Sunday, January 4, 2009

Everest Top Ten Stories

The below list is of my top ten stories over the course of the climb expedition. Some are surprising, some are funny. Most have an interesting flair to them that after so many months still stick in my mind’s eye as highlights and as such have decided to share them.

With the top ten stories coming in rapid fire, I think it's best to get the bad ones out of the way first and then move into the interesting and funny ones. In addition to a fatality on the 21st, there were myriad of other issues.. literally. Snow blindness, HAPE, HACE, frostbite. You name it. All on a quiet, windless, relatively mild night at 29,000'.

#10: The South Col Guy

After descending the Step and almost to the South Summit itself, we came across a sole climber traversing on his way to the summit. He was not on Oxygen and clearly was exhausted. His face was a nice shade of blue and he was moving extremely slowly. Moving, but cautiously and labored across one of the most technical and dangerous portions of the climb.

The 45 y/o man continued on to the summit, and succeeded in making what turned out to be his sixth 8,000 meter summit. At the summit, so I heard, he realized that he had spent too much energy getting there, and was in trouble. On the way down, he was at the Triangle Face and right above Camp IV.. and had a heart attack.

In the case of this person, the volunteers to aid in recovery just weren't there and the route wasn't in any condition to allow it. So at the South Col he stayed, and is there to this day.

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#9: The First Middle Eastern Guy

One climber took the prize when it came to not fame, but notoriety. Coming from a Middle Eastern country, he had his nation's flag literally plastered over every possible part of his body- at one point we counted no fewer than eight. He was fairly pushy, not completely social, and he almost died. In all truth, we were told he had died no fewer than three separate times. Like for two days, we actually did think he was dead. But he made it, and therein lies one of the most curious and entertaining stories of our trip.

Rumor of this guys lack of climbing skill trickled in over the course of the our time at EBC, but in an exercise in tenacity he stuck with it and continued to climb higher and higher, making mind-tingling scrapes with disaster over and over. At one point we learned that on his summit push he left from Base Camp along with the rest of his team, bound for Camp II. The rumor is that halfway through the Icefall, he fell off of a ladder and was left dangling in a crevasse for close to an hour. Exhausted and several hours behind his teammates, he staggered in to Camp II, found the first available tent (that turned out to belong to a complete stranger), crawled into it, and promptly fell asleep.

Shockingly, he somehow made it as high as the South Summit where he was noticeably out of it, disoriented and extremely tired. It was here that he was forced to turn around, and as a result he became extremely agitated. Soon thereafter he began to exhibit noticeable signs of HACE. At times, he would not walk. At another time he lost the ability to speak or understand English and required a translator. His team literally began drag him down the mountain toward Camp IV, finally, after several hours making The Balcony.

Five hours into trying to get him down, low on oxygen themselves and in perilous shape, they gave him one last chance to get down to Camp IV. Refusing, the team then had no choice but to say goodbye and leave him in a sleeping bag with a bottle of oxygen.

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#8: The Second Middle Eastern Guy

There was a second Middle Eastern guy on the mountain this year. Not quite as technically challenged as the first guy, this one had enthusiasm, was social, and approached portions of the mountain with open eyes.

On summit day, as he moved his way slowly down from the South Summit enroute to Camp IV, the second Middle Eastern guy began going delirious and snow blindness that was starting to hit him. As the temperature dropped, completely exhausted from exerting himself for so long he started to experience a good case of frostbite as well. He staggered over to one of the frozen bodies- a man in a blue climbing suit who had a heart attack in 2005 and is still in relatively good condition, located right on the trail.

“Wake up! Wake up! You need to get moving!” The first Middle Eastern guy started shaking the frozen body, grabbed his suit and tried to move him from the rocks he had been seized to for the last three years.

Finally back at Camp IV, the second Middle Eastern guy started having his own medical problems. We learned about him as well, and were concerned about his frostbite, now full-blown snow blindness and other problems that had stricken him on his second night above 26,000 feet.

With eyes completely covered in gauze and one foot stricken with frostbite, Willie began the slow, laborious job of helping him navigate around and down the challenging Geneva Spur. Vertical in some places, extremely steep in most with sheer drop offs, the Geneva Spur leads to the Yellow Band which is tricky in it’s own right.

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#7: Tendi Saves a Porter

Arriving in Pheriche on our out-trek, we finally found beds for the first time in two months. An actual bed! Talk about luxury.


Lhakpa and Tendi are telling Willie that one of our porters has HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema).

We find him, several buildings down the trail. It's definitely HAPE. Bridie has Diamox and gives some to the 14 year old. Then, when we aren’t expecting it Tendi throws a burlap strap around his forehead and piggybacks the kid, taking off down the trail and into the night for Dingboche - maybe 1000' lower. Even here, people are still falling victim if they aren't taking all the proper steps.

Willie and I learn that Tendi made it as far as Tengbuche. Tengbuche! That's a four hour trek from Pheriche in the daytime, with day pack. Tendi made it with a 140 lb kid on his back. Up, down. Up, down. The trail snakes down through the valley, linking up with the Dudh Kosi River and finally making contact with Rhododendron trees in full bloom.

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#6: Situational Awareness 300' from the Summit

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’ drop off, you are there. Nothing left, it’s essentially a jaunt up to the top of the world.

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.

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.

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#5: The Swiss Guide on Crazy Ladder Number Four

One day, there was a huge backlog at one of the ladder groups. This ladder set was no joke, after ascending one ladder (which is actually three tied together), you traverse a 40-degree ledge that leads you up to a 20' nearly vertical slope. This slope in-turn leads to yet another ladder, which doesn’t top out at the ridge, but actually requires you to climb a 6' vertical wall of ice to the top. All of this sits 50' above a massive crevasse, inviting an accidental mistake. There is a safety rope that you can clip into, but thanks to the technical merits of this move it is definitely one you want to take your time on.

As we were picking our way along the ridge, before our eyes this Swiss IFMGA Guide completely bypasses a 10 person queue waiting to get down, doesn't clip into a safety line, and AS two other people are up-climbing the ladder, basically stapled to the snow with some pickets- starts climbing down the side of the ladder. The SIDE OF THE LADDER. Willie goes bat-shit, yelling at him, telling him how stupid he is.

People often ask me about the jack-assery that happens in the mountains and what I see both climbing and with SMR. Unfortunately when on TV you hear "5 climbers fell into a crevasse on Mt. Rainier today" they almost always neglect to mention the series of bad decisions that get people into trouble.

Future Darwin Award Winner.

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#4: Relief on the Lhotse Face

“Hey Lhakpa- I have to drop a bomb”.
“What!?” No you don’t”
“Oh, yes I do, I can’t wait”
“Doug, you are 2,000’ up the Lhotse Face”
“Yup, here it comes”.. I scoot to a little nub snow outcropping next to one of the ice screws and three feet off the trail.

Lhakpa starts laughing in disbelief as I start to go with one of the most incredible views ever pictured from a bathroom. Ahhhhh… Three Sherpa pass me and start laughing. I wave them a big “Namaste” and smile as I take in the scenery on a blue skied, windless and warm day.

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#3: The Polish Guy

In 2005, a middle aged Polish guy arrived at Base Camp without a permit to climb on Everest. Some of the larger guide services made note of his presence but he spoke little English, wasn't very friendly, and seemed to be able to take care of himself. So they left him alone and only saw him on the periphery while they looked after their clients.

That year, something happened at Camp I that everyone prepares for but almost never happens- a huge avalanche calved off of Everest's West Face that was large enough that it literally washed over Camp I. By a stroke of luck, most climbers were down in Base Camp at the time the avalanche struck and Camp I was almost deserted. The Polish Guy was unique- he had elected to stay in Camp I along with a small handful of others that day and when the avalanche hit, he was caught in it.

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#2: The Olympic Torch

Several times, the Nepalis announced changes to it’s plan of what would / would not be allowed of climbers. China itself had shut off climbing on their side of the mountain to all but a small number of torch bearers this year, and it was no secret that they were heavily pressuring the Nepalis to do the same thing.

A few weeks into our climb, we were told that Nepal Army climbing soldiers would be stationed in Base Camp and at Camp II. There were rumors about them going as high as the South Col, but we all knew this could not be a sustained event, and even being positioned at Camp II wouldn’t be healthy for soldiers long-term. And so it began.

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#1: Olympic Torch Special! The Flag Guy

Upon arrival at Camp I, the Mountain Madness team (westerners and Sherpas) sat down for lunch outside our tents. While eating, William arrived and asked Willie if he could store equipment in the back of Willie's tent vestibule, which he quickly agreed to, giving William some pointers on how to successfully execute a climb on Mt Everest (William appeared to be climbing unsupported).

While unpacking on the fringe of our group, at one point William said "Hey, check this out" and with that pulled out a black flag embroidered in Thamel with the wording "Free Tibet Fuck China". Five of us witnessed the flag, and when Willie saw it he jumped up quickly and in unison we all asked William why he brought such a flag along in the first place. His response was that he wanted to fly it from the summit. After discussing the ramifications of having such a flag and how it's presence could result in the Nepali Government shutting down climbing altogether, we explained that him openly flying one of these flags went counter to everything we had been instructed about, was directly opposite to boundaries of the permit, and that his having this flag put all of us- as in every climber and Sherpa who had paid thousands of dollars to be here at risk. The risk being that the Nepal Government could potentially shut down climbing on the Nepal side for the

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climbingoninsulin said...


My name is Elise, and I recently read an intriguing article in the William and Mary alumni magazine. Your story was a refreshingly inspiring and fascinating read.

I'm not an alumnus yet, but I too have my sights set on the summit of Everest someday.

Do you have any advice for someone just beginning the journey?


Doug Pierson said...

Hey Elise!

Thanks so much for the post- and it's great that you have your sights set. No matter when you want to go, just deciding that it's a goal is the first step.

Some advice.. hmm.. have an hour? ;)

Let me think about that for a little bit and get back to you. What's the best way? Via this posting site, or another route? My email address is:

Or, I'll gin something up and hang it on the site for you.

Cheers, and have a great weekend,

climbingoninsulin said...


Thanks for writing! Did you get my message from the other day?