Virtual Everest 2020: Crossing the Yellow Band and Video Interview with Mike Hamill of CTSS

Crossing the Yellow Band in 2003

After a windy night at C3, the fictional team moved to the South Col, crossing the Yellow Band and up the Geneva Spur. The winds had calmed but then a surprise. Also, a real-world video interview with Mike Hamill of the guide company, Climbing the Seven Summits.

Virtual Everest 2020 – Support the Climbing Sherpas is a joint project of Alan Arnette and several global guide companies. Our objective is to entertain Everest fans during the Coronavirus spring closure and raise money to help the Climbing Sherpas who are not working this spring. While there will be accurate historical references, this series is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Please join us by making a donation using the links below plus by adding your Everest experiences in the comment section.

Crossing the Yellow Band

Dutch and Loner shared a tent at Camp 3. “I wish the wind would let up.” Dutch said. The forecast called for it to let up about the time they would arrive at C3, but it hadn’t. “Same as last time.” Loner mumbled. “But, we made it.” A rare moment of conversation from him.

Couple zipped their sleeping bags together. She was worried about him. He made it to camp, but just barely. Thanks to Passang having a bottle of oxygen, he was able to climb the last 500-feet instead of turning back for C2. Now they, along with Guide, had a big decision to make. 

The Climbing Sherpas melted snow for water, and for the freeze-dried food as most of the members tried to sleep. The winds violently shook the tent walls; sleep was next to impossible. Now everyone was on supplemental oxygen running at a minimal flow of half a liter per minute. Standard for commercial operators. From now until they returned to Camp 2, the oxygen would be their lifeline.

“How do you feel?” She asked Mingma. They were sharing a tent. “Good, Didi, good. You?” He seemed puzzled She would ask about him. “Also good. Excited to get to the Col.” She replied while putting her hand against the tent wall as it puffed against her face.

The night passed as quickly as it could, but for almost everyone, sleep was elusive. The same thing happened on their rotation, but then they went back to base camp with the richer oxygen allowed them to recover. Now they were going higher. They were going to the summit of Everest.

The next phase would take them into the Death Zone. Swiss physician and alpinist, Edouard Wyss-Dunant, coined the term when he was the expedition leader for the Everest 1952 Swiss team. They reached 28,199-feet on the southeast ridge, setting a new climbing altitude record. He observed how the human body degraded above 26,000-feet, 8,000-meters, unable to process food, or sleep well. He saw his team lose their appetite; they just wanted to sleep; the lack of oxygen was slowly killing them. He first used the phrase, ‘Death Zone,’ in an article about acclimatization published in the journal of the Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research in 1953.

Old Man shared a tent with Snorer. “I wish this wind would let up.” He said. His voice sounded thin, like a whisper. He had been on O’s all day, and the cold oxygen caused his throat to dry out. “I just wish I could get this god-awful ‘Rice & Chicken’ mush down! Old Man chuckled, “Well, I choose poorly with my ‘Italian Style Pepper Steak with Rice and Tomatoes’,” he said, reading off the foil bag. 

Usually, these food bags would be filled with hot water, but it was virtually impossible to bring enough fuel and the time needed to make the water more than tepid, so the food, while nutritious, lacked any taste. The climbers burned over 10,000 calories just yesterday getting to Camp 3 and would replace less than a tenth of that at dinner. This calorie deficit was part of why climbing an 8000-meter peak was so grueling.

The sun rose but was still hiding behind Lhotse, the world’s fourth-highest peak at 27,940-feet. Loner wanted to make a Lhotse summit attempt after Everest, but with the weather so iffy, he told Guide he would be happy with Everest. Guide was a bit disappointed because he too wanted to go for the double.

Breakfast was a mixture of trail bars and hi-calorie flavored gels. She liked Honey Stinger products because of the natural honey.

Thinking of the honey, it reminded her when She read on someone’s blog who climbed Everest that the writer met the famous Japanese climber, Yuichiro Miura, who attempted to ski down Everest in 1970. A documentary made later showed him falling out of control down the Lhotse Face with a parachute in tow to control his speed. The blog read:

In 2008 Miura-san returned with his son to summit. He was then 75 years-old. I love to tell this story as I met Mr. Miura in the Icefall in 2008. He was taking a break looking strong and confident. I went over to him and politely introduced myself and said it was an honor to meet the man who skied down Everest.

He grinned and said, “I am not the man who skied down Everest. I am the man who fell down Everest.” We both laughed.

I asked him what was his secret to climbing so well at such an advanced age as he was peeling back the top of a thumb size container. He paused and continued his work but then smiled once again, looked around as if he was telling a secret, he held up the container, “honey.”

He is a remarkable man with an amazing spirit. He has a history of heart issues and underwent surgery to correct recurring arrhythmia last November and again in January this year, as he did before his 2008 expedition. In 2009, he had a skiing accident that left him with a broken pelvis and fractured thigh.

She thought about him as She peered down the Lhotse Face, admiring his ambition and courage. Also that he held the age recorded for Everest, summiting at age 80 on May 23, 2013.

Passang broke her out of her trance, “Didi, double-check harness.” He said as he tugged on the loose end that was already double-backed. They were the first of the team to leave Camp 3. Today, everyone would climb with their Personal Sherpa.

Guide went to Couple’s tent. The wind had calmed to a light breeze, but it was still cold, around 0 degrees Farenheight. 

“How’d you sleep?” Guide asked Boyfriend. He pulled his oxygen mask aside. “OK. The wind drove me nuts.” Guide slid inside the tent between Boyfriend and Girlfriend, his crampons hanging on his boots outside the tent door. “What do you want to do? How are you feeling?” Before Boyfriend could respond, Girlfriend spoke up. “Honey, I know yesterday was tough, but you made it. If you want to go down, I support you. But if you want to go to the Col, I think you can make it. I know you have reserves you haven’t touched. You are stronger than you believe.”

Guide then leaned forward. “Passang and I talked. He believes if you go at a slow pace, you can do it. Also, we have enough extra oxygen since Loner and I will not attempt Lhotse that you can start running at four lpm now.”

Boyfriend had been staring at Guide’s boots while he and Girlfriend spoke. In between fitful catnaps, he dwelled on this moment all night. He felt better now that he had rested and was on O’s, but did he feel strong enough not to be a burden on the team? 

About this time, Passang came to the tent. He reached in and patted Boyfriend’s leg. And then something else happened that surprised him; Old Man came over, also kneeling outside the tent. “Come on, kid, let’s do this.” He said with a gentle smile.

Boyfriend felt supported like he never had by his teammates on any mountain, perhaps anytime in life. “OK, let’s give this a go.” He said, uncrossing his legs. “OK, then, let’s do it.” Guide said. Girlfriend’s eyes welled up, feeling the collective strength, proud of her mate’s courage.

Two by two, the member and Climbing Sherpa left the security of their tents and clipped into the fixed-line that rose ever higher, seemingly straight towards Lhotse Main. The route felt steep. Bud was back to his ‘Duck Step’ while Buddy was sidestepping. There was a line of climbers ahead and behind them. Perhaps 150 people on the route today. “Thank God, the wind calmed,” Buddy said.

They climbed for about an hour, as their bodies warmed up. Covered in goose down, they were comfortable, warm, and confident. The boot track took a sharp left turn, directly towards the band of yellow-ish sandstone that covers the Himalayas in this area around 25,000-feet. It’s called the Yellow Band.

The team arrived at the base of the Band. It was about 300-feet high, and in sections appeared to be steep. But closer inspection showed the fixed-line weaved around the steep parts and followed shallow snow gullies. Dutch clipped in, placed his right foot on a section of the sandstone, his crampons scraped across the smooth stone, returning his foot to the spot where it started. Laughing to himself, he muttered, “Some climber I am!”

He tried again, this time placing his foot on snow instead of rock. As he stepped up, something caught his eye. It was circular, about an inch long. He had found a fossil, the stem of sea lilies, crinoid ossicles, a marine organism with a skeleton. Dutch, like She, had studied Everest before coming, so he knew at one point the land that now defined Everest was underwater, but seeing a marine fossil was unbelievable, but it was true. He moved on even more amazed at what this experience was teaching him.

It didn’t take long for the team to cross the band. The angle eased. She paused for a moment to look back at C3. It seemed so far away. The yellow tents, just specs now. She looked down the Lhotse Face, all the way into the Western Cwm. It was a beautiful clear day; the sun now well over Lhotse. She unzipped her down suit a few inches to vent. Passang, standing beside her, also took in the view. No matter how many times he had climbed Everest, 17, he was amazed at the beauty of Chomolungma.

The track began to rise as it melded into the mountainside. They were now on the Geneva Spur, a rock buttress that blocked them from reaching the South Col. For the first time, they would have to do some actual climbing. Girlfriend looked up to inspect the obstacle. It was 150′ of 40-degree rock, ice, and snow. The fixed-line showed the route.

She paused to watch other climbers scurry across the rock. They followed the uneven rock that provided spots for good foot placement. But what caught her eye, was Everest. She looked at the southeast ridge with amazement. It was steep, just like Guide had told them. It looked daunting. A doubt entered her mind, she swiftly changed her thoughts

Boyfriend was moving well. The extra O’s were doing the trick. He, Girlfriend, Old Man, and Guide plus six Climbing Sherpas moved as a pod towards the Spur. 

At the top of the Spur, Loner was expecting to see the tents of the South Col, but all he saw was a narrow boot path that disappeared into the horizon. “Hmm, how far now?” He wondered. Clipped into the fixed-line, he started walking, slowly, letting the moment sink in. The boot path was almost flat.

“I must be on the Col,” he thought. And then, they appeared, tents, tons of tents. And yellow oxygen bottles stacked neatly. There must have been 500 cylinders stacked across the Col.

He looked to his left, the Triangular Face was in full view, climbers coming down. Did they summit? He asked Dawa, who was standing next to him, “Yes, over 50 this morning.” The proud Sidar replied. “We will too, in 20 hours.” Loner said, his eyes traced the visible boot path.

And without warning, a wind gust knocked the two men off-balance.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

Real-World-Video Interview with Mike Hamill of Climbing the Seven Summits

This is a real-world interview I did with Mike Hamill of Climbing the Seven Summits on Wednesday, May 20. He is the founder and owner of CTSS.


Climbing Sherpa Support

Who, how much, and how often you donate is a personal decision. Maybe you climbed with one of the guides, or plan to one day. Perhaps you have followed them for years and want to support their Climbing Sherpa team, or maybe you support by geography – Nepali, American, Austrian, British, New Zealand. It’s up to you and will be much appreciated.

My sincere appreciation to those companies who accepted my invitation to join Virtual Everest 2020 – Support the Climbing Sherpas:

For an overview of the Virtual Everest 2020 – Support the Climbing Sherpas, please visit this post.

Previous Virtual Everest 2020 posts:


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2 thoughts on “Virtual Everest 2020: Crossing the Yellow Band and Video Interview with Mike Hamill of CTSS

  1. Alan, It’s been fun following the virtual Everest. Maybe this was the year I should have climbed, lol!

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