Everest is our tallest mountain. It is difficult enough to have killed many climbers in horrible falls and deep crevasses.
Its altitude and the technicals of the climb are not not to be underestimated.
The death zone above camp 4 has taken many strong and skilled climbers lives. That implies that Everest require intensive training. You might be lucky and the climb might go well even if you didn't do your homework. But you will certainly notice that Everest live up to its fearful reputation should the conditions turn against you. By then though, it might simply be too late if you are not well prepared.
Everest is also an extremely beautiful mountain. And just as we continue to launch ourselves into space even though missions sometimes turn into tragedy, mountaineers will always try to climb Everest to experience the majesty, beauty, and adventure of our closest frontier to Universe.
Base Camp is like a Formula One car racing depot. Satellite phones buzz in international tents as the worlds languages mix in thrilling accounts of the latest. Journalists, families and climbers exchange news and emotions between the mountain and the world. For no alpine peak fires imagination like Mount Everest.
You handle the latest tech gear, but wash your clothes in frozen lakes, where you crush the ice and work quickly before it freezes over again. Drying up, the damp clothes freeze into strange ice formations at night. The same happens to your wet hair. And your toothpaste. You finish your meal quickly for it immediately cools on your plate. You eat buffalo meat. It's fresh until it starts to smell. Then you wait. After a few weeks the odour vanish. At that point your BC sherpa-cook start to include it in your diet again, as a very special buffalo jerky.
You listen to the frequent avalanches coming down Nuptse, Lho La and Pumori. You throw silent glances at the icefall and listen as it collapses with a horrendous crash. Base Camp is a place of hope, fear, frustration, conflicts and life-long friendships. Some climbers will experience their dream fulfilled, others will have to return home with an unfinished task. You'll look around you and try to guess. But only destiny will know which fate is to be yours.
This place is similar to a huge horror-chamber at an amusement park. Only this one is for real. There are countless scary things that can happen here.
A crevasse might open under you. An ice-pinnacle can fall on top of you. The entire area can collapse. It's simply not a place for a picnic and most of us just concentrate on getting out of there as quickly as we possibly can.
Be sure to always clip in to the ropes. But also to unclip fast if an avalanche strikes. Should that happen, take cover behind a wall or a pinnacle. Jump into a crevasse as a last resort. The avalanche could be small, but hurl huge ice boulders at you. Watch carefully for ice pinnacles posing in a nasty angle. Do definitely not have your snack brake below one of these. They snap in a second.
Check the ropes and the screws before entering a ladder. Cross the ladders slowly and carefully. Try to fit your crampon between two rails. Sometimes, a nearby avalanche or heavy wind sets the ladder in motion. Just stay calm and focus on each step and you'll be fine. It helps to lean on the ropes, either backwards or forward, depending on the angle of the ladder. The ropes are slack, so leaning on them stretches them and provides a better balance. Even more helpful is if your climbing buddy stretch the ropes for you while you cross the ladder.
Occasionally, you will encounter a large wall of ice. Those walls are usually roped, use your jumars. Climb the ropes by kicking your crampons into the ice and then lean on your legs. Don't hang on the rope, it is exhausting and dangerous.
Climb the icefall early in the morning. Climbers usually head out at 4-5 AM. Don't leave BC later than 6 AM. The icefall thaws later in the day and avalanches become more frequent. Plus you'll boil.
(Climb time: 5-8 hours not acclimatized, 3-5 hours after acclimatization)
This is a vast, flat area of endless snow, deep crevasses and mountain walls frequently washed by avalanches. Here we set up camp 1. At night we listen to the deep, murmuring cracking sounds under our tents. It is the crevasses opening and closing deep down in the glacier beneath. You keep your fingers crossed that it won't happen right under your tent. At least not just now, while you are in it. Pounding headaches torture you. But it is here that for the first time, just a few steps around a corner, we gain first close sight of Everest.
Be sure to set camp away from tiny cracks, those possibly hiding the mouths of large crevasses.
Climb this area clipped to the fixed ropes, since crevasses lay hidden everywhere under the snow. You could remove your crampons on this climb. Sometimes, weather can turn this usually easy part into a difficult one, due to deep snow and whiteout. Always start out in good time. Stay away from the walls, they avalanche frequently. Later in the season (end of May) this snowy area starts to turn rotten and can turn quite nasty.
(Climb time: 4-7 hours not acclimatized, 3-5 hours after acclimatization)
After an endless, slow march through the silent valley, you reach at last a rocky patch, at the foot of the icy Lhotse wall. This marks camp 2. This place is absolutely stunning. Clouds roll in from the lower ranges of the Himalayas, up the valley and into the camp. While acclimatizing, we spend time looking for cool old climbing gear; left here by all of Everest's climbing history. This is also the last chance to get a decent, prepared meal. We eat all we are handed because soon we'll be surviving on instants only.
Don't camp too close to the Everest face, since it avalanches once in a while. Although tempted to idly hang around camp, bring yourself to take walks to the Lhotse face. It will speed acclimatization and relive altitude problems. The walks force you to breathe deeper and faster, thus saturating your body with more oxygen.
Imagine sliding a fun, icy slope on a sunny winter's day. Only this one is 1200 meter (4000 ft) high. This is not a place to play. The dangerous part is to hang on to rope of dubious strength and to change carabiners between the ropes. You might feel not too clear in your head, especially upon coming down, but it's crucial to concentrate. One slip and you are gone, far higher up than you had intended really.
The camp here is a true eagle's nest, placed right out of the wall. Going to the toilet at night is a tedious task to dress and secure oneself. In addition, just to find a spot for it on this narrow platform is tricky enough. But the view is grand and by now you are well on your way to the summit.
The climb towards the wall is a flat walk that gets you nicely warmed up. At the wall, you will step in to the ropes and the icy incline begins immediately. After an hour or so, you will reach the "Ice bulge", an icy, bumpy part. After that, it is a pretty uneventful, steep ice climb to C3. Occasionally, you will hear a howling sound and watch rocks catapult down the wall. Blocks of ice sometimes come falling behind climbers. Watch your head, lean on your legs (not the rope) and rest on the lines only occasionally.
The climb will be either easy or hard, depending on weather. A dry, cold season means sheer, blue ice. Maintain your crampons sharp. Deep snow makes the climb easier, but increase the risk of avalanche.
After C3, you will traverse the wall towards the Yellow Band and the Black Turtle. These are rocky sections on the wall, secured by a tangle of old and new ropes. Check the ropes well and watch for rock falls from climbers above you. Another traverse takes you to the foot of the last wall to C4. This part is steep but not very high and soon you'll put your nose above it's edge, thus entering the land of the spirits ' the Deathzone.
(Climbing time: 5-8 hours not acclimatized, 4-6 hours acclimatized.)
Camp 4 sits on a plateau resembling a moonscape. You are at the edge of the atmosphere and the sky owns a strange, dark blue color. It is surely the closest you can get to space on earth.
Only a small climb above camp, you look down the Tibetan plateau with it's vast brown plains, white glaciers and the other alpine giants - Kanchenjunga, Lhotse, Makalu -in the distance. It's all magic and unreal.
Yet, this is also the place were the media, fame and fun of BC definitely are gone. Only fear remains on everyone's face. People don't talk a lot. Resting in your tent, feeling weak already, you try to get some sleep as night falls outside. In a couple of hours you will start to put on your gear for the final part of the adventure - the summit push.
The wall towards the summit is steep and dark, you are in the death zone and you can't help thinking that within the next 48 hours, there is a very real risk that you might not live.
Go over your gear in daylight. Have everything neatly organized. Drink at least 3 liters of fluid or more if you can. Bring another 2 liters of hot fluid on the climb. Get your axe ready, prepare the Hot Tronics. You will feel great as long as the day is bright but lose spirit fast when night falls. The cold, scary darkness outside is anything but inviting. The wind rustle the tent canvas. You will probably not be able to sleep a wink. Take it easy. As soon as you start out on the climb you will feel much better. Fear is always worse than reality.
Finally, the hour is come. At about 11 PM we put on the final gear and step out in the night. There, in the distance, we can see a worm of light slowly moving up a dark wall. It's climbers head torches flickering in the dark. It's completely silent. Nobody talks. If you do, you whisper. It is absolutely terrifying and you climb and climb, awaiting fthe first ray of dawn. It's desperately cold. It's steep and at parts very icy. The ice axe and the crampons barely cut into the ice. You need to pee. Forget it. Someone turns around. "Can't go on, good luck".
A cold, white moon rises from below, but you hardly glance at it or even the bright twinkle of Universe above. The adrenaline keeps your body moving. And then, suddenly, after hours and hours of despair, you notice a thin blue beam of light at the horizon. Sunrise! If you are lucky, now is the time for the fabled mountain ghost. The mountain projects itself onto the morning fog. The shadow towers in front of you like a giant mirage. Beneath lies the world in all its glory, glowing in the rising sun. You feel the warmth and all hope returning.
You kick your feet to beat the oncoming frostbite. You are at the Balcony, having a short rest, changing to a new oxygen bottle. A ridge lay ahead, and just above you, not far at all, is the South Summit. You begin to enjoy the view, and the possibility of success. Finally, you step up onto the small plateau of the South Summit, and there - just around the corner - is the Everest summit itself!
You have watched it so many times from the distance, and suddenly it is so strangely close. Just right there, only 95 meters / 310 ft away. You can almost touch the white tail of snow.
This is as far as we came in 1998, so our report on the site had to end here. On this update however - following our 1999 attempt - we are very happy to at last be able to guide you all the way - to the summit!
When you reach the South Summit you are just a couple of hours from your dream come true.
But there is one more obstacle in your way. The Knife Ridge. You will gasp upon seeing it. It is steep and looks truly nasty. The ridge towers almost freely over Nepal and Tibet, it's sharp and very steep. Hillary Step is in the middle somewhere, a rock climb in the sky.
You step onto the ridge via a small, half open tunnel from South Summit. You climb with your crampons at a sharp, crooked angle towards the side of the ridge. Occasionally, the snow gives way and you slide down for a hairy second. This is not a place to climb without fixing ropes. Clip in carefully, focus on each step and keep moving.
If there is a lot of snow, the ridge could be almost wide and quite nice. We had a dry, sharp climb.
The Hillary step was, in our opinion, not too bad. Although very exposed at parts, the climb is fast and feels safe, given the conditions. The danger is to get tangled in the ropes. Bring a good knife. Check the ropes well for strength.
After the step, you will spot white, strange wave-formations of frozen snow pointing out from the summit. Keep climbing towards them. This section is usually unroped, yet not too steep. Still, be careful and use your axe. You might eagerly look for the summit now, yet all you'll see is a white edge on the horizon. You will not know how far you have left and feel frustrated and tired.
Then you reach another white edge, but this time ' it doesn't continue. Behind it, there is instead a slope down. You are peeking down at the North side of Everest. You have reached the summit, friend.
(Climbing time: 8-16 hours)
Most accidents occur upon climbing down. Be sure to have enough oxygen to come back. Don't relax for one moment. The climb is tricky all the way down to the Balcony ' the final ridge before the wall back down to camp 4 and the South Col. Even the wall after the Balcony is dangerous if unroped. You will encounter a couple of bodies of deceased climbers here. In 1998, the last part of the wall towards C4 was not fixed and 8 people took pretty bad falls. Luckily enough, all climbers survived that time. We climb this part roped to each other if the fixed ropes aren't there. If the weather turns bad, the fixed ropes might get buried or you won't be able to see them. Make memory maps on you climb up for this situation. Bring a compass.
A blue ice bulge will mark the last obstacle back to camp. There are some crevasses there, usually recognizable as streaks of white snow. Avoid them.
Finally, you will stumble back down onto the flat, rocky South Col. And take the last exhausted steps towards your tent, throwing yourself into it. And now ' after almost 30 hours of strenuous climb, terror and doubts ' you'll fall into the deepest and happiest sleep of your life.
Exceeded only by your awakening in the morning; the suns rays softly warming you, as you slowly come to a wonderful, triumphant realization; that you actually, really, really made it.
You are an Everest summiteer!
(Climbing time: 4-8 hours).