Summit Reflections Part II

A warm rain falls into the courtyard at the Kathmandu Guest House.  Flowers line the railing that circles around the perimeter and the floor consists of neatly manicured soft green grass, outlined by curved stone edging.  Birds chirp,  a monkey three stories up stops his meandering on a ledge, sits down and stares at me.  I pause in my reflections, take off my sanduk sandals  and walk barefoot across the cool grass with my eyes closed absorbing the sensation.  For days up high in the cold I had dreamed of grass between my toes.  As I walk around the cool blades massage my bare tired feet.  It is not how I had imaged, the sensation is more than I remembered.  I gaze across the courtyard and once again begin to drift back to that day.

It did not take long for Dawa and I to reach Tashi and Todd.  They were travelling down fast and we were steaming up towards them.  I asked Todd what was going on.  He did not really know what to say other than Tashi thinks it is too dangerous.  It was dangerous, with the storm blowing visibility was low and with everyone turning around you begin to question why you are still climbing. Tashi and Dawa come from the same village, they have climbed together many times, they were leaning close talking over the wind.  I kept looking ahead into the darkness.

Todd asked how my eyes were.  I said “fine”…”it is bad up ahead” he commented.  We stood there for a few minutes, over the storm we did not really discuss anything.  No one talked or wanted to make a decision.  Another team came up behind us.  Dawa talked to their lead Sherpa.  Everyone stood still.

I turned and yelled over the wind to Dawa  “We can still turn around ahead?” an unfinished what if scenario question.  He understood “Ya”…”Well let’s go” I finished.

In front now of a larger group I soon climbed to where Tashi and Todd had turned around.  I thought I had been breaking trail before but now understood the work Tashi and Todd had been doing.  No one had been up here for a while, with all the fresh snow in some ways it was like the first climb of the season.  My legs were post holing through the crust and Dawa was struggling to clear the buried rope.  Our effort now surpassed anything we had done previously.  My prior energy burst was now gone and I felt pressure from the team behind me to increase the pace, but I simply could not go any faster. I turned to Dawa “let’s let them pass and break trail for a while.”  He agreed. We didn’t realize at the time that we had made a mistake.

We decided to let them pass just before a series of imposing rock steps that lead to the south summit. To let them pass we had to lean on the front points of our crampons into the snow slope  above the fixed line. They took a long time to pass and being motionless we began  to get cold. Confronted by the technical challenge of the rock steps without the aid of an effective fixed line, the team stalled and now we were trapped behind them.

Shivering behind the other team not moving for awhile, Dawa finally broke my paralysis by digging out an old fixed line off to the side and pointing for me to go.  Through the deep snow just prior to the first rock step we worked our way around 8 -10 climbers we had let pass. Looking up the rock face we could see the fixed line was clogged with slow moving climbers.   Old ropes from previous years streamed down, cascading over the more vertical sections of the step.

“You good climber…climb up”  Dawa urged.  I contemplated the pitch.  The ropes were old, my ascender was not working, essentially I would have to free climb  20 -30 feet to get around the other climbers and back on route.  I pulled one of the old ropes.  It seemed solid and I clipped my safety on the line and started up.  Through my big down alti mitts I patted the face for holds. I looked down at my feet and placed the points of my crampons in cracks in the rock.  Up I went.  After a few moves I started to get comfortable and at one point I did a lay back  rock climbing move and then heal  hooked my crampon above my waist on a ledge and shot up past two climbers.  I heard Dawa exclaim “Good move!” and above me a climber with a British accent commented “Let the bloody man pass!”

Back in the lead I grovelled up the remaining rock steps and slope but we were moving fast enough that we put a lot of distance between us and the group.  I didn’t notice until I hit the south summit ridge that the storm had abated.  Light was creeping across the horizon and I had a clean, clear slope to climb.  A mountaineer’s dream.

“Axe?” was all Dawa said as I crested the face and gazed at the steep ridge line that ran straight up to the South Summit. He helped me draw it out from between my backpack and shoulder blades where I had stored it when climbing the rock steps.  “South Summit”  Dawa pointed.  No one was near, the sun was rising.  I pulled my hood tight against the summit winds and started up.

Reaching the South Summit you know.  You know you are going to make it.  As you plant your axe and take the last step towards the South Summit, the Hillary Step and the final airy ridge line explode into view. You know you still have these final obstacles to climb but  for the first time you can see it.  The summit you have trained and dreamed of for so long, against all odds you are standing there looking at it.  I stopped, stared and choked back emotion behind my mask.  I drove my ice axe into the snow with conviction and turned to Dawa behind me “Let’s finish it off”.  I looked down and I could not see anyone else, ahead of me the Hillary Step lie waiting.  Dawa and I were the first ones up and we had the summit to ourselves.

While the final sections are considered the most technical, I traversed the corniced ridge line and stemmed up the Hillary Step quickly.  Soon it was a victory march on the last broad ridge to the prayer flag adorned summit.  Every step was emotional and purposeful. They will stay with me forever.  I reached the summit and stared at the world below.  It was clear, it was bright, it was beautiful.   I burned the moment into my soul.

After summit photos, hugging Dawa and placing some prayer flags, we looked back at the route and began contemplating getting down.  We could now see others on the South Summit.  Perhaps I had not noticed it in the elation leading up to the summit but now I was having trouble getting air through my mask.  It was frozen to my beard.  I ripped it off  extracting patches of beard in the process which later would leave a scar under my chin.  My outflow and in flow valves were frozen.  We  poured tea  into them to try melt the ice but the tea was too cold, we blew into them to little effect. At the end of our efforts we only managed to clear the outflow valve.  I adjusted the mask loosely to my face to allow air to still flow in.  The problem with this set up was while it let air in  it did not contain the oxygen flowing into the mask very well.  With a barely functioning mask I needed to get going before my strength failed me.

While tiring, the way down was uneventful.I took my time and rappelled where I needed to.  The weather had cleared and the day had turned out to be a perfect summit day.  I stopped at the balcony, it was out of the wind so I did a dispatch call dedicating the summit success to my friend Warren Thompson.  I still had a way to go to the South Col, but I knew another mask and more oxygen was waiting for me down there.  When I reached the South Col I was quite hypoxic.  I could not find the spare mask or additional oxygen.  I admit for a while I grew quite frantic and only after finding them and a sat  phone call to Wally Berg our expedition leader at base camp did I begin to settle down.  Todd made it down shortly after I did.  We were both exhausted and had frost bite on our faces which were  also swollen from the beating the wind had handed out.  Todd had also incurred frost bite on a finger and several toes.  The summit had taken it’s toll.  Considering  the shape we were in we decided we needed to rest the night before heading down.   The next day I reached Camp II and the day after base camp.  After 58 days the climb was over. I could go home.

Acknowledgements:

There are many people that helped me get to the top.  Some like my wife who came to base camp and then returned to Canada, remained with me in spirit throughout the entire climb.  Others like our expedition leader Wally Berg arose when needed and kept everything moving with the base camp manager Ang Timba Sherpa and the entire Berg Adventures/Peak Promotions staff behind the scenes.  The logistics of the climb are enormous and our team never had to worry that things were in order.

More over, beyond logistics Wally who stayed at base camp as Expedition Leader kept us grounded. Wally has climbed Everest 4 times and has been in the Khumbu each climbing season for decades.  He knew just what to say and when to say things to keep us motivated and to allay our concerns.  Often over the radio as reassurance Wally would tell us  “you are right where you need to be”. He was never wrong.

Enough cannot be said about the lead climbing sherpa: Dawa (Danuru) Sherpa.  Dawa and I worked together throughout the climb and without him at my side I do not think I could of touched the top.  It was struggle to fight up through the storm and we supported each other the whole way up, working as team towards the ultimate goal.  Dawa now has 16 Everest summits, and he is an instructor in the Khumbu Climbing School.  He is by far currently the top climbing Sherpa.

Last but not least there were many people that ensured the communications I was able to send via sat phone dispatch or from the internet hot spot  (located out in the middle of  glacier) actually got up onto the sites and to the people following.  Leila Silveira at Berg adventures kept the information flowing to Shayne Sereduik who made sure everything went up timely. More importantly on summit day Leila kept our loved ones informed of our progress up and down the mountain.

I may write one more blog on the topic of  integrating back into life after being away for so long in a such a life stressing environment ..or I may not, it depends on how things go and whether the inspired words find me.

Thanks for following along….

SW

 

 

 

Share My Quest

25 Comments

  1. Harley Rivet
    May 31, 2013

    Congratulations, Steve, on such an incredible journey. It’s a remarkable achievement very few have the privilege of claiming. It was great to follow along and amazing how technology (I.e. Internet hot spot on a glacier!) allowed you to stay in touch and publish your progress. Take your time integrating back into normal life; work will always be there tomorrow but climbing Everest is likely a once in a lifetime opportunity.

  2. Hailey
    Jun 3, 2013

    Hi Steve,you are the greatest role model ever!I wonder if you missed yoummissed your family I would if I was you.I am glad you made it to base camp safely!You never gave up on us Steve. you rock!

  3. Kirby
    Jun 3, 2013

    Hi Steve! Congratulations! I would like to know what your next quest will be? Thanks Kirby.E,Grade 3/4 Arcola.

  4. Emma
    Jun 3, 2013

    Hi Steve! How is your frostbite? How are you feeling? Was it hard climbing Mount Everest? I love your pictures on your blog! Are your fingers numb still? I hope to see you after the summer hoildays at our school! Our class goes on your blog everyday! You are a great role model!!

  5. Diana
    Jun 3, 2013

    Hi Steve. I am a Grade 4 student and we have read about Mount Everest. Congratulations on reaching the Summit. Was it scary crossing the crevasses? Where do you work? You are a great role model. One day I want to climb Mount Everest. You are one lucky dude. Thank you!!

  6. Shalanne
    Jun 3, 2013

    Congratulaions Steve for making the Summit! Has your frostbite healed? Hope you can come visit us at Arcola School!

  7. Briana
    Jun 3, 2013

    How are you feeling? I also want to say congratulations because you reached the summit!

    /

  8. Caden
    Jun 3, 2013

    Has your face healed? How far could see on when you reached the summit? Is your family happy to see you?

  9. Zach
    Jun 3, 2013

    Hi Steve,this is Zach a student of Miss.Naylens class.You are with us in our thoughts.You are truly a great role model.Has your frostbite healed?

  10. Kiara
    Jun 3, 2013

    Hi Steve! Congratulations! How are you? Are you going to climb
    another mountain soon? I hope you have a great day!

  11. Presley
    Jun 3, 2013

    OMG!I can not believe that you climbed Mount Everest. You are the coolest guy ever. If you ever want to come to our classroom we really want to see you. I hope you can visit us and the whole school. I think you are so cool that I want to be a mountian climber just like you. You have inspired me so much. My whole class congratulates you. Bye.

  12. Ashlynn
    Jun 3, 2013

    Congratulations Steve! Did it look nice when you were on top of the world?How did you get the frostbite?

  13. Judy
    Jun 5, 2013

    Hi Steve! Yay to you, your Sherpas, and your climbing buddies! Our class at Arcola School all knew that you could! We are so incredibly proud of you, our very own Saskatchewan hero! The students had questions, congratulations wishes, and comments for you so I allowed them to post on your blog! Hope you find their messages uplifting! You are welcome at our school ANYTIME! Enjoy time with family, friends, and colleagues!

  14. Dawson
    Jun 10, 2013

    Congatulations Steve for making the summit! Please come visit us

  15. shelby
    Jun 10, 2013

    Hi Steve, wanted to congatulate you on reaching the summit. Can you come to Arcola school somday?Did you like climbing Mount Everest? How is your frostbite?How is your beard doing?How far can you see from the summit?Hope you have a speedy recovery!

  16. Dawson
    Jun 11, 2013

    Hi Steve, Congatulations for making the SUMMIT! Please come visit us. Was it scary going across the crevasses?

  17. Dailen
    Jun 11, 2013

    What was it like on the Summit ? You are a hero! What are your plans for the future? Has your frostbite healed? You have inspired me, so when I grow up I will climb Everest.

  18. jayden
    Jun 11, 2013

    Congratulations climbing Mount Everest!Have you healed ? I cant belive you climbed Mount Everest. Maybe I will climb Mount Everest, someday!

  19. Adanna
    Jun 11, 2013

    Hi Steve, You did a good job! What did it look like up there? What was the scariest time on the mountain? How did you sleep up there? How did you eat? Congratulations!

  20. brooke
    Jun 11, 2013

    Hello Steve, How cold was it on the Summit? It’s probably -100 degrees F up there! WOW! It must have taken a lot of effort to reach the Summit! Oh and one time I was going to take a walk around town with my dad but it was too cold! One time school was cancelled because it was -42 degreesC.I think you’re pretty brave because I heard that not everybody makes it to the top!

  21. mason
    Jun 11, 2013

    Hi Steve, Was it scary walking over those crevasses? Was it fun climbing Mount Everest? Was it hard coming down?

  22. alex
    Jun 11, 2013

    Good job Steve! I’ m so prowd of you!!! Maybe I will be a climber ,too. Good luck with life!

  23. drake
    Jun 11, 2013

    Hi Steve, Did you like it up there ? Why do you climb Mountains?Bye Steve.

  24. jayden.s
    Jun 11, 2013

    Did you see any bones of past climbers? Congratulations Steve in making it to the Summit.You are so cool !Steve can you come to aer school to vist us?

  25. Dante
    Jun 11, 2013

    Congratulations Steve! How are your fingers?’Im sorry about your face.I know you have scars.Did you see any bones and skulls?I hope you are getting better and resting at home. Are you coming to our school?

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