World's Top Motorcycle Dealer

World's Top Motorcycle Dealer
Prayer flags above Dingboche. Lhotse and Island Peak in the background.

Monday, January 16, 2017

I guess I'm famous?

The Discovery Channel was on Everest while I was there and was doing a lot of filming for a series about the helicopter pilots. It is now completed and is called Everest Rescue. The second episode is called "Top of the World" and follows several stories including my rescue and also Ben's.

So, I guess I'm famous - but I still have to pay for a chai latte at Starbucks!

Here is a link to the trailer advertising it.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Two very cool links

Nelson Dellis, one of our teammates, has made a very nice three minute video of a section in the icefall. This particular ladder crossing was challenging due to the bulge of ice encroaching on us from our left. I remember it well. You can see the video here.

And for an amazing journey up the mountain from base camp to summit,  check this out! Mammut is a Swiss company that makes very high end climbing and skiing gear. They contracted with Lukas Furtenbach who's base camp was next door to us. They had several Sherpa carry a very fancy GoPro arrangement and the 360 degree views are incredible. They have combined a couple of summit days into one event in order to have everything done in daylight and a lot of the images above C4 were from our summit day. I remember watching the cameraman go up from C4 during the middle of our rest day there. You can even see a shot of me as he arrives into C4. I am in my orange suit and am wearing a yellow backpack. This is well worth a few minutes looking at. I was blown away by the shots from the South Summit to the true summit. 

What really happened on my Everest summit push, COMING BACK DOWN.

After all the pictures were taken, after I'd had one last look at the view I had dreamt of for 39 years, after I had given myself one more moment for it all to become as real as possible, it was time to descend. There are far more accidents on the descent than the climb up and I was very much aware of this. HAPE and HACE are two of the biggest enemies of high altitude climbers and they can only be held temporality at bay with modern drugs; the only real solution is a rapid descent.

With the perspective of a few days to review what happened, I believe I was already in the early stages of both of these killers although I didn't really realize it while I was enjoying the summit. Our climb back down to the South Summit should have taken us 15-30 minutes but instead it took more than two hours. Again, the principal problem was the crowds. Passing those going the opposite direction was painfully slow and there were times when I couldn't move for ten or more minutes. In talking with my teammates, we concluded that we lost about three hours on the ascent due to the overcrowding and I think I lost at least another 90 minutes just retreating to the South Summit. Those precious minutes almost cost me my life.

By the time I arrived back at the South Summit things were rapidly falling apart in my body. I had lost all of my strength and found my breathing to be extremely difficult. I spent the rest of the descent setting tiny goals of 30 steps between rest breaks. Most of the time I couldn't come close to the goal. This left me making 10 to 20 steps before I was forced to sit for several minutes and breathe as though I was sucking through a garden hose. Fifty hard breaths would seem to make no difference for me in spite of the fact that I was sitting still.

With Pasang Oongchu leading just in front and Sange just behind, we made our way down the mountain very slowly. It was as though someone was suffocating me with a plastic bag. Air just couldn't fill my lungs. I was also incredibly thirsty and would scoop up bits of snow each time I sat down and swallow them for a little moisture. This snail-like progress continued for hours. On multiple times I would think "if I could just sit here until I feel good again..." but then I would shut out the thought because I knew sitting for a longer time really meant sitting forever. I focused on Patty and my kids as hard as I could and they became my reason for getting down.

As we neared the Balcony we found a young Sherpa with a large load who had fallen off the rope but fortunately landed on a flat area. He was dazed and just sitting there with no idea of what to do next. Pasang Oongchu once again stepped into action and pulled him onto his feet and helped him down the mountain while also tending to me.

At some point not far below the Balcony, I was getting too tired to stand so I decided to glissade down. This is a fancy climber's term for "slide on your butt". I remained clipped to the safety rope and simply slid slowly down the snowy slope on my rear end. I also noticed that Sange was starting to really fade badly. I couldn't abide the thought of his young son never seeing his father again so I pleaded with him to go ahead. He finally, reluctantly agreed and I watched him move further away from me as he went much faster than I could.

I reached the bottom of the Triangular Face, the last of the steeper portions above C4, and could no longer glissade. My next big worry was if I could find the strength to stand up again? And if so, how could I walk the half mile to my tent? The distance looked so great that it might as well have been a thousand miles. Pasang was once again right at my side. He helped me up. He put my arm around his shoulder and he slowly and patiently walked with me on the mostly gentle slope to the camp. We would stop every few yards and I would sit and gasp. He would patiently wait until he knew it was taking too long. At this point he would gently speak my name and I knew it was time to go again.  The down climb should take 4-5 hours in total but I was eleven hours into it and still not at camp.

The one piece of good news up until this point is that everything was downhill. This changes for the last 100 yards where the route goes flat and then makes a very small climb up to the tents. I looked at that tiny ten foot high hill and lost all hope. Uphill simply wasn't possible. I sat down for a long time and in spite of Pasang's urging I couldn't find the strength to stand up. When it became all too clear that I'd reached my limit, Pasang left me and went ahead to our camp for help.

I apologize to those who helped me next, but my state of mind was far from normal and a lot of the details are blurry. Some people (Sherpa?) brought me tea and food but as hungry and thirsty as I was, that was not what I needed. I declined their offer. Eventually someone decided to change out my oxygen bottle. I don't know why because I was still getting Os. Regardless, they fumbled the switch and couldn't reconnect me to the gas I so desperately needed. I fell onto my side and started spasming and I remember clearly thinking, "Okay, so now I know exactly when and where I will die. I have only a few seconds left and then the pain goes away."

Somehow another 60 or more seconds passed and I again felt the life-giving oxygen hit my lungs. Maybe I won't die now? I didn't know and was to a point where I was really not very concerned either way. I mostly just wanted to stop hurting. They told me to stand up and they would help me to my tent. All I could do was sit on the snow and shake my head no. I had lost my voice and was unable to tell them what I needed. I knew I had HAPE and likely HACE. I knew I needed to get down but given the fact that it was almost dark I knew that was impossible. I tried using sign language to indicate I needed a Gamow bag and a dexamethasone injection but no one was understanding me.

Once it became clear that I would not be covering the last 100 yards under my own power, six people hoisted me up and dragged me like a dead man to my tent and rather unceremoniously tossed me inside. At some point during this process Ben and Laura Darlington reached me. They are a young couple from Canberra, Australia and are part of our small Altitude Junkies team. They immediately saw the gravity of the situation and were actively getting out the dexamethasone (Dex) injection that Phil had given to all of us in base camp. Ben is an electrician and Laura is an accountant - just normal people, not medical professionals. But they are smart and capable and knew exactly what needed to happen.

Just as they were preparing to administer the first injection in their life, Billy Nugent appeared. He is a professional guide with Madison Mountaineering and although not a doctor, he does have more training and experience than any of our team has. He later confided with Ben that he believed I would be dead within a few minutes. Billy and Laura crawled in after me, pulled my coats and shirts off my shoulder and I was rapidly injected with the powerful steroid. The results are pretty immediate and significant and it was a bit like coming back from the dead. I was still far from capable of doing anything to save myself, but I wasn't going to die in the next handful of seconds.

(Side note: some of you may be wondering what happened to Phil Crampton in all of this. Well, as we reached Camp 4 on the 17th, another member of our team developed HAPE. Phil was observant enough to spot this problem very early and escorted him back down to base camp, giving up his likely 8th Everest summit to save this man's life. He was in no way derelict in his duties but rather took the correct course of action given the events and information available at that time. Phil left no stone unturned in his efforts to coordinate my rescue from base camp.) 

Ben and Barbara, our remaining team members along with Sange joined me in the tent. I was buried in sleeping bags to warm me and everyone assumed a key role in saving my life. Sange held me in a seated position because if I should lie down I would essentially drown. Laura handled all the medicines, keeping track of what I received and when. She also kept my head from falling off to one side or another and made sure I stayed awake. Ben handled the very difficult radio communications with Phil at base camp. The radio couldn't make the distance to base camp so he held the antenna up against the tent poles for hours in the cold and messages were relayed via Lysle, another teammate who had managed to reach C2. Barbara kept on top of hydrating me. I could only take the smallest sips of water without feeling like I was going to drown because I needed to remove my mask to drink.

Sange was in no shape to hold me up so he switched positions with Mingma who sat back-to-back with me for an hour or more. But this wasn't fair to him either so we finally found some mattresses and put them against the tent wall. I leaned on them through the night and Laura would hold my head for hours. We sat patiently all night long in the cold and dark. We tried to encourage each other and I tried to not die. If you need proof that these heroes saved my life, then look at the deaths of the Dutch gentleman and Australian lady the following day. I obviously wasn't with them but reading their stories makes me believe we were all suffering from the exact same problems. I will live the rest of my life in deep gratitude for what Ben, Laura and Barbara did for me that night in a small tent on Everest's South Col.

Fortunately the morning had reasonable weather and we were able to descend to C2. Another night at C4 would have definitely proven fatal for me. I was extremely weak and could only walk for less than a minute between much more sizable rests. While Sange and the rest of our Sherpa staff broke down our camp and carried 70 to 90 pound loads, Pasang led me down the Lhotse face. He was never more than a step or two in front of me and did all the clipping and unclipping of my safety line for me. His steady pace and capable hands were very comforting.

Meanwhile, behind me was Ben Darlington. Like Pasang, he was only ever one step away from me. At tremendous personal effort, he would hold his right hand out and lift my pack from my shoulders for much of the way down the face. This steadied me and eased my burden. I have never experienced such assistance in the mountains but it was so desperately needed and again I cannot thank these two men enough. There is no way I could have descended without their strength and skill. Once again I was owing my life to others.

The route from C4 to C2 has four main features. The first obstacle is descending the Geneva Spur and then dealing with the exposed traverse that almost stopped me on the way up. Fortunately there had been enough traffic that a bootpack had formed and the footing was much better. It was very narrow - six inches wide at times - but I was very happy to not be fighting for every step. This section should have taken 15 minutes but I needed two hours.

There is then a downward traverse to the Yellow Band which, although crowded, didn't pose too much of a technical challenge. It was just my extreme fatigue that I needed to battle. Next up was the Yellow Band. It had an endless line of climbers on the "down" rope so Pasang moved us to the almost empty "up" rope and we were down it without too much drama. To our dismay, some stranger hopped in between Benn and me. He was not a safe climber and failed to hold himself while descending. He ended up falling about 100 feet and we were alerted by yells from above and the horrifying sound of a human body accelerating towards us. I managed to barely get out of the way and brace myself and the rope that I was still connected to. Pasang had nowhere to go and took the full impact of this man. Miraculously no-one was injured and the rope held. This could have ended very differently with several of us falling well over a mile to the bottom of the slope.

The line of climbers above the Yellow Band.

People above the Yellow Band.

The biggest portion of the Lhotse face is a series of vertical ropes - I would estimate about 30 of them - that go all the way to the bottom. I actually found this the best for me. Pasang would connect my figure-8 to the rope while Ben would downclimb to the next anchor. I'd then rappel down, letting gravity do almost all the work and Ben would carefully guide me into the correct position to get off the first rope and onto the next. We repeated this process for hours and maybe 3,000 vertical feet until we finally reached the bottom of the face.

We knew I had almost no chance of walking the last mile to C2 from the bottom of the face so Ben, Laura and Pasang made arrangements for a rescue sled to be waiting for me and take me the final portion of the way. Six people came up with the sled and Pasang supervised the loading and moving of it. It was lightly snowing as we came into camp. These seven guys were all very tired and yet they took the utmost care with me. The route crossed two smaller crevasses and I was lowered down into them and raised back up on the other side. I knew I was in capable hands and never felt concerned.

We finally reached C2 after 12 1/2 hours of incredible effort. Everyone had given all that they had to make sure I arrived safely. We sat down for a quick bite of food and Ben collapsed asleep on the table. The relatively thicker air of 21,500' vs 26,000' was helping me and I was starting to feel a little better. I remember one of our rests on the face just above upper C3 when I told Ben that for the first time in 24 hours I knew I was going to actually make it. That was a seminal moment for me on the descent.

Phil had arranged to have Jason Laing (a New Zealander and renowned as the best pilot in Nepal) fly me from C2 at first light the next morning. He arrived right on time at 6:15 and twenty minutes later I was in Lukla shedding layers of clothing as I quickly overheated in the thick warm air of 9,300'. Jason dropped me off at the small hospital there while he returned to bring down several more injured people. There had been a number of HAPE cases and a lot of frostbite. After about two hours he returned for me and took me to Kathmandu.

Outside the Lukla hospital.

There was an ambulance waiting for me at the helipad and it brought me directly to the highly regarded CIWEC Clinic. They ran a number of tests on me and determined that I did in fact have both HAPE and HACE. Their advice was for me to spend at least one night in the clinic. Those who know me can predict what I did with that advice! Instead I went to the Hyatt and expected to recover quickly now that I had plenty of air, food and comfort. Unfortunately that is not what happened.

Looking good after a little climbing.

I struggled for three days and nights and wasn't feeling any better. I finally gave in and returned to the clinic where they admitted me and I am now enjoying my third night in a hospital bed. The initial diagnosis ideas were all over the place as they tried to figure out what was causing my endless cough, fluid filled lungs, extreme weakness and general crummy feeling. The final decision is that I have bilateral pneumonia and they have me on antibiotics and a diuretic to remove the excess fluid in my lungs. I am finally feeling quite a lot better and expect to be officially released tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, there is still more to the story. The long cold night in the tent at C4 gave Ben very serious frostbite on all of his right toes. He never said a word to anyone but just bravely and privately endured this nightmare. He helped me down for 4,500' on the Lhotse at tremendous personal cost. He then declined a helicopter ride from C2 and made his own way to base camp with Laura. It was only then that he told anyone of his own problems.

The following morning he was stretchered to the helipad in base camp and brought to the same clinic that I am in. He is undergoing a treatment with a very promising trial medicine that requires a six hour infusion every day for five days. I have spent as much time with him as my exhausted body will allow and I am blown away by his positive attitude and humble strength. Please keep Ben in your thoughts and prayers as he faces a huge battle to keep all of his toes.

Meanwhile the rest of our amazing team is all healthy and running around Kathmandu bringing us lunches and dinners and enjoying being back in the friendly part of the world.

There were some other players involved that I would like to recognize too. IMG and particularly superstar guides Greg Vernovage and Justin Merle assisted with radio communications and donated the use of their rescue sled at C2. One of their clients also gave me a pill that I'd never heard of (New ???) that gave me a needed boost as we neared the end of the traverse below the Geneva Spur. Renowned climber and expedition leader Russell Brice of Himex provided practical and communications support to me and to Phil Crampton. Trish Crampton spent several sleepless nights doing her logistical part in getting me to Kathmandu and ensuring I was properly cared for once I arrived here. No doubt there are other people that I am either not aware of or that I can't remember. Please accept my apology for failing to list you here and accept my deep gratitude for all you did.

There is always a lot of derogatory writing about commercial expeditions, the quality of their clients and support and the natural competition that business competitors are forced to engage in. I can honestly say from my close up perspective that I saw nothing but the highest professionalism from everyone involved. People forgot their business allegiances when they saw me in trouble and just stood up and did whatever they could to help. I am so proud to be associated with all of these people.

The bottom line for me in this story is that I have been given a second chance at life due to the bravery, skills, hard work and sacrifice of others. I feel like a soldier returning from battle after his buddies carried him through a hail of bullets. Were it not for Pasang Oongchu Sherpa, Sange Sherpa, Ben and Laura Darlington, Barbara Padilla, Lysle Turner, Billy Nugent, Phil Crampton, Jason the pilot, the doctors at the CIWEC Clinic, the six men who carried me to my tent and the six men who carried me over a mile in the snow and dark into C2 there is no doubt in my mind that I would be dead on the side of the mountain that has held my attention for 39 years.

Seven days after summiting. Ben and Robert.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What really happened on my Everest summit push, GOING UP.

There has been a fair amount of unknowns and conjecture about what took place on my Everest summit push and this is largely my fault. I have been too tired and sick to put words to screen. Thankfully I am feeling a little better this afternoon and will do my best.

People tend to have some good days and some bad days in the mountains and I certainly had both on this push. We left our base camp at 1:00 am on Saturday, May 14. I was feeling a little sick and battled diarrhea all day and also vomited once as I climbed to Camp 2. I needed 10 1/2 hours to reach our camp which, while not a bad time, certainly is no speed record either. I was very tired and overheating badly when I finally pulled into camp.

Sange and I preparing to leave Everest Base Camp

Camp 2

The following day was a scheduled rest day and I rebounded very quickly. In fact, when we left for Camp 3 on May 16 I found myself being one of the fastest in our team. I took five hours to make this move up the steep Lhotse face. I was coughing a huge amount but this is not very unusual for me in very high elevations. Our tiny, exposed tents would vary from very hot to almost cold as the clouds would shade us and then move along. We spent all day resting and attempting to eat and drink. This may sound like a pretty simple thing, but one of the many undesirable side effects of high altitude is a loss of desire to eat and drink. I've discovered the hard way that more vomiting will arrive on the scene if you force yourself to eat more than is comfortable. So the only answer is to eat and drink very slowly.

The Lhotse face. Our tents are about half way up in the center of the picture. The Yellow Band is the pistol shaped rock formation in the upper left quadrant.

With Sange outside our Camp 2 tent.

The view of Cho Oyu and Pumori from Camp 2

Camp 3 is steep and exposed.

May 17 was our move from C3 to C4, the highest camp on the Nepal side of Everest. It is located on the South Col at about 25,900'. At first we made rapid progress, reaching the Yellow Band in three hours. Although not exactly the half-way point, it certainly is close enough to be used that way. The weather was cold and windy but I stayed warm inside my down suit, big boots and gloves. We were climbing on oxygen at 2 liters per minute.

I injured my left shoulder in a foolish motorcycle accident in 1988 and it has progressively gotten worse. I am in need of a complete replacement now and my left arm is very weak and hurts constantly. As a result I really can't use it for climbing. In fact, simply washing my hands hurts a lot. This made my climb up the Yellow Band a lot more challenging than I would have liked and took quite a bit out of me.

From this point on things became dramatically harder. The already strong winds felt like they doubled in strength as we continued upward. They would hammer us from one side, stop for a moment or two, and then attack us from the opposite side. I routinely needed to completely stop and just brace myself from being blown over. My (quite possibly inaccurate) internal wind gauge was telling me that some gusts were above 80 mph.

The most difficult portion was the traverse leading to the Geneva Spur. This is a steeply sloped sidehill with a huge amount of drop-off. On this particular day it was covered in swirling powder snow. You would try to follow in the footsteps of the person ahead of you in hope that they left a solid step behind but the snow was blowing so much that it was hard to find their step. And even if you did, the chances of the step being solid were essentially zero. I found myself kicking and kicking every single step for perhaps an hour or more in an attempt to find solid purchase.

I was reaching the end of my comfort zone when I watched one of my teammates about 20 yards ahead slip and fall. She was saved by the rope she was attached to but it took a significant amount of effort for those around her to get her back on her feet and on the correct path. It was at this point that thoughts of turning around first started to enter my mind.

As I was reaching the top of the Spur I suddenly found myself struggling for breath. I quickly realized that I'd run out of oxygen at about 26,000'. After a huge battle to reach the very top where things flatten out and it's safe to change bottles, Sange gave me his bottle and struggled into camp without oxygen. My admiration for this hero would only grow from here.

The final easy portion as we approach the tents of Camp 4. I don't know who this person with the GoPros is.

The top of the Geneva Spur

I realize it is a cliche, but Camp 4 looked like a war zone. Tents were being uprooted and shredded by the powerful winds. Everyone was freezing cold, trying to hold on to their tents and fighting for survival. I was very fortunate in that our team of amazing Sherpa had already managed to erect our tents and I collapsed inside out of the wind. The second half of this day took me eight hours.

High winds on Everest the day we moved to C4. Photo credit unavailable.

Our original plan called for us to leave C4 that same evening but the winds were just too strong for anyone to make a summit attempt. But that didn't matter to me; I had already realized I couldn't go up which meant I had to go down. In fact, going down was the only option that seemed reasonable if I wanted to survive. I texted Patty that my trip was over and I was okay with that decision.

Initially there were four of us crammed into a three man tent but at some point one of the Sherpa (some of the details are foggy and I can't remember who the 4th person was) found a tent with more room so I spent the night with Sange and Sonam. I never took my boots off all night, nor my climbing harness. I wanted to be prepared to immediately move if the need arose. And then suddenly at some point in the night the wind just died. We woke up to sunshine rapidly warming our tent and drying up all the ice and snow both inside and on our down suits. At this point I felt like our fortunes were changing and maybe I needed to reconsider my decision to retreat. I found myself eating and drinking a bit and no longer cold or wet. Life was suddenly on the acceptable side of things again. I thought about my dream of climbing Everest, one that I've held since I was 15 years old and weighed that against the final amount of work and risk it would take to summit. I finally did a math problem: 39 years vs 12 hours, and decided to try for the top.

Sange in our Camp 4 tent with better weather

Sonam in our Camp 4 tent. He is now my roommate in the hospital in Kathmandu.

The tents at Camp 4 the day following the high winds.

Camp 4

Feeling ready to climb again after the weather improved.

I prepared my clothing and gear, got fully dressed and stepped out into the night on May 18 at 7:45 pm. The skies were clear and cold, but I was truly warm from head to toe. By 8:00 all the last minute well-wishes and details were attended to and Sange, Pasang Oongchu and I were slowly plodding towards the top of the world. Climbing at night by headlamp and with an oxygen mask is a surreal experience. There might be quite a few people nearby but you feel very alone. Communication is difficult and so it is essentially you, the pool of light from the headlamp and your own thoughts and doubts.

Phil Crampton, our expedition leader, provided us with the best and latest masks from Summit Oxygen and enough bottles of O's to let us climb at 4 liters per minute (4 LPM). What Phil didn't count on was the huge crowds and incredibly slow people who left an hour before us. We caught these people within an hour or so but it was unsafe to pass them. Passing would have required unclipping from the safety rope and free climbing in the dark for 30 minutes. I was definitely not going to take that risk so I contented myself to very slowly plod upwards behind them.

We were able to pass from time to time as people took a break and that definitely helped but in general I felt like I was not working very hard as we inched upwards. I asked Sange to turn my O's down to 2.5 LPM to conserve my life-giving gas. Above the Balcony (similar to the Yellow Band in that it is about the half-way mark) I started watching as people became colder and colder. Even the amazing Sherpa guides were starting to suffer from the cold and lack of movement. Somehow I never felt cold the entire day. It seems that my hard won prior lessons were paying off that night and my gear was exactly what I needed.

Every Everest enthusiast is aware of an obstacle near the very top called the Hillary Step. It is frequently cited as the most difficult part of the climb. Others will point to a series of cliff bands between the Balcony and the South Summit and some have even named these the Tenzing Steps after Hillary's climbing partner. For our particular night, I think that these were the tougher obstacle for people. I know I certainly had to focus hard to climb them one handed as my left arm is simply not up to pulling my weight up anything.

We reached one particular step-up of perhaps six feet in height. There were two climbers ahead of me and they tried and tried to climb it but simply couldn't. Finally, Pasang went ahead and pulled them up while Sange pushed them from beneath. They didn't look graceful but at least they were up. When it was my turn, I surveyed the potential footholds and found myself walking up without much drama. I think what this mini event plus several more like it show, is that there were quite a few people that evening who had little business trying for the top of the world. A lack of skills, experience, physical conditioning and perhaps even acclimatization was endangering themselves and those around them. This is a common complaint on Everest and one that needs to be properly addressed (but won't be!).

Before too much longer I noticed the blackness of the night was starting to yield to the sun. At first there was the smallest hint of light in the east but it quickly grew to the point where headlamps were no longer needed. And then the sun came over the horizon to my right! We had made it through the cold dark night and things would be improving for us. I particularly enjoyed watching the enormous pyramid shaped shadow that Everest cast across the mountains to her west. It really gives you a sense of the size of this great peak. Unfortunately I was unable to get a picture as both my camera and phone were frozen in spite of being in inside pockets.

Pasang, Sange and I soon found ourselves on the South Summit looking at the famous Cornice Traverse, Hillary Step and final gentle ridge to the true summit. I heard a speaker once describe this traverse as having a 10,000' drop on the left and 12,000' drop on the right. The path itself tends to be 12 to 24" wide. His suggestion is that if you are going to fall, go to the right as you will live longer!

Once again, the crowds here posed lots of trouble for us. People were all pushing their way both up and down without thought of others. Rather than wait to pass on a wider section when someone was already on a narrower part, they would push out onto the narrow bit and cause one jam after another. Nobody in their right mind feels comfortable unclipping from the rope and leaning backwards over drops of that size just to get around somebody who felt too important to wait a few seconds. I found it very frustrating and dangerous.

Finally we made it over the Cornice Traverse and surmounted the Hillary Step and now we only had the final snowy ridge to negotiate. The extra width and fewer people made this a lot quicker and before I realized it, I was staring at the summit from less than a hundred feet away.

I plodded up those last few feet with Sange and Pasang, overflowing with emotion. I was excited, elated, relieved, teary-eyed, in awe at the beauty, thrilled to be sharing the moment with two great friends and possibly even a little sad that this 39 year journey was now finished. We spent 23 minutes on top taking in the views, taking pictures, shaking hands, hugging each other and just relishing in the moment. The skies were cloud free, the winds were nothing that concerned me and I was as in the moment as much as my hypoxic brain would allow.

Summit success!

I appear to be in pain, but I think it was just the very bright sunshine.

Looking past the summit crowds towards Lhotse

Looking northwards into Tibet

330 degree panorama from the summit

I had carried some pictures of my family with me and had my picture taken while holding them. Without my family's support, this goal would never have been possible. Thank you Patty, Chris, Soni and Caelen. I love you all very deeply. I also carried up two photos of my close friends John and Ryan Dahlem, the oldest father-son combination to ever summit. John has become almost like a father to me in his encouragement for this climb over the last six years that I have known him and I wanted him on top with me also. My last task was to bury two tiny stones I had retrieved from the bottom of the Dead Sea last April and bury them in the snow on the top of the world. My good friend Scott Bigelow gave me two tiny wooden maps of Nebraska that he had made in his woodshop and I left one of them with the Dead Sea stones.

My wonderful family


Me with John Dahlem in a warmer place

John and Ryan Dahlem on the summit of Everest, May 24, 2010.

Considering where I was and how things had been only 36 hours earlier, I felt like the climb up was not that difficult. But, wow! how things were about to change ...

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Nebraska First

It has been confirmed by the Himalayan DataBase that Robert Kay is the first Nebraskan to reach the summit of Mount Everest. (In fact he may be the only Nebraskan to attempt it!)  The American Alpine Club's Richard Salisbury is the creator of the database. The 2016 summits of Everest will not be posed for a while but previous years' data is available. The data base is sourced through the Expedition Archives of Elizabeth Hawley. (dates covered 1905 - 2003)  You can learn more about the history of climbing the high peaks of the Himalaya by clicking this link

Posted by
Patty Kay
Lincoln, NE

Kathmandu, Nepal

Robert is resting and recovering at The Hyatt in Kathmandu.  He selected this hotel because it has reduced noise and pollution.  The hotel is buffered from both by extensive grounds and gardens which provide the hotel with a park like atmosphere. The hotel keeps western standards inside.  The Hyatt is an excellent place to recover and other climbers are also staying there.  I am sure after 6 weeks of solitude and gray landscape in the high mountains, the chaotic noise and brilliant colors in Kathmandu can be quite a shock to the system when one is totally healthy.  I am not surprised this is a haven of rest for Robert and others. Nepali family and friends, along with Trish from Altitude Junkies have come to the hotel to visit which has been a "healing balm" as Robert said in a text early today. A meal or two with fellow climbers and friends is also on Robert's agenda for the near future.

Tomorrow Robert will be visiting fellow climbers who have been hospitalized and also have another exam by the docs at CIWEC Hospital and Travel Medical Center.

He has an amazing story to tell but is still recovering. Robert is hopeful that he will be able to post to the blog himself in the next couple of days.

Thanks for all your thoughts & prayers,
Lincoln, NE

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Lukla to Kathmandu

Robert is in Kathmandu. After a visit to the CWAC hospital for some tests and an exam, Robert a took a cab to a western style hotel to rest and recover.  He will continue to go back to the CWAC hospital for check ups this week. He will be home as planned on June 1.

 I am copying two of his texts for you to read.

Elevation 4,593 ft. 1:23 a.m. CDT  "I'm in Kathmandu and am so incredibly grateful for all the people who did unbelievable things to save my life.  I am rebounding very fast!"

Elevation 4,593 ft. 10:18 a.m. CDT ..."The time difference makes it hard to call plus my cough is too distracting now.  I'm also too tired to call today.  I plan to get to work on the blog posting tomorrow. I'm refusing to go anywhere but the doctor for a couple of days so I can relax, catch up on emails, and write the blog."  

I am sure the ordeal he went through to get from the Summit of Mt. Everest back to the capital city of Nepal will be chronicled here within the week. I am hoping that Robert will take another day of complete rest before he starts any work.

Again, our sincerest thanks to all of those who helped to rescue and then provide Robert a safe and swift return to Lukla and then Kathmandu for needed medical treatment. 

Thanks for following, for your thoughts, prayer, and emails of encouragement.

Keep Safe,
Patty Kay
Still at 1,360 ft.
Lincoln, NE

Friday, May 20, 2016

Helicopter Medical Evacuation: Camp 2 to Lukla

Robert has been flown from Camp 2 to Lukla via helicopter.

The battery in his GPS locator was too low for a signal so he used his phone to send a text to me. Robert is being hospitalized for severe exhaustion and other medical conditions that will be confirmed by the physicians in Lukla and Kathmandu. His text follows below.

Robert's text 8:42 p.m.CDT May 20, 2016
"I was just flown from C2 to Lukla by Jason, the best pilot in Nepal.  I am now being treated in the hospital in Lukla by very competent docs.  I hope to be in Kathmandu by tonight.  I'm suddenly starving!! Anyway, I am VASTLY improved at the low altitude.  I've gone from 29,000 ft. to 26,000 ft. on May 19 to 21,500 ft. on May 20 and now I am at 9,300 ft. on May 21. (Nepal time)Summiting was not that hard, getting down as my condition worsened very rapidly, was 1% away from impossible.  I could walk down hill for 10-20 steps before sitting down for several minutes at a time.  All I wanted to do was sit forever which is exactly what it would have been." (without the aid of the Altitude Junkies team and others) Details of the rescue are not available to me right now but I am sure that Robert will tell the story as soon as he is physically able.

Robert and I want to thank each person involved in his rescue.  Thank you from the depths of our hearts. We also want to thank all of those who were pullin' and prayin' though the whole summit bid and return down the mountain. We really appreciate all of you and THANK YOU.

I will learn more about the descent from the summit and rescue in the next few days and will add any details to the blog, although I have a feeling it will be Robert writing the posts not too many days from now.

Thanks again for following, for your thoughts, and prayers.

Patty Kay
Lincoln, NE
Still at 1360 ft.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Descending, the Second Half of the Climb

Good Morning!

Follow the blue dots. Well, that is what I have been doing for almost 24 hours.  I did take a break at 1 a.m. (CDT) when Robert and the team had descended to 28,020 ft.  This morning I woke to find that they had made good progress and were at 26,154 ft. (5:44 a.m. CDT). Everest Camp 4 is at about 25,900 ft so they are almost back to a resting point. At 6:49 a.m. CDT, elevation 25,945 ft. they had arrived at C4.  YAY! Now they can get some needed rest and recharge the DeLorme GPS battery. (I have really enjoyed following the GPS satellite tracker.)  I hope rest is possible for Robert. He has had trouble eating and sleeping at high elevations, as have others.

I am extremely happy for Robert and thankful that the trip has been a safe one. Robert had said in one of his texts, "This is my time." He was right! Weather is such a key component in the quest for Everest.  Mother nature cooperated and I consider the clear and calm summit day a gift from God.

Friends from Lincoln and around the world have texted, emailed, or called to send congratulations.  D & J (You know who you are.) have texted that they are doing a "Happy Dance" to celebrate.  I think celebrating is a great idea, so let's all join them.  I may not dance, but I am celebrating Robert and the Junkies summit success story. I am so thankful that they are safely back at C4. After their rest, the team will continue their descent and probably pass by C3 and rest at C2.  That will depend on strength and weather.  I am praying that both are good.

Patty Kay
Lincoln, NE
Still at 1360 ft.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Top of the World Everest

Hello Everyone,

The word we've been waiting for is here.  Robert sent this message.

9:03 p.m. CDT  Elevation 29,024 ft.  "Summit"

Robert had this symbol drawn and made into stickers several years ago. This symbol has always been a visual reminder for him to work hard to reach his goals and especially to climb to the summit of 
Mt. Everest.

Our thanks to the Altitude Junkies. You Rock.
and our thanks to God. 
Posted by Patty Kay
Lincoln, NE

To The Summit, an Everest 2016 Update

At 11:49 a.m. CDT Robert was at the Elevation 27979 ft.

Many of you have been following Robert's progress with the DeLorme GPS InReach. Robert's Mother, Ruth has been keeping close watch all day. The following are her comments. She is a real wordsmith and researcher.

10:37 a.m. CDT "Thursday is Phurba. (Not pronounced like an F of course, but sort of an aspirated P.)"  Ruth is correct when she states that Robert "should summit Thursday morning".

DeLorme GPS marker 

3:49 p.m. CDT "Half and hour ago Robert was at 28,020.18 ft = 1,015 vertical feet from the summit. I'm going to see if I can find what elevation the Hilary Step is."

3:55 p.m. CDT "The Hillary Step is at 28,840 ft., just 195 ft from the summit.  At the time of the last recording of his elevation, he still had 820' to the Step.  I'm guessing that if all goes well he still has about 3 hours to go to the top."

Today I feel like I have been writing a season of the television series "24", in real time. We are almost to the end of the season so stay tuned in. Seriously, thanks so much for following along and for your thoughts and prayers for Robert's summit success and safe return.

Posted by Patty Kay
Lincoln, NE

EVEREST Camp 4 Prep Time/GO TIME!

It's go time!  I will be posting what has happened while we in CDT were all sleeping...I didn't get to bed until late, even so, I woke up and found these texts waiting for me.

12:05 a.m. CDT    Elevation: 25928 ft.  "It's now a beautiful day."

12:41 a.m.CDT    Elevation: 25,893ft.  "It really is incredible having you be so encouraging.  I am  eating a bit."

2:57 a.m. CDT     Elevation: 25,928 ft.   "What a difference a day makes! Aiming for the top at 8 tonight.  Great weather, feeling capable."

3:13 a.m. CDT     Elevation:  25,928 ft.   "I am hot at C4! This is my time! Everyone is making me strong! Leaving at 8 p.m. Thanks to all.  40 years of dreaming is down to 12 very hard hours."

4:32 a.m. CDT     Elevation: 25,945 ft.    "Most Sherpa are named for the day of the week they are born.  I hope to summit on Pasang (Friday) which is the name of our daughters' birth mother (We call her the girls Nepali Mom.) This is also the name of one of our guides."

9:02 a.m. CDT    "Summit bound."

Thanks for following and for your thoughts and prayers.

Patty Kay
Lincoln, NE

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Camp 4, Day 2

Hello Everyone,

The team survived the long, cold night at Camp 4.  I am thankful that the sun is rising on the Himalayas.  I hope they have a good day and reach their summit goal with calm and dry weather.

These notes were sent by Robert though DeLorme GPS.

8:09 p.m. CDT  Elevation 25,910 ft .
"Survived the night.  Don't think anyone tried going up.  Our team goes tonight.  Not sure about me."

8:27 p.m. CDT Elevation 25,893 ft.
"I have small frostbite on left cheek.  Everything covered in ice and snow, clothes wet.  Sun is out, no wind."

8:40 p.m. CDT Elevation 25,893 ft.
"Don't know about drying clothes out, face hurts but I can deal with it. Sangee is looking after me.  Need any good forecast we can get."

Those are all the notes I have for now. Thanks for following, for your thoughts, and prayers.  They are much appreciated.

Posted by Patty
Lincoln, Nebraska
Elevation 1360 ft.

Everest Camp 4

Hello everyone,

I have been receiving DeLorme text messages from Robert.  Things are happening fast on the mountain.  We have been praying for a miracle and I think it just happened a few minutes ago.
Robert is making his decision to proceed or turn back as I am writing this post.

Elevation:  25,928 ft., 7:07 a.m. CDT   "My climb is over.  I've never suffered like this.  2 big days to get to base camp then relax & warm."

Elevation:  25,893ft., 7:51 a.m. CDT    "We are wet and cold with wind up to 85 mph. I'm in a 3 man tent with 3 Sherpa. No sleep tonight."

Elevation:  25,893 ft., 8:36 a.m. CDT   "The wind just died and the team is going to try.  I am  uncertain."

Monday, May 16, 2016

Everest Summit Push Camp 3

Robert has sent a couple of DeLorme in reach GPS texts that report of his progress. (This is such
amazing technology.  I am very thankful for it! Kudos to DeLorme.)

I have Robert's short notes quoted below.

Saturday, May 14, 2016 at 8:21 P.M. CDT

"I am feeling better today." Elevation 21,235 ft.

Monday, May 16, 2016 at 12:29 A.M. CDT

"Camp 3.  I was the second fastest."   Elevation 23, 331 ft.

Posted by Patty Kay
Lincoln, NE
Elevation 1,360 ft.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Summit Push Notes

I received this text message and two Delorme GPS reports from Robert at the start of the AJ Team Summit Bid.
Posted by
Patty Kay
Lincoln, NE

May 12
"I am off to bed and will get up at 11:40 p.m. (Nepal time) for breakfast at midnight.  We leave for C2 at 1 a.m. (Nepal time).  I am prepared and ready but also nervous.  I'm praying that I will do well and that we will have great weather."

May 14 2:27 a.m. our time (CDT)
I received a GPS report with a message."Very hard day...Hurting badly...On meds." Elevation noted on the message was 21,296 ft.

May 14  9 a.m. our time (CDT)
I received a GPS report that Robert had reached C2, elevation 21,272 ft. in 10 hours and 25 minutes.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Everest Base Camp Photo Op

From left to right:  Phil Crampton, Sangee Sherpa, Robert Kay, Pasang Oongchu

The summit push is about to start

I finally have some news worth reporting. After twelve days of waiting for the rope fixers to put in the route to the top and also waiting for a good weather window, we believe we finally have both problems solved. 

A team of nine Sherpas finished fixing the ropes late yesterday afternoon at 5:02 pm so the mountain is now fully open for climbing. Our forecast is also showing a brief weather window coming up and we aim to take advantage of this opportunity. 

It is a balancing act between looking for low winds and warmer temps vs avoiding the large crowds that can stop you in your tracks, sometimes for one to two hours. There are a number of very large teams aiming for May 19 and 20 so we've decided to try for the 18th. The winds may be 5-10 mph higher but the consensus is that this beats standing at 28,700' at the Hillary Step waiting and waiting for slow climbers to get moving. 

This means we will leave base camp (17,500') at 1:00 am on Saturday May 14 Nepal time. We will climb through the icefall during the coldest part of the night to lessen the risk of something big falling on us. If things go well we will emerge into the Western Cwm about 5-8 hours later. Here we will rest a bit, eat and drink something and then walk another three hours to Camp 2 (about 21,300').

We will spend two nights there to gather our strength and then leave for Camp 3 (about 24,000') some time around 2-3 am on the 16th. It will take us 4-6 hours to reach this camp that is literally carved into the ice on the Lhotse Face. We will rest and sleep here and then make another early start for Camp 4 on the 17th, hoping to arrive there after 6-8 hours of very hard work. We start using oxygen at this point. We will rest and try to eat and drink a little but most find this almost impossible. I know I certainly struggle to get anything down at this high elevation (about 26,000'). 

And now the really hard work begins. We will leave C4 sometime in the evening, probably about 9:00 pm. From here we climb 3,000' to the summit (HOPEFULLY TO THE SUMMIT!!). It takes anywhere from 7-14 hours to do this. This means we summit on the morning of May 18. I am hoping for nice weather so we can linger there for 10-20 minutes, get some pictures and enjoy the view that I've dreamed of for almost 40 years. We then get down as fast as possible to C4. 

Some members of our team may have enough strength to rest there for an hour or two before dropping all the way down to C2. I highly doubt I will be one of those lucky people. This means we endure a second night in one of the most inhospitable places on the planet before getting up at 5 am and moving down to C2. After another unpleasant night at C2 we again leave early and return to base camp.

That is the plan and dream as of May 12. I am obviously hoping to summit this time. I turned around pretty high on the mountain in 2010 and 2013 and never even stepped foot on it on my 2014 attempt. That was the year when a freak avalanche killed 16 mountain workers and all climbing was halted. I really don't want to get close again only to turn back. 

However, I also want to live and to have all my body parts. This means I am fully prepared to come back down if I feel that I am endangering either myself or my two remarkable Sherpa companions. 

Speaking of my two climbing partners, they are Sangee Sherpa and Pasang Oongchu Sherpa. I've climbed several times with Sangee and trust him with my life. He's strong, kind, helpful and always has a smile. I know his wife and son and count it a special privilege to climb with him. 

Pasang Oongchu is the sirdar (head Sherpa) for our team and is one of only a handful of Sherpa who have qualified to become an internationally recognized mountain guide. He's gone through extensive training and testing. I've known him for several years and admire his strength and skills. I specially requested both of these men to be my climbing partners and Phil generously allowed this. 

It is getting very real all of a sudden and I'm feeling nervous but cautiously optimistic. It will be an extremely difficult week. The temperatures are always extremely cold, it is nearly impossible to eat, drink or sleep, even the smallest of tasks requires a Herculean effort and there are times when you seriously doubt your skills and abilities. I've done everything I can possibly think of to prepare for this and will never be more ready. 

Wish us all good luck and keep us in your thoughts and prayers. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Return to base camp

We flew from Kathmandu to the small village of Lobuche on the morning of May 4 and then walked a little under three hours to base camp. Our foray to warmer weather and better appetites was wonderful. I feel so much better, both mentally and physically. We managed to miss a lot of cold and snowy weather during our absence and I for one am grateful.

It looks like we will have another day or two of this less than ideal weather but our tents are dry and comfortable.

The rope fixers are currently putting in the rope the last 400 meters to the South Col and the our amazing Sherpa staff will haul tents and oxygen to there in anticipation of our summit bid. Phil believes we will summit around the 15th which is quite early. There will be no complaints from me!


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Unorthodox second Everest rotation

Everest and Nuptse from Kala Patthar. Everest is on the left.

Our team is trying an unorthodox second rotation method in our preparations for a summit attempt in a week or two. Historically - say 5 to 30 years ago - teams have climbed from base camp to camp 1 (about 20,000'). They tend to spend one or two nights there, maybe walking part of the way to camp 2 (about 21,500'), and then return to base camp to recover. They will next make a climb to camp 2 for one to five nights with possibly a partial climb up the Lhotse face, sometimes as far as camp 3 (about 23,500' to 24,000'). Some groups will spend a miserable night at camp 3. Some groups are using exactly this method this season. There is also a much smaller history of people never leaving base camp until it's time for the summit push. Six weeks at 17,500' will definitely raise your acclimatization levels. In other words, there is not "one way" to do this.

Our team made one rotation, spending a night in camp 1 and then three nights in camp 2. These are never fun trips. Your body is starving for oxygen and the side effects are many. I experienced bad headaches, a huge loss of appetite and almost no sleep for the three of the four nights. It's cold, unpleasant and not much fun. On the plus side, we made huge advances in our acclimatization and enjoyed some incredible scenery. 

I also lost about 10 pounds in the five days/four nights I was up there and felt noticeably weaker. And I was not alone in this.

This year things tend to be different for many of the teams on Everest for two reasons. The biggest difference this year is the very warm temperatures and the secondary issue is that the past winter saw very little snow. This is causing the ordinarily dangerous Khumbu icefall (the first obstacle out of base camp) to be far more dangerous than normal. As a result nobody wants to make any unneeded trips through the icefall. The expedition operators were even successful in lobbying the Nepali government into allowing helicopters to bring the ropes for above C1, a first in Everest history. This saved an estimated 87 Sherpa trips through the icefall, potentially saving lives. I and many others would prefer to see helicopters used to ferry virtually all needed supplies and equipment past this section. I realize the "purists" at home who can't even find Nepal on a map will frown upon this but I couldn't care less about their opinions; I care about Sherpa safety and climber safety. 

With all this in mind, the question is what do we do now that our first rotation is over with? Well, our team decided to go down to Kathmandu for 2-3 nights vs up to C2 again. Does this make any sense at all? First, consider life at base camp. It tends to be chilly by day and really cold at night. This can wear you down after a while. You also don't eat as well as you would like at these high altitudes so you are slowly growing weaker. Kathmandu is warm and low. You eat and sleep very well; small cuts, bruises and minor health issues all heal very quickly. In other words you are getting stronger very quickly. I know, we are a bunch of spoiled Western sissies. Sorry. We aren't here saving lives; this is for fun and after a while it ceases to be fun! We decided to trade a little acclimatization for a lot of regained weight and strength. 

Variations on this "drop back" theme have been used successfully over the years. Many groups have gone down to one of the villages at about 12,000' to 13,000'. The problem is the walk back up to base camp at 17,500' uses a lot of the energy you just regained. The tea houses also have lots of strangers in them, all spreading germs around. People can get sick here and with a summit bid just around the corner, you might not have time to fully heal up.

In the past few years with the introduction of very powerful helicopters, some people have returned to Kathmandu for a short break and this has proven very beneficial to them. Doctors tell us that you gain and lose acclimatization at about the same rate. This means 2-3 nights down low is not a deal breaker for us. Think of it this way: we don't know if our summit bid will start the 5th, 10th, 15th or even 20th of May. With a window of perhaps one to three weeks for the start of our summit bid, three days in Kathmandu becomes relatively insignificant. The slight loss of acclimatization is more than made up for with the regained physical strength and mental rejuvenation.

Our trusty Manang Air helicopter, flown by Laurence, a Swill pilot who I really enjoyed.

Out little team enjoying three nights of R&R at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kathmandu.

It certainly seems to be working for our crew. One look at their faces today vs three days ago will quickly reveal how positive this experience has been. Haggard and tired countenances are now glowing and full of life. You truly feel like a new man. 

Ok, so I know it helps today and I am pretty certain it will help in the upcoming summit push. But what about the naysayers? First of all, screw the naysayers! This is my life, not yours. I don't mind if you sit around and do whatever it is that you do; show us the same courtesy. Much of the criticism circles back to that tired old argument that we are a bunch of rich, bucket listing Westerners exploiting the noble Sherpa for our own selfish objectives. I've addressed this nonsense in the past but allow me to repeat myself. 

No one forces anyone to do anything on Everest. It simply wouldn't work. I 100% acknowledge the critical role the Sherpa perform. I would be lucky to get myself and my gear to base camp without their strength, intelligence and abilities that far exceed mine. No argument here at all. Compared to me, they are like a race of supermen. No Sherpa = no summit. Period, full stop! I admire them, consider them as my betters, go out of my way to not take advantage of them and will (and have) abandoned my own summit dreams if I felt that continuing would in any way put them at too much risk. I only climb with groups like Altitude Junkies who pay them proper wages, provide them with proper equipment including adequate oxygen and don't allow them to carry large loads. This costs me more money; I don't care. These guys are my friends and I don't abuse my friends. Given the chance, I might abuse some of the naysayers. ;)

But I'm in Kathmandu and they are carrying loads for me up to C3 and C4. Is that abusive? No, and here's why. If I were in base camp they would still be doing this for me. I don't possess the strength to perform that task, and neither does virtually any other Westerner. They are well paid to perform certain tasks and whether I am at base camp, Kathmandu or on the moon, that is their responsibility and my physical location plays no role in this. In fact, by being here, the workload is actually lessened for them. The kitchen staff is able to sleep in and take things easy for a few days. I'm not around to bother the climbing Sherpa while they do their jobs. We are a burden and not a help to the Sherpa. Our absence eases that burden. 

Some say we are in some way cheating. Seriously? How is it possible to cheat in something that isn't a competition, means nothing to anyone but the participant and that has no rules? Let me cite one example. When climbing Elbrus, the highest point in Europe, most climbers will make one or more hikes up to a particular set of rocks to help their acclimatization. When it's actually go-time, they will then ride in a snow cat up to that point and climb from there. The rationale is that they've already done that work and now they only need to climb the rest of the way. This is the accepted way to climb Elbrus. By extension, this means I should be able to take a helicopter back up to C2 and climb from there. But simply suggesting this in jest brings out the smug "you're an idiot, I know better" looks and comments from people. With that in mind, I fail to see how three days and nights of good food and sleep is in any way "cheating".

To the naysayers: you do things your way and I will do them mine. I am climbing Everest for simple reasons; to enjoy myself in the mountains, to reach a PERSONAL goal and to come home safely to my family. I am making no grandiose claims of my skills, strengths or the importance of what I'm doing. I just want to climb to the top and have a good time on the way.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

To Camp II And Back Again Photos

Sange Sherpa in the icefall

Sunrise on Pumori as we are returning to Everest Base Camp

The view of the Lhotse face and the west shoulder of Everest from C2

Sange crossing the ladder in the icefall

The Lhotse face looking up to the South Col and Camp 4

Sange nearing the end of the icefall

Sange in the icefall

Friday, April 29, 2016

Camp 2 rotation complete

First the important news: our Everest team is all back down safely in base camp. Now...the rest of the story. 

We left base camp as expected at 1:00 am on Monday the 25th. The route up through the icefall is different this year following the tragic avalanche of 2014 that killed 16 mountain workers. While safer from overhead risks, it is a much more demanding route vs prior years. I was climbing quite steadily with Sange Sherpa, my friend and guide. The night began very cold but I tend to generate a lot of heat when exerting myself and soon layered down to my shirts and a soft shell jacket. I slowly became colder and colder but didn't want to stop to add the needed layers of insulation. 

Eventually I became super cold and I think this coupled with the very high respiratory rate required of moving quickly up through the glacier brought on my first ever asthma attack. My mom and son both suffer from asthma and I've heard all the descriptions of the near impossibility of breathing but actually feeling it was more than eye opening. I would stand still for several minutes and breath with all my might and could not find any oxygen for my aching lungs. I would hesitantly take a few steps and then be forced to a halt to just gasp for air. 

The hardest portion of the climb was still ahead of me. There's a near vertical wall about 35 feet high at the top of the icefall. Everyone agreed there should be a ladder there bot there isn't. To make things worse, the bottom 8 feet have been kicked by so many cramponed feet that the wall is concaved inward. The result is a bulge of ice a little higher than your head that forces you away from the wall just when you absolutely don't want that to happen. 

I failed to negotiate this section several times and retreated back down to consider my options.  Eventually Sange downclimbed to me and took my backpack. That made just enough of a difference and I was able to get over this difficult 8 feet using every ounce of strength I had. Once over the worst, all I could do was lean into the ice and desperately gasp for air. A few more minutes and I reached the top which was thankfully flat snow. I fell to the ground and lay on my back for perhaps ten minutes desperately trying to not vomit in front of all the other people who weren't feeling much better than myself. 

Another hour of slow plodding and I reached the camp 1 tents. I more or less fell into my tent and pretty much stayed there for about 18 hours. I recovered quite well and made the trek to camp 2 in three hours which is respectable as many are taking four or more hours to go the distance. My recovery was not due to anything I did but to the tremendous care Sange gave me.  He melted snow, made tea, gave me food, deployed my sleep pad and bag and just looked after me.  I'm truly grateful. 

Camp 2 is a bleak place surrounded by magnificent scenery. I was unable to sleep at all at C1 and managed a few minutes my first night at C2. I also "enjoyed" a very bad headache. The wind almost never stopped our first night and it was cold.  The second day there was spent just like our first partial day: resting and trying to eat. I slept better the second night, maybe 4-5 hours. 

The third day was spent with a little exercise. I walked about 80 minutes uphill to the bottom of the Lhotse face and managed a good speed. It took 35 minutes to get back to C2. The third night was better and worse. The wind and its associated noise went away and I slept perhaps half or more of the night. But, it got desperately cold. I wore my down vest, a light and heavy down jacket, three shirts, warming pants, long johns, down pants and down booties inside my zero degree sleeping bag and still shivered for hours. 

We woke at 4:00 am, had breakfast and headed down at 5:15. There had been a collapse in the icefall which slowed us a little and it took 
Sange and me about six hours to reach base camp. During this time the temps went from extremely cold to so warm that I was overheating in a t-shirt!

I know I'm better acclimatized for having done this rotation and will be stronger when it comes time for the summit push. But right now I'm just enjoying not being cold and hungry!

Thanks for reading along with me!