Everest 2003 Expedition Dispatches
Himalaya - Nepal
29,035 feet 8850m
Here is my final dispatch for the 2003 Everest attempt. It details our summit bid which lasted a week. There are four parts. As usual, I am sharing exactly what happened with nothing held back. I hope it provides some insight into what it takes to climb Everest, especially when the weather, health or human dynamics turn ugly.
Will there be another attempt for me? After a week back, my answer is probably not. I am proud to have gone to Everest twice. It was a wonderful challenge and I always leave with a part of the Sherpa culture in my heart. But life offers so many opportunities and I have so many other mountains to climb that another two months of my life on Everest seems misplaced. I'll focus on my Colorado 14'ers, Rainier and Hood in '04 then perhaps a trip to Pakistan for GI and II in 2005.
Summit Bid, Part One: base camp to Camp 2
Summit Bid The exact expression leaves you empty. As we leave base camp, we pass the smoking juniper boughs and shake hands with the Sherpas as we make our way up the Ice Fall for the last time this year.
I am nervous moving amongst the huge ice seracs. Nick and I go together, as usual, and Bob is well ahead. Bill, is somewhere; neither with us nor mothering us as we dont like. The Icefall is creaking. Nick and I hear a groan from the glacier and pick up our pace.
Soon we are atop the Fall. I sit on my pack breathing heavily, I vomit. What is wrong with me? Bob, Nick and Bill ignore my retching, as they should. We continue to Camp 1 or what is left of it after the high winds of the past several weeks.
A slow but steady pace take us to Camp 2 and a rest day. The last 100 meters are a killer for Bob, Nick and I. The joke is that I take one step backwards for their one step forward not far from the truth! Chulden cooks lunch, dinner, breakfast and on and on. The food is not very good. Not the fault of Chulden but rather a commentary on our taste buds at 21,000 feet.
Rest day is exactly that we lie in our tents silently. An occasional conversation breaks the monotony but the time is spent sleeping and in private thoughts about the days ahead.
Alan, can we have a cup of tea? I hear Bill, our Guide call out about 5:00 PM the night before we leave for Camp 3 and the summit. I look at Nick and tell him that this is it . Bill has already informed me that if I didnt meet some minimum climbing times then I need to consider stopping.
We have the conversation about climbing time to C3. I have mixed feelings. While I know that I am not acclimatizing, as I should, I dont want to give up. I believe that a slow and steady pace will get me the camps within schedule while not making me sick. I also do not appreciate being told the night before of an arbitrary timeline which does nothing but undermine my confidence and increase the pressure.
I do not sleep well that night. Thinking about the climb to C3, the hard ice, the extreme angles, the hot, the cold I toss all night thinking that if I dont make it on time and in good style my summit of Everest is over.
Summit Bid, Part Two: Camp 2 to Camp 4, The South Col
As usual, we set 8:00 AM for the departure time but we never make it. Bob, Nick, Bill and I set out to C3 and the serious beginning to the summit bid. After a rest day in C2, we are mentally prepared to climb to C3, spend the night, climb to C4-the South Col, spend a few hours and make our summit attempt. A brutal schedule, but this is normal for Everest.
Bob does his normal strong performance to this hanging camp. Bill tells Nick to set his own pace and leave me good advice since Nick needed to understand his own capabilities. I watch him move on above me.
At this point, I know something is not right with my body. I continue to struggle as I go higher. It is easier than the first time to C3 but still difficult. Maybe I should just turn around. Perhaps I should end any dreams of summiting. Or is it to early to quit?
I find myself separated from my team and alone on the Lhotse Face. Climbing slowly, I am careful to clip into every fixed line. This is not the time to make a mistake. Five hours turn into six and soon I am at the High camp, the location of our tents on the Lhotse face. Bill sees me and waves hello. Nick peeks out of our tent and encourages me onward.
Sitting in the tent, Nick is taking Oxygen. I arrange my sleeping bag and crawl in. We melt more ice and soon have a minimal dinner. As the sun sets below Pumori, I sit crossed legged in my bag and look out the tent door. The angle of camp3 is deceiving. One misstep and you are dead. We stay in our tents the entire night sleeping on oxygen.
Awake at sunrise, about 4:30AM, we begin to melt sdrinking water while staying in our bags preserving the warmth our bodies have created during the frigid night. Soon we are dressing in our down clothes and preparing the bottled oxygen for the climb to the South Col. This will take us over the Yellow Band and the Geneva Spur. I am very nervous since this is the climb where I had problems last year.
It is a clear day with a light breeze. The wind had gusted hard several times overnight but was calm in the early morning. We could only hope for the same for summit night. Bob leaves as strong as ever as does Nick. The route begins over hard, steep ice testing our skills. I struggle. Bill is behind me - I feel contempt in his glare. We have a brief conversation and agree that if I turn back, Ill inform a Sherpa to let him know. Soon he moves past me, I am glad.
My climb to the South Col was as different from last year as a dog is from a cat. I took several breaks, used the oxygen as designed and took the time to enjoy the views of the Western Cwm, Lhotse Face, Nuptse and more. It was spectacular.
I arrived at the South Col, met by Ang Dorge, our climbing Sidar. I felt good. Tired but good. Entering the tent, Bill tells me that he sent my sleeping bag down since he assumed I would not make it to C4. I laugh and feel good in my down suit. But in my heart I now know he does not believe in me. Bill, Nick, Bob and I joust for position in our 3-man tent. Four men laying on their backs, shoulder-to-shoulder no good solution, no comfortable configuration. I am miserable and so is everyone else.
The winds pick up as the sun sets. We are scheduled to leave for the summit at 9:00 PM but soon hear Bill speaking with Dave Hahn, a fellow guide. Much to our surprise, he informs Dave that we will not be going up tonight but will wait a day. Nick, Bob and I are shocked and relieved. Dave makes the decision to take his team back to BC to try another day. A good decision in hindsight.
We now focus our minds on getting a good night sleep and resting in the Death Zone throughout tomorrow - three nights in all. Tomorrow, at 9:00PM we will leave for the summit assuming the weather cooperates.
Summit Bid, Part Three:
The South Col and Summit Bid
Chulden brings hot water in the morning for soup. We eat pop-tarts, cereal bars and other snacks for breakfast and lunch. Mostly we lie in our sardine slots and consider what will happen that night. Bill checks the weather again but this time he tells us that it is looking good light winds, cold but acceptable temperatures.
As Bill got out of the tent, we adopted new positions sitting like Indians in a teepee around the edges of the tent, appreciative of the extra space for a little while. Soon morning passes to afternoon and into the waning light of dusk.
I get out to walk around and stretch my legs when Bill comes over. By this point, I know what he is going to say: You must make it to the Balcony in six hours or turn around. Laphka will be with you. Will we have a radio? I ask. No And with that I knew where I stood: the most inexperienced Sherpa with no communication and an aggressive turn-around time.
We discuss the time and I volunteer that I know what is happening to myself. I recognized that I was not at the same level as Nick and Bob. Also that last year, I made my own decision to turn around without Guide or Sherpa support and would make the same decision again if I felt I was in danger. Finally, I had already reset my own expectations so that I would not make the summit; I just wanted to go as high as I could safely - and return.
We soon fell asleep awaiting the 8:00PM call to get dressed for the summit attempt. The call came quickly. Without too many words, Nick, Bob and I got into our down clothing inside the tent. As we stepped out, our Sherpas came over. We put two, four-liter bottles of oxygen into our packs. We adjusted our masks and our goggles and pulled our down hoods over our ears in the 30F temperature.
The clear sky revealed an exquisite Milky Way along with all the constellations. Luckily the wind was calm as we started out. Walking as one group, we left the safety and comfort of Camp 4 for the top of the world. Soon I became separated from the group. Bill had spoken of staying together as a pod and synching up at the Balcony and South Summit but never included me in that definition.
Content to be with Laphka, I got into my own pace not too fast, not too slow. I enjoyed the oxygen and the feeling of climbing towards the summit. I smiled at Laphka, a re-incarnate of Lama, and enjoyed the night. It was great to be back and knowing that I would do what I could do, nothing more. Freedom, adventure and challenge.
After a few hours, I became tired. About the same place as 2002, I knew it was time to turn around and return to Camp 4 and the solitude of my tent. I stopped for a few minutes and looked around. The big rock where I turned around last year was hidden in the darkness but the lights of the South Col were clear. The wind began to pick up and I felt a little cold. Once again, I was in the same spot: go on and risk my life, go back and accept not summiting. An easy decision, I tell Laphka I am turning around. I feel good. As I step downhill, a wave of disappointment overcomes me...
Back at the South Col, I feel asleep instantly feeling good about my performance and wishing my teammates success for the summit. As dawn hit the South Col, I heard on the radio that they were at the South Summit but the winds were now blowing at gale force and the visibility was down to 10 meters or 30 feet. A very dangerous situation to be crossing the knife-edge summit ridge.
Nick, Bob and Bill made the decision to return to Camp 4 thus abandoning their summit. As Bob and Nick told me later, the South Summit was filled with climbers staring aimlessly, stumbling on the fixed ropes and stalling other climbers progress with unsteady progress. They were very frustrated but felt good that they had made the right decision for their own personal safety. We had always spoken about not attempting the summit with all the other expeditions in order to avoid the crowds but that was exactly what had taken place. Three of the climbing Sherpas, Ang Dorge, Pasang Tenzing and Phu Tashi went on to the summit as Nick, Bob and Bill turned.
I watched for my teammates throughout the day before seeing them walking across the Col around 1:00PM. As each one arrived at our tent, I looked carefully into their eyes. They were spent. Very tired. But satisfied with their effort.
Once inside the tent, Nick feel asleep almost immediately while Bob kept watch over the returning climbers. One climber stumbled to his knees as he approached the South Col tents and called out for help. Completely spent, he had nothing left and needed assistance from his teammates to cover the last few hundred feet to the safety of his tent a commentary of the brutal toll a summit attempt takes on your body.
Eventually, everyone is asleep or in deep private thoughts about the past twenty-four hours. Could I have done better? Different choices? Different approach? Second-guessing or learning?
As darkness fell, Nick sat straight up and made a startling declaration: I cant see, he said calmly. He had taken his sunglasses off when he had trouble with his oxygen mask just below the South Summit. At that altitude it only takes a few minutes for the bright sun to burn your eyes, a condition called snow blindness. While extremely painful, it is not permanent.
Throughout that night, I put drops of pain medicine into Nicks eyes as he kept them covered. I felt bad for him after such a valiant effort that no he had to deal with this. But he did well, slept as much as he could and showed his true courage throughout a long night. Namaste, Alan
Summit Bid, Part Four: Return to base camp
Like every morning on the Hill, dawn came early about 4:00AM on the South Col. Shoulder to shoulder, we lie motionless in the tent. Finally, we hear Chulden come by asking about water for the climb down to Camp 2. Bill, in a hurry, rushes us along to get our sleeping bags packed, down suits on and packs ready. Slowly we accommodate him.
Nicks eyes, still painful, are now open but his vision is blurred. It is decided that Ang Dorge will lead him down with Bob close behind. I get out of the tent and take one last look around the infamous South Col and the route to the balcony and South Summit. I have mixed feelings knowing that I did find my limits and pushed as much as was safely beyond them yet I did not summit for the second year in a row. However, I left the Col with a sense of peace.
As we reached the top of the Geneva Spur, I watched Ang Dorge, Nick and Bob descend safely ahead. I gingerly down climbed the Spur not wanting to make a mistake and fall to my death the thousand of feet below on the Lhotse Face. However, I had underestimated my condition. While I felt good being still, I was still very vulnerable to activity and soon found myself fatigued even though I had gone only a short distance.
Trying to find the balance between going too slow and too fast, I clipped into each fixed line as I traversed the distance between the Spur and the Yellow Band. Soon, I heard Bill behind me asking me how I was doing. I tried to explain that I was being careful but soon he crossed all lines of professionalism and lashed out at me with an accusation of You said you were not going to do this to me again!
Shocked beyond belief, I invited Bill to descend without me and continued my climb to Camp 3, slowly and carefully. Once at Camp 3, he extended his hand in an indigent apology after I made it clear that I had never lied or mislead him about my condition and I was seriously ill at this point and wanted to get down as fast as was safely possible.
Needles to say, I was incredibly disappointed with how I was treated just at the moment I need support. I felt very bad that my body had not acclimatized properly and showed serious signs of altitude sickness. This could have only been prevented by me never climbing above Camp 2 in hindsight. But at this point, all the prevention was history and now was the time to get down.
Once in Camp 2, I drank some hot chocolate and immediately vomited it all up. I skipped dinner and slept as much as possible. The next day, after a leisurely climb down the icefall with Nick and Bob, I thought about my experience on the Hill. Yes, I had many problems. Similar to last year but more throughout the climb instead of just summit night. Could I have prevented them? What mistakes had I made? Perhaps the schedule was not adequate for proper acclimatization. Perhaps, the food was not sufficient to keep my body fueled. Or perhaps it was not my year.
It happens to every climber. You reach a wall that cannot be passed. Maybe 2003 I hit that wall. But I am still proud not to have given into pressure to stop my climb. I never put my team into danger. I only put myself through significant pain and misery. No regrets. No apologies. If I hadnt gone back I would have never known.
Twenty years from now a couple of kids may come up to me after being pointed out as someone who climbed Mt. Everest. Ill look them in the eyes and tell them some stories about the Ice Fall, high-altitude effects, Sherpas, Lamas and correct them that I attempted Everest twice but never made it all the way to the top.
Then Ill delight in telling them about how Cathy and I chronicled my climbs on the Internet back when the technology was young and new to so many. Ill tell them about the pictures and stories and all the emails we received from all around the world. Ill tell them about finding old friends and making so many new friends. Ill share with them the positive thoughts so many people sent and what a difference it made.
Then, Ill tell them that sometimes it is not the result but the effort that counts and go out there and pick something really, really hard to try; give it your best and be proud of your effort.
Wednesday, May 28
A helicopter crashed at Everest Base Camp today. To the best of my knowledge, no one from the Adventure Consultants team was involved. I ksure that Bob, Nick and I were in Kathmandu and Bill and Ellen were down valley. My condolences to the families of those killed in this accident.
SUNDAY MAY 25 - BASE CAMP
Its over at least for 2003 and our team. Nick, Bob and Bill made it to within 300 vertical feet, The South Summit, of the true summit before turning around due to worsening weather. I made it half way to the Balcony, 27,000 feet, before turning around.
The term Summit bid is misleading since once you leave base camp it is a week-long process to attempt the summit and return. I will be writing about this summit bid week in several dispatches that will be published once I get home in less than a week. I think you will find it interesting to see all the details and complications that go on behind the scenes plus the background around our decisions to turn around.
Also, I took some terrific pictures of the team leaving for the summit on May 20, the South Col and stunning views of the Western Cwm from the Geneva Spur. Finally, there are a few telling images of Nick and Bob as they returned from their 15 hour ordeal.
For now, we are resting up in base camp and working on the logistics to get back to Katmandu. But the best news of our expedition is that in spite of some altitude sickness, snow blindness, traffic jams, brutal winds and extreme cold temperatures; everyone is back safely with all their fingers and toes in base camp. Namaste, Alan
May 23 Safely Back
THURSDAY MAY 22 - 1:45a.m. MDST
AC group back at South Col
Just reported from South Col. 6.05pm Nepal time
The Adventure Consultants group have arrived back on South Col after a long day on the mountain. The group reached the South Summit this morning but the winds were already fierce by this time. Only one member of the expedition reached the summit, a Sherpa named Pasang Tenzing, as he was ahead of the main AC group fixing ropes with a Sherpas from several teams. The climbing party saw many people ahead of them on the ridge between the South Summit and the top of the Hillary step and realised that they would not be able to safely make the top and get down without exposing themselves to undue risk. The weather conditions have deteriorated during the day with strong wind gusts on the upper mountain right now. Sometimes it takes more determination to turn around than to keep going higher. While we at the AC base are disappointed that the group did not reach their goal, we are very happy to see them back safely back at the col.
WEDNESDAY MAY 21 - 9:00a.m. MDST
The weather has improved, so it's a go! We plan on leaving shortly after 9 PM. Not as many team's at C4 tonight, but still good to be out front. Our gear's packed and now just hoping the weather holds for 18-24 hours. Wish us luck and continued good weather!
AC team off to the summit - Bill
SUNDAY MAY 18 - A NOTE FROM CATHY
Please continue to follow the team's progress at the Adventure Consultant's site
The team will be conserving battery power as they make their way up the mountain so Alan's dispatches will be short and limited.
FRIDAY MAY 16 - SUMMIT BID PREP
I am feeling a 1000% better. The cough is an occasional one that I can control, no stomach problems and I am feeling stronger every day. I am as ready as I will ever be for our summit bid. Bob and Nick are also doing extremely well. We leave tomorrow, Saturday, May 17.
The ideal, theoretical schedule is as follows:
Saturday, May 17 Climb from base camp to Camp 2
Sunday, May 18 Rest day at Camp 2
Monday, May 19 Climb to Camp 3 on Lhotse Face
Tuesday, May 20 Climb across Yellow Band & Geneva Spur to South Col, Camp 4
Tuesday, May 20 Leave for summit about 9:30 PM
Wednesday, May 21 Summit 10:00AM
Wednesday, May 21 Arrive back in Camp 4, South Col about 3:00PM
Thursday, May 22 Climb back to Camp 2
Friday, May 23 Climb back to base camp
Now, all this is subject to radical changes given weather conditions and the number of climbers on the mountain. If, for example, we find that on Tuesday night there are too many people attempting the summit, we will take an extra day at the South Col. We have the oxygen to do this and it would be safer than fighting the crowds on a single fixed line.
The weather forecast is almost too good! Low winds, temperatures in the mid-teens (F) and clear skies. This forecast is consistent for several days. That is excellent since so many expeditions have not made their summit bid and there is a backlog. Many have been here since late March and should have summited several weeks ago but for a variety of reasons have not so everyone seems to be using this large window for their attempts. I hope there will not be any tragedies with so many people up there at once. We will avoid the crowds.
So, today Friday, we checked all our gear one more time. However most of my summit gear is sitting in a tent at 24,000 waiting for me. We are eating and drinking as much as we can hold. I took a shower and shaved today so I can have a nice summit picture. I will be taking my Digital Cameras on the summit bid.
It is another beautiful spring day in base camp - a slight breeze, temperatures in the 60s F. Not a cloud in the sky. The avalanches are in full bloom since we dont have flowers up here. In fact, while I was writing this, a large one occurred in the Ice Fall (off route). I saw an ice block the size of a car rolling down the hill!
We will have limited power above BC so the dispatches will be infrequent. Between Adventure Consultants and myself, we will try to get one out a day. They will probably be very short with no images. But there will be lots when I get down. You can also take a look at the 2002 expedition for images of the South Col and summit night.
This has been another interesting experience, very different from last year. The smaller team has made the dynamics more intimate. The number of teams on the mountain has made the environment feel larger. The weather has been slightly nicer yet colder. There is less snow this year. And of course, I have already had my bad day!
What has not changed has been the tremendous support I have received from family, old friends and new friends from all around the world. If you ever think a kind word or positive thought does not make a difference, please let me suggest differently. Cathy has been pulling your emails together into a single item and sending them to me every few days. They have been and will continue to serve as a source of encouragement, strength and support for my climb. You have been extremely kind to Cathy and I. Your words feel carefully chosen to balance the risks with the goal yet focus on using good judgment to do my best in this difficult undertaking. I really feel like I am not alone. Thank you.
Also, the support from my family has been unquestioning I would not be here without it. My parents who are elderly kind of understand but continue to give me positive words, as does my brother. Ashley, who is in her own competitive fight, sends me her positive energy (Kido, row hard and no matter what happens, I love you and am very proud of you). And, of course, Cathy has once again pulled off six weeks of uncertainty, pressure and mastering the web site. One more week to go. mulu
I dont know how to finish this dispatch. There is so much more I could write about: the climb, the risks, our attitudes, the teamwork with the Sherpas, the contingencies in place if something goes wrong, the oxygen plan and on and on. But I think the best way is to simply close by sharing an excerpt from a web-friend, Renee. I dont think she will mind. Her daughter, Alex, used some of my 2002 Everest pictures in a speech contest earlier this year.
"I dreamed about Alex standing in full climbing gear, oxygen and everything. Taking the last few steps to the top of Everest she reached out her hand and Alan took it and hauled her up the last few steps. Then she did exactly what she said in her speech 'Take a picture, make a toast with your climbing buddy, take a look out from the roof of the world, and turn around and climb down"
I am humbled, gratified and motivated. Namaste, Alan
THURSDAY MAY 15 - BASE CAMP
What has been your hardest mountain climb ever? Denali.
Denali was colder but will probably change above Camp 3, 7200m, on Everest.
Interview with Bob...
TUESDAY MAY 13 - BASE CAMP
Resilience. Amazing what the human body can withstand and recover from. Back at BC, I spent some time with our team Doctor, Dedra. She looked me directly in the eye as I explained what had happened on the Face. If we can prevent this, I want to get started now I said strongly.
I felt better after returning to Camp 2 and then to base camp but my appetite had not returned and my cough was almost as bad. What I did manage to get down did not stay for long. Nick was doing well as was Bob but both appreciated the thicker air in BC.
Chongba, our BC Cook was especially concerned since food was his department. He made me scrambled eggs for dinner instead of the meat and potato Sherpa stew he prepared for everyone else.
The next day, I felt better. Another visit from Dedra brought great news, my lungs passed a stethoscope inspection and revealed no fluid. This was critical since it may have indicated some type of edema and the end of my climb. I was eating better and the coughing had subsided but was still there.
I spoke with other climbers only to find that my experience was not that rare. While extreme, these coughing episodes leading to involuntary gagging happened to more climbers than I thought. The key it seems is to stay very, very hydrated and keep your stomach as full as possible. Sounds simple but almost no one can execute the strategy successfully above Camp 2.
With a misery loves company comfort in my mind, I focused on eating, drinking and everything else. Also I began working on my attitude. Yes I was discouraged. Yes I was upset. A well-publicized Everest guide once wrote that emotions are not allowed on Everest. With all due respect, I disagree. It was pure emotion that kept me going. Emotion allows for the gray in black and white choices. Too much emotion and you make the wrong choice but just enough and you do things never thought possible.
Today, May 13, is the second day of our rest period before the official summit bid. We do not know when we will leave for the bid. It is dependent on identifying three or four consecutive days of low winds at the summit. Once it is identified through our weather reports, we will leave BC for C2 and above.
We did spend some time today reviewing the oxygen equipment. Nick, Bob and I tried on our masks, plugged the regulator onto a 3-liter bottle and practiced turning it all on and off. This will be our lifeline on summit night so it is critical to understand how the entire system works.
So our time is spent sleeping, eating, and drinking. Tonight we will have a social event with Dave Hahns expedition. It is nice to meet new people, discuss new topics and share experiences. But I can promise one topic will almost dominate the conversation: When will you leave for the summit? Namaste, Alan
FRIDAY MAY 9 - CAMP 3 LHOTSE
This could not be happening again, I
sternly lectured myself. You are in better condition, you have
not been sick, you cannot let this happen, I continued between
coughs. Not again
WEDNESDAY MAY 7 - CAMP 2
After a days delay for high winds,
we left BC around 5:00 AM. Nick, Bob, Bill and I passed through the
thick smoke from the burning fur bough, tossing a pinch of blessed
rice into the air three times. The goal for this trip was to spend
a single night at Camp 3, 23,500.
High winds the previous three days had destroyed almost
all the tents there including ours. I was concerned about my down suit
and other summit gear I had left cached in the tent but found it unscathed.
The scene was amazing; tents reduced to shreds of nylon held to the
ground by a few bamboo poles, ropes flapped in the air. The wind had
no preference for make, model or style; all were destroyed equally.
TUESDAY MAY 6 - BASE CAMP
MONDAY MAY 5 - BASE CAMP
I find a sense
of peacefulness on Everest that is beyond just climbing. The
Sherpas, the Lamas, the sense that our Earth has more to offer than just
oil and water; the responsibility of treating one another with respect
and dignity goes beyond a trite slogan; it is real and meaningful.
Climbing for me amplifies important lessons in life: humility,
respect, and trust. Every trip up the mountain forces you to make a decision:
will my role contribute or be a drain. You may still live regardless
of your role but what a missed opportunity to learn.
SUNDAY MAY 4 - A NOTE FROM CATHY
I have posted two dispatches this morning from Alan from base camp. Also, please continue to click on the link below for additional updates and pictures from Adventure Consultants.
FRIDAY MAY 2 - LHOTSE FACE
With Bill well above me and Bob and Nick starting up the Face, I take a moment to let it all sink in. Here I climbed the Lhotse Face once again. I reach out with my jumar and take another step. The snow, while firm, can give way at any moment. This is why I am attached to the fixed line with two pieces of equipment: my jumar and a carabineer.
In modern times, more people die climbing the Lhotse Face than any other part of the South Col route. This is because the surface is either concrete hard, blue ice or hard packed snow. If you are lucky, there are small steps cut into the Face from the hundreds of climbers preceding you. There are fixed lines anchored into the Face with ice screws or snow anchors. Everyone clips their carabineers into these lines to stop a serious fall.
It becomes very interesting when you need to pass someone since you share the same line. A high altitude ballet takes place. Like in an old west gunfight, you eye the other guy. As you get closer, you make your move to the right or left. Standing close to each other, you make sure your footing is fixed. With a few grunts and a smile, you unclip one of your carabineers keeping the other one attached to the lifeline. Reaching around the climber, you clip back into the line around him, then move the other biner above this new placement. All this happens in a moment and you move on. Not every swap is this complex but everyone requires caution. One mistake and there is no recovery on the steep Face. Once you start to fall, there is nothing to stop you for thousands of feet. It is real. It is harsh. It is climbing Everest.
I reached 6800 meters on the acclimatization climb and felt very strong. I am eating much better this year at the High Camps. Back in BC, it feels like I am on a beach! I believe my training is paying off. I have not carried any load bigger than what I train with so I believe that my strength is holding up and my reserves are deep at this point. Ill send another dispatch before we head back up for our C3 sleep but for now I am back to my hard work of resting and eating at BC! Namaste, Alan
THURSDAY MAY 1 - CAMP 2
The forecast says 100mph winds by Saturday Bill said reading from the Compaq PDA in his hand. Racing against the weather is a given on Everest. We get daily weather reports from the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute. We had been at camps 1 and 2 for two nights and needed to get as high up on the Lhotse face as possible for our acclimatization. We also needed to stay at C3 another two nights. But the gamble would be if the forecast was wrong and the high winds moved in earlier. We would be stuck at C2 for more nights than planned, which creates problems with food, fitness, etc. We made the decision to stay and go up the Face one more time. There will be more on climbing the Lhotse face in the next dispatch, but once again it was a great experience for me.
Camp 2 seems much bigger this year with all the expeditions on the Hill. Tents upon tents crowded into the moraine of the Khumbu glacier. Everyone selects the same spot since it is off the main glacier yet close to the bottom of the Lhotse face. It is about two hours walk from C1, about 1,500 feet higher. It is cold at C2. You can hear the Jet Stream ripping across the summit of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse. With Nick and I in one tent and Bill and Bob in the other, we spent most of our time sleeping, reading or making the short walk to Chuldens cooking/dining tent for meals. In spite of living at 21,000 feet, we ate and slept well.
Rumors spread quickly on Everest. Once the weather forecast came out, it seemed that every team had a different reading. Some went down immediately, others stayed in BC while others reset their summit dates. The Nepal/India Army Expedition reset their summit window to May 9th. They seem to want to be the first to summit this year. Which is fine with us!
Our decision to stay, go up the face once again and return to BC on Saturday, May 2, proved to be right on. Just like last year, Bill, our expedition guide, used his experience and good judgment to make the most out of our time high up on the climb.
Our trip down to BC was eventful. In the Western Cwm and again in the Icefall, we were hit by gusts so strong that it literally moved us a few steps well over 60mph. Blowing ice pellets pelted our faces and the visibility went to zero. As always in the Cwm, we were roped together a rare sight which amazes me to this day. Why expeditions risk their lives by not taking the simple precaution of roping together to prevent losing someone in a crevasse is beyond me.
I learned today, Sunday, that of the over 70 Sherpas trying to ferry gear to the South Col on Saturday, only nine made it including our four Sherpas lead by Ang Dorge. Most turned back due to the high winds. Also, almost two-dozen tents were virtually destroyed at Camp 1 by the high winds.
Back in BC, we spent a very, very peaceful night getting ten or more hours sleep. It snowed gently all night but we didnt care. We now have oxygen cached at Camp 4 for our summit bid. We will spend three nights before going back up to spend one night at Camp 3. Namaste, Alan
SATURDAY MAY 3 - A NOTE FROM CATHY
I just spoke to Alan this morning (Saturday evening his time). The team is safely back in base camp. They are all fit and doing well. It seems they are down just in time as they were hit a couple of times in the Cwm and Ice Fall by winds in excess of 50 mph. High winds are expected to hit the region sometime today through Monday. Due to a low pressure system over Afghanistan, the Jet Stream will be moving back over the Everest region. A dispatch from Alan should follow sometime this weekend.
THURSDAY MAY 1 - CAMP 2
TUESDAY APRIL 29 - A NOTE FROM CATHY
The team is now sending dispatches directly from the mountain. Now we are able to follow their progress above base camp. Please check out Adventure Consultant's current expedition news dispatch page for continued dispatches from Bill (expedition leader) by clicking on the following link.
Be sure to check out the April 24 dispatch from the Western Cwm for a video clip.
SUNDAY APRIL 27 - A NOTE FROM CATHY
Hello everyone...I just received and posted three dispatches from Alan. Due to some equipment problems, Alan has been unable to communicate with me above base camp. Please read and enjoy all three dispatches.
SUNDAY APRIL 27 - BASE CAMP
Everest Base Camp is always a unique spot on our planet. This year even more so. With international publicity surrounding the 50th anniversary of Norgays and Hillarys first ascent in 1953, there are 24 expeditions on the South Side and nearly the same on the North. Looking out my tent door, all I see are prayer flags, small and large tents and banners announcing the sponsors and origins of the multiple expeditions. In total there are over 400 people living in base camp. Some of the largest expeditions include the Joint India-Nepal Army Expedition (90 members) and the French Expedition (42 members). Then you have the smaller teams, such as ours with 4 climbers, and the large commercial expeditions with teams ranging from 9 to 18 from all around the world.
You might think that it is very noisy and frenzied, but it is not. For the most part, life is quiet and orderly. There are multiple generators to run lights, computers and radios. But they are always shut off by 8:00 PM to allow for a peaceful sleep. There are a few thoroughfares that keep people from tramping through one anothers camps. If you do happen to walk right through someones camp, you are greeted with a friendly Namaste and more than likely meet someone you know.
The Internet Cafe is a unique place. They are using a microwave link to a satellite dish at Pumori base camp and deliver speeds of up to 128kbs. The link is required since Everest Base Camp is on a moving glacier and it would require daily dish adjustments. However, a recent thunderstorm knocked out their system. Dinesh and Sanjay had to move the dish several miles to base camp. It came back online today, Sunday. They have several notebooks but many people bring their own and plug in or use the wireless connection. The charge is a reasonable $1 per minute for trekkers or $0.45 for expedition members. They even let you run an account.
For all the people, this is an enormous place. At any time there can be climbers strewn from BC to camps 1, 2 and 3. The Ice Fall seems to be the consistent bottleneck at this point in our climb. We try to avoid it by leaving an hour later than the Sherpas. Summit night will be interesting but that is later. But in general, life runs at a slow pace in BC.
The biggest event is the sound of an avalanche off Pumori or the Cho La. Everyone looks out their tents and ohs and ahs at the tons of snow falling down the mountainside.
Today is a rest day for our team. We leave on Monday, April 28 for four nights at camps 1 and 2 and an important climb up the Lhotse Face. We hope to reach at least 7,000 meters or 23,100 feet. This will be crucial to our acclimatization. We already have our cold weather sleeping gear at Camp 1 but will need to get our summit climbing gear to Camp 2 on this climb or the next.
The weather seems to have settled into a pattern of mild, sunny mornings with cloudy, snowy afternoons. But the temperatures have been reasonable thus far. We do not have any real health problems other than the annoying head congestion, sleepless night or stomach irritation. My cold seems happy to live a low level of casual stuffiness and a very rare cough. I am thrilled that I am not experiencing my usual Khumbu Cough where I enjoy a short, dry cough every two minutes. I am sleeping and eating well. I spend most of my time sleeping, writing these dispatches, reading (just finished Sir Edmund Hillary's 'View From The Summit'); what else? And of course, thinking about the next step.
I am very focused on doing what I need to do each day, whether it is a climb or rest - accomplish the task, eat, drink and rest. While my mind takes me often to the difficulties above Camp 3, I feel more comfortable this year based on what I know. Also, I feel more anxious this year based on what I know. All I can do is control what I can control and that means focusing on my daily health, putting in the work, and remembering why I returned to Everest.
Every morning when I awaken, I still cannot believe I am back so soon. Perhaps it was too soon to appreciate how fortunate I am to have another chance. Then again, I feel like I picked up where I ended last year. I am glad I returned this year. The memories are still in my muscles, the feelings in my heart and the knowledge in my mind. If this was not the best time, when would have been? Namaste, Alan
FRIDAY APRIL 25 - WESTERN CWM
'The quiet valley' or 'The hidden valley'. By any name, the U-shaped basin sitting between Everest and Nuptse holds a special place in mountaineering. First spotted by George Mallory in the 20's as a possible route to the summit, it has been an entrance and an obstacle for several thousand climbers attempting these hills for the past half-century.
My health vastly improved, I gladly got out of my minus 40-degree sleeping bag to take a walk up the Cwm to improve my acclimatization. No need for heavy down today, the clear sky allowed the sun to radiate in all directions. Sun block was necessary on any uncovered and covered areas of the body because the sun penetrated the light layers of our protective clothing.
As Bob, Bill and I roped up, I glanced around at Camp 1 and allowed myself to think about last year and the crevasse. There are four clusters of tents due to the large number of expeditions on this anniversary year. Tents set so close to each other that you could hear every conversation, every bodily function. Perhaps too close! Yet just like in most large cities, you never get to meet your neighbor. Maybe, what we need is a front porch.
Just beyond Camp 1, the Khumbu Glacier begins to crack into large crevasses. Some so large that you must go around, others that need multiple ladders to cross and then there are those that you easily step across. It is this last variety that lulls you into a deadly sense of confidence. As we approach a small dark hole, my mind flashes back to falling into one of its cousins almost exactly eleven months ago to the day. This time, I look deeply at the hidden danger, look left and right as if for oncoming traffic and step across. There, I did it. Not this year! Not again, I tell anyone inside my head that cares to listen.
The crunching under my feet sounds like a cereal commercial for the latest honey-baked breakfast treat. The snow has melted, frozen, melted and frozen so many times that the only defense it has against my crampons is a loud crunch. We move at a slow but steady pace towards Camp 2.
Last year I was almost overwhelmed by the beauty of the Cwm, a Welsh word for valley. Everest on the left, Lhotse ahead and Nuptse guarding the right; nothing but rock, snow and ice in every direction. The only exits are down the Ice Fall or over the South Col and to the summits. Ravens ride the air currents in search of food. They seem ignorant of the dangers below or maybe just confident of their ability to escape.
Everest overwhelms everything in the Cwm. It is huge, massive and forbidding. From lower down the Cwm, the summit ridge stands out clearly almost daring the fools below to take a chance. The South Summit, the Hillary Step and then, the top of the world - I simply cannot take my eyes away. We take a break at about 20,200 feet and sit on our packs. While Bob and Bill discuss geo-political concerns, rebuilding the U.S. economy, climbing other mountains, I pay only half attention while staring at the summit the way a two-year-old stares at his birthday candles.
The sun, frustrated that we have not given up, turns up the heat a notch. I take some cold, wet snow and put it underneath my hat. The cool water feels good running down my face. I push my dark glacier glasses close to my face and cover my neck with the drape of my cap. I glance again at Everest, almost afraid to look her in the face. Out of fear, out of knowledge, out of respect? I know what this mountain can do to people, what it did to me. I want her to know that I know.
We return to camp and settle into the normal alpine mountaineering routine eat, sleep, eat, well you know. That night I get only a few hours sleep. Wide-awake from midnight to dawn, my mind races. I solve every problem, consider every scenario, write every thought and then again, I do nothing.
We make our way down the Ice Fall in half the time it took to climb a few days ago. Tired, I catch some sleep before lunch and think about the next trip up. I have been gone from home for three weeks. Still four to go. Most of the excitement is still ahead so it is critical that things go well. So far, so good. Namaste, Alan
WEDNESDAY APRIL 23 - ICE FALL
MONDAY APRIL 21 - EVEREST BASE
SUNDAY APRIL 20 - EVEREST BASE
FRIDAY APRIL 18 - EVEREST BASE
I appreciate everyones support back home your thoughts and prayers are always felt on the mountain. Namaste, Alan
WEDNESDAY APRIL 16
Here are some more pictures of the view I have been
enjoying the last week. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Namaste,
FRIDAY APRIL 11
I was deeply
moved by this puja since it was the same Lama and his son
who performed our Puja last year in the same room. Somehow,
I felt his presence more this year.
THURSDAY APRIL 10
TUESDAY APRIL 8
Monday, April 9
Sitting on the full Thai flight, I was surrounded by people wearing surgical masks. I wondered about the risks of being exposed to SARS and what bad luck that would be at the beginning of my trip. I listened to my music and looked out the window. From ocean to silt covered flatlands to green forest and finally the brown hills of Nepal, we flew over Thailand, Bangladesh and India on our way to Katmandu. Knowing that on a clear day you can see Everest out the right side of the airplane, I walked to one of the doors and peered out the tiny round window. Several hundred miles to the Northeast was a layer of white puffy clouds. There it was! I quickly grabbed my camera and steadied my hands on the emergency exit. Flying 600 miles per hour at 38,000', I zoomed in eight times until the goal came into focus. Click, click I took eight pictures not sure if any would come out. I set aside the camera and took a long look. There it was. A huge white plume rippled off the mountain revealing the ever-present jet stream howling from East to West. I could see Lhotse and Nuptse standing guard on Chomolungma, Goddess Mother of the Earth. As I looked closer, I told myself I could see the big rock where I turned around last year. Returning to my seat, a wave of excitement came over me. I stood taller, walked faster and felt strong. I was returning to finish what I had started.