Thursday, May 29, 2008

Out Trek Everest Base Camp to Pheriche, 25 May 2008

Time to say goodbye to Base Camp but not before a quick trip over to Altitude Junkies... an adjoining camp. Why? Because Mark- my good friend from Denali- is there! I learned this yesterday. YESTERDAY! Yep, 200 meters away from me the entire trip and just the day before we trek out I learn about it via Bridie, who did a Name Game and then informed me of the coincidence. Crazy. So, Francisco and I walked over to see him, say hi, have some coffee and catch up, albeit for just a few minutes. Then it's back over to our camp to finish packing and prepare for the out trek.

Yak trains arrive, porters show, and we begin to pile things up into yak, porter, and self-carry.

And then I realize I lost my little iPod Shuffle somewhere in the jumble of glacier rocks. Great. Seriously, now?? Come on, that's ridiculous, but true. My suspicion is that when Tendi went to go break down my tent he accidentally knocked it off the solar charger where I was trying to give it one last tiny charge before we stepped off. I saw part of it happen, but never looked closely at it and was more caught up in getting out of town. I went to go grab all of my gear, and it was gone. Nice.

While we continue to pack, the Mexican team comes over to wish us well, and we take one last pic with them. These guys are great! What awesome people, it was fun spending time with them.

So, we ended up grabbing one last picture of the collected team.

Tendi went over to disassemble the Puja- if there's one sure-fire sign that the expedition is over, there it is- the Puja coming down. We all received one length of the prayer flags, which is a great memento and is truly special to all of us.

Then it was time- I lit my good luck Cohiba that I have been saving since the beginning of this trip and slowly strolled out of Base Camp for the last time. I met Bridie, Willie and Francisco at the edge of camp- they waited for me as I searched for my iPod in vain- and off we went- past yak trains, past trekkers, past porters. Down, down, out, out. We hit Gorak Shep in no time, stopping for tea for a bit, relaxed as could ever be possible. While there, we saw our pack trains keeping up with us as all of our bags went meandering by on the backs of yaks.

At Gorak Shep, we also passed Carlos, a Spanish climber who had issues on Lhotse and doesn’t climb with oxygen. He and his teammate were waiting for a helicopter flight at the Gorak Shep helo pad and he's still looking completely out of it- or at least that's his personality. After a bit, we were off like a shot. Down, past Lukla. Past the eerie Chultin Park, home to all the memorials of fallen climbers in the Everest Region.

Past that weird little restaurant at the bottom of the hill before Chultin Park, around the corner and dropping again into the valley that leads one to Pheriche. Once we hit the valley floor, we saw green for the first time! Talk about a friendly and welcoming sight! It definitely brought a smile to my face.

In Pheriche, our lodge- the White Yak- is the nicest lodge we have stayed at, both in and out treks. It's ridiculous. Willie met me at the entrance and as we checked in, he gave me the Mount Everest room. It's as close to a suite as you can imagine after a tent for two months. It's a corner room, and even has two windows!! And an actual bed! Talk about luxury. It's warm in here, too.

When we all caught up, we ate like starving people- almost 3,000' lower than Base Camp; your appetite is definitely back. We all sat around a heater, talked, and laughed. Everyone was there- literally everyone. Jetta, Super Mila, G-Man, Tendi, you name it. It was awesome. So, we talked and then it was time for bed- in a real bed. I still can't get over that. A bed! I was out like a light in about 3 seconds.


My door opens. It's 1am.
"Willie! Willie!"
"It's Doug."
KNOCK KNOCK - across the hall, Willie is woken up- Lhakpa and Tendi are telling him that one of our porters- the last one (some took FOREVER to get to us tonight) has HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema). Whaaatttt... Seriously? Willie and I spring out of bed and find him, several buildings down the trail. It's definitely HAPE. We run back to the hotel and dig through bags, looking for anything we can find to help. Bridie has Diamox- used for avoiding AMS and helping with things like this. So we give the pills to Tendi, administer one and force water on the kid, totally out of it. Then Tendi piggybacks the kid, and takes off down the trail for Dingboche and trees- maybe 1000' lower. The amazing thing to me is that even after all we have been through that Tendi has the strength to essentially backpack a 120 lbs. human for several miles and hours in the middle of the night, down narrow trails up and down hilltops.

Man, I tell you what. Not a day goes by where I don't recognize what a great team we have and how well we work together. I also recognize that we aren't out of the woods yet, and we still have a long way to go before we don't have to worry about even things like HAPE. Even here, people are still falling victim if they aren't taking all the proper steps.

Mount Everest: Last Day At Base Camp, 24 May 2008

Wake up and began packing, packing, packing, packing, packing. It's amazing to see how quickly you can tear down camp and get ready to go when driven by incentive. The goal is for us all to hike out as a group- members, Sherpas, cook staff. One whole group- one team start to finish. When we get to Lukla, our plan is to get the entire team onto one airplane but in the interim, we’ll be pressing through the length of the 80km trail from Base Camp to Lukla to stay in the same hotels, etc.

Francisco's parents have been in Kathmandu since the 20th, so he's been investigating helicopter flights to save time and in the essence of speed but man are they expensive. As in, they can cost as much as $5,600 for 3 people. Not this guy. That's too expensive when I have feet that still move underneath me. So as for the rest of the team we'll be hoofing it.

All day, we packed. Our gear, team gear. Comm equipment, cooking equipment. It all was packed up by the collective team, one piece at a time.

That night, we treated the team to a special meal- we (Bridie, me, Francisco, Willie) cooked the Sherpas and cook team dinner, kicking them out of their tents and setting the table for them in the community shelter. We put out a deli plate, a giant vat of Thai Chili, rice, and threw in a DVD for them to watch while eating. Somewhere, Sherpas unearthed two cases of beer to pass out. It was all great fun, even if they were extremely uneasy with us in the cook tent unattended. At least five times, we caught one or two peeking in to see what was happening and verify that we weren't about to burn down the tent.

It was a perfect way to close out the evening and the expedition, and they loved it just as much as we did.

Next: Everest Base Camp to Pheriche
Last: Down to Base Camp

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mount Everest Summit, To Base Camp

Time to wake up! CLANG, CLANG, LOUD TALK, LOUD TALK. Wtf!? Some jack ass Sherpa from another camp who must have grown up in the Bronx comes blowing into our camp talking as if he's in Yankee Stadium. I try politely at first to ask him to keep it down since I know that at 6am, I'm not the only one sleeping. This rapidly erodes after the 5th time of asking to me yelling at the top of my lungs that if he doesn't f-ing keep it down, I'm coming out of the tent and he won't like where it goes from there. He gets the point, although grudgingly. Hey, all spiritualness of the mountain aside, if you want to talk like you are in NY, you get to hear responses like you are in NY. He scoots off. Super Mila is irritated at his friend and apologizes to me endlessly about how he acted. Some guy from Kathmandu, he explains. You know, Big City, doesn't know better. Kathmandu isn't what I consider Big City, but I feel for him on how his friend acted. Everyone is now up anyway. Cripes sake. Let's make the best of it and get outta here.

We spend ~3 to 4 hours breaking camp. The goal here being to get everything out of Camp II so that no one has to go back up and pick it up as we "clean" the mountain.

This includes cook tents, stoves, food, personal gear, and even... yes, garbage. Despite the mountain of trash that we found initially, and even the second mountain that emerged from the snow as the sun beat down on the camp, we are hauling out our trash. I wish I could say the same for every other team, but we did. I'm conscience clean about how we left Camp II. I won't point any fingers on other teams, but let's just say that over the weeks spent in Camp II purgatory, I saw an awful lot of trash that seemed at first glance to have Hongul printed all over it. There, I won't say any more.

Over time, the camp began to resemble nothing more than a few overloaded packs and a jumble of rocks... we were almost ready. I think my pack weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 lbs and Willie's must have weighed over 100- easily. It was so heavy that we had to pull him up onto his feet.

In order to haul everything from Camp II, we set up a series of Drag Bags- items wrapped up in burlap & canvas that we can pull behind ourselves via ropes. I ask aloud about why things aren't stored in secure boxes & storage containers at Camp II so that next year this system doesn't have to be repeated, but the answer is that the weather can be so severe up here that it just wouldn't work. Ok, well at least I asked.

My Drag Bag is filled with... garbage. Yep, there's that garbage again. 70 lbs of gear on my back and I'm dragging this stupid trash bag through the snow behind me to Camp I. Hey, what can you do? I could be sitting in a cubicle getting old and watching my butt get fat like Bob Combs, right? So, in some respects it could be worse.

I'm confident Willie wants to bring it down, but also equally confident that once it makes it to Camp I and a Sherpa has to haul it down to Base Camp from there that it's going to end up in a bottomless crevasse with a bunch of Korean trash... when he's not looking. Hell, enroute to Base Camp?? I think it crossed my mind at every crevasse ladder. Ugh. But haul on I did, and tried my best to keep up with Willie and Francisco through what turned into a driving snowstorm.

And talk about a challenge. Yee cats. I already hate those aluminum ladders, some of which can be notorious. This trip I have heard story after story about ladders flipping unexpectedly on people, people falling off the side of one, people dangling from safety ropes for two whole hours before someone happened along and found them. Now add to the equation two things- tons of snow falling, making the trail all but obscured except if you stop every two steps to see where the trail leads you as you navigate the crevasse-infested Western Cwm. And a 40 lb trash bag.

So here I am, taking my time on the ladders, one step at a time. Left hand on my trekking pole, right hand holding this stupid trash bag which is still tied to me, AND the ladder guide rope. Ladder is all bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, snow falls off the bottom of my crampons as loose flakes blow by me in the driving storm. I can't believe I did all that for the sanctity and purity of Sagarmartha National Park. Some climber about 100 years from now hopefully will appreciate it.

We pull into Camp I, which is essentially under four feet of drift snow now from when we first arrived. Tents are still there, but it looks like a high Himalayan equivalent of a Wild West Ghost Town. No one is using this camp other than to transit through. We dump our Drag Bags and try to probe for crevasse while regaining the trail out of Camp I, through the Icefall and down to Base Camp.

From Camp I, it was absolutely slow going- ultimately, it had to be. Heavy, driving snow and wind stayed with us for at least 600 vertical feet of our downclimb through the Icefall. Down, down, down we climbed- through the upper Icefall, past Crazy Ladder 4, 3, 2 and then finally 1. Through the Soccer Field, and then the Popcorn Field. We heard two enormous avalanches calve off of LoLa Face, but it was too cloudy and snowy to see anything so we all just flinched and then relaxed when we realized we weren't in jeopardy.

Then we hit the waves at the end of the Icefall, and it was only then that we realized that we were safe- we were almost at Base Camp. Seven hours after leaving Camp II, we staggered in, weak smiles and extremely tired backs. We made it- "home." That night, Francisco and I reminisced about our two months here. Willie came in, exhausted smile and sunburned face to tell us that we are leaving in two days. The boys in the kitchen cooked us a celebration cake, Bridie gave us all hugs in congratulations and we were able to finally release.

Next: Last day at Everest Base Camp
Last: Downclimb to Camp II

Monday, May 26, 2008

Mount Everest Summit, To Camp II

Surreal day on many fronts. We woke up this morning at 04:30 to a crystal clear day- very much like yesterday, so we immediately wish well those pushing for their own summit. I'm still sucking oxygen like a champ when word trickles in on casualties last night- most as a result of the morning of the 21st. We were all shocked into silence... I think we all knew something was going to happen and was brewing as far back as when the Chinese pressured the Nepalis into not letting climbers acclimatize until after their blessed torch, but we all know about their interest in human rights so big shocker there. Burden has to be placed on the climbers themselves, too, though. So this morning, as we prepared to egress Camp IV, Willie led the effort in packaging the victims and trying to assist where possible with the survivors.

Up at Camp IV, life is rugged and dealing with death takes on a bit of a macabre tone. Placed in a sleeping bag and then tent, the body of someone who manages to be lucky enough to make it to Camp IV before passing is essentially prepared for the massive labor and financially astronomical cost of getting it back down to Base Camp. Sherpas won't touch bodies of climbers, so it's a western effort. And then there it sits, all wrapped up with climbers then walking in and around the bundle without paying it a second glance after a while. That's life at the South Col, where everyone up here knows the score. Everyone is also here for a reason, so as shitty a deal as it is for those who paid the ultimate price, everyone has an immense amount invested at the point where they arrive at Camp IV and are still going to take their shot. And in a way, even if it takes a season to get the body down, at least their fate will not be that of Scott Fisher or one of several others who died halfway to The Balcony and who everyone now passes within feet of the trail.

Anyway. The guys prepared breakfast for us, and then we struck camp, ready to head out.

Another team approached Willie about another critically ill team member who had survived the night somehow but still suffered from snow blindness, and needed to get down in elevation for his HAPE condition to improve. Last night, this is one of the climbers who we offered up some of our extra oxygen to in order to try and help his condition, which he clearly had. Willie treated the climber, wrapped his eyes. and prepared him for the long trip out without the use of his eyes.

In all seriousness, I can't think of many places I would rather be when I lost the use of my eyes. Getting down from South Col- the Genva Spur, Yellow Band and then thousands of feet of the Lhotse Face. That would be horrible. Yet here is this climber, acting all high and mighty as if he doesn't need Willie's help. I think I would have listened to two sentences of his guff and then left him in the care of his team lead. Especially if after all that the guy still has an attitude.

So it was up to Tendi, Danuru, Francisco and I to get ourselves down to Camp II, so off we went.

We approached the Geneva Spur, headed down and within a short time were down off the Geneva Spur, and over the Yellow Band.

For some reason, the Lhotse Face seemed to take much longer than I remembered it, and to make matters better, it started snowing. We passed team after team on their way up and while we wished them luck, I had to wonder where all these people were coming from. That, and with the weather deteriorating, would they get their shot? I hope the answer to that second question is a yes, but the weather around here is so squirrelly that it can be tricky when estimates are made.

By the time we were below Camp III, all of us were flat-out exhausted. Everyone was carrying heavy loads, Danuru's crampon kicked out on him and we were still a bit wiped from yesterday's summit effort. The snow kept coming down, even harder than before. Wind kicked up a little, and then, as I rounded one corner, I saw a familiar face- Super Mila. This guy is incredible. Absolutely incredible. He knows from last year when he summited how tired everyone is, so what does he do? Most Sherpas and cook staff will wait at the base of the Lhotse Face with drinks for their team. Super Mila doesn't do that- he climbs almost 400 vertical feet up the Face itself to bring us drinks. He's absolutely amazing. At the time I think I was in love with him. Francisco, Tendi, and Danuru expressed the same sentiment; it was that awesome to see him and that awesome a gesture. What a guy.

Next: Downclimb to Base Camp
Last: Downclimb to Camp IV

Situational Awareness 300' from the Summit

Marines, Seattle Mountain Rescue. Mountaineering. Surfing, snowboarding, scuba diving. All of these activities and professions require something called Situational Awareness (SA). While in the Marines, it’s absolutely mandatory for many events and without it bad things can happen. So on this climb, SA was something that I took quite seriously. Why not, right? It’s a dangerous environment and regular self-checks on myself and my environment are critical.

So it was amazing to me when it became blatantly clear that I had lost my SA at such a bad time.

Our team had just cleared the Hillary Step, and were roughly 300 feet from the true summit at 29,000’. Everything I had read, everything I had studied had told me that this was it- the Hillary Step is the last technical piece of the climb. Once you top the Hillary Step and scoot around this bulging rock that sticks out with an 8,000’ dropoff, you are there. Nothing left, it’s essentially a jaunt up to the top of the world.

So I was thinking that when I rounded the corner of the Hillary Step and saw Willie at the summit, flapping his arms and excitedly motioning me onward.

For the final push, I was in the lead, Tendi was right behind me, and Francisco right behind him. I stared up, excited at how close I was and taking the final steps to the summit. I started moving more quickly, and this is exactly where I lost my SA.

I was done, right? That’s exactly what I thought. I motioned forward placing one foot in front of the other on a trail that had only been broken by a few individuals so far this year. Faint crampon marks dotted what was essentially wind scoured hardpack snow, but at one point there was a thin line of softer snow, and it was here that I hesitated for a second. What was this? Should I step over the line, or just trust it and keep walking? I looked up- Willie was waving. I heard Tendi a few feet behind me and thought that I didn’t want to delay our team. So, without really thinking about it I took a step, landing my left foot directly on the softer snow. What’s the harm, right? Every book I have ever read tells me that I’m done with the climb and with the summit so close my mind is telling me that it’s a green light with no problems.

Within seconds, I’m hip-deep in the snow, one leg completely in a mini crevasse only 2’ wide, flailing around with that 8,000’ drop right off my shoulder. I was ok, still on the fixed line and without concern of sliding anywhere given that I was pinned to the side of the ridge by an entire leg submerged in this crevasse. Tendi came rushing forward and said later that he heard a 30 second string of muted curse words coming out of my mouth, hidden behind an oxygen mask.

I was aware enough of the mistake that I had made to be completely pissed at myself for losing my SA at such a time, and in such an environment. But it was a good lesson learned, in that I think I took my mask off at the summit twice, and only for an elapsed 2 minutes the entire time I was there.

Back to Top Ten Stories:

Mount Everest Summit, To South Col 21 May 2008

We take pics, smile, high five and celebrate. In addition to us all making the top, our small team has a much higher success rate than much larger teams.

Then it's time to go, and picture time is behind us. What Willie tells us later is that he and another guide have stationed a Sherpa at the South Summit with a radio. As the mobs of climbers are ascending higher and higher, they know what sort of window we have before the Hillary Step turns into a massive traffic jam. So, we head down. Slowly, slowly. As we approached the Hillary Step, the numbers started arriving and at one point Willie threw some old ropes apart and found a mini notch, right on the step itself. If you could call it a cave then great, but it was just the right size for two people and Francisco and I found ourselves huddled in this little cave for about 15 minutes while we watched climber after climber pop his head up and look at us with a surprised look when they saw us sitting there.

Finally, we saw an opening and took it- hand over handing down the Step, onto the SE Ridge and painstakingly across the narrow footholds with nothing between us and Camp II but air. All four of us thought about how great it would be to have a parachute to get to Camp II from there instead of have to go through everything we would have to in order to get back down there.

Finally we gain the South Summit, passing a Swiss climber without oxygen who looks literally blue. More on his condition later. From the South Summit, the sun is now in full strength and climbers are arriving in large numbers- many who look happy to be there, although not trapped in the snail pace queue that has developed. Many who should now be there, well above either their climbing capabilities or physical limitations. Snow blindness will become an issue today for several people, and several others that need even more extreme medical attention. Thank two groups for this: the Chinese, for forcing Nepal under a photo op to keep climbers from properly acclimatizing, and the climbers themselves, for developing "Summit Fever" and ignoring either their own bodies or those around them when ignoring warning signs.

From the South Summit, it's a long, long way down to Camp IV, and we begin our slow and deliberate downclimb.

By the time we make The Balcony, we are tired, hot, and our feet are on fire. But we make the slow, steady progress that allows us to take a breather here for a few minutes before continuing on. Ahh...

From The Balcony, we descend down through the rocky, icy scree above the Triangle Face. The team continues on, down, down, down until making the Ice Shelf where we are met by Danuru! He showed up with juice and oxygen for us, which was a super-amazing effort and we were all so glad to see him. I think by the time I walked up to him I had so little energy that I just plopped down in the snow and imitated a rag doll. But having something to drink and relax after a long night and morning with one of our own was rewarding and gave us the energy to make the final push down to camp where we were still hours ahead of other teams who had made their attempts last night.

Chilling out in our tent, Tendi and I fell asleep in minutes and stayed that way for most of the afternoon. Danuru checked in from time to time to see if we needed anything but for the most part we just needed sleep, and our tent was the perfect home away from home.

As for the whole team? Tomorrow we make for Camp II at a minimum. But for now? Time to relax and relish what we accomplished today, a day that 20 or 30 years from now we will be able to look back and tell stories about. And, it reminds me of that quote from Mara, the Jagged Globe Guide who said "you don't just go climb Everest. You earn it."

Mount Everest Summit, South Col Route 21 May 2008

Previous Post: Up to the South Col From Camp III

Photosynth Summit Panorama

16:00. Camp IV, 26,100'
Well before leaving for the summit of Mount Everest via the South Col Route, Willie was stressed. For hours he had been running around like a man on a mission trying desperately to rally troops to ensure everything went well for our overnight push and that other teams understood the overall, coordinated plan for a collective group that likely numbered at around seventy. The South Col is a large, flat plain with plenty of room, but most tents are clustered in a central area and as a result even that flat plain seems crowded at times. As a result, those seventy people leaving all at once would turn into a giant cluster at key choke points if not properly executed.

Danu, Tendi and I had a few other ideas, like cramming down one last snack and hydrating like crazy before we stepped off. "Here Doug, have some more tea." "Here, Tendi have another Pop Tart."

For the eight hours we had been parked at Camp IV, we hadn't done much beyond lay in the tent and prepare equipment. We hadn't slept, but we were definitely exhausted. Sleep doesn't come easily. Given that our arrival in to Camp IV was somewhere around noon, the sun was baking down on our tent, people were streaming in from the upper Lhotse Face constantly and a regular, disruptive clanking of metal objects on the grey slab rocks that make up Camp IV kept us awake.

Still. Relaxing, heavily hydrating and eating in the build-up was a good thing. It gave us stores of additional energy, aided in acclimatization and physiologically gave us an advantage over other teams that were dehydrated and arrived sometimes three short hours before looking at a final, exhaustive push up well above the Death Zone.

As the afternoon sun drifted lazily by, leading to a beautiful alpenglow of oranges, reds and purples that stretched across the horizon it became quickly clear that our time to kick into high gear was almost there. I peeked my head out of the tent one last time. The slight breeze and warming rays had both disappeared. A smallish bank of puffy clouds had popped up running lengthwise along Nuptse, low on the horizon and well below where we were currently camped. At 26,100', we are at the altitude jet liners begin cruising at, and the view here looks exactly like what you typically see- only without the ten inch porthole experience. Here, the view spans across the horizon and as far as the eye can see. The heavens are still. Stars begin to twinkle. It is going to be a wonderful night to climb.

Our goal was to depart Camp IV at 20:00 as our team was responsible for fixing lines on the last 800 meters of route to the top of the world. No small task, given that rope needed to be hauled up the mountain, then fixed to anchors along loose snow and crumbly rock on extremely steep faces. This job meant that these safe lines would be placed for climbers to anchor themselves to all the way up and past a significant terrain feature called the South Rock Step to the extremely exposed South Summit, along the Southeast Summit Ridge with it's 8,000 foot drop straight down to Camp II, traverse up and over the Hillary Step and on to the summit of Everest itself.

Willie has done this job over the last two years and was fully comfortable doing the job again this year... now if only he can get some help. Lots of "ohh, I can't spare anybody right now" or "how about this? I'll bring 100 meters of rope with me when I follow you up a few hours later." Ridiculous, but understandable. Up here in the rarefied air, almost everyone feels ass kicked with no energy. There is 1/3 the amount of oxygen available up here as what you find at Sea Level, and coupled with a reduced PSI plays havoc on the body. Danuru Sherpa from IMG was the exception, an extremely strong Sherpa being more or less voluntold that he was going to help out with the Mountain Madness fixing team. Still, he was a mad-man and agreed without complaining.

As 20:00 approached, Willie tried to pull a dad on us. Fast forwarding his clock by 15 minutes and getting ever more agitated that we weren't moving to his satisfaction, he would say "it's eight, we need to go!" Sharing a North Face VE-25, Tendi, Danu and I would look at our own watches, see 7:45 and shoot each other strange looks.

"Is your watch set fast? I have 7:45."

"No, it's eight. We are late!"

"Are you sure? I have 7;45, man."

"No, it's eight. Come on out here!"

"Dude, you said eight. We aren't ready yet. Give us a minute."

Blank, confused stares from Tendi and Danu, followed by laughs from all of us before shaking our heads as we continue to get ready. I knew Willie's watch wasn't fast, but he was definitely reading it wrong. Nepal time is 45 minutes off from "regular" time.. so if it is noon in Seattle, it is 00:45 in Nepal. For the entire two months we were in Nepal, it had been set for Utah time for one reason or another. Believe me, I asked him several times why he didn't change it across our trip, and this was where it was impacting us the most. There were the three of us, still inside our tent glomming down food as Willie continued to amp up. We would look at each other, give quizzical looks and not say a word, but continue to finish what we were doing and target an 8pm show time, as planned.

When the three of us emerged from our tent to start gearing up, we saw tents across the South Col lit up, illuminated yellow balls as head lamps twinkled and waved. Climbers were busily getting themselves geared up, breathing labored and curses muffled behind oxygen masks. The metallic scraping of crampons on rock sounded all over Camp IV as Everest loomed above us.

Most major teams understand the concept of a fixing team needing a head start to set the route. As a result, we had requested an hour before other teams would step off at 21:00 from Camp IV in a coordinated, larger effort across the Ice Shelf. The theory being that if we could get that hour, we would have enough time to fix lines without backlogs forming as we advanced. But the excitement of the moment, coupled with an interest in getting out of Camp IV translated in to us departing later than 20:00 (more like 20:10) and other teams stepping off early at 20:45 (definitely not 21:00). In essence, this means our hour of buffer had vanished before we had even reached the Balcony, roughly 1,300 feet up the mountain.

20:15. Ice Shelf, 26,300'
By the time we left the rocky, exposed ground of Camp IV, the ice had already re-frozen and had a crunchy, crisp sheen. Crampons bit as they took firm grip of the snow. Our oxygen was flowing nicely, masks efficient. We were well hydrated, rested and chock full of energy. Adrenaline had been coursing through our veins for hours in the build up to what we were finally doing- the exact thing that two months of training and acclimatization had brought us to this point. We moved fast- much faster than we had expected. Before long, we were able to look back at Camp IV and see the tents become smallish dots. Climbers continued to work on their gear but the 'clink, clank' of their metal tools became more muffled by the distance, giving way to the 'crunch, crunch' of our crampons continuing to bite the snow beneath our feet. The sun had set and even the distant glow was now gone. It was dark. Very dark. Yet, also quite peaceful. As a team, the five of us were at harmony with where we were. All of us looked strong, capable and were clearly excited. As a group, we all knew our strengths and weaknesses and were working together to ensure we were working collaboratively to succeed. Truthfully, if we didn't get a move on and get ahead, then all of the climbers behind us wouldn't have ropes to climb on to the summit. Here we were though.. We were really moving!

300 meters across the Ice Shelf, we started to close in on a team of two climbers.

"Err? What are they doing here?" I asked.

"Let me handle this," Willie flatly said as we continued to dial in two clearly labored, under equipped and slow moving climbers.

There exists on Mt Everest a group of individuals known as 'Freeloaders'. The easiest way of describing these individuals are what you would think: people who pay bargain basement prices- sometimes permit fees only- to come climb here. Wearing older secondhand equipment, frequently under equipped, without base camp support and frequently looking to 'borrow' food or gear these people will typically run without Sherpas and will poke around to gain whatever benefit they can without having to pay for it, tending to run in the shadow of organized groups. They also tend to be the types that get into trouble more often than not, requiring rescue or assistance from the more capable and well-equipped when things go wrong. At one point, we saw one Freeloader at Camp III looking in to another team's unoccupied tent to crash and sleep in while the owners who hauled it up the Lhotse Face were elsewhere. Easier that way, right? No need to haul a tent up that crazy Face if you can find a spare one without an owner in it.

Still, this is fine if climbers don't impact other teams or haul their own gear. And in truth even here, the mountaineer spirit of climbing rubs off and Freeloaders will be taken under wing at times to watch out for them. This was not the case as we continued across the Ice Shelf. Two Freeloaders ascending up the Ice Shelf from Camp IV, likely having heard "rope fixing team leaving at 8, everyone else is leaving at 9." This translated into these two individuals attempting to jump in front of the train and draft us up to the summit. Sorry, Charlie. When we pulled alongside these two, Willie gave them a nice sunburn. Clearly stating the need for them to stand fast and give us room they did- immediately falling back, and I'm sure feeling foolish and surprised at being called on their actions.

20:45. Base of Triangle Face, 26,500'
Ahead of us, we saw nothing but pitch black. Step after step, step after step. Breathing was going surprisingly well and our team was talking constantly as we moved to the edge of the flat expanse of the Ice Shelf. Soon, the flattish blob of Ice Shelf snow gave way to a slowly rising ramp as the route clearly pointed to us beginning the slow climb up the Triangle Face. Looking back, we could see climbers streaming out of Camp IV.

"Hey what are they doing? It's not 9 yet."

"Oh great."

The mob of climbers had definitely left Camp IV, and were streaming up toward the Ice Shelf, only half an hour behind us. What would this mean? How would it go? We still had plenty of ground on these climbers and they did appear to be moving slowly. Yet, you could never tell and in this environment anything could happen. So what did we do? The only thing we could do: Turn around, heads down and put one foot in front of the other. Still, I would be lying if I said I didn't look back.. and frequently.

As we continued up the Triangle Face, snow changed to rocky tuff. Crampons, which just minutes ago crunched in snow now scraped and screeched as metal met stone. The angle of our climb dramatically increased as well. As it did so, we found the fixed lines, which were not present as we meandered across the Ice Shelf. As exposure and angle increased, the fixed lines that we were tied in to were mixed in with quite literally dozens of other older lines- ones that were used years ago, and had not been cut free. Now, years of UV damage, wind and temperature extremes had left these ropes in place, but completely unreliable as a safety measure. Frayed and sun-bleached, they stayed in place among the anchors but looked as sinister as an exposed wire might look traversing a pool of water. It was there and harmless in current state. But relying on it, or clipping in to the wrong rope could potentially spell disaster. This of course meant that it was critically important to watch what you were doing at every second.

21:30. Triangle Face, 27,000'
Oxygen regulators that we are using have the following flow meter settings: .5, 1, 1.5, 2, 3 and 4 with the numbers indicating liters/minute. While the .5 and 1.5 settings are primarily to be used when laying inactive and in a tent, you can also set half settings between 2, 3 and 4. 4 would be maximum flow, rarely used but still available depending on exertion and personal needs. Most climbers establish 2.5 as their climb setting, but I prefer 3 because I'm bigger than the average bear and because after using my regulator for a few days, I recognize that it isn't calibrated properly, administering a lower dose and closer in range to 2.5 based on flow.

As our little band of merry men continues to climb higher and higher, this game of back and forth ensues. I set the flow for 3. Tendi sees 3 and drops it back to 2.5. I turn it back up, Danu looks half an hour later and immediately drops it back down to 2.5 again. Back and forth. In the mean time, my climbing speed see saws. My fingers get cold, then warm again. I feel like I can breathe, then feel suffocated. Back and forth as we continue to climb higher and higher.

As the route at the upper Triangle Face zig-zagged back and forth, I had a comfortable 3 liters/minute of O2 going and was making great speed. Strong, easy breathing and warm, I had my 8000 Meter Climbing Suit unzipped, light nylon gloves on and only my Marine Corps coyote fleece cap on my head, fairly close to breaking a sweat. It truly was a beautiful night. The moon was beginning to cast a glow, having popped up on the horizon behind our face of Everest and off to the north somewhere. As a result we were cast in a shadow and climbing in complete darkness, but if you looked left or right, you could see distant mountains begin to glow and slightly cast their bluish hue. There was still not even a wisp of wind, continuing this as a beautiful night to climb.

As I looked back down toward Camp IV, I noticed that all climbers had departed and were making their way up toward the Triangle Face. Slowly though. Not one team seemed to be moving at the speed we were other than Danuru, who we knew was tracking up to meet us independently. Our team had spread out a bit, Willie up front, me close on his heels and Tendi, Danu and Francisco roughly 100 meters behind. We were making solid progress and at a fast pace.

Higher and higher we went through the rock bands on the summit pinnacle below The Balcony. Despite the ink black sky, I can clearly make out Willie 50 vertical feet above me thanks to his headlight beam and the reflective string sewn into his climbing suit.

It was here that we happened across the first of the several bodies that dot this portion of the route. An American who reportedly passed away in 2005, his climbing suit hood was pulled down to cover his face for what could be all eternity. What an amazing resting place, I thought. As grim and tragic as any person's passing is, this man died doing what he loved. It's a mixed emotion, truth be told. As we learned firsthand just 24 hours later, there is a bit of grim reality when it comes to the dead vs the living up above the Death Zone. To recover a body from up here would cost a fantastic amount of money, and this pales in comparison to the inherent risk it places living climbers in the first place. I have heard endless hours of armchair quarterback debates swirl about this sort of thing over the years. But here, as I slowly walk past an individual who had a heart attack and then promptly froze as he climbed toward the summit three years earlier it is a no-brainer. We all know the score. You die up here, you likely stay. The upper mountain is littered with remains for exactly that reason. I wish this person well, spend a few seconds reflecting, and then continue on. Five minutes later, he is out of my mind as I dedicate all my energy and focus on the Golden Rule of climbing: "To summit is optional. To return is mandatory." I'm driven and focused on the summit, but I'm getting home. Self-check complete, I drive onward and upward, feeling really good.

22:30. The Balcony, 27,500'
"Welcome to the Balcony, Doug. That was some fast climbing" Willie said as I rolled in on this historic and significant milestone. It was here that in 1953 Sir Ed and Tenzing Norgay established the last of their seven camps before their climb in to history. A flattish, minor bluff that sticks out as an outcropping and is roughly halfway between Camp IV and the summit, The Balcony is also a bit of a pit stop. Climb teams cache spare oxygen bottles here by the dozens, do a self-check on their team and recharge before the final, all-out push to the summit. From here the route becomes treacherous and a turnaround beyond The Balcony is doable, but nowhere near as straightforward as if someone turns around at The Balcony.

We patted each other on the backs for making our first objective and doing so quickly enough that Willie told us all that we needed to slow down once our team assembled... and then adjusted my air flow. Oh, great. Right before the hardest part of tonight's climb.

"Hey Willie, we are kicking ass. Are we going to summit before dawn?"

"Absolutely not. The route from here is slow going"

"Really? We are moving real fast."

Willie pauses for a second, and then looks at my oxygen. "Gosh, Doug somehow your regulator reset to 3 again" -click click click-

The moon is beginning to cast a large, shadowy glow from behind Everest now, and when we look around at the first whisps of wind appear. Nothing significant, but after a thirty minute rest break, we were warned to switch out the nylon gloves for down mitts because it is about to get cold. As midnight approaches the temperature is definitely dropping toward what we learn later is negative 20 degrees- fairly standard for this climb at this time of year. Not colder than average, but not any warmer either.

Quite literally ten minutes later, the wind kicked up and snow blew everywhere with temps plummeting. Talk about timing. Frost formed everywhere that there was vapor, making our hoods and masks look like someone had sprayed us with one of those fake snow aerosol cans that sell like hotcakes around the Holidays. While intermittent the gusts were bone-chilling as they sliced past our parkas and hit exposed skin or thin thermal layers, we began to get busily about our work of changing the first of our oxygen cannisters and glom down some light snacks.

Looking over the crest of The Balcony, I didn't see even the faintest glimmer of a head lamp. Danuru had caught up to us and was now alongside, planning out how we were going to team up in order to summit, fix lines and haul gear. Oxygen flowing, some of us grudgingly re-set to 2.5, we were ready to step off. It was six of us, high and alone on the world's highest mountain in the pitch dark. And feeling great in doing so.

23:30, Snow Slope Below South Rock Step, 28,000'
From The Balcony, the route angles up sharply and follows a loose snow ridgeline around in a gentle yet steep arc. Truthfully, when we stepped off from The Balcomy, I thought this was going to be a fairly pleasant part of the climb. The ridge is steep to one side, but relatively straighforward. Winding slowly to the west, we put on roughly 100 vertical feet over 200 meters of trail before coming to the end of the fixed lines. This is where we were to begin our efforts of not only climbing, but also working to establish the route for every other climber attempting the South Col Route this season to follow.

The wind was blowing in force now and where that arc meets the South Rock Step, it turns downright nasty. With every step I was thankful that my down Altimitts were keeping my hands as warm as they were- even with the gloves that I had kept on as liners. Zipping up my climbing suit, my zipper literally snagged midway up my chest and left a good chunk of upper body exposed to the elements. Thanks a million, Feathered Friends. An 8,000 Meter Climbing Suit costing almost $1000 now proved itself to not effective- or safe.. at 8,000 meters. Frost continued to form at all sides of my hood and face. It was defintely, absolutely cold.

All of this may have been the final straw for Danu, who was already experiencing severe stomach cramps and had been struggling since hitting The Balcony. With a frustrated, disappointed look he made the right decision and finally turned around to head back to Camp IV. As we wished him well, this 8-time Everest summiteer was wise enough to know his own limitations and loyal enough to promise to be waiting for us at Camp IV when we all returned. We watched him slowly walk off down toward The Balcony and after reflecting on this for a moment, got back to the work at hand. At 28,000', our Everest summit push team now consists of: Willie, Francisco, Me, Tendi amd our attachment, Danuru.

00:30, South Rock Step, 28,500'
Loose snow with no traction hiding crumbly rocks on an extremely steep angle are the name of the game here, causing all forward momentum of our team to slow down to a crawl as we struggle mightily through this portion of the climb. The snow chute that characterizes leads up to Everest's South Summit is close to 1,000' in elevation all portions told, and some portions of the rock, snow and ice trail are definitely near vertical. I continue to look up at Willie, only visible thanks to his reflectors as rope that is being fixed above us slowly snakes by. There is no trail here, as our team are the people actually creating the trail. So all snow is fluffy with no steps to take advantage of, all rocks are crumbly and sluff off when a misplaced crampon connects with a rock not seized to it's neighbor. As we perched on one loose rock foothold with only crampon points connecting us to the rock, holding on to the wall in front of us, Francisco and I wondered aloud through our masks in this brief and muffled conversation:

"Doug, how are we going to get up this thing?"

"Dude, I have no idea. But more importantly, how are we going to get down?"

Francisco looks down through his feet at the crumbly rock and inky black of what lies several thousand feet below. "Good point.." his voice trails off and he looks upward.

"Hey are Willie or Tendi around?"

"Not right now"

"Cool. Can you turn me back up to 3?"

click click click

At one point, high on that loose snow ramp I even heard another guide radioing Willie from The Balcony, at that point 500 vertical feet below. I don't mean I heard the radio chatter, I mean I heard the guide talk, and then a split second later heard the radio come through Willie's radio 100 feet further up the slope. You could hear the "clink" of jumars clicking home, the chalkboard "screech" of crampons on rock and the mechanical Darth Vader noise of regulators pressing O2s.

Lungs are aching, muscles are burning. Willie and Danuru continue to rope and climb higher. I'm holding tight with Francisco to make sure he's taken care of. Tendi has become a full-fledged oxygen bottle porter for the team and slows way down.

"Hey, brother put it to 3, that'll help you out," I yell.

"Doug, come here and let me see your regulator." Dammit!

Oh well, drive on, drive on. At one point as Francisco and I scrambled up one particularly nasty stretch of rock in the pitch black and for the second time started a muffled conversation about how we were going to get down. I have to admit, that lingering question stayed with me throughout the South Rock Step portion of the climb. But, onward and upward we went. Higher and higher. Francisco looks at me through his head lamp and laughs out loud at a three inch snot stalactite that had sprouted where vapor was escaping from the front nose of the mask. My regulator was switched between 2.5 and 3 no fewer than four more times as we continued up the South Rock Step leg of the route. I wondered aloud if we would ever get there. At some point Francisco started talking in Spanish. I complained that I was craving a hamburger and quoted lines from Tommy Boy. I think Tendi either laughed or wanted to slap me. To this day I'm not sure which. I will say this though- the South Rock Step portion of this climb was the hardest piece of the summit push.

The full moon finally came out and cast a stunning, bluish ghostly hue over everything. It was so bright that you could clearly make out Camp II, not to mention literally hundreds of mountain tops now far below. It was truly beautiful. To this point, I hadn't really recognized how absolutely high we were. But as we dialed in on the South Summit, one quick glance left (into Nepal) or right (into China) left you in awe. This was just like out of a dream. How could this be real? Was I truly seeing this with my own eyes?

The wind had died down again, making the final push up the South Rock Step a little more tolerable. We knew we were close. There is only so much mountain, and we were climbing toward where there was clearly a buttress. Occasionally, we would get a gust of wind, but for the most part the sky settled in to a deathly still.

Up and up we went. At times when using my headlamp to spot Willie, I'd be looking at his reflectors and straight up to stars. It was beautiful, exhilarating, exhausting and vertical all wrapped into one experience.

04:10, South Summit, 28,704'
A little before 04:00, I looked off to the east and a faint glow of sunrise appeared. Minutes after that, we approached the buttress and the fixed line disappeared over the top, leading to a smallish, eight foot by four foot flat bump that allowed us to plop down and take a breather. It was still quite dark- dark enough to not truly understand what we had just accomplished, or where we were sitting. Tendi reached over and said "congratulations, Doug! You are at the South Summit!"

Then it hit me. We had "made" the Everest South Summit- success! Actually, I was definitely surprised at how this milestone had appeared before we really expected it to. We were quite thrilled to take a break, and given how far ahead of every other team on the mountain we were, I knew we could afford to take a long one.

Willie and Danuru were already out on the South Summit Ridge fixing lines when we arrived so the three of is found ourselves sitting there on the South Summit alone, at 29,000 feet. Outside of people riding in airliners, noone in the world was higher than we were at that moment in time. My friend who works on the 787 at Boeing understands what this means, as he looks to make jets fly at this altitude. The air is so thin that immediately after taking one breath at this altitude you become dizzy, tired, and slump over.

This reality of this came crashing home in two sincere and curious ways. One was the sheer exposure that presented itself as the sky continued to lighten with dawn fast approaching. From the South Summit, it's an 8,000' express ride straight down to Camp II from the end of your boots. The other is the experience you have when your oxygen bottle is replaced with a fresh one. One minute you are alert and fully functioning. When your O2 is shut off as the bottle is swapped out, you sag like a deflated doll, your vision crashing in around you and head feeling like you just sucked in three Whip-It's simultaneously.

Personally, I think statistics on accident rates and summit successes of those who try Mount Everest with O2 versus those who try without show that those who try without are off their rockers. Statistics show the slim margin of summit successes relative to those to attempt with Oxygen. That's fine. I get it, it's more challenging. However, statistics also show the extremely high margin of accident rates relative to those who attempt with Oxygen. To me, the argument ends here. Compound this with something statistics don't show: that those who attempt without Oxygen regularly and routinely lose fingers, toes and noses to frostbite as their metabolism slows way down, making them highly suceptible to cold. They also kill brain cells at an alarming rate. I'm coming home, with all my fingers and toes. I'm also going to be able to put a sentence together. Lastly: What is more "pure"? To climb with Oxygen and summit, or to climb without Oxygen, but use the ropes that our team set? The argument as to whether to climb with -or without- Oxygen is lost on me.

We spent a long time on the South Summit. Which was fine by me, because I was taking it all in. This was a life time of work getting here, and I wanted to savor every last bit of it. The sky continued to change colors and become lighter and lighter blue until in a brief instant, the sun crested the horizon and we were introduced to the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. As the sun continued to blaze higher in the sky, the oranges, reds and yellows of dawn began to hit the tips of the summit ridge. Given how high we were compared to every other point on earth, we were the first to see the sun and watch the rays dance on the rocks and ice. There was still no wind- not even a whisper of air moved. The few clouds on the horizon were gentle, puffy and distant. All we could hear was our own excited voices, the crunch of snow and the mechanical rasp of our regulators.


I knew from discussion that from where we sat taking in the view around us, it was only another 1 1/2 hours to the actual Everest summit. Talk about a wonderful feeling to know we were so close, and feel so good. We all had energy and were strong, alert and feeling good despite where we were. It was also here that I think it truly sunk in- we were going to make it.

As we geared back up to get going, I took off my Altimitts to shove in the now frosted over climbing suit- the same one that I had been cursing the entire climb because the damn zipper was still stuck open. No fewer than ten times since The Balcony I had tried to fix the thing- to no avail. Now here, I wiped back the ice crust and planned to simply jam my Altimitts into the wide open suit. To my horror though, one mitt slipped out of my hand and started sliding directly for the edge of the South Summit. It was like an accident in slow motion. All three of us stared at the slowly sliding mitt. I yelled something like "Oh... Shhiiitttt..." but not a one of us was going to make a move to save the thing. No way. Absolutely not. With that drop? Sayonara glove. As we sat, frozen, staring at the slowly sliding glove it caught on a small nub of ice and caught. Laughing and looking at each other, I got up, tip-toed over to where the glove had stopped, inches from an 8,000' dropoff and retrieved it. Complete luck.


05:10, South Summit Ridge, 28,720'
We finally set out along a ridgeline that only six other people had walked on this year. From Mount Everest's South Summit, very little remains as far as obstacles for the true summit- a traverse along a crazy, highly exposed knife-edge ridge for roughly 150 meters is the first challenge. Known as the "Cornice Traverse", you navigate along the edge, gingerly placing one foot in front of the other. As you look between your legs straight down 8,000' to Camp II (in Nepal), your right hand holds on to the top of the Southeast ridge, occasionally gripping the other side (which lies in China), the 10,000' Kangshung Face. The fixed lines are here to assist in the event of an accident, but should most definitely not be relied on. The route is narrow enough to recognize the importance of being extremely careful and wide enough that you can still find firm footholds. As we found earlier in the day, there was no route yet- we were the first. As such, we were creating the route- establishing footholds for others to follow. The snow was firm and solid as like the Ice Shelf- making our forward progress move quickly and decisively. Yet cautiously. This process continues step after ginger step until the route begins again to put on elevation.


06:10, Hillary Step, 28,740'
The weather wasn't just cooperating, it was turning into what we knew was going to be a downright beautiful day. After a bit of careful labor on the ridge, we reached the last, final technical part of our climb: the Hillary Step. I have read about this 40' rocky outcrop, seen pictures of it, studied it and wanted to climb it for years. To see it with my own eyes- wow. Completely mind-blowing. Let's just say that this particular formation of rock and ice has been something I have looked forward to for a long, long time. But also recognized that in order to climb on it, I would have to put in some serious effort just to get there. Oh, man do you have to put in serious effort. And so, here we are, rapidly approaching the legendary, recognizeable and well-documented Hillary Step with relative ease. It all happened so quickly. There it is, here we are, here we go, we are climbing it now.


I know this may sound surprising, but I can't say that I found the Hillary Step to be all that difficult. I do understand that it's quite different today from what Sir Ed and Tenzing Norgay found 55 years ago though. Then, it was an unclimbed obstacle. Today there are so many ropes dangling down it from past seasons that when you grab them collectively it feels like a ship anchor rope. But I don't want to take away from the experience, which I found pretty damn cool.


The obstacle is about 40' high for sure. When you are about to get onto the Step you stand on this smallish snow platform and look left to the 8,000' straight down to Camp II. On your right, with no protection of a ridge is the 10,000' straight down the Kangshung Face to China. As you face the Step, to your right there is a single foothold- that's it. Miss that, and it's an express ride to Tibet. You essentially grab hold of the 5 or 7 ropes that dangle down the almost vertical face and wedge one foot in between the rock and snow. There are about 15 footholds that lead you up to a series of rocks that you have to wiggle through until you arrive at one that you have to do this weird squat/hop to navigate around and over. Now try that with crampons on and that 8,000' drop inches away. That definitely gets your blood going. Then -poof- you cut around a corner to ascend up a snow ramp, and congratulations, you have just navigated the Hillary Step.

I have to say, going up the Hillary Step is great because there's a natural flow to ascending, and at the time, there were only a hand full of us even in that general vicinity of the mountain. But on the way down the place was a mob scene and we had to wait for ten people to keep popping their head through the rock before we were able to hand-over-hand our way back down the Step. From this little notch where Francisco and I were waiting, it looked like a 29,000' game of Whack-a-Mole the way they kept popping up.

06:40, Summit, 29,035'
Next stop, the summit of Mount Everest itself. Once you complete the Hillary Step, it is a 20 minute, 300 foot slog to the roof of the world. This, mostly along a gentle slope composed of ice and scree. After passing the ridge line above the Hillary Step, the fixed lines come to an end and we can see Willie at the summit, waving excitedly and beckoning us on.


While there is still extreme exposure on all sides, the slope is wide enough up here that having a fixed line is unnecessary, so we think. For years, I have read about this part of the climb. You pass the Hillary Step, you are home free. There are no more challenges, no more dangers. Just you and the summit, 300 feet away.

I continue to stare at a bright blue cloudless sky, prayer flags and the top of the world. Quickly glancing down, I only slightly notice a tuff of soft snow that crosses a trail of hard-pack, wind blasted ice. "I'm home free" I think, stepping into what turns out to be a mini crevasse.

Within seconds, I am rolling on the snow at 29,000'- my leg completely inserted in the crevasse. Tendi, traveling roughly ten feet behind me moves quickly and tells me later that when he comes up to me he hears a thirty second string of swear words muffled behind my Oxygen mask as I curse myself for losing situational awareness with an 8,000 foot drop a short slide away.

Collecting myself, I make a vow that I was getting off this mountain alive and would never, ever let my guard down like that again.

We unclip, and then proceed cautiously up the remaining few hundred feet to the true summit where we can take in the view of a lifetime. Our team grounds it's gear, high-fives, and laughs heartily at our success. We made it! I plop down on the true summit- a narrow shelf about the size of a coffee table, take out my camera and look to the south and for miles and miles, as far as the eye can see.

Fixing lines the entire way, Willie had beat us to Everest's summit by roughly 35 minutes. So to him, this is what it looked like as the three of us approached the summit carefully and happily:

There are hardly any clouds, zero wind and a warm, nourishing sun. It couldn't be any more perfect- imagine sitting on the wing of a jet at cruising altitude. Words can't describe the feelings of happiness and exhilaration at reaching this goal after so many months of effort and teamwork, and we all celebrate.

Looking to the south, we see others start to pop up over the Hillary Step and slowly dial in on the summit. Knowing our time was limited and uninterested in getting stuck in a log jam at the Hillary Step on the way down, we snap as many pictures as we can- of ourselves, and individually.


Photosynth Summit Panorama
Willie: 21 May, 06:05- his eighth Mt Everest summit
Tendi, Doug & Francisco: 21 May, 06:40- our first Mt Everest summit, Tendi's sixth