Tuesday, July 23, 2019
Thursday, November 1, 2018
Thursday, June 28, 2018
NOTE: Prior to posting this recap, I had my climbing mates comment on the material. All but two commented after I sent requests (Franz did not reply and Jon was busy climbing Denali - and summited!). After a few discussions via WeChat and such, I had to make some tough decisions. Those decisions pertained to how much material to reveal to the public and what impact those revelations might have on the individuals. Let me begin by saying that what I wrote below is my perspective. Some material was edited because my perspective was incorrect. In those places, I chose to report what actually happened rather than what I thought happened. Those corrections are noted in bold. Additionally, I do not want to implicate SummitClimb as a prime cause in the outcomes mentioned below. These events unfolded organically and, I suspect, almost all expedition groups experience similar problems. From the leadership at Kathmandu through the cook staff, all those employed by SummitClimb did a fantastic job and I would happily climb with them in the future. Finally, I am reporting these events for completeness and not to raise the attention of the media. If you are a member of the media and are interested in following up with these stories, look elsewhere. You will find many others willing to engage you; I am not one of those people. My friends, family, and followers who were loyally tracking my adventures are the primary beneficiaries of these stories. Thank you for attending to this important disclosure.
Hopefully, I left you wondering what transpired with the rest of our SummitClimb team. There were several climbers that remained in my thoughts - mainly Magnus because he was acting so oddly on the summit ridge. Brendan and I sat for a good portion of May 20th - the day we arrived at ABC from the North Col - discussing the summit experience. He pointed out that I was clueless on the summit. He was right; I was clueless on the summit. Not wanting to spoil the mood, I didn't go into my mask problems just yet. Instead, we enjoyed (well, perhaps not really enjoyed) our first tastes of beer. We talked about how our rehearsed script for pictures and video on the summit was an utter failure. We never planned on windy, cold, and crowded conditions with no cell phone cameras. After a few laughs, we turned back to our team.
|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|
I encourage all of you to read the summaries from the other climbers. To date, I have these recaps posted online:
Jon: Sand To Summits
Grant: Dingofish Express
Wednesday, June 13, 2018
The Summit Push
After nearly a month waiting, walking, and wondering about our summit window, the day finally arrived when we would head up. That day? May 13th. Up to this point, we had only ventured up the mountain - that is above Advanced Basecamp (ABC) - for 3 days. Yes, we come to these huge mountains to mostly wait around at lower altitudes and get accustomed to the thin air. May 13th came after a three day respite in a Tibetan town called Tingri. During that rest, we ate and ate and ate until we couldn't eat any more. Brendan's fluency in Chinese and Chinese cuisine enabled us to eat such fine delicacies as "Big Plate Chicken," Beijing Hotpot, and other delights.
|Hotpot meal beat most meals we had at basecamp|
The reason we rested for a full day at ABC was two-fold. First, we all needed to be as strong as possible. Resting for that day allowed us to eat, drink, and rest. Most of us were pretty anxious to get going but the rest helped. Second, the Sherpa just returned from the higher camps and they needed to rest. Those guys do a tremendous amount of work and if they were tired from their prior work, summit day would be more dangerous - even more than it already is with a rested team. We needed everyone rested before we climbed higher - the extra day allowed us all to rest and recuperate.
We were all anxious to get going. The summit push is what we long for on all mountains and Everest just kept us waiting longer than any mountain I climbed before. Our time was here! We headed out right after breakfast on May 16th - about 10:00am. Grant, Magnus, and I headed out first.
|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.|
Our goal was to get to the North Col (Camp 1) - a total distance of 1.2 miles - without expending too much effort. We made it in 6.5 hours and I was beat! The heat really took it out of me. My legs felt fine; my breathing was not terribly labored, but I simply overheated and couldn't cool down. Thinking back, the reason I chose to climb from the North side was because it was way cooler than the South (Nepal) side but this year proved that you cannot count on Everest weather ever being normal. Every time we climbed to the North Col, I found myself overheating with just a tech shirt and a fleece top. I was worried when I reached the North Col. Being that tired meant that my body would work overtime to recover from the effort. I needed to be fresh for each of these climbs because summit day would require a huge effort. So our first leg didn't go so well for me.
Brendan and I had a great night at the North Col. We melted snow, boiled water, ate some fine meals (Brendan ate that disgusting Mountain House stuff while I enjoyed a wonderful bowl of Chinese noodles). It seemed we both shook off that first long day pretty quickly.
|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.|
The Unexplored Part of the Mountain (Above the North Col)
We woke up after a reasonable night sleep feeling energized and ready for the huge snow slope outside the North Col. That snow slope separated Camps 1 and 2 so there was no avoiding the big day of walking up a huge snowy field. Our previous exposure to the mountain was limited to only Camp 1 (the North Col) and we never had a chance to climb above due to the weather. Today (May 17th) was the first day of our exposure to the higher camps. Camp 2 was objective today and we headed off at about 10am - just after porridge and some eggs. I lost my taste for porridge a while ago and just couldn't muster the enthusiasm for it any longer. The eggs I could tolerate to a degree and I knew I would need to eat something before we headed out. I ate, Brendan ate (porridge if I recall correctly), and we both suited up to leave.
|My setup - finally got it going after some delays. Boy was I unprepared this morning!|
Today was our first day using oxygen and we were hardly prepared - at least I wasn't. We spent about 5 minutes setting up our masks prior to this day. The morning required us to suit up quickly and head out with all our gear functional. I should have spent more time getting used to the setup but I was preoccupied with getting my other gear in order. Some of us - perhaps me mostly - were in a mad scramble to get going. Everything seemed to go wrong on this morning. My mask leaked air and made hissing noises that seemed like most of the oxygen was going into the atmosphere rather than in my lungs. I had a crappy mask for sure but my poor preparation made it impossible for me to figure out the oxygen setup. Plain and simple, I really messed up by not setting up my oxygen kit before and for relying upon SummitClimb's masks. The TopOut folks never returned my email or phone messages so I didn't have that option from the start. The other vendors didn't have any distributors in the US so I had nobody to contact. Yeah, it was my fault for relying on subpar equipment but I figured oxygen would not be a limiting factor in my climb. Read on!
|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.|
Once we got going, I realized I was missing my ice axe. In my fog, I thought I asked Brendan to hook it to my ice axe loop and fix it to my pack. Apparently I never asked him and my ice axe remained at Camp 1 - stuck in the snow next to a tent. We headed up the snow slope steadily gaining on an Indian team of youngsters who were clearly untrained with moving in the mountains. These "kids" (probably in the mid to upper 20's) were taking about 15 really big and fast steps up the steep snow slope and then collapsing exhausted from the effort. Meanwhile, we hiked up at a slow and steady pace. We all quickly closed in on these novice climbers when they kept taking breaks on the route - remaining clipped into the fixed rope and laying prostrate on the ground gasping for breath. OK, perhaps that is a slight exaggeration but it was pretty close to how they were acting. We were even passed by several lower on the hill and then passed them as we neared the top of the slope. The only difference between us and them was that we got to Camp 2 without wearing ourselves out; them? They were beat with bloodshot eyes and no ability to recover from that monster effort up the snow slope. I sure hope they got down safely. No way did they summit.
|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.|
Camp 2 (7600m / 25,000 feet)
When we arrived in Camp 2, I was one of the first climbers to reach camp but had no idea where our tents might be located. Instead of meandering in camp and potentially climbing above our campsite, I sat down and waited for our Sherpa to arrive. Wasted energy at Camp 2 would be...well, a waste. I waited while Jangbu brought up the rear of our group. Once he and Gelje got into camp, they sorted things out and we were in business. By this time, I was beat. I didn't expend too much energy but I did realize that the day was harder than I thought. Climbing for much longer would have put me in a severely depleted state and I wasn't confident that I could recover quickly enough to make our next camp climb an easy one. That fatigue also brought on some grumpiness. I was ticked off that I had to climb all the way to the top of the camp - perhaps another 50m vertical - to get to the tent Brendan selected. The selection was not entirely Brendan's doing and I knew that but still my emotions were getting the best of me. Instead of climbing into the tent and being a real jerk, I decided to sit outside, take a few pictures, and cool off. The time by myself helped a ton. I finally
|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.|