All four of us, Adam, Mark, Richard, and Steve along with two of our Sherpas reached camp four on the South Col at roughly the same time. It had been a good day on the hill with some testing sections on the Yellow Band and Geneva Spur, but we had stuck together as a team throughout.
The other two of our Sherpas, Mingma and Chongba had gone on ahead to re-pitch the tents. The tents had been collapsed following the first wave of summiteers to prevent them being torn apart in the strong winds. Re-pitching them was some effort for just two people as once again there were strong winds, one Sherpa holding the tent whilst the other placed rocks to hold them down.
As soon as we arrived at the South Col we dived into our tents, out of the wind, and relaxed whilst breathing in some additional oxygen. We needed to rest, we had had a reasonably tough day and we needed to be ready to leave again by 21:00 for our summit push. Throughout the afternoon we spent time boiling water and eating as much as we could and trying to grab an hour's sleep if we were lucky. The wind continued. It buffeted the tent fabric and having a conversation from one tent to the next was impossible, even when shouting. All the other tents that remained on the Col had been torn to pieces by the winds, poles broken, and contents scattered. Mingma visited our tent and said that if the wind did not stop by 20:30 then we would spend the night and next day on the Col and make an attempt the following night. Mingma never returned to the tent and the winds continued into the next morning on the 24th. According to the weather forecast it was supposed to be windy on the 23rd and then dramatically reduce on the 24th. Exactly when they were to reduce on the 24th depended how optimistic you were. Sadly they did not reduce soon enough for us to head out on our summit bid.
Spending the following day at almost 8,000m on the South Col was not as bad as I had expected. Our tents seemed far more roomy than at Camp 3 as they were not being pushed in by surrounding snow. We had plenty of oxygen and found ourselves with extra time to eat, re-hydrate and sleep before we made the big push. We did have a slight concern, that we had only enough food for a short time there and had not planned for the extra time. Again, Mingma pre-empted us and passed out various food. We did not ask questions but given the littering of equipment and food scattered across the Col we were helping to keep the place tidy.
Again we planned to leave at 21:00, planning to be ready at 20:30 and setting off at 21:00. We left at 21:30. We were all in our summit clothing with hardly any flesh showing. The stars were showing with a half moon helping to light the way. This time there was barely any noticeable wind but there had been at least a good 6 inches of snow, which made the going annoyingly a little more difficult. It took a short while to find the beginning of the fixed line. We all clipped in and made our way up the face that leads to the Balcony. It seemed to last forever. It was in complete darkness and every time I saw a rock edge above me in the dim moonlight I thought we had reached the top of the face, but sadly not. We stayed together as a team but eventually Steve and his Sherpa, Psang dropped off the back. Steve was still shattered from his efforts in reaching Camp 4 without the use of oxygen. We were the first team heading up the face that night and with no footsteps to assist, the fresh snow kept crumbling away.
We reached the Balcony and suddenly it was a mad rush of activity. For hours we had been making the slow repetitive slog moving up the face, with the occasional issue of blocked oxygen mask or cold hands, but no where to really stop. As soon as we reached the Balcony we all seemed to have a hundred and one jobs to do. Flasks of coffee, chocolate bars, change of oxygen cylinder, bashing ice off out coat zips and oxygen masks. It was all a big rush to get everything done as efficiently as possible before we got too cold and then move on to the next section. Plus, a Japanese team were catching us!
At the Balcony we turned left and traversed and then headed up a small slope covered with a lot of fresh snow. The fixed line stopped, buried in snow and reappeared in about 15m. Given the amount of crumbling snow and the fact a slip would result in falling all the way down the 500m face we had just spent hours climbing up, I was not too happy and my thoughts went back to my big fall in Scotland just before the trip [See BBC News - Ed]. My Sherpa, Chongba, helped me through the section of missing rope to get clipped in on the other side.
We then headed across a ridge, again covered in crumbing fresh snow. There appeared to be endless drops on either side, but fortunately it was still dark enough that we could not see just how endless the drops were. All six of us teetered across without incident, although I suspect everyone's heart rate rose at some point with the unexpected collapse of snow on slipping foot.
We continued on to the South Summit, climbing various obstacles along the way. People had spoke of the difficulties of the Yellow Band and the Geneva Spur between Camp 3 and 4, but there seemed to be far steeper sections with a lot more crampons scratching on rock on summit day. Additionally there was a steep section that we climbed to the right of some rock where the snow was thigh deep. The snow kept collapsing and progress seemed extremely slow. We persevered and finally reached the Southern Summit. It was now daylight, a great sun and still very little wind we could see the final summit ridge laid out before us, along with the Hillary step. The step didn't look too bad but other parts looked ridiculous. How were we going to get across that! We stayed on the South Summit briefly, again for snacks, radioing our progress to camps below, oxygen cylinder changes, and general equipment fiddling. Given the various reports of snow blindness on other teams in the past couple of weeks, we were all keen to look after our eyes and all had our goggles on by now.
As we staggered from the South Summit to the main summit the difficulties did not seem as terrifying as they first appeared, with most sections being bypassed or scrambled over. The Hillary Step also did not present too much difficulty although as we moved around to the left of it there was a crack, which just seemed to want to suck your leg in. It helped progress but would have been rather embarrassing if someone got stuck!
Finally there was a short snow plod to the summit. The world opened up around us with other Giants such as Makalu, Lhotse, Cho Oyo and Nuptse visible. Pumori, which we had looked up at for so long and taken many photographs of, now looked like an insignificant bump in amongst hundreds of other mountains. The ridge was corniced on the righthand side, but was now wide enough that we could stay well away from the edge. There was a small patch of rocks on the left. I picked some up as memorabilia and Chongba stuffed them in the pocket of my rucksack. At approx 7:45 we finally reached the top. We took off our rucksacks, which was quite a feat in itself with the amount of oxygen hoses, masks, goggles and hats that are all intertwined, usually in a knot. We clipped our bags to an old safety line and then it was congratulations and hugs all round. Not only had we reached the top, but we had managed to get there on a day of perfect weather. We were able to take gloves off, camera batteries were not frozen in the cold, we could eat, drink, rest, and take time to look around. We all did the things and took the photos we had promised friends and family and at times the whole situation became quite emotional. Finally we had reached the summit, but a lot of the effort had not been on the final night but throughout the many weeks of reaching that point. There had been many setbacks, usually due either to weather or illness but we had managed to stay positive throughout. Naturally the general banter and teasing had helped to pass the time and sometimes help us to forget that we were on a mountain with a significant challenge ahead of us. The movies and great cooking from Gavin were also a very useful distraction!
We had reached the summit but were only halfway. We still had to get back down. All six of us still felt good with no concerning ailments of frostbite or altitude sickness. Mingma was perhaps a little more tired than we were used to seeing him, but given that he had a problem with his oxygen mask and had effectively summited without supplementary oxygen we can forgive him!
We made our way back to the South Summit passing the Japanese team along the way. They were filming on the Hilary Step at the time, but we managed to move past each other with great politeness. Stories of waiting for hours at the Hillary Step just didn't seem possible. There were just the Jagged Globe team and Japanese team pushing for the summit that day along with maybe just a few others. It was fantastic to have the place to ourselves. We reached the South Summit and met Steve there along with his Sherpa, Pasang. Steve was naturally tired but still determined and pushing for the summit. Conversations were brief as they usually are when wearing oxygen masks.
We continued down across all the obstacles that we had passed on the way up, only with much greater speed. Wrist wrapping most of the ropes with the occasional abseil down some of the trickier rock sections. The snowy ridge back across towards the Balcony was now much easier thanks to the many other feet that had now crossed it. The six of us had gradually split up and myself and Chongba began descending the main face back down to the South Col with the tents in sight. I was now able to see why on the way up it seemed to last forever, it did last forever and by the time we reached the Col my legs felt like Jelly.
I reached the tents and some Sherpas there who were doing an oxygen cylinder carry gave me some drink. After de-cramponing and dumping my rucksack I dove into a tent and rested whilst still using oxygen. It wasn't yet over. Before we left for the summit the night before it had been suggested that after making a quick summit bid through the night, we could make a quick decent all the way down to Camp 2 where there was good food and we could rest properly through the night at the lower altitude of 6,500m. Everyone agreed although I don't think any of us appreciated quite how tired we would be once we got back to the South Col. After an hour or so Mark and Richard got back to the tents on the Col and after a chat and a drink I left them there to rest for the remainder of the day and through the night. I decided to stick with the idea of dropping all the way down to Camp 2 along with some Sherpas who were doing a load carry. It all ran smoothly and only took about 3 hours. The lower half of the Lhotse Face had changed considerably whilst we had been above it. The winds had blown off more snow and revealed much more ice. Some sections were noticeably more difficult with the fixed line ropes too tight to abseil on a figure of eight and yet awkward to wrist wrap down the steep ice.
I was kindly met at the bottom of the Lhotse Face with a flask of hot juice. It was then a quick wander down the glacier to Camp 2 for some dinner and then the best sleep I have had for 9 weeks!
Adam Potter - Everest Base Camp 26 May 2011
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