In I am sitting in my tent at 7,950 meters/ 26,082 feet, high on Mount Everest. Someone comes into our tent with bad news. A Swiss climber has died in the next tent to us. We would also have to step over a body at the Balcony at 8,400 meters/ 27,559 feet. Sitting here, preparing to enter the higher realm of the Death Zone on Mount Everest. I was faced with the fact that two fellow climbers had died. One of which I may have to actually step over at some stage on the climb to the summit.
Acclimatization is Key to Success
It was game on! I had spent the previous three years of my life preparing physically and mentally for this challenge. We trekked to Everest Base Camp over eleven days. Lived at EBC for six weeks. We climbed up and down the mountain, acclimatizing to the low levels of oxygen in the environment. Hearing that people are dying around us challenged me to the core. I am sitting in the tent and feeling the effects of the six weeks we have spent climbing high on Mount Everest.
After returning home, my climbing partner found out that he had cracked two ribs. The famous Khumbu cough forms from breathing in the the dry, cold air. Little did he know that this harsh cough he has developed will eventually force him to abandon his dreams of standing on the top of the world. Climb Cho Oyu with us or get in touch and we can help you Climb Everest or just trek to get face to face with Mount Everest.
Sitting at Camp 4 on Mount Everest
It is the 22nd May 2008. We have had 10 hours sitting and resting in camp four. Almost time to take off into the higher realm of the death zone. We are trying to eat and drink whatever our stomachs can handle; water, hot chocolate,nuts, chocolate, and sweets, as well as mentally readying ourselves for this venture into the dark. While I lay in the tent thinking about the next 24 hours of my life. I couldn’t help but think about how everything we had done over the past three years had lead to this point.
Climbing High on Mount Everest
The aim of the project was to build the Mount Everest Primary school in Uganda with the Irish charity Fields of Life. In order to help raise awareness we set our goal of climbing four mountains on four continents in one year. I had failed at many things throughout my life. This was my chance to do something big and prove something to myself. Reaching the top of Mount Everest would not only be for myself, but something that would eventually help others. All of these factors motivated me to keeping moving and push for the top. We set out that night at 10pm, walking across Everest’s South Col in the dark. I was accompanied by my Sherpa, Pemba Chirri Sherpa, who climbed behind me. He drove me forward at key points on the climb.
How much does the Oxygen help?
It was – 30 degrees Fahrenheit, cold with light wind, as we began our journey up the first leg of the summit push to the Balcony at 8,400m. Each step was very difficult, and catching your breath at these altitudes can seem impossible at times. I was using supplemental oxygen, however to the surprise of many, you are actually only increasing your oxygen flow by 2%. You are breathing a mixture of compressed gas and ambient air. This system is keeping you alive and not improving your climbing ability. When you are in a dangerous environment high on Mount Everest. You start to begin to think of all the negative things that can possibly happen to you. It becomes very important to block any negative thoughts. In saying that it is hard to keep a positive mind set.
Managing Heart Rates and Pace is Critical
There are a hundred things that can kill you on Mount Everest. My focus was on every step while trying to control my breathing and heart rate. My training involved trying to keep that intense focus for long periods of time. While on the mountain I needed to be alert and make sure I was using the right ropes. Maintaining a heart rate below my lactic threshold for 12+ hours was my main job. Using only enough energy to safely make the summit and return back down to camp 4 and base camp.
The Right Mind Set is so Important
On the way up to the balcony, I was thinking about the body I had to pass. Would I see eyes staring back at me as I walked past. I was thinking about the last three Irish people who tried to climb Everest before me, who all nearly lost their lives high on this mountain. But I had to remain focused, keep to the routine of taking three steps and then ten breaths, again and again in the dark, trying to stay focused to keep me going. Beyond the Balcony, the wind started to pick up and we were stopped in our tracks as the wind was swirling snow up in my face and had to decide to keep moving.
Should I Keep Going
I was using my hands to cover my eyes and face as the wind was strong. At that point I wanted to turn around; I was reminded of the high winds and storm that hit in 1996, when eleven people died in one day on Everest. I really didn’t want to get caught out, high on this mountain. The wind died down just enough to help me make the decision to move forward. As we were still in the dark, I could see electrical storms over the horizon, as well as six head torches above me.
I was with my Sherpa but could see no other climbers behind me and wanted so much to get closer to the climbers above. I knew Martin, a Scottish climber, was ahead of me and wanted to get up to where he was to relieve the feelings of being alone on the mountain. Every step was hard work, hour after hour, step by step, pushing slowly forward. About four hours later, I reached the South Summit of Everest and sat alone in the dark, sipping some water. I was tired, my left leg was sore, my back was sore, I was tired and I felt alone. As I got up to sort out my back pack and start moving again there was a dim light on the horizon.
Almost Being Killed on the Knife Edge Ridge
I stepped off the back of the South Summit of Everest and there was a climber standing close to the edge on a section known as the Knife Edge Ridge, which has killed more than thirty climbers over the years. My Sherpa behind me began to shout stop, stop’ and the climber yelled back – it’s Martin, ‘I,m Blind’.
Extreme Altitude can Kill
Martin had lost his sight due to a lack of oxygen and couldn’t see what he was doing. It was a terrifying situation; if Martin fell he could pull us all off the mountain. The Sherpa kept shouting over my shoulder for Martin to stop and wait, but due to the lack of oxygen at this altitude, we could not run over to help him quickly, we could only slowly move to his aide.
At 8,717m above sea level on a half meter wide ridge with a 3,000m drop to your right and an 2,500m drop to your left this is a dangerous place to be, and Martin’s life was on the line. We got closer to him and he nearly stepped off the ridge when we had to place his foot back on the route. After maybe ten minutes we managed to man-oeuvre Martin around us and on his way back to the South Summit with his Sherpa.
So Close to the Summit
Eventually the Sherpa and Martin slowly made their way back to the Balcony where he regained part of his vision. Once he descended back to the South col, he regained his sight. Alone and scared, I had to get off this ridge as quickly as possible. I was facing my fears in a very real and dangerous way. My fear almost got the better of me on numerous occasions.
I moved forward towards the Hillary Step and subsequently broke down. I was so afraid. Thinking that if I go higher and lose my sight, I might not make it back down. I began crying and found it hard to find a positive thought in my mind. My Sherpa tried to keep me focused on the fact that I was strong. I was feeling good with this in mind, I reset my mind and moved forward. I continued on and climbed the Hillary Step, pushing myself the final thirty-five minutes to the summit.
The Summit in Sight
After the Hillary Step the ground was easier to cover and seeing the summit in the distance for the first time was enough to make that final push. I stepped up on the summit, a twenty foot long ridge and two feet wide, I took out my Irish flag and logo’s, handed my video camera’s to my Sherpa and snapped a few pictures on the summit, before I was ready to get the hell out of there.
Focus is Needed for Every Step Up and Down
I was more exhausted than I had ever been. I knew that 80% off accidents happen on the way down importantly, I needed to be alert. It was hard work, but slowly I kept moving down all the way back to Camp Four. My body and mind had performed well, my gear also held up to the rigors of climbing high on Everest, my Rab down gear, Patagonia, Berghaus,and Merino layers all held firm. My Everest Millet boots saved my feet from frostbite.
Getting in the Top in Good Time
I was also worried about my Diamond back guide gloves but all performed perfectly. After a 12 hour round trip, I was back in Camp Four. With a release of emotion Finally, I embraced my Sherpa, Graham and Martin and cried. I had pushed myself past my fears most importantly, I reached the top of the world. It was time to rest and refuel for the night before we would have to move two more days to get back to Everest Base Camp and then make the journey back home.
Climbing High on Mount Everest
Finally, you can watch the journey to Mount Everest and building the Mount Everest primary school. You can purchase the DVD Documentary Everest, ‘A Summit Calling’ by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like more information on any of his trips on offer CLICK HERE and join us. CLICK HERE for more blog posts.