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Cho Oyu



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1998 Cho Oyu

1999 Everest



Part 3

Day 35 / ABC
Back at abc after a long and tiring week and a half. All teams are now either off the mountain or nearly down, although there is a lot of gear still stranded up high. Let me explain. Ten days ago, I was nearly ready to throw in to the towel. Not only have I never in my life been as sick and in such a desperate situation, but I haven’t weighed that little since about 8th grade. I was not going to give in with out one final effort though. Anyway, I took a few days rest; that's one of the beautiful things about big mtn climbing, is that there are lots of rest days, sandwiched in between short spurts of exhausting effort. Summitting at hi alt is about conserving as much energy as you can for the final push, where you really need it.  Pumping more drugs, fluids and eating as much as my body could handle now that my appetite was back, I felt I was ready for the next push higher. This push would not involve a summit attempt, but rather, firmly establishing c3, and sleeping another 1 or 2 nights at c2 to further acclimatize. It was fairly uneventful, though the climbing was excellent, really exhilarating. I was feeling much better and moving well, taking 3 days to c3 with sherpas and large loads, dropping the loads at c3 and descending back to c2, ended up spending 1 nite there and then back to abc. The day after returning to base, we convened the team for a final strategy meeting regarding the summit bids. 

Nearly 4 weeks on the mtn was beginning to take its toll on everyone, not just me. I may have been the one sick for 2 weeks, but we were all looking pretty ragged, and several others were beginning to develop illnesses. I guess that I should count my blessings that I was sick relatively early, and now feeling good for a summit bid, while others were just beginning to get sick. Plus, sleep time hi on the mtn really leaves its mark.

Anyway, we had a group pow-wow on summit strategy. We decided that  we would break up into 2 groups and attempt to summit the mtn on 2 separate days. This would serve the dual purpose of limiting the stress on c3 which was a very small camp perched on the edge of the upper west face, and secondly and more importantly, it would increase our chances of getting someone to the top with regards to the weather by having mult summit days. These would be our only 2 stabs. One problem with 8000 meter peaks is that it is very difficult for an individual to make more than one summit attempt due to the effect the altitude has on the body. One nite at 25000+ ft followed by a several thousand foot push higher to the summit the next day is devastating on the body. Even those we saw who attempted using o2 were still utterly trashed when they came down. There are no second chances up there. If you miss it on the first try.....that’s it, you've blown it. This is where mental determination and singleness of purpose really come into play. This is where every cell in your body is screaming for you to get off and if you can resist the temptation, which I can promise you is stronger than anything you have ever felt, then the summit is yours.

So it was settled, we would go in 2 groups. We drew straws to see who would go when, although I opted for the second group to give myself an extra day rest to build a little more strength....eat and drink. Some of the team members chose to use o2, both for sleeping at c3 as well as for the summit bid. The purpose of using o2 is really two fold.   First, at 8000 meters, the level of o2 in the air is less than 30% of that at sea level. The use of o2, contrary to popular belief, does not bring you back to sea level, but rather lowers the effective elevation of the mtn by about 2-3000 feet, giving you a slight advantage. The real reason for the use of o2 however is to help battle the cold which is devastating up there. Even in a down jacket, down pants, -40 degree boots, down hat and down mitts, you still freeze like you've never frozen before. O2 really gives the body fuel to fight off the cold. Personally, I had chosen not to use o2 because I really wanted see if my genetic makeup was such that it would be able to handle Everest next spring. On Everest, o2 is practically a necessity (although there are a few super humans that have gone without....I will not be one of those). On Everest, you typically put the mask on at about 7800 meters and keep it on for the duration of the climb. My goal was to make sure that I could get to and function at least at that elevation on Cho Oyu without o2, and preferably make it all the way to the summit with out. This would guarantee that I could get to where I needed on Everest before putting on the mask.

On the 25th, the first team left for c1 on their summit bid. With good weather, it would take them 3 days to reach c3, at which point they would brew up, eat and stay in their bags until 2am when they would depart for their summit bid. We would be one day behind, leaving on the 26th. The plan was that the first team would leave early the morning of the 28th under headlamp. Unfortunately, the afternoon that they moved from c2 to c3, a storm moved in dumping a fair amount of snow. We stayed in radio contact with them from c2 throughout the evening and they decided that if the storm subsided by midnight, they would still go for it, which it did and the departed at 2am as planned. Personally, I felt this was a somewhat questionable decision, due to the fact that the slopes were now loaded with snow.   Part of the problem was that we had begun to unaffectionately call both camps c2 and c3 the avalanche camps since they were both in avalanche zones during periods of heavy snows. Any mtn has various objectives hazards and dangers, some more than others. The route that we were climbing was certainly one of the safer routes on the mtn, relatively speaking, but any kind of significant accumulation of fresh snow or slab or wind slam conditions would turn the avalanche danger on the upper flanks of the mtn from nearly non existent to extreme, and c2 and c3 were right in the cross hairs. This could happen in a matter of hours. The storm that had gone on for 8 hours the evening before did not drop a ton of snow, but certainly enough to raise an eyebrow or two. Regardless, they made their decision and left at 2am.  We're all adults here and we each have to way the risks and objective hazards for our selves. No one can make a decision for you. If that's what you need, then you shouldn’t be on the mountain.


End Part 3