Location: Everest Summit
Local Time: Now 8pm
Weather: Fine and sunny with low winds, seriously cold at night, and just
really cold in the sun
Hey there everyone, Fiona
Thought I'd give you my perspective on my climb of Everest last night and
We ended up planning to leave at 9pm but actually left around 9:30. My fault -
it's amazing how much time those last minute things like heating up your
chemical warmers, strapping some onto your toes, dressing (when you're wearing
90 layers), putting on your climbing harness and crampons, getting boiling
water for your bottles, etc takes! My friends will inform you that I am a
stickler for punctuality and am normally never late (hardly!).
Anyway, Mingma and I headed
out, accompanied by another Sherpa whose job it was to cart my second bottle
of oxygen to "The Balcony" (about half way through the climb). The idea is
that you start with a full bottle, use less than half of it getting to The
Balcony, then switch to a new full bottle leaving your other half to switch
back to on your way down. This Sherpa (whose name I have momentarily
forgotten), then decided to come to the summit with us - so it was the 3 of us
all the way.
Climbing Through the Black
We've climbed at night before and always seemed to have a little light, but
last night was pitch black except for a small amount of starlight. There were
also a few climbers ahead of us - and their distant head torches showed me the
way the route wound up into the mountain. It was so dark that most of the
night you couldn't tell where the mountain ended and the sky began.
The First Half
The climb starts by making our way up the Triangular Face and onto the
Balcony. Initially, it's a gentle snow slope that gets steeper and steeper,
and then is scattered with rocky sections. Most people have a short rest at
the Balcony while they change oxygen tanks - us included. As anticipated, Paul
caught up to us - but earlier than expected (due to my less than cracking pace
and delayed start). We shared the break together but it was not very relaxing.
We obviously needed to use our hands to get out our drink and Gu's and take
off our oxygen masks to ingest them, but were paranoid about leaving them out
of our big mitts for too long. Although I was quite warm when climbing
(bordering on hot), as soon as we stopped moving, you could feel the chill
overtaking your body.
We continued heading up
together, but then Paul found the pace too slow to keep him warm so overtook
our little group.
Using head torches to see the track, you could only really make out the next
10 metres or so of the route and had no idea of the surrounding landscape -
except to know that we kept heading upwards. In my case, I had Mingma ahead of
me - often waiting at the end of a fixed line. With my problem of getting cold
hands and history of frostbite, I was wearing big down mitts stuffed with
handwarmers - great for warmth but also makes then useless for any fiddly
tasks. Thankfully Mingma clipped my safety clip jumar into all the fixed lines
during the night. There was very little speaking - just an occasional "you
alright?" or "hands warm?".
We plugged on through the
endless hours of the night - must be a while since I've had and all-nighter
because it was astonishing just how long the night was. And all the while
stepping and resting, stepping and resting. I kept trying to minimise the
resting by telling myself you're not going to get there unless you're moving -
but at over 8000 metres, it's hard work when your body keeps saying it can't
go any further.
When the first glows of dawn showed, it was absolutely amazing. We were
already far higher than most of the mountains I could see and the changing
light on those peaks and the low-lying cloud was spectacular. Unfortunately I
didn't stop to get any photos as I was so concerned about making it to the top
and back in time.
The Second Half
On the way up to the South Summit, some of the rocky section proved to be
extremely taxing and my fatigue started to set in, slowing my pace even
further. Migma was urging me to go faster (or risk having to reduce the oxygen
flow rate so that it would last the distance) but I just couldn't do it.
Just here at over 8600m we ran into Paul and his Sherpas again. At first I was
elated as I thought we'd somehow caught up to them, but then he told me of his
predicament with his oxygen, the only option being for him to go down. What a
heart-breaker. Of all the scenarios we'd thought might happen, this was
certainly not one of them. He urged me to go on saying "you've got it in the
bag!". Which was anything but how I felt at the time. Just to get over the
ridge line they were resting on probably took half an hour. At the time I was
so focused on the reality of seeing whether I could get to the top or not, I
didn't really think of any other options but putting my all into getting as
far up as I could. But as I plodded on, I began to think of the disappointment
for Paul and the shame in not being able to achieve this together. As well as
wondering whether I should have gone down with him so that we could try again
together some other time, or whether I should have offered my oxygen and gone
down (which to be honest, didn't even cross my mind - maybe the altitude?). We
said a brief good bye and good luck and then parted, up and down the mountain.
Not far from here, we reached the South Summit - which gives incredible views
of the actual summit - something we had not yet seen in the flesh. This was
the first time I'd really noticed the views around us. We were surrounded by
thousands of peaks (in Nepal and Tibet) - some grass and some snow covered,
but all with sharply defined edges and pointed peaks (many pyramid shaped).
And the distance we could see was enormous - I'm sure I could see the
curvature of the earth. I noticed the weather here too - not a cloud in the
sky and hardly a breath of wind (by Everest standards anyway).
At this stage I was utterly
exhausted and found myself wondering why there had to be two summits and why
the South Summit wasn't the one. My arms and back were aching from pulling
myself up on rock and rope, and my calves were wrecked from so much French
pointing and climbing on rocky sections holds for only one or two of your
From here we traversed across
a very exposed section linking the South Summit to the Summit. I was very glad
it wasn't a windy day as a fall from either side would send you thousands of
metres down into either Nepal or Tibet.
A rocky section and then
another exposed traverse and we were at the Hilary's Step. This is a lot
different from how I'd imagined. It butts into the traverse so is really a
narrow chute - which explains why there can't be separate up and down routes
to avoid congestion. It also doesn't strike me the most technical part of the
summit climb. There are around 50 ropes which have been strung up over the
years. So to climb it, you just grab a handful of ropes in each hand and haul
yourself up - not the most graceful climbing maneuver ever! But it was only
after climbing the step that I actually began to think - hey, I'm actually
going to make it!
After this obstacle, the
climb traversed across the snow covered corniced peaks that make up the
summit. As you can imagine, every peak you climb up you're thinking "this has
got to be the summit", only to be disappointed when you crest over the top to
see that the next corniced peak is higher. After not too long, we crested one
peak, and there was suddenly nowhere left to go. No more up! I didn't look at
my watch but I believe it was around 8am.
The summit area itself is very small - probably 10 people could fit but they'd
need to be very sure-footed. There was no one else though. There are lots of
things left on the summit. Mostly Nepalise prayer flags. Mingma actually
brought a set up and unravelled it specatularly in the wind before letting
them settle on the summit. The view from here was absolutely amazing. 360
degrees of long-reaching views and we're standing head and shoulders above
We radioed to basecamp to let
them know our position and then proceeded to pull out our drinks - we were
very thirsty. But unfortunately the lids on both my thermos and the Sherpas
water bottles were frozen solid and no amount of brute force could open them.
Oh well, time to get the camera out for the first time to get some summit
shots, as well as a panoramic shot which would be amazing. No go - despite the
camera being kept on an inside pocket of the down suit, it's battery refused
to cooperate. Mingma spent around 10 minutes heating the battery in his hands
and managed to take 2 photos before it would freeze up again. Imagine my
disappointment! I also had a satellite phone there and planned to call my
family and a some close friends, but it was just to windy and cold.
By this time we were starting to get very cold so decided to start heading
down. This is when my fatigue started to kick in violently. I kept thinking
that all I needed was a tent, a sleeping bag, and about 100 bottles of
lemonade (still soooo thirsty!). Camp 4 seemed so far away.
By around 12:30pm we finally
made it back - although I thought it felt more like 4pm. In total, I was
climbing solidly for around 15 hours and I have now not slept for nearly 40
hours. No wonder I'm zonked. And with only 1 litre of water downed during the
climb, it's now time for some serious rehydration.
Back at Camp 4
Back in the tent with Paul and discussing both our joy and disappointment.
Very mixed emotions at the moment.
Climbing Mount Everest has
been the hardest night & day of my life. I'm not sure I'd do it again! It was
spectacular up there but my gosh, the pain to get there! I'm actually not sure
that the experience has sunk in yet - nor the fact that this huge goal I've
been working towards for so long has been realised.
Still extremely tired with
sore limbs - so will sleep very well tonight (even in the astronaut suit).
Over and out, Fiona
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