Friday, May 27, 2011

My Everest Summit Story

Hey folks I am back home in Australia now and I have been so tired physically and mentally that I have been putting off writing my last blog entry. My brain has turned to mush since the mountain and I really hope it comes back soon! Anyhow where did I leave off....I think I am up to my last trip up the mountain. I was pretty exhausted after our second trip up and sleeping at Camp 3 so we had 4 rest days in the base camp. I didnt want to go down to Periche or Deboche like alot of other groups were doing before their summit bid because I had enough energy to just stay at base and recover. We had heard that the 11th and 12th were meant to be good weather and most importantly just a very light wind those days so we planned to summit on one of them. In the base camp you are always waiting and it can get pretty boring and monotonous. It seems like the summit is so far away and its easy to lose motivation. However now that I knew this would be my last time up the mountain I was psyched again and feeling pretty happy.

Dawa and I left on Sunday the 8th to head back through the icefall. I decided we should leave earlier because I wanted to beat the heat on the Western Cwm so we got up at 2:30am and left base at 3:30am. During the night I could hear a roaring sound coming from the mountain and couldnt understand what it was. When I got up Dawa told me it was the jet stream that had lowered down and was ontop of the mountain. I was very glad I wasnt up there in the middle of that! As I had not done any walking for the last 4 days it was a hard start for me. It was a weird morning in the icefall as it was cloudy and there was a fair amount of wind above. When the sun came out occasionally the clouds would drop a little and we could see Pumori illuminated in the background. I got some great photos of this. (When I finally figure out how to reduce the file sizes of my photos will put them on my blog!) It took me 5 hours this time to get to Camp 1 and when we arrived it was very windy and cloudy on the glacier. Still we had a half hour break then kept walking. There were alot of tents damaged at Camp 1 from the wind. As we got onto the glacier we also saw two tents that had been blown from the camp and ended up being caught by crevasses.

Click on images to enlarge them :)



Early morning in the icefall with Pumori in the background

I am sure I have talked about the five ladder bridge that spans this huge crevass after camp 1 before. I might have even said that I was never going to do that again! Most people walk around it and I have only ever seen sherpa cross it as guides always tell their clients they cant do it incase they hurt themselves! Well I was up for the challenge again so I decided to cross it going up this time...which is a bit easier than going down as I previously did. Dawa went across first and again made it look easy! He held the two ropes tight and I headed over. I was in full concentration mode and in the middle I was tensing my whole body so I didnt get the death wobbles again. When I got onto the snow at the other side I was very happy and also very proud of myself because the last time I did it I was so scared! It was like a mini summit and pretty much made my day. As we got closer to Camp 2 the weather cleared and yes it got hot again! This time I packed a very light, thin long sleeve top so I changed into that and it make a huge difference. As we started walking through the camp we saw alot more broken tents. We arrived at our camp at 12:30pm to a tent full of water! Annoyingly we had to pull it all apart and dry it out. Dawa shovelled more rocks under it so there was no snow or ice under it all and this kept it dry for the rest of the trip. This was not so bad considering other people completely lost their tents. Two kitchen tents behind us had been destroyed and the staff were wondering around trying to find all their kitchen pots and pans and rebuilding their tents.

Sherpa porters crossing the five ladder crevass


On the glacier before Camp 2 infront of Everest
 I was very tired after this day and so was Dawa so we both decided to have a rest day the next day at Camp 2. After every big day on the mountain I always have a hideous sleep and this night was no exception. We tossed and turned all night as we were dehydrated and sore all over. Thankfully I had recovered enough by eating and drinking all the next day to have a decent sleep the next night before our move to Camp 3.
Heading intoCamp 2
On my way up the bergshrund at the start of the Lhotse face

I wanted to leave an hour later to Camp 3 this time because i was so worried about my cold toes! We headed off at 8am and shortly after the sun hit us which was great. It wasnt as warm this day as the last time and i was feeling horrible all day long....womens issues....we will leave it that. Anyhow Dawa as per usual was fine but he had a massive pack, around 25kilos. My pack was big for me...maybe 15kilos, going up the fixed ropes and in the mood I was in. So Dawa took some stuff out of it and this helped alot. Still I wasn't setting any records that day and it took me 8 hours again to arrive to the tent at 7200mt. I had alot of drink and snack breaks that day also. Dawa went ahead and dug the tent out of the snow. He had left it up and alot of the tents around it were destroyed by the wind but again our tent was fine....just had alot of snow around it. I had a little meltdown when I got in it and had a cry for the first time on the mountain! I felt bad that Dawa had a heavy bag and he still had to carry some of mine. Then I was crying because he had to work so hard. He was just laughing at me and saying that was his job! I got over it after about five minutes promising him I would give him a big tip at the end of the trip! (Which I just did.) He thought I must have had a cold and there was something wrong with me....I wasnt about to explain that I had womens issues. So we settled in and had some noodle soup, cheese, salami and tea....a common occurence. We decided for me to feel fresher for the summit attempt that I should sleep with oxygen. Especially after I had such a bad day. It was the first time I had ever used it and it was a novelty putting on my big yellow mask. Then I realised that I couldnt actually see with it on and I was in a panic. So I got out my scissors and sports tape and cut off alot of the excess material that was covering my eyes and patched it up. The mask still wasnt ideal and cut off about half my vision but I had no choice now but to use it. Babu had just thrown in this shitty mask for me as I had told him I was planning to not use oxygen he thought I could have this one just incase of an emergency. So it was my fault really that I hadnt asked for a better one. On summit day this mask would turn into the bane of my existance. As soon as I started to breathe in the oxygen I became very warm. After a hard day on the mountain I would always just sit in the tent freezing cold no matter how many clothes I put on from the dehydration. I had my downsuit on in my sleeping bag but after about 30 minutes I got so hot I had to take it off as I was sweating! So needless to say I had a fantastic sleep that night whereas Dawa had a very average sleep. He didnt want to use oxygen even though I kept telling him to.
Even after cutting and taping my mask I still cant see properly!
Our tent at Camp 4

We woke up at 4:30am to get ready to head to the South Col, Camp 4. It took us a long time to prepare and have breakfast so we didnt leave until 7am. By this time the fixed ropes were swarming with climbers and Sherpa porters. We pushed into the line and starting jugging up along with everyone else. I had met a really friendly woman from the UK at Camp 1 on our first trip up the mountain and her name was Squash (Squash Falconer- was set to attempt to be the first woman to solo paraglide off the summit but I didnt know this at the time). She was heading up the ropes the same time as me so we greeted each other. I was happy that she was going to the summit the same day as I was. All the climbers were on oxygen at this point and some of their Sherpas also. Dawa still didnt want to use it as he had previously carried two loads to the South Col and said he didnt need it. Basically I now managed to walk the same speed as him for the first time! This day was higher in altitude than the previous day but I felt so much better and I am sure it was due to using oxygen. There were two rock steps along the way and one was called the yellow band. All the climbers seemed to be moving at about the same speed so we didnt have to wait too long there. Squash was infront and she got up there quite fast so I was inspired to get it over with quickly aswell. Past the yellow band it is a long traverse to the Col and Dawa headed infront to start to set up the tent. As per usual it was really windy there as it is a really exposed camp in the col between Lhotse and Everest. I arrived at 1:10pm so it took me 6 hours and 10 minutes which I thought was pretty good. We had plenty of time to set the tent up, eat and drink and try to rest before our summit attempt that night. Dawa really struggled to get the tent up in the wind and I was struggling trying to help without getting cold hands but eventually we did it and we got inside for some shelter. Just sitting around in there we didnt use oxygen and I breathed really heavily. It was an effort to do anything so sometimes I just used it for 5 minutes then I could think and get ready. I was armed with quite a few lucky charms for summit day. I had washed my new long sleeve thermal that my girlfriends gave me at the base camp and put it on fresh and clean for the summit attempt. I had my necklace that the Lama blessed, the two red strings from him and our puja around my neck, his card and cata in my backpack. We decided to leave at 10 pm so around 7pm we both settled under the one sleeping bag and tried to rest. Neither of us fell asleep however.

At around 8pm Dawa could hear people leave so he tried to wake me up to go early. I kept telling him I wasnt going to stop resting until 9pm like we had already planned as I was tired. He would lie back down again...for 5 minutes..then sit up. I guess he was anxious to go but I had tried to not be influenced by what others were doing on the mountain and just go by what I felt was right so I got up at 9pm like we had planned and started getting ready. We probably left the tent around 10:15pm. As I didnt look at my watch when we left I am not sure. I did look at it in the tent though and it said 10pm but we werent quite ready at that point. Dawas brother in law Nema was also heading up that day and he left 30 minutes before us. In his group there was one woman from Nepal and one from India with three Sherpa climbing guides. We were probably the last to leave camp but we were going quite fast and we overtook three groups on the face on the way up to the 'balcony'. This small area is the first flat spot on the mountain and it marks the start of the ridge leading to the south summit. It is 8400mt in altitude and the south col is around 7900mt so we had already climbed 500mt of 45-50 degree face to get there, all in the dark. It was quite windy at the balcony as it was on the ridge and very cold. Dawa changed my oxygen bottle over there. I only carried one bottle in my pack and a litre of water. Dawa had four bottles. One that he was using, and a spare for himself. Two spare for me but now he got to leave my empty one at the balcony and we would collect it on the way down. I dont understand why some people would leave their empty bottles up there as they can be sold for $100US each and Dawa sold all our bottles which gave him some extra cash for his fantastic effort on the mountain! There was a man there who had also stopped to change his bottle. He was swearing as he couldnt get his mask back on in the wind so Dawa helped him with it. He was climbing alone without a Sherpa guide and I never saw him again so I am guessing he just turned around from there.
Coming up the SE ridge towards the south summit, Squash is just behind me

We continued, still in the dark, up the SE ridge to the left. At times it was very steep on either side and then as it slowly got lighter it became very rocky. Sadly as the sun came up it didnt come out. We were in heavy cloud at this point and we also caught up to a line of climbers....the ones that had left earlier. There were so many that it was not possible to overtake them so we settled in line and followed up the steep rocky terrain towards the south summit. Squash was just behind me at this point, I will put in a photo shortly of this. I thought that this section was one of the harder parts of the climb. There were some really big step ups on the rock and it seemed to go forever. Dawa turned around at one point and told me that he had a lazy eye!! He would take five steps then just stand there and fall asleep. I was very worried that he had oedema so I was checking the way he walked and was clipping his jumar to see if he looked unco-ordinated. He actually seemed to be fine so I just thought it was bad English, later to learn that he wanted to just say he was falling asleep because he was climbing so slow and had not had a good sleep in a few nights! I was thinking I had to go the summit on my own, would have to carry him down with oedema, any number of hideous scenarios!! So finally we crested the south summit and dropped down into little saddle on the other side, the start of the final ridge to the true summit.
The line of climbers heading up to the south summit

At this point the whole day changed. It was extremely windy, cloudy and most of all cold. Alot of the climbers were just standing there discussing whether to continue or not. One guide was saying that it was not possible to go on because the risk of frostbite was too high. If I were guiding that day I would have turned my clients around from there aswell. However I wasnt and I was only responsible for myself so I found the decision very, very hard. I honestly did not know what to do. Then Squash walked straight past me joined by her team. I watched them start up the rock step across from us then head on into the cloud. Dawa and I had to yell at each other because the wind was so strong i could hardly hear him. He said to me that it was very close to the summit and we should just try. He told me if other people were infront it would be possible and he knew his brother in law was infront somewhere. I hesitated alot because now i also had a new problem apart from the weather conditions! As my oxygen mask cut off half my vision I was having trouble now looking down at the steps in the snow as the ridge was more of a traverse than up at this point. I also had to wear my goggles with the sun out now and because of the wind, but the mask created a gap in the sides of them. They were fogging up from the heat coming out of my mask and instantly the wind coming in froze this and made ice cover 80 per cent of the inside. So basically I could only see out the top centimeter of my goggles. I had one hand on my jumar and the other trying to pull my mask and goggles down so I could actually see something. I reluctantly followed Dawa over to the rock step. This section of the climb is a real ridge, very narrow with a cornice on one side and I think around 3000 meters of face straight down on either side....not that I could see that! I was just leaning into the ridge trying to see the steps in the snow. It was a bit better at the rock step as I could look up and see where I was going, then it traversed again and then the hillary step. I was so dissappointed I didnt get a photo of it as I really had looked forward to taking pictures there. It was actually smaller than I had imagined and was just one boulder that was almost vertical to jumar over which didnt take too long. Just before this however it was so cold that my ascender froze and no longer gripped the rope. I was screaming at Dawa who was infront about 4 meters about my problem. He didnt understand what i was saying so just kept walking. I balanced along the ridge and hoped it would work when the rope was steeper and luckily it did. In an article Squash wrote just after her summit day she describes the weather as- 'The visibility was mostly between 5m and 30m, the wind was about 50-60km/hr and with the wind chill the temps were about -50’c.  It was quite cold!!' You can read more about her and her summit day here http://squashfalconer.com/wp/ as we had very similar experiences!!

Just before the summit, not the best view!

So we continued along the ridge and I had mixed thoughts. Sometimes I was scared out of my brain and thought we should turn back. I clearly remember thinking that this was a nightmare and the worst day of my life! Other times I thought that it was ok because I could still feel my fingers and toes so I would be alright and if I did it, I wouldnt have to come back and do it all again! Dawa has much better circulation than I do and rarely has cold hands. I believe he saved my fingers at this stage because everytime we got to a new rope he would stop and change my ascender over for me aswell as his. This meant I didnt need to get my hand out of my giant mitt to do it myself. I am very, very grateful for him doing this. The ridge got wider and leveled out and I was quite surprised. I always imagined the summit to be a prominant point that we would have to climb up to but it was getting flatter. Nema and his group came past us and they had just been on the summit. I was getting excited because we were only ten minutes away. Then I could see a group standing still in the distance and I felt relieved because this was it. Squash was getting her photo taken with her other two team mates when I arrived at 8:30am. We congratulated each other then her group started to descend and that was the last I saw of here that day. There were eleven climbers on the summit when I got there but I didnt know who they all were. It was very cold and windy and we were all covered in ice. The summit is crowned by a pile of prayer flags, cata, other flags and various gifts to the gods....including a Bounty bar?! I had a little plastic bag full with my summit signs and flags in it that I had to get photos with but this task was extremely difficult. Infact one blew away into Tibet as Dawa tried to hand it to me. It wasnt the perfect summit with awesome 360 degree views and blue sky that I had imagined. I also started to get dizzy so I asked Dawa to turn my oxygen flow up as I did not want the start of adema at this stage. Consequently I couldnt remove my mask in the photos, apart from the fact it was so cold and windy anyway. I managed to get some photos with Andrew MacMahons sign, the Lama Geshi card and attempted to open out the silk (silk!!???) flag that Australian Geographic gave me but it was impossible. I have a picture with it back to front and folded in half. Then I took photos of Dawa and it was very difficult as I had to take my hand out of my glove each time, then put it back until it warmed up to take the next one. Sadly we dont have any on the top together as no-one else would help out obviously! At this point the LCD screen on my camera was slowly going black as it was freezing so I took about 50 seconds of video then put it away. Most people were already heading down now. I was very nervous about going back down the ridge to the south summit with my poor vision but also keen to get going. I wasnt really happy at all on the summit because all I could think about was having to get back down safe and the day certainly wasnt over yet.
The climbers on the summit when we got there. Squash is second from the left and Margaret is extreme right

8:30am 12th of May Everest Summit

So we headed off in the cloud and it wasnt too bad going across the relatively flat part of the ridge apart from getting blown around. As it got steeper though it was a nightmare for me trying to see out my goggles where to put my feet so I was falling around a bit which made me quite scared! I have to say at this point that I had not had a sip of water since the balcony hours earlier. Even at the balcony my water bottle was starting to freeze in its thermal cover. I hadnt eaten anything since we left the tent and we had been going for around 11 hours already. I made a small rappel down the hillary step but apart from that we just clipped a safety line from our harness to the rope and held on to the rope as we climbed along the ridge. It is much harder doing this than going up with the jumar as it grabs the rope and stops you from sliding back. My lack of vision was making me go quite slow along to the south summit. I wasnt actually too tired at this time but I definately had the shits at my oxygen mask! Dawa didnt really understand what my problem was because he was fine. His mask fit his face better and sat quite low as he has a flatter nose I guess. So he just got impatient with me. However I wasnt going to speed up on the knifeblade section of the ridge because if I missed a step I would fall and be hanging somewhere down the face on the rope and he would have high drama on his hands!

At the saddle just before the south summit we stopped for a break. I got out my water bottle but it was almost completely frozen so I only managed a small sip. I was carrying around an extra kilo for nothing! Dawa remembered he left his in the tent....I tried to get my snacks out that were inside my downsuit but my zipper was frozen shut. It became too much hard work trying to open it and I couldnt be bothered to continue, therefore still didnt eat anything. He changed my bottle over again so I was on my third one now. He still had the same bottle as his was on low flow. Dawa could fairly easily summit without oxygen I imagine as he only used one bottle all summit day. A sherpa and his client stopped for a break there also. We were going a bit faster than them so we headed off infront to start back down the SE ridge. I was having alot of trouble down climbing all the rocky sections just grabbing the rope so I decided to rappel as it was steep now and it made it alot faster for me. I also felt alot safer too as I could control myself easier. I remember thinking that some sections were quite steep and I couldnt believe I had climbed up all of it earlier.

On the snow ridge a few hundred meters from the balcony we came upon two climbers that were not descending and I instantly knew something was wrong. Sadly they were on an extremely exposed and very windy section of the ridge. It was a japanese man that was in a very bad way with his Nepalese guide. He was unable to walk but had his eyes open. The very first thing I noticed about him was he was not wearing a downsuit and only had on a goretex jacket! I instantly thought he may have hypothermia so I felt his pulse. It was very slow and weak. I asked him who he was and where he was from but he was beyond being able to answer me. I had one injection of dexamethazone incase I got cerebral oedema, which was in Dawas pocket as I taught him how to inject me. This man obviously also had adema as his level of consciousnes was extremely low infact he kept passing out then waking up and punching the air and groaning. I asked Dawa to give me my dex and I tried to draw it up into the syringe. To do this I had to take off my mitts and my gloves. The dex kept freezing in the vial so I couldnt get it out. I dont know how many times I put it in my mouth to heat it up but as soon as I took it out it would go cloudy straight away and I just couldnt get it into the syringe. My hands were starting to freeze now. I was very tired and I was getting cold too. The man was going in and out of consciousness and I thought he was going to die at any moment. I dont know if the dex would have helped him at that point anyway. His guide said that he would be alright and he would take him down. I knew that this would not happen. Neither Dawa or I had the energy to carry this guy as we were on the ridge it wasnt possible to lower him. I said to Dawa that I was getting very cold and that could be me any minute too and we had to continue on. We would try to get them help as soon as we could. I knew though that it was too late. We kept on and soon dropped out of the cloud and arrived at the balcony. We got out the radio and warmed up the batteries. Dawa radioed Nema and told him of the situation. His group were back at camp but were all totally wasted so they were not able to help. If the man was under the balcony we would be able to try rescue him by lowering him down the face but he was in a very difficult and exposed position for anyone to give help.

Rappelling down from the balcony back to the South Col

I was very tired now and I had spent so long just trying to survive that I wanted to be back in the tent and safe again now. I was extremely thirsty. Dawa picked up my empty oxygen bottle we left there earlier and put it in his pack. I just started to rappel down the face while Dawa was still down climbing using the rope. I went alot faster than him so I just kept going, only stopping to look up and make sure he was still following me. It actually even became a little sunny at this point so I was happy to start to warm up a little. Close to the bottom of the face there was a japanese girl heading down the rope and she was going extremely slow. I was stuck waiting for her as she was on the rope I needed. I there waiting for almost 30 minutes and she was just sitting half way down the rope. She saw I was waiting so she just took herself off. Her guide was below her and was getting very frustrated. When I rappelled to her she wasnt clipped to the rope so I made a safety out of the slings on her harness and clipped her on. She said she was very tired and her oxygen ran out. She turned around and didnt make the summit. I got down to her guide and told him to climb up and change her bottle as that was why she was so slow and he did. I then ran into two Sherpa that had come up from the camp and they asked me if I had seen a Japanese man. I told them where he was and that he was close to death but they didnt really believe me. I said he needed help but they were due to summit that night so they didnt want to go up to them. Infact he was probably dead by this stage anyway. They stayed there and when Dawa came down he told them the same story so I guess they believed it then.

I continued on back to the tent and arrived at 2:30pm. It was very windy and the front vestible of the tent was full of snow so I had to crawl through the back door. I could see across camp that the IMG group had arrived and my friend Mike was there. I knew they would have water and hot food but I didnt even have the energy left to walk the extra 150mtrs to his tent so I just lied down and waited for Dawa. He got back 30 minutes after me and we were both completely wasted. Strangely I still didnt feel safe here or like I could relax yet. I was so dehydrated and exhausted I was worried I would get oedema. Dawa heard over the radio that the climber had died and his guide was coming down to camp now. This was very sad news and I felt upset that I couldnt help him but also didnt understand why he would only wear goretex to the summit of Everest?

I could finally unzip my suit and got my cheese and salami snacks out. They were a little frozen but I ate the lot. Dawas water bottle was still in the tent but half frozen. We drank what wasnt and lied down for quite awhile before we got the energy to fire up the stove to melt more snow. As it was late and we were exhausted, we had spend an extra night at camp 4 instead of returning to camp 2 the same day which was the original plan. Nema and his group did the same and I saw that Squash's group also had their tents up so they hadnt moved at all. Nema came over to see how we were. He was also very tired and his team didnt have much oxygen left. We all talked about how hard the day was. Dawa had a spare full bottle so gave it to him and Nema came back with a half empty one so Dawa could use that overnight. I had two bottles with a bit left in each so started on the first one before we went to sleep. We only had one sleeping bag to save weight so we settled down sharing that with our down suits on and I fell asleep straight away. I woke up in the middle of the night shivering with no oxygen mask on. My bottle must have ran out in my sleep and I was freezing cold. I woke Dawa up to change it over for me. Ten minutes later after breathing in my new bottle I was warm again. This just shows the huge difference oxygen makes to help keep you warm. I fell back to sleep and we both woke up around 8am when the sun hit the tent. Of course it was windy again. Dawa looked out the tent and told me there was a parachute outside! I didnt believe him but when I looked out I did indeed see a paraglider and someone just down the hill trying to take off. If was way too windy however... Then I realised it was Squash, then I also remembered seeing her Sherpa carrying a paraglider backpack on summit day. I only just found out the other day after reading her website that she had planned to fly from the summit.

Packed and ready to head down. There are climbers coming down the mountain behind me. You can see the route to the balcony then the SE ridge to the south summit. The true summit is behind.

We slowly started to pack up without the help of oxygen as all our bottles ran out. We both had very heavy backpacks as we had to now take everything back down the mountain. I was very tired and struggled to carry it but there was no other option as our 'group' (everyone I met on the mountain asked me what group was I in, which made me laugh) was just me and Dawa! It was cold and windy, even with the sun out, at the south col so we headed off around 9:30am. As soon as we rappelled down the yellow band we got out of the wind and I finally started to heat up a little. We had to stop and rest alot so we could get the weight off our backs. Since I had woken up I had an occasional ringing in my ears. It would come and go while I was on the way to camp 3. We stopped there around 12pm as we had to collect more things and pack the tent up. I sat in the tent to change out of my downsuit and accidently fell asleep! Dawa woke me up and about 5 minutes later my hearing went all together. I was really worried but then it came back again and I just had ringing. I didnt even want to talk about and hoped that when I decended to camp 2 it would just get better and thank god that is what happened! Dawa found a couple of Sherpa heading down to camp 2 with empty packs as they had just dropped loads at the south col. He stopped them to help us so they took most of the oxygen bottles and also the tents. I headed down the Lhotse face again just after 1pm.

Climbers on the Lhotse face above Camp 3 which is in the bottom righthand corner of the photo

Rappelling down I caught up to Squash and we briefly chatted about how hard our summit day was. It was great to talk to her and hear that she also questioned whether or not to turn around. Obviously the wind had not died down enough for her to fly from the south col that morning. At the base of the fixed ropes, back down on the glacier, it was boiling hot again! I had to strip down to my thermals and couldnt believe I was sweating. My feet were frying in my Millet boots. Two guys had just skied down the lhotse face and were having a rest before skiing back to camp 2. Also two climbers from Adventure Consultants had summitted that morning (in perfect weather grrrrrr) and were heading back to camp 2. Their kitchen boy was on the glacier with hot juice waiting for them and they very kindly offered me a mug of it which was awesome! They told me they saw the japanese man who had passed away still hanging from the rope above the balcony and they had to climb past him. They said he had both his fists clenched in the air.

I arrived back to the tent at 4pm. Nema had a big camp just next to us with a kitchen tent. He offered to feed us and give us water so we didnt need to unpack our stoves for the night. He made me noodle soup and lots of cups of tea which were very appreciated. Dawa came to the tent with dahl baht for me that evening because I was too tired to get up and walk over for dinner. We both had a horrible sleep that night, tossing and turning. I had a really sore neck from the heavy pack and Dawas back hurt. Basically we were sore all over. My forearms were aching from all the jumaring and I could hardly hold my camera up when I made my video diary. In the morning I joked that we needed a helicopter! I said our reason for it would be that we just hurt everywhere. Luckily Dawa had organised two porters to take most of our gear down. I only wanted a light pack for the last trip through the icefall. We left at 8am to try beat the heat of the glacier. When we got to camp 1 Dawa off loaded most of his pack to another porter too so he also had a light pack again. I was pretty happy that this was the last time I ever had to go through the icefall because it was also probably the scariest. A huge serac had collapsed that morning and caused a big avalanche. The whole path had changed and all the ropes in that section had been buried. I was trying as hard as I could to go fast but Dawa was off ahead because he wanted to get to where it was safe. We got to the first safe spot and stopped for a break. I hardly recognised the icefall as most of it had changed so much with the weather getting warmer. Towards the bottom alot of the icescrews had melted out so you couldnt use the ropes anymore. Right before the morraine we were walking through pools of water and the glacier had actually receded slightly.

Dawa and Nema at Camp 1 Lhotse behind them
Climbers descending through the avalanche debri

As we walked into the camp everyone came out and clapped to welcome us. I wasnt even happy at this stage, just exhausted! The brazilians asked me a million questions about summit day and Tenzing cooked me my favourite meal....banana chocolate pancake. I literally had no emotion about my climb. I just felt relieved that I could stop walking and that I was alive. That was all. I called my Mum to tell her I was ok and she was very happy to hear from me as it had been a week since she had any news. She then called my Dad to let him know that she heard from me and I was safe.

That night the brazilians invited me to their tent to celebrate. Tenzing made me a summit cake and all the sherpa came in to give it to me. I started to feel happy on the outside but inside I still felt nothing. I couldnt wait to get in my tent and just go to sleep as I had two proper foam mattresses in there. I wanted to leave the next day but it would not be possible as I was just too tired. We had organised yaks to come and take our stuff down and they actually arrived just after we got back down. I was destroyed and only had the energy to throw all my climbing gear in a pile and the sherpa staff just packed it for me into my duffle bags. On the rest day I got a little more organised and packed all the rest of my gear ready. I hadnt had internet reception but finally managed to open my facebook page. I was so happy I cried when I read all the comments of support while I was up the mountain. I posted that I had summitted and was back safe so my friends need not worry about me anymore. I enjoyed a hot bucket shower which was the best thing ever and slowly started to feel human again. I had a much better sleep the second night as my body wasnt so dehydrated and sore.

The summit cake Tenzing baked me...he is the one in the apron...
With the base camp kitchen staff. Karma, Tenzing, Pasang and Num Ka on the right, infront of the icefall.

On the morning I left base I was sad to leave all my new Sherpa friends that had worked so hard to help feed me and look after me. I wrote them little notes and gave them all a tip each. We got some photos together infront of the icefall. Num Ka (one of the kitchen staff) came with us as my porter and had to carry my two duffle bags to Namche. He was pretty happy about it as he got a break from base and made some extra cash. I quickly went to say goodbye to my friend Jim Williams at his camp then to Mike Hamill at the IMG camp. Mike was with all his clients and they had summitted the day after me. They were all very happy and drinking home brew...at 10am! Of course I had to have a cup of it too but it made it quite hard to leave them and continue on. Dawa had been waiting for me at the edge of camp whilst I was busy socialising and I didnt realise, so I felt bad that he had been sitting there for an hour. As Dawas fiance was still at Rivendell, working with her sister, in Deboche that was our destination that day. Normally people stop at Periche which is around five hours walk however we took eight hours to get to Deboche and arrived at 7pm. I was completely wasted by then and after two Everest beers I crashed out. Luckily Namche was apparently only 3 hours away so I slept in and left at lunch time. Well it wasnt actually 3 hours, in my current state it took 4 hours. My body really hurt this day and I struggled alot. Also Dawa and I had really sore stomaches. I think it was just the adjustment to the altitude but everytime we ate our stomaches hurt like we had knives in them so we couldnt eat much at a time even though we were really hungry.

So excited to see trees again!

We got back to the Zamling and I was so excited to have my first proper hot shower, not a bucket shower. There was a group from Peak Freaks there also and one of them Kevin who is from Perth had also summitted, the day after I had. I had dinner with them and they were a really nice bunch of people. I was dreading having to walk the next day as it takes around 7 hours to walk to Lukla from Namche. They were going to have a rest day and walk there the day after. I just wanted to fly out so I could change my ticket to come home early as I missed home so much. It actually took us 8 hours to get to Lukla in the end. I felt alot better that day than the day before and I am sure it was due to the extra oxygen in the air! Still I was happy to get to Lukla. The weather was very bad and it had been raining most of the day. This meant that most the flights had been cancelled and alot of people were waiting around to fly out. I was worried that we wouldnt be able to fly the next morning.

Dawa and I seemed to have luck on our side, again, and we managed to get on the second flight out. The clouds were high enough that they could see to land, so planes were coming and going and clearing the crowd. As we were flying out of the mountain I started to feel emotions again. I wanted to go home so bad but I also felt sad to leave the Himalaya. What a trip. It had been long and time had pasted so slowly while I was there. We had done so many things and hiked such a long way. I had met lots of people and made some new friends. I had also caught up with alot of old friends of mine. Now it was over and soon I would be in busy Kathmandu back at the Courtyard Hotel where I had started. I suddenly felt proud of myself and of Dawa because we had such an amazing journey. He had taken me to the top of the world and back and most importantly, we survived. I somehow felt inside that I would never be the same again after this experience. I also felt that it would be awhile until I would climb in the mountains again as it had been such an ordeal on summit day that I needed alot of time to forget how hard it was. I was starting to feel happy, to realise that we actually did what we came there to do. We may not have had the beautiful views but we did stand ontop of the highest mountain on the planet.

We landed in the early morning but things were already busy in the city. We got a taxi back to the Hotel and Michelle wasnt up yet. She had put me in the most beautiful room for the night. It was huge with lots of lounge chairs and a big king size bed, beautifully decorated. I felt like a princess. I went straight to the Thai Airways office and changed my ticket. I got on a flight the next day so I had to quickly go buy presents for my wonderful, supportive friends at home before I got back and had a long hot shower. It was so great to see Michelle and Pujan again and we went out to dinner with Dawa that night. Michelle had bought me a black forest cake from the Radisson for my summit. It was amazing and tasted so delicious with fresh cream on it! I said goodbye to Dawa that night and I was very sad to leave my new friend. We had been through so much together it was hard to know what to say. I wrote him a card and tried to put into words how grateful I was to him for working so hard for so long for me. I didnt sleep so well that night as I was so excited to be going home the next day.

With Michelle outside the Courtyard Hotel

In the morning the Altitude Junkies expedition arrived which included a woman from Perth called Margaret. We had talked on the mountain while we were climbing. We didnt realise but we both summitted on the same day! I got my camera and she managed to find herself in my summit photo with her Sherpa which was amazing as we were even on the summit at the same time. I was so happy for her because this was her second time on Everest and she made it in those horrendous conditions aswell. That day Nema guided two women also, one from Nepal and one from India. I was so proud that so many women summitted the day I did. I was sad to leave the Hotel and Nepal but I was very, very happy to be heading to the airport. I was a bit worried though that I had two huge duffle bags and probably had to pay alot in excess baggage. Luck was on my side because when I got to the counter I happened to mention Everest....and I got my 55 kilos on the plane for free. Sweet! So that was it expedition was officially over.

Its been a week since I have been home and all I have done is eat and sleep. I am starting to feel my normal happy self again but I think it will take some time to digest my experience. I still dont feel completely overjoyed that I summitted and I guess I am still getting over the trauma of what I thought at the time was the worst day of life. I guess at some point I will look back and possibly see it as the best. Mountaineering is strange like that, you can suffer alot at the time but then look back and think it was amazing enough to go back into the hills and do it all again. Whats next is the question everyone is asking me....and at this point in time I cant answer as I just dont know yet. I need some time to relax and enjoy not being stressed for awhile, then I will see.

Oxygen, am I dissapointed that I used it in the end? If I had not had bottled oxygen the day I went to the summit I would not have made it and that would have been the least of my worries that day. I found Everest to be a lot harder than Cho Oyu as the camps are further apart. I felt more tired when summit day came around as I had spent alot more time up high on Everest. On Cho Oyu summit day, I went up on my own starting at 5am in the morning. I plugged steps by myself and alot of the fixed ropes were buried so it was quite difficult. I was never actually scared or nervous on Cho Oyu, however during summit day on Everest I was very scared and I was not alone. To climb without oxygen I would need a perfect summit day with no wind and perfect weather because it is so much colder and you have to climb so many hours in the dark. This doesnt happen often. To be honest being safe and summitting was more important to me. I still question whether or not I would have been strong enough to do it anyway and I dont know. A very strong team from Spain came this season to try and they did not succeed just recently heading home. This included Edurne Pasaban who is the first woman to summit all 14 8000mt mountains.

Thankyou so much to everyone that has supported me on my Everest journey. To all the people that left comments, wrote me emails and messaged me on facebook during my climb. Thankyou to Mike Garben from Villawood Indoor Climbing Gym to be the first person to sponsor me by providing me with a free gym membership to aid in my training. Thankyou so much to Simon Carter and Monique Forestier for helping me get started with my sponsorship proposals and their endless support and faith in me. Thankyou Sea to Summit for sponsoring me some gear and for pro deal on the rest of the equipment and clothing I needed. Thankyou Mont for sponsoring me my high altitude sleeping bag, down jacket, sunglasses and cargo bags. Thankyou to Goal Zero for providing the solar charging equipment I needed for my communications, cameras and entertainment devices. Thankyou Nikon for the use of the Coolpix cameras. Thankyou so much to the Australian Geographic Society for awarding me the Nancy-Bird Walton sponsorship to help financially with my expedition. A very special thankyou to Andrew McMahon and his family for their financial support of my journey. Thankyou to Josh and to my dear friends and family for all their encouragement and belief in me.

10 comments:

  1. Hi Allie.Your whole story is unforgetable and very moving and precious to me and I'm very,very ,proud of you!!! Love. Dad.

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  2. Congratulations on reaching the summit Allie, an inspirational achievement. Thanks for sharing your story - the hardships, the anguish, the fear and the joy. Chris, Lawson

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  3. All the trials, tribulations and triumphs are here in this epic story - thank you for writing this and the photos look terrific! Congratulations to you and Dawa achieving the summit in terrible weather conditions. Lois xx

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  4. A wonderful achievement. Congratulations Allie!
    The story, as Lois says, is epic and your writing of it is the stuff of high drama and great adventure and makes for gripping reading.The photos are fantastic too!
    Good to have you back in the Blue Mountains safe and well! Kath xo

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  5. Hi Ally... epic stuff, that!

    Huge congrats on reaching the top, and making it through this icy roller coaster ride in one piece!

    x
    Cousin Adrian

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  6. Hi Allie,
    congratulations - huge achievement and an inspiration to me and other Aussie women. I loved your honest and evocative description of the climb - helps me appreciate what a significant challenge the summit of Everest is.
    Linda

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  8. Great blog! You've got a great track record in mountaineering and had some difficulty with Everest, I'm surprised. You're very fit and know what you're doing. People should read this that think they can just go and climb Everest with no experience like Ms Shah-Klorfine, what a tragedy.

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