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Michael's Everest summit report: Two fatalities?
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May 24, 2005 13: 49 EST
In today’s daily wrap-up, you might have noticed the picture of Da'Ngima and the rubber chicken. Michael took that photo (perhaps the first ever rubber chicken on top of Everest) at the summit on May 21st. After recovering enough to think and type at the same time, Michael wrote up a debrief on Project Himalaya-DCXP website. It's another compelling story of a tough climb, but notice Michael's report of two fatalities that night.

The report could be a mix-up with the missing Karma (Bhutan), who was reported safe back at 8300m at 7pm (Nepali time) May 22. However, the Norwegian expedition also report today that a climber (American, according to the source) is said to have been found dead in his tent at 8300 meters, and two more climbers might be missing.

Your entire body is screaming

“It was an extremely challenging and rewarding experience. Beforehand I was thinking very arrogantly that I could do this it was just a matter of the weather window. Having now reached the summit I don't think I would ever say I know I can make it up.

It was out on the edge for so long I reached a point at the 3rd step where I was standing 3 to 4 feet from the Kangshung Face looking down this incredible face realizing that I must be standing on a cornice and I was mentally so numb by that point from all the climbing, lack of oxygen, cold temperatures, incredible views, and constantly having to force yourself to keep going up when your entire body is screaming to go down and get out of this extremely hostile environment that my mind was numb to the risk. I could see the final summit snow slope and was completely committed.

The weather report turned worse

The summit push started on May 18th with the six of us (Ambrose, Ryan, Scott, Lhakpa, DaNgima, and myself) heading up to the North Col. On the morning of the 19th the weather report turned worse than previously reported for the 21st. If we made it there by around 1 to 2 pm, we would try to continue to 8300m and then try to summit on the 20th instead. Lhakpa, DaNgima, and myself all arrived there around 3 to 3:30pm and so decided to not continue. Ambrose and Ryan I guess thought this meant to go back to the North Col, while Scott was drained from his cracked rib which he acquired a couple days prior from a coughing fit.

A new level of intimacy

That left me with the 2 Sherpas at the 7900m camp. The morning of the 20th it was perfectly calm so we headed up to the 8300m camp (really 8210m per my GPS). Rosa’s tent was pitched next to ours. (Notice in the picture that the horizon is level). Cooking and sleeping is our tent with one sleeping bag for the 3 of us was a new level in intimacy with my climbing partners for me. The tent site took at least 2 hours to hack into the mountain.

Close to frostbite

The climbing from the 8300m camp was a lot more technical than I expected. Once above the 2nd step we had sunshine, but also increasing winds. The climbing was straightforward but a constant strain due to the altitude, exposure, down-sloping rock, and climbing with crampons on. The views were incredible and the anchors were all suspect. When we reached the base of the 3rd step we were standing in a pretty stiff wind and I was starting to shiver and my feet were quite cold. Once we were on the summit snow slope we were completely lucky that the way the wind was blowing we were protected. This, I think, helped substantially with our making it to the top without more serious frostbite or other issues. For myself I came away without any frostbite, although it was very close on my right foot. DaNigma fixed a good portion of the final pitches to the summit.

First rubber chicken on the summit?

I got I think 4 pictures from the summit before my camera froze up, unfortunately the first thing in the top of my summit bag was Al's rubber chicken so 2 of the pictures are of DaNgima with the chicken. Maybe the first rubber chicken on the summit of Everest!

Suddenly cut off from oxygen

The descent was reasonable except for needing be very careful with not tripping (especially on old ropes). Sometime around 1 or 2pm the winds really picked up and it started snowing. At the 2nd step a rappel line was not set up so you had to climb down the upper third with the ladder and pseudo rappel/down climb the lower two-thirds. When I was down climbing the yellow band my regulator got bumped and came unscrewed. By the time I could get to a spot I could take my pack off the bottle was empty. This hit me pretty hard as I was up at 8300m and suddenly cut off from oxygen. I would get up, walk ten paces, and sit down. It really was quite nice just sitting there. After covering about half the distance to the tent DaNgima caught up with me and gave me another bottle he was carrying. It then took me about 3 minutes to get to the tent.

2 people died that day

When I opened the tent a Montarosa client was in our tent. He hadn't set up an 8300m camp and was shivering pretty good. Rosa had continued down to her camp at 7900m so we pushed him into her tent. As a side note when I reached ABC there were a number of people concerned about him and had him classified as missing. There were 2 people that died that day, out of about 7 non sherpa climbers. That tally on frostbite isn't really known but we suspect that there are a few pretty bad off as they still haven't reached ABC.

That night at 8300m Lhakpa and myself shared one sleeping bag while DaNgima shared with the Montarosa client in Rosa's tent. Descending down to ABC the next day seemed a bit surreal. The views seemed twice as spectacular. I'm not sure if this is because I was still on oxygen or because I was looking at them differently."

Several teams claimed the first summit of the season, but bad visibility, cold and dead sat phones provided for confusion. The climbing group of 15 people appeared to summit Mt Everest at 10 am with some stragglers approaching the summit closer to 12 noon.

An estimate from the north side had Arun Treks placing two or three members on the summit, Michael Frank (USA), Rosa Maria Fernandez (Spain) & possibly Karma (Bhutan) along with four climbing Sherpas Da Nima, Lhakpa, DaYula and Dawa. There were also people from Kari Kobler's team, Jocelyn from Monte Rosa, climbers from Summit Climb, and Slovenians Marko Lihteneker and Viktor Mlinar with 7-summit club.

About Project Himalaya-DCXP: For his 12th 8000m expedition Jamie McGuinness is providing professional support for a small team. Antoine Bonfils is one of the clients; he is promoting Paris's bid to host the 2012 Olympics on a suitably international team - nobody is from the same country.

Although Jamie isn't planning on summitting, having summitted three 8000m peaks last year, he isn't ruling out a quick, late climb. He summitted Everest previously in 2003 working as a climbing sherpa and organized the fixed rope money for the sherpas.

All images and story text courtesy of Michael and Project Himalaya:

1. At 8300 m camp.

2. Da'Ngima and the rubber chicken.

3. Rosa's tent at 8300m.

4.The Norwegian 8300m camp.

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