Everest 2012

Jun 01

Dispatch #17

Published at 15:08
Dispatch created from web
Here's the full write up of our summit bid! It's a bit of a long one so apologies for that but hopefully it'll be worth at least a quick read! The long awaited summit photos are at the bottom (all photos are copyrighted and must not be used without permission- contact becky@beckybellworthy.com).

Camp 2
We (Mollie, Matt, Valerie, Rick, Rob, and I) left basecamp on the 14th May and had a reasonably uneventful climb to camp 2 other than a seemingly large avalanche that caused Mollie and I to drop bags and run, until we realized it was smaller than first thought. We spent three nights at camp 2, allowing us an intentional rest day and another enforced one as we waited for the ropes to be fixed to the summit.

Camp 3
Our team of 6 Sherpas sped up from basecamp that morning to join us for the ascent to camp 3 (and still got there long before us!). Having been sick in the morning due to overwhelming nerves, I climbed to camp 3, probably the hardest day for me. In addition, the 40 degree Celsius heat was almost unbearable. Upon arriving at camp 3, perched on the shear Lhotse face, Mollie and I grabbed the oxygen bottle and enjoyed a dreamy 10 minutes drinking up the thickened air before we got on with boiling the water. The views were stunning but the morning brought one of the most humiliating moments in my life as I was forced to go to the toilet in front of around 75 other climbers due to the lack of cover, but we were eventually ready to climb on to camp 4.

Camp 4
The oxygen was cranked up as we clambered out of our tents onto the face and headed up. I instantly found that my small stature enhanced the effect of the supplemental oxygen and I was able to keep up with the Sherpa’s (admittedly they had much bigger loads and weren’t using oxygen!). We sped up the first few pitches and overtook several climbers. As we came over the serac that forms higher camp 3, a solid snaking line of brightly coloured down suits greeted me; we had hit the back of a queue of around 200 climbers, all clipped into the line of rope that leads to camp 4 at the South Col. The traffic contributed to a slow 8 hour journey to camp 4, arriving at 4.30pm, much later than planned.

Summit Night
We had just 3 hours at camp 4 before we were donning our suits, boots, oxygen, taping chemical warmers all over our bodies, and then, at 8pm, came that awful moment when you have to step out into the cold (-30 Celsius plus some serious wind chill!) and get moving.

The Balcony
The first section of the climb is a 3 hour section to “the balcony”; a broad snow slope forms the route so we were able to unclip from the rope at points to overtake those who were moving at a steadier pace. The one thought I remember most was “I would give so much to be in my sleeping bag right now!” We turned up our oxygen from 2 to 3 litres per minute to allow us to get ahead of more climbers. At the balcony our Sherpa team changed our oxygen bottles. Having not felt my toes since before we left camp 4, frostbite was a real concern, so, despite the chemical and electrical heaters in my boots, I contemplated turning back, but then carried on with my oxygen turned up to 4 litres a minute to aid circulation, bashing my feet and wiggling my toes. Rather than considering how I would function without toes, I worried about the fact that my feet are already only a size 3- how on earth would I find shoes if my feet were shortened further by a lack of toes?! It’s strange what extreme hypoxia does to your thought processes!! I warmed slightly but concerns about my toes persisted.
The wind was brutal; spindrift stung my face, the cold gave me almost constant “brain freeze”, and it felt like my eyes were literally freezing. I was forced to put on my goggles, obscuring my view, especially when the inside totally froze. With the addition of the oxygen mask, I felt enclosed and isolated in a world separated from anyone else.

South Summit
Reaching the south summit just as the first light was appearing on the horizon at about 4am was the moment I had longed for for hours; to see that first light, flooding Tibet with the most beautiful orange, was indescribable. A golden sphere burst into view and revealed the seemingly endless world that surrounded me, ending the isolation to the beam of my head torch. I couldn’t stop peeking out of my frosted goggles and “wow”-ing to Lhakpa, the Sherpa I was climbing with.

The Hillary Step
Now the daylight revealed the extent of the exposure; the ridge to the summit stands 2 miles above Nepal and 3 miles above Tibet, shear drops on either side of a ridge around a meter wide, to which you are tethered by a thin, unreassuring rope. Trying not to get distracted by the view, I began moving delicately along the narrow ridge, paying close attention to where I placed each footstep, knowing each one was one closer to the place I had dreamt of for so long. We reached the cornice traverse, where if you lean slightly too far right you’d fall through the thin snow and discover a very quick route into Tibet! Next the infamous vertical Hillary step loomed over me; with my crampons scratching for placements on the rock, I found myself gasping for air with the strain of the climb, but was pleasantly surprised when the top came sooner than expected.

The Last Few Steps Upwards
From there a gradual and slightly wider snow slope presented the last few pitches to the summit. Lhakpa changed my oxygen bottle just before the summit; this demands just a few minutes where you are without the supplemental oxygen, exposed to an environment in which the air pressure is just 30% that of sea level, plummeting your blood oxygen saturations to a point that would be fatal at sea level, and for a minute it felt pretty fatal up there! My whole body tingled and I became hugely dizzy; “turn it on Lhakpa, turn it on turn it on! I can’t breathe!!!!” I continued upwards to become the first of the team to reach the summit.

The summit wasn’t as expected; I didn’t really know what to do with myself! I had expected to burst into floods of tears, or for everyone to be cheering and whooping in their personal celebrations on the summit, but to be honest I was too apprehensive about the overwhelming dangers to get emotional. As Matt, Rick, Valerie and Rob joined me on the summit we all shared a very special moment; I shed a small tear.
I attempted to make the call to my friends at university who were gathered in my room and staying awake all night to wait for news, but I found I had no signal. My camera was now literally frozen in its own ice cube despite being in an internal pocket so after some photos on my emergency disposable camera, Lhakpa led me off the summit.

The Descent
I stopped and turned to have one last look at a place which I felt so fortunate to have experienced, knowing I would never be lucky enough to see it again. I knew at that point that I had to retain my focus; the descent takes far more lives than the ascent. The path was heavily scattered by a mass of climbers still on their ascent, including Mollie and her Sherpa Lhakpa; we hugged and shared a few largely incomprehensible words through our masks.
Passing the mass of climbers posed a serious danger, unclipping from the safety ropes, literally scrambling over people on the narrow ridges before clipping back in. We were fortunate to get down the Hillary step quickly, an infamous bottle neck (where Mollie later had to wait for 2 hours). Getting stuck in another difficult section, I said “Lhakpa, my feet very cold, maybe frostbite, I think we go quickly!” From that point on Lhakpa did a sterling job of helping us pass over a hundred climbers swiftly but safely.
Whilst edging past a large group of climbers, I felt an overwhelming urge to sit down, barely able to breathe. I found myself unable to hold my posture, shutting my eyes and lying back. Lhakpa asked if I was okay to which I replied something along the lines of “just a minute, I’ll sleep here, leave me”. The regulator on my oxygen had broken and I was now breathing the sparse ambient air at 8,500m. I can’t express how fortunate I am for Lhakpa’s experience that allowed him to realize the issue, and for acting quickly to resolve it. Without his actions and presence of mind, I don’t think I would have ever got up again.
From that point on, the descent went smoothly, arm wrapping the ropes or abseiling more dangerous parts. We reached the balcony at 9am from where people were still ascending, leaving them at risk of a hazardous descent in the dark, and for several of whom that night proved fatal.

Back at camp 4
Lhakpa and I arrived back into camp 4 just after 10am. I hadn’t drunk, eaten nor gone to the toilet in 14 hours, so those were my initial priorities! Lhakpa and I had planned to rest for an hour before continuing our descent to the comfort camp 2 but that changed when I removed my boots; a black-purple tinge on 6 of my toes alarmed me to say the least. “Lhakpa, I have frostbite!” “Oh no, oh no, oh no!” was all he said, followed by “you want hot tea?”! I sat and tried not to cry at my own stupidity of letting my feet get so cold. Gradually over the next 6 hours, the rest of the team made it back to camp.
That night my feet were agony despite the maximum dose of all the painkillers we had. We slept like sardines with 4 in the tent, kept awake by each other’s ailments and the constant buffeting of violent winds. It was well up there in the most unpleasant nights of my life, but it was never far from my mind that many other climbers were now on their way to the summit, including friends, and I was grateful I was at least somewhat sheltered from the elements. Only one team summited that night and they had a fairly horrendous night, with both the weather poor weather and horrifying scenes of the dead and dying left in the aftermath of the previous night (see http://www.leannashuttleworth.com/MyBlog/?p=368 for her account).

Descent to basecamp
I was grateful for the arrival of the morning, time to get out of there! I made hot drinks for Rob and Valerie before realizing there wouldn’t be enough for me- I hadn’t drunk for 20 hours. Luckily the remarkable Sherpas once again stepped in and were able to boil extra water. I crammed my swollen feet agonizingly back into my boots and stepped out into vicious winds. I again cannot praise Lhakpa enough for sorting me out and getting me moving.
Still on oxygen, Lhakpa and I made it back to camp 2 in a speedy 3 hours to get our first real food in days. I was finally able have a “wet wipe bath” and to remove my down suit. We met the rest of the team at camp 2- Paul, Ryan, Roger, Kenton and Keith were now on their way up for their summit attempt in a few days. I didn’t envy their predicament.
Lhakpa and I sped down to camp 1 without crampons in just 35 minutes and then began the descent through the icefall. My feet were now beginning to blister and swell, making this one of the hardest points of the entire expedition for me. I knew I couldn’t hang around in the icefall; it was visibly melting and collapsing around us in the afternoon sun. The longer I spent there the greater the risk. The ice screws that fix the ropes to the mountain were beginning to melt out. Both anchors on one of the last ladders had completely melted out- I held my breath as I crossed, thinking “you’re nearly safe, don’t die now!”! At the edge of the icefall, where we took off our crampons for the last time and began the final few hundred meters over the moraine back to our basecamp.
On approaching basecamp, the remaining climbers, the cooks and Henry and Kami (expedition leader and Sirdar) were lined up outside ready to greet me as the first summiteer back to camp. Bonita (who had previously held the youngest British female record) greeted me and her eyes flooded with tears; I felt an emotion other than fear for the first time. The realization that we were now safe was incredible, irrespective of the summit. I embraced the rest of the team, thanking them for their support, especially Henry and Kami who coordinate the whole expedition. It is their expertise that allowed us to summit and, more importantly, return safely.

Nearly Home
After a day chilling (and taking much needed showers!) at basecamp, I left basecamp in less style than I had envisaged! Walking the final 30 miles with frostbite wasn’t an option, so we decided I’d get a horse out of basecamp! I left to a chorus of giggles, reaching Sonam Lodge in Pangboche 7 hours later, where I went straight to sleep for the next 13 hours in the dining room. The next day after a change of plan I swapped my horse for a helicopter. Mollie, Matt and a local friend Ang Nuru were grateful there was room for them for the short 15 minute flight to Lukla, saving them a 12 hour walk.
The next day the weather cleared and we were able to fly out of Lukla, “the most dangerous airport in the world”, to get back to Kathmandu in time for breakfast at the Hotel Manaslu.
We spent a few days in Kathmandu, largely sleeping, eating and showering lots, plus, for Mollie and I, daily trips to the local clinic getting new dressings on the frostbite, before flying home on the 27th.
For now I am excited to be home (I would edit my coordinates back to Southampton but I think I'd rather leave the map looking at the blue dot at the highest point on Earth) but I miss the whole experience hugely. I’m young but I can guarantee this will always be up there with the best experiences of my life. It was a rare opportunity and an indescribable experience spent with some of the loveliest people I have been fortunate enough to meet. I owe so much to those who made it happen or showed their support, the biggest thank you from the bottom of my heart to you all.

You can still donate to my chosen charity, Women for Women International, who help women survivors of war at www.justgiving.com/BeckyEverest


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