The Final 2 Minutes

Alan inspecting Everest from Pumori yesterday
Alan inspecting Everest from Pumori yesterday

While the title of this dispatch may not resonate with those outside of the US, it seems true of many sports that for most of the game, professional sports teams seem to trade goals waiting for the final two minutes before getting serious about wining or losing. Well, climbing is kind of like that.

We spend weeks going up and down the mountain to establish camps, build red blood cells, prepare our bodies and mind and then over a period of days then hours, we go for the summit – win or lose – it game over; well at least for the moment; the memories will last a lifetime.

I am at about halftime in my game with Everest.

Since coming down from Camp 2 at 21,500′ in the Western Cwm, I have been fighting a battle with an upper respiratory infection – and it was winning. The three days med course I was on was simply not working. I was getting weaker, not eating, and not sleeping. The next stage could have been pneumonia.

So in consultation with my Docs, both IMG and Everest Er, I changed course and took a different med and path and am glad to report turning the corner. Today’s big event was a shower and a shave thus delaying my Santa Claus transition with my white beard and greying hair. No worry on the pot belly however since I have now lost 12 pounds. I am ready for the last 2 minutes.

Many followers of Everest climbs read about teams who have a great trek to Base Camp, then make speedy climbs through the Icefall and spend the required night at Camp 3 on the Lhotse face. They wait for the weather window and then summit, returning to Kathmandu for a celebratory dinner at the Rum Doodle. It is rarely that easy.

I don’t report my illness for sympathy, as an excuse or to be a martyr but rather to share what really happens on these climbs – at least for me. And I am not alone. Getting sick is part of the journey during long climbs, some don’t; most do. However, the key is to deal with the issue up front, be honest with your support system, communicate and be to let our bodies do what they do . The most difficult part is mental, not physical.

As I lay in my sleeping bag, it is 9:20PM. I went to bed at 7. I have not slept. My head is pounding, my nose is running and every turn brings on another wave of coughing. I am sure my teammates in tents a few feet away are ready to do me in. Time moves at glacial speed. It is now 11:07. I tap my digital watch as if that will make time go faster. The camp has finally settled down for another short evening. The stoves will light back up at 1:00AM for the next round of climbers heading back up. But not me.

I roll over and pull my down bag against my neck. Yet I feel claustrophobic and fight the zipper to let me breath. I am now cold and pull it back to my neck. Another crocodile roll, coughing attack and I sit straight up. I fight to unzip the bag that has my arms in sarcophagus mode. Damn-it, I am not a mummy. Where is that zipper?

My frustration rages and my body temp rises. Drool out my mouth, snot out my nose, my heart pounds, my head is about to explode from within. The zipper moves an inch before getting caught in the fabric. Another round ensues. I finally break free only by sticking my arms straight above my head. With the bag around my neck, my arms straight above my head, my face red as it can be, all I need is a tiny car and huge shoes to complete the circus act. I take a deep breath to regroup.

I tap my watch again. It is 11:23PM. Sunrise in 6 hours, breakfast in 7 and half. I stare at the tent ceiling debating whether to unzip all the vents or seal them shut – both bad ideas. My eyes close against my will but my brain denies sleep. If this continues, I will be on the bench during the last two minutes.

The struggle continues for days on end, no sleep at night yet no rest during the day. Something has to give. However, I know deep down I am hurting, not hurt.

I draw strength from thinking about my mom’s struggle during these times. She was hurt but she never let it on to world she was hurting. Her constant smile, small laugh and enduring spirit impacted others throughout her life. She touched so many even as Alzheimer’s sealed its grip on her.

Long expeditions require patience like so many things in life; there are so many variables out of our control. We simply try to cope while doing everything we can; to take personal responsibility and to control our own destiny. It benefits no one to ignore reality and wish a bad situation better.

The new meeds course has finally taken hold and I feel much better. Last night was the sleep I have in 10 days. I need at least two full days at 100% before I commit to returning to the Western Cwm. I am now behind the rest of the team for rotations but I am not worried. Remember we are just starting the second half.

The IMG Camp 3 has now been established thus opening the door for rotations to this harsh test. We will climb the Lhotse Face and sleep without supplemental oxygen forcing our bodies to deal with reality. This rotation is the dry run for the summit. The Hybrid team is there today, most of the Classic team leaves tonight for their rotation. I will stay at Base Camp until Wednesday to make sure I have fully recovered. Kami just smiles when we talk, touching my elbow gently telling me to rest, stay warm and no hurry. Even with these delays, I will be ready for the original summit schedule in mid May.

Other teams are gearing up for the same schedule and the Face will get a bit crowded. Summit windows are only discussed in hush tones it at all given the windows are still weeks away. The annual poker game begins. Same as every year with teams trying keep their schedule secret to avoid the crowds and every year the crowds emerge on this the most popular of all 8000m mountains.

The ropes to the summit should be fixed in the next week. The schedule was to have all the line and anchors to the South Col by May 5th and then a cross-team effort of elite Sherpas will fix the lines to the top of world thus opening the flood gates.

As I continue to say, Everest is the longest and most difficult of the 7 Summits. It requires the most patience and has one of the highest probabilities of getting sick or something going wrong. But you know, it may be the most rewarding for all those reasons.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

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27 thoughts on “The Final 2 Minutes

  1. Hang in there man.Dont feel you are getting behind.Remember,its a turtle race up high anyway,as you already know.Pulling for ya man.Try not to get discouraged. 🙂

  2. Good for you, Alan; with the infantry, I spent a lot of time in tents, in conditions similar to yours; I applaud your durability.

  3. It’s so easy to see the two usual sides of climbing Everest – the glamorous camp to camp and tag the summit version that you described and the all too often death and disaster version that is more than equally publicized. Thanks for sharing what is probably more the usual case. Struggles and challenges with the little everyday issues. The things that it takes so much to fight against because they are so persistent. I can’t help but thinking about the parallels with living with Alzheimer’s. It isn’t about the traumatic life threatening condition that will end your life tomorrow. It’s about the day to day struggle with getting through and making to the next day. Perhaps someday thanks to the efforts of people like you we’ll see the day when it can be seen like an Everest climb – a struggle that can be overcome and can end in victory.

    Climb on!

  4. Kristine & I are always pulling for you, Alan, and wishing you better health very soon! You are so right when you say getting sick is all part of these long expeditions…it happens to most everyone. Last year, I had several bouts with the Khumbu bug whether from food, water, or someone else. However, for me and several others of my friends, we were all decently heathlthy when it really mattered, i.e. the final 5-7 day summit push.

    Good luck and get better soon!


  5. Alan,

    Glad the new meds are working. Thanks for posting what the Everest climb is truly like for most climbers. Wishing you loads of strength and good health.

  6. Hi Alan – wishing you lots of rest and strength this coming week. Thanks for the great updates – thinking of you and wishing you a good, safe climb.

  7. Hi Alan,

    My heart goes out to you – really: You know it’s true!

    Thank you for posting what climbing Everest is really like: it can be so difficult on so many levels and no one ever talks about those things. So thank you for sharing your very personal story.

    On the bright side: I had a respiratory infection the entire climb last year and I still made it to the top! As you, I was extremely concerned about me health, and I also was worried that my teammates might take me out (but they were actually very kind about my incessant coughing).

    Great things come to great people 🙂

  8. Sending you love and encouragement from Connecticut; I’m learning so much form your great posts Alan-you are every generous to everyone so well updated. Keep hanging tough!

  9. Alan…hang tough and you will be ready for when the “bell rings.” Get your rest time in as much as possible…get those 12 hour sleep nights and good luck on your C3 rotation. Kill that cold with warm Nuun powder drink and pop those baby aspirn. We are all very proud of you and all the classic climbers.

  10. Alan. You are paying your dues lately, that’s for sure. Your vivid descriptions sounded all too familiar when I have been up high before. We both know what a drag it is…and we both know it will pass. The mountain and the mountain gods are merely testing you, tempering you to make you stronger. Go with the flow for now. You are smart to rest low right now, when the schedule is not critical. There is plenty of time to rotate up to Camp 3. As you noted, it is only early in the second half of this game. So keep doing the right thing by pacing yourself. I am certain you will be strong when the important two minutes gets here. Cheering you on from the stands, Jim

  11. How honored I am to be able to read what you are feeling… are an amazing man with the such fortitude and stamina! Allow your body to heal and become strong……this is something that you can do, but it is a stark reminder that our friends and loved ones with Alzheimer’s never are afforded the chance to heal and become strong with the disease distroying their minds and bodies.
    Be patience, be still, be safe and be strong as you “climb on!”
    Senidng prayers and warm hugs your way…

  12. Hi Alan, you must be going through heck. Glad to see you are on the mend. If it makes you feel better I saw Scott write that he had a cough too and I never heard him cough on all the climbs we went on…of course it wasnt Everest though. You are up high! Hang in there buddy and feel better.

  13. Alan,
    The kids at QE and I are sending positive, healing thoughts to get you back on that mountain by Wednesday! We know you can do this thing!! Climb safe!


  14. By the way, you climbers who have commented with your own experiences and support are wonderful, and I personally hope that you can make the attempt to climb Everest again one day. Your experiences on the mountain also give a personal perspective that resonates with us non-climbers and, I’m sure, lets Alan know that there are some out there who completely understand what he’s going through.


  15. Alan – Thanks for taking the time to share your journey on the mountain. So sorry you have been sick! Must be terribly frustrating. Hope you are back to normal soon. Looking forward to hearing about the next few weeks!

  16. Hi, Alan, the first part of your dispatch was a bit alarming but then I read that your second round of meds is working…thank goodness! You have a lot of people sending good vibes to you so please keep going…it’s not over yet, Alan! Damn the zippers, full speed ahead!

    By the way, I’m with Athan…it IS a bit embarrassing to be sitting around in my warm house knowing that I’m staying at sea level today in Houston…hahaha!


  17. Your determination and human spirit is amazing. Im embaressed to be sitting home reading this wondering what i will do today. Good luck on your climb

  18. Hang in there Alan all thoughts and prayers heading your way to ensure you start to feel better and stronger. We are all behind you in spirit. Take good care.

  19. I never before knew what a climber goes through in all the preparation for and during a climb. I pray for your continued healing and a successful climb. Whether or not you reach the summit, it will be successful! Journey on.

  20. So glad you are feeling better! I also have an upper respiratory infection, day 4 of Z pack and I am close to over it. My sweet little grandsons had colds and both generously coughed and sneezed all over me. It was shared with great love though. Thanks for the descriptions of your Mom’s personality, we were both so blessed to have such loving and special Moms. So sad that we lost them from the slow torture and indignity of Alzheimer’s. I am looking forward to watching the Larry KIng documentary tonight on the explosion of Alzheimer’s. Keep up your great effort on behalf of all of us. You are a very special person and your Mom would be so proud!

  21. Thanks again Alan for your update and the honest picture you provide of your experience. As someone whose had to make as many trips to Everest ER as you, I know the tough mental state that illness on the mountain puts you in. I’m sending lots of good thoughts and strength and hoping this round of meds had put a damper on your illness and you can get up the mountain and tag three. I know the pressure of being behind the rest of my team and I know you have lots of time yet. I know in both cases I wished I’d gone down to heal sooner than I did and found that even a drop to Pheriche of a few days made all the difference-you’ll make your plan of what’s best for you but know through it all, coughs, zippers, doubt, and making to Camp Three, we’re all behind you and wishing we could take a few of the steps for you. Continue to take good care.

  22. Thank you, Alan, for this update. Thank you for allowing me this peek into your world and all that it encompasses. I honestly had no idea of all it meant to do what you do…the patience, preparation and physical/mental endurance it requires. I continue to be in awe…and I continue to send you an abundance of love, light and healing vibes. As I write this, I am in Wisconsin ~ have been speaking to Alzheimer’s caregivers around this beautiful state and paying it forward in my own way. May we both one day know a world free of Alzheimer’s, my friend ~ and may your body continue to heal and grow strong. Warm hugs ~ CLIMB ON!

  23. Hi Alan,
    It’s great to read your updates. I was attempting Everest this year but I’m home already after helicopter evacuation on Thursday (due to a mini-stroke at camp 2). I’m absolutely devastated as I’m sure you can imagine, but folloiwng your progress will help me through it. Looking forwards to more blogging! Best wishes and all the luck in the world x

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