May 29, 2012
As an alpinist, there are several things you must do. For me, ascending Mount Everest was one of them. This has always been one of the goals that I wanted to reach as a climber and an alpinist.
Mount Everest is the highest point on earth. The air is thinner there than anywhere else in the world. It is the third Pole. Climbing the highest mountain in the world has always been an idea in my mind.
Nevertheless I was scared. This mountain, from a commercial point of view, is literally butchered. A great business has developed over the last few years. This business is done mainly for those clients who try to summit Everest on prepared fixed routes with oxygen. As of today, 142 ascents have been officially registered without oxygen. This is a small percentage considering that nearly 6,000 ascents have been made so far.
Since Loretan and Troillet, no other Swiss men made it to the summit of Everest without using oxygen, and returned back to base camp. This fascinated me. Many strong alpinists needed different attempts to reach the summit without having to use the oxygen from the bottle.
I received an interesting study from America which reviewed the influence oxygen has on this kind of ascent. The result was amazing: if you took two liters of oxygen in a minute to rest, it is as if you were at base camp. This means that you would find yourself at an altitude of 5,300 meters. If you are under strain, it is less extreme. But if you observe that most of the people are taking 4 liters per minute of the English air – as the Sherpas called oxygen in the past – it pretty much proves the statement of Reinhold Messner: it is as if you were climbing a 6,000 meter mountain. To be more precise: 6,500 meters. This has not much to do with Everest, which is 8,848 meters high. I was fully aware of this when I got acclimatized.
Austrian Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, who summitted K2 last August, and is the third woman who has climbed all 14 Eight-thousanders, as well as the first to climb them without using oxygen, suggested for me to stay at least one night at South Col Otherwise I would expose myself too much, and it would be dangerous to summit Everest. It was always my intention to sleep at South Col. On the other hand you can imagine how uncomfortable it is to camp at almost 8,000 meters. You don’t get the feeling of a romantic camp fire. The first night you don’t really sleep at all. It is more about waiting until the next morning comes so you can go down. But you have to get through this, and will take some will. If you do use oxygen you don’t have to do that. Many alpinists have slept during their summit attempts at merely 6,400 meters, after their acclimatization was completed. Sometimes I have thought about what would happen if the oxygen ran out. You are not acclimatized, and reality catches up with you very quickly. The air is thin and it becomes a catastrophe, which mostly ends with death!
This did not bother me very much. It is everyone's very personal decision how to climb Everest. For me, an ascent by using oxygen was never an option. From the beginning it was clear to me that I wanted to stand on the summit for real, without false air.
2011 did not quite fit with the ascent of Everest. I was at 8,700 meters on the Tibetan side of the mountain, and I had to quit my summit attempt. I was simply too cold. The risk of loosing my toes was too acute. Another characteristic about high altitudes is that blood gets very thick, and the circulation on extremities is very bad. You can counteract by trying to drink as much as possible and with a good acclimatization, in order for your body to get used to the situation. My experience showed me that last year I had not chosen the right day for a summit attempt. The 25/25 rule has payed off. The wind on the summit should not be higher than 25 km/h and the temperature not below 25 degrees. But what would alpinism be if you could climb a mountain just like that? It would not be interesting. That's why this year I was double motivated. And furthermore I had more experience in my backpack. Tenji and I had three rotations of the mountain behind us before we started our summit attempt.
Tenji is a 21 years old young Nepalese, whom I have known for several years. He has also worked for me in the past. Now he wanted to summit Everest as well without using oxygen. I offered him the opportunity to climb together. Not as my Sherpa by carrying my equipment. No, I wanted to climb Everest as partners. At first this situation was difficult for him to accept. The fact that I would make tea for him was an unusual situation for him to adjust to. But somehow he was able to accept this situation, and we had a great time together. I transformed from Sir to Dai. From Sir to brother.
Beforehand I studied the weather forecast intensively. I knew this would be an important matter of fact. Tenji and I were well acclimatized. We had already spent one night at South Col at almost 8,000 meters. Meteotest sent me a positive forecast for May 17 and 18. For the 19th they forecasted stronger winds, and from May 20 on, it would get critical. Then there was the other big problem.
The large amount of people. The number of alpinists who would be on route at the same time as us represented a potential danger. We could not wait up there. We would suffer frostbite very quickly. But we could not change this matter of fact. The solution was very simple. Since the ropes had not been fixed at this point, the commercial expeditions could not start. The so-called "fixing team" with ten Sherpas, had planned to leave on May 18 to install the fixed ropes to the summit. This was a lucky situation for us. And furthermore, it would be the warmest day of the forecast. We decided to summit with them.
On May 16 Tenji and I reached camp 2 after 3.5 easy going hours. We spent a nice afternoon, and a long night at camp 2 at 6,400 meters. The following day we started again without hurrying. Tenji and I waited until the sun came out and then we had a good breakfast with toast, coffee, cornflakes. Tenji could not leave the zampa. This is a flour batter which is knead into a mush. It is very nutritious, but nothing for me. At around 8:30am we were ready. In approximately 2.5 hours we reached camp 3. It was at this point, one week earlier that we had spent the night in chaos. An ice avalanche came down and buried many tents, including ours. Everything was buried under snow and ice. Luckily we had not planned to sleep at camp 3. We would not be here anymore…
Miraculously, only one Sherpa was slightly injured, and luckily no one else was affected. Most of the tents were ruined. Tenji and Dendi, who was ascending with us, stopped. He wanted to take the oxygen bottles out of the tent. Tenji wanted to help him. They had to find all of the bottles under the ice. I decided to go up to camp 4 and install our camp before started to snow.
I was hot on the Lhotse cross. I was happy about my decision to leave my overalls in my backpack. Most of the alpinists ascend with their overalls to camp 2. I don't really understand why one would climb with their overalls in this heat. So I reached South Col. I installed our tent, and immediately melted snow so that we could drink a lot. Tenji came later, at about 5pm. The weather was perfect. No wind. We had the feeling that it was very warm. At least warmer than it was the last time that we were up here. We set our alarm clock for 11pm. We would not need it. The fixing team had already left together with a couple of alpinists from Chile. They were loud enough to wake us up. We drank enough tea and coffee. We ate bread with honey. We were ready at 00:30am. We saw the lights in front of us. They had started 1 1/2 hours before us. We reached them in a quarter of an hour.
We would be on our way for a long time. But then we thought, what if they had to install fixed ropes on the balcony? I had to calm myself down and I realize that it would be better to avoid going too fast. I enjoyed it. We reached the balcony as a new day began. The entire group stopped to eat and drink. I changed the battery of my shoes. A brilliant system. I always had warm feet and hands.
We moved on. From now on fixed ropes had to be installed. The terrain was not steep. Actually you could climb without ropes. My special stick of Leki, equipped with a pick axe turned out to be the ideal tool in this area. Nevertheless, I was nervous because of the slowness. I did no overtake the Sherpas. This would have been disrespectful on my part: I did not want to overtake them while they were doing their job. And they did their job really well. Never before had I seen a Sherpa team working so efficiently together. I queued as it should be. And it was funny. We had to wait again and we had the opportunity to talk together. Tenji had dropped back. But he followed close behind. We were the only ones who did not hide behind an oxygen mask. We received a lot of respect for this from the Sherpas. But I had as much respect for the Sherpas and the job they did up there!
The way to the summit was long and never ending. Suddenly the pace was not no longer slow. I continually looked up, but the south summit did not come any nearer. Finally, the leader disappeared. This meant he reached the South Summit. So we had 100 meters to go to summit. From the South Summit you descend 20 meters, and then the ridge goes to the summit. I checked my watch. It was late. It would be afternoon before we would reach the summit. The weather was still perfect. But what if it changed? A storm would be improbable. For the 19th, the forecast was still good. I trusted the Sherpas. They had been on summit so many times. They knew what they were doing. I knew that I could descend fast. I would reach South Col in 1 1/2 hours if I descended from South Summit. I decided to take the risk and moved on.
At the Hillary Step I had to wait longer. At least 40 minutes. I started to shiver. The temperature was not too low. Maybe minus 20 degrees. Nevertheless I shivered. I was happy when we moved on. I was a little disappointed from the Hillary Step. I had imaged it to be more impressive. And it is not even steep. Suddenly I had the feeling the others were moving fast. I could not follow. From now on I had to fight. I talked to myself. I wanted to reach summit. Tenji was behind me, but I could not see him. He would come. I concentrated on my steps. Each step was one step closer to the summit. But where was the summit? Finally I accepted that the others were on pace. As long as I could follow them, everything was ok. I could think clearly; my steps were controlled. It must have been the altitude that made me feel powerless. I did not feel exhausted. Only slow, terribly slow. Finally I reached the summit. The prayer flags fluttered in the wind. Some Sherpas were already there. No more fixed ropes up here. One of the alpinists from Chile removed my ski stick from my backpack, which I had placed at the Hillary Step. Now I had a tool in my hand. It was afternoon.
At 1:15 pm I reached the summit of Everest. Clouds appeared on the sky. The view was limited. I could spot Tibet on the north side. Makalu, which came out of the clouds. I thought about my ascent on Makalu. What a fight it was, and how exhausted I felt. Although the view was limited, I knew exactly where I was. It was not new, or unfamiliar, or strange. I took some pictures with the Sherpas. Tenji was not on the summit yet. I decided to descend.
How easy it was to descend. A completely new feeling. I was tired, but I moved forward. I crossed Tenji short after Hillary Step. I asked him if he was ok. My impression of him was good. He said "yes, but slow". I encouraged him, and told him it would not be muhc further, and it would be normal without the mask! I saw him smile. I saw his will, and I knew he would summit Everest too.
I reached South Col at 4:15 pm. I hardly did recognized camp 4. In this short time it changed to a village. Dendi and his daughter, whom we spent BC together, reached South Col Tomorrow would be their summit day. I was happy I made it. But a mountain is done only when you are back at BC. I waited for Tenji at South Col He came three hours later. Actually, we wanted to descend to camp 2, but it was too late. We stayed at camp 4. That night, another 150 alpinists started their way up the summit. What a spectacle. Tenji and I spent one more night at almost 8,000 meters. We slept very deep, like bears in hibernation. The sun woke us up at 5:30 am. After breakfast I packed my equipment and descended to BC. Tenji slept a little longer. It was time for lunch when I reached BC. I summited Everest.
I wanted to thank you all for your great support, for being with us, for encouraging us during this expedition.
Thank you also for all the congratulations I received after this beautiful success.
Now I wish you a wonderful summertime!
See you soon.