Sunday, 29 May 2011

Everest Summit Day Report

Greg & Pasang on the summit ridge just below the Third Step

Well with the dust settling after a very successful summit attempt and everyone safely back at base camp it's time to look back at how it unfolded. On arguably the best day of the season, 8 climbers, 2 leaders and 8 Sherpas from the Adventure Peaks team succeeded on reaching the summit, among them Jaysen Arumugum, the first Maurition, Geordie Stewart, the youngest Brition at 22 to complete the true 7 Summits and then just a couple of hours later the youngest person in the world to complete the true 7 Summits, George Atkinson at just 16 years & 362 days and climbing with Sonam Sherpa.

Our waiting game paid off as we headed up to the North Col on the 23rd passing scores of battered climbers descending from earlier attempts in marginal conditions. In the heat of the day I was again pleased to get to the top of the fixed lines in 2.5 hours for a comfortable night at the col. The next morning all but four of the team had opted to use O2 from 7000m. The small team without planned to use a small cache placed at 7500m, our highest point to date. The forecasted winds of 40-60mph never materialised and it was sole destroying climbing in thick cloud. At 7500m I was very grateful to plug in despite having comfortably matched the pace of those on O2 but made the quick decision to drop down to 7400m with one of the cylinders for one of the team members who was regretting not going on earlier. The final climb to the tents at 7800m was still hard work as our Sherpas in an effort to give us every advantage had placed our tents right at the top of the camp, half an hour beyond the first tents. Unfortunately two of our team had made the decision to retire, returning to ABC to run the comms for our summit push. Another member had a very slow 12 hour day running low on O2 before a couple of Sherpas dropped down to him with a fresh cylinder.

After a night sleeping on O2 we headed for our third and final camp, a rising traverse away from the ridge proper. The weather was looking perfect as we reached the highest camp in the world perched insecurely on a steep scree slope. The summit looked incredibly near from our severely foreshortened view. The afternoon was spent brewing up and resting on O2. One member had turned back from 8000m and another decided Camp 3 (8300m) would be his highpoint. Life was slightly more exciting than planned when one team managed to explode their stove, setting light to the vestibule and necessitating a quick exit. The flames were quickly extinguished and they could return to their laborious task of melting snow - with a little less enthusiasm. In an unrelated incident another team member had somehow managed to rip the main zip out of his down suit giving a somewhat drafty effect. Amazingly an old friend Nuru Wangchu Sherpa was at ABC having summited with his client a few days earlier. Leaving ABC at 6am he reached Camp 3 at 3.30pm hardly looking out of breath, dropped off a spare suit and headed back down for tea and medals!

We'd staggered our start times to help folk leave the tents on time (Getting ready for an early morning start with three in a tent at 8000m is one of the hardest jobs in the world!) and the first group were away just after 9pm. After a quick call to Stu in the Adventure Peaks office, running the live web updates, I began my climb a little before 11pm, a crocodile of head torches stretching up to the NE ridge above me. Putting it delicately I soon began to have problems with my bowels, the practical challenges of which while wearing a down suit and climbing harness at 8000m significantly slowed my progress until after sunrise. I pushed on passing one team member who was making heavy weather of the altitude and would eventually turn back at the First Step, arriving suddenly on to the main ridge. In the darkness an almost continuous thunderstorm was spectacularly raging towards Annapurna in the west. From the col and looking south towards Lhotse a smaller lightning storm was closer but below us - all indicators of the onset of the monsoon just a few days away. Peering through the darkness we could make out the South Col. On a mountain as big as this the different weather patterns had meant that the other 'normal' route from the south had received hundreds of ascents before our route was even open. This morning a solitary torch could be seen at around 8100m inching its way slowly upwards.

On the radio I could hear our lead climbers approaching the Second Step as I approached the first. Easy climbing on Scottish style snowed up rock soon led to the tricky terraces which focus the mind for the traditional crux of the route - the rocks and ladders of the Second Step. In the event this was vastly overrated and is easily climbable by anyone with a basic Scottish winter climbing background. A few seconds later and I was stood on the flat top where the rest of the route suddenly opens up in front of you. As I'd been climbing the sun had risen behind my left shoulder giving the summit pyramid a golden glow above an unending sea of clouds. The weather was perfect with little wind and a positively balmy -20 degrees. However the earlier problems had severely dehydrated me and with most of my fluid by now frozen I was unable to move as fast as planned. Alyhough the summit is now right in front of you another three hours are required. The Third Step easily matches the other two worth a couple of high steps before the never ending summit pyramid in soft snow. As I traversed right below the final rock band I began to meet members of our team descending from the summit, exhausted but elated. The final rock slabs were a sting in the tail before an undulating snow ridge led to the top of the world at 9.35am Nepal time.

The hallucinations really began to kick in as I watched a golfer on the summit address his tee shot and send a ball looping out in to space above the Kangshung Face. Stephen Green hitting the worlds highest (and longest) drive! I paraphrased Sir Ed Hilliary in a quick call home - "Well we knocked the bastard off!" Probably not the best thing to say to your father when you wake him at 5.30am! I spent around 45 minutes on the top enjoying the views, taking photos, ripping my down suit on a snow stake etc. The last 20 minutes were by myself as the others headed down and were pretty special. I'd spent the whole climb in my normal Scottish winter gloves (ME Randonne) but was now down to thermal gloves with my mask off in almost perfect conditions.

Finally it was time to go, a slow and steady descent with no dramas. On the summit pyramid I came across an ascending climber from another team with simple but deadly problem. The dust cap on his replacement O2 cylinder was stuck. The simple solution of a 10p coin in my down suit pocket for this very reason had him sorted in a very short space of time and his summit attempt back on track.

I reached Camp 3 just before 5pm after an 18 hour day. Our normal plan had been to descend to Camp 2 at 7800m but with two other team members opting to stay due to exhaustion we settled down for a second night above 8000m. Not ideal but with plenty of O2, fluid, warm sleeping bags and a good weather forecast not a disaster. In the end I got an excellent nights sleep waking early the next morning feeling 100% better. Wind and snow had come in overnight and a Project Himalaya team were making a very late start in marginal conditions. Four of them summited but they all suffered frostbite and one went temporarily blind on the summit with frozen corneas.

Our descent to Camp 2 was hampered by drifting snow and windslab but we made good time catching the majority of the rest of the team still brewing up at 7800m. My co-leader Chris Szymiec had made a good call the night before escorting a team member down from 8300m after he began to exhibit signs of HAPE. Coffee from Jason at the North Col kept them going but they didn't reach ABC until 3am. Unsurprisingly Chris hasn't woken up since! A brew and a doze in the sun at the North Col and by the end of the 27th May everyone was safe at ABC after an amazing summit day - 18 summits, 3 firsts and everyone safe. A big thank you to the Ghost Writer for keeping the blog up to date throughout the expedition.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Friday night film - Wildwater

WildWater North Fork Payette Teaser from Anson Fogel on Vimeo.

...And Down To ABC

Everyone is now safely back together at ABC having descended through today's snow and wind. Sadly the rumoured crate of beer is now thought to be at BC rather than ABC, but the team are consoling themselves with a good meal before evacuating down 22km of moraine to BC tomorrow.

...And Further Down...

Last night saw high winds and snow, which shows that the team perfected the timing of their summit attempt. There are now unlikely to be any teams summiting for at least the next few days. This change in the weather has led to many small avalanches and wind slabs, so the team have been breaking trail today as they move down the mountain. However they are all now (13:15 Nepal time) at the North Col or lower, so everyone should be back to ABC before the end of the day.

Zac is back feeling 100% today, and is currently waiting for the last couple of members of the team at the North Col before descending with them to ABC. There was even a rumour (through muffled phone reception so may not be true) that a crate of beer has been spied at ABC for a little celebration!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Way Down...

Following the successful summit attempt the team have now retreated back down the mountain. Greg and Mark descended slowly, accompnied by Zac and three Sherpas. They arrived back at Camp 3 (8,300m) at 17:00 (12:15 UK time) and are overnighting there before continuing down tomorrow. The rest of the summit team are at Camp 2 (7,800m) with the exception of Steven, who showed signs of suffering from HAPE so has continued down to ABC with Chris.

The expedition saw 18 successful summits (8 clients, 8 Sherpas and 2 guides) out of a possible 24 who started (13 clients, 9 Sherpas and 2 guides). There were also a number of records broken by the team with:

  • Geordie becoming the youngest Britain to complete the true 7 Summits. At least for a couple of hours, until...
  • George taking the world record as the youngest person to complete the true 7 Summits.
  • George also becoming the youngest Britain ever to summit Everest.
  • Jaysen becoming the first ever Mauritian to summit Everest.

Zac was struggling with a bit of sickness at Camp 3 before the summit attempt and the dehydration that this caused led to initial symptoms of HAPE at higher altitude, but these have subsided as he has moved back down the mountain. He reached the top at 09:40 (04:55 UK time) and remained there until 10:30 (05:45 UK time), including 20 minutes on his own and a phone call to his parents including a (not entirely appropriate) quote from Sir Edmund Hillary on summiting Everest! He reports that the weather remained fine and warmer than expected throughout, and that despite seeing lights on the South Col early on in the dark during their summit push, they only spotted five other climbers on the mountain all day.

The whole team will be withdrawing to ABC from their various points on the mountain throughout the day tomorrow. They then expect to be back in Kathmandu on 30 May.

Summit Attempt Successful!

At 09:45 (05:00 UK time) on 26 May Zac summitted Mount Everest to bring the total to eight clients, eight sherpas and two instructors successfully summitting from the team this morning. The entire team are now descending the mountain, aiming to make it to Camp 2 before dark.

Summit Attempt 26 May 05:29 (00:44 UK Time)

The sun is now up and there are stunning views from the North East ridge to Cho Oyu (8,188m) and Shishapangma (8,027m). The summit attempt remains on schedule for all, with the exception of Nick who remained at Camp 3 and Salam who was finding it tough going so has been asked to descend.

Zac is now at the top of the Second Step (8,600m) with Greg slightly behind him and the rest of the team ahead. With the sun up they can now see up to the Third Step (8,700m) and the summit (8,848m). The first member of the team (probably Geordie) is likely to summit in about 30 minutes and Zac is expecting to make it in about two hours time.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Summit Attempt - 26 May 02:10 (25 May 21:25 UK Time)

Everything is going well and on schedule. There are thunderstorms to be seen on both sides but the weather on Everest remains good and they can see lights on the other ridge of another team attempting to summit.

Current positions (hopefully correct but it can be hard to pick up names correctly):

  • Geordie and Dorjee are approaching the Second Step.
  • The rest of the team are at the First Step.
  • Zac, Salam and Greg are on the North East ridge.

Summit Attempt - 25 May 19:23 (14:38 UK Time)

The whole team (with the exception of Simon and Heather who are now both at ABC) today left Camp 2 (7,800m) to climb to Camp 3 (8,300m). With the exception of Jason who turned round and is now back at Camp 2, everyone is now successfully at Camp 3, although some members have found the day quite tough. Following the early summit attempts by most groups earlier this week the team have the mountain to themselves, and despite some snowfall this afternoon the sun returned in time to give a great sunset.

It is now dark and the team are brewing up ready to start their final push. The first members will leave Camp 3 at 21:00 (16:15 UK time) with Zac, Chris and the final Sherpas being the last to leave at 22:30 (17:45 UK time).

The next update will hopefully come from the second step after about six hours climbing time.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Summit Attempt - 24 May 20:15 (15:30 UK Time)

After a night on the North Col the team have today moved up to Camp 2. Shortly after leaving the North Col Simon and Heather both turned back, but both are remaining at altitude to manage the communications. Simon is at ABC and and Heather at the North Col. As darkness falls the rest of the team have successfully reached Camp 2 with the exception of two who are about 20 minutes away and should be arriving shortly.

The team are now all on oxygen with most going on at 7,000m and Zac, Chris, Geordie and George joining them at 7,500m.

The plan for tomorrow is to leave Camp 2 at 07:30 (02:45 UK time), arriving at Camp 3 in the early afternoon. Current forecasts for the summit day (26 May) remain good with wind speeds of 10-30mph predicted at the summit.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Everest Summit Is A Go

In a few short hours 24 of us are departing for the North Col and onwards and upwards hopefully to the summit. The spike in the wind speeds arrived today as forecast, battering the summiters from the last couple of days as they descended to ABC. I took a wander up to the headwall to stretch the legs and get the latest information on the route. Surprisingly Ueli Steck and Don Bowie didn't summit due to the cold, but climbing without oxygen is a different level of difficulty to what we're attempting. They made the sensible decision to turn around just below the summit when severe frostbite was becoming a very real possibility. However with the extra warmth provided by supplementary oxygen many of the commercial teams have been very successful with over 100 summits in the last couple of days and the route seems to be in good condition. Our Sherpas paid a quick visit to the North Col today to confirm everything was still in place. Unfortuently Sonam sustained some minor frostbite to his cheek on the descent, but it's already responding to treatment and with care he'll still be an important part of the team.

From the North Col we'll climb to Camp 2 (7800m) on the 24th, Camp 3 (8250m) on the 25th, and depart for the summit that evening between 21:00 and 22:30 (16:15 and 17:45 on 25th May UK time). The climb should take 8-10 hours so we're aiming to be on top of the world soon after sunrise on the 26th May (around 03:00 on 26th May UK time). A quick descent should see everyone at Camp 2 or lower before nightfall and everyone back to ABC by the evening of the 27th.

We have a great forecast, a fit and healthy team, the strongest Sherpa team on the mountain and the route to ourselves...Blue skies.

Live updates during the summit bid can be found on this blog, at Adventure Peaks and on Greg's Twitter.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Final Preparations...

Photo: Greg Healey Collection

The whole summit team have now arrived at ABC and are making their final preparations for our summit bid. As expected the mountain has been extremely busy the last couple of days with 100+ climbers heading for the summit this morning on the recently fixed lines. There was a long crocodile of headtorches visable on the ridge for most of the night.

Our planned summit date of the 26th means we'll have the mountain totally to ourselves so no chance of any traffic jams. The wind speeds are continuing to drop and everything is looking pretty much ideal. A final rest day tomorrow and we'll be heading up to the North Col on the 23rd. A quick count today revealed our Sherpa team have 26 Everest summits between them plus a handfull of Cho Oyu, Shishapanga and Manaslu. Even our ABC cook has topped out a couple of times!

Today's highlight was Babu Tsonar from Pokhara paragliding from the summit of Everest. His orange canopy was highlighted for a few moments just before 10 o'clock before he dropped out of view down the South West face. Previous flights have taken just 11 minutes to descend all the way to the south side base camp.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Everest Summit Attempt On...

In the last couple of hours the CTMA rope fixing team has succeeded in reaching the summit of Mount Everest from the north. Closely following in their wake are many of the 15 teams who have been stuck at ABC waiting patiently for this moment. With an improving forecast expect to see a flurry of summits from the north over the next few days.

Down at base camp we've sat it out over the last few days in comfort and are now well rested and beginning the move back up the mountain. By tomorrow night we should all be relaxing at ABC, but tonight folk are spread across the three base camps based on their individual preferences. A big weather window seems to be opening up from the 21st and we've penciled in the 25th for our big day. The snow is increasing as the monsoon gets closer but over the next few days we'll finalise our plans as we move up to the North Col, the springboard for our attempt.

This evening the skeleton crew left at BC are going to give our Sherpa team some 'ideas' with a viewing of Vertical Limits (which advocates the carrying of nitro glycerine for high altitude mountaineering!)

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Things That Go Bump On Everest

Photo: Greg Healey Collection

Friday the 13th, a full moon and Ben's 31st birthday. With Ben already sporting a beard that would do a werewolf proud it was always going to be a strange day.

We're still waiting patiently at base camp for our summit opportunity. Surprisingly every other team on this side of the mountain has followed each other up to ABC aiming for the 16th or 17th May despite a pretty windy forecast. Additionally the CTMA rope fixing team are a day behind aiming to fix to the summit on the 18th. Strange goings on.

Potentially we now have the situation where all 33 teams on the south of the mountain will have mounted their summit attempts before the route is opened on the north! The current small weather window is rapidly drawing to a close and we expect most of the teams to continue to basecamp to continue the waiting game.

The AP team are baring up well to this enforced stay at basecamp. We're seeing a lot more wildlife as the temperatures rise with plenty of Tibetan Snowcocks (aka Sherpa chickens) and marmots around and yesterday a large herd of small deer wandered through the camp. We have a large library of trashy novels which is keeping most people amused (I'm on my 18th book) and Chris is managing to sleep for 23 hours a day. Finally Reuters have just published a great article on the custodian of Himalayan climbing records, Ms Liz Hawley which is worth a read:

Friday, 13 May 2011

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Storms & Parties On Everest

Photo: Greg Healey Collection

Our first challenge of the trip arrived on Saturday night with gale force winds battering the North Col. Our final team of three completing their acclimatisation had a fun night holding their tents down sat fully dressed in their sleeping bags ready to make a quick exit. In the morning light it was found that five of the ten tents were damaged, but we got off lightly compared to some of the other teams whose tents had completely disappeared towards Nepal. Our Sherpas were quickly on the scene with spare tents and it looks like our preparations haven't been disrupted too much.

For me the the descent to ABC a couple of days earlier had gone well only taking 18 minutes to descend the fixed lines. However my efforts have been put well and truly in the shade with the arrival of Ueli Steck fresh from speed ascents of Cho Oyu and Shishapangma. After the formalities of a quick jaunt up Everest he's away to Broad Peak in the Karakoram.

You can find out more about Ueli Steck and what he's up to at

The whole team are now back at Base Camp waiting for a lull in the winds and celebrating Heather's birthday. Unfortunately Stephen has had to return to Kathmandu due to illness, but there is a slight chance he may get the all clear and be able to return in time for our summit bid. Many of the European weather forecasts are predicting a brief opportunity window of oppurtunity around the 15th - 17th May, but we're staying put as there is still a risk of 60mph gusts and the Chinese rope fixing team are still at ABC with the fixed lines only extending to 8200m.

A couple of nights ago was the infamous Russian 7 Summits Club base camp party, now a yearly event. The Russian based company put on a superb spread of food, beer and vodka for all teams at BC followed by a firework display. Unsurprisingly the main topic of conversation was the weather!

Early this morning our nine Sherpas reached 8300m to establish our Camp 3, the spring board to the summit. For us and all the other teams it's now the waiting game trying to keep busy in Base Camp.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Everest Acclimatisation Complete

Photo: Greg Healey Collection

Over the next couple of days the team will make their way back to base camp having completed the final stage of their acclimatisation. From our 7010m camp on the north col an unrelenting snow slope with fixed lines led to a small camp and the start of the climbing proper at 7500m. Despite the temperatures requiring down suits, the views across to Pumori, Cho Oyu, Changtse and Gyachung Kang were stunning. A five hour slog up a slope that looked like it should take two gave Geordie a very physically demanding 22nd birthday. Our Sirdar Dorje had a quick sprint up the North Col to leave a prayer scarf with birthday wishes tied to the tent!

Our previous day’s climb to the north col had gone well despite a big pack, the fixed lines taking just over 2 hours. There was a team of Russian base jumpers checking out a cliff of Changtse for next year. 5.5 seconds for those who are interested.

After last year’s problems with tents being blown 100m vertically upwards, this year our ten tents are all tied together in a long line! With the slightly worrying fact that our equipment is now spread across six locations on the mountain it's away down to base camp to stare at the weather forecast and make our plans. Others plans involve 4 ascents in a season for Pemba Dorje Sherpa, and 24 hours on the summit, putting our efforts in to perspective!

Friday night film

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Everest North Col Bound...

Photo: Greg Healey Collection

The whole team are currently reunited at a snowy ABC. Over the past couple of days folk have made their way back up over 22km of moraine and 1250m of height gain. For some this was a 7 hour sprint, others a 12 hour slog and some a 2 day stroll with a night at intermediate camp in between.

Our Sherpas have done a sterling job and have just three load carries left to complete to finalise our preparations. The ropes are fixed to 8300m and the CTMA will be heading up to complete the job during the next weather window. Finally we have to complete our acclimatisation with a climb to 7500m. Two thirds of the team are heading up to the North Col tomorrow with the rest following the next day. We hope to spend two to three nights here with a climb up the North Ridge to just below Camp 2.

For the first time the group will have to fend for themselves melting water and rehydrating food. To this end today was spent finalising our kit selections, practicing with the stoves and having an interesting discussion on frostbite. Some great practical examples from the team on previous expeditions!