First of all i want to apologise for the delay in writing. I wrote a blog when I was at ABC on the way down but our email access was limited because of the weather so it never got sent. I hope to enlighten you all now on what happened from ABC upwards and then back down again to safety - it was quite a tale to say the least.
I suppose the most important thing is that, to my disappointment, I did not make the summit of Mount Everest. I can assure you this was not for the lack of effort but more on that in due course.
So we all (except for the four that had previously left us) set off from Base Camp for the last time with anticipation and excitement in the air. We had been waiting for literally two weeks so to get the green light was a massive relief and people suddenly started to drift into their own worlds, mentally preparing themselves for the forthcoming undertaking. For me, I was delighted to be doing that 16 mile trek to ABC for the last time. That in itself was a massive relief – “one more time I would tell myself…one final push then home!!”
It is important to note here that since the first night at the North Col, and anyone who spoke to me on the phone will be testiment to this, let alone my teammates, I have hardly spoken – a period of nearly 4 weeks. I had a throat infection which sadly refused to heal at altitude. More on that later as well.
Next day we moved to the North Col. Less hot than last time which was a relief and we meandered our way up to Camp 1. Away from mess tents, cutlery and email access and onto freeze-dried meals, solitude and summit focus. The calorie deficit was beginning – not as beneficial as some female readers might want to think.
From the North Col things changed somewhat. Some of my team went on oxygen from there on up – something I would later regret not doing – and some also got their bags carried. There is a scale of the difficulty of how one climbs Everest from solo without o2 to full sherpa support. On this exped I have seen both and there was one or two people who, at this stage, started to fall below the level they would probably like to think they stand in…not for me to judge though.
I moved from 7000m – 7800m with Matt and Pete. Somehow Matt had recovered from his HAPE earlier on in the trip and was level with us all now. He has become a very good mate so it was great to have him alongside when entering virgin altitudes for us all. Plod plod plod up the neverending north ridge. It is an enormous snowslope and trying to find the motivation to continue on such similar terrain is tough. Imaine walking up a red ski-slope – one foot in front of another!!
Hit 7500m and things change. On goes the oxygen and it becomes a different ball game. Each step is that much easier and finally we stumble into 7800m camp. Throw snow onto stove, get into sleeping bag and attempt to stay hydrated. It had been a long day, almost 10 hours and off to sleep we went. Dreams at this altitude are very vivid and very random but after a somewhat restless sleep we were up, changed and ready to move again.
The terrain had now changed. Instead of snow slopes it was a rocky, snowy, shale ridden track which was anything but enjoyable to ascend. This time it was Ian and I who ascended slowly along to high camp at 8300m. When I say high camp, I really do mean it. High Camp on the north side of Everest at 8300m is the highest camp in the whole world and is not for the faint-hearted. We stumbled in, coughing and spluterring.
I was sharing with Matt and Pete who, once again, were immense tentmates and friends. It had been another 10 hour day and I was then informed we would be going for the summit in 3 hours time. 3 HOURS! S**T! I had had two 10 hour days, was feeling awful and was informed that I would be taking on one of the most challenging human endeavours in three hours time.
The routine was the same, sleeping bag, snow to water and eat. At this point however, I couldn’t speak (literally) as my throat has now closed up which means eating and drinking was also agony. I was exhausted but three hours later a sherpa came round and this was it…
All the years preparation etc etc had led to this moment. On went the crampons, hand warmers, harnesses – we had prepared for this. Final handshakes between Matt, Pete and myself – headtorches switched on and into the darkness we went.
Following the snail-like line of bouncing lights, one foot in front of the other.
Two or three hours later, I was alone. There was a group way in front and a group way behind. Somehow no Sherpa was with me – unlike everyone else. At this point, my headtorch went out. New batteries, no luck. Another set of new batteries, surely these will work? No luck!! Then for an hour or so I was following fixed ropes, being guided by moonlight (very minimal to say the least) and somewhat scared to say the least – as well as moving rather slowly.
I hit the northeast ridge where the route becomes more precarious and decide to wait. Half an hour goes by and still nobody reaches me from below. 45 mins and finally a light comes towards me. A sherpa, no wait, a sherpa and Keith. Ironically, and I say that with gritted teeth, it was a sherpa and Keith. Keith’s headtorch (same make as mine) had also shut down. The next stage really should be part of a comedy sketch, one which I begrudgingly seem to be starring in, as a sherpa walked behind Keith and myself shining a light between our legs moving unbelievably slowly. It was blind leading the blind time, but at 8500m in one of the worlds harshest environments, it wasn’t that funny!
Finally sun comes up – we can see again – but disaster once again. The sherpa who had helped us starts to get altitude sick and throws photos of his family off the mountain as well as refusing o2. We have to stay with him until support comes thus wasting more time. We finally make it up the 1st step but time is at a premium – we should have been several hours further up the mountain.
At this point I would like to add that my throat has all but ceased up. Every breathe is painful, I really really wish I was lying. As soon as the route got vaguely difficult and one’s heartrate increased I would be doubled-over hyperventilating because I couldn’t get the oxygen through my throat to my lungs. I was coughing up blood regularly. As I said, i wish I was joking!
Fast-forward a few hours and I am at the bottom of the 2nd step. One of my teammates is suffering from altitude sickness as well and I am forced, morally that is, to stay with him. Eventually the guy starts to talk with his rucksack and literally forgets how to put it on. Im not joking, he was so badly affected he just started prodding his rucksack because he didnt know what else to do with it. More time lost but eventually support came and off I went…to the 2nd step.
Please google image what this is like, it is difficult to explain. I was forced to wait another 45 mins for people to come down the step before I can head up - it was time I didnt really have to lose. Halfway up the ladder, I glance down and see a body. I had never seen a body. Tangled in ropes, the same boots as mine, down-suit as fresh as mine, he lay there in the faetel position. I was scared. My legs started to shake uncontrollably. “I dont want to end up like that, I dont want to end up like that.”
I was alone, halfway up a ladder at 8600m on one of Everest’s most notorious obstacles and was absolutely petrified!
I made it up, eventually, only to find another teammate who had run out of oxygen. More time lost waiting for help. Finally it came and on I continued. My leader, having made the top, passed me half an hour later. I continued only to be told by a sherpa there was 4 hours to go – my deadline was 2. It was over.
I sat down, I say sat down, collapsed to the floor through exhaustion and despair would be more appropriate. It was over. My dream was over.
I hope I haven’t bored you by now but an accurate timeline of events is important if you want to understand what happened on summit day. I made it down, staggered into high camp, and cried.
So much effort, so many hours of work and this was it. A series of ridiculously unfortunate incidents through other people’s inability to prepare themselves at altitude and my throats inability to recover after a month and the summit of Everest would remain elusive to me.
As for the top – some of my closest friends from the exped did make it. Matt, Pete and Max all topped-out and I am delighed for them. Very few people deserve it more, well done.
I am writing this now in Kathmandu, pretty reflective, and contemplating what happened and what I could have done differently.
The answer – very little. I take solice in knowing that I gave all I possibly could, and a lot more, to achieve the summit. On summit day itself it would have taken an extremely cold man to not stop and help when I did and I know that I made the right choices at the right time. Somebody else’s life at 8600m is more important than the summit of Mt. Everest but I agree that it is a shame I had to experience that.
Thank you for following my progress, I hope you all know I gave 1,000,000% to get to the top and will, im sure, get there in the coming years!
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