| Second attempt at Everest
The number one thing on my climbing bucket list is to summit Mt Everest. This is a dream I’ve held for 35 years. I tried it from the Nepal side in 2010 and was unsuccessful due to bad weather. You can read about it here:
Family commitments made me delay my next attempt until this year. I wanted to again try it from the south side but more than the side of the peak, I wanted to climb with Phil Crampton who owns Altitude Junkies, my preferred guiding company. Phil was doing his trip from Tibet so this meant I was too.
We had a few delays in crossing the border to Tibet but finally left Kathmandu on April 9, 2013 and spent our first night in the border town of Kodari. We then spent two nights at Nyalam (12,300’) and another two nights in Tingri (14,300’) before driving to base camp on April 14. Here we spent seven nights before going any higher.
For the most part life is very slow on a high mountain expedition. This is due to the need to acclimatize, a process that cannot be hurried. This requires weeks of sitting around eating, resting and going for day climbs up nearby mountains. I try to be an "active rester". It's a balancing act between the need to stay fit and really encourage your body to acclimatize vs not overtaxing yourself and getting worn down or even sick. Base Camp is at 17,000' and Advanced Base Camp is at 21,000'. At these extreme elevations you heal very slowly so you can't really allow yourself to get sick. At home I don't even think about getting sick and I'm not particularly fussy but at BC and ABC I get a little paranoid. Most days at BC I would hike 1,000' to 3,000' vertical feet up the mountain next to camp and return in time for lunch. The views were beautiful and it would get me working pretty hard in the thin air.
Day hike in front of everest
Acclimatizing is an amazing thing. When I first arrived at BC I found going for a walk on flat ground would leave me quite short of breath. After a few weeks of adjustment I could climb almost as fast as I could in Colorado a mile or more lower in elevation. Initially it's hard to eat and sleep but this also changes with time. Our bodies are absolutely amazing machines!
All this idle time changes when the summit push begins and you find yourself going day and night. A lot of big mountain climbing is done at night, and for some very good reasons. First, you need to consider the weather. If a few hours after you start climbing the weather changes for the worse, a night start gives you lots of daylight to deal with the problem. Second, more falls occur on the way down and they tend to have higher consequences than a fall on your way up. (Think falling down a staircase compared with falling up a staircase). This makes descending in daylight quite critical vs doing it in the dark after a long day. Finally, big mountains, by their very size, require very long days. You're better off doing the end of an exhausting day in the light.
Our first trip to ABC was on April 21/22. Due to the elevation and distance it was split into two days with an overnight at Interim Base Camp. IBC is a horrible place at 19,000'. There are yaks everywhere and every one of them is leaving a deposit. Phil told us to spend every moment of our time there inside our tent to minimize the odds of getting sick. I complied quite happily. We carried on to ABC the following morning and I took a little over nine hours for the total trip. We spent six nights at ABC and then returned to BC to recover as most of us found life there very hard. I couldn't eat much at all until the last two days and sleeping was very hard. It's also a cold and boring place.
After enjoying BC for 13 days we returned to ABC. This second trip took me 7 1/2 hours and was made in one day instead of two, more proof of the benefits of acclimatizing. Two days later (May 13) we thought we were heading off to the summit and climbed to the North Col at 23,000'. This was my favorite part of the climb. It's very scenic, all snow and ice, steep enough to require some skill and caution and to make it interesting while still feeling quite safe. The elevation is high but I could manage it quite well. We were carrying a lot of gear so this slowed us down and then the weather fell apart towards the top with cold temps, high winds and snow. Nine of our party of ten clients made it there.
The next morning was beautiful until Phil announced that he'd tricked us into this rotation because he wanted us to all sleep on the Col (a Welsh word for "pass") before our real summit push. GROAN!! We left most of our gear in a tent and returned to ABC.
Back at ABC we closely watched the daily forecast and finally everyone agreed to a predicted weather window. Our real climb to the summit began on May 18. With a lot less to carry, my trip to Camp 1 on the North Col went much faster. I shared a tent with Ed, an Englishman with whom I'd climbed in Indonesia last year, and Sangee Sherpa my fantastic Sherpa guide. We were quite cramped and I was very hot all night as I volunteered for the worst spot in the tent (the middle guy).
View of the climb up the North Col
Climbing the North Col
After a fitful sleep we packed up and headed for Camp 2. I quickly decided my load was too heavy and returned to the tent to drop what I could. My pack was still heavy but I had no choice so I plodded up quite slowly. I spend a large amount of time choosing the lightest gear I can find but you need so much stuff at high elevations that your pack still ends up very heavy.
One of the culprits was my food selection. I find it hard to eat when I'm very high up on the mountain so I brought a good selection of things in hopes that I could find something palatable. Chief among these was my Mom's fruit cake. I realize that fruit cake is very low on most people's list but Mom makes a great one and it is very dense and loaded with calories which is exactly what I needed. I ended up becoming a good resource for several other members of our team because they hadn't brought enough food due to some misunderstandings.
The climb to C2 takes you up a very long snow-covered ridge with one false summit after another. After the endless snow ramp finally does end, you then climb on rock and scree for several more hundred feet to the tents. I know climbing a few hundred feet sounds like a ten-minute proposition but at these heights people tend to move at about 300 to 400 feet per hour. Walking the length of a car can take five minutes.
Climbing rock into Camp 2
Tents at Camp 2
Climbers passing through Camp 2
View from my tent at Camp 2
Our tents were on tiny, sloping bits of platforms built by stacking rocks. They were too small for the tents so all the tents looked they were collapsing. I was helped to my tent by the ever-kind and strong Sangee. He took my boots off for me, melted snow and just looked after me. The winds picked up during the night and I realized we wouldn't be leaving as scheduled for C3 so I turned off my oxygen to conserve it.
Sure enough, the next morning Phil put us on hold so we spent an unscheduled day sitting in our tents. This is when my extra food became quite valuable and I was happy to share it with my teammates. Sangee and I chatted much of the day and listened to music on my iPod. In the afternoon he disappeared with another Sherpa and they made more platforms and put up more tents. We'd been using a contracted tent and now more climbers were coming so we needed to vacate our home. One of our team decided he'd had enough during this unplanned and unwanted rest day and returned to ABC so we were now eight clients plus Sherpas and Phil.
The winds died down during our second night and we packed up in the cold early morning and I started for C3 while Sangee took our tent down and stashed it in his enormous backpack. My feet were painfully cold and I held out hope that they'd warm up with movement. I was wrong. After about 30 minutes I knew I was in trouble so I sought permission from another group to use one of their tents and try to warm my feet.
Ang Gelu Sherpa, who was a personal Sherpa for Margaret, was nearby and offered to help me. I put my feet inside his down suit under his arms and this helped quite a lot. Not too much later, Sangee arrived on scene and relieved Ang Gelu. He rubbed my feet for a long time, put them inside his coat and was so helpful and kind. I seem to always be surrounded by amazing Sherpas. We eventually succeeded in warming my feet up, but I was in real danger of serious frostbite for quite a while. I then made a fatal error. My boots have heated insoles with a remote control. I turned them on for about ten minutes just to make certain I'd be okay. I remembered to turn them off, or so I thought.
The climb to C3 was longer than it should have been for two reasons. First, we'd camped lower at C2 than normal because others had used our traditional tent sites. Second, I just had a tough day. I needed 11 1/2 hours counting my foot-warming time to get to C3. I was so tired that Sangee, together with Kami Neru (aka Mad Dog) Sherpa, came down a fair distance to help me and another of our team who was struggling.
I suspect that I might not have made it to the tent had they not come so I was very happy to have the help. Sangee took all my gear and swapped oxygen bottles with me, allowing me to go to a higher oxygen flow rate than my depleted bottle could deliver. We climbed for two more hours to the tents. Along the way we had to step around Namgyal Sherpa, aged 35 and a friend of Phil's and our Sherpa team. He died descending from the summit a few days prior, likely from a heart condition. It was a very sad and sobering moment.
It started to blow and snow as I arrived in the camp at 6:30 p.m. I was exhausted and very cold. The ever helpful and kind Sangee took my crampons and boots off and helped me into the tent. I sat down and vomited. He melted more snow, I drank and ate a little and then Markus and I agreed to delay our summit departure until midnight so we could recover a bit more from the day's efforts.
It was a very cold and uncomfortable evening. Camp 3 is perched on a steep slope - think a black diamond ski slope in steepness. I sat cross-legged sliding down against the downhill wall of the tent. I could lie down on my back, but needed to keep my legs crossed due to the narrowness and steepness. My feet again got very cold. It was during this time that I discovered I had not fully turned off my electric insoles some 12 hours earlier and now my only batteries were essentially depleted. This would eventually cost me my summit.
View of summit from Camp 3
In my tent at Camp 3 after summit bid
I did as much as I could to warm my feet but they were still very cold and putting them into frozen boots certainly didn't help matters. Eventually I emerged from our tent a little after midnight and Sangee helped me with my crampons. I had some chemical handwarmers but they're not very effective up high since they need oxygen. Markus and I started our summit bid at 12:25 am.
My hands were cold but I was slowly making some progress in warming them as I climbed. However I was rapidly losing control of my feet. I suffered a little frostbite when I skied Manaslu (26,781') 18 months ago so I know exactly what it feels like. You can read about my Manaslu trip here:
I began thinking about the famous Everest climber George Mallory. He once said that he'd be willing to lose a toe to frostbite to gain the summit. I decided that 1.) You don't get to decide which toe and I'd likely lose all of them and 2.) I wasn't willing to make such a bargain with the devil. After 45 minutes of doing my best to warm my wimpy feet I decided I had no options left and I must return right now to my tent.
I made my announcement to Sangee, Markus and Kami Neru. Markus said he was having the same problems so we all turned around and scrambled back to C3. I reached the tent at 1:22 am, my summit bid over with for 2013. Mortals such as me simply don't have enough strength to linger too long up high and make a second attempt. I gave everything I had to give and a second attempt would fail if I was lucky, or likely end with me remaining up there for all time.
I was extremely disappointed but life is much bigger than even the world's biggest mountain. I have so much to live for and be grateful for. I'm blessed with a wonderful, caring wife, three amazing kids, mother, brother (and family), lifelong friends, the world's freest and best country and a huge, growing family in Nepal (currently eight kids). I love my home, business, community, church and just being in mountains all around the world. There are very few people on earth that have been blessed like I have. I have no regrets, but do plan to try again to achieve my Everest dream next year.
I left C3 a little after 8 a.m. as I waited for the sun to hit my tent before leaving. Once again my feet were super cold but between the sun and my movement they eventually warmed up. It got very windy descending to C2 but then the wind almost stopped a bit lower as I moved off the rock and onto the long snow ramp that leads to C1. I went from freezing to boiling in my down suit in only a few minutes. It’s hard to be comfortable on this mountain!
Preparing to leave Camp 3 on my descent
Sangee Sherpa at Camp 3
Cyo Oyu and the Rongbuk Glacier from C3
Changtse from Camp 3
The climb from C2 to C3 on my descent. Summit in the background
Once I reached C1 I took my down suit off and put on normal softshell pants and jacket. I drank, ate, repacked all my gear and set off for ABC. There are lots of steep sections and I took things safely and rappelled them instead of just doing a hand wrap (a technique that involves wrapping the rope around your hands to control your speed going down steep sections). I finally reached ABC after about eight hours of effort. I was extremely dehydrated and drank eight cups of tea that evening yet never needed to use the bathroom.
Back at ABC after failed summit bid.
With Sangee Sherpa at ABC
The following morning I, along with three other team members, walked 6 1/2 hours down to BC. I took a sorely needed bucket bath, packed my gear, ate and drank gallons of water and Fanta and had a great night's sleep. The following morning seven of us loaded into two Toyota LandCruisers and drove to Xangmu on the Nepal border. We crossed into Nepal the following morning and were at the Hotel Courtyard by 2:30 pm. It was wonderful to be home!
Everest from Base Camp
Leaving Base Camp for Kathmandu
Eating in Xangmu
Xangmu from our hotel window
I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the Herculean efforts of the three summiting members of our team. Ole Nielsen, Margaret Watroba and Edita Nichols all summited with Phil and seven of the Sherpas the same day that I turned back. Margaret enjoyed her second summit of Everest in four attempts. Ole isn't actually human. He descended from C3 all the way to BC in one epic day. He's also run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents and swum the Straits of Gibraltar. He is currently considering repeating the marathon project again but doing two per day for a total of 14 in a week on all seven continents.That's beyond comprehension.
Our team of Sherpas were amazing (an overused but accurate descriptor). They are highly skilled, always smiling and happy, strong beyond my ability to understand and a joy to be around. Phil runs the finest expedition on Everest. With much input from his loyal Sherpa staff, Phil has decided to run next year’s climb from the Nepal side and I have committed to go with him. I am excited because there is no guide in the world that I’d rather climb with and I greatly prefer the Nepalese side.
After I left base camp and returned to Kathmandu life seemed to really accelerate. My Mom had flown to Kathmandu to welcome the conquering hero; unfortunately I was neither. We had a great time in Kathmandu doing some sightseeing, visiting all my favorite restaurants, introducing her to my many local friends and most importantly spending time with the eight kids who make up my Nepali family.
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