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May 4,1999


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Day 42
Tuesday, 5/4/99
 

Hi Again Everyone,

Back at Base Camp again. I swear that by the time I’m done, I’ll have climbed this mountain ten times.  I think that since Jiri, we have a cumulative gain of over 60,000 that I’ve just finished my fourth round trip through the Kumbu Ice Fall and my second trip up the Lhotse Face to Camp 3.   And still, I have the hardest part yet to come….our summit bid, which we finally seem to be ready and acclimated for.  So we are back in Base Camp….again ….for a couple of days and as soon as it looks like we have a weather window of 3-4 days, we will push higher on the mountain and target a summit bid within that 3-4 day window.  Right now our plan is to leave Base Camp on the 7th for Camp 2, rest one day then move to Camp 3 and Camp 4 and attempt the summit on the 11th …weather permitting.  Our first team tried summiting two nights ago, but got the tar kicked out of them by the winds.  They got beaten up so bad, they descended all the way back to Base Camp to recover.  It’s unclear as of yet whether they will try to summit with our bid.  The first teams on the mountain actually summitted this morning (a British team and an American team (National Geographic team)) in hellucicious winds.  I’m really surprised they made it.  As I am writing this, they are still descending from the summit in high winds.  So, our prayers are with them for a safe descent.

As I was saying, I just returned from a night at Camp 3 with a push a little higher towards the South Col.  I was hoping to spend two nights there, but during our first night, Everest showed her true colors and we got pounded by the weather.  It was a long night.  I thought that our tent was going to pull a Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and get blown half way into China.  Thank God for the NorthFace VE25….the strongest tent in the world.  I don’t think we would have made it in any other tent.  It was a pretty wild night.  The Lhotse Face is not a place to try to withstand a storm.  It is an extremely steep, bullet proof ice face in which you literally have to carve out a ledge in which to put your tents.  You don’t leave your tent unless you are roped up and clipped in. To take a pee, you literally have to put your harness on inside the tent, tie into the ropes, clip in outside the tent, swing out onto the face and hang your ass out over the edge.   Not too unlike from big wall climbing.  Not a lot of fun. 

In 1997, a Taiwanese climber stepped out of his tent to take a pee, slipped and died in the resulting fall down the face.  Not a place to screw around. Anyway, as I said, we got pounded all night and well into the next morning.  Worried that the tents would not hold out forever, we decided to try and retreat at midmorning in gale force winds and unbelievable cold.  Getting out of the tent and onto the first rappel was a little touch and go at best.  It was so cold, that by the 3rd rappel, my hands had already gone numb and I was beginning to worry at the possibility of losing some fingers.  There was no choice as getting down was the only option.   We got lucky though.  About 1000 feet below Camp 3 we actually climbed below the wind stream and were able to make the rest of the retreat to Camp 2 in relative calm.  It’s an amazing mountain.  One minute it can be calm and warm and next, the wind could sandblast the paint off your car with such cold that your pee will freeze before it hits the ground.  So, two days in Camp 2 getting our senses back and then back to Base Camp where we are now preparing for our final summit bid.

I don’t mind telling anyone that I’m damn tired.  I’ve never been so tired, both physically and mentally.   I’ve now spent 14 nights over 21,000 feet and over a month over 17,000 feet.   You can’t imagine the toll this takes on one’s person and spirit.  I would contemplate that most of you would not even recognize me right now as I am merely a fraction of my former self in many ways.  This is a painful mountain…by far the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, and there is still a long way to go.  To be perfectly honest with you, I’m not entirely convinced that I’ve got it in me, but I’m going to give it a hell of a shot.  The name of the game on this mountain is conserving strength.  You have to save enough fuel to finally get to the top (and of course back).  That's a lot harder than you may think living at these altitudes, for this length of time.  And, the game is as much or more mental as physical.  The challenge of keeping your head in the game for two and a half months is nothing less than intense.  It would be so easy to throw in the towel at any time, in fact, several already have. Staying in the hunt is the challenge.  And, even keeping your head focused, staying healthy and strong, getting the weather and some luck, the odds are still against you getting to the top.  Let me explain by giving you a description of some of our team and its’ history.

Our team is lead by Jon Tinker, a Brit and a professional climber, climbing for the North Face.  Jon summited via the North Ridge several years back and is trying to be the first Brit in history to summit from both the North and South.  He is competing for this destination with two other Brits currently on the mountain.  I hope that this isn’t clouding his judgement in terms of decisions and timing.  Jon’s wife had their first child three weeks ago (no, Jon wasn’t there for the delivery).

Mike Smith is another Brit on the team currently living in Chamonix.  Mike is what is referred to as a Corporate Mercenary, providing security and consulting for oil companies doing business in hotspots like Algeria, Libya, Iran, etc.,.  He lives a pretty risky life style, so for him, Everest is a relaxing vacation.  This is his third attempt on Everest.  He’s tried both the North Ridge as well as the South Col in the winter in which his entire team nearly perished in a fierce storm.

Nick Kekus is another Brit, of Serbian descent (which provides an interesting perspective on Kosovo).  This is Nick’s third attempt as well, having summited once before on the south side in 1997.

Denis Brown is a doctor from Canada testing out a new asthma drug for Merck Pharmaceuticals and attempting to climb without oxygen to prove the effectiveness of the drug.  This will be Denis’ fourth attempt of Everest.   Twice from the North and this is his second try from the South.

Dave Rodney is a school teacher and motivational speaker, also from Canada.  Dave who is quite a number with the ladies, is here to film Denis. This is Dave’s second attempt of Everest.

Enrique from Spain is quite an accomplished climber.  He has completed six of the world’s seven summits and has been to the North Pole.  He has attempted Everest once before and if he gets it this time, that will make seven of seven.  Enrique has been a blessing on this trip with his good humor, always positive attitude, and excellent Spanish food that he brought along.

Chris Brown (farmer Brown)is a potato farmer from the UK and by all accounts, quite successful one. Chris has also summited six of the world’s seven summits, but this is his third attempt at Everest. As he puts it, he’s been training solidly for 94 weeks, which is the amount of time since he finished his last failed Everest attempt.

There is another climber, Mike Truman, who although not part of our team, sure spends a lot of time with us.  His is a Brit living in Hong Kong, who is part of the Elite Military Force, the Ghurkas. Mike is attempting to climb the world'’s 14 highest 8000 meter peaks and this is his third try at Everest.

Kim Man Chaung, from Hong Kong, is another with six of the world’s seven summits under his belt.  This is his second attempt at Everest.

The rest of us, Peter Shin (my climbing partner), Willie Benegas, Martin Doyle, Katja Staarges, Mike Mathews, Mike Richardson, Jack and myself are all first timers.  I point out the detail in some of our team to illustrate a purpose, and that is to show how few actually make the summit on their first attempt.  The odds are heavily stacked against you with only a 25% success ratio.   This also illustrates another fact, and that is to show just how obsessed with this mountain one can become with nearly half our team having attempted this mountain two, three and even four times.  This mountain has the ability to totally and completely consume one’s life and inadvertently destroy it in the process of doing so.   Regardless of the huge financial outlay to climb the mountain, the time commitment to prepare for it is massive.  I took an entire year to prepare for my attempt and I couldn’t possibly imagine doing it again, let alone three or four attempts.   Hell, Eileen would kill me!!!  But seriously, unless you’re a professional climber, then you really only have one shot in life at a mountain like this.   You prepare the best you can, you take your best shot and when its’ over, you get on with your life before the mountain becomes your life.  Believe me, I’ve seen it here, it’s too easy for it to happen.  If you make it, then you have that for the rest of your life…..if you don’t, you have the experience and believe me, so far it’s been an awesome one.  One that I will cherish forever.   But either way, when it’s all over, there is a whole life ahead of you which must be lived to its’ fullest.  Whichever way this goes in the end, I look forward to coming home to family and friends.

So, this is it….the gauntlet is has been thrown down….the line is drawn in the sand.  My summit bid awaits me.  My final test, my final challenge, the  final chapter in this great adventure.   I’m excited and thrilled, apprehensive and damn scared.  It’s an emotional whirlwind as I look up toward the summit and my unknown future.  I could easily turn around right now and never look back without a second through, but that would not be right for me.  Fate and destiny await me.  For those of you who are religious, please keep us in your prayers the 10th-14th.  For those of you who are not, please wish us luck.  This is it.

Take Care,

Peter

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