|Uhm...."enjoying" a cold beer. Cold it was, good it was not. Yes, I used this picture before. Want another? Check out the rest of my pictures here (careful, there are almost 1600 pictures and video with more to come)..|
|Magnus (R) and Martin (L) in front of the famous "Big Plate Chicken"|
|Franz waving hello on the climb to the summit. Given the number of read suits, I presume the boys are surrounded by the 7 Summits (Russian) team. Photo by David O'Brien.|
My initial thought was to stay as far away from him on the hill as possible. With that [the events during the previous day recounted above] fresh in my mind, during the first climb to the North Col, I found myself just in front of him when getting on the ropes at the bottom. I tried hard to push away, but he kept coming up behind me. When I decided to turn around, of course he also decided the same thing… You know this already, but on the way down there was a little crevasse around 30% up the hill. Franz was right behind me and so around 10m before the crevasse I started running (running is relative up there) down the hill and managed to get a 25m gap between him and me. Having never done an arm-rappel in his life, he slipped, fell on his ass and slid right into the crevasse. As he held is legs up, he managed to slide like on the bottom tip of a letter “U” and stopped with his calves on the bottom side of the crevasse and shoulder blades on top, like a plank..... He was yelling Help and “What should I do”. I yelled to him to get out his axe or attach the jumar or anything to get an anchor set, but he was unable to do anything. Dorjee came running down from above and pulled him out quite quickly, but I am still surprised over how little this incident seemed to affect Franz.I was a bit perplexed as to how a person who never used alpine climbing gear could feel prepared to climb Everest. Some of us tried to help where we could but we all felt somewhat uneasy that a climber with us was not able to ascend or descend a small ice pinnacle. I felt bad for David and for the rest of the climbing team who were responsible for Franz. They had to shoulder the burden of Franz but neither I nor anyone else realized how much they would have to eventually shoulder. NOTE: At this point, I feel obliged to weigh in on this material to absolve SummitClimb for any direct responsibility. We all know weaker climbers who manage to find their way onto these expeditions. If you took the time to read past recounts of expedition teams, then you will certainly know that not all high alpine climbers are equal. Some climbers are bold and unprepared and others are well seasoned and prepared. That continuum exists on every expedition. The price one pays for their expedition team does not ensure that all fellow climbers are equally prepared; that price ensures that all are equally well-off financially to pay for the expedition team. The services that we had from SummitClimb were equal to or better than most other teams. We know; we visited every team while at Basecamp. So if you think that weak climbers get excluded from the high-priced teams then you are sorely mistaken. Every climber must assume responsibility for himself or herself.
|We are happy to be done and headed back to Kathmandu to party. Oh wait, we started already.|
|From L to R: Grant, Magnus, David, Franz, Dom, Martin, Jon, Brendan, me, and Heikki|
|Hotpot meal beat most meals we had at basecamp|
|Almost to crampon point! Photo makes me sad. My beloved fleece was lost on the climb (more on that point later). I'll miss my friend. We spent many days together. I hope he finds a good home.|
|The heat killed me going up to the North Col. See the bloodshot eyes?|
|Oh yeah! Shrimp flavored noodles. Mmmm....mmmm...good.|
|Brendan not looking psyched. Not sure why. We were tired but excited.|
|My setup - finally got it going after some delays. Boy was I unprepared this morning!|
|Gelje and the rest of the team ready to go. Me? Still futzing about with my oxygen kit. Note the snow slope in the background. That was our day's objective. Camp 2 was at the top of the snow slope.|
|One of the Indian "runners" right ahead of me. I lead out our pack despite the fact that I was a total mess in the morning and completely disorganized.|
|Not sure how I mustered a smile. It is 4:35pm and I was shaking off my grumpiness. Still, I was happy we made it to Camp 2 in one piece and relatively unscathed.|
|Olivia and I were enjoying our time at Camp 2.|
|Brothers in arms! Well, at least brothers on the mountain. We were doing well. Tired but doing well.|
|Here is our view from our vestibule. Brendan did select an outstanding location. Once again, Brendan saved the day!|
Brendan and I had a good night at Camp 2. No, we didn't sleep that well but we did enjoy our time there. Noodle soup and ample water made recovery much easier than I initially thought. The guys (assuming they were guys and that is a good guess) who setup our tent were magicians. You cannot see from the angles of the pictures but our tent was located on this very small patch of sharp rocks. A few feet to each side was a rather dramatic drop - from about 1-2m to about 50m in the back. I tried to dump something out the back vestibule only to realize that it looked down a rather steep drop of 50m to another tent site. Despite the precarious location, our tent didn't budge. The winds tried their best to rip our tent apart but the inner part never moved. Sure, the tent fly rattled in the wind and reminded us that the outside conditions were inhospitable for a late-night sojourn but we were safe inside. Brendan and I remained impressed throughout the night....but still couldn't sleep that well.
Camp 3 (8300m / 27,400 feet)
We were off at 10am the next day. Feeling great and ready for the final push. Our aim...get to Camp 3, rest, rehydrate, get stoked for the summit push. Here we go!!!
Camp 3 lasted a total of 7 hours for us (3pm to 10pm) before we were to head out. A few funny stories are worth mentioning. First, we asked Jangbu when we were planning to head out to the summit. He said something like 7:30pm. When I looked at my watch, 7:30pm was about 10 minutes away. He insisted that time was correct. No way were we going to push off that early. I wasn't ready. Brendan wasn't read. Heck, the Sherpa were not ready. Finally, we figured out that Jangbu never changed his watch from Nepal time; 7:30pm was 10pm Tibet or rather Beijing time. Once we sorted out that bit, we were set with our recovery time. Second, when we arrived at Camp 3, we noticed there were no Summit Climb tents. After waiting for nearly an hour, Jangbu directed us to climb into any unoccupied tent. Brendan and I were assigned a tent that clearly had some inhabitants before us. The tent was littered with tons of gear - probably gear owned by one of the many Indians on the mountain. We just laid on top of the gear with our gear spread about. Brendan and I both felt a bit strange - perhaps like Goldilocks invading bear territory. At any rate, we stayed in the tent for the night until we pushed off for the summit. Very strange though staying in someone else's living quarters.
The Final Push (Everest Summit: 8848m / 29,035 feet)
We headed out just as planned at 10pm. The others were standing around waiting for something to happen but Gelje wasted no time. I stepped in each of his boot tracks noting that my headlamp didn't really light the way. Mistake 1: not checking how well my "new" batteries were functioning in my headlamp. After about an hour, I noticed that I couldn't see anything in front of me other than Gelje and his boot tracks. The rocks would come at me with each step and surprise me. Gelje held a good pace - at least for me - and allowed me to take 3 breaths between each step. I felt great. About every 10 minutes I checked in with Brendan. I assumed he was taking pictures and video; my aim was to climb with him and make sure we both drank enough going up. The danger in these climbs is to expend too much energy on the summit push up and leave nothing in the tank for the descent. Drinking and eating was one sure fire way to keep those energy stores high and ensure sufficient energy for the descent.
Throughout the entire night, I didn't think of much other than hold back, save energy, and stick to Gelje so I wouldn't fall. As the darkest hours approached (2am-4am), I realized my headlamp was dead. A few quick efforts to change the batteries showed me that I had made a serious error. I figured 2 sets of spare batteries stored in the outside of my pack were useless. Also, the batteries in my headlamp corroded the contacts so changing them out with dead cold Lithium Ion batteries did nothing to restore the headlamp. I was stuck! My tracks had to be between Gelje and Brendan. I felt so stupid but immediately shook off the error and stayed focused on our objective - a quick summit push and a relaxed descent to ABC (if possible). Our pace remained steady and strong through all the climbs hurdles.
A strange encounter
We encountered several climbers about 2-3 hours into our ascent. As we approached them, I figured they were from the 7 Summits Russian team but they were our team mates - Magnus, Ang Pasang (Magnus' personal Sherpa), and Franz. Magnus was hilarious! He said...."mountaineer Patrick....it is mountaineer Magnus" and then went on to tell me he was feeling confused. Magnus and Ang Pasang were sitting on a rock just to the side of the fixed rope. Ang Pasang seemed irritated but Magnus was in high spirits. I asked him how he was doing and he said his head felt funny. Immediately, I thought he had early signs of HACE because he complained about being disoriented. Later I found out he was just confused about where he was on the mountain. I had no idea. When he said "I don't know where I am" I immediately responded with sarcasm as in "well, you are on earth, on a mountain, on Everest...." and figured if he were OK then we could move on and let Ang Pasang sort out the details. Magnus turned out to be just fine. Franz was uncharacteristically animated - as if he were high or drunk. I didn't really make much of it but he did seem odd; perhaps not as odd as Magnus but he acted strangely. Brendan and Gelje were not fond of standing around chatting much longer so we pushed on leaving them behind.
Just before we ran into these guys, we passed by a few bodies. I found the experience of seeing dead bodies rather odd. Death doesn't frighten me but seeing recently deceased bodies made me think of the stupidity of climbing high mountains. Yvon Chouinard said we were "conquerors of the useless" and just seeing those bodies reinforced the absurdity of it all. Still, I felt a strong kinship with these other conquerors and feel dedicated to alpinism. Death is part of life and big mountains just accelerate life both in intensity and duration. We all chose to be here. Dying in the pursuit of the absurd is what affected me. I thought for a moment, reflected on my life, and then took the next steps to pass by these bodies. Moving for me? Yes. I cannot explain it in words here other than it deeply affects me to see death in the pursuit of hobbies. Knowing many others who have died in various pursuits doesn't make these experiences any easier.
The steps just kept coming. I lost count of them after we finally got over the 3rd Step. These rock obstacles were actually the fun part of the climb. I finally got to use some of my rock climbing abilities - more than on any other area on the mountain. Climbing on ladders, scaling rock faces with crampons on my feet, and feeling for good hand holds brought me back to my days on the crag. It was a great feeling to get over these hurdles without expending much energy. David mentioned that we ought to increase our oxygen flow rate when we hit the 2nd Step. Well, that step was so easy, I didn't even know we passed it until we hit the summit pyramid.
We summited at about 7:30am - not sure the exact time. My watch stopped working in the cold and my phone was in a constant reboot so I couldn't take any photos or tell what time it was when we were there. Brendan saved the day! Not only was he the pacing controller, drinking supporter (water...and later beer), and eating buddy but he saved our summit documentation by taking some top-notch video. I failed in that category. Here I am on the summit:
Mask off, right glove off, totally psyched, and relieved to have half the summit push behind us. What the picture above doesn't show is how winded I was and how little oxygen I was getting from my mask.
My mask froze in two locations during my ascent - one area where I could clear and didn't affect me much and one area that I could not clear and that profoundly affected my ability to breath. The second area is the intake valve from the ambient air. The valve was protected by a piece of plastic; inside that plastic protector was a huge ice ball. I couldn't free the ice ball and, as a result, I couldn't draw air into the mask. The mask failed about 100m below the summit and I just had to make do with my mask. I twisted it so I could take in air around the mask but by doing so, the air coming in was way too much. The amount of oxygen I could get to my lungs was probably around 1/2 liter/minute. At 8800 meters, that flow rate doesn't really help much. I could feel myself getting weaker and weaker as I climbed higher. Now, at this point, I was on the snow slope above the summit ridge and I knew I had the energy to get up and get down. Each step, however, was harder and harder. Below is a picture of me during the descent. The summit ridge ends just below the snow field above - about where my mask stopped working properly. The part that froze is the black knob looking thing to my left - on the mask. I cleared out as much ice as I could but the ice remained solid around the valve.
We spent about 15 minutes on the summit in a stiff breeze (probably 25-30 knots). My brain was in a haze. Brendan was yelling at me to take out my flags. We had rehearsed all our steps but I was useless in the process. I couldn't remember a thing nor could I muster the energy to do anything but sit there and take in the sights. Sorry Brendan. I promise to make it up to you on the next climb.
The rest of the descent was a blur. I stumbled my way down - trailing Gelje and Brendan by as much as about 100m at some points. During my descent on the 2nd Step, I lost my footing while descending on one of the lower ladders, swung around (doing a "barn door"), and hanging over a huge drop. When I say huge, I mean huge - probably 5000m drop to the glacier way below. I knew I was roped in so nothing to fear; I just regained my footing and pulled myself back to firm ground. Once there, I felt embarrassed for the misstep. Oh, but the calamity continued. Gelje said "watch out for that step...very slippery" and so what did I do? I slipped on it. Damn near fell to my death had it not been for being clipped into the fixed rope. Now I really felt stupid. I couldn't keep my feet steady on these seemingly easy steps down. My oxygen mask now didn't work at all and often kept me from being able to breath. The lack of oxygen was really getting to me. I was slow and clumsy.
Left alone to pace myself
I told Gelje and Brendan to go ahead. It was clear to me that I would get down but I had to go at my own pace. Those two were way faster and were waiting for me to descend the easiest snow slopes. I just couldn't catch my breath. My oxygen was running out but even if I had a new cylinder, the oxygen wasn't getting to my lungs or brain. I had to get down and I decided to just keep moving. Once I got down to Camp 3, I knew things would get better. I had to get some water in me, eat a few snacks and then head down to Camp 2.
Missing Gear at Camp 3
When I finally got down to Camp 3, Brendan was waiting there on a pile of gear for probably an hour. I was beat and feeling woozy at best. He said our gear was missing and spread around Camp 3. Apparently the Arun Sherpa and/or climbers collected our cached gear (stored in a large plastic bag and tied off), sorted through what they wanted, and discarded the rest. They told Brendan that they were just collecting the gear left behind by their climbers and didn't know that we had occupied their tents. What made me irritated was that they took my climbing gear - my -40F sleeping bag, some electronics, and a few other odds and ends - while leaving other gear to simply blow away from the camp. The guys Brendan interacted with were very defensive but I could see their conundrum. They were assigned the duty to clear the camps but chose to only clear what they deemed worthy. As they were about to head out, they cut the Arun labels off the tents and left the tents erected. I suspect they cut out the labels to eliminate the climbing authorities from holding them accountable for littering the mountain with their tents. Well, Brendan and I saw them cut out the labels and would be more than happy to report them. They also stole some of my gear that I could easily estimate to exceed US$1000.
Despite the loss of equipment, I was still psyched and knew my climb had to continue to at least Camp 1 to be safe. We pushed off frustrated by the experience at Camp 3 toward Camp 2 not knowing what was in store for us there. A few hours later, we got to Camp 2. Note we had no pictures. I barely had the energy to descend and had no plans to stop to take pictures. The others in our group no doubt have pictures. I will post some when I find a few. We made it to Camp 2 - I arrived about 30 minutes after Brendan. He walked around and couldn't find our equipment store tent. Apparently it was gone. Well, that wasn't good. Some of my other gear was in that tent. I was starting to realize that a good portion of my alpine gear would be missing. Brendan pushed on from Camp 2 and I slowly got through it. Once we hit the snow slope toward Camp 1, I could see Brendan but he was slowly pulling away from me. I stumbled my way down the snow slope toward Camp 1 and completely lost him in the fog/clouds.
Camp 1 Reunion
I got down to Camp 1 exhausted with barely enough energy to do anything other than lie down on the glacier and breath. The past few hours were spent alone trying to handle the low oxygen without a functional mask. I struggled and felt incredibly weak. Still, I got down to Camp 1. I felt like that was a great accomplishment and one I would note later as the hardest thing I ever did. Yep, I endured the hot waters around Manhattan for my 20 Bridges swim - an effort that ended with my entire body cramped up and with a feeling of total exhaustion. The descent from the summit on Everest trumped that by a long shot. I couldn't move once I got to Camp 1. I was so tired I just laid down on the glacier with my pack under my head and fell asleep. It was about 4pm when I got into camp and our summit push started at 10pm the night before. By my simple accounting, the duration of that effort was 18 hours and we were still not out of the woods. Camp 1 was not our desired destination; we wanted to get down to ABC but I was in no shape to go any further.
More Missing Gear
When we got to Camp 1, I had no energy to look for my gear but I knew the sleeping bag I expected to use was gone from Camp 3. Gelje was kind enough to loan me a sleeping bag for the night but I was fine with passing out with my summit suit only. The fatigue I felt would carry me to a blissful night sleep regardless of my sleeping arrangements. Gelje's loaned sleeping bag did make it easier. In the morning, however, I learned that the storage tent was a total nightmare. The gear I left at Camp 1 was not in the tent. I left my hardshell top and bottoms - the gear I use for all my alpine outings - my giant Mountain Hardwear puff jacket, and several other layers at Camp 1 in the storage tent but they were all gone. My favorite blue fleece top was gone too along with my ice axe. All gone. Not a trace of that gear was evident in the gear tent or anywhere else. I was supremely bummed to say the least. My gear loss on this trip was starting to add up. I figured I had US$4000 of gear gone in total. Everest is expensive but now it was getting stupid expensive.
Above, Brendan and Dom were waiting with me to get more water. We needed the water to descend from Camp 1 to ABC. On May 20th, the warm weather arrived. There wasn't even a slight breeze today. We had no idea how the climb unfolded for the rest of the team but we learned that Dom suffered similar problems with his mask. His problems started well below the summit and he felt compelled to turn around. We all agreed he made a wise decision. It was difficult to be so happy about our summit while we consoled and supported Dom after he didn't summit. He was strong to be sure and Brendan and I were bummed for him.
Descent to ABC
The climb down the headwall toward ABC went smoother than I thought it would. We were all dehydrated and exhausted - even after a night sleep at Camp 1. The little bit of water we got from a Sherpa would need to suffice until we got down to ABC. I didn't know how I would muster the energy. The previous day sapped me of almost all my energy and I was still struggling to breath. Getting down to ABC was a necessity and we had to do it on our own power. We pressed on down toward crampon point where I could retrieve my approach shoes and then stumble my way into camp. When we got to crampon point, our blue barrel was gone! My shoes were missing. Damn! I couldn't believe the luck I was having at this point. I was so tired I just couldn't think straight. Missing gear at every point on the descent was starting to take its toll on me. I was angry, sad, concerned, and then just depressed by the whole situation. We left crampon point with me feeling totally beaten down. I had no shoes for the trek other than my mountaineering boots and that would be next to impossible to walk 20km in those boots. Feeling rather hopeless, I stumbled on through many abandoned camps. About 30 minutes away from our camp, one of our cook boys (that is what they are called but they are grown men) came up to me with a coke and some juice. I almost cried. For the past 2 hours during our descent I had been dreaming of a Coke. Here it was and it was delivered to me before we hit our ABC tents.
I was exhausted, demoralized, and angry but I wasn't going to let some material possessions get in the way of relishing a great accomplishment. Things can be replaced. Memories are what matters most and I wanted the memories to be fond ones not bitter ones about loss of possessions. I spent some time collecting my thoughts before I walked into camp. Once there, I learned that the cook staff retrieved our crampon point cache and they had my approach shoes. Wooohooo!!! My trek wouldn't be as miserable as I imagined.
Brendan and I celebrated our return by opening up a few beers. These were the first beers we had since December.
I was so happy to share the experience with Brendan. He and I are a good match for these endeavors. We enjoy the time together and we have similar dispositions. A little late, Jon joined us in our celebration. We were all thrilled to have successfully summit days behind us.
We "enjoyed" the beers and a few Cokes on this day. What we didn't know was how the climb was going for the rest of the group. We now knew about Jon and Dom but the others were still high up on the mountain. The fate of the others will be the focus on my 3rd Part. Stay tuned.
I hope you enjoyed my summit recap. Please feel free to post pictures or share the recap on Twitter or Facebook. Thanks for the support.