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The final days before the summit: "We are climbers"
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May 21, 2005 17: 08 EST
Harry just e-mailed to his home team an account of the past 4 days. It's a chilling record of the reasoning behind the decision to try for a summit in the face of anything but perfect conditions. Just like in the old days. Because, as Victor puts it, "we are climbers."

18 May: Summit plans and open air Rope Powwow

"While Alex is kicking my behind in a quick game of chess the new weather reports come in: the weather will improve the next few days with little wind on the 20th, 21th and maybe 22th, after that the wind will pick up again."

"Victor is the only other climber present in the tent and clearly in deep thoughts, so I ask him what's on his mind.
'I think Marko & I will go for the summit' he says."

"The idea does not surprise me as it has been haunting my mind as well the past few hours. And if anyone can climb, it will be these 2 strong Slovenians. But later this afternoon will be the general meeting about the (non)fixing of the ropes above camp 3, so I wonder if that issue will be resolved during this short weather window.
'What about the ropes, chances are big they will not be there when you go'
Victor shrugs, gives me one of his many smiles and simply replies:
'We are climbers'."

For the strongest only

"I discuss the situation with Alex. The first 'window' in an Everest climbing year is always the most dangerous as the ropes are not fixed or not tested. As leaders of a commercial expedition we will always advise against going on such a first 'rush' until it is clear that the window is so obvious and long that it will be an opportunity for everybody."

"Alex:
'A first window like this is only usable for very strong climbers, who can climb without Sherpa support. They must have years of climbing experience in bad weather and without guidance. Even then Everest will always be a league of it's own and I will advise against it. But of course everybody is a free person and we can not stop them, just advise. From all the tough & experienced climbers in our team, Victor & Marko are amongst the strongest. Maybe you and Lorenzo could follow as well, but the weather is always uncertain."

When strong men pray

"Victor has decided and is packing; looking again at the different forecasts I decide to talk to Lorenzo when he gets back from his hike to the fixed ropes to discuss the opportunity."

"While I am preparing my summit pack in the vestibule of the tent I see Victor leaving, stopping for a moment at the Stupa, seemingly to pray."

"I wish him good luck and a safe climb, and he gives me one more of his smiles as a thank you.
I do not see Marko; he is normally faster and though they are inseperable, Victor normally starts earlier on their hikes and climbs."

Long row of climbers going for the summit!

"Volodia/Vladimir is one of the less experienced climbers with more money than mountaineering knowledge, but he is sick of waiting and wants one good try and does not want to be told not to go up today."

"He is totally fixed and we have no choice but to let him go, finding comfort in the fact that he has hired a private Sherpa and our Sherpas are the strongest on the mountain."

"Lorenzo returns from his hike and is clearly amazed:
'I was just telling my blog listeners that we will need lots more patience, next thing I meet a long row of climbers going for the summit!'"

Infamous rope meeting

"I explain about the short weather window and ask him if he is interested in joining me up the mountain. Lorenzo is a guide in Italy and has summited Lhotse, the 4th highest peak in the world. He is not just a client of mine and I would feel safe with him as my climbing partner.
We are both worried about the rope situation and decide to go to the already infamous rope meeting at 18.00 at the Himex camp."

"Jon, the captain of the Norwegian team (our friendly neighbours in BC) has called the meeting at the Himex camp, for all the leaders of the expeditions.
Apparently Himex' chief Russel Brice was not impressed with the meeting proposal and instead of inviting everybody in one of his many tents he is sitting on a stone wall near his stupa."

"Many people gather, but Jon himself is the last one to arrive, though exactly on time. He explains why he wanted the meeting:
'It was agreed that all teams would pay Russel $100 per climber, so he could fix the ropes for all. However, now the ropes are not fixed to the summit and it seems that the climbers wanting to use the upcoming short weather window will have to climb without ropes unless we decide some solution soon'."

"Donating" Sherpas

"A discussion starts, in which it becomes clear that Russel was asked in the beginning to handle the ropes with his team of experienced Sherpas."

"But many leaders thought he would just earn some extra money and voted against the plan, opting to 'donate' Sherpas from different teams instead, so Sherpas from all teams could make money. This was already decided before we arrived in BC, so we had no influence on the decision."

"Clearly Russel's Sherpas had done a good part of the work already, including fixing the double ropes to North Col and placing extra rope coils for others to fix higher up. He had administated everything clearly and it becomes clear that instead of letting his team do all the work, which would have been best for all and Russel would not have made any money of it at all, the splitting up has had a negative effect on the efficiency."

Secrecy and danger

"If my team had done all the work, as agreed beforehand, the ropes would all be fixed now", Russel said. "But I think the upcoming days are too dangerous for my Sherpas, so if you want to climb, you will have to arrange the ropefixing yourself"

"With that and a remark about certainly not telling when he was planning to go up with his clients as he paid good money for his weather forcasts and would not share that information, he dissapeared into a tent."

"To get to a practical solution we invited all leaders of teams who wanted to use the upcoming window into our big messtent. A discussion followed resulting in a practical plan where a shared team of 4 sherpas would work to get the rope fixed the next 2 days."

Quickly changing weather forecasts

"During dinner I thought a lot and though Lorenzo was a bit shocked by the quickly changing weather forecasts and the expected winds on the 22nd, he told me that he would join me if I wanted to go. We had seen the Norwegian team together, their first team was just leaving, the 2nd part would leave in the morning."

"'Let's go in the morning', I said. 'We will climb up to North Col; there we can see how fit we are. If we feel very strong, we can continue to 7700 camp and catch up with Victor & Marko. If we feel less strong, but the forecasts for the 22nd are still ok, we will stay one day behind them. If we feel bad, we will just go down to ABC again and use this as extra acclimatisation.' We decide to leave at 07.00..."

May 19th & 20th: Sweat on the snow and Russian medication

"It is chilly in the dark, and I am glad I can wear my The North Face Himalayan Suit, kind of a wearable sleeping bag, comfortable and warm."

"We leave camp at 07.30 and slowly carry our heavy summit packs up the moraines. I do not feel well, but do not know if this is just due to the lack of sleep and the early hour without breakfast, or due to the worsening of my throat pain. I am glad for the break when we get to the glacier to put on our harnesses and crampons. It is nice to be all alone when the sun hits the glacier and we decide to take it easy."

"But easy is all I can do and I tell Lorenzo to go ahead, while I struggle up the ropes and icy slopes. I have problems breathing and swallowing hurts. It is hot on the slopes, I sweat, but more than usual."

A very thin flow of oxygen immediately results in a jump of my pulse-oxygen

"Other climbers pass me and it takes more than 5 hours before I finally reach our tents at 7060m, where Lorenzo alrealy started the cooking."
"'I will surely not be able to go any higher today,' I tell Lorenzo; he was quite slow himself and agrees."

"Many people come up during the day and a long line up to 7700 camp is also forming. We cook our Tortellini and though Lorenzo keeps on eating I just want to sleep. We test our oxygen masks on the bottles, it is amazing to see how even a very thin flow of oxygen immediately results in a jump of my pulse-oxygen level from 70 to 99%!"

Stay awake for most of the night

"Something in the food disagreed with Lorenzo and he has to jump out for a sudden attack of diarrhea. He gets so dehydrated, he has to start the gas stove to melt more water in the middle of the night."

"I just want to sleep, but everytime I put my head down, I have to cough until I get no air, so I stay awake for most of the night, trying not to disturb my breathing rhythm."

"Slowly we get to the morning, and instead of the expected sun on our tent, we are surprised by fresh snow!
I tell Lorenzo that I feel totally sick and even if the weather forecast would give us a window until the 22nd, I would never get up higher than 7700m, wasting valuable oxygen and maybe our only summit shot."

Feel worse by the minute

"So even when Alex assures us by radio that the snow will stop within a few hours (it does),we decide to go down asap."

"I feel worse by the minute and while Lorenzo is melting more snow for the descent, I try sleeping on a thin flow of oxygen, 1/2liter per minute. Again my oxygen level jumps to sea level numbers and I feel reasonable for about an hour, only disturbed by painful coughing fits."

"We go down the ropes while the majority of climbers on NorthCol go up. The snow has stopped and it is really hot on the descent. Even though I am exhausted, we make good time and within an hour we are back at our cache at the end of the moraine. Just as I am taking off I see Sascha & Karo, 2 of our East european teammates appearing. I wonder if they want to go up, but apparently they heard about me being sick and came all the way up from ABC to help us."

A Doc and a Surgeon in camp

"People who know me, will testify that I do not easily give up my backpack, let alone, my camera bag, but when Karo and Sascha offered, I had no strength left to protest and so I went down to ABC without any luggage."

"I crashed into the mess tent and though the ladies from the Himex were visiting again for more Russian drugs & attention, Doctor Andrey immediately began testing me. Blood pressure, many questions, temperature, resulting in a discussion with Igor, climbing member, but also surgeon and knowledgeable doctor."

"I feel like I'm slowly but surely dying up here

"Together they hand me enough medication to kill a yak and advise me to go down to BC if I want to have any chance at all to climb anywhere on Everest this season..
I guess this means one more half-marathon at the height equivalent to the summit of Kilimanjaro, from ABC to BC, and then another back up a few days later. But I have no choice, I feel like slowly but surely dying up here and prepare my bag..."

"Meanwhile Victor & Marko and Volodia and his Sherpa have climbed from camp 2, 7700m to Camp 3, 8300m and will leave for the summit during the night."

May 21st: Summit and problems

"I sleep reasonably and to answer negative when Doctor Andrey comes to my tent and asks: 'Are you not dead yet?'"

"Andrey is a great and skillfull doctor, with 22 years of technical and high altitude climbing experience, eager to learn more English and a totally fun guy overall. It is always a surprise which medication he pulls out of his jacket-pocket or deep down from his drum and many climbers from other expeditions have already found the way to 'Doctor Andrey', internally also lovingly named 'The Crazy Doc'.."

Tension in camp

"Before I fully wake up I feel the tension in camp. It's summit day for our team! The 3 members and one Sherpa have left camp 3 at 8300m around 02.30 in the morning, but we hear nothing about their progress. We can see tiny dots crawling up the top snowfields from ABC, but cannot tell who the dots are."

"The first news is from Volodia: he had crampon problems near the Steps and is coming down with his Sherpa."

"I need to start going down as it will be a long day in my current state, but I also want to know what happened to Victor & Marko. They should have summited by now if they reserve enough oxygen for the descent!"

"Summit! No details."

"I leave camp for an uneasy hike down and ask Lorenzo to update me by Satelilte-Txt messages. Before I reach Middle camp at 5800m, where the cook immediately begins making fresh french fries, I get the message: "Marko & Victor summited! No details."

"I use the radio to contact Alex at ABC and he confirms the news. Appparently our team members are the only summiteers so far and we congratulate each other. Even though this attempt was not planned, it seems that our logistics set up has made it possible."

There are many ways to get lost on Everest

"I continue down, coughing constantly as the cold hard wind tries to get behind my scarf and into my sour throat.
I try to leave a message about the summiteers on Romke's answering machine, it takes a long time before I can produce any sound that is recordable."

"When arriving in BC I talk to Lorenzo by phone, who lets me know that the team in ABC is getting worried. Volodia is back in camp 2, 7700m, and Victor is back in camp 3, 8300m, but he has not seen Marko in a while."

"This is bad news. The conditions are deteriorating fast and snow is falling on the entire upper side of the mountain. There are many ways to get lost on Everest and zero visibility of course does not help."

After the steps and the Mushroom rock

"The main problem when descending is finding the 'exit' to the left and down when climbing down the technically easy ridge after the steps and the Mushroom rock."

"That section is so easy that many climbers do not even use the ropes.The ropes are not needed for support, but are very handy as a guideline to show the way as it is very easy to miss the exit and continue along the way to the pinnacles, where the true North East ridge meets the east ridge."

Sweet death

"Another big problem is the immediate desire to wanting to go to sleep the moment a climber runs out of oxygen. This can be lethal as many climbers have not woken up when falling asleep above 8500m..."

"It is now 00.30 Chinese time and I am about to send out this update, regrettingly having to inform you that we have still no news about the whereabouts of Marko, together with his friend and climbing partner Victor 2 of our favorite and strongest team members."

"A sherpa has been sent up the end of the afternoon to search and is already above camp 3, when we hear anything new, we will inform you asap. Join me in hoping that there has been some form of miscommunication and that we will hear Marko's deep laughter soon again."

"Signing off from BC,

Harry Kikstra
7summits.com"

Alexander Abramov has made quite a name for himself here at ExplorersWeb. He was the one to drive a Land Rover to the top of Elbrus and crashed it coming down, he was the one who slaughtered his own BC food on Everest two years back, and finally the expedition leader of our team mate's climb to the summit of Mount Everest this past spring.

This year, Alex joined hands with Harry Kikstra of 7summits.com, forming the 7summits-club. Although there is still shrapnel embedded in his body from a Maoist attack, Alex refuses to leave his team.

Harry and extra guide Nickolay Cherny are leading Lynne Stark, Hanna Noel Richmond, Nate Schneider, and Lorenzo Gariano. Nikolay Cherni has 6, 8000ers and was a co-leader of the Russian Central North wall expedition last year.

Alexander Abramov guides the rest with extra guide Ivan Dus. The entire expedition offers a full service outfit with 11 climbing Sherpas (all Everest summiteers), and an expedition Doc. There are 18 expedition members in total.

Images:

1. The missing Marko, the day before the start of the summit push.
2. The rope meeting, center row: Nate, David Hamilton (Jagged-Globe, in back) and Himex's Russel Brice.
3. Harry and extra guide Nickolay Cherny managing team whilst Alex is in Kathmandu after Maoist attack.
All images courtesy of the 7-summits Club.

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