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  Mt. Everest 2005: Climbing For A Cure: Rob's summit Story


Update: June 3- Katmandu - hello, this is Rob Chang updating from Katmandu.  first I would like to thank all our sponsors, well wishers and supporter all over the world for our project.  I think the success of this project is less about the summit and more about the people who have been involved (but the summit is nice!).

For right now, I am going to give a synopsis of the account at my end, as our BC Manager Paula Stout had given a great account of what had happened to John G., Apa and Dawa.  As for my end, my climbing partner, Ang Pasang and I did not have good or clear radio contact, thus the confusion of what was going on.  Also, as John "Sherpa" and Apa were on the speedy track I was still fighting some stomach illness that I fought off proactively with dosages of immodium before our summit push, but did not help my hydration factor.

May 27 , 28 Camp 2- As the wait lingered on, some members had to make the distinct decision, to head home due to time constraints, work requirements and other personal issues.  In our tent at Camp 2, we discussed  honestly what each wanted to do.  This can become one of the most difficult decisions a climber can make, to stay or to go.   

We had many basis to figure this out, the condition of the ice fall, the danger to the Sherpas, to the climbers and if there was really going to be a shot. This was discussed to the heart from each climber.  In the end, I had insisted on my point to stay one more 24 hr. period.  Other members were skeptical, but I had given up on too many other climbs too early.  John Gray, being a partner on a few of these climbs mulled it over, and in tune - simply said, yes, I'll stay one more day.

Dr. Chuck Huss and Dan Smith had met their time deadlines and decided to head down.  It was a tough discussion, whichever end you were on.

With some free time, I am able to do a sat phone interview with my NBC affiliate in California - which was funny since I didn't have a pen or paper to write down the phone in number - so I scribed on a rock (serious, I have a pic of it)  I also shot a video salute for Memorial Day weekend for my friends in the 129th Pararescue Group and the 1st Marine Division outside my tent at 21,000+ feet.

As optimistic as some were, a lot of people thought our shot was too late, there were other teams trying to summit a day earlier, and regardless of what anyone says, all the weather reports were anything BUT dependable - only a neophyte would claim they really knew what was going on.  Winds were still high, temps cold, but still on the margin of what we mountaineers call "climbability".

May29 - Camp 3 - John and I move to Camp 3 - the ascension is one of straightforwardness and focus.  John and I joke that its the anniversary of Sir Hillary's first attempt, heck of a place to be - on the actual climb - what a place in history.  I still have stomach issues, but our trip to Camp 3 is one of vast improvement from the first. 

We have a new tent area, without some off angle canter, our Sherpa climber is "on it" in terms of water and having things ready to go.  We start sleeping on O's and now it feels like we are going somewhere, though we don't know whether its up or down.  The wind blows, but the temps are warm. I do a spoof here at almost 24,000 feet on our ledge in my CW-X outfit, the world's highest fashion show, though the mountaineering inner booties didn't really match.  Our Sherpa views the skeptical from his tent and laughs.

May 30, 31 - The real push, John and I get up and we are wired.  This time getting up hours earlier than our predetermined "Sherpa" wake up time (since it takes a Sherpa 15 minutes to eat, pack and get his gear on and be ready to climb) - it takes John and I more like 2 hours, so we wake up this much more earlier to be ready.

The climb to Camp 4 is amazing.  It is steep, exposed and hard.  Even with the fixed lines in place, the air is so thin, and well, as we hook into what seems like Orchard Supply Hardware rope stock (which it is) - when you start over the Yellow Band - and look down, well at 25,000 feet, you are almost 10,000 feet higher than BC, and it is intense.  Once over the Band, the Spur, it levels out somewhat and curves around into the South Col. 

Here it is Mars, but on Earth.  Barren, cold, survival is the word. No sitting outside hanging out like in BC, it is a harsh world here, and no

wonder those who perished not far from their tents in 1996 did so in bad weather - I will never second guess someone else's reality after being here.  When you set you eyes on the terrain, you know you are the furthest point from outside help that there can be, other than being an astronaut - period.

John and I settle into our tent.  We are now using O's and feel pretty good. We cook up some food, I try to hydrate some and we settle in.  The wind is HOWLING --- The tent at times is sideways. And we are very concerned about just sitting there in the tent.  When we arrived at Camp 4, the Sherpas yelled at us to get into the tents, at some point, not out of concern for us, but for the fact that if each tent did not get heavy ballast quick during the securing effort, the tent may end up 35,000 feet above Tibet in the jetstream.

Apa comes to us numerous times.  He checks our water, how we feel, our oxygen.  He is concerned about the cold and the wind.  There's to be some tough decisions to whether to climb in these conditions, and we are going to leave it up to  him.  This is no time for a first and second timer to make assumptions over someone who has been to the summit 14 times and has returned with all his fingers and toes each time.

Our plan is simple, start getting ready at 6, maybe mount up and climb around 7 or 8.  John and I make our preparations with the utmost seriousness.  We know this it, and that its dangerous out there, not just like a normal climb, this is the biggest one that there can be.  We take are steps to put our clothes on, layer by layer, hydrate a bit...complain whether or not if we put everything on - hydrate then have to go to bathroom, what is the reverse time of the process...so I wait a bit longer for the harness and down pant process.  I gut aches, but I am going for it. John is good to go.

At around our H hour, Apa comes in, and says we are on hold, one more hour, too windy, too cold.  Our hopes are dwindling.  It sounds like a beast tearing at our tent outside.  So we calmly understand the hold decision and mull over staying there for the night and then going down.

Then around 45 minutes later, Apa comes to our tent, and says, lets give it a try.  The reality sets in, our packs go out, crampons go on, headlamps beam, and we are now standing at 26,000 feet in a howling gail, but we are going to give it a try.  The strategy will be to get up the first main point on the ride, the Balcony, and then assess how it is.

As we start out - right out of camp, there is a semi-steep ice face, being dark, its just a process of finding the footsteps of the person ahead of you.  A simple process, unless you are following someone who does not know what they are doing.  Not so with our group, John is one of my most trusted partners - and Apa and his Sherpas need no introduction. 

After this first section the route flattens onto a snowfield for a while

then really steepens again on semi-mixed ground.  Rock, ice, snow, all different types of stuff, not too hard in the Sierra, but at 26,500 feet, hard, in the dark.

Here John, Apa, Dawa pull away and Ang Pasang and I are in the tail of things.  There are a few other climbing teams that jostle in front and in back of me and Ang as pace, water and oxygen bottle trade outs are done like a pit stop fashion along the route.

This is where radio contact was difficult and spotty.  Too windy, and we decided, lets just move. As the hours went on over the sections of the route, it was becoming distinctly aware of how LONG this route is, compared to the little contours on the National Geo map.  At one point I asked Ang, when do we get to the Balcony, he says, oh, we already passed it...then the South Summit, same response, this guy knew my stomach hurt, and he just wanted to keep me going - I thought it was out of just not wanting to stop, but he had other ideas.

Finally the sun began to rise, and we saw the greater views from above 27,000 feet with the sun rise, with clouds swirling about.  Looking almost 5 miles down onto the far horizon was only something I've done in the seat of an airliner, and here I was standing on this ridge, in blasting winds - trying to make a dream come true.

As time passed.  It became very difficult for me to breath, my lungs were burning, and I felt there maybe some issues....PE perhaps, pulmonary edema, fluid build up in the lungs.  We moved on, as we came across the main summit ridge, right before the Hillary Step (I knew this one, it was light, and Ang laughed when yelled - Holy Moly - the H Step!).

At the same time we were ascending it, Apa, John and Dawa were descending. Apa's word's were simple -"It's windy, cold - summit, take picture come down - no time."  That motivated me and a bit of time later - at around 8:30 am on May 31, Ang and I summited Everest.  His 6th time, my first.  It was a very special moment as he saw me labor so much, so few steps at a time, and he still said, not bad, 8:30 am.  The approach the summit is amazing - though just a lump, the last few hundred feet do not have fixed ropes, is heavily corniced, and so a fall to either side is a multi-mile drop back into Nepal, or get a new visa, into Tibet.  This was pretty intense to know to be unroped at literally 29,000 feet and be using the same techniques we teach on Mount Shasta back at  home.

Thoughts of my sister with cancer, my dad, my mom, Teedie, the breast cancer food group, the Breast Cancer Fund, all those that I try to inspire, and here I am on top of the world...for them and myself to find some grace and peace.


Summit is nice, we snap some pics, camcord dead, digi cam is dead, the winds pick up and its blasting to the point where my summit photo is an a la sitting, but for Ang, his sixth summit, he proudly stands next to the summit post.


Down is all I can think and this is where the real adventure begins.......


We make our way down the fixed ropes and at about 27,000 feet, I feel a little gurgling in my chest.  I cough up some white stuff and know immediately that its not good --- so I take some anti-PE drugs, niphedipine to help.  The descent is arduous, hard and slow.  Ang helps with the ropes, and ushers me down.  I am so dehydrated. 


Late that afternoon, I dive back into my tent - and my first word's to John are - 911 - climber call for trouble.  I tell him what's up, I immediately go high on the oxygen and after a while of John taking care of difficulty breathing, asks what to do - and a plan is made.  I feel that maybe I should have turned around since I knew I may have PE.  It was a pretty intense situation for John, but if there was a definition of coolness under fire, and PARTNER, John was it, after 17 years of climbing, he had the right stuff at the right time.


June - 1: After a long night, we descend down to Camp 3, then Camp 2, I rest a bit, but after a night of radio com to doctors in BC, they want me all the way down asap.  So I continue on to Camp 1.  One of the longest days in my climbing life, so I though.  Staying at Camp 1 allowed me to be poised to descend through the Ice Fall early.  The Western CWM and the Ice Fall are now a mess, so late in the season, and all I can think of is my team members who

have to follow later...


June - 2: I make it to BC, Paula is there, and has been arranging a heli-evac so I can get my condition in my lungs checked out, but she has some bad new.  A helicopter with a bunch of journalist that were coming in for a short stint in BC had crashed that morning right at the pad, no more Heli-access in BC. I simply say, well, stay a night in BC, trek to Gorak Shep, get the heli there the next day.  Then Paula comes back and says that the Ministry of Aviation of Nepal has shutdown BC and Gorak, and if I wanted to get out asap

- I would have to go another 2hours beyond to Lobuche. 


So much for my rest night.  The mad scramble goes into action, and right after coming down from the summit, staying at Camp 4, going from 4 to 1, then 1 to Lobuche.  A couple of the porter Sherpas that went down to Lobuche with me thought I was crazy.  So that day at Camp 1 started at 3am and ended at 10pm in Lobuche.


June 3, I have a fanta orange drink, two fried eggs in the Eco Lodge in Lobuche, and at around 9 am the chopper shows up.  We stop off for fuel in Lukla, pick up a trainee pilot.  And by 10 am, I am at a CIWC clinic in Kathmandu.  I did indeed have some PE with some other ailments, and because we spotted them early, treated them aggressively (thanks Sherpa John Gray) I am ok and will be fine.


Again, thanks to all those who have supported our efforts and we will update a final journal entry soon. Rob




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

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