Ted Atkins post expedition report: The truth is I almost died!|
May 27, 2004 14: 05 EST
Royal Air Force Flight Lieutenant and mountaineer Ted Atkins made it on his third attempt in the early hours of 16 May 2004. Here is his very honest post expedition report:
Now that the climb is over and Ted has returned to Kathmandu - he can safely reveal (without upsetting Shona, Lewis and family and friends), that he had a very close call on the mountain - things got very serious at one point.
"Its taken me a little time to get my head around this, but the truth is that I nearly died on the summit and a High Altitude climbing Sherpa from another expedition saved me.
I was supposed to be supplied with 3 bottles of oxygen; the 3rd never turned up and I never saw sign of it or the Sherpa who was supposed to be supplying it. So I set off in good faith that everything was organized, expecting to get a message telling me where to pick up the 3rd cylinder which would give me the O2 to get back down. It never arrived, a mistake had been made, a serious error. I asked the expedition leader for an explanation when I got back down; he had none to offer!
I made the summit in good order, very good order, but was aware that my remaining O2 must be running low. This was confirmed by a passing sherpa who checked my gauge when I had only 20 m to make the summit - I climbed on, then turned my O2 off at the summit to save it.
The weather was fantastic and I could see the whole world, mountains I had climbed years ago, that seemed big then were hills, but still the worry of how I would make it down. I asked a number of people on the summit if they had any spare O2; no one had. However a Sherpa, Sirdar (leader) offered to give me his cylinder as he would be better able to cope without.
His home and his sea level is up to about 5000m, therefore he was without doubt correct, he could effectively remove a huge amount of the altitude, but it was still very high and Sherpas are human too. I could not accept his offer and decided to reduce my flow from 2 Litre per minute to 1/2 Litre per minute.
I didn't know exactly how much gas I had left. If I had 20 - 30 minutes I would be able to get over the south summit and would be going down; I might have been able to keep going down? It didn't work; I only had 10 minutes gas left, even at the new low flow. I still had to get down the steep section of the Hillary step which entailed climbing down ropes.
I fell several times and began to hallucinate as I became hypoxic. I was out of the game and as close to the edge as I have ever been. Some part of my mind told me to crawl around the south summit and find a quite place to sleep; another part told me that I had a friend who was helping me. I knew that I had to get oxygen, I had been climbing for 15 hours, I was exhausted and only O2 was going to get me down.
I remembered a cache of cylinders on the South summit. I had to make it there and take one. It no longer mattered who they might belong to. One could be replaced before it was even noticed. The voice asked if I could climb the last few steps to the South summit and some how I did. Strong hands put a new cylinder on me and I could taste O2.
My friend went to leave me and I shouted after him to tell camp 4 that I would be late down as as I was going around the South summit for some sleep, I still had this mad idea. He pointed down with authority and I nodded aquesence, then nodded off. I woke to the familiar sound of the tent fabric flapping in a storm. I opened my eyes; there was no tent, it was me.
My down suit was flapping in a storm and I decided it was time to move. I now felt good, though very alone, it was getting a little late as I set off solidly down the mountain. Thought of conquest of Everest has not scratched the surface of any conscious thought; it still hasn't.
I am alive though and I think of that every day. The joy of Everest will come to me in time.
Ted first attempted Everest via the West Ridge in 1988, a route he called a “logisitical nightmare.” Ted reached to within 800 yards of the summit, where he'd earlier placed a cache with sleeping bag and camp stuff, but now the bag was gone. Ted tried grabbing some sleep in his rucksack, but by morning, his feet were nearly frozen and he gave up the attempt.
In 2001, Ted returned, leading the large, successful RAF expedition up the North side. Two members of the team summited, however his own bid ended at 8300m in deteriorating weather.
Ted became a member of the RAF’s Mountain Rescue Service in 1979 and led the first RAF Ascent of the North Face of Eiger. He made his first trip to the Himalaya in 1983 and later that same year, joined an 18-month expedition to Antarctica to explore Brabant Island.
This year, Ted is simply joined a permit to make his own attempt on the South Col route.
Image of Ted on Everest courtesy of his home team.