NEWSLETTERS - Everest Expedition 2003

Newsletter 931 May 2003

Dispatch 10: The 2nd Summit Push

Ok, no point beating about the bush there's only one statement you all want to hear first:

31st May

Chung summitted @ 4:45am Nepali time (with Pulbar Sherpa our Team's Sirdar)
Tony summitted @ 7:03am Nepali time (with Dorje Sherpa)
Sue summitted @ 7:15am Nepali time (with Dawa Sherpa)

this makes 100% success for the Himex 2003 North Side Expedition this is a staggering achievement in the light of the number of teams who attempted in this 50th anniversay year and who failed either due to the wind storms or the other difficulties described in our previous summit attempt on the 22nd May - a credit to Himex and Russell's organisational ability.

As I did in Dispatch 9 for the other summitteers, here are their thoughts:

Sue

(in her own words) After a voluntarily aborted attempt on 22nd May, I understandably felt nervous about whether a 2nd window would actually present itself as predicted for the end of the month. I had to hold my trust in the forecast and my ability to perform at the given time. I did however feel good about our bid. Significantly, we were in a small cohesive team with a strong resolve and anticipation of what lay ahead.

Not having been above 7500m previously, I was fully absorbed by the terrain and surrounding environs as we moved up to 8300m and our last camp.

An early start (11:00pm) was fortuitous as suggested by Pulbar. The summit day route compromised one rock problem after the next. Each one stimulating and challenging. Although I knew of "steps" and ridges on the route, I had not anticipated such sustained rock climbing at altitude. It was very satisfying whilst physically demanding. Weather conditions were absolutely perfect. It was arguably the best day of the season.

Chung, Tony and myself made steady progress to the summit arriving soon after the sun rose (with our capable sherpa partners) and were treated with views and experiences that could not be repeated. We were elated by our efforts. We agreed at ABC afterwards that the safe, steady style with which we conducted our climb was as satisfying as winning the summit itself. The patience and perseverance had paid off and our summit day experiences were very, very special in every way. The 31st May 2003 will be with me for the rest of my life.

Chung

(words from a conversation with Tony)
For Everest on the north side you need rock climbing technique. But even though I had read books and seen photos the "steps" were harder than expected. I wonder at the pioneers on Everest and how high the standard of climbing was. Today I am a rock climber and I'm surprised that the technical requirement is so hard.

I have tried for several years and attempts to climb the mountain and was not able to break my record. But arriving at 8300m was already breaking my record. The weather was good. Without this stable weather for a couple of days we could not climb the mountain. Staying at 7500m for two days was very hard and I almost had to go down. But I stick with it.

So now I have climbed Mount Everest and completed a 10 year dream and I am happy to return home. Thanks to the Sherpas, to Russell and all in support.

Tony

(again as perviously I'll use my piece to give you both my own flavour of the climb (you'll have figured by now I'm a little more "wordy" than some of the others, hopefully its of interest) and also to fill in some of the background not mentioned or assumed in Sue and Chung's notes)

For reference: The Climbs Chronological Progress
(note: when we set off the original target summit day was 30th May and we set off with the intent of missing out C2 and moving from C1 direct to C3 this is tough but we needed to keep the pace on - although personnally I needed the extra day this gave in ABC to help towards recovery from the previous attempt only 9 days prior which had left me somewhat "knackered")

A key to remember is that we are now in the last few days of the season, almost everyone else has gone home and so we have the route to ourselves. In fact on summit day the three of us plus sherpas along with only two other westerners and sherpas were on the route. By the Exit Cracks we'd seperated and therefore effectively each of us had the entire north side route to ourselves. This was almost unique in todays climbing experience and contributed immensly to that desperately illusive "wilderness, high mountain" experience.

Also the weather was perfect and I mean perfect: no wind through the night and in the early hours perhaps a maximum of a couple of miles per hour. Clear blue skies once sun up for as far as we could see on every horizon. By 7 ish the wind on the summit was just starting to pick up but we'd nailed it by then. This was a perfect summit day, the best day of the season and one of the best summit days in years.

actual:
27th May - move to C1 - North Col - 7050m (a straight forward yomp on beautiful day)
28th May - move to C2 - 7500m (climbing through 40 and 50 knot winds which was exhausting)
29th May - wait 1 day @ C2 due to high winds(60knots +) and revised forecasting suggesting now 31st is optimal summit day
30th May - move to C4 - 8300m directly missing out C3 (making this section an aggressive 800m height gain) - start push 11:00pm
31st May - summit day - plus descent (Chung to ABC, Tony to North Col, Sue makes it back to 7500m)

In my case since I had seen all the route up to less than 50m from the top there was no nervousness about the unknown. I was mentally very strong and new that all things being equal I could climb this mountain (after all I'd damn near done it a few days ago) with the exception of one thing - was I asking too much of my mangy old middle age body to deliver a second summit of the highest mountain on the world only 9 days after the first. This was going to hurt and its was going to push me into an unknown zone where "will" was going to make the machine keep delivering long after all its systems has said nothing left in the tank and somehow I would have to work out how much of that "running on vapour" I would have to keep in reserve to get me off this hill. Also we had decided to climb the route more aggressively than last time, missing out a camp and this might be the desider and could break me before getting to top camp.

In fact we climbed and descended the route in an almost continuous push for 33 hours starting from C2 at around 9:00am on 30th up to C4 with then a few hours brewing, sorting and resting before moving straight off at 11:00pm towards the Exit Cracks on the north east ridge and onto summit in the early hours of 31st morning before commencing a 10hrs or so descent to safety.

I was desperate to remain on schedule and not compromise anything in this attempt and had been fastidious in preparation nevertheless a few things went amiss even at the last minute. Three hours before we were due to depart my head torch developed an intermittent fault (on/off randomly etc.) this would not do and could scupper the attempt. Deducing it was a break in a wire, using my leatherman I slit the cable sheath for four inches until I found a break in the neutral and the problem was solved. In close proximity with someone in a tent their issues sometimes become yours. In the last few minutes prior to departure Sue announces that she has lost her spare Video Camera battery and since she is shooting for Australian television this is a bit critical. Said battery is discovered relatively quickly. It had found a warm niche having slipped down the back of her down suit and tucked itself in her knickers in the crack of her bum. Its a mystery how it got there. Its more of mystery to me that she didn't notice it was there since its the size of about four boxes of matches. But if you had to keep a battery warm (and its another critical task in this environment of extreme cold) its a cosy spot (not my preferred option but each to there own). Notably, the camcorder worked at full power on the summit....

Another key element of prep. for me was changing my hydration system from the one I had used on the 22nd. So all the way up the mountain I had been experimenting with a "camelbak". This is a drink bladder in an insulated casing and with an insulated hose. I had previously used a Nalgene (ie. wide mouthed plastic drinks) bottle in an insulated pouch kept in my pac. This is pretty convential and a system used by most. One of my conclusions from the previous attempt was that I was dehydrated much if not all of the time.

The Camelbak was designed to be used on the back or in a back pac but I used it on my chest and inside the down suit and below the first layer of fleece. The hose was extracted from the camelbak and stored between the camelbak and my chest thereby keeping it from freezing (since if it froze my chest hairs would also be frozen and I was probably near dead already in which case a nice sip of carbo. loaded fluided wasn't going to be the kick start I needed).

The last thing I did before putting my boots on to leave the tent was give the old left big toe another drilling to release the pressure of gunge built up (it was starting to hurt) and then dress it to help prevent frostbite.

I left C4 ahead of both Sue and Chung slightly who were still getting ready and also all the Sherpas including Dorje my own partner. The drive up the Exit Cracks to N.E. ridge was relatively straight forward although finding myself once out of camp quickly in my own small pool of head torch light and having to decide which route to climb through the Yellow Band was both novel, a little nervy and very exciting. Even though there is fixed rope indicating the way its just laying across the rock and at a micro climbing level one can still choose whether to use this crack system or series of holds or that one. Chung seemed to be running on rocket fuel after being diesel fired all month and shot past in the wake of Pulbar and Tsering. I couldn't keep up and anyway was resigned to a pace that I thought would get me there and was within the depleted delivery systems my body could support. Sue was a little way behind and at some of the rock climbing difficulties we'd occassionally come together and exchange some encouragements.

The N.E ridge is incredibley exposed and wonderful climbing and light began to dawn just as I was climbing the 2nd Step. This fairly technical (at sea level it would be straight forward UK grade Severe or Hard Very Severe perhaps - but in near darkness, with heavy high altitude boots on, crampons, a down suit, an oxygen mask that prevents you seeing your feet and down mittens its a rather different ball game) section of rock climbing has a couple of wonderfully exposed moves where you must swing out over the entire north face (a mile or so of fresh air between your legs). Fantastic and spectacular to be making these moves just as dawn was breaking giving the full vertical exposure but also the stunning horizons of some of the worlds biggest mountains (and we're higher than all of them doing some bouldering!)

Clearing the 3rd step was straightforward although again a wonderful little piece of technical climbing. The snow slope on the summit pyramid was an absolute pleasure in clear blue windless skies. It was about 5 in the morning now and with an 11 o'clock cut off and the sure knowledge the oxygen supplies where completely under control I knew it was going to go now and I nearly got a bit tearful but figured in a couple of hours I'd be well justified anyway. Dorje was constant calm and professionalism in support behind me. There when help was needed in an oxygen change over or if I wanted some advice on a particular rock move and with a couple of words of encouragement when he could see that the weary legs were displaying all too clearly that the last time they had pushed over that particular piece of rock and snow was only 9 days ago with his mate Dawa alongside.

Around 6:00am'ish, maybe a little after I reached the point that Dawa and I had turned back. We had traversed off the snow field around the north side of the summit pyramid and were at the bottom of a short 30m or so rock climb. A couple of bouldering moves, a short slab and bit of a scramble and we're on the summit ridge with maybe a 100m horizontal to go. A short push up a gentle slope for 10minutes and cresting a rise I can see in the distance a prayer flag cluster and nothing beyond. A couple more rolling rises and some snow steps spiralling around the north side of the summit proper and at 7:03 Nepali time Dorje and I are on top of Mount Everest.

There's enough room for about half a dozen people on the top. Jamie McGuiness and his sherpa were there from the Irish team and in ten minutes or so I'm joined by Sue and Dawa so its full. Initially we are all in awe and staggered to be there. The views are breathtaking with clear blue skies and massive peaks as far as we can see in every direction (of course not quite so massive as the one we are standing on). We all get organised taking photo's and its a bit busy as we mill about on this rare space the size of a small dinner table. Lhotse, Nuptse, Makalu are all just right there within reach it seems. Just before us is the South Summit and the final approaches from the Nepal side of the mountain. No-one approaches whilst we are on top although we hear afterward that several summitted later that morning.

The top was important. The journey (inspite of the fact its the second time on Everest, fourth attempt and barring the last 30 or 40 metres the second time over every yard of the ascent) remarkable, and the people along the way amazing (many are already good friends and others will become friends for life). My old friend David will be bored with me repeating the following quote but since it was him that tipped me off I'll come back to these words that have stuck with me for the last 10 years or so:

"What ever you think you can do, or dream you can, do it. For boldness has genius, power and magic in it!" Goethe.

Sue, Chung and myself are back in BC now.

Russ is breaking up the camp and we'll be moving out to Kathmandu on the 4th ready to head back home around the 7th. Nevertheless he still found time to organise us a party last night. Moet & Chandon, Pabst Beer, Drambuie, Grouse Scotch and Napoleon brandy help wash down sizzling chicken platters (how did he pull that off at 17000 feet in the middle of nowhere?) was astonishing, almost more than our pea sized stomaches could handle and guaranteed to ensure that breakfast was late and sluggish for most.

Its been a pleasure telling the story
But signing off for the the last time
your correspondent and climber
Tony Kelly
Base Camp
Mount Everest