NEWSLETTERS - Everest Expedition 2003

Newsletter 826 May 2003

"The one you've all been waiting for..."

Advanced Base Camp
Mount Everest
4:00pm May 25th

Well this is the one you've all been waiting for so I won't beat about the bush.

1st - all are safe and well and back in ABC - although various folk sustained superficial frostbite or snow blindness etc.

2nd - Sue and Chung pulled out of the attempt at camp 2 with illness and returned to regroup at ABC hoping for another bid later in the month.

3rd - the Summit Results on May 22nd 2003

Trynt summitted circa. 9:11am
Herman summitted circa. 10:23am
Matt summitted circa. 10:30am
Gernot summitted circa. 10:40am
Zeddy summitted circa. 11:30am
Tony turned back 48metres from the top with oxygen problems.

Ok, here are the own words of those who made the attempt.

Confidence flip flopped prior to starting. En route to the N. Col. my pack was too heavy and I felt tired. But C1 to C2 was great and yet C2 to C3 was tough again. Up to C4 it was a good day. We woke at 9:30pm on summit day and I was focussed, calm and felt good. The hike off into the night was good and I just felt stronger and stronger (almost euphoric even). Between the 1st and 2nd steps I pushed past a lot of slower people because I didn't want to wait. I could see lots of folk who were not good climbers. After the 2nd step I thought it was too windy and actually turned back for 20mins. or to the top of the 2nd step but then the wind dropped and I thought it would be ok. Off we went back towards the 3rd step. Then ploughed on feeling good all the way up the summit pyramid. I reached the top at 9:11am with around 10 other people. I stayed there for no more than 10mins and felt it was urgent to get to down. Although the pace was good descending there were issues at bottlenecks with others still coming up. Abseiling down tattered and frayed old rope was scary at the 2nd step. Close to the exit cracks I tried to revive what I thought was a sick climber but it turned out to be a 4 year old frozen solid dead body - it freaked me out. I managed to descend past high camp at 8300m to C3 at 7900m. Dorje my sherpa was amazing - cool, calm, professional and supportive and he managed all the way down from the 2nd step to 7900 without oxygen.

I went for it.
I got it.
It was a little bit touristic.
The weather was bad, no beautiful views.
I learned a lot about people in difficult circumstances.

It was a big adventure, even with all the Himex infrastructure, its on the human limit. People should be good prepared and a lot of mountaineering experience to be safe. Some have and some have not got this. Its a big decision of who is ready and who is not. Big challenge on the limit. Its also a personal decision to face it. I have learned that guiding on an 8000m peak is very different from guiding on a 6000m peak or in the Alps. You can't walk as a group so people have to be more independent. Difficult to maintain control of the group. Difficult decisions on the balance of individual ability and yet level of committment. Its interesting to observe the mechanism of air in and lung performance the higher and higher you go. Even easy things become difficult. Sleeping bag zips, toilet etc. are all hard work. Eventually oxygen is essential to be able to do anything. You get very lethargic. Its a battle all the way. Passing people you don't speak, they are all having the same problems as you are. You are focessed inwardly.
Around 10:30pm on the 21st I got up and prepared the tea, it felt like normally getting ready for a trip, it was a normal tension - but reminding myself its the biggest tour.

I was lucky to be in the front of a big group of 30 people leaving high camp. At the exit cracks on the ridge I felt good, it had taken 3hrs or so. I got a shock when a member sat too near the cornice so I grabbed them back. On the ridge line people moved well. The rock approach to the second step took me 3 attempts - I didn't trust the old rope there. My climbing was not elegant but it had to do. The ladder was easy but the whole 2nd step was a bottleneck. Moving to the 3rd step, I talked to Purbar about the weather because my client was getting nervous about the wind. Purbar decided to go on. The wind dropped. On the summit approach, at about 8:00am I continued to have the same problems I had all morning with freezing oxygen mask and goggles, the wind was irritating my right eye all the time. Gernot met up and Trynt was about 1hr in front. I summitted at 10:23am and kissed the summit. Took some photos and Matt and Purbar arrived. Did some more promo photo's for Russell. I waited about 40mins because 11:00am was our deadline. Gernot had arrived and as I left Zeddy came up the slope slightly later than the cut off but I let him go.

As I descended, my oxygen was getting low and, at the 2nd step, the new bottle was like a drug. Abseiling off the step was very hard work. Gernot and Zeddy were together with me now. Further back along the ledge system, after some time, I thought I saw some Chinese climbers waving and maybe taking photographs. It turned out not to be a Chinese photo shoot but Tony and Dawa and Tony had run out of oxygen and was in trouble. I gave him my oxygen. At this time, although everyone was late, everyone was ok. For me this was the closing stages, we are all ok. Although I expected it would be a tough survival night at 8300 Camp 4, because we would not reach 7900 C3.

A long hard day, especially for non pure mountaineers and non atheletes. Without sherpa assistance and team support this mountain is impossible to achieve. If you lack the mental and physical strength you cannot make it. I was surprised how many old oxygen bottles are on the mtn. Its difficult to control who has taken what bottle. I started to run low on oxygen after the 3rd step and my sherpa was looking for another bottle which he found. I summitted around 11:30am. There was no one on top when I arrived, I had passed Gernot and Matt as I went up. Then lots of others arrived, Rumanian, Japanese etc. and a very fat man. Tsring my sherpa was looking into Nepal longingly and we saw climbers coming up from the south side. I took a few digi photos, bowed to Allah, placed my Kuwaiti national flag on the summit of Mount Everest and started to descend.

My goggles and glasses were icing up, this had been a problem coming up. I had decided to risk snow blindness. I knew getting down would be slow, because I have very bad knees. The weather cleared and so I could see all the heights and since I am scarred of heights, it was difficult crossing the exposed ledges. On the way down, I do a deal with frenchman, trade oxygen bottles. Purbar checks all is all right and puts it in my pack. Purbar also helps me abseil down the 2nd step, which was very scary. Eventually I see 8300 camp and was so relieved. As I walked along the ridge I caught my down suit in the crampons of a dead man. I saw the rest of the team and was exhausted. I was still worried something might happen. The next day, I was snow blind. It was very painful. This was a gamble and I took it.. If you paid me a million dollars to go back I wouldn't.

30 year dream that, through the grace of god & luck, came to fruition. ABC to camp 4 was what we prapared for. Camp 4 to the summit you enter another dimension, what I call the "the Everest Extreme" (more often called the Death Zone). Everything was clearer, yet foggier, real and surrealer. There was a 35kt wind in the side of the face , strong then light. The 1st step then diffident 2nd steps. Also the bodies to step over - then more snow, more wind, more blindness. Wanted to give up a number of times - but like in life, no quit just push on.. Then there was the summit covered in ice in the clouds. I sat there in 1 place for 30 minutes and thanked god for his good graces in making this (the summit) happen. I also prayed for my sister who I hope is still alive now - due to terminal cancer. I also, thanked my 12 year old son and my company Tidewater Marine in giving me this opportunity to make this attempt. Finally, thanks to Russell Brice our guides and sherpas. Without these people no way could we complete the challenges in life. Thanks to Tony "the trekker", Laura, Andy, Sissell and all.

I'll use my piece to cover my own thoughts but also to fill in a bit of background around the overall climb that some of the pieces above miss out. Well I suppose I could have got closer than 48metres before turning back, but if I had, it would have been someone else writing this dispatch. ABC through C1, C2 and C3 was relatively straight forward, although we did have some fairly chunky winds to contend with. But I've done the route now so many times this year and back in 2000 that it was drama free. Above C3 on oxygen was not tough climbing. Getting used to working hard on mixed terrain with an Oxy mask, doing its best to restrict your view to less than 60%, is frustrating for a climber. We like to see our feet, particularly when presented with placements above thousands of feet of exposure. C4 or High Camp is the spring board for summit bids and the afternoon is spent brewing tea to hydrate and making water for the next day. My own stay at C4 was coloured by being set on fire by my tent mate (who ironically is the only professional fire fighter on the team). I managed to put out my flaming eyebrows, sizzled hair and what have you, in time to kick the offending propane/butane stove out of the tent but not before it had rendered the entrance area to charred tatters, held together by the odd mangled zip. It was a cold night but then we only had around 2 or 3 hours of sleep scheduled before getting up at 9:30pm to leave around 11:30pm.

There were 4 major things to contend with between C4 and the summit and 3 of them conspired to aggrievate the 4th - an oxygen problem. 1st the route, as you might expext its a tad difficult in places and there are one or two spots, such as the rock and bouldering approaches below the 2nd step, which are particularly difficult (witness our guide needing 3 attempts and I watched several others of our team fall off twice in their attempts. One of whom swung out into the fresh air over the north face until I pulled him back in and unsuspended him from his jumar). These areas caused bottlenecks. They caused bottlenecks because of the 2nd issue - this is the 50th anniversary year of the first ascent and there are a lot of people on the hill. Approx. 30 or more left top camp when we did and although a few of our folk were at the front of the pack, I'm afraid I was not. This simple fact cost me a couple of hours overall. An hour or so in rather nippy conditions at night on 2litres/min oxy flow rate soon chews through the contents of a bottle. The 3rd facet of this equation is the weather. Although we were expecting some light breeze we had not forecast or bargained for the occassional white out and the regular stinging and body rocking blasts of 30 or 40 knot blows coming off the north face and trying to deposit us down the Kangshung Face. It slowed me down further.

You can feel an excuse coming on can't you. Ok, here's how it panned out. We have 3 bottles of oxygen from 8300 to the summit and back (assuming they are at max. capacity and we follow the set flow rate regime). My first bottle turned out not be max. and in the slowed traffic climb from 8300 to the ridge, even at slightly reduced flow rate, I had burned it by the time I cleared the exit cracks onto the ridge (circa. 3 in the morn.). There I would drop the 1st bottle and load the 2nd . Leaving enough in the 1st to pick up for use on the return (clearly a bit of a problemo in this case). You can also perhaps feel a limb growing which I'm out on and you'd be right.
The ridge was awesome even at night with narrow (metre or so) snow arretes and corniced drops miles down either sides. Soon the line of head torch dots in front of me start to lift up again as the bobbing lights indicate folk heading for the rock below the 2nd step. As the line of lights stops and becomes a static linear glow of dots, daylight starts to break. Momentarily, my concentration on the lights and my breathing is taken away as I realise that we are circa. 8500m, above the clouds and every peak is visible as far as we can see. The fact that the lights ahead were not moving suddenly brings it home to me that people are struggling with the technical difficulties of the 2nd step. The wait costs over an hour and successfully chews through some more precious "O"'s. Having cleared the 2nd step, ( a fun and modestly difficult rock climb, but clearly, frustratingly and annoyingly, more than many folk had expected and prepared for) and ready to drop the 2nd bottle and load the 3rd, I begin to take a rather more immediate interest in my oxygen position (by the way, I now know I was one of the last to clear the 2nd step. Many stronger teams and better climbers who I have talked to since simply gave up waiting and turned back at this point having effectivley run out of time).

The situation was that I had a less than 100% 3rd bottle . Several hours climbing to go. Many hours of return down climbing to accomplish and a 2nd bottle thay may as well have been empty and the knowledge that my 1st bottle was pretty well empty at the top of the exit cracks. That limb is growing at a fair old rate now. The plan is to try and arrange a back up bottle via the radio. Meantime, Dawa my sherpa swops his bottle with mine. He has a larger 4L bottle (mine's 3L) and I reduce the flow rate from 2L/min to 1.5L/min and Dawa cuts back on my old bottle to 1L/min. We press on.

And so factor no. 3 the weather kicks in again. More white outs and blistering winds. We've cleared the 3rd step and are ascending the snow slopes on the east side of the summit pyramid. But I'm climbing slowly, and virtually blind, as the goggles persist in freezing up on the inside. This requires regular cleaning which is not ideal since everytime the hands come out of the down mitts, and only seconds of exposure to the wind, there is the threat of frost bite. Its critical to look after your body in these conditions. Eventually, we clear the snow slopes and traverse into the rocks below the summit ridge. A one hour climb, or so, through 40 metres of rock and we'd be on the summit ridge with only metres to go. I decide to check the oxygen status again. Doing mathematics in this oxygen depleted and exhausted state is not my forte, but needs must. I have approx. 1 and 3/4 hrs of gas and an hour or so to climb, but around 2hrs from were I can get back to any sort of hope of an oxy bottle. I speak to Russell on the radio, but its a no brainer, in spite of the hypoxic brain struggling with the math, its clear I must turn back with only 48 or 50 metres to go.

Dawa and I put on a cracking (relative of course ie. staggering along more urgently than average) pace in spite of the conditions and get back to the 2nd step in good time. Only to confirm that my cached 2nd bottle is empty. We push on, but the proverbial brown stuff hits the rotating air mover halfway between the 2nd and 1st steps on some rather precarious very narrow downward sloping ledges. I run out of oxygen. Not being too familiar with this condition I didn't take the immediate action of ripping the mask off (I'm somewhat better informed these days) and gasping for the meagre supplies available at 8500m. Instead I slipped into hypoxia, started to hallucinate (very spooky colours the rocks were going) and did the one thing I hadn't done wrong for two months on this mountain - I put a foot wrong. I came to halt, arrested by fixed rope, my jumar and safety karrabiner 2 or 3 metres down slope and was shortly joined by a very concerned Dawa. With the mask off I got my breathing under control but it seemed like there wasn't going to be any fast exit off the hill for me without "O's". But exit was still very possible and bivouacing was out of the question. As I was gathering my wits for what was going to be a massive, but slow, battle down, Herman came along and did a remarkable thing - he insisted that I take his bottle. A relatively short debate ensued and I lost but gained his bottle.

Continuing on past a petrified body from historic debacles, I went down through the exit cracks and with 8300 in sight, Herman's bottle finally gave out as well. I pushed on with no oxy, but at a much reduced pace, until one of the sherpas passed with a spare and I was back on the good stuff.

Most of us, except Trynt, had now been out above 8300m climbing for over 20hrs (a more normal duration might be 14hrs) and we were still not back at C4. Our target was at least C3 at 7900m or lower). Although I had had a torrid time of it, in many respects, it was a great great climb. The conditions had meant being careful about body management. Whilst being less than optimal with the oxygen, I was off the mountain with no frostbite or anything other than a superficial scratch on the nose from the frozen mask rubbing. Tyrnt also had moved well and taken care and was unscathed and in the best shape of all of us. Others will pay some attention to frost bite which is relatively minor and Zeddy's snow blindness had started to clear up within two days at ABC.

So What Next?
Those who summitted are pulling out for the flesh pots of Kathmandu over the next few days. No doubt significant quantities of Nepali beer will be applied for medicinal purposes. Sue and Chung are gathering their wits, their gear, and all the necessary for a summit attempt which we believe can be squeezed into a narrow weather window which is opening up towards the end of the month.

Tony is working on an aggressive recovery programme. To try and nurse his wasted leg muscles, dehydrated and decrepit middle aged old carcass (and an infected toe he's picked up - had to drill a hole through the nail, yuck) into a state, where he can consider, the outrageous notion, of trying again alongside Sue and Chung. The odds of success are, of course, slim but they are not nil and we hear no fat lady singing yet on this expedition.

signing off - but watch this space
your correspondent
climber: Tony Kelly
Advanced Base Camp
Mount Everest
North Side
26th May 2003