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  Mt. Everest 2005: Climbing For A Cure: John Gray "Sherpa", Everest Summiter and Happy 15th summit to Apa Sherpa


Update Wednesday, June 1

Happy Birthday, John Gray "Sherpa", Everest Summiter and Happy 15th summit to Apa Sherpa 

Hello all...

At 6:30 am on May 31st, Apa Sherpa, Dawa Nuru Sherpa and John Gray made it to the top of the world on Mount Everest. It was Apa’s 15th trip to the top, Dawa’s 6th one and John made his first ascent in time for his birthday, May 31st.

The road to getting to the top was full of lots of waiting and much disappointment. After a fast acclimatization during April, the Everest Climbing For A Cure Team was ready for a summit in early May. Then, we waited and waited and waited....each day, watching the calendar slip by. Weather reports were discouraging each day. One day it would say "perfect weather" if you were already on the top and the next day it would say, "don’t even think about a summit until mid-June." Our team kept focused, however, and were prepared to summit at any time the weather would break.

On May 25th, a storm blew into camp overnight and many people awoke with the feeling that a summit would be near, probably on the night of May 29th, morning of May 30th. Our team packed up their stuff and headed up direct to Camp 2 so they would be in position to make a summit attempt.

After they got up there, however, the weather reports continued to predict terrible winds, extremely low temperatures and no "summit window." Chuck Huss, Dan Smith and Julie Smith made the difficult decision to pull their climb and they came down to Base Camp on the afternoon of May 28th. That left, team members, John and Rob Chang with Will Cross at Camp 2 hoping for better weather.

Just as a reminder to people, here’s the camp rotation during a summit attempt. From Everest Base Camp (17,500 feet) to Camp 2 (approx. 21,000 feet) takes between 6 and 10 hours. (Earlier in the expedition, John had made the trip in 6 hours so the Sherpas had started calling him "John Sherpa" since that was the time worthy of a Sherpa.) Once at Camp 2, climbers typically take a rest day to gear up for the next push.

After two nights at Camp 2, the climber should leave Camp 2 around 6:00am and head up the Lhotse Face to Camp 3 (approx. 24,000). This climb will take between 4 and 6 hours. Here, the climber sleeps on a steep, exposed face on tent platforms chopped from the ice.

The next morning, the climber heads up from Camp 3 to Camp 4 aka "The South Col". On a good day Camp 3 to Camp 4 takes 5 to 6 hours. The trick, according to Apa, is to leave Camp 3 earlier enough so that you can get into Camp 4 with enough time to rest because the climber will need to leave Camp 4 that night to make the summit attempt.

Back to our team, the original plan was for John and Rob to make their trip to Camp 3 on May 28th, which would make their summit attempt on May 29/30. The winds on those date promised to be calmer than any we had seen to this point. However, due to some last minute concerns about line fixing, the three of them decided to wait until May 30/31 for their summit attempt. They spent an extra day at Camp 2, then on May 29th headed to Camp 3. 84 other climbers, however, decided to make their summit attempt 29/30.

On the way to Camp 3, radio contact became really spotty so I don’t have many details from that night. John called down and asked for weather and was bummed to hear that May 30/31 was looking less than ideal. The winds were picking up and clouds were bringing snow.

84 climbers did decide to set out for the summit on May 29/30, we believe about 40 of them summited. The first summits on the south side this year by people such as Vern Tejas, Dave Hahn and Shaunna Burke. These were also, the latest "first summits" of any season. This has been a really weird year weather-wise.

While the 84 climbers were making their summit attempt, John and crew were heading up from Camp 3. The Sherpas, who had been hanging at Camp 2, made their way up from Camp 2 to Camp 4 and both Sherpas and Climbers rendezvous’d at Camp 4 to get ready for their summit attempt. Since they would start their climb at 8:00 pm that night, it was important for all of them to get as much sleep as possible to prepare for their ascent.

Once the team woke up, there was much discussion whether to make the summit attempt on the 30/31 because the winds were blowing so hard. Apa had the team wait until 9:00pm, and, at that point, even though the winds were howling and the snow was knee-deep, the three climbers and four Sherpas (Apa Sherpa, Dawa Nuru Sherpa, Lakpa Nuru Sherpa, and Pasang Temba Sherpa) started off for the summit.

Summit night moves in phases. The climber moves from Camp 4 to "The Balcony" which will take between 4 and 6 hours. From the Balcony the climber goes to the South Summit (a trip that will take 3 to 5 hours) and then, South Summit to Summit, with travel estimates of 2 to 3 hours. Those times are under good conditions. The climb on 30/31 night was not good conditions and promised to take even longer.

Since our radios were on the blitz, I kept track of the team’s progress through other teams who were making their summit attempt as well. On the night of 30/31, we estimate there were 35 people going for the summit. Not that many given the size of the mountain, but the other team’s were wonderful to keep me posted throughout the night on conditions and position of our climbers.

It was a long, anxious night until around 6:45 am, I got the radio call from John stating, "My Polar watch says 29,100 feet and I’m calling from the summit." All of our Base Camp erupted in great glee...yelling and shouting...clapping our hands. You can’t imagine how happy it made all of these folks that "John Sherpa" along with Apa and Dawa made it to the summit together.

They stayed there for a few minutes taking photos, etc, then headed on down. Apa is coming all the way down to Camp 2. John, according to Apa, is happily ensconsed in his tent at Camp 4 and is doing really well.

The other team members are also "fine." But it is unclear how many more summits we had because the radios are on the fritz. We know that our friend Will Cross and Lakpa had to turn around at the South Summit. Our hope is that Rob Chang, wearing his prized CW-X pants, and Pasang Temba also summited, but we don’t have confirmation on that yet. According to the Sherpa radio grapevine, however, we’ve heard that they are safe wherever they are. We should have more information later today.

Sorry for the long email, but since we’ve been so quiet, thought you wouldn’t mind some of the nitty-gritty details. Hope all is well with you. Cheers. p.



Rob Chang Everest Climber, author and motivational speaker. To book Rob e-mail

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