Thursday, May 31, 2012

Just Another Day On Everest

Jetstream Winds Rip the North side of Mt. Everest
 2012 has been a tough Everest season, with overcrowding contributing to four deaths on a single day on the South Col route.  All three climbers, that I know of, from Singapore; Kumaran Rasappan, Grant Rawlinson and Valerie Boffy, were successful in their bids to climb the highest mountain on earth, and I'm very proud of their achievements.  I know that training to climb Mt. Everest is especially challenging for those living on the tiny island nation of Singapore, where the highest hill is only 105m tall.
Chores at Everest Basecamp
It was just a year ago that I stood on the North Ridge, on my way up to the summit after a night of battling horrendous wind and difficult snow conditions.  We had been moving for 10 hours straight, unable to eat, drink or stop because of the intense cold from the wind.  I plonked myself down, trying to find some shelter, but there was none.  I was parched and hungry, but my water bottles and energy bars had frozen solid inside my downsuit.  Jamling, my Sherpa, checked in with Jaime, our expedition leader.  It turns out that Jaime had earlier recalled all climbers back down because of the weather, but now allowed us to continue, given how close we were to the summit.
Crossing a Crevasse on the way up to North Col 7000m
 We were alone on the mountain.  It was just my team mate Esther, myself and our sherpas.  I was tired beyond belief, but we were so close, just an hour and a half to the summit of Mt. Everest, the highest point on earth.  I asked Jamling who had been to the summit of Everest 6 times previously if he thought we should continue.  He replied, "Ken, for a Sherpa, this is no problem.  It is just another day on Everest."
Jugging up the fixed line to North Col at 7000m
 Those were just the right words.  We pushed on, but Esther would go no further.  Unknown to us at the time, Esther's Sherpa had, for whatever reason, not carried her extra oxygen.  Given the conditions, it had would take us more time than was normal to reach the summit, and I would need all the bottles I had been allocated.
Camp 3 at 8300m the evening before our summit push
There was nothing heroic about my final steps to the top of the world.  I was effectively blind, I had stupidly removed my goggles to see better, and during the final tricky traverse, had my corneas burned by the intensely cold wind.  I confessed my condition to Jamling, but as it was only 15 minutes to the top, he hooked me up to a short-rope, and I stumbled up, giddy from the altitude and short of breath as I struggled to keep pace with the powerful Sherpa.
Traversing the North Ridge of Everest at about 8700m
Through my frosted vision, the summit appeared.  First, a ring of pray flags, then the actual summit, about the size of two large dining tables, decorated with more pray flags, and littered with discarded oxygen bottles.  It seemed we were alone on the mountain.  There were no other climbers, either from the South, or the North.  I sat on the summit for about 20 minutes, worried about how I was going to descend, while Jamling excitedly took video and photographs to capture the moment.
Jamling, me and Pujung very near the summit
I can only describe my feelings as relief.  Relief that I would not have to come back next year: I had seen death close-up on the mountain and was repulsed by the callous manner in which I had to ignore them; repulsed by the amount of trash left on the hill; repulsed by my own selfish attitude in my drive to reach the top of the highest mountain on earth.  Nope, I would not be back.
Top of the world:  8848m on the summit of Mt. Everest
Fixed ropes exist on both the normal North and South routes, which lures climbers into thinking that the climbing is easy, but Everest has not been beaten into submission.  Everest is still Everest, the highest, most inhospitable, isolated place on earth.  No one conquers Everest.  For a short period each year when the jetstream winds die down, a few lucky climbers will reach the top, stay for a few minutes, and escape with their lives.
Looking shit-faced near the Exit Cracks on decent back to Camp 3

4 comments:

climbforhope said...

Ken I just read your post here a little bit late sorry! Interesting post but more importantly it is written very honestly which I respect enormously. Good effort!

Ken said...

Thanks Grant ;o)

Rachael Carter said...

Hi Ken

It was great to meet you and Laura today at the restaurant at Timor Lodge (my husband Jeff was the one with bike envy and I was the Kiwi in Crocs). I've loved looking at your blog and it's lucky that I didn't know you had climbed Everest as you would have been bombarded with a hundred questions.

I'm looking forward to reading more and reading about your trip to the Golden Triangle in January.

Cheers,
Rachael

Ken said...

Hi Rachael,
It was nice talking to you and Jeff too. Thanks for checking out my blog. There's a chance we may come back to ride the Tour de Timor in 2013. Maybe we'll see you again then?
Ken