Virtual Everest 2020: Summit Push Begins

The winds calmed during the extra day the virtual team spent at the South Col. They strategized how to manage climbing with 100 people on the mountain. They left the Col for the summit.

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 While there will be accurate historical references, this series is a work of fiction.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.

Summit Push Begins

The winds roared throughout the night at the South Col. Even earplugs didn’t help. “Hell, these winds are worse than your snoring!” Old Man shouted to Snorer at 3 am.


It was going to be a long day at the Col for the 100 people virtually trapped there. Even in perfect weather, there is not much to do, other than to take in the spectacular views. Cho Oyu and Pumori to the West, the northern flanks of Lhotse to the South and, of course, the Triangular Face, Balcony, and South Summit of Everest to the North. That couldn’t see the true summit from the Col.

The Climbing Sherpas of Mount Everest Guides had done heroic work for other teams yesterday when the sudden wind-event hit a few climbers still on the mountain hard. Several had frostbite and had run out of oxygen. They were with low-cost guides who lacked the extra resources to help their clients so Dawa led the rescues.

As the sun rose, the winds eased a bit. The forecast called for calm conditions by mid-day. She got out of her tent along with Mingma and walked around the Col. “Looks like there was some damage last night.” She said. “Always up here,” Mingma replied, “The wind is why there is little snow on the Col, only rocks.” He was right; there was virtually no snow on the South Col, in spite of being at 25,938-feet, just under the magic 8,000-meter point. The only higher camp in the world was Camp 3 on the Tibet side of Everest at 27,390-feet.

“Mingma, what is our strategy for managing the crowds tonight?” She asked her Personal Sherpa. They returned to their tent and began to melt some snow for hot drinks for breakfast; it would take over an hour.

“Didi, we need to go fast, move as fast as we can. Try to get ahead of everyone else, and not stuck behind the slow ones.” Mingma knew what he was doing with 17 summits of Everest over the years. His strategy was simple: get out ahead and move fast. Take short, efficient breaks. And if someone slow was blocking the route, unclip and move past them as quickly as possible.

“Isn’t it risky to unclip?” She asked him. “Yes, we will only do it in safe sections. When we leave camp tonight, there will be many other people leaving at the same time. Usually, there is a queue. That is when we can get ahead of many people, maybe even first.” He had done this before. “Why not leave earlier to avoid the crowds?” She posed the question. “You are fast Didi, if we leave too early, we will summit in the dark, before the sun comes up. It will be cold and no views.” Mingma flashed his big smile as he shared his experience with his charge.

While walking around the South Col, She heard her name called out. It was a friend she had climbed Denali with several years earlier. The two women hugged one another tightly for several minutes. “I didn’t know you were going to be here!” She said. “Yes, I have been planning it for several years. After I did well on Denali, I knew if I got a chance for Everest, I had to take it. All the stars aligned at work and home, and, well, here I am. How are you?” The two women chatted for over an hour. Mingma brought her a cup of steaming hot Sherpa Tea. “Thuche, Mingma. This is a good friend.” She introduced Mingma to her friend, both politely greeting each other with “Namaste.” He walked away as she asked her, “How’s your mom?”

The winds continued to ease throughout the day, to the pleasure of the team. Guide called everyone together as they ate lunch standing up. It was spam on bread. Old Man liked it.

“OK, tonight is the night. Dawa and I created a plan, and I spoke with many of the other leaders here at the Col. Boyfriend, and Old Man with their Personal Sherpas will leave at 6:00 and the rest of us at 9:30. I plan on us summiting around dawn, 5:00 am. The winds will still be stiff but manageable at 20 mph. As you can tell, it is a bit warmer now. The forecast calls for temps around 0F. So it will still be cold with the windchill well below zero. As usual, let’s layer up and have spares in our packs like we discussed many times. Everyone will start Os at two lpm except for Old Man and Boyfriend, who will continue running at four. If you feel you need more, just ask your Personal Sherpa to turn it up. I have no problem with everyone running at four if needed. We have enough.”

Guide paused for questions and continued. “It looks like there will be 100 people going up tonight. Everest is a big mountain, and if we all spread out, this will not be a problem. But there will be a few trouble spots. I expect lines on the Ridge, at the Hillary Step, and perhaps to the summit. So we need to be patient. Loner and Dutch, I expect that you will move fast.” She spoke up. “Mingma and I talked about getting ahead of the crowd and passing people on the Triangular Face.” Mingma nodded but didn’t speak. “I know. Dawa, Mingma, and I agree with that strategy. If Dutch and Loner can join you, that would be great.”

Once again, it appeared the team would be in several groups. The three strongest climbers out front and Old Man and Couple, leaving two hours early, would be in the mix while Snorer and Buddies would move at their own pace. Guide would move around, keeping tabs on everyone, and monitoring the radio. Four of the Climbing Sherpas would stay at the Col to give aid if needed. Guide might position one or two at the Balcony if he felt conditions were deteriorating. He knew that he had a solid plan.

“OK, relax this afternoon, sleep if you can but hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. It will be crazy when we leave. You need to start getting ready at 8:30. It will take longer than you think to get your boots on, layers, O’s in your pack. Your Personal Sherpa will help you. Don’t be shy.” Guide told the group. Just as everyone was moving, Boyfriend spoke up.” Hey, I just wanted to thank everyone for your support so far. I know I’m not the fastest, and I hope to summit, but whatever happens, thank you.” His voice trailed off. “Hell, you’re faster than me!” Old Man said with a grin. Everyone laughed. Loner was already back in his tent.

The afternoon passed by painfully slow. They would catch a few minutes of sleep before violently waking up from Cheyne-Stokes breathing. This was not unusual at altitude and in people with sleep apnea. It was characterized by progressively deeper, and sometimes faster, breathing followed by a gradual decrease that results in a temporary stop in breathing. The body, no longer getting oxygen, wakes up gasping for air.

Buddies shared three bags of freeze-dried food for dinner. “Ready to get this done?” Bud asked his best friend. The two went way back; meeting at a climbing gym in their home town. Years later, they bought the gym and now are partners. They had been on four expeditions together, and Everest was a dream.

Dutch was feeling anxious. He reached out to Loner hoping to build some kind of bond before heading out in a few hours. “So, what are our chances?” He began the conversation. “I think good.” Loner responded but not really engaging. “How do you feel? Nervous?” Loner now in his sleeping bag rolled over on his left side. “Not really, I’ve done enough of these that I know the drill. The first 30 minutes will be hard. I always take a little while to get my blood flowing. So I’ll be cold, probably having trouble getting my breath. It’ll be uncomfortable. I was looking at the Triangular Face today, it starts easy, but picks up angle pretty fast. There is a good boot path, so we will have decent steps. I’m worried about so many people, so I think it’s a good idea to pass as many as we can.”

Dutch was shocked and pleased. Loner had just said more words than he had during the previous five weeks combined. Dutch, appreciating the conversation, continued. “I hope the slow guys do OK and don’t get in trouble.” Loner, now rolling over, nodded. “Well, if they do, they have others to help them.” And with that, he closed his eyes.

The sunset was inspiring. She stood outside her tent, taking in the last rays of light. She felt immense gratitude for being here. Kneeling, she looked in the tent at Mingma, “Thank you, Mingma, thank you.” He smiled, “You’re welcome.”

She walked over to the edge of their camp and press #1 on her sat phone, “We are leaving in four hours.”

As 8:30 came, the now-familiar ritual of getting dressed for climbing began. They slept in their base layers, or even their down suit using the sleeping bag as more of a duvet than a bag.

Loner started rummaging around in his pack. “What ya doing?” Dutch asked. “Summit socks. I always bring a new pair of socks that I only use on the summit push. Ah, here they are.” He pulled out a fresh pair of Darn Tough socks, still clipped together from the store. As he put both socks on his bare feet, he let out a satisfying moan. “Yeah, this is what I was looking for.” Another rare moment of emotion from this stoic individual. Dutch started laughing, “Should I leave you three alone?” they both laughed.

She turned on her footbed warmers, “I hope the battery lasts.” She thought. She turned the level to the lowest, knowing it would take a while for them to work. If her feet got cold, she would turn up the level with the wireless remote.

Scooting to the edge of the tent, Snorer pulled in his and Old Man’s large red and yellow,respectively, 8,000-meter Millet and La Sportiva mountaineering boots. Each man took over 15 minutes to pull on the boots; they had kept the liners in their sleeping bags. Liner on first, tie the laces, outers on next, pull the laces tight, and double knot them. Liner gloves were the first layer of protection for their hands; insulated gloves were next and heavy mittens in their packs for back-up. Thankfully the still air temp was not too bad, but when the wind would pick up, all the extra layers would come into play.

Buddies crawled out of their tent. Reaching back into the vestibule, they grabbed their crampons. Kneeling down on one knee, Bud started to put his crampons on. Pemba leaned over. “Help?” He offered. Ever since Bud had the upper respiratory problem, Pemba had kept his eye on him, watching carefully if it would return. “You OK?” Pemba asked. Bud looked up, fastening the safety strap around his ankle, “Yes, Pemba. Thank you so much for everything.” Pemba blinked, “You’re welcome.”

Seven of the team had left two hours earlier, Old Man and two Sherpas plus Couple with their support. That left six members plus their Personal Sherpas and Guide. The group of 13 mulled around their tents in the dark of the South Col.

She and Mingma left camp, first, followed by Loner with Lhapka and Dutch with Phurba. They were moving swiftly, with confidence. They were moving too fast.

“I need to slow down.” Dutch called out to Phurba. He slowed a half step. Loner had been right; the first 30 minutes was really tough. Now the entire pod had slowed down a bit, the members fighting to get into a rhythm. The Climbing Sherpas, feeling the familiarity of this. Combined, the Sherpas had over 50 summits of 8,000-meter peaks. They were extremely experienced and took their responsibility seriously.

The pod caught up with a long line of climbers. For an hour, Mingma had monitored the speed of the seemingly endless line of bright headlamps crawling up the Triangular Face towards the Balcony. He was calculating their speed, his speed, how the members were doing, all to know when to do the push.

Now stopped behind the line of stalled climbers, he knew it was time. He unclipped from the fixed-rope, took two steps to his right, and turned around to look at her.

“Let’s go.”

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

Climbing Sherpa Support

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2 thoughts on “Virtual Everest 2020: Summit Push Begins

  1. I have followed you for years, and this is my first comment. I am absolutely hooked on the story line. Very, very well done! I don’t want it to end!

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