Dispatch 44 from Everest / June 5, 2012

O’Neill: It was going to be one of those perfect days

Two Ascents, Both Seek Summit — Southeast Ridge Team to Focus on Education and Science; West Ridge Team of Anker and Cory Richards to Retrace Route of First American Ascent on West Ridge.

Climb to Be Covered Online Starting March 16 at natgeo.com/oneverest and www.thenorthface.com/everest. Real-time Updates from West Ridge Team to Start April 16 on National Geographic Magazine App for iPad

Everything has been such a whirlwind for the last week – my apologies for not writing to the blog sooner.


Testing my mask at the South Col.

The whole team has made it safely to Kathmandu, and I am getting ready to head home tomorrow after ten weeks in Nepal.  But, I should jump back to where I left off on the last blog.

We climbed more or less according to how we had planned, with only a few extras thrown in. We left Base Camp early on the 21st. It was amazing to me how much the temperatures had warmed over a seven-week period. When we first arrived at Base Camp I was constantly freezing, sleeping at night in all my down layers and even hiking through the icefall in my down jacket. Our final tour up through the icefall was a very different story.


Lighting juniper to bless our climb at base camp.

We left earlier than normal in order to avoid any sun exposure between Camp 1 and Camp 2. I was also nervous that my sore ankle would slow me down. Needless to say, we all made it to Camp 2 without getting heat stroke. The icefall had changed dramatically, almost unrecognizable in the way it was falling apart. Seeing this made us realize it was now or never. The icefall would not hold up much longer and soon the ladders would be removed from the crevasses and the route would disappear.

At Camp 2 we all took a day to rest. No matter how acclimatized one is, it's still a beat down of a day going from Base Camp to Camp 2 – it's some 4000ft in elevation gain at high altitude. We rested the 22nd and then climbed to Camp 3 on the 23rd. At this point, Conrad elected to stay at Camp 2 and climb directly to the South Col the next day with the Sherpas. Camp 2 to Camp 3 is tiring but very doable in three hours or less. It's fairly direct and the elevation gain is only around 2000 ft.  From here, Emily, Sam and Mark started using oxygen to sleep on and then to climb with the next day to the South Col. Kris and I had decided to hold off on using O's until the South Col.


Kris and Emily resting at Camp 3.

The next morning, the 24th, Conrad and the Sherpas reached Camp 3 around 6 a.m. and we all started towards the next camp together. This is where I started to get a bit nervous. Despite thinking we would not be summiting on a crowded day, seeing the number of people headed to the South Col told us otherwise. We inserted ourselves in a long line of climbers and started the long walk through the Yellow Band, over the Geneva Spur, and finally to the South Col at nearly 8000m. I was pretty happy with making it in a time of six hours, pretty good for not using oxygen. No doubt, though, I was tired and we only had a few hours of rest before we started our summit push.


Kris climbing above Camp 3.

Conrad, Kris and I shared a tent at the Col. It was during this rest time that Conrad decided to opt out of the summit push. Kris and I donned our o2 masks and tried to rest. Sam, Emily and Mark were all doing fairly well. We decided to start climbing around 9 p.m.

For me, it was a bad night. From the minute I left the tent, I just knew it was going to be one of those nights of climbing that are a constant struggle. I put my crampons on wrong and within minutes of leaving camp, one fell off and then the other. I missed the start of the fixed ropes and ended up scrambling on blue ice trying to find them. I couldn't get my oxygen mask to fit well and it kept fogging up my goggles, which then iced over so I couldn't see. On and on and on.

In the end, I think this series of fumbles was because I was really scared about the climb. The weather was not what it was supposed to be, the wind was blowing a steady 20 mph and when we left the tent, the temperature was already -28 degrees Celsius, way too cold. There was a line of 150 people in front of us and we left way to early as it only took an hour before we were stuck at the end of the line.

This many people meant climbing way too slow and then crushing yourself when you tried to pass people. I also knew there were at least four recently dead climbers on or near the fixed lines that we would have to climb over or around.

All in all, we made it to the summit. Kris and I topped out around 5 a.m. with the others shortly behind.

The crowds of people made the summit a little anti-climactic for me. There were some 60-70 climbers on top of Everest when we arrived. In addition, the temperature was around -50 with wind chill, which made it impossible to linger and left me with frost nip on several fingers.

I was so proud of Sam and Em being able to overcome the difficulties of this trip and the challenging conditions of our summit day. For their age and total lack of high altitude climbing, it was pretty amazing for both of them.

But, alas, now we get to the fun part. All of us had bought permits to climb Lhotse as well, but we were all so knackered it didn't seem possible.

Sam and Emily were both out, in fact she and Mark continued down to Camp 2 on the 25th. Conrad said he still didn't feel up to climbing. That left Kris and I. We rested on oxygen from 10 a.m. to about 10 p.m. on the 25th, not really able to sleep or eat. As we were melting water, we kept telling ourselves that we would just give it a try and if it didn't work we'd descend. Simple. Then Conrad came into our tent and asked if we had any extra water. He was going to try to climb Everest without oxygen. That was when I noticed it. The wind had died. There was absolute stillness at the South Col. The stars were out, the temperature was warmer. It was going to be one of those perfect days, the kind of day I fear even mentioning so as not to jinx it.

Conrad set out for the summit of Everest about 1 a.m. and Kris and I headed the opposite direction towards the Geneva Spur. We needed to wrap around to the Lhotse face and drop a couple hundred meters before starting the climb. We left the trail around 2 a.m. and began our ascent.

Kris was climbing hard and it was difficult for me to keep up. I had several moments of thinking I was too tired and wasn't going to be able to summit. There was one climbing party of four ahead of us. They were 2/3 of the way up the mountain when we started. When we caught them before the summit, I realized I wasn't going slow but that Kris was going absurdly fast.

All in all, it took us about three hours to summit Lhotse, putting Kris and I on the summit of two 8000m peaks in 24 hours.  It was amazing and Kris and I were the only people on the summit and I was just thankful for the weather and to have had a good climbing day after the struggle of the previous night. 

On top of that, Conrad summited Everest a few hours later without oxygen.


After Lhotse, everything was a whirlwind. We flew down the mountain, moving every day until we reached Kathmandu. Of course, now that I have stopped moving I am so tired I can barely walk. I'm sick and just started antibiotics. I think I just spent so many weeks willing myself to stay healthy that now my body is telling me I need rest.

My ankle survived the journey but it also is swollen and painful and likely just pissed off at me in general for stuffing it in an 8k boot and climbing hard for several days.

Needless to say, we all worked really hard and it will take our bodies some time to recover. Thanks again to everyone for all the supportive comments and I look forward to getting home to see my family and friends.


Comments on this Dispatch