On Top of the World (Everest Update).
Dear friends & ARK Everest donors,
I am VERY happy to report on a successful climb to the top of Mt Everest, on the 25th May. I am also happy to say my health, which delayed this report, is doing much better.
I write below the short account of my week climbing Everest. As you will see, there have been many difficult times. Through these painful slow hours, YOUR support and the educational cause we are fighting for were a huge source of encouragement to me: THANK YOU!
The below story reflects only my perception of facts, but it involves other people and organization who may wish to keep their privacy, so please keep these lines for yourself.
Friday 19 May
This is the day. The summit weather window has been confirmed for 24-25 May, we are leaving this night at 2am to get into position higher up on the mountain. I am excited. But also, I am tired. I have not recovered well from previous rotations. I have a lingering chest infection, which antibiotics should terminate within a few days and a persistent, dry cough.
I spend the day preparing my pack. So many potential equipment combinations but always the desire to minimize weight! I write the names of the biggest ARK Everest donors on my summit flag. That gives me a boost. So much support. I also prepare a 'Love you sign' for my girlfriend for a summit shot. I really have to make it to the top!
I chat with the ARK scholars on Facebook. As I tell them, being tired is irrelevant, now is not the time for feelings, it's been a 10 year quest and it's all about execution.
I go to sleep, the night is hot and I can hear the cracking sound of the Ice Fall seracs coming down in the distance.
The wild beauty of base camp on a snowy day (ie every day).
1.30am: Breakfast, I am ready, 2am departure. We cross base camp to reach the Ice Fall (5300m). The glacier is quite different from last time, it has been melting a lot.
Reality hits me in the mouth. I am slow, I am out of breath, I have no energy. I need to stop regularly to cough violently. I am afraid I am going to puke, I cannot eat anything. My friend Cesar, an amazing 60-year old Guatemalan, overtakes me easily. First time since we met.
My head starts thinking: how can I even consider climbing Everest in that shape? My sherpa, Pemba is clearly worried too. "Pemba, sorry I am slow, but I'll be ok - just don't wait for me in the dangerous spots, feel free to run ahead".
What can I do? Just don't give up. Don't give up. I think about the ARK scholars and the message on my summit flag. Never give up.
6.00am: I should be approaching Camp 1. I am about half-way. "Just don't quit".
8.30am: I collapse at Camp 1 (6,000m). I am lying on the snow. Pemba brings me some water. I am supposed to carry on to Camp 2.
John, a guide from IMG, evaluates my situation: "you have let yourself fall behind the energy curve, you need to eat & drink, and you will have to stay here for the night"
I spend the day drinking, eating and sleeping, sharing a tent with Cesar. I practice 'mind over matter' mantras trying to convince my body that there is no need to cough or be tired. My coughing does drop.
Negotiating the treacherous Ice Fall and its ladders to reach Camp 1
6.00am: Departure to camp 2. I feel better. I have energy, I am moving. I can keep up with Cesar. At least the first 2 hours. Then suddenly I hit a wall. Feels like yesterday all over again. An avalanche has covered the trail with massive ice blocks. I am glad I wasn't there when this happened! I put on music, seeking motivation. The long slope to Camp 2 seems interminable. But 'hey, as long as you keep moving, eventually you will get there'.
11.00am: I collapse in the dining tent at Camp 2. I wonder how this climb is going to work out. If we have to go for Camp 3 tomorrow, it's going to be tough. If only we could get an extra day of rest here.
And so it is, the weather seems better on the 25 than the 24, so we will stay one more day at Camp 2. This is my chance! Drink, drink, eat, inhalations, honey tea, mental motivation and again.
The ondulating Western Cwmb, between Camp 1 and 2 (thks James for the pic)
Rest day for us. Summit day for IMG Team 1, about 10 climbers of which many friends. At breakfast we learn they all summited. We are so happy for them. At lunch, they are all back down to South Col, this seems to be an amazing success. In the afternoon, we hear on the radio one of the climbers has fallen unconscious at the yellow band (~7,500m). An IMG rescue team goes up. Another climber has breathing problems. Another climber is involved in the rescue of someone from an other expedition. Meanwhile helicopters keep coming to Camp 2 to evacuate people (helicopters can only fly to camp 2 for rescue purposes). We hear about frostbites, people running out of oxygen. The mood is more somber. IMG climbers arrive one by one into Camp. The next one is always in a worse shape. Pain & speed are inversely correlated in the mountains. By 7pm, a Scandinavian friend and Arctic rescuers stumbles into camp and breaks in tears: "North pole, South Pole, that's easy. This mountain, that's the real tough thing".
Climbers compare their stories, it seems they all passed a few lost climbers from other teams on their way, and are trying to figure out which one fell on the rocks, which one was already unconscious, which one could be saved maybe, etc... It's all very intimidating. "I am young, healthy, experienced, and I am climbing with the best team in the world so there is nothing to fear". Eventually the whole team is back down and everyone is in one piece.
4.00am: Departure to Camp 3. We put on the altitude suits. I am the first to leave with Pemba. I am going to eat this mountain! I am quickly overtaken by other climbers, but not Cesar. I have juice. Coughing is regular but ok.
6.00am: We get to the Bergschrund, the giant crevasse at the bottom of the Lhotse face, and the little passage that climbers use to get through it. This passage is a giant snow funnel. All the snow of the face comes down through there. It's like climbing a vertical ice wall with a fire hose in your face. But I knew it, I was prepared and it's actually fun! First time I am having fun in a while.
Ok we are now on the Lhotse face. Can someone stop the fire hose of snow please? It's actually very windy and the wind is pushing snow down the 1,500m face. And I am at the bottom. Keep climbing, it's going to get better. Kind of. The wind is actually getting stronger. We have to stop and bend over to protect ourselves during the gusts. Then make 10 steps during calmness. And again. Cold hands. I like steep alpine faces, but I have to admit that after an hour or two of this fight, my pleasure is limited. We play this game for 5 hours. Camp 3 is near. But I am almost going to bonk. Can't take it an