrow. The day after
that they intend to move up to Camp 3 for the night. If everyone
feels up to it, they will come all the way back to base camp the
following morning. There is also an option of staying another night
at Camp 2 on the way back. The weather forecast looks OK, so I expect
that they will be back in base camp in about 3 days' time. This will
hopefully be their last acclimatization trip. Once in base camp they
will recover for a few days and then push for the summit as soon
as the weather presents them with a suitable window!
The Sherpas are back at base camp for a rest day. They work extremely
hard and deserve every bit of rest they get. Guy has escorted Andy
down to Namche and is on his way back up to base camp. He is planning
to stop in at Nuptse base camp to meet with some friends on the way.
I have been left to look after communications and any medical mishaps.
As it turns out, I have problems receiving radio calls and managed
to bewitch the computer two days ago! This is what happens when you
leave technology to a blonde... Anyway, I finally managed to get
things going again and hope they will last until Guy gets back! Who
would have thought that one's biggest worry sitting on a heap of
rock and ice at 17 500 ft, would be whether the computer works!
Well, Cathy, nice to have spoken to you. Alan did not mention it
specifically (with the whole world, not just the students, listening
in...), but I am sure he sends his love to you.
All the best. Liesel
Sunday April 21 - Alan
We leave tomorrow for
our longest and most ambitious trip up the Hill thus far. Our goal
is to spend one night at Camp 3 on the Lhotse face, approximately
24,000'. C3 has the reputation as the worst camp of the four. It
is carved out of solid ice on an extremely steep mountain face with
zero protection from the winds. However, it is a required stop on
the 'tour' for acclimatization. As Dave said this morning, it is
your ticket to the next step. We will use Camp 2 as an Advanced base
camp for 6 days while we continue to acclimatize and take trips up
the Lhotse face and to C3. I will radio a couple of short dispatches
to Liesel, our doctor, during the week who will e-mail them to Cathy
for posting. Ain't technology wonderful? This might be our last trip
up the icefall before our summit bid. IF everyone does well on this
trip AND everyone feels good after the next rest time AND the weather
is good THEN the next trip up the icefall will be with the intent
of going to camps 2,3,4 and on to the summit in early May. This is
the most optimistic schedule possible but is real given our excellent
progress thus far. The expedition leaders and climbing Sidars get
together regularly to coordinate schedules as much as possible. We
are currently in the top 5 teams for a summit bid in early May. But
everything can, will and does change in the mountains.
Birds of a feather...On rest days, there is a tendency
for several people to get together in the dining tent or around someone's
personal tent and talk. This morning, Liesel, Tom, Haraldur, Dave
and I sat on the granite rocks discussing the climb, Nepal, world
events (as much as we knew of them) and many other topics. The sun
was warm on our faces requiring sunscreen. The wind blew gently as
we spoke in quiet tones. At one point, about 10:30 in the morning,
we heard the sharp crack of falling ice. We hear this all the time
but this sounded different. Soon, we all looked up the ice fall only
to see a white puff of billowing snow rising near the trail through
the icefall. We quietly watched it dissipate until Dave reminded
us of the motivation to move fast through the fragile areas. We all
agreed in our private silence. Pumori, a beautiful ice cream cone
shaped mountain, stood above us hosting a climbing party to her summit.
We tried to find them but could not. It is moments like this I remember
most about these expeditions. Shared visions of success. Shared fears
spoken with those who understand. New bonds are made - some that
last a lifetime.
After two round-trips on the icefall, Andy made the decision to end
his expedition. A longtime friend of John's, Andy and John had been
climbing together from the start of this trip. Andy spoke openly
of his limited experience on mountains and seemed pleased with his
effort on Everest. His confident manner and fantastic sense of humor
and story telling ability will be sorely missed.
With Andy's departure, we held a small party at the Adventure Consultants'
base camp last night. It started off innocently enough with some
Rolling Stones, story telling and attempts to embarrass Andy. We
started in the dining tent but soon moved to the kitchen tent with
all the Sherpas. There, the music switched to Sherpa music (available
on CD!) and ignited a rash of Sherpa dancing. These guys are good!
The style is similar to Western club dancing but with more flair
and use of the hands, Hawaiian style. Soon, everyone was trying to
keep up, but most importantly were establishing new friends. Then
a sudden shift in the music - disco! I will not say which country-person
of our expedition actually had a disco CD with them but suffice it
to say, the Sherpas soon fled for their tents while the rest of the
expedition went wild. Two steps forward, one step back. Oh, well...
I feel like a fish..
Cold and smelly but with good knees. It has turned much colder this
afternoon. My clothes stink. Wash day is definitely scheduled upon
my return from C3! My knee feels fine after two days rest. Namaste,
Friday April 19 - Alan
Hello Everyone, It is a beautifully sunny Friday, April 19 at Everest
Base Camp. We returned yesterday from an acclimatization trip to
camps 1 and 2. We spent two nights at both camps. I must say that
Camp 2 is a very inspiring place! More later but first about the
We left early Monday morning
about dawn. It was not too cold but we hurried up the lower icefall
until it became steep and then we attached our crampons to our boots.
We checked each other's harness to make sure they were double-backed
for safety in case of a fall and we began the 2,000' climb. The sun
was just rising as we got to a section known as the 'popcorn'. This
was my third trip through the fall and it was becoming easier. Believe
it or not I am actually becoming comfortable on the ladders except
for one that tilts sideways and is not attached very well at one
end and is actually three ladders tied together ... you get the idea!
I arrived at Camp 1 about 4.5 hours later. C1 is a grouping of mostly
North Face yellow tents on a flat section of the upper Khumbu Glacier.
There are huge crevasses all around. When I say 'huge', I mean 100'
wide and 400' deep - like a tunnel. We go around these. Others are
very small cracks that you can easily step over. And then there are
those requiring either a 30' down-climb into the crevasse and then
an up-climb out or more ladders. C1 sits amongst these obstacles.
All expeditions come here eventually on the way to C2. We spent Monday
and Tuesday mostly sleeping, reading, eating, drinking with a short interruption of a two hour walk towards Camp 2
just to keep us motivated!
No one slept very well. The surrounding mountains were busy both
nights delivering rock, ice and snow avalanches towards us. Actually
we are far enough away that there is no danger but the noise is enough
to keep you awake. Also, it is difficult the first night at these
altitudes. Wednesday morning we left for Camp 2 around 6:00 AM to
avoid the searing heat in the Western CWM. Our expedition roped up
in teams of three or four for additional safety. I was amazed that
we were the only team I saw taking this reasonable safety step. It
was a perfectly clear, cold morning as we got into a rhythm. Cross
a ladder, down-climb into a crevasse, cross another ladder, begin
an uphill line.
As we moved from 19,650'
to 21,200' our breathing became labored. But I was absolutely stricken
by the scene unfolding before my eyes. Nuptse on the right. Lhotse
straight ahead. Everest on my left. A box canyon that defines box
canyons. The beginning of the Khumbu ice fall. I have seen the end
and now I was walking toward the beginning of this great glacier.
Surrounded on three sides by 8,000' to 10,000' feet of jagged ice
and snow covered rock walls it was eerily quiet, except for the random
avalanche - they never seem to stop. And of course, there was Everest.
As we approached Camp 2, it stood directly above
me. Strong, unassuming, huge, ambivalent to the wind and snow that
stuck to the other peaks, Everest took on human qualities. My eyes
stared at the summit and steadily went left to right seeing the Summit
Ridge, Hillary Step and the South Summit. Down the 2,500' Southeast
Ridge to the South Col - the saddle between Everest and Lhotse and
the location of Camp 4, our launching point for the summit in a few
weeks. Continuing right, the Lhotse face stood proud. The ice was
glistening in the mid-day sun. That means we will be climbing on
concrete hard ice, not my preference. I was hoping for more snow
this year. Mid-way down the face and just to the right of the Geneva
Spur, a nose-like rock structure that would make Jimmy Durantie proud,
will be the location of Camp 3. For the first time, I could see the
entire layout of the Everest climb.
I was very quiet and humbled. This place was huge! The Lhotse face
was intimidating as the avalanches continued. I kept looking up again
and again. Starting at the summit, down to the South Col, over to
Camp 3 and to Camp 2. And then there was this roar. Like an airplane
taking off in the distance, rapids in a nearby river, or a train
passing on overhead tracks two blocks away. The Jet Stream! By any
description it was amazing to here. The wind being ripped by the
highest point on earth, Mount Everest.
We arrived at C2 our new home for two days and settled into our tents
to begin drinking, eating, sleeping and reading - the pattern had
been set. Actually all of this was to force our bodies to create
more red blood cells. Those new cells, rich with oxygen, will make
or break our ability to climb to the summit next month. I didn't
sleep very well any night. It was hot: 115F in the tent in mid afternoon
and -15F at dawn!! But I know I have more red blood cells than before.
And the roar. Wednesday night the Jet Stream moved as predicted and
the train moved into our backyard. Blowing at a steady 50 mph with
gusts to twice that, Rob and I dove deep into our -40F sleeping bags
while pressing against the sides of the tent. I was glad he had put
a few more big rocks on the guide lines of the tent before we went
to bed Wednesday night. Thursday we started back down to base camp
before dawn to avoid the heat again.
I was not feeling 100% and about an hour outside of base camp my
right knee twisted like on Denali. It hurt like Hell. I was on a
10' snow step and managed to get down without putting any weight
on it not knowing the damage. I remembered what my orthopedic doctor
had said about your mind trying to shut down a knee upon injury by
having your brain tell your knee it cannot function even though it
can. The trick is to know if it is really hurt. So I sat as quiet
as possible and put a little weight on it to test the strength of
the joint. At 19,000' my breathing was fairly heavy but I quickly
determined that my knee was hurting but was not hurt. I still wanted
to vomit. I drank some water and relaxed and told my brain that my
knee was OK and ready to complete the trip to BC.
It is funny that much of the time on these trips, you find yourself
alone, but this morning Tom seemed to sense that I was not 100%,
a little unusual since I am normally in the first third to arrive
at our destination and today I was in the last third from C2. Anyway,
he appeared downhill about 100 yards and yelled to me if I was OK,
not having any idea of what had just happened. I told him I was coming
down. When we got together, I told him what had happened and we completed
the journey to BC together. You are rarely alone, even on Everest!
Today, I feel fine. The weather continues to be good, there is lots
of talk about an "early" summit but these things change quickly.
We have three rest days then leave for camps 2 and 3 on Monday. We
will spend at least one night at C3, it will be amazing and dangerous
with the conditions this year. The team continues to do well. Almost
everyone has something annoying them - to be expected on these long
trips. It is now three weeks and two days since I left for Nepal.
It seems longer.
I have my own routine for rest days, my habits for going to sleep
and my tricks to keep my mind alert. Climbing Everest is a huge commitment
- in every sense. I am staying focused on the mountain. I know that
I must be ready physically and mentally when it comes time to rise
at 11:00 PM and push for the summit. Every day is designed for that
night and I must stay focused. We hear of little outside of base
camp. An occasional visitor or a BBC report via short-wave brings
news. We all show great interest in any tidbit.
I am struck by how much relationships, business or life are like
climbing - focus on the day to day while keeping the big picture
in mind. Don't let the little things drag you down. Listen carefully
to advice since it may save your life. Never lose your sense of humor.
Enjoy every day.
Friday April 12
Hello, We arrived at base camp on Monday April 8. We had a great
trek in from Lukla. The new paved airstrip takes all the fun out
of the landing. The weather trekking in was perfect - 70's, clear
skies. We spent 8 nights in tea houses. They have really improved
their cleanliness and quality. The team is doing well except for
a nasty cold that is making the rounds. I am very happy to report
no stomach problems - only a runny nose but today, Friday, I am getting
It is great to be back in the Khumbu with all the Yaks' bells and
Sherpa smiles. Seeing the mountain Ama Dablam, which I summited in
2000, has been very inspiring as I trekked to Everest Base Camp.
It brought back memories of what climbing is all about. We had an
awesome view of Everest from Kala Patar (18,500') this week. It was
a clear, windless day. I hope we have the same for the summit. We
rested on Monday and Tuesday as everyone settled into their individual
tents and the base camp schedule of rest and meals. We have a fairly
crowded camp with 7 climbers, 2 western guides, 4 cooks, 7 climbing
sherpas, camp doctor, 3 researchers from Brown University and others.
The Sherpas are busy establishing camps 1 and 2 with tents, stoves,
fuel and food. They have already made several trips to Camp 2. Everest
Base Camp is a unique spot. There are 7 expeditions here. You never
know who might show up for a coffee or tea. Peter Hillary, son of
Sir Edmund Hillary, dropped by to say hello to Guy Cotter. National
Geographic is making a 50 year anniversary film about the impact
of Hillary on the Khumbu Valley and following Peter's attempt to
summit. The film should air next year. Pete Athens and Dave Hahn
and many other well-known Everest climbers are here with other expeditions.
Each camp is like a small city. There
are different tents for cooking, dining, toilet, shower, communications
and sleeping. In the center of each camp is a stone alter about 5
feet high with an 8 foot wooden pole rising from the center. From
the top of this pole prayer flags are strung in 7 (always an odd
number) different directions covering all the tents in our camp.
It was at this alter that we had our Puja on Wednesday morning.
A Lama walked in from a nearby village to perform the blessing for
all our safety on the mountain. We placed our climbing tools against
the alter. It was a very special event. Fir boughs are burned covering
the camp in a dense smoke while the Lama, our Sidar and Climbing
Sidar chant prayers. Occasionally, rice is thrown into the air. Everyone
involved in our expedition attends the Puja and takes the ceremony
After the Puja, we made our first
trip up the icefall. It was a short 2 hours up and back to
the first ladder. I was looking forward to my first ladder and asked
Bill, one of our guides, that when we got to it I wanted to walk
right up and go across with limited delay. This was an important
goal I had set for myself throughout my training. The first ladder
was about an hour up from BC and was a single 10' ladder
across a 200' crevasse. I clipped my carabineers into both ropes
that are strung on either side of the ladder. With confidence, I
placed my right foot on the first rung and began to place my left.
I paused after allowing my eyes to focus on the crevasse instead
of the ladder rungs. Then I took a step and the next until I was
across. I did it! I was happy that I had practiced at home and had
the feeling of my crampons on the aluminum rungs. After it was over,
it was not nearly as bad as I had thought. We did another ladder
and then returned back to BC for dinner.
What a day: the Puja, my first introduction to the famous Khumbu
Ice Fall and my first ladder crossing. Thursday brought the beginning
of climbing Everest. We got up at 3:30 for breakfast and left BC
at 5:00. The sun was just rising over the Khumbu. You can see the
ice fall from BC but it is deceiving. You only see about a third
of it! This year, there are about 19 ladders much less than the usual
thirty but according to the Sherpas and John Taske, who was here
in 1996, it is much more dangerous and difficult. The longest ladder
thus far is about 30 ' - three ladders tied together. In the middle of this one, you bounce and have to
concentrate to stay level! And, you don't look down into the crevasse.
All this will change over the next month as the glacier moves thus
generating new crevasses and closing old ones. We will probably make
4 to 6 round trips over the expedition. Climbing the ice fall took
all my alpine mountaineering experience. I climbed ice and snow of
various difficulty. I rappelled down steep spots, arm wrapped the
fixed rope many times and more. The path is circuitous with many
ups and downs. While it is 2,000' it took me about 4 and a half hours
to reach the top of the ice fall at 19,500'. Not too bad considering
it was my first time. I was pleased. The ice fall is everything I
ever read about. It was long. It was hard. It was cold in the morning
and horribly hot once the sun rose. The seracs are huge. They are
sitting above the fixed ropes seemingly daring you to pass under.
Once at the top, we rested and had food and water before taking three
hours to return to BC. It was a long day!
I have met several fellow climbers here that I exchanged emails with
before I left. Above the icefall yesterday, a tall man with a Texas
accent walked up to me and asked if I was Alan Arnette! I said yes,
not knowing what was going on. He introduced himself as Stewart who
I instantly remembered from his emails. We laughed and commented
on the ladders sharing the fear and relief of successfully crossing
Today, Friday April 12, is a rest day - we all need it! We plan on
spending several nights on the next trip to Camp 1 and maybe Camp
2 tomorrow. The weather has turned colder with snow every afternoon.
Believe it or not, I am off to a hot shower. The Sherpa cooks heat
water in heavy plastic bags and hang it in a small tent. There is
a wait! The stereo is playing Cheryl Crow and everyone is attending
to their personal business. Some are sleeping, some reading, some
talking and some sending emails! A nice and relaxing day.
The only problem thus far is with sending back pictures. My camera
is working great. I have over 400 pictures and videos! But we have
a problem with getting the images into the sat phone system. Just
what I wanted -debugging computer systems on Everest! Oh well, maybe
we can get it fixed soon and I can get some out. In any event, my
web site will have full coverage once I get back home.
It is amazing to be here. I am feeling great now that the cold is
gone. I am acclimatizing well to the altitude, eating well (already
losing weight, however) and sleeping throughout the night. We have
a great team that is working well together. Our Sherpas are world-class
and the expedition is being run as professionally as I have ever
seen. Here's to hoping for continued good health and good weather.
I think we have a great chance.
The path to Everest
|Thanks for visiting our site. About 18 months before
the climb, I committed myself and began training for
this Everest attempt. I had enjoyed some great times on mountains
such as Ama Dablam, Cho
Oyu and Denali so I decided to attempt Everest.
|Our site has a lot of information
on alpine mountaineering, so please take your time to explore. Finally,
please send any questions or comments and they will be answered directly
or in the Everest Q&A on the site.