Newsletter 2323 May 2001
The Summit Pyramid, a big triangle of snow that dominates the North Side, is far from the top. In the middle of the slope, our pal Evelyne was descending, the first Swiss woman to reach the top. I was so happy for her, and we stopped and smiled and hugged. It was a great hug, filling me with some needed energy.
After filming Marco and hugging Evelyne, I had become seperated from the groups, and continued alone across this slope and entered even more slabs of rock. The view: thousands of feet of air leading to the Rongbuk glacier. Thin strips of rope led me on and into a narrow cleft. With little ledges, the downward sloping rock is criss crossed with the scratch marks of crampons. Every crampon that has been here has slipped at least an inch every time a climber weights it. The technique: try to fall upward a bit faster than you were slipping downward.
I pulled myself up the last of this rock pitch and there, a rise or two above me, was the summit. 100 feet away, an undulating crest, a sprinkling of friends and a summit jammed with damned people. It was absurd. Isn't climbing Everest supposed to be hard. Where did these people come from.
At the first crest, I met Ellen, Keiron, Karsang (Tibet) and Phurba heading down. We hugged each other and I shot some more video of them. A bit further along, I watched Naoki and Karsang (Nepal) summit. Robert was searching for some peace just below the summit, enjoying his own little place on the top of the world.
I made it to the top just past 10 am, and searched for a place to sit down. Naoki handed me his camera and I snapped some photos of him. Clouds were hiding much of the view, but Lhotse looked incredible, with the Lhotse Coulior rising straight up the black face. Makalu was capped by cloud as was Cho Oyu.
Over 30 people huddled on the top. "Want to call your wife?'' someone pushed a phone outward. Guys in red jackets were organizing for an historic presentation. Spanish TV was trying to broadcast live.
My Everest was obviously down below. Robert was right, seek peace where you can find it. I slipped from the crowd and found a wonderful spot. The end of a prayer flag was tied to a stone and I chose this flat and safe place to lay out the gifts and mementos I had been given the last two years. The gold encrusted, bejeweled Jubuliam cross came out first. This was created by the Catholic Church to be commemorate the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ. I was now a year late, but... Greg Pickering was an arm chair climber, and paralyzed. Greg died this past summer. I was given his "pointer" to leave on the top. He used the pointer to navigate the internet, following dispatches from Everest expeditions. A picture of a gym member's son's wedding, Buddhist prayer flags and a black pouch filled with a crystal from Mt. Kailas. It all made a nice scene, a kind of puja.
I pulled out a laminated photo of Greg. I laughed at the juxtaposition of him wearing a t-shirt, with a leafy background, sitting in the comfort of a motorized wheel chair. "OK Greg, take a good look around." as I swiveled in place so he could get a 360 degree view of the world. "Now you've got your work cut out for you. Get us down safely." Afterall, I figured that he was an expert at falling down. Greg's diligence might be just what the team needed.
As Robert, then Naoki, Karsang and Dawa descended I took the last of my photos. I wanted to get some hero shots of me holding various banners. No go. I improvised with a rock and an ice ax. There is a subtle difference in artistic interpretation between the white snow of Everest's summit and the white snow of my backyard..but I promise this is the real thing.
I pushed myself up and headed down. One last glance backwards and I was amazed that the pageants were still unfolding on the summit. Seeking a bigger stage, people were gathered near the lip of the cornice. A miracle kept them from falling through.
Meeting Andy, Asmuss and Jaime I crossed the summit snow pyramid about 11:30 am and came upon Andy, Asmuss and Jaime.
"Hey Andy, you are at least 3 hours round trip. Are you sure you want to be going on."
"Yeah, we are climbing smoothly and Jaime really wants to keep going." All three of them were smiling and patting me with congratulations.
"It's the chance of a lifetime," Jaime said so lucidly I was impressed.
Russ came on the radio: "Andy are sure you want to keep going. It's getting late."
"Yeah, Russ, we are going to pull it off. We've got the strength." "What about oxygen?"
"Russ, Chris here, I can leave my bottle on top of the second step. That bottle is 3/4 full."
"Listen Andy, this is your call. Your the guide on the spot. But you've got to get moving."