Just arriving back at Base Camp. I think it is the first time that I have opened one before the other!
Well, our expedition is formally over. I have just arrived at the Hyatt in Kathmandu by chopper from Base Camp. I can tell you it sure beats walking down. All of our team was able to hitch a ride so are now in the process of trying to feel a little human again (hot showers, shaves, running water – oh, and beer!) but the 5000m+ drop in altitude certainly helps. Thank you all for your well wishes and support. They were truly helpful and motivational. It has been suggested that I should provide a few more details of our experiences over the last few days. I think some of the words that I stuttered over the sat phone to Nicky were completely unintelligible although I think she managed to deliver the main message well – I summitted and returned and it was hard. When thinking about providing more details it has been difficult to strike the right balance between the short, snappy summary update that my friends have the attention span to read and the more detailed emotive view of the world that Nicky and some of her friends would prefer! So, I am going to try and do both (that is if my attention span allows me to do the later). This entry will try to summarise, as the title suggests, the best and worst bits of the last few days. I will, energy permitting, then try to provide a more detailed version of events for those that are remotely interested. I also have a few partially finished entries that attempt to answer some of the many questions that I have received so will try to complete and post these as well.
– I summited (at 12pm), and returned, safely (at 6pm), despite this being quoted as the worst year ever to be on and try to summit Everest (causing teams led by well known names like Russell Brice to leave the mountain early).
– I didn’t find the climbing quite as technical as I expected and managed to cover the terrain relatively easily.
– Overall, my fitness (and reserves that I didn’t know I had) would hold out pretty well.
– Our expedition leader planned our preparation well and called the weather window perfectly.
– Our Sherpas were excellent
– Just above “the balcony” I turned around and unexpectedly caught the sun just starting to emerge from the lower clouds. It felt like being on the moon and was a truly exceptional experiance.
– The weather remained as predicted – starting off ideal but slowly deteriorating later in the day.
– Once we had reached the top we more or less had the summit to ourselves for 30 mins. Something that on our particular summit day was pretty rare and special.
– The decisions made by some of our team.
– I survived with my fingers and toes intact (though I did have to work diligently on this).
– The round trip from the South Col took more than 20 hours (substantially more than our expedition leader’s normal cut off time of 15 hours). This delay, as partially expected, was caused by the large number of people (around 160) trying to summit on the same day as our team (given all of the previous issues on the mountain). In total we were on the go for more than 36 hours including the journey from camp 3.
– I’ve never been as dehydrated or “empty” food wise. I could barely swallow my throat was so dry.
– I climbed without O’s on 3 occasions for a total of around 2 hours, including 45 mins to the summit. It is amazing what a difference oxygen makes. Without it, it is like someone has switched the light/engine off and it is scary to realise what happens without this temporary artificial support!
– I had to dig extremely deep to find the energy reserves to get up and down. There is little doubt I, like many people, were at (or in some cases beyond) their physical limit.
– Unfortunately, one of our team did not make the summit but their decision to turn around, while extremely difficult I’m sure, shows extreme sense and is one that I’m very proud of. As reported by a number of guides, many people were slightly possessed, operating beyond their limits/capabilities, and only survived due to good fortune. There was absolutely no margin for error, something which sadly comes all too frequently with the territory on Everest.
– Several people (some of whom I had spoken to) died our summit day. As far as I know, none of the deaths were related to conditions on the mountain but rather people succumbing to fatigue or high altitude-related illnesses. While the absolute number deaths seems high, and no deaths are good news, I would not be surprised that as a percentage of the large number of people attempting to summit it was proportional to, if not better than, previous years. I’m sure the people with the statistics will have the answer in due course.
– In retrospect (and probably on an ex ante basis as well) I think the objective danger was too high on our summit day. Many, many things can and do go wrong and I believe that many people are lucky that an alternative history did not prevail on the day as they would not have had the ability to adapt and survive . In the end, I think we were generally saved by the relatively good and stable weather.
– A combination of no O’s and very high winds on the summit meant the Haka had to be sacrificed. I’m not sure I will be back to cement the world’s highest Haka record!
So there it is – a brief account of our summit day. Given the combination of factors we experienced, climbing Everest is definitely the hardest challenge I have undertaken to date. Something which, despite my scepticism, the 15kg that I lost can probably attest to!
An update from Nicky after a phone call from Paul at 10am GMT
Goughy is back at Base Camp – he has done it!!
He described the last 4 days as ‘gruelling’ and said it was a blessing to be down at Base Camp. He is booked to fly to Kathmandu tomorrow and is looking forward to a hot shower! We will get the full update then, once he is reunited with his full range of gadgets and internet connection.
An update from Paul by satellite phone at 12.45pm GMT (Nicky)
Today it was with relief that we arrived back at Camp 2. During the trip down the risk was from tiredness and incompetence rather than a random event as can occur in the Khumbu Icefall.
We head to Base Camp through the Icefall early in the morning. No doubt, once there, I will have the energy and time to update in detail the events of the last couple of days.
An update from Nicky after a satellite phone call from Paul at 2.40pm GMT
Goughy has successfully summited Everest and is now safely back at Camp 4. He is exhausted and will provide a proper update tomorrow after a long awaited sleep.
An update from Paul by satellite phone at 12.30pm GMT (Nicky)
Summary: Long, slow, painful.
It all started well with the team leaving early (although not early enough it would turn out) and feeling good having slept on oxygen. Things soon took a turn for the worse: first, we saw the remains of a team’s camp taken out by an avalanche (or perhaps the serac which injured the Sherpa yesterday) and, second, it quickly became apparent that all the issues on Everest this year have resulted in almost all teams, including ours, attempting to summit on the same day.
What did that mean? Major traffic jams. The trip to Camp 4 took twice as long as it should have with many teams (I would estimate 150 – 200 climbers) on the mountain at the same time.
If we are to try to avoid some of the crowds during our summit attempt we have time for little more than a one hour lunch break before we leave Camp 4. This doesn’t allow much time to refuel before making, what is expected to be, a 16 hour round trip. It means we could be on the go for more than 30 hours. (Hopefully some of the late night partying in my younger days will help get me through!)
While extremely rich coming from me (as very much an amateur climber) I do question whether, given their level of fitness and skill, some climbers should be attempting Everest particularly in a year when summit attempts are compressed into one or two days. I imagine that some will miss their opportunity to summit after such a long climb today and little time to rest.
I now need to end this call and go on to oxygen so that Pierre and Nathalie are not too much stronger than me!
An update from Paul by satellite phone at 10.30am GMT (Nicky)
We awoke early this morning to make our way to Camp 3. We were all packed and ready to go when we received a call from Base Camp. One of the climbing Sherpas had been hit by a serac* and needed to be rescued by the other climbing Sherpas. We held back while plans were made for the rescue. We finally set off at 9am, by which time the temperature had risen from -20 to 40 in the Western Cwm. This unhappily coincided with the day we needed to wear -50 one piece down suits.
Today was probably the toughest day for me so far due to a combination of the heat, the new longer route to Camp 3, slower climbers already on oxygen on the steep part of the climb, and some muscle wastage. (Some, probably most, would say I didn’t have much to begin with!)
Tonight we sleep on oz** before leaving for Camp 4 with oz at around 5am. A number of people planned to summit on the 18th but given the recent accident I expect they will now also be trying to summit on the 19th. It could be busy…
* (Nicky: for the non-moutaineering among us: a block or column of ice formed by intersecting crevasses on a glacier)
** (Nicky: oxygen)