|Traversing the North Ridge of Everest at about 8700m on the way to the summit. Photo by Jamling Bhote.
The previous summit day of May 26th had been perfect, clear skies with hardly any wind, and quite a few climbers had topped out successfully. Our own little expedition thus far had been meticulously planned, and our five members were feeling strong and well acclimatized, primed for our own summit attempt. And that’s when things started to go wrong for us…
We arrived at Camp 3 (8300m) the day before at about 3pm. Although the morning had been hot and still, by afternoon, the skies had darkened and snow had begun to fall thickly. That snow would make the going more difficult during our push for the summit. After setting up the tents, sorting out our oxygen, and getting some dinner, there was just enough time to grab a 2-hour nap before waking up for our summit push.
It felt windiest and coldest on the ridge just before dawn. A few teams were huddled on the ridge just before the technically challenging First Step, trying to find some shelter from the wind, but there was none to be found and we moved on. As we tackled the First Step, the sun was rising. Once the sun was up, we felt better, but the wind remained the same cold, unrelenting force.
|Jamling traversing the North Ridge of Everest with the summit in the back.
The weather forecast for May 27th predicted little to no wind, unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case. Stepping out of the tent, the wind was a rude shock. It was like a punch that took the breath out of you and made you want to immediately seek shelter. Unfortunately, there was no hiding from it, and we would find the wind to be unrelenting. I headed upwards into the darkness.
There are a number of dead bodies along the way up Everest. Their presence are a stark reminder of how fragile human life is at this extreme altitude. ‘Green Boots’ is the name given to the first corpse climbers would encounter at the end of the section known as the Exit Cracks. The trail is narrow and climbers have to either step over him or gingerly around him. He was reputedly a sherpa from Darjeeling who died on descent. To survive, I would need to be smarter than him, or stronger, or just plain luckier.
|Climbers tackling the challenging First Step (8500m) at sunrise. Photo © Jamling Bhote.
|Jamling waiting our turn at the Chinese ladder of the second Step (8600m). The wind ripping it up at the top of the step.
We cleared the infamous Second Step at 8600m with surprising ease, and continued our traverse of the North Ridge to Mushroom Rock where we stopped to take our first break in 10 hours for something to eat and a quick drink. It was here that we learned that only Esther, myself, and our little group of Sherpas remained. All the others in our expedition had turned back. We called up expedition leader, Jamie McGuiness, who said that if we were feeling ok, we could continue.
Jamling (6-time Everest summiter and my personal Sherpa) and I had a quick discussion and agreed we were good to go on. We got our ass in gear and reached to summit 1 1/2 hours later (27th May, 2pm Chinese time). What followed though, would turn into quite an epic.
|On the fixed ropes of the final snow slope near the summit with Pujung and Tawa behind. Photo © Jamling Bhote.
It turns out that I was the only member to reach the summit that day with my sherpas, Jamling, Pujung, and Tawa (who wanted to summit and joined us from Esther’s group when Esther was forced to turn back just 1 1/2 hours from the summit). The wind, consistently fierce throughout the climb, had burned my eyes when I needed to remove my iced-up goggles to climb the technical sections. Sitting on the windy summit, they had deteriorated, and I could barely see the ground to descend.
What followed was a series of complicated tandem rappels with the 3 sherpas assisting to get me down. They are my heroes. Fortunately, I got my vision back after descending a bit, and was able to make my own way down slowly. We got back to Camp 3 by sunset.