A summitteer's thoughts
The Seattle boys head home
23 May - Michael's thoughts
So I've finally recovered enough to actually think and type at the same time regarding summiting on the 21st. It was an extremely challenging and rewarding experience. Beforehand I was thinking very arrogantly that I could do this it was just a matter of the weather window. Having now reached the summit I don't think I would ever say I know I can make it up. It was out on the edge for so long I reached a point at the 3rd step where I was standing 3 to 4 feet from the Kangshung Face looking down this incredible face realizing that I must be standing on a cornice and I was mentally so numb by that point from all the climbing, lack of oxygen, cold temperatures, incredible views, and constantly having to force yourself to keep going up when your entire body is screaming to go down and get out of this extremely hostile environment that my mind was numb to the risk. I could see the final summit snow slope and was completely committed.
The summit push started on May 18th with the six of us (Ambrose, Ryan, Scott, Lhakpa, DaNgima, and myself) heading up to the North Col. On the morning of the 19th the weather report turned worse than previously reported for the 21st. We had a few confusing discussions leaving a few team members unsure of the plans. I thought it was tentatively to head to 7900m. If we made it there by around 1 to 2pm we try to continue to 8300m and then try to summit on the 20th instead. Lhakpa, DaNgima, and myself all arrived there around 3 to 3:30pm and so decided to not continue. Ambrose and Ryan I guess thought this meant to go back to the North Col while Scott was drained from his cracked rib which he acquired a couple days prior from a coughing fit.
That left me with the 2 Sherpas at the 7900m camp. We decided to set up one 2 person tent and sleep 3 people in it. It was extremely windy that night and we cooked inside the tent. It was very cramped to say the least but we could actually sleep laying down with our legs straight. The morning of the 20th it was perfectly calm so we headed up to the 8300m camp (really 8210m per my GPS). I believe Jamie is going to post a picture of Rosa's tent which I took at this camp. Her tent was pitched next to ours. Notice that the horizon is level. Cooking and sleeping is this tent with one sleeping bag for the 3 of us was a new level in intimacy with my climbing partners for me. The tent site took at least 2 hours to hack into the mountain.
After brewing up and sleeping for a few hours we got up around 10pm. Our original plans were to get up at 8pm because the Sherpas were going to be taking extra time to fix ropes from the top of the Yellow Band to the summit. They were all carrying extra ropes for this job. Luckily many of the groups were a bit late leaving and we caught up with the rest of the Sherpa rope fixing team at the 2nd step.
The climbing from the 8300m camp was a lot more technical than I expected. It was pretty much continuous class 2 with an occasional class 3 move, but in the dark and at that altitude it felt a lot harder. The 2nd step was very cool. The hard part about it was getting to the ladder. The ladder itself was pretty straight forward. There are 2 ladders there, the 2nd which people say was put there last year. It is a bit taller and positioned a bit to the right of the old ladder which makes the move at the top much easier.
Once above the 2nd step we had sunshine, but also increasing winds. The climbing was straightforward but a constant strain due to the altitude, exposure, down sloping rock, and climbing with crampons on. The views were incredible and the anchors were all suspect. When we reached the base of the 3rd step we were standing in a pretty stiff wind and I was starting to shiver and my feet were quite cold. After a 5 minute break I decided to head up and not wait for the sherpas to finish fixing. I climbed over the 3rd step and up the final snow slope without a new fixed rope. Often I could clip one of the ropes from previous years. Once we were on the summit snow slope we were completely lucky that the way the wind was blowing we were protected. This, I think, helped substantially with our making it to the top without more serious frostbite or other issues. For myself I came away without any frostbite, although it was very close on my right foot. DaNigma fixed a good portion of the final pitches to the summit.
People often ask what the views are like from the summit, and they were nice, but that wasn't why I was there. It was for the challenge, wondering if I could do it, that was my reward.
I got I think 4 pictures from the summit before my camera froze up, unfortunately the first thing in the top of my summit bag was Al's rubber chicken so 2 of the pictures are of DaNgima with the chicken. Maybe the first rubber chicken on the summit of Everest!
The descent was reasonable except for needing be very careful with not tripping (especially on old ropes). Sometime around 1 or 2pm the winds really picked up and it started snowing. At the 2nd step a rappel line was not set up so you had to down climb the upper third with the ladder and pseudo rappel/down climb the lower two-thirds. When I was down climbing the yellow band my regulator got bumped and came unscrewed. By the time I could get to a spot I could take my pack off the bottle was empty. This hit me pretty hard as I was up at 8300m and suddenly cut off from oxygen. I was otherwise only 5 to 10 minutes from our tent. I would get up walk ten paces and sit down. It really was quite nice just sitting there. After covering about half the distance to the tent DaNgima caught up with me and gave me another bottle he was carrying. It then took me about 3 minutes to get to the tent.
When I opened the tent a Monterosa client was in our tent. He hadn't set up an 8300m camp and was shivering pretty good. Rosa had continued down to her camp at 7900m so we pushed him into her tent. As a side note when I reached ABC there were a number of people concerned about him and had him classified as missing. There were 2 people that died that day, out of about 7 non sherpa climbers. That tally on frostbite isn't really known but we suspect that there are a few pretty bad off as they still haven't reached ABC.
That night at 8300m Lhakpa and myself shared one sleeping bag while DaNgima shared with the Monterosa client in Rosa's tent. Descending down to ABC the next day seemed a bit surreal. The views seemed twice as spectacular. I'm not sure if this is because I was still on oxygen or because I was looking at them differently.
Upon reaching ABC it was like I was a movie star with everyone taking pictures and hugging. It was hard to not get very emotional.
Julian, Moe and Dawa are climbing with our trekking climbing group today, and then it is a waiting game for a at least a few days.
Jamie is heading to BC to sort out administrative details and so there may not be any posts for a few days. Also check DCXP as Duncan will be posting...
© Jamie McGuinness - Project-Himalaya.com - 2005