Sunday, May 21, 2006

Success and heading home

After weeks of rumours and hushed words about early summits – our collective dreams came true, the weather held and the teams headed to the top. All returned home safely, although there were some tense moments when we feared for a few, but now we have Everest summiteers in our midst’s and it looks like we are heading home.
As previously mentioned, Brett hit the wall just before camp 2 and headed down a man no longer burdened by the need to conquer altitude.
Mogens looks like he did suffer from the extra night at camp 3 and endured an attack of Acute Mountain Sickness on the way to camp 4, so made a hasty retreat. Within hours of returning to ABC he was feeling better and already talking about heading back up. So weather permitting, he is doing exactly that, in a few days time….
With two down that only left Bill (guide, US), Terrry (doc, US), Marcel and Kurt (Swiss), and our mountain-goat cameraman Ken (US) in the first group to make their summit attempt. They left top camp around 1am only to run into massive queues all the way up to the top. The infamous 2nd step was the worst with a huge group of dangerously slow Chinese climbers struggling to climb the most technical part of the route. After some rapid negotiations with their base camp leader, a message was passed through to let our stronger climbers past. So before long our four climbers along with their breathtakingly impressive sherpas were standing on top of the world being filmed not only by Ken, but by 3 sherpa mounted headcameras.
Back home safely, the second group set off that night at 11pm in an attempt to avoid the crowds. Max (Lebanon) broke the trail and stormed up the hill to the summit before anyone else, to watch the sun rise over the world. Mark (Inglis, NZ) led the antipodean contingent who followed close behind. He’s quite some guy, powering up that hill on a pair of specially constructed (by Cowboy), crampon fitted, climbing limbs. A fact that apparently hasn’t escaped the world’s media judging by the number of calls he’s been getting and all the reports of front page newspaper articles… With him was Cowboy (NZ) who apparently sported his cowboy hat on the summit, Bob (Aus), Woodie (NZ, guide), Whetu (NZ cameraman) and another set of ridiculously hardcore sherpas. Having escaped the crowds, they spent a long night on the mountain enduring one of the coldest summits physically possible.
Behind these guys, Gerard and Tim made incredible progress, but Russ turned them around on the final snow slope to the summit ridge, about 100m from the top. This may seem harsh being so close, but above 8000m that 100m would have taken an hour or even more, and with only so much oxygen it would have almost certainly meant their death. Naturally neither of them initially wanted to turn around, but a combination of Russ on the radio and the returning summit climbers pointed them in the right direction, and down they came – much to the collective relief of those listening down below.
Sean (guide UK) however did have the experience, oxygen and strength to continue, so headed to the top and returned, catching the others up to make sure all got down safely.
This did have its consequences though, and like almost all the climbers he is suffering some frostbite which saw him heading down from ABC to basecamp on a yak.
Everyone has now come back down the mountain to base camp where we are packing our barrels and preparing for warmer climes. It’s been great to see the basecamp crew again after about a month up high, but this talk of DVD’s each night is kinda galling.
They’ll be a big party tonight to celebrate our successes, then first thing in the morning we head off back to Kathmandu. Two days drive should see us in the city and preparing for flights to the many corners of the earth that we originate from.
We’ll take back some incredible memories from this mountain, (as well as hundreds of hours of great footage!), but also some sad ones. Russ feels bad that there is a fair bit of frostbite in our team, but it seems that most expeditions have lost climber’s lives. I won’t speculate how many will die on Everest this year, but already it is shocking. Some of these we met and befriended. Others were even seen in their final resting place up high. Whatever, this mountain is an unforgiving place that punishes those that don’t give it the respect it deserves. Everest will continue to attract the best and worst of the climbing world - there will be crowds and incompetence up high, but it will remain the highest and most spectacular mountain in the world and it will remain a privilege to spend time on its slopes.
Once back in the real world I’ll post some more pics, but in the meantime I’m looking forward to seeing something green and perhaps even an insect…
Huge congratulations to every climber whether they made it to the summit or not, and to our crew who worked tirelessly (well nearly) in some of the harshest conditions possible.
Thanks again for all your comments and words of encouragement to all.


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