Day 48/49. Summit Day

Posted by neil On May - 29 - 2012

Day 48. 24th/25th May Summit Day.
At 10 pm I stepped out of my tent. I had messed about for the last two hours with battery powered feet warmers and eventually deput back in my standard insoles but by now my feet were cold especially my left one. This is the worst position to be in with any cold expeditions let alone Everest, and I have to say as I joined the group I was very worried about what could happen in the next 12 hours. My Sherpa and I joined the que of about 35 people in about the middle. Then we started the climb. The good thing about going in the dark is that you can’t see further than your head torch, a climb like Everest can be very daunting and can put you into a very negative mode. We climbed straight up from camp 8300, at the beginning it was just steep shingle and stone. Wang Chung  didn’t mess about, if we came across someone that was resting or going slow we just went in front of them, I had a few pushes from the people but I just focused on the climb. I guess people don’t mind letting one in front but two is taking the Micky. Then we hit the first of the technical climbing. My Scottish mixed climbing experience was a huge advantage and the fact that this was Wang Chungs 7th summit bid we broke away from the group. We climbed into the night and I felt great, I thought to myself ” this is great, I’m going to really enjoy this”. And then we came across the first dead body. Bang! Everything changed, I knew of this body, the guy with the green boots. I have read about him lots of times. But seeing him and the position of him started my mind racing. How did he get to be in this situation, he obviously was trying to shelter from the cold. I started thinking, did he feel like I do on his way up all those years ago? I mean I’m in the death zone, my body could just give up like his did. Then as we climbed further we came across more. Each one in different positions. Some of them still attached to the fixed ropes just inches from the track. The thing is that they didn’t even look real. Nothing lives up there so nothing rots, all of the body’s looked like manikins, if there hands were exposed with no gloves they just looked like normal hands and the faces and hair were all still in place. I tried not to look but you can’t help wonder how they ended up in the predicament  that they were in and you can’t help compare their situation with what you are doing. People have been so freaked out with the body’s on Everest that they have given up there summit bid. We climbed on eventually we made it to mushroom rock, this would be the half way point and where we would get new oxy. After changing out our cylinders we left, Wang Chung took the lead and into the darkness we went. The next body we passed had only been there for six days, his back pack still clipped to the old fixed ropes and he hung from the new fixed ropes upside down facing down the mountain. I moved on trying not to look. We then came to what I now know was the second step. At the time I thought it was the first step. This is the most technical part of the whole climb. The first part is over some complicated rock which leads to a 25 foot ladder, I had no difficulty with it and this is where we broke away from the group. The second step has a reputation of people having to wait because you get people up there with no climbing skills at all taking forever to get over the rock part to get to the ladder. And then everyone waiting starts to get cold. We climbed on through more technical areas then across the ridge which is only about a foot wide, to the left three km of vertical fall and to the right two and a half km of vertical fall. You have to be very careful on this section. You are always attached to a fixed rope, but to be honest I wouldn’t want to put my life on the rope. We had to keep stopping and waiting for the group as we were supposed to travel together, we weren’t racing ahead but going at our natural comfortable speed. The thing with stopping is that you start getting cold and that’s not good. My cold feet had taken about 2.5 hours to get rid of and I had to work hard with my left foot to get the blood flowing, every time I stopped I worked the foot moving the toes. And now with stopping it was offering to come back. We came off the ridge and onto snow soon i could see what looked like a tent in the distance with its reflective parts shining in the dark with our head torches. I wasn’t wrong it was a tent but my eyes played tricks on me with the size of the item, it turned out to be a body curled up in a tent, another poor victim of this desolate place. The fixed rope seemed to be attached very close to the body. Wang Chung disconnected us about 20 feet from the body and took a wide path past it, clipping my lanyard to himself, he also wasn’t that keen on the body’s. The terrane became very steep and climbing became hard  slowly we climbed up eventually reaching a more level plane. Then up again, all the time I’m thinking that this second step is going to turn up soon and I knew that after the second step we still had 1.5 hours of climbing. I was for the first time thinking I don’t know if I have the strength to make it, I was really getting tired. Again the terrane got steeper and we climbed higher. The wind had been with us the whole night but now it seemed to be stronger and colder than ever. Then something in front of me jumped up off the snow, for a second I couldn’t figure out what it was then another and another, then I noticed it was prayer flags. I said to Wang Chung ” what’s this for” he said to me ” this is the summit” in my confusion I said to him “but where’s the second step?”. Between relief and confusion I didn’t know what to say. We shook hands and hugged. It was 3.50 on the 25th of May and I was standing on the top of mount Everest. I looked down at the stream of lights coming up behind us and then it registered, it was still the middle of the night, it was pitch black, how was I going to get my pictures taken of the two banners that I had painstakingly carried up. I asked how long till daylight and was told two hours. I thought to myself that can’t be right, it’s daylight at just before 5am. It turned out that we had to sit for about an hour, by this time all Kobler clients and all Sherpas summited. It was very cold on top and the camera that Radek gave me had frozen, I had my I phone but inside my down suit, and the zip down the front of the down suit had frozen solid from the condensation from my oxy mask. It wouldn’t have made any difference any way as you have to use the I phone with bare hands and we were under strict instructions not to take our gloves off. Later in the day Daniel arrived at ABC suffering from frost bite to his fingers, I never saw him with his gloves off but it goes to show how cold it is up there. I got the signal to go from Wang Chung and we started the descent. Going down was nearly as bad as coming up with regards to the body’s, on the way up we had walked passed some of them only inches from us but haven’t seen them. Some of them squeezed into cracks of rocks obviously hiding from the cold. I just wanted down and from there on it was full speed ahead as fast as my legs would go. We were down to 8300 in a couple of hours. From here i have to make my way down with out the Sherpa but not on my own so I have to wait for the next person to come down to travel with. Kari also had an extra client for the summit who had a private guide with him, his name was Peter. So when they arrived I was allowed to go down with them. I didn’t stop at 7800 infact  I never stopped till 7000 where Kari was waiting with a can of Coke for me. I spent about half an hour there an eventually got my down suit off. Then I was given permission to go down to ABC by myself. Wang Chung had given me a new bottle of oxy at 8300 and cranked it up to 3 ltrs per min. He said you go fast to ABC. So I still had half a tank left at 7000. So I went as fast as I could back to ABC. Even with the oxy I started to feel the fatigue setting in and by the time I got to ABC I was broken. I got there at just after 1 pm. I had some thing to eat and drunk 11 glasses of water, I was so dehydrated. The frozen zip of my down suit had caused many problems as my water was also inside my down suit. I went and slept till about 5pm and then went and sat in the mess tent. Peter was there with Sammy, Daniel and Christian didn’t turn up till nearly 6pm, both of them had snow blindness and Daniel as I said had frost bite in both his hands. We ate our dinner and went to bed. 

6 Responses to “Day 48/49. Summit Day”

  1. Anne & Dave Young says:

    Gosh – don’t know how you did it – you are one very brave, strong-willed guy and your family must be very very proud.


  2. Congratulations Neil! Very well done.

  3. Paul McD says:

    That is the side of climbing that you don’t hear about, the debris (materials and bodies) that are left up there.
    Amazing account, get it into a book! That will get you some money for research!
    Well done Neil, now get yourself home to your family!
    Don’t leave them for so long again.


  4. MacPherson's says:

    Oh Neil,
    Your whole blog, and in particular the summit days account have been very compelling to read.
    You have achieved something amazing and we are all do proud of you – but I echo what Paul said – hurry home!
    It’s where we like you best! X

  5. Carol says:

    Wow, Like Sandra, I have found the whole blog compelling to read but “summit day” brought home even more, if possible what an amazing and incredible journey both physical/literal and personal journey you have been on.

    A fantastic achievement for a great cause. Well done!