|Subject: Everest expedition update 15 Apr - 2 May
15 apr - after two days of driving from kathmandu we arrived at everest north-side base camp at 5200m. Base camp (BC) is well kitted out. Each expedition member has their own sleeping tent. There is a mess tent and a kitchen tent and two toilet tents. All of this relative luxury helps to ensure recovery when we descend from the high mountain and prepare for our summit push.
16-17 apr - moving straight up to 5200m from kathmandu is a big step up in altitude and everyone felt the effects of the thin air. The air at BC has 50% of the oxygen in the air at sea level. Without acclimatising, breathing is difficult and moving aroung takes more effort than usual. We therefore spent the next few days resting and getting used to the thin air. Some members had bad stomachs, most of us lost our appetite and all of us had altitude headaches. We started to feel a bit better after a few days rest.
It is important though to keep moving and keep the blood flowing in order to acclimatise properly. Sleeping for two days would do more harm than good. The two rest days weren't sedentary - they involved getting up for breakfast at about 8am, then on one day we had a puja blessing in the morning and the next morning we inspected and prepared all 104 oxygen tanks and sorted out our gear and freeze-dried food for the high camps. Lunch was around 1pm and we'd end up talking about the expedition and the summit push. It's easy to focus too much on summit day and forget about the month or so of hard work and planning needed before that.
Apr 18 - acclimatisation walk from base camp up the frozen river to 5500m. This was a nice day, not too tough but challenging nevertheless.
Apr 19 - acclimatisation climb to 6000m. This was a long (10hr) and tough day involving bouldering up one of the hills around base camp. Headache and lunch (only a few small bits since no appetite!) At the top, but a snow storm came in very quickly. The way back was miserable and cold, with low visibility.
Apr 21 - left BC 5200m for intermediate camp 5700m.11km hike which at sea level would be easy but 5-6km high proved very tiring day despite acclimatisation walks. Got to camp late afternoon. I felt pretty bad. My eyes were bulging and my head pounding. The camp was small and basic and consisted of tents dotted around with yaks lying in between! Being able to stop at intermediate camp on the way to ABC was a relief. The next two times we make this route, we will be going straight from BC to ABC. Intermediate camp is normally used only on the first way up since climbers aren't yet acclimatised and therefore the trek is immensely difficult. The second and third time the trek is still difficult but given climbers are better acclimatised, going all the way is possible.
Apr 22 - left intermediate camp 5700m to advanced base camp (ABC) 6400m. Another long and difficult day with headaches and nausea to congratulate us and the end. ABC is well equipped with a mess tent. However tents were two men to a tent and only one toilet tent for group including others. Campsite is great location, covered in snow, and with a great view of most of the rest of the route, ie everest north col, the north ridge on which camps 1,2&3 sit. The route then takes the north east ridge at the top of the north ridge to the summit.
Sleeping at this altitude 6400m is a record for me as well as some of the others.
None of us slept well that night because of the new altitude. Generally the first few nights at a new higher altitude are quite rough with vivid dreams if you do end up getting any sleep.
A few members had a sleepless night, some had bad stomachs, one had severe sunburnt face and another didn't eat for the next four days (he didn't make it up the North Col with us). Everyone had chaffed lips and noses; no-one looked as freshed faced as when we arrived at base camp anymore!
Apr 26 - climb from ABC 6400m to Everest North Col 7000m and back to ABC. This was up in the list of top toughest days of my life, as i was suffering a lot. We started early straight after breakfast with a difficult and slow 2hour plod in the thick snow to 'crampon corner' where we stuck on our harnesses, climbing gear, and crampons and walk a further half hour to the foot of the massive headwall up which we we're going to climb up to the ridge called Everest North Col. It took a further five hours of climbing up fixed ropes up very steep ground. The air felt very thin and leg muscles were lactic. It was very cold and we also had to operate the technical climbing equipment and so was very difficult. We spent about half an hour at the top, had a couple of sips of water and a cereal bar. Again the weather turned in the afternoon and the way down took forever with our goggles steaming up, fingers frozen, and legs turned to jelly.
On the way down we passed ‘crampon corner’ with only about half an hour left to get to ABC when myself and Greg noticed a body-like lump covered in snow. It was a sherpa from another team who’d come down from camp 3 but had stopped to sit down and it didn’t look like he was going to bee able to get up. He looked like he was just about to descend into, if not already with, severe altitude sickness. He couldn’t talk, and when we picked him up, couldn’t balance himself. We gave him some water, slung his arms over our shoulders and stumbled for the next 1-2 hours to ABC on the rock and ice - it was amazing to see how quickly he regained composure as we lost altitude.
Knackered, we got back just before dark at around 6pm.
Apr 27 - move down from ABC 6400m to BC 5700m. Having climbed the North Col the day before, this 22km trek back down to BC in the thick snow that had fallen the night before was going to be difficult.
Apr 28 - rest day at relatively 'oxygen-rich' base camp. Having a tent each was a luxury. Also being able to wash clothes and have a 'shower' (bowl of water and a jug) seemed like heaven! The body does not recover above 5500m and actively degenerates. Even at base camp 5200m injuries will not heal or will take much much longer to heal than usual ie weeks instead of days. Cuts and bruises will just need to be patched up and wait until kathmandu to heal!
Apr 29 - rest day at base camp and oxygen mask training. The oxygen mask and bottle and regulator are complicated instruments. Working these at altitude under the stresses of summit day must become almost automatic and therefore practising to use these a lot beforehand is important. Tonight we go out for a walk in the night with our oxygen masks and headtorches to get used to the claustrophobic feeling of having an oxygen mask strapped on and being able only to see the pool of light provided by your headtorch.
We have one more rest day at base camp before making our second trip up the high mountain on the 2nd May.
The itinerary for the next few weeks is:
2nd May - move from BC 5200m to ABC 6400m. 22km trek with a 1.2km height gain.
3rd May - rest day at ABC 6400m and preparations for moving higher up the mountain.
4th May - move from ABC 6400m to the North Col 7000m via the headwall and fixed ropes. This will be the highest I will have ever slept. We will be feeling very rough and won't sleep much
5th May - rest day at north col 7000m to acclimatise
6th May - climb up snow slope from 7000m to 7500m to acclimatise further. Each step wil get more and more difficult. Moving will be painfully slow.
7th May - move back to ABC 6400m down the headwall and fixed ropes.
8th May - 22km down to BC 5200m to rest before the final summit push. We will be analysing the weather forecasts to determine when it will be ready to make our third and final push to the summit.
Subject: Fw: Everest expedition update 2 May - 8 May
May 2 to 8th ...Stage3 - push up the mountain to acclimatise to 7500m.
As a reminder, stage 1 was acclimatising on the south side of the mountain, before arriving ay base camp - if we just came straight to BC at 5200m we'd either feel very sick, get high altitude pulmonary or cerebral oedema which would be fatal and can kill in days. The body needs time to adjust to high altitudes by gradually increasing the altitude one stays at.
Stage 2 was the push from BC 5200m to North Col 7000m with a few nights at ABC 6400m.
Stage 3 was the last week's events, leaving BC 5200m on the 2nd May for ABC 6400m 22km away. Was very difficult since there had been plenty of snow and was very cold. Under stage 1 we did this section in two parts, stopping at Intermediate Camp 5700m for one night, but now that we were better acclimatised it was possible to do the whole distance in one go. One of my teammates (called Jason) struggled having been ill for the past few days and so I stayed back with him, it turned out to be a very long day and we arrived at ABC at 530pm having left BC at 830am.
May 3rd- we spent preparing for our next day. Equipment needed to be checked and bags packed since we would be carrying gear up to Camp 1 on the north col 7000m and leaving it there for the final summit push. This included our food, downsuits and summit clothing, sleeping mats etc. Given we were going to sleep at a new height the next day, it was also important to hydrate well. Hydration is key to good acclimatisation. One thing we are all looking out for is clear pee. If it starts to go yellow, that will normally lead to increased risk of AMS (acute mountain sickness) which can be fatal.
May 4th - push up to the North Col 7000m. This took a whole day starting with a two hour trek in the snow, with crampons and heavy packs to the bottom of the famous and pretty vertical headwall that leads up to the North Col. Moving at this altitude is difficult and breathing is heavy and strained. That's on the flat! Moving up steep gradients on the headwall is even more difficult! There are fixed lines (ie ropes) to which we attached a sling and karabiner to (combination is called a cow's tail). This safety arrangement is attached to your harness. If you fell, you would fall along the rope down to the start of the rope. The second arrangement attached to the harness is a jumar ascender which grips to the rope if you fall. Together, the cows tail and the jumar provide safety on the ropes, provided the ropes hold and provided you have attached them correctly which with the combination of lack of oxygen going to the brain, tiredness and cold can be an easy mistake to make. After about 4 hours of climbing the headwall, you get to a crevasse with a ladder (photo on blog) stretching over it and then a narrow steep section with a thin ledge (which can be difficult to negotiate with a big rucksack) up to Camp 1.
Again, it is important to keep hydrated. We were sharing tents, and I was sharing with Greg. The first job was to collect snow to melt which took about half an hour and was exhausting, especially with a horrible high altitude headache. Then we had to light the tiny stove in the tent porch where it was out of the wind but we could still get air circulation. Average rate is around half a litre every 20 mins and we had about six litres to make so we spent most of the rest of the evening doing this. Dinner was rehydrated packaged food which wouldn't normally taste very good, but with our diminished appetites due to the altitude, was very difficult to stomach.
May 5th attempted to move up the North ridge to 7500m. However due to lack of fluid and sleep and leaving late, we didn't get very far and left it until the next day.
May 6th woke up at 5.15am having prepared our drinks and packs properly the night before. We had learnt from our mistake the previous day. The morning was cold - possibly minus 10 to minus 15. We struggled to put our crampons on as the straps had frozen solid. Moving was difficult as the air was thin but the snow was crunchy and the crampons bit into the snow nicely. We could see the top of the snow slope that marked 7500m but it never seemed to get any closer. I found my rhythm which was to take 10 steps with a breath for every two steps. Then at the end of the ten steps, completely out of breath, I'd stop for a few minutes, get my breath back and start again, focussing not on the 7500m point, but somewhere just around ten steps away. Six hours later I stopped, took off my rucksack, clipped it to the rope so it didn't slide down the mountain, had some water, took some photos and then went back down. Going down was far far quicker than going up, but just as difficult because of the thigh burn you get from bending your legs constantly for an hour.
Back at Camp 1, rather than spend another night on the North Col, we re-packed our packs and headed down for ABC. We met some of the guys who didn't make it up to the North Col due to illness or fatigue coming up on the way down.
May 7th - repaired crampon as had damaged it the day before then left ABC for BC. Unfortunately, due to bad planning on my part, I'd left all my contact lenses either at BC or at Camp 1 on the North Col. So I had to make the 22km trek to BC half blind!! as I’d lost my glasses at base camp last week!!!
End of stage 3 back at BC where we will now try to give our bodies the time to recover as the altitude and exertion of stages 1 to 3 have taken their toll. Everyone has lost weight, faces look tired and gaunt.
At BC we will also be checking daily short term and long term weather forecasts. Hopefully, within the next few weeks there will be a weather window which will allow us to make our break for the summit.
May 8th - frantic radio calls between BC, ABC and Camp1. There was a fierce storm high up on the North Col during the night which ripped 5 of our tents. Three of the team members were up at Camp 1 and were due to push to 7500m the next day. They were behind schedule due to illness and couldn't get up to the North Col due to fatigue. Luckily, they were safe and were also able to confirm that none of our essential summit gear was blown off the mountain. There were tents of other teams on the North Col that were completely blown off the mountain, so we were lucky! The whole team is moving back to BC over the next two days irrespective of whether they made 7500m or not as the winds have picked up again on the high mountain.
The current weather forecasts do not predict an early summit window. We were hoping to be able to spend 3-4 days at BC but it could be over a week before we get the go ahead to break for the summit. We shall have to wait and see.
Subject: DRAFT Everest press update before final summit push 20th-30th May.
Having spent 4 weeks establishing camps and stashing food and equipment all the way to Camp 3 located at 8,200m on the North Face of Mt. Everest, Jaysen and his team have patiently been waiting at Base Camp (5,200 metres) for the last 2 weeks awaiting a weather window to finally open.
High winds, severe cold and a snow swept peak have made a summit attempt from the North side of the mountain impossible, however that is about to change.
After studying the most recent weather and jet stream forecasts for the Everest Region, Jaysen and team have decided to leave Base Camp (BC) on the morning of 19th May to attempt their final assault on Mt. Everest with a view to stand on the highest point in the world on 27th May.
Blowing with the strength of a cyclone at 120+ miles per hour, the Jet Stream blasts the rocky, icy summit of Everest nearly all year long. The Jet Stream is a constant and global wind force at six to eight miles above the earth and is widely used by the aviation industry to fly planes through to make journeys quicker and more efficient.
Observers can tell when the Jet Stream is blowing on the summit of Everest from the plume of ice crystals extending out from the peak of the mountain.
Anyone wishing to actually stand on the summit has to choose their moment carefully: the mountain is most inviting for a matter of days typically towards the end May, when the Jet Stream is pushed northward over Tibet by the arrival of the monsoon.
Jaysen will depart BC and climb 10 hours/22km up the East Rongbuk Glacier to Advanced Base Camp (ABC) located at 6,400 metres. The plan is then to spend two days at ABC, which allows for a brief rest period, final preparation of equipment left there, as well as any fluctuations in the weather window, before continuing the climb up the 500 metre near vertical face of The North Col to Camp 1 located at 7,100m on 25th May. Due to a storm on the high mountain, 5 of Jaysen's team's tents were destroyed. Luckily no essential equipment was lost and the campsite is operational again.
Climbing from Camp 1 to Camp 2 is a unrelenting 8-10 hour, 700 metre vertical climb and represents a commitment to a summit attempt; although the weather currently looks good, it is still very unpredictable. On arrival at Camp 2, the itinerary is quite straightforward: collect snow, and melt for drinking and food, and keep warm. It will be difficult to eat as Jaysen's appetite will have disappeared due to the altitude, but it will be essential to stomach a few calories for the 36 hour push to the summit and back down to Camp 1.
Jaysen will spend the night at Camp 2 located at 7,800 metres prior to departing for Camp 3 at 8,200 metres. During the 6 hour climb to Camp 3 on 26th May, Jaysen will cross into “The Death Zone” - classified above the altitude of 8,000 metres, the altitude at which mountaineers' bodies lose the ability to regenerate and slowly begin to die. It is at this altitude that mountaineers'
are also most susceptible to high altitude pulmonary and cerebral edema (HAPE and HACE), two life threatening conditions where fluid accumulates in the lungs or the brain tissue swells from fluid leakage, although these conditions are common above 4000m. The body cannot last much more than a few days in the Death Zone, even with supplementary oxygen. Without oxygen, maybe a few hours. Jaysen will therefore need to regulate his oxygen very carefully so that it doesn't run out.
Upon reaching Camp 3 in the late afternoon, there will be a few short hours to eat, melt snow for drinking water and rest as much as possible before departing for the summit of Mt. Everest at 8,848m on approximately 27th May 2011.
Summit day typically begins in the dark at 10.30pm and minus 20-40 degrees centigrade. Jaysen will be wearing a full body downsuit, harness and climbing gear, triple-layered boots, category 4 goggles and an oxygen mask. He will be carrying 2litres of water, 12kgs of Oxygen, a few cereal bars, medical kit, spare down mittens and a camera.
The final 4km ascent along Northeast Ridge represents the most difficult climbing. Moving will be very tiring and very slow. There are three "steps" or technical rock climbs along the way spread out 1-2 hours apart from each other.
The notorious "2nd step" is the crux of the climb, climbers must first climb about 5 meters of rock slab then climb the near vertical 15 meter ladder. At sea-level Jaysen would have no problem attempting to scale this. At 8600m, it will be a significant challenge - one that causes many Everest climbers to turn back.
Following the successful climb of the three steps Jaysen will faced with a steep snow slope, often windy and extremely cold. Heading towards the top of the Summit Pyramid, climbers are extremely exposed as they navigate around a large outcropping and experience three more small rock steps on a ramp before the final ridge climb to the summit.
Summit day will be a gruelling 18 hour round trip. Jaysen will be burning up to 1,000 calories an hour during the ascent. As the altitude increases, the oxygen content of the air decreases dramatically. At 8,848m, the summit of Everest, there is only a third of the oxygen in the air compared to that at sea level. Jaysen will be aiming to reach the summit at around 8am Nepal time.
After a successful summit, Jaysen will head as far back down the mountain as possible, ideally returning to Camp 1 where he will spend the night prior to returning to the relative luxury of ABC and BC. The descent is often the most dangerous part of the climb as the climber loses adrenaline and focus of the summit, also extreme fatigue and exhaustion set in. Jaysen will need to remain completely focussed until he gets back to ABC.
Not only has Jaysen taken his nation's flag to fly from the summit he hopes to raise funds for charities including the Breast Cancer Care in the UK and Link-To-Life in Mauritius. So far he has raised almost £6,500.
To summit Everest is every mountaineer's dream and to fly one's country's flag is an incredible honour. Jaysen will make sure that he makes the most of having made an incredibly difficult personal achievement come true and hopes to make his nation proud.
Jaysen's team will be carrying a satellite GPS tracking device and using Twitter to provide live updates of his progress and, hopefully, directly from the summit itself.
You can follow Jaysen's adventures on Mount Everest by checking his blog on his website, www.jaysenarumugum.com
Subject: Everest Update 19-28th May – The Final Push To The Summit
The team left BC 5200m on 19th for the final summit push, having waited for nearly two weeks at BC, analysing weather reports, looking for a weather window to make our break for the summit.
Me and some of the team decided to leave BC as soon as the weather window forecast came through and spend an extra day at ABC in case the window came forward, whilst other team members decide to leave the day after.
ABC at 6400m was a welcome sight after nearly 9 hours of back-breaking trekking the 22km to the camp. This was the third time the team had done this route and everyone silently wished they would not have to do it again.
Further weather reports at ABC indicated that the weather window moved back, and the 26th would be a better and safer summit day rather than the 25th as planned. High winds lead to an increased risk of frostbite and can make climbing extremely perilous. Excessive snowfall can also be deadly - breaking trail saps energy and the snow can hide crevasses and loose rock. We found out afterwards that a team that summitted on the 27th all came back with frostbite, so we luckily had timed it right.
We spent a few days at ABC making final preparations for the summit bid, acclimatising and discussing with other teams that had either been to the summit or were waiting to make their attempts. I received the unfortunate news from talking to a russian team that one of their team members, a 45 year old Irish man, died on the way down from the summit. Very sad and concerning news. Luckily it turned out to be the only death on the North Side of Everest this year, but it did make me think seriously about the risks I was taking and whether I should continue, especially given the retinal haemorrhage I had in my left eye 4 weeks ago.
The team left ABC 6400m for Camp 1 at 7000m on the morning of the 23rd May. The day started with a very slow and tiring hike in crampons to the bottom of the 500m high near-vertical headwall. Four hours up fixed ropes and over crevasses brings you to a final crevasse with a ladder to cross over it followed by a steep tricky section up into Camp 1.
On arrival at Camp 1, as is the case with any of the 3 high camps, the first and most important job is to shovel clean, fresh snow for melting and to get hydrated. The human body loses multiple times the moisture it loses at sea level and lack of hydration can lead to high altitude mountain sickness very quickly. The rule on the mountain is to keep drinking and ensuring that your urine is clear. If it isn't you will run into trouble.
The second job is to take off your boots and change your socks. These sweaty socks then go into your downsuit against the chest to warm and dry them up so that they can be worn again in the morning. Putting a cold wet sock on before a day’s climbing is asking for frostbite.
Melting snow is more tedious than it may sound, especially at 7000m. It takes around half an hour to boil a litre at 7000m and an hour at 8300m. With two people in each tent needing to drink 2 litres, use half a litre for cooking a freeze dried meal, and have two ready for the morning, that's four to five hours at least of watching the stove, which lies in the tiny porch and needs to be manned whilst on.
Camp 1 is very basic consisting of only sleeping tents. However it is tucked away on the North Col ridge under a massive serac and is therefore a beautiful sight from above.
Departure from Camp 1 was in the morning of the 24th May. It was full high altitude expedition gear from here on up. No one would be taking any clothing off (except for socks!) for the next four days. Thermals and full downsuit and down mitts.
It's a long 8-10 hour day to Camp 2 at 7800m up a steep and never-ending snow slope to 7500m and then a rocky section from 7500m to 7800m. Here the altitude is extreme, being only 200m below the Death Zone. Much of the climb to 7800m is also fairly exposed, following the North Ridge, and therefore is quite windy. Each step is an effort. The loads the team were carrying were heavy and this day saw 3 team members breakdown and turn back.
Camp 2 is precariously perched on the side of the mountain with the tents pitched on sloping ground with loose snow. It is very dangerous walking around without being attached to the fixed lines. It is even worse without crampons. It is an unforgiving environment, battered by the high winds. The air is particularly dry and cold. Most people develop painful coughs at this altitude.
The team slept on oxygen that night. Oxygen masks, whilst they provide some relief in terms of the oxygen they give, are uncomfortable to wear, produce residual moisture that constantly dribbles out of the front, and when worn for a few days in one go, get pretty disgusting.
My evening meal was yet again freeze-dried vegetarian pasta, of which i could only stomach a small amount of at that altitude, since appetite is severely reduced at altitude. The night was extremely cold and windy, possibly down to minus 30 degrees centigrade. During the night, nature called (everyone's worst nightmare) and I had to get out of my sleeping bag clamber around the tent. The extreme cold got to my fingers and once back in his sleeping bag, it took about an hour for the fingers to warm up and for me to get the blood back into the tips. I realised that I may have frost-nipped fingers, which if bordered frostbite, would have scuppered my chances of going for the summit. Luckily it turned out only to be minor frostnip which I looked after for the next few days very carefully!
May 25th was the beginning of a very long and the most difficult 40 hours of my life. The morning was cold and it always takes a while to get moving. Every task takes so much longer than at sea level. Putting in contact lenses - 5 mins. Packing the sleeping bag - 10mins. Putting socks and boots - 30 mins. Harness - 10 mins. Crampons - 15 mins... if you can feel your fingers.
Everyone who made it to Camp 2 made it to Camp 3 at 8300m. We were now in the Death Zone - the term for above 8000m where the body actively degenerates. The human body cannot survive in this environment for more than a few days. Rescue at this altitude is not possible.
Here at Camp 3, the team, three to a tent, spent the few hours of the evening melting snow, hydrating and making final preparations for the final stage to the summit. I left Camp 3 at 10.15pm after some commotion involving the third tentmate. The weather was good, relatively speaking – there was no wind and it was fairly warm at a toasty minus 22 degrees centigrade. My crampon straps were still frozen and the moisture released from my oxygen mask froze instantly down the top of my downsuit. This is a common problem and can cause the zips to freeze solid, preventing an ill climber from accessing his emergency medicine from inside his downsuit.
The stars shone bright and beautiful and there were impressive lighting storms in the distance hundreds of miles away, but I was entirely focussed on the job at hand - getting to the summit as quickly as possible and then back down and out of the Death Zone again. Moving up the steep North Ridge was tough going, but adrenaline helps plenty. After a few hours, I arrived at the top of the North Ridge and began to traverse along the North East Ridge that runs all the way to the summit pyramid.
The route was dotted with technical challenges and about 7 frozen bodies which we had to pass by within a few feet.
I encountered the first body, famously called Green Boots due to the colour of his boots, just after joining the NE Ridge. Green Boots died returning from the summit. Fatigued and cold, he sought shelter under a rock and never moved since. Climbers must pass within a few feet of his body, between him on the left and a long drop on the right.
The three most technical parts of the climb lies along the North East Ridge and are called the three steps. The first step is a challenging vertical rocky section, which doing this for the first time at above 8000m and in the dark was particularly difficult.
Then I had to pass another body lying on his back - a 28 year old from last year who lost his sight and couldn't be rescued. I subsequently learnt to my horror that he went blind after suffering a retinal haemorrhage similar to mine, was carried part way down but then had to be left there. It sent shivers down my spine and many of us (not just me I learnt once we got back down), suffering from hypoxia with our minds playing tricks, heard all sorts of noises and voices.
The second and most difficult step was the second step, a 20m vertical climb, with 5m of rock slab then a climb up the near vertical 15 metre ladder with a sheer drop off to the right down to a few kilometres down below. At sea-level this would be challenging enough. At 8600m, it was a significant challenge - one that causes many Everest climbers to turn back. A fall might not be immediately fatal if you have clipped in correctly to the rope, but would definitely break a few bones. Unlike other mountains, you cannot crawl back down from the top of Everest.
Before the 3rd step, lay two other bodies directly beside the rope, one of them being the Irish climber who died a week before. Seeing these bodies and knowing that they died on descent was very unsettling.
By this time the sun had begun to rise and the whole of the Himalayas gradually came into existence. Being so high up and being above all the other surrounding mountains, the horizon spread out in the distance with the curvature of the earth clearly visible. It was amazing seeing the shadow of dawn move across the Himalayas.
The final part consisted of climbing up the summit pyramid. First a traverse along the side if the pyramid and then a steep climb up a gully to the summit slope.
Approaching the summit was very emotional and I experienced a sudden realisation that afte almost ten years of dreaming of this moment, ever since climbing Kilimanjaro in 2002 I think, was about to come true. The last stretch seemed to take forever and although I could see the summit, it appeared to not get any closer. Years of regular training, months of very intense training and two months of actual expedition was coming to a close.
I had overcome my fair share of obstacles to get to this point. First of all I lost my glasses in the first few weeks of the expedition and had to rely on contact lenses entirely which I luckily had enough of. Secondly, after the first push to ABC, hundreds of dots appeared in the vision of my left eye – a retinal haemorrhage at 6400m. After checking with doctors in other teams and another climber who had had this before, I learnt that although there was a risk of my vision deteriorating or even complete loss of sight by going higher up, precautions could be taken to minimise this risk. I'd decided to continue and told myself if it got worse I'd turn around. Thirdly, I almost had to turn back due to frostnip on my fingers. Lastly, I almost lost a crampon on the NE ridge. Luckily I spotted it before it came off - if that happened summit attempt would be over. I consider myself very lucky!
It is a great honour to fly one's nation's flag. It is an unbelievable and rare honour to be a pioneer of your country and carry your flag to the highest point in the world. It is even greater to be able to do this whilst raising money for a cause such as battling breast cancer. All of this passed through my mind as I flew the four colours of the Mauritian flag on the top of the world.
It was a very proud moment. Many different emotions - happiness, relief to have made it and succeeded in yet another great achievement for me, the feeling of being somewhere only 2000 people in the world have managed to stand, appreciation of the beauty of raw nature and respect for the planet we live in, just being grateful for being able and having the means to give something like this a try. But these were also mixed with apprehension of the dangers of descent, having seen the bodies, extreme fatigue, and it being very cold on the summit. I wasn’t worried about dehydration... yet!
So I took a few hypoxic photos and videos on the camera before it or my fingers froze. With the brain and body being fatigued and starved of oxygen, summits at 8848m are necessarily short and become hazy memories.
Then another disaster. I had my 2 one-litre bottles of water in my downsuit to keep them close to my body and stop them from freezing. On the summit, I unzipped the top of my downsuit (for whatever reason) must have bent down to pick something up and out popped one water bottle. My heart sank as I watched it roll kilometres down the mountain. Luckily I didn’t panic, but I thought I’d had it. The chances of me not getting back down alive had greatly increased. I thought of the bodies. I worried about my eye. But luckily, I had a spare bottle of water that might just be enough to get me back down in one piece.... or so I thought. I reached into the top of the downsuit and frantically hunted around for this other bottle. My heart sank further and I started to feel sick – in all the commotion leaving Camp 3, I’d left my water bottle in the tent!!!!! My chances of getting back down alive plummeted. I thought of the bodies again. I started to seriously worry about my eye.
Up that high, almost nine vertical kilometres high, everything thing is about survival. Giving someone else your water when you have so little of it, is increasing your chances of dying on the mountain. There were a few people, in particular Greg and Andy, who gave me a few drops of water, and I am extremely grateful for that. Still it was not enough for me to be able to get any food down me. I had 5 packs of energy gel, but I couldn’t have them because my throat was so dry and they are so sickly. I may have choked if I had them without any water. Eating snow is not an option. The body has already started to shut down, ignoring all but the most vital organs, and focusses on keeping the core of the body warm enough to survive. That’s why frostbite happens, since blood is rediected from the fingers and toes to the core. Eating snow cools the core and the body shuts down further – asking for death.
In my life I have taken part in many endurance sports on a regular basis. I have plenty of experience of hitting the wall and overcoming the fatigue and lack of energy. I’ve always been able to find energy reserves when I have needed to. This time I couldn’t.
Completely dehydrated and having not eaten for 20 hours I slid on my backside for the last 100m, since I had literally run out of energy and so much so that I could not stand. The last 100m or so into Camp 3 took me almost an hour I think, sliding myself down, attached to the rope, inch by inch. Everytime my eyes blinked shut, it took 4-5 seconds to get my vision back. I was very close to passing out, but I knew that if I did, I would not get up again.
I stumbled into my tent at Camp 3 (8300m) six long hours after I left the summit where I found my other water bottle, frozen solid. I managed to get a few drops that trickled down through the ice from the bottom of the bottle and a few bites of a flapjack. I rested there for 30mins before continuing to Camp 2, a further 4-5 hours away, in a snow storm that was dumping amost a half a foot of snow an hour. It is amazing what the human body can endure and how it can perk up with and absorb energy from the tiniest bit of food and water. I even ended up guiding and helping one of the guys who had turned around before the summit. He was completely exhausted and struggled to make progress in the blizzard and appeared slightly delusional, so i stayed with him most of the way down to Camp 2.
Although some team members did so, sleeping two nights at Camp 3, in the Death Zone is not recommended. I had made the right decision to keep going to Camp 2, where I arrived that evening. I collected enough snow (half an hour) with the energy I had left to make a litre of water for me (an hour to boil one litre and then half an hour per litre for the iodine tablets to work) and some more for some guys that were coming down in an emergency – one of the team had pulmonary oedema and needed to be taken down asap... I had been on the go for 40 hours, with hardly and water or food. I was sevely dehyrated and extremely tired. In my sleeping bag ready to drink my very precious litre of water and fall into a hypoxic coma, I poured some flavouring powder into it but accidentally knocked the whole bottle over whilst putting the powder away. It was so tempting to just fall asleep, but i knew if I did, I would either not wake up the next morning or if I did, I would not be able to continue down the moountain. I cried with frustration for a full ten minutes – I knew it would be another two hours before I could fall asleep - as I crawled out of my sleeping bag, dried the tent as best as I could (if i didn’t my sleeping mat would freeze to the bottom of the tent and if my sleeping back got wet it would freeze and I’d certainly wake up with frostbite), put my boots on and went outside I the blizzard to start the whole snow collection and melting process over again!
I woke in the morning to fierce winds outside. ABC manager advised I wait for an hour before moving to Camp 1 then ABC so I used the time to make water which in hindsight I should have done anyway. Luckily I didn't need to go far for snow - in my knackered state I hadn't closed the porch zip properly so I had a porch full of fresh snow! In the state we all were in, it is difficult to think clearly and not make rash decisions. I just wanted to get down, even though part of me just want to crawl back into my sleeping bag, so the instructions from the ABC manager were gratefully received.
Going to Camp 1, picking up gear, then down the headwall was very hard. My back was aching terribly from all the load carrying and my legs had turned to jelly. For certain sections I took off my sleeping bag and my backpack, clipped them to the rope and let them slide down. Some much-needed relief for my back. At one point I watched my sleeping bag disappear down a crevasse and cursed myself, because I knew how muhc energy it would take to haul it back up.
The team was dotted all over the mountain after the summit push but that night we all converged at ABC for a celebratory milky tea. My stomach had shrunk after 2-3 days of no food or water and so I took it easy that night.
The next morning we all packed up our gear for the yaks and made our way down to BC where we knew we were really safe and had no more walking or climbing to do! However four people were evacuated early to kathmandu. One for HAPE which didn't disappear as he descended the mountain. One had badly frostbitten fingers. The other was passing blood in his urine, and the other hadn't urinated for six days!
Now (monday) we head to the border town of Zhangmu where we will spend the night and the tomorrow Kathmandu where the party begins.
Back to the UK on the 2nd if I can change my flights to see my wife, Cheryl, and family and friends and tell them all the stories! Plus the docs for my eye and physio for my back and try to put on weight as have lost 10-15kgs!!