David Cole
Mountaineer  |  Everest Summiteer  |  Adventurer
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Everest - The Roof of the World

Well......this is the last blog, and below, the final account of the summit - a 24 hour round trip with an epic descent running out of oxygen, alone in darkness high on the south face.

For people that have the slightest sense of adventure, and are inspired by the hardships that the human spirit will endure in the quest for success and achievement, then it is hard to resist having a fascination with the world's sacred roof top Mt. Everest – referred to by the Sherpas as "Chomolungma" (or Goddess Mother of the World).

For me, that fascination began when in 1992 I felt compelled to go and see Everest for myself. And in the true spirit of adventure it was only right that I made that approach deep into the Himalayas, via the same 150km trek from Jiri to Base Camp that pioneering expeditions led back in the mid 1900's in their quest to be the first to reach the top of the world.

I climbed to the top of nearby Kalar Patar which at 5,540m was for me a personal best; it would be the closest I could ever get to Everest without actually ever climbing it.

I would never in my wildest dreams have thought back then, that some 16 years later, I would be returning in my own personal quest to reach the summit.

Oh, the stir of emotions I felt when reaching the South Summit and seeing for the first time, the spectacular Hillary Step leading up to the final summit ridge. And then of course the realizing moment just after 11am on the 21st May 2008, when I took the last final steps up onto the summit of the Goddess Mother.

These last 2 months have been a fantastic journey and I only hope that you also have felt the same. I have enjoyed immensely writing these blogs for you all to share in the adventure first hand, and perhaps feel somehow, that you too also reached the summit of Everest there with me.


Again, I must especially thank you all for your great words of encouragement and support that I received via email, text message and the guest book – your contributions gave me the strength to endure those many days I cursed of the relentless fatigue, exhaustion, headaches, nausea and lack of appetite – it was worth every darn moment!

Final Account - Part I (Approach)

17 May 2008 (Rest Day at C2)

We hung out at C2 today for a rest on our final summit attempt. Our Sherpa team did a carry up to C4 today and report that a pack, an oxygen bottle and a pair of sunglasses had come hurtling down the Lhotse Face today. For a while there was a lot of speculation that a climber had fallen however, fortunately, this does not look to the be the case.

18 May 2008 (Had Better Days - Fail to Reach C3)

Anselm, James, Jamie, Andy and I headed for C3 today, however, for whatever reason, both Andy and I were seriously lacking the energy and motivation needed to get ourselves up the Lhotse Face to C3 safely. Sometimes you have good days and bad ones; I guess this is what they call a bad one! One hour out of C2 we cut our losses and decided to return to C2 and give C3 another shot tomorrow. I was disappointed to be lacking the energy knowing that the climbing over the coming days was only going to get progressively harder. Oh well......it was motivation to bounce back (somehow?) stronger tomorrow.

19 May 2008 (C2 to C3)

It was a good decision yesterday to return to C2. Today, I climbed with a lot of new energy and made C3 in reasonable time, there meeting up with Anselm, James and Jamie.

We made it a point to drink well, and eat what we could managed to digest for tomorrow's climb up to the South Col. We were getting closer, but the real tough climbing was still ahead of us.

20 May 2008 (C3 to C4)

Today we departed C3 about 9am after waiting for the sun to hit the tent, which on Lhotse Face is a little later than we were accustomed to at lower camps. We anticipated it would take us 5-6 hours to reach C4, therefore getting there mid afternoon allowing a few hours to rest prior to heading for the summit later tonight.

Getting started early in the morning, was taking progressively longer, because at altitude, we just get a little slower at everything we do!

Today, we start using oxygen for the first time on the expedition so this took a little extra time getting it set up for the first time. Unfortunately, using oxygen often eels claustrophobic until such time that you can get into a regular breathing pattern. Despite having used oxygen back on Cho Oyu in 2006 I did not feel any less discomfort putting it on this morning. I knew it would be difficult for the other guys on the team who will be using it for their first time today.

We managed to get out of the tent on time, and immediately out of camp we had a 8m vertical wall to climb, with large deep steps kicked into wall and which demanded good strength to pull oneself up the fixed lines. I managed to get up it, but the extra work required to do so, only made the oxygen mask seem more suffocating. Once I got to the top, it had left me completely exhausted. Shit, I hope the rest of the day is going to be a bit easier than this!

About 20 minutes later my breathing pattern was starting to settle comfortably into a synchronized monotony....one breath, one step, one breath, one step.....it seemed to work well. I looked behind and see that James was struggling with his breathing and was sitting down to the side of the fixed lines. He was too far back to yell out to, but Jamie soon came up to his assistance. I hope he would be ok.

I continued on with the same speed as those other climbers on the fixed line. The route headed directly up above C3 for several hundred meter before traversing across the Lhotse Face to reach the Yellow Band some several hours later.

The upward steps remained monotonous, as was the breathing and the connecting to each fixed line; but the monotony at times was comfort and meant progress in the right (upwards) direction! I kept reminding myself that climbing mountains was all about gaining altitude, and a quick glimpse of my altimeter every so often verified that on this steep ground, altitude was being gained!

After climbing up through the Yellow Band, Andy, Jamie and I tool a good rest. Anselm had sped on ahead tagging behind a faster group of climbers. Jamie informed us here that James had decided to turn around back to C3 as he was finding the ascent difficult. (As it turns out he decided to abandoned his attempt completely at this point and has since returned back home to Ireland).

From here we could now see the route continuing on up to traverse a large rocky spur called the Geneva Spur, and then disappear up over the top to what was hopefully the South Col. Again, we continued on for another hour or so and rested at the bottom of the Geneva Spur, where we also removed our crampons to facilitate easier travel over the rock. It is here we realized that the climb to the South Col was going to take longer than expected and cut into valuable resting time we had planned at the South Col before heading for the summit later tonight.

We pushed on. At the top of the spur we had a short vertical scramble over rock, snow and ice which then accessed a flat rocky trail to our relief. This trail weaved it's way into C4 where we finally arrived some 8 hour

At the South Col, despite it's notorious reputation, the temperature was relatively mild and a real plus is there was no wind. The weather forecast of no winds was thankfully holding true! A few tents had already been set up already by teams planning to attempt the summit tonight, other teams had stashed their C4 supplies in white mesh bags in preparation for their teams

I wandered across camp and found our team tents and our Sherpa team busy making final preparations. Exhausted after the 8 hour trip from C3, I climbed inside the tent and it was first priority to boil and drink some water to hydrate, and force down a few noodles. Anselm who had arrived 1 hour earlier, liked particularly plain food, and he insisted the noodles be free of any satchel flavorings or liquid soup - eating was bland and difficult, but we managed.

C4 - The South Col

After eating, we all lied there resting, and catching any sleep we could before the summit attempt. However for me it was impossible to sleep any, or rest properly as my mind raced ahead with the anticipation that in just a few hours we would be heading off on the final round trip to the summit of Everest!


Final Account - Part II (Summit)

Hi Everyone,

I am trying to finish up with this blog writing asap, however I know a few of you are interested to read a final account of summit day. A lot happened on summit day, plenty of which remains very vivid in my recollection of events, however there are other elements that remain a little blurry given the oxygen deprived nature of climbing above 8,000m. I will endeavor to recite the whole summit day experience for you.....David

Getting to the Top! (20-21 May 2008)

Just hours before our departure for the summit we set the alarm for 830pm with the plan to depart at 10pm. It would take a good 1.5 hours to get prepared – force down some more food and fluids, and then organize our final gear for the summit – the objective being to travel as light as possible - sun cream, mitts, inner gloves, camera, snacks, goggles, sunnies and water bottles (needed to be filled with hot water and kept in custom pockets on the inside of my down suit to prevent them from freezing). Outside we were distracted by the headlamps and sounds of other teams busy preparing for a slightly earlier start than us.

830pm soon came and by this time we had given up on any proper rest. It was now all go for Andy, Anselm and myself. Immediately we got the stove going to reheat some water and get some more noodles on the boil. Time passed quickly as we prepared. Before we knew it was time to get going.

Starting out for the summit we changed to a new oxygen bottle set at a flow of 2L/min; this would last us about 8 hours to about 6am tomorrow morning which will get us a good way to the summit. A final last check of gear, our harnesses, and lastly climbing out of the tent to fix our crampons, we paired up with our Sherpa with a 1:1 ratio. We wandered through the campsite, past the glow of other tents, into darkness. Darkness that would lead us ever higher to the upper reaches of Everest.

The climb out of C4 starts out on a lightly crevassed snowfield, which initially, was a gentle slope heading directly upwards. But this continues to get ever steeper, and then for some 400m ascend directly up over a mix of rock, loose scree and snow. The steepness is unrelenting.

Towards the top of the face, the route traverses to the right over a right band then up a snow slope to The Balcony. The Balcony is a small flat platform which is slightly sheltered by a large bolder, and marks the start of the ridge which we will then ascend all the way to the South Summit, The Hillary Step and then onto Everest’s summit. On the opposite of The Balcony, the ridge drops several thousand meters down the other side into Tibet.

Upon setting out, we could see well ahead of us up the route, a trail of headlamps of those climbers that left earlier. Even higher again was a small team of sherpas who would do the final fixing of the route from the South Summit to the true summit.  

For summit day, as many other climbers do, I had a fresh pair of heavy woolen mountaineering socks to wear. Well I wasn’t but a few hundred meters out of camp and I immediately noticed that my feet were especially loose in my boots. This bothered me, as being too loose could mean that my feet could get colder than what they would otherwise, possibly risking frostbite. Furthermore, without having a slightly snug foot it could make footing on more technical parts of the route, dangerously slippery. But I did not want to turn back to camp to change socks, we were underway now, so I could only hope these problems would not materialize perhaps jeopardizing the climb later on.

I was feeling good starting out on the trail. Oxygen was working better. I was feeling more comfortable with it with a good steady breathing pattern. I went ahead of rest of our team and my partnering sherpa, Zhangbu.

It was a great night; no wind and relatively mild temperatures (for 8,000m!). I made steady progress up the route; soon catching a number of slower climbers which were all part of a larger group. Every so often they would stop on the route and take some video footage. That did this several times and it was becoming annoying as this hindered my momentum up the route, and used up critical summit and oxygen time.

I managed to bypass this larger group, stepping out wide around numerous climbers. In passing, I could not identify their nationality. There was very little talking; everyone was in their little oxygen zone and focused on moving only upwards in their slow, steady state.

In the monotony of climbing in the dark, time passed without noticing. There were hours of climbing ahead of us. It was dark. Nothing to look at. The extent of my world at this time was only as far as the reach of my headlamp beam; usually focused on the fixed line immediately in front. To the left and right of the lines just more rock, and snow. Safety line, after safety line we moved along. The upward climb became mechanical like; switched on auto-pilot; the mind void of any thought otherwise. Thinking consumed valuable energy.

As we moved through some more technical sections of rock, the work effort became greater, and suddenly I would be gasping for breath. Suffocating behind the oxygen mask I would need to desperately pull it from my face to get my breath back before regaining composure.

Despite this though, I still felt that I was moving well. Looking back down at C4 it was evident I had gained quite a bit of altitude. I have no idea what time it was; I never thought about it and didn’t care really. Looking back, I tried to identify fellow team members but could not in the glare of those oncoming climber’s headlamps.

Every so often I would catch up to some slower climbers; usually at the rock steps and at changeover of fixed lines where it seemed that their sherpas would often do the clipping and unclipping for them onto the safety line. This was really hard to believe and showed some lack of basic skills of some people attempting Everest.

I finally reached the upper snow slope to climb up onto the ridge to reach The Balcony. There was already a huddle of climbers there; checking gear, taking a short rest, and some even changing oxygen bottles. There was not much chat, this was not the place for it; only a few short muffled hellos from beneath our oxygen masks.

This group soon moved on, and I remained. I wanted to wait for Zhangbu and the other guys to catch up but I could not see them. By now the sky was starting to lighten with the early rising sun. Starting still, waiting, I started to get extremely cold. Shivering. I could feel my feet and toes getting cold. I have to keep warm but at 8,400m standing on a ridge on Everest, there is no shelter. I was confident to continue climbing up alone. By now I could see clearly up the route all the way to the South Summit; numerous climbers strewn along the full length of the knife edge ridge.

It was upon reaching The Balcony that for the first time I gained a sense of being up high. Set behind C4 was Lhotse – the 4th tallest mountain in the world at 8,516m - now I was standing almost as high as it’s summit looking across at it; incredible.

I continued with the steady pace moving up ridge. After perhaps an hour or so I started to keep an eye on my oxygen level. I was not in a rush to change the bottle until such time most of the oxygen had been consumed. By taking this approach, it would mean I could use my 2nd bottle later, which would then effectively last longer for the descent.

It was around 6am that I changed over to the second bottle. By this time, I had radioed to other guys to learn they were only 15-20 minutes behind me. I rested a little for both Anselm and Zhangbu to catch up and from here on, we continued to climb closer to each other.

It was a long this section that I noticed a bloke it his mid 40’s perhaps climbing without oxygen, we spoke briefly and I was especially impressed by the fact he was climbing without oxygen at what was a pretty respectable pace, albeit it looked like bloody hard work, and his rest stops were particularly heavy. We continued on and upwards together – he setting a similar pace, every so often stopping for a well needed rest.

Also along this section was, we caught up to a large stocky climber in a blue suit and wearing a dark pair of Tom Cruise shades. He was particularly slow, and was struggling at each of the rocky sections. We were stuck behind him with no opportunity to pass, and other climbers were starting to catch up with us.

Part way up one of the rock sections the guy obviously fatigued and must of held him self to the fixed lines for 10 minutes or so. He was struggling. We attempted to climb past him on an older line (not the main line he was climbing on) and he yelled down to us to get off it! We respected his request, and waited patiently along with those other climbers behind us until he climbed up the rock band onto the snow slope above. It was there we were able to skirt by him.

Anselm climbed on ahead. The slope become quite steep and I knew we were nearing a high spot along the route as the route was no longer visible above.

I climbed up it, and not realizing it, had just climbed up onto the South Summit at 8,750m. There in front of me was the most impressive view, perhaps the most memorable of the whole climb, of the Hillary Step rising up to the jagged summit ridge of Everest – absolutely magically. It was at this point now that I knew the summit of Everest would be mine. I checked my watch and it was 8am – we had been climbing for 10 hours.             

We took a good break on the South Summit; and sat there in awe of the breathtaking 360 degree views. A sensational dark blue sky. No wind to chill out bodies to the core. In fact the temperature seemed that of a warm spring day…..oh how deceiving Everest can be! When we were down at base camp these past weeks we were surrounded by numerous 7,500m peaks towering above our camp. Now, we were a good kilometer above those very same peaks, all of which now were barely recognizable as we looked down upon their summits.

Looking at the Hillary Step and towards the summit, a number of climbers could be seen moving up and down the route; some already on their way back from the summit. We heard of traffic jams on the Hillary Step as climbers try to pass each other on this very exposed section of the route, but none were evident.

From the South Summit it was a short steep climb down, before then ascending up the Hillary Step.

The Step was covered in a tangle of fixed lines which have been there from previous years climbing. To trust any of these older lines was too risky. Instead I would apply some simple science of looking for the newest looking line (likely this year’s) and along with it, grab some of the older lines and hoist myself up the route. Ascending the Hillary Step in this fashion was relatively easy; about 3-4 steps – one cramponed foot on the rock, and one behind me wedged into the snow and I was up one of the steepest sections.

The route then moved back onto snow for what was the final summit approach, the RHS of which faced Tibet and was very heavily corniced with massive exposure.

To the summit it was a slow, steady plod; the prayer flags of the summit clearly visible. Be patient I thought. One step at a time. The route went no higher; I could only see blue sky. I had reached the summit of Everest!


Final Account - Part III (Descent)


Views from the Top!

It was about 11:15am or so as I made the final steps onto the summit of Everest......


It summit was particularly crowded, but colorful with other climbers, most of which were unrecognizable in their puffy down suits, clad behind oxygen masks and large mirrored goggles. There were cheers of celebration; people hugging, calling loved ones on sat phones, taking video footage and candid pictures that could be taken back home to friends and family as memorabilia of this most precious and joyous moment.

II recognized both Zhangbu and Anselm and we embraced each other in a hug of congratulations and celebration. "Yes, yes, we've made it!".

II was not sure if I would cry, having anticipated this moment for several years. But gee…that sure wasn't necessary. "I have just reached the top of the world!" I thought. "You beauty!"

As I scanned the horizon from the summit, I could see other climbers ascending up from the Hillary Step; many bent over, resting with weigh on their forward foot as they took their final steps.

Looking to the west, there was only blue sky; now void of any peaks higher than where I stood - they were all now far below. Clouds were dispersed amongst their flanks, but moving up the valleys quickly.

A few feet from where I stood marked the descent down the opposite side of Everest into Tibet. It was the top of the NE ridge which could be followed all the way down to the expansive Tibetan plateau below. 

Over my shoulder to the east, cloud blocked any view. I was vaguely conscious just how quickly this cloud moved in since arriving at the summit only just a short time before. I had a brief, oxygen deprived thought back to the tragedy of 1996 and the photo in the book "Into Thin Air" that showed storm clouds also gathering on this very same side of Everest. It played on my mind a little, however at this moment the clouds did not appear ominously, threatening enough as they did in '96 to distract me from taking in the moment.

 Jamie arrived at the summit and was well spirited. I joked about what took him so long! Anselm and I sat on the top for a bit. We took more pictures and did a bit of a pose shot on the summit yielding our ice axes high in the air as you do! I watched Zhangbu and he could not wipe the shy smile from his face; his chance to summit today surely the pinnacle so far of his young climbing career.

After a few more photos, we had done what we came for and I called to Anselm that we start heading down.

(Unaware at the time, but after reviewing photos taken as we turned to descend, I was to learn that it was 1:07pm when we left the summit. Amazingly, we spent almost 2 hours on the summit when my normal philosophy would be to get to the top, take a few quick pictures, and get the hell out of there).

Fatigue & Altitude Sets In

We wouldn't of traveled more than 30m or so down the summit ridge and I suddenly felt exhausted. This really caught me be surprised. Was I really this tired? I knew that I had to be extremely careful. 80% of high altitude mountaineering accidents happen on the descent when oxygen deprived climbers are tired and dehydrated. I was determined not to become a statistic.

Continuing on several hundred meters along the ridge, I was absolutely stoked to recognize an approaching climber; it was Andy. "You bloody rippa!" I said in a muffled voice beneath my oxygen mask.

I had not seen Andy since leaving the South Col late last night. He had been behind me the whole way and I might of assumed that Andy was moving too slow on the ascent and decided to turn back. He proved me wrong and I was so pleased he did! I looked back over my shoulder to see how close he was to the summit, and knew he would make it!

We chatted briefly and gave our best wishes. Then Anselm and I continued our descent.

A further 100m on we came across another climber we recognized – it was the guy in the blue down suit who was moving terribly slow on the ascent early this morning, and whom we had trouble passing. (We were to learn later he was Korean).

A number of Sherpas were crowded around him. We overhead their conversation, speaking sternly to the Korean guy……

"You must go down! You must go down!" The Korean seemed defiant not to listen.

"You must go down!" Frustration and anger could be heard in the Sherpas' voices.

"You don't have enough time. You must go down!"

The guy swaying from side to side raised his arm slowly to point towards the summit. He mumbled some words. It seemed he was adamant to climb up to the summit despite the advice of the Sherpas.

He stepped forward, tripping on an oxygen bottle in front of him that the Sherpas had just changed over for him. It was apparent he was not thinking clearly and at this late hour in the day, and at the slow pace he was moving, the Sherpas knew he was seriously risking his life.

Anselm and I continued on. A further 50m along the route approaching the Hillary Step we came upon another climber, a young guy, maybe 25 years old or so, being escorted by his Sherpa. This climber was stumbling down the route tripping over himself and fumbling with the fixed lines.

His Sherpa looked back at us realizing they were slowing our descent, and his glance said it all about his client's inability to function properly.

I turned back to Anselm and said I was afraid to watch this guy descend the Hillary Step as there was every chance he would slip on one the most exposed section of the route…..and….sure enough, he did; his crampon failing to gain purchase as he moved over the smooth rock surface. Fortunately however, his Sherpa had properly attached the climber to the safety line preventing a fatal fall several thousand meters down the south west face.

At the bottom of the Hillary Step we managed to pass the two of them, and came up upon another situation in which two guys standing across the route were having a discussion about oxygen – from what we could make out, it seemed that one guy was asking the other for oxygen.

(As it would turn out a 44 yo. Swiss guy by the name of Uwe Gianni Goltz who was attempting to summit without oxygen today, died, likely due to symptons of HACE – High Altitude Cerebrel Edema. It is believed that the guy we saw here at the bottom of the Hillary Step asking for oxygen may have been Uwe).

I was somewhat surprised about all these other climbers we were now coming across that were getting into trouble. The approach to the top was so perfect in every respect it seemed for everyone, but now, on the descent and high up on the mountain still, Everest was now in control! Our motivation was fueled to get down faster to much lower and safer altitudes!

From the bottom of the Hillary Step we climbed across to and over the South Summit to commence the steep descent down the SE ridge to The Balcony. (Photos taken here later confirmed the time was 2:01pm).

Rescue at 8,700m

Tim Rippel rope rescue of client on Everest 2008

Barely over the crest of the summit, we now came upon a group crowded around another climber on the ground who was clearly in trouble. Anselm and I observed. The climber at the center of all the attention was Sultan; a young guy from Oman attempting Everest who we had hear about, and had passed once in the ice fall. He was easy to recognize; the Oman flag blazed across his hat, and the front and arms of his down suit.

It was still day light but we were conscious that it was getting later in the afternoon and were all still very high and exposed on the mountain. Instinct was telling us we have to keep moving down, but the rescue was blocking the route. There was no chance to pass on this steep and exposed ridgeline. We dare not risk venturing from the fixed lines, so we anxiously waited for an opportunity.

We sat down and continued to watch the rescue unfold. Sultan looked well gone, passing in and out of consciousness. He was certainly incapable of following the instructions of his rescuers so, with rope attached, they forcefully dragged him down.

No time could be wasted. Every precious moment of the rescue was depleting everyone's final oxygen reserves – us included.

Anselm and I both checked each other's remaining oxygen and decided it would be wise to conserve what we could. We each turned down the flow to 1L/min.

Meanwhile, Andy caught up with is. We spoke briefly, then Andy spotted an opportunity to bypass the rescue, and he quickly took the lead in doing so. We followed immediately behind along with two of our Sherpas who had also caught up with us by now. We were not sure where Jamie and the other Sherpa off our team were at this time. They would still be back up above us coming down.

Down the South Ridge

The further we descended the more tired I felt. "Keeping moving down" I kept telling myself. Descending remained instinctive.

I moved, often awkward, down over the rock bands. I glance quickly and see the Sherpas are behind me.

Anselm was about 100 yards in front of me; plodding along and taking frequent short rests. I was moving with a similar lack of grace but nothing could distract my descent.

Further along in front of Anselm was Andy. He appeared to be holding himself well and now seemed to be the strongest in the group.

Andy reached the Balcony, followed shortly after Anselm. One by one they each descended down the snow face to the right of The Balcony and disappeared from my view.

I reached the Balcony but from here, could not see the other guys. "How can that be?" I thought.

Climbing Alone

I turned down the snow slope plodding along continuing to take frequent rests. I reached the first rock band at the very top of the south face and then suddenly become aware just how dark it was; complete and utter darkness. I felt truly alone.

As I scanned my headlamp down the route, I was shocked at what I saw; a mass of tangled lines going off in every direction, down the face into darkness.

"How can this be?" I thought. Coming up the route last night there seemed only one obvious fixed line. I start to ponder just which line now is the correct line to follow down.

Doubt started to penetrate my thoughts and churn over and over in my mind….

"Am I off route?"

"But I can't be"

"Have I got lost in the dark?"

"That's not possible!"

"Why then?"

Judgment told me to choose what looked like the newest looking lines and assume these that would guide me to the bottom of the south face to camp. I moved down accordingly to this method.

Down, down, down…..

The Dark Side

I swept my head from left to right and back again constantly assessing the route. I was distracted by something bright out to the left hand side. "Ah, could it be another climber?" I thought.

I shone my headlamp back in that direction, and sure enough, there was a climber in a light blue suit. Oddly though his face was somewhat hidden, as he sat motionless propped between two rocks; legs straight out in front of him and leaning back slightly.

"What was he doing there? Resting? Why there at this time? Why so close to the trail? There is no else around??"

I took another glance this time observing that he was motionless, his position appearing though so neatly composed in a partially upright position. I then realized, of course, that this was a dead climber; most likely from a prior season.

The sight of the body did not did not bother me. This was Everest to which there is a brutal, unforgiving dark side.

I continued to move down; still hazily focused on the distant faint glow of camp far below.

The pack in which I had my oxygen bottle keeps falling off my shoulder. The valve on the bottle protruding from the pack is getting stuck in the fixed lines. I am frustrated and have to stop and take off the pack to free it - it is using precious time and energy that I just don't have right now.

"The oxygen mask; it won't stay on my head. I cannot breath. It's not working" I keep saying over and over again to myself.

I get to a point where I find the mask more of a hindrance now. It was not offering any relief it seemed; leaving me constantly short of breath, until such time I would find myself gasping for air. I tear the mask from my face and let it hang around my neck. I can only assume I am out of oxygen.

I continue down, down, down – one rock band ledge at a time, often slipping on the loose scree underfoot; but this had to be progress.

Travelers in the Night

It was not before too long that ahead of me I saw a figure moving down in the darkness! It was a climber; clearly without a headlamp moving down the rocks and scree on the butt of his down suit. I was unwaivered by the sight of him and simply accepted the fact he was there.

He too seemed driven by the same instinct I had to keep moving down. He did not look around despite me now keeping my headlamp shined on him offering light to his otherwise dark world. I took comfort in his presence if nothing more.

We climbed down for what was probably several hundred meters in altitude. The route started getting steeper and eventually he stopped. There were just three elements to our discussion. We exchanged names. We asked each what teams we were climbing on.

And lastly, he asked me for oxygen!

I indicate I have no oxygen to give "I am out also" I told him, holding the mask now dangling around my neck.

He asked again for oxygen, and I responded the same and apologized I had nothing to offer.

We were both out of oxygen and with that realization, without any further conversation, we up and recommenced our descent. It was that simple.

For hours I have not checked my watch to check the time, but now I could see a steady stream of headlamps were ascending up from Camp 4 in our direction. These headlamps were obviously climbers starting out tonight on their summit attempt. This suggested it was somewhere between 8~10pm.The headlamps of the ascending climbers provided us with a further and closer reference point to descend towards.

Eventually I passed these oncoming climbers, and as I did so, looked down at the front of my suit – I was completely frosted over with ice – the bright red of my down suit almost unrecognizable. I think how shockingly ghostly and exhausted I must look to these approaching climbers in the dark of night.

Continuing on, I reached the bottom of the South Face where it transitions to a large snow field that slopes gently down to camp 4. The proper trail was visible in the snow. There were fixed lines in place, but being so exhausted I chose not to use them in what seemed a relatively lower risk section of the route.

In passing another oncoming climber, I stepped slightly off trail to the left and instantly fell into a hole up to my waist.

The oncoming climber was briefly terrified to see me fall, and quickly offered assistance throwing the safety line to help me get out. I was not phased at this point. Still on auto-pilot, my mind shifted immediately to getting to camp. I climbed out and offering a wave of thanks to the other climber, continued towards camp.

Reaching Camp

Reaching the outskirt of camp at the South Col, I was confronted with a mass of similar looking tents sprawled out over an area about the size of a football field.

I was now challenged with having to figure out which was our team's tent which I compelled to reach. It almost seemed too difficult a task to be bothered with. I was so exhausted by this time, having been climbing now for near 24 hours without any sleep and on just one liter of fluid. I was tempted to lie down and sleep on the rocky ground where I stood. I was so exhausted "It looks so, so comfortable" my mind was telling me.

I considered it. "No, I can't" I thought. "if I lie down I will not wake up".

"No, I can't! No! Get to the tent! No!"

"Maybe just a quick nap?"

"No! No don't. Get to the tent!"

"Go on, get to the tent!"

Thankfully instinct got the better of me to head to the tent for safety. Across the  Col I staggered in the general direction of where I thought our tent to be.

Reaching the tent I called out "Andy, Anselm are you in there?".

I received no response.

Again…."Andy, Anselm are you in there?"

"Yeah, we're in here!" They guys unzipped the tent door and I rolled inside. It was great to see them as silly as they looked with oxygen masks still strapped to their face!

I removed my crampons and brushed off the ice covering my down suit. The guys offered a hot orange drink which tasted so wonderfully good. It was the first fluids I had drank perhaps in 12 hours or more. They also assisted and offered a fresh bottle of oxygen on which I could now rest. I held the mask to my face and took some deep, slow breathes. 

Checking my watch it was 9:37pm; I had been climbing almost 24 hours since leaving for the summit yesterday evening. I was surprised to hear that Anselm reached the tent not a great deal earlier than I did, and Andy I think about 1~1.5 hours earlier.

We chatted a bit about where Jamie and the Sherpas were, and about what we saw and what happened on our descents. No doubt we would share those same discussions in a lot more detail over the coming days, but right now I just wanted to sleep. I did; shortly thereafter, for what was without a doubt, one of the best night's sleep I'd ever had!

I would wake tomorrow, stoked on the thought of having summited Everest :)

Blogs & additional photos from throughout the Everest 2008 expedition can be found at the following websites


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