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Everest Shadow May 21, 2011

Everest Shadow May 21, 2011

There is a distinct difference between going first and last on Everest. First opens the route, takes the chances, explores the unknowns. Last, leverages the route, risk the fickle weather and explores the unknowns. Either way, they deserve our respect.

The last wave of summit climbers are making their way to the higher camps on Everest on both sides. On the South they are sleeping at Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face but this time with supplemental oxygen, a similar story on the North at ABC.

Their leaders and home teams are glued to the weather forecasts assuming the predicted solid window holds true for another few days. And, I can say this with confidence, everyone wants this season of Everest to end soon and safely.

With the climber death toll now at 10 on both sides, it has been season of historic events. A huge team calling it quits, unprecedented rockfall, too many high altitude helicopter rescues to count and too many deaths that could have been avoided.

And yet it will happen again next year with even more fervent. History shows that after a difficult Everest year, 1996, 2006, that more people come to mountain than ever. Boredom to adventure, awareness of the challenge, awakened dreams, bugs to light?

The Joy of Climbing

Today, many people are asking the same question asked of George Mallory in 1924, “Why”. This video by Kenton Cool recorded yesterday at Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face shows the satisfaction, excitement and reward of climbing. His enthusiasm is real, it is child like and reveals the answer:

He is now at the South Col, ahead of the main crowds in order to make a film. He is carrying an Olympic Medal to the summit. He reports high winds but they are forecasted to drop starting May 25.

All the other teams are reporting in mostly from Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face with a few hanging back at Camp 2. A similar scenario on the North but we get less information from that side. By the way, the north side has experienced severe satellite communication problems this year mostly with their Bgan units thus the lack of regular news.

To the Summit

The reaction to my “Above the Death Zone” description was overwhelming and left many wondering what the actual summit experience was like so once again using my own personal experience of last year:

The Final Steps

Leaving the Hillary Step, you now know what you know – you are going to summit Mount Everest. As that thought sinks in, goose bumps appear on your down covered arms, not from the cold but in anticipation of those last five steps.

All the thoughts of oxygen, bad food, stinky teammates, endless hours on a stair-master with a pack and stares from people – well, wondering; it has all come down to this.

But you cannot let your mind loose focus so you look at your feet, avoiding a deadly tangle of crampons and rope. The route moves steady higher but at a manageable angle; finally. There are several smaller rock formations you cover, some small rock caves or holes sitting to your right. You know that is a fool’s trap because the transparent cornice is just a few feet away, a trap door to death.

It takes longer than you thought. The “brochure” said it was a short walk, you joke with yourself, a sign that your anxiety is easing; but now it feels long; and then …

You crest a small rise and see a long slope ahead, and prayer flags and people and nothing else. A sudden burst of energy, A sudden wave of emotion. A sudden feeling of –


Of all things, a snow bench has been carved out a foot or so below the summit. It is crowded with people, more well behind. The wind is blowing the prayer flags like a wind sock at an airport. But the only airplanes are flying below you right now as your feet come to a halt.

Feet shoulder width, arms limp by your side, your hear your breathing pause and then slow. Your body relaxes as you scan the horizon – the sunrise to the East casts a glow like you have never seen over eastern Nepal, to the South you look down on the tops of Lhotse, oh there is Makalu looking huge, independent, proud, off in the distance. Ama Dablam, which dominated the trek in is lost in the Himalayas. Off to the west is Cho Oyo, your landmark at Camp 3. You know there might be someone on that summit using the view of Everest as proof of their summit right now.

And the shadow. A smile finally emerges on your face, starting with a small twitch on the left side. The shadow of Everest casts upon the the Himalaya. Confirmation you are standing in a place few have stood over the eons of time.

Your Sherpa calls out your name again, you make eye contact and then hug one another, no you hold one another so tight that it hurts so good. Your Sherpa has been here before but his grin is now as big as yours. Don’t tell me this is just a job for them.

Sitting on the snow bench, you pull out your satellite phone, call home – a private conversation that puts it all in perspective. You’ve done it, it’s time to go home.

The View from the Top of the World

I didn’t know that Panaru Sherpa who climbed with Karim Mella, the first Dominican to summit Everest was taking a video the day I summited with Kami Sherpa of International Mountain Guides (IMG). This video is at 5:00AM on May 21, 2011. The audio at 56 seconds in the video is my dispatch from the summit to this website dedicating the summit to all mom’s with Alzheimer’s. My mom, Ida, and two of my aunts, died from Alzheimer’s.

This is why I do what I do today …

Update: death toll reduced to 10

69 year old Italian Luigi Rampini, climbing on a Monterosa permit and logistics, spent 4 nights at 8300 meters without oxygen. He refused to descend a few days ago but was rescued per this report He was attempting the summit.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

Comments on/from Facebook

  41 Responses to “Everest 2012: Preparing for the Summit”


    Hi Alan , great blog once again , I agree with Mandy – We just get it , without words . Brilliantly put Mandy . Nik


    I have been glued to your blog over the past several days. My brother Duane Nelson was climbing with the IMG Hybrid team and summited on 19/20… climb up good… climb down not so much. After summiting, he lost his vision, ran out of oxygen more than once, and took longer to descend than he did to climb up… 18 hours total for his round trip. The extended exposure resulted in frostbite injuries to his hands and feet and severe dehydration which required a helicpoter ride to a clinic in Kathmandu from Camp 2. He was quite possibly within hours or even minutes of taking his final breath. There is no question in my mind that the dedication, commitment, and skill of his sherpa and guide were instrumental in his safe return from a most remarkable journey. He arrived home today… thank you to IMG and their incredible staff.
    On another note, I wanted to extend my sincere appreciation for your cause… Duane, my sisters, and I lost our mother to AD in 2006 and our grandmother to AD in 1997 so this all hits very close to home. Thank you for all of your wonderful work in creating additional awareness benefiting this debilitating disease.
    With the second wave of summits drawing ever near, my thoughts and prayers go out to all those who remain on this most inceredible journey. May they climb safely and successfully. Far too many tragic endings this year… devastating!! Your posts have been educational and inspiring… WOW!!



      Congrats to Duane for a most remarkable acheivement. I am very happy that he made it down alive. I think there were a few sherpas and family members on the otherside of the veil helping him out as well!

      Best to you brother!



    Hi Alan,

    Kenton’s video was fantastic & Iam happy he is in high spirits. Your summit video was touching .

    Lori’s post was moving.


    alan the link takes you to canadian tv which covers everything (cp-railcrises, murdering mothers, prince charles visit) everything except your interview, please fix it. btw, the summit video taken by panuru was brilliant. My interview with Canadian TV, CTV, on my view if anyone can climb Everest


    Today is the three year anniversary of my own summit. Alan, I watched your summit video for a second time today, and it still brings tears to my eyes. It is hard to ever really explain the impact that climbing Everest had on me. I know it seems crazy and even irresponsible and irrational to some, but to those who stepped foot on the roof of the world, we are forever changed. If I ever think I can’t do something, I think of my summit morning. If I ever think I don’t WANT to do something, I think of climbing the Hillary Step. If I ever think life gets too hard, I think of those labored, slow, robot-like steps that I took for two months, never once wanting to give up. The Everest experience was powerful then, but even more powerful as the years roll by. I will be forever grateful that my passage was a safe one. I will never be able to explain to anyone how powerful that journey was, but I will know. Thanks for sharing the memories of Everest 2012 with all of us, as well as your own story Alan.


      Well said my friend, well said. For those reading this exchange, Lori was the first and only woman with MS to summit Everest and I am proud to call her my friend forever.


      Hi Lori

      Tuesday was my second anniversary of standing on top of the world and you are right – it is a half-hour during which things changed forever. I don’t think I changed, but the way I see the world has changed. This has had both a positive and a negative impact on my post-Everest life and all I can say is that it takes much longer to get down than to get up. I remember clearly thinking how small and black and faraway Makalu looked when it was pointed out to me on our trek to Chhukung, and yet from the summit of Everest it loomed so large above the clouds, together with Kanchenjunga in the distance and Cho Oyu in the opposite direction. The little peaks that cluttered the foreground and obscured these giants on the way in became dwarfed and insignificant from that angle. And with that, my perspective on life, love, family etc. has changed forever. So hard to articulate the power of it all to those who have not struggled to a summit – any summit – and no need to do so in the company of those who have. We just get it, without words.

      Alan – thanks for the great coverage, your personal perspective and also for your calm, balanced and measured response to many of the views expressed on your site.


      Lori that was a great post … Thanks


    Hi Alan,
    two questions for you

    1) when did you find out there was video of your 2011 summit and phone call, and

    2) did you see the 60 minute story a few weeks ago about the pilots experiencing hypoxia flying the f-22. I found the description of their symptoms seem very simliar to those experienced above 8000 feet on everest when you oxygen fails/runs out (minus the frostbite).

    One pilot stated, ” Several times during the flight, I had to really concentrate, immense concentration on just doing simple, simple tasks. Our training tells you if you ssomethingsthing’s probably going on, go ahead and pull your emergency oxygen and come back home. When I did make that decision to pull the emergency oxygen ring, I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t remember, you know, what part of the aircraft it was in.”

    They also describe a lingering cdizziness dizzness,”In a room full of F-22 pilots, the vast majority will be coughing a lot of the times. Other things– laying down for bed at night after flying and getting just the spinning room feeling, dizziness, tumbling, vertigo kind of stuff.”

    Is this consistent with what one may experience above 8000 feet if you lose o2?


      Hi Meredith,

      I found out about the video about 6 months after I came home! You can imagine how pleased I was. I saw that piece about the oxygen and had the same thought on experiencing oxygen failure while climbing, as I mentioned in another response: Extra O’s creates a difference in 3000 feet so your body is really only acclimatized to the low 20,000′ range by the previous climbs to Camps 2 and 3. So if all of a sudden you loose your oxygen supply at 28,000′, there is no way your body can cope with the oxygen derivation; blood is shunted to the internal organs sacrificing feet, hands, ears, nose and oedema is a strong possibility. If all this occurs, chances of survival is slim without immediate oxygen or getting lower fast, immediately.


    I haven’t had a chance to thank on that link posted the other day, which raises a few more questions (which I’ll reserve until after the season is over) I do have one question for now. IF bad weather is NOT forecasted for the summit, only high winds. What is the upper wind limit on the summit to make it GO TIME?


      it varies by the risk tolerance of the guide and climbers but 30 mph is the general rule for max wind to climb in.


        At that altitude I can see that as a target. I’m guessing that number is based on spindrift?


    Thank you for the excellent description of the climb Alan !..

    May i request you to describe a bit on how it feels like climbing down the mountain.


    Just a small thing about “tomorrow, May 25” in your posting of today 23rd May.
    I have been checking various weather sites with what seems like special forecast for Everest. Some show the wind dropping tomorrow (Thurs 24th May – in Dublin Ireland,), others later on Fri 25th.
    I assume it is down to the models, the extent to which forecasters obtain reliable, valid data from the sources they use and their experience
    I also imagine that the Team Leaders and Sherpas make their own assessments of the actual conditions, based on their experience of Everest.


      yes on all counts. From what I understand the winds have picked back up a bit but is still acceptable through Sunday. But they won’t know until they get there.


    4 nights at 8300m and refused help and he is still alive?

    Sounds incredible. A bit like the story of Lincoln Hall, don’t you think?



    Very moving, I had not seen the video of your summit and I feel the loss of your Mom and it reminds me of my Dad and his passing from AD 2-25-09. With your daily updates and my research of George Mallory I am obsessed with this mountain, it is hard to explain but Mallory holds such a Lincolnest like place, someone who was flawed but his singular focus is attractive and hard not to think about.



    How many bottles of oxygen does a typical climber use over the course of their entire everest experience on average?


      Depends on size of bottle, flow rate and “philosophy”. This is more than you asked for but from my Everest FAQ’s at :

      The oxygen tanks look very similar to what you see scuba divers use. Bottles are measured by how much oxygen they hold, usually 3 or 4 liters. A 3 liter POSIX bottle weighs about 5.7 pounds each. You use a oxygen mask and a regulator. The mask must be the latest Top Out mask and not the old Russian Posix version which fits terribly and leaks. The mask covers most of your face from your nose down. Climbers usually run the flow at 2 or 3 liters per minute meaning a 3 liter bottle will last about 6 hours, 3 hours at 4 lpm. Most climbers will need at least 4 bottles or maybe 19 hours of supplemental oxygen because sometime they will run the flow at 3 or 4 lpm. This does not including bottles for sleeping at C4 and spares.

      When I climbed in 2011 with International Mountain Guides who use their own, larger capacity, oxygen bottle design. They hold 1800 liters of oxygen and weigh about 17 pounds with the regulator. This is enough for 10 hours at 3 LPM, 15 hours at 2 LPM, 30 hours at 1 LPM. I bought extra oxygen in the form of a bottle brought to the South Summit so it broke down as one bottle shared at C3 at 1 lpm, climbed to the South Col at 2 lpm with a new bottle and rested using it for 12 hours at 1 lpm. A new bottle to the Balcony at 4 lpm. New bottle to the South Summit at 4 lpm. New bottle to the summit and back to the Balcony at 4 lpm and on to C2 at 2 lpm.


        Thanks again for the great info! I read somewhere that the canadian climber had used nine bottles which seemed like a lot. But the article doesn’t state whether she used them during her summit attempt or whether it was total from her two months there.


          I saw that too and it does seem like a lot. Not sure if there is some creative accounting going on. Also, that is a lot of bottles for the Sherpas to carry to the South Cola and above. Each Sherpa might carry 3 at the max including 1 for their own use. In any event, it appears she did run out of supplemental oxygen and that is serious. Extra O’s creates a difference in 3000 feet so your body is really only acclimatized to the low 20,000′ range by the previous climbs to Camps 2 and 3. So if all of a sudden you loose your oxygen supply at 28,000′, there is no way your body can cope with the oxygen derivation; blood is shunted to the internal organs sacrificing feet, hands, ears, nose and oedema is a strong possibility. If all this occurs, chances of survival is slim without immediate oxygen or getting lower fast, immediately.


        Did I read someplace that there is a serious problem with the latest Top Out mask?
        I suspect I reathe report on your site, but cannot find it just now.


    Thanks, Alan. What an eloquent writer you are. Our daughter is now at camp 3 on her way up and reading your story really helps us to walk the steps with her. Blessings and good weather to all the climbers in the next few days…may they all come home safely to us.


    Hi Alan,

    Great coverage. I am just wondering how you got the information that the RMI Dave Hahn team is at camp 4. Thanks.


      Freya, according to their site dated May 22 “Our team enjoyed a rest day at Camp 2 (ABC) today. Their plan is to head for Camp 3 tomorrow.” Given it is late on May 23 in Neap, I assume they made it to C3. I have Dave on the West Ridge Chart due to the overall effort so it is a bit confusing.


    Thanks for your video on the top of the world. It is really an enviable experience & i like your sharing your feeling with us.


    What a beautiful summit day you had! I enjoyed your video and yes, it made me cry too! My mom also suffered from Alzheimers, so I can relate. Thanks for the awareness to the cause all of your great reporting.


    Oh you made me cry…. again! I love your video, so inspiring xx Kenton’s is very ‘cool’ and your piece on summiting is awesome, thank you…again


    What a beautiful perspective…priceless! This video clip will inspire forever. Thanks, Alan


    Thanks, Alan. This weekend is going to be something else…for all of us…for those up at Everest and those of us waiting down here with news.


      I share that sentiment, as my son Cian is climbing with the Jagged Globe team.


    Oh Alan… My husband and I teared up with your video hearing your dedication to your Mom last year on top. Thank you again and again for what your are doing for Alzheimers research as well as for us in the “low lands” vicariously “arm chairing” the 2012 climb. You are doing a brilliant job! Ginny, Sunriver, Oregon…..