Today we head up to camp 2 for our final summit push. We’ve been advised by Fagen’s report that the weather looks good from 18th-19th, possibly deteriorating late in the afternoon according to the US Navy. This is our weather window. The next one wouldn’t be until the 24th-25th. So, here we go! We all made it in good time to camp2. Huseyin was in the lead the whole way. We got up at 6 AM for an early start and colder temperatures hoping to leave at 7 AM since the Western Cwm can be so hot, particularly since we would be wearing our summit suits. However to our shock and surprise when we looked up at camp 3, we could not see any of our tents! There had apparently been a great avalanche over night that had taken out several team’s tents. Our first concern was whether any climbers had been sleeping in those tents and were we dealing with a disaster. To our relief none of those teams had moved up yet and nobody had been injured. I think that was a miracle! Jagged Globe was nice enough to let us use their tents since they weren’t using them that day. Since Mingmar had to work out the logistics of where we would sleep we got a much later start. The Cwm was unbelievably hot!!!For health reasons Huseyin decided to call off his summit bid and return to camp 2. We chose to ascend the Lhotse face up the right side to decrease the risk of rock fall that we had experienced from the left. We made good time. When we got to camp 3, I was really glad that we had not been in our tents! Mark, Chris and I all climbed into one tent. There wasn’t much room especially since Jagged Globe was storing some of their oxygen bottles and food bags in the same tent. I’m not complaining though because we at least had a place to sleep without requiring our Sherpa to bring up more tents. We decided that night not to sleep with supplemental oxygen thinking this would help us acclimatize.
On the morning of the 18th, we got up at 6AM to start our summit push. For the first time, we were using our oxygen and top out mask. The masks were surprisingly comfortable and did not obstruct our view. You could really tell a difference in your energy with the O2’s. We moved up the rest of the Lhotse face to the left. This time we didn’t experience any rock fall but this time there were a lot more climbers and the progress was slow. At the top, we traversed the Lhotse face to the yellow band. The views of camp 2, camp 3, Lhotse, Everest Nuptseand the entire Western Cwm below were spectacular. For me, the yellow band was more difficult than I had expected. It was steeper and more irregular than it looked from below. It is a lot harder to climb on pure rock wearing big boots with crampons than in rock shoes. After ascending the yellow band, we then traversed to the Geneva spur. It looks like a small mountain sitting on the Lhotse face. We climbed right over it and not around it. Once at the top, we traversed along the ridge to camp 4 (South col). This is a very sparse, cold, windy place, not a place you would want to stay long. Now the summit pyramid loomed over us. There appeared to be no easy route to the summit! It was hard to believe that in just 4 or 5 hours we would be setting off for our long awaited goal, hopes and dreams. We rested in our tent mainly to get out of the uncomfortable wind. We ate a little spicy Ra Ra soup and drank some sweet tea. We more rested than slept mostly out of anticipation. The wind really picked up and was more steady. It seems the US Navy forecast would be correct. It gave some of us some pause before setting out. We left at 9:00 PM. It was dark so we had on our headlamps. It seemed everybody at EBC had picked the same day. Mingmar and I jumped off the line and passed at least 30 to 40 climbers as we moved up the triangular face of Everest. We finally were climbing the mountain we had set out to climb. At the top of the balcony Mingmar Sherpa changed my and many of the Indian teams oxygen bottles. It was very cold and windy. Even though my batteries were brand new, my headlamp started going dead. My fingers became very cold and numb as I and a Sherpa changed the batteries. I was able to smack them back to life after getting my mitts back on my hands. I drank about 200 ml of Gu water before the rest froze and ate one Gu pack. Mingmar and I were on a ridge just as the sun was coming up. Almost immediately you could feel the sun’s welcome warmth. The sun started to light up Tibet. You could also make out Makalu behind Lhotse. We could finally see the mountain that we had been climbing. We no longer needed our headlamps.
Everest was a lot more rocky than Denali perhaps because the wind blows much of the snow off the mountain. Just below the South Summit I started to bonk. I had not had any thing to eat or drink since the balcony. I could not get to the water in my summit suit, because the condensation from my breath,which dripped from my oxygen mask, had frozen into a chunk of ice incasing my zipper preventing access to my bottles of precious water. The bottle in my pack was frozen long ago. I ate a Gu pack. Mingmar encouraged me and told me that if I could climb the rock before me and reach the south summit I would see the Hillary Step and the true summit. Without knowing it Mingmar later also told me he turned up my Oxygen rate from 2 to 4 L/min. I prayed God would give me wings of an eagle, help me run and not grow weary and help me walk and not grow faint. All of this clearly had an effect because I got up and found the energy and did what I had to do to get there. It was truly an amazing moment when I looked upon the cornice of the south summit because in the formation there appeared to be three faces looking to the East. I imagined that they were the faces of the Trinity. Once I crested the South summit, just as Mingmar promised, my goal was now there before me. I no longer need any motivation. There were a lot of other climbers, which meant long lines. You just had to try and stay warm until you could get your chance. The Hillary Step was not as difficult as I had expected. Once over it you almost immediately saw the summit ridge, which lead to a slope crested with what looked like hundreds of prayer flags flapping in the wind.
Mingmar and I summitted at 11:45 AM on 5/19/12. It was truly a spectacular moment for me,standing on top of the world, only eclipsed by my marriage to my wife Stephanie and the birth of my two children. I thanked God for safely getting us there and prayed for our safe return. There was a lot of joy around the summit as the Indian team was there along with their Sherpa and Pemba Rita Sherpa and Dawa Tensing Sherpa from our original team. After 30 min of handshakes, pictures and just enjoying the moment and the glorious views, Mingmar and I headed down. The wind seemed to get worse every step of the way. I was so thirsty and hungry. Just below the South summit I remembered that my summit suit could also be unzipped from the fly. I was then able to get to some of my precious water. I drank 500 ml!! Refreshed I was able to continue on down the mountain. There were a few traffic jams mostly because every one was so tired. The wind grew so strong on the ridge just before the balcony that it was hard to stand at times. Thank goodness for the fixed lines. As we moved down the triangular face, camp 4 got closer and closer. I crashed into my tent. Chris’ bag was there as well as his backpack but Mark’s was gone? (They will tell their own story). I climbed into my bag. I called my wife, my Mom (my Dad is in Africa) and my best friend David to tell them I had summitted Everest but more importantly that I was safe back at the col! A Sherpa brought me some soup, which tasted so good. Later Chris arrived and climbed into his bag. We had heard that Mark had had trouble with his feet getting cold and had gone down. Relieved that he was OK we both fell quickly asleep. It howled all night. In the morning it waschaos. There was no time to eat. We drank a little hot tea with sugar and moved separately down the mountain at our own pace till we reached camp 2. I took a short break at camp 3 where Pemba Rita Sherpa made me 2 cups of water and I ate a moon pie and a few cookies. It was great to be back at camp 2. Dick was there awaiting better weather for his summit bid of Lhotse. He congratulated me on my summit. Huseyin and Mark had both gone back to EBC. Mark had left my some summit chocolate. It was great but it would have tasted so much better if we could have shared it!!!I again called my wife to let her know I was safe. As each Indian team member arrived we continued the celebration and shared stories of each of our personal adventures. Later Chris and Mingmar arrived. We all ate and went quickly to bed.
On the 21st we got up at 6 AM To beat the heat on the Cwm. Our last hurdle was before us and that was to get through the icefall! It had changed a lot and was very slushy. It was an amazing moment when Mingmar and I reached the ice pinnacles and knew that soon we would soon reach the safety of EBC. Mark and Huseyin were there to greet us relaxing in our camp lounge chairs. Congratulations and handshakes were shared. It was very good to see that they were doing so well! I called my wife (it was 4:30 EST at home) to let her know I was back at EBC. My wife also put my daughter Tillie on the phone. She was very glad to know that I was safe. My adventure is coming to a successful end and it is good to know that I will be going home to Lynchburg, VA soon!!!! I appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers from all around the country!!!!!
As related by Bob we had a vigorous couple of days to get into position and were all so excited to be nearing our goal. NimaThundu Sherpa and I set off with everyone in a pod and were quickly shuffled into a line of strangers as we plodded up the triangular face. Nima tells me we were about 100 meters shy of the balcony when I admitted that I had not been able to feel my toes. I had been moving them and had no improvement. With the choice of frostbite of my toes versus a summit on the tallest mountain on Earth, I told Nima we were going back to the tent and that for me the climb was over. On top of this we had all expressed reservations about the sheer number of people on the mountain (contributing to very slow climbing) and the wind / weather was a concern. More rest would have been nice, and we were in what is called the Death Zone…. Needless to say I was relieved to get back to my tent safely. My toes were really cold and difficult to warm up. I slept on 3 litres of oxygen and awoke feeling better yet still drained from the three days exertion to get to this point. Nima accompanied me back to camp 2 for a reunion with Huseyin and then all the way back to EBC. There I saw the docs at HRA Everest ER clinic and confirmed my thought that I had frost nip. On recheck,the next day, there were some skin changes that now look like I have a mild first degree frost bite on one of my great toes. I am so thankful that we all have arrived safe and sound back in basecamp and are now preparing to return to our respective homes. I have no regrets about my not summitting considering what could have been a worse injury had I continued…
Namaste to all and see you soon!!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY YUNUS