Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Post Summit Reflections

Mon 29 May

On the trek back from Base Camp to Namche Bazar where we hope to get a heli back to Katmandu on 31st.

The last entry was compiled from my (probable) garbled voice from the summit of Everest, thus, now I can breathe again, a more concise account of summit day:

We had everything going for us - a strong team of 5, 5 strong sherpas in support, and perfect weather conditions. However, it wasnt without a few hiccups....

Rob and myself, and our Sherpas Tindu and Topgen, set off at 1045pm, about 20 mins behind the 2 Tims and 45 mins behind Mike. We caught the others up after a while, and the four of us (Mike had dropped back by this stage) and our Sherpas completed the first part of the climb - the steep climb up to the Balcony - in an excellent time of around 5 hours, arriving around 3am.

The 4 of us then set off for the 2nd phase of the climb, the ridge climb to the South Summit. Sunrise occurred in this phase in which I took some spectacular video and film, but this was also the phase when I started to drop behind - at first thinking it was just exhaustion but after a while realising my Oxygen mask was not working properly. The other 3 got further and further ahead, and eventually Henry got on the radio to warn that I was going too slowly.

Can well remember being swamped by huge feelings of doubt and worries that it was all going to end, unbelievably, in failure, which shocked the hell out of me.

Thankfully, we got the mask working 100mtrs or so below the South Summit, following which (as Henry later told me) Tindu radio'd base to say that "I was flying and he couldnt keep up with me" - the ultimate complement from a 3 times summit Sherpa! Nothing magic, just shock and something to do with making sure I wasnt going to be turned around...!

The summit experience was described in the previous log. Two thoughts came over more powerfully than any other, Firstly, a deep, deep sense of satisfaction of the "ive done it" mode, Secondly, the totally outstanding view and complete feeling that you were indeed on top of the World. Indescribable.

I can remember every minute of the hour or so we spent up there, felt (relatively) fantastic, strong and mentally fine, even though we dumped our packs and oxygen, and just breathed the natural air. Weather was perfect and I felt very very comfortable - too much in retrospect.

When we started the descent problems no 2 and 3 hit us. Firstly, Tindu's oxygen mask got stood on and damaged. Secondly, my mask failed to work properly for the second time, at least we think that was the problem. The result is we descended to the South Col without oxygen - or, in my case, whatever small amount was coming in my mask. Though it took us 6 hours, still a reasonable time, this was one of the hardest 6 hours of my life. In the thin air, fatigue and drowsiness were overwhelming and it was a tremendous fight to stop oneself falling asleep, from which it was possible you wouldnt wake up, as happened to countless on the North Side.

Henry had contingency plans in place if we did succumb, as he did for the ascent, but thankfully we finally got down to the Col around 4 pm.

The next day I clinmbed down from the Col to Base Camp, which is when we could finally relax.

Gotta be one of, if not, the hardest days of my life, as one would expect, but you cant assume any different - though, sadly, some on the North possibly did.

Not sure whether it was my mask or simply running out of gas that was the problem, as in my fogged up brain I never managed to check the latter. But we'll find out when we check the system out.

Whatever, we made it and, remarkable, are all down unscathed and damaged. A huge bonus.

Very tired and weak, but determined to enjoy the trek out.

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