Greetings all from a predictably grey and wet London, England!
The Everest season is all but finished, certainly for Himex anyway, and Ross, Jacob and myself are back safely in our respective countries and adjusting back to normal life, breathing normal air and sleeping in normal beds – it sounds like it should be straightforward but I certainly find myself staring up at the planes in the sky remembering when I was standing up that high!
Having had some time to reflect on the trip, I thought I’d share some final thoughts on what will most likely go down as the biggest achievement of my life, as well as the longest and hardest.
Firstly, it was tough – just call me Captain Obvious for that one, but I wouldn’t want anyone reading this to join the seemingly significant number of people we encountered on the mountain who perhaps went into this thinking it would be anything other than very hard work, and so were forced to give up.
I know that Ross and I both spent many months/years training for this trip in terms of fitness and strength, as well as climbing other mountains in preparation, myself in particular under the close advice of Russell with this end goal in sight, so I’d urge anyone else with this dream to get in touch and have a chat about your current situation and how to get you to the level required to attempt Everest.
One thing that made it slightly less tough than it might have been is the fact that the Hilary Step is no longer there; much debate remains around this but given we made it from the South Summit to the East Summit in less than an hour and then back in 30 minutes indicates that it just does not exist anymore and has made the route easier, faster and safer.
Secondly, experience really does count for something. The programme from day 1 was slick and professional, moving us through the airport amazingly quickly to the helicopters and getting underway and equally effective operations to provide those who had to leave early with quick and efficient helicopter access in the opposite direction. The lodges we stayed in had clearly been carefully chosen, and our time spent in camp life at both Lobuche and Everest Base Camp (EBC) had some of the best facilities around, not to mention the amazing food that I have banged on about in previous newsletters.
During all of our climbing on the mountain, Ross and I felt incredibly safe being guided by Jacob and looked after from EBC by Phurba on the radio, as well as Lobsang and the team at Camp 2, and of course the incredible Sherpas who worked mostly behind the scenes setting up the higher camps, and then climbed by our sides on summit day. Having an entire team with this many years’ experience under their belts is just so reassuring on a trip where us members are constantly exhausted and concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other and not having to worry about anything else.
Also, on the theme of experience, a word on the widely reported oxygen problems that have occurred this season to several teams and why Himex was not affected:
- To start we own all our own equipment, oxygen cylinders, regulators and masks, so we have a very good understanding of the past history of the equipment, how it is used, cleaned and maintained so we have confidence in this equipment.
- We have been very involved with the development of oxygen over the years, so we have a very good understanding of how it all operates…..very few operators have this understanding.
- We are familiar with our equipment, so that means that we can brief our Sherpa staff and members alike on the correct method of utilizing the oxygen equipment safely and so as it looks after the equipment, so as it is not put under unnecessary strain.
- Our continued experience from many years of operation, we fully understand the atmospheric conditions that our equipment will work in.
- So despite others having a difficult time with Summit oxygen equipment, we have had no problems over the past 6 years of using this robust system, and totally support the sound engineering of these regulators and masks.
Thirdly, it was amazing! Again, probably another Captain Obvious statement there, but it’s important I go on record to say it, because whilst it was such hard work, and sometimes utterly horrendous, the overall experience really was like nothing else. Many people asked both Ross and I how he felt having to turn around, most starting with the word “sorry” before asking the question, and he always said that firstly he knows he made the right decision and secondly people shouldn’t be saying sorry – despite not making it to the top it had been an incredible 2 month experience and so it wasn’t ALL about the final day and getting to the summit. A delightfully grown-up way of looking at it, and a relief for everyone to know Ross wasn’t looking upon it as a totally wasted trip.
A quick mention of the weather, as this is what rules our life up there pretty much; our decision on which day to aim for summiting was made on the back of our detailed weather forecast we rely upon, 6 days ahead of the actual day and even before the ropes were fixed to the top, and it paid off as on the day it was beautiful and clear with just a bit of wind.
And this leads me to thank the rope fixing team from Himalayan Guides with the workers coming from Adventure Consultants, Jagged Globe and Garrett Maddison…..not just one of these as may have been implied at some points.
There were a couple of negatives to come out of the trip, firstly the fact that we had 5 oxygen cylinders stolen from the South Col before the members arrived there. Luckily we were able to replenish these from our reserves at camp 2 and because we were a small team this didn’t have a disastrous effect on our trip, but a theft like this could easily have totally derailed our summit attempt. Frankly, stealing anything from anyone is unacceptable, but especially something as important as oxygen supplies, and it seems this is a trend that is continuing from previous years, with 50 cylinders reported stolen this year on top of about 70 last year. It is a big concern that this keeps happening, and if it carries on instead of reporting a theft we might find ourselves reporting a manslaughter if a lack of oxygen ends in disaster. Those who are doing this thieving, take note!
The other disappointing thing to see is the trekker’s attitude towards EBC and their lack of respect for it; the amount of rubbish, human waste and graffiti we saw whilst staying there was frankly disgusting. We took it upon ourselves to do a bit of a cleaning of the rubbish left strewn around, and it’s a real shame that the climbers take such care to remove all traces of their existence on the mountain, yet the trekkers treat it like a rubbish tip without a second thought.
On a more positive note I wanted to thank again our amazing Sherpa staff who made the whole trip possible with their incredible hard work: Phurba Tashi, Loppsang Temba, Son Dorgee, Nima Wongchu and Nima Sona.
Finally a quick thank you to Toread for the new staff uniforms, and also to Fenix for the headlamps the team used, which all goes towards making the staff safe and efficient, which of course helps towards our overall success.
And so what next? From a personal point of view I’ll be enjoying a bit of summertime in England, umbrella always close by no doubt, and settling back into life here, before no doubt climbing starts to enter the mind again and I begin forming my next plan – Denali or Pumori are two that might be trips I look into in the future.
As for Ross, I wouldn’t want to speak for him, but who knows, maybe he’ll want to return to Everest one day to give it another crack; being so close I think we all know he has it in him and knowing what to expect next time would no doubt be a huge help.
I’ll leave you with a few photos I’ve dug out from the hundreds I took, lovely memories even if a lot of them ended up being taken of my own feet by my GoPro.