Getting to the top of the world

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After a week’s rest in base camp the weather reports were all indicating the most perfect weather for Thursday May 12th – clear skies and 5km/hr winds – perfect for summiting and flying! So we decided to go for it….

As well as feeling excited, I didn’t tell anyone, but I was feeling incredibly nervous and worried about what the next week would bring.  It’s no secret that Everest is a dangerous mountain and the number of people who die on it is still alarmingly high.  I knew that what I was planning to do was probably increasing the danger and you can’t help wondering if you’ll be coming back down.

We left base camp at 4am on Sunday May 8th, the weather was good.  Instead of staying at Camp One we went straight to Camp Two at 6,200m where we spent two nights before heading to Camp Three on the 10th.  I was tired going to Camp Three – it’s pretty much a straight climb up the Lhotse face, it took me ages to get there.  Camp Three is 7,000m.  We slept on oxygen, it was amazing!  I slept really well and had some crazy dreams..

Climbing the Lhotse face
Climbing the Lhotse face

Climbing to Camp Four (7,900m) the next morning even though on oxygen was not easy.  It was a long, tough day.  We climbed through the Yellow Band, over the Geneva Spur and eventually reached the tents at 1.30pm.  Camp Four is on the South Col, you can see some of the route to the summit – it looked steep and a very long way.  I just didn’t know how I was going to do it.  I’d given pretty much all I had to get to Camp Four.  However, I knew from climbing Cho Oyu that there are secret reserves within all of us and somehow you just find it…  I tried not to think too much as there wasn’t much time.  We needed to eat and boil as much water as possible; we were leaving for the summit at 9pm.

Arriving at Camp 4, pointing to the summit
Arriving at Camp 4, pointing to the summit

9pm came around quicker than I’d hoped but it was good to get going – this was it….  The stars were out, there was only a little wind – everything was looking good.

The first six hours were great I managed a good pace, I was climbing 100m every hour and I felt ok.  Then things started to deteriorate.

The sun didn’t come up, the stars and moon disappeared and the sky got lighter, but the clouds rolling in hid the sun we were so desperate to see and the winds picked up.

I always say that climbing to the top is only getting half way there; you need to have enough reserves to get back down.

After a few more hours and continued bad weather, many other teams turned back, I was more exhausted than I have ever felt in my life and I began to wonder if it was time to turn around.  Once we’d past the South summit, there were very exposed ridges and the Hilary step still to go.  I actually got quite frightened at one point and I turned to my climbing Sherpa and said maybe we should turn back.  He said that we were almost there and I could make it.  We carried on.

The visibility was mostly between 5m and 30m, the wind was about 50-60km/hr and with the wind chill the temps were about -50’c.  It was quite cold!!

I knew that there would be no flight from the top of the world… and I also no longer thought I would make the summit.  I was beginning to question if I could even make it back down – it was at that moment I saw, in the foggy not too far distance, a pile of flags and a couple of people…  That was it!  That was the top.  It had taken just over 11hrs to get there and at 8.30am on the 12th May I stood on top of the world.

On top of the world!!
On top of the world!!

There were only eight of us on the summit, the clouds meant no view and I was feeling wrecked.  I took out my GoPro camera and filmed for a few seconds, my hand got so cold that was all I could manage.  Then I was just desperate to get back down.

I’d had so many plans for the summit; so many poses to do for the camera, so much I was going to say, flags I was going to get out, small dances I was going to do to celebrate…  I’d even half planned how I would feel – so elated, amazing, wonderful…. but there was none of that.  I was worried that I wasn’t going to make it back down and after just a few short minutes at the top I was out of there.

It took almost 5hrs to get back down, the weather didn’t let up and it was a difficult descent.

I stumbled back into my tent at Camp Four and instead of making a descent to Camp Two, as planned, I fell asleep on oxygen for 12hrs.  I was completely out of it.

The rest of our team did really well.  Paula managed to get to over 8,000m before making the tough decision to turn back after getting extremely cold and Mitch and Stew had both made the summit with me.  I think that out of the many climbers that set out for the summit that day, we were three of about ten who actually made it.

Looking rough!  Just back from the summit - you can see a small bit of frost bite on my cheek.
Looking rough! Just back from the summit - you can see a small bit of frost bite on my cheek.

The following morning, Friday the 13th May, I was feeling a little better, but still not great.  The weather seemed to have improved and I wondered if I might be able to fly from the South Col.  The wind was strong but I thought I could give it a go.  I gave it my best shot but I couldn’t take off.  At 7,900m my ground handling skills in high winds weren’t that great and I soon decided after being dragged about the mountain that it was definitely better to just get back down alive.

Attempting to fly off the south-col on Friday 13th May
Attempting to fly off the south-col on Friday 13th May
Coming down from Camp Three - totally worn out
Coming down from Camp Three - totally worn out

It took us two days to get back to base camp. My body and mind were totally and utterly exhausted.  I’d got frost bite on my face and everything hurt.

Heading back down from Camp Four
Heading back down from Camp Four

However, after reaching base camp and having a shower it began to sink in that I’d reached the top of the world!… but even better, I was back down…. alive!

As I sit here now writing this (it’s only the 15th May) it still hasn’t completely sunk in.

My aim was to reach the summit and fly from the top, obviously I didn’t quite make it, but I don’t care.  I tried!  There was no way I could have flown in the conditions we summated in and when I tried to fly from the South Col it just frightened me and wasn’t going to happen.

I am however completely delighted (and a little bit surprised!) that I made it to the top of the world.

Now I am so excited to get home and see the people I love….  It’s been an incredible journey…

Whooooo Hooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!