| Everest 2010 - South Col Route
It sure is tough to try and sum up a 60 day climb in a few paragraphs and 30 pictures, so I'm not going to really try to cram every event and detail into this report. I'll be doing a more detailed report on our website at a later date or we've been doing a few slideshows around and about where we do share many more experiences and pictures than I can relay here. However, I wanted to share some pictures of and general information on our climb up Everest's south col (SE ridge) this past April & May 2010.
My wife, Kristine, and I were married last October in Telluride and this climb started out being considered our honeymoon. However, now with Everest behind us, I think we'll go on a more relaxing and traditional honeymoon – Everest just didn't quite cut it as a romantic setting In our effort to try and climb the 7 summits together, Everest seemed to be by far the biggest hurdle and turned out to definitely be the biggest climb of our lives and for good reason. My good friend, Rob Casserley from the UK (now a 7 time Everest summiter – twice this past season), had told Kristine & I how mental and psychological Everest is aside from being the obvious physical. How accurate Rob was…it seemed to boil down to 70% mental and 30% physical for us. Other mountains seemed much more physical for us, for example, Denali. Denali seemed more of a workhorse's mountain. For Kristine & I, the big challenge was keeping it together mentally and staying in the game with lots of patience, mental fortitude, and getting through the times of not feeling well either from the food or altitude. Fortunately, our individual bad days never coincided, so it was very helpful to have her lift my spirits on my bad days and me lift her spirits on her bad days.
I had always sort of thought how unattainable the Big E was b/c of money, logistics, etc. Everest seemed like a pipe dream and always very far away. However, through a lot of hard work trying to raise the necessary funds for an unguided, yet fully supported expedition, we were eventually able to make it happen. Thanks to our sponsors (Juggle.com, Stone Mechanical, Active Energies, Berkeley Capital Advisors, & Coca-Cola Consolidated) and the support of so many friends and families through personal donations and wedding gifts, we had raised enough money to allow us to climb Everest. Our friend, Rob, who had summitted Everest 5 times prior to the 2010 season, urged us to use the logistical support services of Henry Todd who he had come to think of as almost family. We had met Rob while climbing Denali in 2007 when he asked if he could borrow one of our stoves and we all became instant friends. After months and months of coordination with Henry, who provided all of the necessary on-mountain support including food, stoves, tents, oxygen, radios, and Sherpa services (ferrying loads and sherpas to climb with us on summit day), we were off to Kathmandu on March 22. Rob was essentially going back to Everest this year to be a pseudo-guide for a few other people under Henry's permit from the UK, but was ecstatic about hopefully climbing with Kristine & myself much of the time. There were a total of 9 people on Henry's permit (all unguided but fully supported) and amazingly, 8 of the 9 ended up summitting Everest. Rob had been rowing the Atlantic Ocean for the 70 days prior to flying to Kathmandu in a rowing race from the Canary Islands to Antigua, but unfortunately had to bail with only 200 miles left to get to Quebec to see his fiancé and then to Kathmandu where he and his friend, Ang Nuru Sherpa, were leading an Everest basecamp trek with Rob/s future mother-in-law, Anne, her friend, Martine, and Rob's friend, Tim. Kristine & I were acting as sort-of "free agents" and just planned to trek alongside this crew. We all became great friends and it was so special for us to share this trekking experience with these fantastic people. So, after a few days in the bustling, dirty city of Kathmandu, lots of coordination with gear and Henry, we flew to Lukla (9,300') to begin the trek into basecamp on March 28. The flight was amazing, albeit a bit of turbulence, and the landing into Lukla's 12 deg pitched-up runway was even better. I was watching "World's Most Extreme Airports" the other night and guess what got #1 – Lukla!
Kristine & I having tea at a teahouse in Lukla before beginning our trek to Everest basecamp:
For those who are into hiking and trekking and haven't done the Everest BC trek, we highly recommend it be on your "bucket list". And if you are interested, contact me, and Rob and I can hopefully set you up with his trekking company (www.trek8848.com). Henry had arranged our large gear to be transported via yak into basecamp for the actual climb while Kristine & I carried our personal items and sleeping bag for the trek into basecamp. The 1st day we hiked to the Sagarmatha National Park Entrance at the town of Monjo followed by our 2nd day to Namche Bazaar (11,300'), the largest town in the Khumbu Valley.
Kristine hiking to Monjo on our 1st day of trekking:
Kristine and I stayed on Rob's trekkers' schedule and we all had a rest day in Namche for the 3rd day, which was a good thing for me given that my GI system was trying to acclimate to the local Sherpa food – not pleasant Feeling better, we set out on the 4th day to go to Pangboche, home of Ang Nuru Sherpa, who we became great friends with and is one of the strongest hikers and climbers we have known. He's only 29 yrs old, however looks like he's 19 yrs old, and is fading out the Everest climbing business as a climbing Sherpa for the trekking business with Rob. Kristine and I agreed with him that we thought this was a good thing and a lot safer since Ang Nuru had lost many friends and family members to Everest over the years. He finished 3rd in the Everest marathon last year and is running a marathon in New Zealand this August where I am sure he will do well. I thought how awesome it would be to have in out to Colorado and see how well he would do in the Pikes Peak Marathon or one of this Vail hill climbs…haha
After rounding a bend above Namche, Everest & the Lhotse-Nuptse wall came into view towering 17,000' above us (Ama Dablam on the far right):
A close-up view of Everest & the Lhotse-Nuptse wall (not windy up on the Big E at all ):
Everest was definitely a bit intimidating from this viewpoint for us, but so very exciting that we were actually fortunate enough to be here staring at the tallest mountain in the world, which we would be climbing in a few weeks' time! After awesome views of Ama Dablam (22,500') the whole 4th day, we passed the Tangboche Monestary and made it to Pangboche (12,900') and visited Ang Nuru's home and family, which was very special. We stayed at Sonam Lodge, which Ang Nuru's sister owned and ran, and we were all able to get blessed by Lama Geshe for safe travels up Everest the following day. We then traveled to Pheriche (14,000') and thought we would take a run up the hill behind Pheriche to around 14,500' only to be passed by Ang Nuru who started well behind us. What were we thinking – that we could actually keep up with this guy? It was funny.
The next few days saw us trekking to Lobuche (16,200') and Gorak Shep (16,900') where we branched off to hike up to Kala Patthar (18,200') at dusk for some amazing views of the Everest massif. Kala Pattar is actually just part of the mountain Pumori's (23,500') SE ridge but is a destination for many trekkers.
Me on a sub-summit of Kala Pattar:
Me & Kristine on top of Kala Pattar with our future behind us:
Alpenglow on the Everest massif and Everest's monster SW face:
The next day, April 4, we hiked to Everest basecamp (17,500') and saw our future home being established. There weren't too many tents around basecamp at this time since basecamp didn't officially open until April 10, but Russell Brice's Himex expedition had many of their tents up. Our cook tent and mess tent were up, so we had a bit of lunch and then hiked back to Gorak Shep. Since basecamp didn't open for another week and our gear wasn't even there yet, we trekked back down 4,000' to Pangboche with the crew and said goodbye to Anne, Martine, Tim, and Ang Nuru, who would accompany the other three back to Kathmandu. Rob, Kristine, & I met up with James & Fi, both from London, who would be on our permit to climb Everest. James & Fi are amazing, very funny & personable, and we all got along so well and became good friends. Rob would be climbing with Fi most of the time, but the 5 of us thought how we should all stick together since we thought we all made a good group. James & Fi were both in their early 30s as are Kristine and myself. James had done a couple of the 7 summits himself and Fi had climbed Cho-Oyu with Rob years back. After a few days lounging in Pangboche and a trek up to Ama Dablam's basecamp at around 16,000', we set out again for Everest basecamp and made the trek in about 7-8 hrs. We met us with two other fellow climbers in Pheriche on the way - Rich Birrer Jr & Rich Birrer Sr. This father-son duo, originally from New York, were trying to climb Everest as both their final of the 7 summits. Rich Sr attempted Everest in 2005 under Henry Todd as well but was called back on summit day due to one of their climbing members having a heart attack below the Balcony at 27,000'. Rich Sr was 60 yrs old and Rich Jr was 29. I just hope I'm in the shape Rich Sr is when I am his age! This time around at basecamp our gear bags had arrived and we had a great 1st dinner in our mess tent with James, Fi, & Rob.
Kristine at our basecamp home:
After a few days of acclimatizing to 17,500', we went into the Khumbu Icefall to play around and practice on some ladders.
Me on the 1st horizontal ladder in the Icefall which we traversed several times this day to get accustomed to the balance and nerve it took to cross these things:
Our basecamp Puja Ceremony occurred around April 15 and was a fantastic ceremony of burning juniper, raising prayer flags, and getting blessed by a lama. The purpose of the Puja was to bless all of the climbers and sherpas in order to hopefully safeguard their ascent of Everest. Only after the Puja, did the sherpas believe it was safe to climb the Icefall to Camp 1 (19,500'). So, off we went and set out from basecamp around 4am. The Icefall is generally safer in the colder morning hours and the seracs tend to shift less. However, when the sun reaches the Icefall at around 8-9am, it gets scorching and is essentially a giant oven. It was very exciting and a little nerve racking for Kristine and I the 1st time up with the teetering seracs looming above us. There was one large serac tower that was really the only thing that bothered me. We essentially ran beneath it to get out of the way – running in Millet boots and crampons at 19,000' over ice blocks = not easy
Here is my perspective looking down in a deep crevasse while crossing a fairly sizable ladder:
Kristine climbing a steep pitch in the upper Icefall as the sun hits us:
We reached the final vertical pitch before the Western Cwm:
After another hour of scorching heat in the lower Western Cwm and crossing some fairly sizable crevasses and ladders, we reached our Camp 1 (19,500'):
When you reach Camp 1 for the 1st time of the climb, you're probably not feeling so well…this is how Kristine & I felt. Some decent headaches put us in the tent for a few hours, but nothing that a diamox tablet couldn't take care of. The next morning, we left Camp 1 at 7am and began the 2.5 hr slog up the Western Cwm to Camp 2 (21,000').
Sunrise over Everest in the Western Cwm on our way to Camp 2 (21,000'):
The heat really began to set in at 8am and our energy levels were fading fast with the increasing heat and altitude. Nevertheless, we made it to camp 2 and had some snacks and then the 6 of us (me, Kristine, Rob, James, Fi, & Rich Jr) headed back down to basecamp that afternoon. Camp 2 was Kristine's personal altitude record thus far (her previous high was on Denali's 20,320' summit). After returning to basecamp pretty spent and tired, we retired to our basecamp tent – it actually felt very comfortable and a bit like home – almost
After another 4-5 days and hanging out at basecamp with my good friend, Mike Horst, who was a guide for Alpine Ascents International (AAI), and Allison Levine, who was a client of Mike's and who we had met on Quandary several times prior to leaving for Nepal, we left to go up the mountain again with intentions of touching Camp 3. Kristine, James, & I bypassed Camp 1 and climbed straight to Camp 2 that day with Fi & Rob about an hour behind us. By this time, Camp 2 had been established with a cook tent, mini-mess tent, and tents for ourselves. After a rest day at 21,000', we set out for the upper Western Cwm to touch the bottom of the Lhotse face at 22,000'. The 3rd day above Camp 2 saw us to the bottom of the Lhotse Face again and after a few of the 1st fixed rope pitches up the bottom of the 50 deg icy Lhotse face, we turned around due to high winds. Then, the next day, the winds had died and we successfully climbed to low Camp 3 at 23,300' on a gorgeous day. This was the highest Kristine and I had ever been!
Fi & James climbing the Lhotse face at 23,000' with Rich Jr & Rich Sr behind them:
Kristine climbing the steep ice of the Lhotse face on a gorgeous bluebird morning:
Kristine & I happy to have made it to low Camp 3 (23,300') and completed our acclimatization (Everest behind us):
After an hour break and some snacks, we headed down the fixed lines of the Lhotse face mostly arm-rappelling with some "real" rappelling on the steepest pitches towards the bottom of the face. We trudged back to Camp 2 for the night and headed back down to basecamp the following day. By this time, basecamp felt like home to us.
The weather in early May was not the best on record for Everest, but the south col route was able to be fixed by several sherpas and Adrian Ballinger with Russell Brice's crew on May 8. There were a few big snowstorms high on the mountain which pushed back several summit attempts between May 8 and May 17. It seemed to snow every afternoon at basecamp, so lots of reading and cards were on the agenda for the afternoons. To keep active, Kristine & I hiked up to Pumori Advanced Basecamp at 19,000' about every other day in the mornings and made it back to Everest basecamp in time for our french fry/spam/soup lunch. Then, in the tents for the afternoon reading was the main entrée. I never read and I read 4 books on Everest – that's a big step for me! While it was a test of patience waiting around from early May (when we returned from our 2nd acclimatization foray up the mountain) until May 19, when we left basecamp for the summit, we learned to think of it as "when else do you really have nothing to do or really think about?" In some ways, it was really nice.
One clear day at Pumori ABC, I was able to get some great pics of the Everest massif. Here is a black & white of Everest, Lhotse (27,940'), & Nuptse (25,750'):
There was a small weather window May 16-17 and Henry gave us the option of heading up, but Kristine & I declined in order to wait for the better looking window starting May 22. We thought we really only had one attempt in us and we wanted the best, longest good weather window possible. Rob went up with two of the climbers under Henry Todd for the 16th/17th window as did Kenton Cool's group and Victor Saunder's group, who were all under the Henry Todd umbrella. Kenton & Victor were each guiding 3-4 people and we got to know Kenton & Victor very well and so enjoyed climbing with them. Kristine & I didn't know if we were making the right decision, but our gut was to go on the later window. James, Kristine, & I actually trekked down to Pheriche for some R&R at a lower altitude (14,000') when the other groups set out to the summit from basecamp. Arriving back at basecamp 2 days later, we learned that a lot of drama was unfolding on top of the world. It turned out to be a more crowded summit day than expected on May 17. Most of the climbers in Kenton & Victor's groups as well as Rob and the 2 other climbers under Rob's supervision & on Henry's permit, Mike & Anita Kobold, made the summit in great weather. However, the drama unfolded on the descent when one of Kenton's clients, Bonita Norris from the UK, fell down the Hillary Step and hurt her shoulder. She finally made it back down to the south col the following day at 2am but only after total exhaustion a lot of help from the sherpas – she was above 26,000' for 24 hrs! Also, Rob and Mike & Anita Kobold descended to Camp 2 that same day after summiting and upon arriving at Camp 2, Anita was complaining of not being able to breathe. It got so bad that she went unconscious for 10 min with something obstructing her airway. Rob then gave her the heimlich maneuver and freed the clog and saved her life. Essentially, her trachea was frostbitten and dry and the dead cells had flaked off in her throat and combined with congestion it had obstructed her airway. A very scary moment but thank goodness Anita was ok. Anita had summitted Everest the previous year with her now husband Mike Kobold and became the 1st Hungarian woman to do so. Mike, Anita, & Rob descended to basecamp safely the next day. Mike & Anita organized a helocopter to fly them out from basecamp.
All of this drama made Kristine & I a bit anxious, but we were so psyched to get our chance at the top that we tried to push all the fear aside. James, Fi, Rob, me, Kristine, Rich Jr & Rich Sr left basecamp on May 19 for our summit push. Kristine & I made it to Camp 2 in about 6 hrs – much faster than the previous time, a testament to our acclimatization. We passed Kenton Cool's crew in the Icefall and congratulated them and wished them safe travels…it was great to see that Bonita was ok. While we wished we were Kenton and his crew at this point having already summitted, we realized this was our chance and we were going to give it all we had. After 2 days at Camp 2, we climbed to high Camp 3 (24,000') where our tents were located.
Me almost to our high Camp 3 (24,000') on the Lhotse face on our summit push:
We had met the RMI crew at the bottom of the Lhotse face that day and climbed with Dave Hahn & Leif Whittaker up the Lhotse face, which was pretty cool. Super nice guys…Dave was guiding Leif, son of Jim Whittaker. I had met Dave several times before in Kathmandu, the Icefall, around basecamp, and he is just such a great guy. Behind us was Casey Grom, another guide for RMI, who was guiding Scott Jones. Kristine & I had met Casey years ago on Denali and it was great to see him again. We also met another RMI guide, Chad Peele from Ridgway, CO, at the base of the Lhotse face but he had to descend with one of their clients who wasn't feeling well. We rolled into high Camp 3 and were greeted by my buddy, Mike Horst, with AAI who had arrived there the day before. All of us were a little worried about Rob Casserley since he only rested at basecamp for 2 days after his 1st summit and before heading back up the mtn to climb with us, but he made it to high Camp 3 again about an hour after us…he's truly a high altitude machine. I started boiling lots of water while Kristine practiced with the oxygen:
RMI's tents next to ours at high Camp 3 (24,000'):
Sunset from high Camp 3 (24,000') with Cho Oyu (26,900') in the distance:
We practiced on and off again with our oxygen during the night to get used to it, but we mostly slept without it. The next morning, we awoke to a gorgeous day and geared up for the ascent to Camp 4 (26,000') at the south col. I thought I would be ok with oxygen on, but how strange and uncomfortable it really was for me to get used to. I felt I could breathe better at 25,000' without it and so took it off a bit; however, I know I would need it higher up, so I tried my hardest to get used to it and did eventually. I have never been scuba diving or had a mask and thus the feeling of claustrophobia. Nevertheless, I got used to it. We crossed the infamous "yellow band" and then up the Geneva Spur after having been nearly missed by a rock falling down the Lhotse couloir.
Cho Oyu (26,900') & Pumori (23,500') below from 25,000' on the Geneva Spur:
Kristine styling in her Everest attire on the Geneva Spur:
We trudged into Camp 4 around 2pm…I took my mask off for the walk across the col to our tents and boy could I feel the altitude…truly amazing how little oxygen is up there and how hard it is to function without it. It just increases my admiration for those that can climb Everest without oxygen. Our 4-person tent at Camp 4 was jam packed with 5 of us (me, Kristine, Rob, James, & Fi). The most crowded in a tent I have ever been and all at 26,000'! The plan was to leave for the summit at 9pm that night. After dozing a bit while breathing oxygen, snacking, hydrating, and listening to the howling wind outside, it was 7pm and we all geared up one at a time. There wasn't enough room for all of us to get ready simultaneously. It didn't look to good outside and the wind and snow had not backed down. We gave it a shot anyway with our sherpas and made it up to around 26,500' before calling it due to blizzard conditions. If we had gone much further, we wouldn't have enough oxygen available for a 2nd attempt the following night. We passed my buddy Mike Horst and his AAI group on the way down and they agreed it was pretty bad weather with low visibility but they pressed on. They had already been at the south col for 2 days and this was their final shot. Fortunately, their team ended up making the summit and all descended safely. We got back to the tent after midnight and felt defeated. Sucking oxygen on and off again all night and the next day was pretty darn miserable. Just being up at that altitude is so wearing and taxing on the body…you can literally feel yourself deteriorating. Kristine & I had an appetite, which was a good thing, and drank as much as possible. That day, May 24, was James' 31st bday, and Kristine had made him a card and snuck it up in her pack. He was excited despite being at 26,000' on Everest. We had called our families via my satellite phone and let them know the situation. That day, one could hardly get out of the tent b/c of the wind and cold. Rob and I spoke with Dave Hahn and he said he was going for the top that night at 11pm. Good enough for us, we thought! So, we geared up again one at a time around 8pm that 2nd night and departed around 11pm after the RMI crew did. Rich Sr & Rich Jr and their sherpas had started an hour before us as well. James, Kristine, & I and our sherpas were able to pass the RMI crew on the climb to the Balcony (27,500') and a few others afterwards on the ridge to the south summit (28,700'). Its truly hard to tell who is who up at 27,000' in the dark with everyone's down suits on and oxygen masks. After some intense scrambling up some vertical rock pitches on the SE ridge and jumaring up the fixed ropes, we finally topped out on the south summit at 28,700' at sunrise. It was spectacular…truly amazing! The three of us switched to our 2nd oxygen tanks at the south summit and saw Rich Sr and his Sherpa beginning the traverse over to the Hillary Step in front of us.
Rich Sr & his Sherpa beginning the climb of the final 400' on Everest:
The Hillary Step didn't appear to be all that difficult. It seemed the rock pitches between the Balcony & south summit were much more difficult and tiring. Above the Hillary Step, the summit was probably only 10 min away if you were at 8,000'. However, it took a lot of energy and determination to keep going that last 200 vertical feet or so; but once we saw the Birrers on top, I knew we would make it. I reached the summit at 6am on May 25. James summitted about 10 minutes after me and Kristine followed. It was a surreal moment and you almost couldn't believe it…I've compared it to dreaming, but I sure hope I wasn't dreaming I called my dad from the top of the world, which was very special for the both of us. It wasn't a bluebird day by any means but was good enough!
Kristine on top of the world at 29,035':
Me on the summit of Everest:
Kristine & I on top:
We stayed about 20 minutes, picked up a few summit rocks, and then headed down for we could tell the winds were picking up and our sherpas looked concerned. We passed the RMI crew below the Hillary Step and continued over to the south summit where we met Rob & Fi who were on their way up. They congratulated us and we wished them luck and success. The descent to the south col was quick and once down we started packing up our gear and tents. Within an hour or two after arriving back at Camp 4, we started descending to Camp 2. This was by far the most tiring part of the day. Kristine and I descended together while the Birrers & James left way before us and Rob & Fi were still descending to the south col from the summit.
Kristine leaving Camp 4 at the south col after a successful summit:
We finally arrived at Camp 2 (21,000') in the late afternoon of our summit day. The descent was completely exhausting but we were so glad we did that and had the energy to do so. We waltzed into AAI's camp and Mike Horst's crew congratulated us and we did the same to them. They gave us some tea and snacks which were definitely welcomed. We then descended one last time back through the Icefall on May 26 to basecamp. A very expansive crevasse had opened up while we were high on the mountain when ice blocks that were wedged into the crevasse cracked and fell further down the crevasse. A Spanish lady hadn't clipped in and fell when these blocks fell. She fell 90' and had to be airlifted out of the Icefall. The result was that the "icefall doctors" (sherpas) had rigged 4 horizontal ladders together that spanned about 80' over a deep crevasse. Wish I had taken some pics but just wanted to get through it. It was a bit nerve-wracking to say the least after the last 72 hours of straight climbing.
It felt tremendous to be back at basecamp. Fi's feet were pretty blistered and bruised that she didn't think she could walk out. So she coordinated with the doctors at basecamp and her insurance company and milked them for a helicopter out of basecamp. She pulled it off and her insurance company gladly paid for and sent the chopper. Fi asked Kristine and I to ride with her since she could have two companions! What a treat! I've never been in a chopper and probably never will again, but that's ok because I don't see how you can beat a chopper ride out of Everest basecamp, through the Khumbu Valley, and all the way to Kathmandu.
Its amazing how fast you can descend Everest and just how long it takes to go up. Kristine, Fi, & I were sort of shell-shocked suddenly arriving back in Kathmandu, but we quickly found a hotel with a bar and outdoor pool and enjoyed every minute of it. Rob joined us in Kathmandu several days later after having completed and what we started calling his "double-double", i.e. two Everest summits in a single season in 2007 & 2010. No other westerner has done this. I think he's trying to catch up to Kenton Cool's 8 summits for the most summits by a Brit...we shall see
After 7 days in Kathmandu, we were ready to be home and changed our flights to come home early. Gathering presents for friends and family, walking around Thamel, and organizing our gear bags to be shipped home filled most of our days. Kristine & I also both had incredibly bad coughs, sore throats, and tight throats due to the high, cold air and pure oxygen we were breathing for so long. Kathmandu's pollution didn't seem to help that. So, we figured we needed to get back to Colorado asap for some good, clean air that was relatively humid (when compared to air at 29,000').
Everest was indeed the trip of a lifetime and was such an amazing experience primarily b/c Kristine and I did it together. We were there for each other the entire time and realize we each contributed to the other's success in this way. Would we do it again? Probably not, but never say never, right? If the right opportunity arises, we probably wouldn't say "no". There are several other mountains in the Khmbu region that caught our eye for future climbs. The front-runner being Ama Dablam.
Anyway, I know that's long enough for a TR Thanks for reading.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):