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.|