February 16, 2014
October 27, 2013
June 8, 2013
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March 2, 2013
December 23, 2012
September 17, 2012
August 21, 2012
July 22, 2012
July 18, 2012
July 11, 2012
July 3, 2012
June 2, 2012
April 28, 2012
December 8, 2011
October 16, 2011
October 2, 2011
July 23, 2011
July 7, 2011
June 1, 2011
May 22, 2011
To recount the events of my summit push is tough. Unfortunately life doesn’t always turn out as planned. On May 11th Brian and I departed Base Camp for Camp 2. We climbed through the Khumbu Icefall to Camp 1 in record time, about 3.5 hours. I enjoyed great conversation with a 15 time Sherpa summiteer as we made our way to up to camp. The previous day saw a death in the icefall (heart attack) of an 82 old Nepalese climber attempting to set a new age record. Some Sherpa’s gossiped the doctors gave him 6 months to live so he wanted to go out in style on Everest, his dream. With a short stop at Camp 1 and a few hours later I was settling into Camp 2. May 12th was designated a rest day, nothing exciting to report although late that evening I came down with a stomach bug. I woke on May 13th with low energy and felt unmotivated to climb. Knowing that Brian and Pasang Temba would continue on to Camp 3, I shouldered my pack to evaluate my physical condition. After twenty minutes of climbing up the trail towards Camp 3 I decided it was a no go. Pasang Temba and I reworked the plan that I would summit a day later with Ngawang Lakpa, Veronica and her climbing Sherpa’s.
So May 13th became another uneventful rest day. Although news came that a Japanese climber went crazy on the South Summit of Everest and attacked his climbing Sherpa, the Japanese climber later died on the upper mountain of altitude sickness. The morning of May 14th I woke feeling great and climbed with Ngawang Lakpa to Camp 3 in again record time, about 3.5 hours. Feeling much more acclimatized and my stomach issues behind me I was excited to climb to the South Col. After a series of radio calls and some hesitation about the weather, high wind warnings; Veronica and her climbing Sherpa’s decided to wait for a better weather window. Meanwhile at Camp 4, Brian and Pasang Temba had decided to continue with their summit push despite the high winds. They planned to leave Camp 4 approximately 8:00pm, a few hours later they radioed to say they were below the Balcony at 27,500 feet and continuing for the top of the world. The rest to evening was silent, sleeping on oxygen really allowed me to get a good night’s rest. The next morning around 5am Brian cheerfully radioed to say he was on the summit. We were overjoyed that our Mountain Gurus Expedition had successfully put a man on the summit of Mount Everest, although Pasang Temba opted to descend midway up the Southeast Ridge at 28,000 feet, apparently not feeling well. I asked Brian to radio check after he descended to the South Summit 28,500 feet.
As for me I was ready to climb to Camp 4 the South Col, feeling strong we climbed the Lhotse face passing the final few camps and turned towards the Yellow Band. A prominent rock feature of yellow rock consisting of marble, although despite reading in blogs how difficult this was, it was a simple low angle rock step that didn’t’ take much effort to overcome. We now veered towards the Geneva Spur the final obstacle to Camp 4. Again we climbed slowly on oxygen to a final steep snow pitch then gaining the Spur and last rock traverse to the South Col in great time, 5 hours.
To back up a little, meanwhile I was starting to worry; it was almost noon and still no word from Brian or Pasang Temba. All kinds of scenarios started to play in our heads. What would I tell Joanna, Brian’s wife? Many strong climbers can descend in 3 or 4 hours from the summit and Brian was clearly in that category. It was now going on 7 hours from his summit call. Every time someone descended from the Geneva Spur in a blue down suit I was hoping it was Brian or Pasang Temba. As we approached the Geneva Spur we saw a small black dot near the Balcony, was that Brian, perhaps a rock, maybe Pasang Temba? Was Brian or Pasang Temba helping the other descend? We just couldn’t tell… maybe it’s just a rock, but it looks like it’s moving, but very slow. Then as we traversed again, it was him, it had to be Brian descending; he was alive and now moving much quicker and another figure Pasang Temba was climbing up the ice budge to assist him. Then they met and just as quickly descended into Camp 4.
I arrived at Camp 4, the South Col, a wind scorched place strewn with tents, oxygen bottles and garbage; it was almost as we entered a war scene. This hostile landscape just below 8000 meters is considered the Death Zone; no life can sustain itself here for very long. Climbers have two days, maybe three at most to make their summit push and get down. The Col separates the final summit pyramid of Mount Everest and Lhotse the earth’s 4th highest mountain. We scrambled for the tents, finding Brian and Pasang Temba held up. I gave Brian and Pasang Temba a big hug. Brian had become snow blind, somewhere near the summit his goggles broke and he became nearly blind from the glare of the sun during his descent. The refection of the sun off pure white snow is extremely intense. The only way he was able to descend was by following the continuous fixed lines from the summit to the South Col. His life line, without that fixed line, he would no doubt be dead. In addition, he was the only one on the summit that day, essentially summiting solo. Pasang Temba had descended to the South Col and no other climbers climbed that day due to the reported high winds. Brian said he had experienced high winds but none strong enough to consider turning around. After evaluating Brian’s condition we thought it would be best for him to spend the night at the South Col, which is typical for many climbers after their long summit day. Snow blindness is a temporary condition and vision usually returns within 24-48 hours. Brian was physically tired and a good night’s rest on oxygen was well deserved. In addition Dawa our Camp 2 cook was standing by if we needed more assistance.
That same evening Ngawang Lakpa and I decided we would continue with our summit push. Some other small groups were heading out that night as well, the wind was a bit strong but we thought we’d give it a shot and see what was happening up high. The South Col is typically windy and unprotected; also being in the tent makes the wind usually seem worse due to all the flapping. Brian was stable and had no other issues other than temporary snow blindness and being tired from a long day. The hope was that his eyes would partly recover by morning. I had spent the afternoon relaxing on oxygen and rehydrating. Early evening I began my summit preparation, sunglasses… check, goggles… check, down mitts… check, etc… etc… etc.. Pasang Temba as usual was always making sure I was prepared. You also don’t want to over prepare because everything adds up, weighing your pack down and I needed to carry the oxygen bottle as well. At roughly 8:30pm we exited the tent, the wind had died down a little and we started across the ice bulge. Ngawang Lakpa started a swift pace; I was on 1.5 liter oxygen flow and needed to slow up some, as normal I needed to warm up as when you first begin to hike. Honestly Ngawang Lakpa already seemed a bit agitated by my pace as if he wanted me to turn around. No way, I was going give this thing a shot, I asked him to turn the oxygen flow up to 2 liters. It was better but I was still losing my breath a bit, then I asked again to 2.5 liters. Prefect, I was now getting the flow I needed.
Just at that point after the ice bulge the snow slopes begin to greatly steepen all the way up to the Balcony at 27,500 before easing off and leading to the South Summit. We started to step kick into the steeper angle slope, I began to feel my stride, now I was climbing great, rest stepping and breathing in synch. About one third into the slope Ngawang Lakpa began to complain about his oxygen mask, that he wasn’t getting enough air. After inspection everything seemed to be working fine, the meter and regulator was working properly, there was no ice on the mask. He wanted to proceed to the Balcony where he had a second mask and would then swap them out. He was moving slow and now I was feeling really strong and I just wanted to keep moving higher. After another hundred feet he decided to change out the masks. He soon claimed the second mask wasn’t working correctly. Again everything appeared fine. These masks have no mechanical parts. We started to argue a bit, I at least wanted to go to the Balcony to sort things out. He had been using his mask from Camp 3 to Camp 4, all day at the South Col and the first two hours of the climb without issue and now both masks had failed within very short order, it seemed improbable. I regret not taking his mask and trying it on myself. We were about 300 feet below the Balcony. He kept persisting that we should descend straight away. Let me first say as a mountain guide in no way would I ever want to put someone at risk in the mountains. But Ngawang Lakpa wasn’t exhibiting any signs of illness, only minor muscle fatigue. Although he did exhibit quite a bad attitude as if he didn’t really want to climb. We continued to climb to just below the Balcony now seeing the flat landing area. At this point things stated to deteriorate, in the cold dark night of May 16th, not having the mental energy or time to make an analytical decision, I agreed to turn around. The idea to keep pushing Ngawang Lakpa to climb despite his mask issues or unclear agenda was inappropriate. No one should make someone climb Mount Everest against their will. As for me, going to the summit alone wasn’t a decision I was mentally prepared for, I have two young boys whom need a father and I told myself I wouldn’t comprise my climbing ethic for them. In addition I had Brian sleeping at the South Col who had a near death experience and was now snow blind. Other climbers were on the mountain but they had no particular reason to look out for me. I think I may have had to climb with a second bottle of oxygen to the South Summit as it might have been risky running out of air before I was able to descend to the Balcony. It was windy up high towards the summit although neither wind nor my physical condition was a critical factor in me making the decision to turn around at that time. I was feeling great and I felt the winds were manageable. Again on a cold dark night, high on the slopes of Mount Everest weighing all these decisions in the oxygen deprived air, I’m made the conservative choice as mountain guides are normally trained to do, to descend. A decision that I will most likely second guess for the rest of my life or until I summit Mount Everest. This wasn’t an easy decision and certainly one I wasn’t prepared for, or happy with, but I made it and I needed to move on. Ngawang Lakpa and I quickly descended within an hour to the South Col. I entered the tent surprising Pasang Temba, he could immediately sense my frustration but I remained cool and now my attention quickly turned to Brian, which I accidently woke with my headlamp. The three of us settled in the tent together, Pasang Temba and I sharing my sleeping bag. The next morning Brian had slightly better vision, although everything was still very blurry. I headed down with Brian as the Sherpa’s packed up camp. We slowly descended together, with me ensuring Brian was clipping into the fixed lines properly and leading the way.
We rappelled from the Geneva Spur and slowly made our way down the Yellow Band. By this time Pasang Temba had caught up and took over with Brian, giving me some needed rest. Before you know it Brian and I were holding hands walking into Camp 2 together, with Veronica waiting with a bottle of water, I was making sure he didn’t step into any crevasses. By this time of morning the sun reflection was very intense and even with dark goggles it was very difficult for Brian to see any snow features. I was starving and ate almost everything Dawa set in front of me to eat. That evening in my sleeping bag I tossed and turned throughout the night, the events of the past 24 hours replaying in my head, it was just inconceivable to me that I felt so strong and wasn’t able to summit Mount Everest that night. How could that happen? I also heard that evening many climbers in the other small groups had summited. I woke the next morning early to my 40th birthday, May 17th. Brian and I wanted to get down early before the intense sun hit, his vision was returning and we needed to descend the icefall our final time. An hour and half later we were in the icefall, Pasang Temba carrying a huge load. It was truly amazing a few massive seracs had fallen within the past days and left a third of the icefall looking like it got bombed by a cruise missile. The force must have been unbelievable with no reported deaths. In almost record time we were in Base Camp. Partly due to the easier descent through the icefall which helped Brian significantly.
Without much wasted time we had our minds set at trekking out to Pheriche that same day. We quickly packed our gear as our Sherpa kitchen staff presented me with a 40th birthday cake and Brian with a summit cake. We said our goodbyes and Pasang Temba walked us out to Gorak Shep. It was hard saying goodbye to him, he had done everything he could to make our expedition a success. I thanked him for his efforts and Brian and I continued on our way. Walking through the Khumbu Valley with heavy cloud cover, with signs of spring approaching everywhere, green grasses and purple flowers began to spring up in Pheriche. We treated ourselves to cokes and pizza that night. Brian was doing much better and the next morning we power walked to Namche to the local bakery for lunch and then to all the way to Phakding for my first hot shower in weeks. The next morning we arrived early at Naga Dorje’s house, one of Mountain Gurus lead trekking guides, his warm smile greeted us along with his wife and two girls, ironically his girls are nearly the same ages as my boys. Naga always has a way of making me feel good and I was very glad to have him see us off in Lukla, a thirty minute walk from his house. We boarded the mid-morning flight to Kathmandu. It was strange our whole trek out was void of any mountain views from the intense cloud cover. While taking off in the Twin Otter plane I knew I’d be back again soon, this place has a way of transforming you. After a night in Kathmandu I boarded the TG320 flight to Bangkok, again I felt a blast of heat as I exited the plane, a place I’m very familiar since it’s my wife’s birth home. In my mind I was now half way home, even though I had another 16 hours of flying. I’m looking forward to seeing my wife and boys when I finally get home to Snoqualmie in a few more days.
May 18, 2011
May 10, 2011
Brian and I are leaving for Camp 2 tomorrow morning May eleventh. Pasang Temba and Ngawang Lakpa will follow us on the twelfth. Our current plan is to spend a rest day at Camp 2 then climb to Camp 3 on the Lhotse face. On May fourteenth we’ll climb to Camp 4 at the South Col and leave late that evening for the summit of Mount Everest. So in other words our plan is to summit the morning of May fifteenth. Unfortunately I will not be able to update the blog until I return on May sixteenth or later. I’ll have a satellite phone and will be calling my wife with updates and she’ll be posting them to my Facebook page.
May 7, 2011
For the most part we’ve been hanging out at Base Camp. Now is the time to rest, relax, eat and drink and prepare for our summit push. Although today I climbed to the first ladder in the ice fall with our Mountain Gurus Camp 2 climbers. It was good to stretch the legs. The Camp 2 climbers will take rest tomorrow and then head up to Camp 1 with Pasang Temba the following day. Regarding our summit plans. The rest of the climbing Sherpa’s will head up to Camp 2 tomorrow, then to Camp 4 to establish camp and carry the remaining oxygen and food to the South Col. Currently we’re targeting between the fourteenth and seventeenth for our summit day. So we will most likely leave Base Camp on the eleventh or twelfth in order to summit within that window of time. If all goes well on summit day, it should take us one or two days to descend back to Base Camp. Stay tuned for more info on our summit push and if anyone knows how to FEDEX a couple of pizzas to Everest Base Camp in Nepal it would be much appreciated.
May 5, 2011
Clear skies and warm weather made for a brilliant day. I photographed the amazing sunrise over Everest. After a few hours I was in Camp 2, Pasang Temba and Dawa were still putting the final camp touches together. I was settling into my tent when word came over the radio that a rescue was in progress near Camp 3. A member of International Mountain Guides team was sick on the mountain. Various larger expeditions were putting together Sherpa support to assist in the rescue. We ate lunch and relaxed into camp, later we heard of the tragic news of the season’s first death on the mountain. Our hearts saddened and our prayers go out to his family, the climber apparently suffered a heart attack while climbing near Camp 3. Although we all accept the risks when we step foot on the mountain, it doesn’t make it easy when the mountain takes someone. Despite hearing stories off traffic jams and competition among expeditions on the mountain, I actually find a sense of camaraderie among most climbers, as if we’re all in this together.
The next morning we eat breakfast in our Camp 2 dining tent and prepare for a short hike to the base of the Lhotse face. Today I feel strong and better acclimatized; we march to towards the 4000 foot steep wall of ice and snow, looking at Everest, the Geneva Spur, the Yellow Band and Lhotse. Camp 3 is located midway up the face at 23,000 feet. Climbers are ascending and descending while Sherpa parties are up high fixing lines and carrying loads to the South Col. There’s lots of talk and coordination by various expeditions as to when the route to the summit will be fixed. Since there’s lots of snow this season everyone’s waiting for the afternoon snow showers to relent. My afternoon is spent relaxing and catching up with other teams on the mountain.
The following morning we’re up early, this time donning one piece down suits and ready to climb to Camp 3. The sound of a helicopter roars through the air, sadly it’s for the body recovery; the helicopter quickly lands near Camp 2 and is off again. Brian and I once again walk to the base of the Lhotse face. Pasang Temba and Dawa are already ahead carrying loads. Once at the Bergschrund we clip into the fixed line, it’s a steep ice headwall of about 50 feet with large crevasses below. Using my ascender I gain the steep snow slopes above the headwall that make up the face, I slowly jug my way up the fixed line. A fall here without fixed line would be deadly. Just two days before someone from Alpine Ascents broke their arm here. I spend the next two hours climbing towards Camp 3, slowly ascending up and over an ice budge and then to open snow slopes towards our tents. The last few hundred feet into camp seems like a life time. Brian and I are climbing in slow motion, two or three breaths for every step, the air is thin, and we’re higher than Aconcagua (the highest peak in South America) and any other mountain outside the Himalaya. It’s hard to imagine the summit of Everest still stands 6000 feet above us. We’re greeted by Pasang and he tells us how fast we were, we crawl into our tent which is situated on an ice ledge looking down the Lhotse face. I decide I won’t wander far from here, I’m glad I brought my pee bottle. I declare to Brian there are “no rules above 23,000 feet” you do what you need to do to survive. We settle in and Brian plays chef, noodles and hot drinks, it’s surprisingly warm. After some confusion about an oxygen regulator and anger on my part we spend the night sucking on a one liter flow. My slight headache goes away breathing on the rich air of the oxygen bottle; amazingly I get a great night’s sleep. Brian and I wake early; we exit the tent and after some photos and a long glace at the South Col and Everest we begin our decent. Sherpa’s are already up carrying loads to Camp 4. Pasang Temba is still in bed, no problem; he’ll meet us in Camp 2. We rappel the face, 40 minutes we’re down at the bottom of the Bergschrund and another 30 we’re in Camp 2 eating breakfast.
We sort our gear, leaving our upper mountain clothing behind for the summit push, we descend to Camp 1, Brian is ahead and I’m with Pasang Temba. I feel great but I can’t help but think of the death on the mountain. You can’t take anything thing for granted here, every step I take, every time I clip into the fixed line, every decision I make, I think of my boys waiting for me back home, I miss them and my wife, I’m always watching, listening and praying that I can overcome the challenges of Mount Everest. We head down to the four ladder, it’s smashed to pieces, a large avalanche wiped it out. Huge ice blocks lay all around, the “Ice Doctors”, the Sherpa’s that maintain the ice fall route already established an alternate route. Pasang Temba tells me that luckily nobody was injured here. We move quickly and I’m back in Base Camp in record time. This should be our last rotation, next time we’ll be ready for the “big show”. Now our guys need to establish Camp 4 at the South Col and we must wait for the right weather window.
April 29, 2011
Our plan is to spend the next few days relaxing at BC, then go up again to Camp 1, Camp 2 and then if all goes as scheduled climb to Camp 3 at 23,000 feet and possibly sleep that night on oxygen. In theory this would be our last time up the mountain before our summit push. We would then just need to wait for a good weather window. As for today, I’m relaxing. I had a chance to catch up on laundry, the old fashion way, by hand washing. Half my laundry is frozen the other half is dry depending how the sun and wind effects my clothes. I’ve been thinking about a shower but it’s a bit windy today, so I’ll defer until tomorrow in hopes for warmer weather. What’s the big deal, it’s been nearly two weeks since my last shower. I still have a cough and a bit of a weak stomach so I need to rest and eat. The altitude really has a way of amplifying small aliments. Despite all that I’m feeling stronger and more acclimatized. Brian and Veronique are doing well and we all plan to head up together on Saturday. I also got word that our Mountain Gurus Camp 2 climbers are trekking their way up to Base Camp; we should see them when we get down from the mountain.
April 28, 2011
It’s been a few days since my last post. I’ve been up on the hill and mostly out of contact with the exception of radio contact with our Mountain Gurus Base Camp. Pasang Temba and I climbed through the Khumbu Icefall again spending two nights at Camp 1. Our second day we climbed up the Western CWM towards Camp 2. The climbing is mostly gradual unlike the icefall, somewhat like the Muir Snowfield but with large crevasses for those familiar with Mount Rainier. It’s only a few miles to Camp 2 but at 21,000 feet it’s still relatively slow going. The sun is shining and the whole Western CWM feels like an oven, the solar radiation off the white snow is intense; it’s amazing how hot it can be here on Mount Everest. One section of the route has a huge crevasse, with five ladders lashed together spanning the enormous expanse. Fortunately there’s a 10 minute walk around which the majority of climbers are taking. I look and see a few Sherpa’s taking the ladder crossing, the ladders are bouncing up and down, the whole thing looks sketchy as hell and I easily decide to do the walk around option. Another hour we’re at Camp 2, it’s now snowing hard, Pasang Temba drops his load and we quickly descend to Camp 1 in a snowy whiteout. The weather changes from whiteout to hot sun again within a few hours. That evening Pasang Temba and I enjoy good conversation. It’s strange, as a mountain guide I’m used to taking care of customers but Pasang Temba is always looking after me. I’m glad to be climbing with him, his patience and confidence always encourages me. Everest is a new environment, unlike anyplace I’ve ever climbed. The thin air makes everything really challenging and slower paced. The next morning we wake to nearly a foot of fresh snow. After descending to Base Camp, I enjoy the thick air of 17,600 feet.
April 24, 2011
Today I’m hanging out for my second rest day at Base Camp. It’s a bit cold and snowed about four inches yesterday afternoon and last night. Tomorrow morning Pasang Temba and I will head up to Camp 1 again, spend the night and then head to Camp 2 the following day. It’s all part of the acclimatization process. Since it’s quite here, I thought I’d tell you a bit about life here at Base Camp. Basically we have three staff at BC. Lhachmi is our cook, Jangke is our kitchen boy and Gurung helps retrieve water and other general chores. We’re served three western meals per day at eight, noon and six. Our dining tent is stocked with various delights; we have a gas heater that warms the dinning tent when needed. Regarding power we utilize a combination of solar power and gas generator. Naturally when it’s sunny the solar panels provide the bulk of our power. It’s always enough to power my laptop. I also use a Goal 0 portable solar power system for my tent and when trekking. This provides additional power at night or when I’m hanging out in the tent. Using an UI inverter I’m able to power my laptop, cell phone, sat phone, camera batteries and other devices. I also have a Goal 0 Light a Life (LED light) that hangs from the ceiling of my tent. This is way better than a headlamp at night when reading and getting ready for bed. We also have our own three person The North Face tents at BC, plenty of room to organize all our gear. I have a minus 20 degree Marmot Col sleeping bag for BC and minus 40 degree Marmot CWM when I’m sleeping on the mountain. We also have really nice thick sleeping pads. We also have a toilet tent, not the place I’d like to spend a lot of time, but all the waste is deposited in blue barrels and carried out of BC. Plus our shower tent, which despite being here almost a week I haven’t utilized yet. Thank God for wet wipes. Despite all these so called luxuries life is still tough here on the mountain, yet it’s a far cry from expeditions of old. Staying healthy and motivated at high altitude remains difficult. Although it’s been a real blessing to be able to call my wife and boys from BC every day, thanks to the NCELL tower at Gorak Shep. We were hoping for a stronger 3G signal for internet use but the tower is just too far away from BC for a strong connect. Although with patience I’m still able to get out these posts to the blog.
April 23, 2011
Yesterday was a great day. Pasang Temba and I climbed through the Khumbu Icefall to Camp 1 at 20,000 feet. The icefall is a two thousand vertical foot jumbled maze of seracs, ice blocks and crevasses considered by some the most technically challenging part of the climb. We climb using fixed ropes attached by ice screws or snow pickets as well as aluminum ladders spanning across large crevasses. Some ladders are lashed two or three long together with hand lines helping for balance when crossing. Honestly it’s nothing like I ever climbed before and I’m not sure I’ll ever really get comfortable crossing these longer spanning ladders. It’s just part of the game and you make it happen, you just do it… and don’t look down. The icefall is not a place where you want to relax. You need to be vigilant always assessing the risk and making sure you’re clipping into the fixed lines. Pasang Temba makes it all look easy but I can tell he takes nothing for granted; he’s always listening and watching for danger. We cross our last ladder and the Western CWM comes into view, this is the high valley that leads to Mount Everest. It’s totally surrounded by huge mountain walls on all sides except from where we came, the icefall being the only gateway. Nuptse, the Lhotse face, South Col and finally Everest itself comes into view. It’s hard to believe Everest still stands 9000 feet above us; it’s like climbing Mount Rainier from Paradise. It’s a beautiful day with light wind, we sit and enjoy lunch. Nearly one hundred tents make up Camp 1. We descend to Base Camp, It’s a long tough day, my legs and lungs are tired, Pasang Temba tells me the second time up will be much easier. I hope he’s right. As for me I will take two days rest before going up again. I want to give my body time to recover, high altitude mountaineering is a game of patience. Despite not much to do, it’s amazing how quickly the time goes by at Base Camp.