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Prayer flags above Dingboche. Lhotse and Island Peak in the background.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

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. 


  1. Good luck and may you have a safe attempt! Thinking of all of you!

  2. So excited for you! Hang in there. Will make sure Lux students cheer you on from Lincoln!

  3. Robert, give it your all, and remember that there is no shame in turning back! That said, bag the peak!! -Case Maranville