Friday, June 2, 2017

The Summit Push--the detailed recounting

Anders Christofferson: 5/21/17 Everest Summit
(Discussion with Anders in LA: 5/29-30)


Judy and I had occasion to visit with Anders shortly after he returned from his successful summit of Mount Everest.  Here are some notes and observations from those extended conversations about his summit experience. The first section includes a play-by-play recap of the summit push, and the second section includes a Q&A about the overall experience:

Moving from C3 to C4 on May 20th

-Camp 3 sits at about 23,500 feet.  It is literally cut into the steep Lhotse Face, with a 2,000+ foot fall at their feet.  They had slept reasonably well and were breathing bottled oxygen, at about 1 Liter/min throughout the night.  Their tents were lashed to the Face and they had a narrow ledge behind their tents and the side of the mountain.  They used this space to don some of their equipment for the climb.

-They left somewhere between 8 and 9 in the morning and the total trip took them close to 8 hours.  It seemed like an early departure, but they left later than most other folks that day.  Anders estimates that it would have taken them 4.5 hours to get to C4 without the crowds.

-John and Geoff were in front of Anders and Brent for most of the climb up to C4. Siddhi Sherpa was also with them—he wasn’t carrying any of their gear to C4, as he was principally part of the team as a climbing Sherpa. As a result, our four guys were carrying large packs that included sleeping bags, ice axes, food, etc., which are typically carried by Sherpas for Western climbers.  Anders estimated his pack weighed 30+ pounds.  They were breathing oxygen at around 2 liters/minute (l/m) as they climbed on this day.

-They started to get slowed down when they came closer to the distinctive Yellow Band.  The Yellow Band had some tough footing, but Anders did not think it was that difficult ultimately to navigate.  He was excited to see this iconic feature of Everest up close and personal. Despite one bottleneck on a short, steep section, it didn’t take that long to climb past the Yellow Band.  They were now at about 25,000 feet.

-It was quite crowded during the Traverse from the Yellow Band to the Geneva Spur.  Since it was less steep here, they were able to slip pass slower climbers so they made pretty good progress even with the growing crowds. To pass, the team would unclip from the fixed lines and side step slower climbers.

-Things really slowed down a lot when they reached the Geneva Spur.  This section is very steep with mixed rock and snow.  They had thousands of feet of exposure and could not safely pass here, so were forced to wait for the slower, less experienced climbers. It was shocking for the team to see this lack of experience on the Geneva Spur, 25,000 ft. high on Everest. To climb that slow and that inefficiently is very unsafe, and not a good sign about their ability to climb higher. This section took well over an hour and they had to frequently stand in place waiting.  There were old lines in places so they had to focus on using the fixed lines correctly.

-The Geneva Spur physically separates the top of the Lhotse Face from the South Col, which is the saddle between the 1st and 4th highest mountain peaks in the world.  At the top of the Geneva Spur it was a relatively “easier” and much safer walk on into C4.  Here, their team unclipped and passed quite a few people coming into camp.

-The team immediately started looking for their tent, which had been set up earlier by other Madison Sherpas.  After 20 minutes of searching they could not locate the tent so Anders and John sat down and rested and waited.  It was very cold and windy, and the only other climbers that were not in tents were select Sherpa who were helping their teammates.  It was still light out, but Anders doesn’t remember much about the views.  They were tired and eager to crawl into a tent and begin preparing for a likely summit attempt later that night.  Camp Four is dirty, filled with trash, and not a nice place at all – it is often referred to as the “most inhospitable campsite in the world.” It is also just under 26,000 feet, making existence there extremely taxing on the body. They sat there for nearly an hour and at some point, Anders looked over and saw Brent, who motioned to him to come join him.

-John and Anders were quite cold, tired and thirsty at this point and they were disappointed to learn that two Chinese climbers had “squatted” in their tent.  Brent was “organizing” their departure when they joined them and soon the squatters left. This type of activity is unfortunately not uncommon on Everest. Every year there are stories of people stealing oxygen bottles, squatting in tents, etc. Brent fortunately got the situation under control, but it cost the team valuable recovery and preparation time for their upcoming summit bid.

-All four of them got in the three person tent.  Siddhi and another Sherpa went about setting up another tent.  Soon it was set up and Geoff and John went there.  It was about 6 pm, which was extremely late considering they planned to leave for the summit at 11pm that evening.  Anders and Brent began unpacking and reorganizing.  They changed oxygen bottles.

-  The most urgent task was to boil snow to create enough water to hydrate them through the climb up to the summit and return to C4, and to mix with a dehydrated meal.  Anders guesses they boiled 6 liters (a slow, slow process at this altitude). This process of boiling (and treating) water lasted throughout that evening. Brent and he finally had enough water to split a dehydrated Chicken Teriyaki dinner made by Mountain House at around 9pm.

-When they finally got through it all, it was already time to get ready to climb. They had planned to climb a little later than most because of their relative speed, but with their delays, they had fallen a bit behind schedule.  This meant that after a hard 8-hour climb that ascended nearly 3,000 vertical feet to almost 8,000 meters, on the edge of the “Death Zone”, they now faced the final Everest summit push with no sleep and very little rest (in fact, they would end up being awake for ~40 hours between the push from C3 to C4 to the summit and back to C4).


The Summit Attempt: The Evening of May 20th

-Anders and Brent left a little after 11:30 pm and Geoff and John appear to have left about 20 minutes later.  This turned out to be the latest departure from C4 of any team on this night (some teams left as early as 6pm that evening).  John’s Spot tracker had the altitude at 7,977 meters or 26,240 feet.

-It was quite cold, and fairly windy.  Anders does not remember seeing stars, as he focused on the task at hand, but it was probably a clear night. High above them and directly in front was a thin line of distinct lights emanating from headlamps as the earlier climbers clearly marked the path ahead and above.

-The early climbing was straightforward up a relatively modest slope.  Anders had set his O2 rate at 2.5 l/m (they had planned for 4 l/m but Anders felt very good and as result decided to be conservative at first in his oxygen usage).  Anders carried his bottle and the climbing Sherpa’s carried spares for the four of them.  After 30 minutes, the path considerably steepened and they attached to the fixed ropes.

-They climbed 107 meters in the first hour, which is about 12% of the total vertical necessary to reach the summit.  This was about an 8-hour pace to the summit, which would have put them on the summit around 8 am Nepal time.

-Anders’ headlamp began to malfunction about an hour into the climb.  It dimmed and flickered at inconvenient times.  Anders had a spare in his backpack, but decided it was good enough when combined with Brent’s lamp.  It wasn’t ideal, but it was “fine”—and he didn’t want to stop.

-Anders felt very, very good.  He described it as a “typical climb”. Steep, dark, but quite doable, especially given how good he felt.

-Anders began leading the group of four and they came upon a challenging section on the fixed rope.  It was very steep, but even with his flickering headlamp, Anders could see that the rope was dangerously stretched up and over a jagged ridge.  Anders was assessing whether or not any of the prior year’s ropes might provide some additional support when Tashi Sherpa came by and scrambled up the rock and returned the rope to their side of the ridge. This process took about 30 minutes, and was the beginning of several delays they would experience in their climb.

-From there, they climbed up about a 5-minute or so chute when they came upon another person, who was clearly in distress.  Anders could see him in the light of his headlamp.  The man was lying face-up, with his head closer to Anders, below his feet given the slope.  Anders heard him moaning a bit, even above the wind, and one of his hands was exposed and without a glove.  This hand seemed to be waving back and forth a bit.

Anders said that the guy looked like he was dying and Geoff immediately tried to figure out his status.  Geoff retrieved their emergency kit and found that the vials of Dexamethasone (a powerful, injectable steroid often used as a last resort for climbers with severe altitude sickness) were frozen.  Anders used his hands to warm one of them up and Geoff worked on another.  The climber (an American it turned out) had apparently been climbing without Oxygen, appeared to be alone, and had been exposed to the harsh conditions without moving for some time.  His hand and face were severely impacted by the cold—Anders described them as completely frozen.

They tried to administer two of their three injectable doses of Dex but it had no impact on the dying climber.  After an hour of attempting to rescue the man, they concluded that he was too just too far gone to revive him.  Geoff elected to save their last dose of Dex for a potential emergency within their own team.  Reluctantly, they concluded there was nothing more to be done and they resumed their climb (note: at this altitude, rescues are almost impossible and very rarely attempted. Helicopters cannot fly to this altitude given the thin air, and attempting to move someone by manpower is very dangerous and requires putting more lives at risk. As a result, this section of Everest has several visible bodies that have been left there over the years).  Anders said he was very cold at this point, due to the inactivity.  His hands were cold from being briefly exposed to the air and from trying to warm the frozen vial.

-They continued climbing for just another 5 minutes when Anders saw another climber stricken and sitting in the snow.  This man, a Slovakian, was more alert and was sitting upright.  He also appeared to be climbing without oxygen and was severely affected by the cold as well.  Anders said it seemed like he was partially aware of their presence, but clearly severely stricken with altitude sickness and already developing frostbite on his hands and face.  They administered oral doses of Dex, which did not seem to have much of an effect.  They had difficulty communicating with him but Anders felt he was aware they were trying to help him.  Anders solicited help from several other climbers who were nearby, even offering to double summit  bonuses for the Sherpa if they would help rescue the man (note: most Sherpa receive a substantial “summit bonus” from their clients if they successfully make it to the summit and back).  However, after some intense back and forth, none of the other climbers were willing to help and Brent, Geoff, John, and Anders concluded that the Slovakian would die if he were left there.  However, unlike the American climber, there might be a chance he would survive if they could somehow get him back down to C4.  They all four decided to abandon their summit bid and try to rescue him and get him down to C4.

Geoff reversed his Jumar to help stabilize and belay the injured climber, who could not progress on his own.  They had one 40-foot coil of rope, which they used to lower him. This process was slow and arduous, but likely the only chance they had to successfully move the now immobilized climber.  They managed to get him down the first 40-foot pitch, which Anders estimates took 10 minutes, when Garrett Madison, via radio to Geoff, informed them that Tashi Sherpa was on his way and would help lower the climber.  Tashi is very strong and was one of the Madison Mountaineering Sherpas who, with the Gurkhas, had first fixed the ropes to the summit on the South side this season.

Garrett suggested that Brent and Tashi take the job of bringing him down to C4 while Geoff, Anders and John continued on towards the summit.  Brent readily and selflessly agreed and encouraged Anders, Geoff and John to continue on.  Over the next 8 hours or so, Brent and Tashi lowered him 40-foot pitch by 40-foot pitch, first in the dark, down very steep and treacherous terrain, all the way back to C4.  At C4 they administered more Dex and Adrenaline and put him in a tent, put him on oxygen and warmed his body with sleeping bags.  Unfortunately, even with these heroic efforts, the Slovakian ultimately would die at C4 later that night.

-Meanwhile, Geoff rallied John and Anders and they considered the task ahead of them. Emotionally, the climbers were all somewhat drained from the rescue attempts and watching people walk past the dying climbers while they tried to help.  However, Anders said he quickly adjusted to the new situation but was quite worried about the physical danger that Brent and Tashi were facing as they tried to save the stricken climber.  The three climbers were also worried as losing Brent and Tashi meant less oxygen bottles and less manpower in case anything went wrong up high.

-They had started later than other teams and then had tried for almost two hours to rescue the two injured climbers.  They were very cold from the inactivity (Anders estimates it was 25 below and quite windy).  Anders hands were very cold from trying to warm the frozen Dex.  Further, people were now descending having turned around due to the growing wind up above, higher on the ridge.  They wondered that all of this effort might be for naught, that the wind ultimately might prove to be too dangerous to climb all the way to the summit. Despite this, they focused on the task at hand and began to climb rapidly.

-Anders continued to feel very strong and motivated, despite the cold in his hands.  He said his feet felt fine and the climbing helped warm him as well.  Anders said very early, well before official sunrise, due to their altitude, he could see the sun coming up before it began to illuminate the terrain around him.  It was striking to him that he could see the sun and yet it remained dark below him. He could also see a lightning storm hundreds of miles away past Lhotse. It was one of the most amazing and unique views he’ll likely ever see.

-Siddhi was in the lead with Anders behind them.  They soon reached the Balcony at 27,300 feet.  At this point they had been climbing for about 4 hours.  They were now about 40% of the way from C4 up to the Summit.  Their pace had slipped to 10+ hours due to the rescue attempts. Anders remarked that the Balcony was not a very expansive place.  Here they changed oxygen canisters.  They could see more folks coming down.  It was light now.

-Not to far above the Balcony, it became very steep climbing.  In places, the slope pitch up to nearly 60 degrees. Anders commented that there was quite a bit more exposure here (thousands of feet on either side).  They were also more exposed to the wind. Anders climbed aggressively and they began passing people.  (They each carried three small tethers attached to their climbing harnesses.  Two had carabiners and the other their Jumar, or mechanical ascender.  Anders would approach someone and unclip one of his carabineers and place it on the rope on the uphill side of the other climber, who would stand still, carefully slide around him or her, and then unclip and reclip the second carabineer also in front of the other climber.)  During this time that they were passing quite a few people (going both up and down), Anders became separated from Geoff and John.  Occasionally, Anders would see Siddhi, who was shuttling between the three of them, but mostly from this point to the summit, Anders was climbing on his own.

-The climbing here was very difficult and alternated between sections of snow and rock.  The rock was difficult to find purchase on and it was very stressful trying to avoid slipping.  Anders felt very strong, but continued to feel quite cold.  His right hand and especially his right pinky, probably from using the Jumar with that hand, were especially cold.  In Anders’ GoPro video you can see him frequently swinging his right arm to drive more blood out to his hand in an attempt to warm it up.

-This was some of the hardest climbing of the summit push, very steep.  “Objectively horrifying” is how he described it.

-After quite a bit of time he reached the South Summit at 28,500, which as he approached it from below, he had mistakenly thought it was the summit.  (The South Summit is higher than any other mountain in the world, besides Everest itself).  He could now see up to the Hillary Step where some people were descending.  He could also see he still had a lot more climbing to do (over 500 vertical feet).

-Before he could do that however, he first had to down climb about 50 vertical feet.  Anders described this as very steep and scary looking.  It was around 8:30 in the morning and they had been climbing about 9 hours at this point.

-After descending the 50-foot descent from the South Summit, he climbed up a steep, knife-edge ridge.  On both sides (Nepal and Tibet) there was massive exposure.  (The Kangshung Face on the Tibet side has 11,000 vertical feet of exposure and the southwest feet has nearly 8,000 feet).  Here he came upon the Hillary Step. The Hillary Step proved to be difficult climbing.  Near vertical with nothing but air below the crampon points that were holding his feet to the mountain.

-Anders crested the Hillary Step but could not yet see the true summit.  There were several little hills and ridges where several times, Anders remembers thinking this must be the summit.  In the videos you can see it is very windy. (Anders described it as uncomfortable but not enough that he ever considered turning around).  The sky was a brilliant blue.  The terrain was challenging and gaining purchase difficult.  It’s scary stuff to see.  For much of his videos, the picture is partially obscured by the hood of his down suit.  This contributes to the scariness of the videos.

-Finally, in the video, you can see the true summit of Everest not far above him with several people descending.  It’s hard to figure out exactly what’s going on, and Anders’ memory of everything is understandably not precise.  He does remember still feeling very strong and deciding to crank up his oxygen to 4 l/m to help with the final push.  At one point, Siddhi appears to pass him and then Anders calls out to him and says a couple of “concerned” sounding things.  We believe this is where he ran out of oxygen.

-You can clearly hear his very labored breathing as he was now at 29,000 feet with no oxygen.  He literally starts crawling along the slope and you can hear him apparently calling for Siddhi again.  At this point, the GoPro video ends.

-Anders remembers continuing on his hands and knees for some time and finally he reaches the Summit.  He goes up to the Summit and touches it.  There is a picture of the Dali Lama there.  It is now about 10:15 am on May 21st, 2017.  He down climbs about 5-6 feet and takes his backpack off.  His hands are extremely cold now and he begins to exchange his Black Diamond gloves for his Outdoor Research 8,000 meter mittens—the later are much warmer but very clumsy to climb with.

-At this point Siddhi reappeared and passed Anders so that he can also reach the summit.  Anders wanted to get a new O2 canister due to the thin air and his increasing coldness.  Anders noticed Siddhi beginning to put prayer flags on the summit but called out to him and let him know that he is out of Os.  He finally gets a new canister on and cranks it up to 4 L/M.  Siddhi then took a couple of pictures and a short video of Anders with my Sony camera.

-Anders didn’t stay very long at the summit (perhaps 10 minutes).  His only comment on the view (besides it was great) was that he noticed he could see down the other side of the mountain where people climb up from Tibet.  He could see other people climbing up from the south and decided he better try to get down and out of the cold.

-On the way down towards the Hilary Step he passed John and Geoff on the way up.  They hugged and congratulated each other.  Anders tells them he is cold and is going to try to climb down quickly to below the Balcony, out of the wind, where he will wait for them.

-However, when he approached the top of the Hillary Step there was an un-passable bottleneck.  Apparently, a woman climber was “stuck” at the top of the 50-foot descent and unable to progress.  Anders was forced to wait here for a good 45 minutes to an hour, during which time Geoff and John rejoined him.

-The bottleneck finally cleared and they climbed down the Hillary Step (“terrifying” is how he described it).  The climb right below the Step was very steep on the knife-edge ridge.  Very demanding climbing here.

- As Anders started climbing, he realized that his oxygen mask was malfunctioning and his breathing was being obstructed. He did not know this at the time, but the part of the mask that mixes ambient air with the oxygen from the tank had become frozen during the wait on the Hillary step. The result was that each breadth was labored and felt like breathing through a small straw. Anders took off his mask to downclimb the Hillary Step, again climbing up high, without oxygen. After the step, Anders mentioned to Geoff that his mask was not working. Geoff checked the mask and when he realized it was not working, he immediately took off his own mask, removed his oxygen tank from his pack, and gave it to Anders. After they traded masks, Geoff proceeded to climb with the defective mask and very little oxygen for the next ~hour as the mask unfroze. Anders was blown away again by the strength and selfless of Geoff, and this act was just another of the many reasons why he felt fortunate to be on such a strong and compassionate team.

-They climbed back up to the South Summit without major difficulty (although the exposure was very significant).  Below the South Summit the climbing became easier, although they did have to rappel down a couple of shorter, steep sections.

-It became a lot warmer once they reached the Balcony again.  It was about 2 hours climbing down from the Balcony to C4.  It was a lot safer and easier climbing here.  All of them were sore and tired, especially their backs, so Anders said they got a little “lazier” here and stopped every 20-30 minutes to rest for a short bit.

-They came upon the place where they had helped the Slovakian descend earlier that morning.  They saw his backpack and Geoff grabbed it and carried it back to C4 for him.

-Below the Balcony they came upon the rope that had been blown over the ridge earlier.  The red casing of the rope was now worn off from the rope rubbing against the jagged rocks and there was only about “2 mm” of white cord remaining.  They passed this section without incident.

-About a half hour out from C4, Brent radioed Siddhi and Anders talked to him.  Brent congratulated Anders.

-Finally they came back into C4 and arrived about the same time as the rest of the Madison Mountaineering summit team, who were coming up from C3 to summit the next day (which they did).  Billy, Conan, and Sid  (MM guides) congratulated them and helped them.

-Anders found his tent and pulled Brent’s phone out of his pack and called us.  It was about 5:30 am on the East Coast, which means it was about 3:15pm Nepal time—almost 16 hours after they had started the night before.

-We were relieved to hear from him, as we reported in our earlier post.  Anders told us of that he had summited and was safe and sound.  He told us a little bit about some of what had happened.  He also told us he had just run out of O2 again and was very thirsty and still chilled. In that 16 hours, Anders had consumed less than a liter of water and 3-4 bars / gels, so he was clearly depleted.  We talked for about 5 minutes and then Anders wanted to get some new O2, water, etc. as well as find Brent and check on the status of the Slovakian.  We said goodbye and agreed to talk again when he reached C2 the next day.

-Anders crawled in his tent.  Billy brought him O2 and filled his water bottles (which was a godsend).  Sid joined Anders and Brent in the tent.  They rehydrated, had a couple of snacks (candy bars).  Brent was exhausted (so was Anders) from the rescue attempt and from a respiratory infection he had been fighting.  They tried to rest and a couple of hours later Billy came by and told them that the Slovakian had passed away.  With this very sad news, they tried to rest for the climbing that was still ahead of them.

From C4 to Home

-Anders ran out of Oxygen at about 4 am that morning (he had the same bottle at about 1 l/m for nearly 12 hours) but he didn’t want to wake anyone up so he lay there and waited.  Around 8 or 9 am they all got up and Anders was able to get some new oxygen.

-They organized their gear and rested some more.  Finally around 3pm, Brent and Anders left C4 to begin the climb down to C2.  It was extremely hot, especially in their down suits.  There were groups coming up to C4, but it wasn’t really crowded.  They also passed three IMG guides trying to help a climber in trouble down to C3.

-They reached C3 in just 90 minutes and continued climbing quickly down the rest of the Lhotse Face.  They passed a few other climbers coming up.  There was just one rope (the other had disappeared) at this point.

-They reached C2 about 7 pm or so.  They were hot and sweaty and they were also adjusting to not breathing bottled oxygen again, albeit, now at the comparatively thick atmosphere of 21,000 feet.  Anders called us again and we discussed the logistics for him and Brent to get back down to Kathmandu the next day.

-They cooled off and had some Dal Bat and drank some fluids—the Sherpas there helped a lot.  They were in bed by 9 or 10.

-The next day they down climbed through the Ice Fall, and then helicoptered down to Kathmandu.  A few days later we saw him in LA and learned more about this incredible adventure.


Questions and Answers

Here are several questions we posed to Anders:

1. Sum up the overall experience of reaching the summit of Everest and safely returning.

Awesome, hard, and much different than I imagined.  Seeing people dying was not what I had expected, although I probably should have.  The bad decision-making I saw from so many climbers who shouldn’t have been there—it was a constant issue on this route and very scary to see. But this climb was also the realization of a dream and many years of hard work. I feel very fortunate that I was able to stand of top on my first attempt on Everest and the entire experience was infinitely more rewarding than I could have asked for. I learned so much about myself and what I am capable of, and I’ll carry these memories of this trip with me for the rest of my life.

The other defining theme of this trip was the support I received from family, friends, and others before, during, and after the climb. I’m still so moved by the amount of encouraging and supportive messages I received from people who were following along and rooting for my team and me. I’ve never in my life felt such overwhelming support from so many people, and knowing that I had so many people on my side meant the world to me. I’m 100% certain that it would be impossible to reach the top of world without the help of my family and friends, and I’m pretty lucky to have the ones that I do – this climb was a great reminder of that!


2. What is it like to have Brent as your guide and teammate?

It was great.  He’s obviously very knowledgeable about climbing, Everest, Nepal, etc., but he was also very much has a mentor to me.  He’s a good companion.  He’s funny.  He really helped me mentally and spiritually on this climb, and we went through a lot together.  We each carried our own loads and we were very much climbing partners who helped each other. Over the course of the two months we spent together we became incredibly close and shared hours of great conversation (most of which can’t be repeated). Brent became not just my guide, but also a great friend. This trip will likely be just the first of our hopefully many adventures together.

Brent is also a hero is my mind, and what he did on summit day was one of the most selfless and heroic acts I have ever witnessed. Instead of leaving the sick Slovakian to suffer, freeze, and die alone in the night, Brent gave up his chance at summiting (after 50+ days of hard work) to try to save the man. While he did end up passing away, for the last few hours of his life the Slovakian knew that people were with him and trying to save him. Additionally, when he got the man to Camp 4, the Slovakian was warm in a tent and sleeping bag, felt good (he was injected with Adrenaline and had plenty of oxygen), and had people by his side as he passed away. Brent’s personal sacrifice gave this man the ultimate gift of spending the last hours of his life filled with hope and companionship vs. loneliness and suffering. I learned a lot from this, and I hope others do as well.


3. What was it like to climb in your group of four (with Sherpa support)? 

 Climbing as a team with Brent, Geoff, and John was amazing and I feel very lucky to have been a part of this team. We were a good fit in terms of our strength and experience, which made us faster and much safer on the mountain.  We were a small group so we could make decisions quickly and be very strategic with our movement and game plan.  More importantly, we really got along well and quickly became great friends. We laughed a lot, and developed a bit of a reputation as the fun, party group on the mountain. We played music on a portable speaker everywhere we went, and developed our own way of communicating through movie quotes and good-hearted bullying. I’ll miss climbing with these guys every day.


4.  Where does this adventure stack up to others both in terms of sense of accomplishment and degree of difficulty?

 I haven’t really come to a conclusion on where it stacks up versus others in terms of accomplishment – I think this will take some time. On the one hand, I am so excited and happy that I reached the top of the world, which has been a decade+ dream of mine. On the other hand, it was a wild experience and the euphoria of summiting also comes with the memory of watching several climbers get themselves into serious situations and some dying. In terms of difficulty, it was unquestionably the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted due to the length of time we were on the mountain, the altitude, the danger, etc.  That said, I consistently felt it was well within my capabilities physically and mentally—I haven’t reached my limit yet.


5.  Were you ever scared? 

 Not from the climbing.  At any given point, even the parts of the mountain that were objectively ‘scary’, everything felt within my skill set and risk tolerance to handle.  There were places where I had to slow down and consider the best action, but there was never any place I was truly scared. Up until summit day, my biggest concerns were 1) not getting sick from the food, water, etc. and 2) whether or not the weather, crowds, and route would cooperate to give us a chance to go for the summit. Fortunately, I stayed mostly healthy the entire time and, despite being very late season, we did get our shot to attempt the summit.


6.  How did you handle seeing two other climbers so close to death?

At the time I was in pure execution mode and focused on solving the problems I faced and doing what needed to be done. This is what our whole team did – Brent, Geoff, John, and me – we just stopped climbing and immediately tried to help.  I didn’t let it bother me.  I stayed calm and tried to help as best as I could.

After the fact it is a little more complicated. I feel very sad for the climbers that passed away and for their families and friends. I wish that we got there sooner or were able to do more, but unfortunately they were just too far gone by the time we tried to help. I also feel sad that so many people refused to help these men. Maybe we were naïve to think we could help them after they were so close to death, but it is upsetting that so many people walked by and decided that summiting Everest was worth more than trying to help a fellow climber in distress. I’m immensely proud of our team for helping, and as I mentioned before, I think that these men were able to pass a little more peacefully knowing that people were 100% focused on caring for them.


7.  What was the most surprising thing about the climb?

How many inexperienced and under prepared people were there that should not have been there.  It made it more dangerous for everybody else as well. Everest is a truly amazing place – it is big, beautiful, and has so much history that, as a mountaineer, it is impossible not to be excited about climbing there. However, (in my own opinion) there needs to be more work done to ensure that climbers are prepared to approach the mountain safely. This likely means putting restrictions on who can guide (certain certifications) and who can climb (having real climbing experience at altitude and on technical terrain). This would help solve a lot of the current issues and make the mountain much safer for everyone.

On a lighter note – I was also surprised about how hot it got! Climbing in the Western Cwn between Camp 1 and Camp 3 often gets baked by the sun and the ambient climbing temperature felt like it was 100+ degrees. On more than one occasion, we did these sections in our down suits as the weather can quickly change to freezing temperatures and we needed to be prepared. I do not thrive in the heat, and these hot days were the toughest for me physically and mentally.


8.  What did you wish you knew before the trip that you know now?  

Probably that my hood on my down suit would partially block my GoPro video  (my summit video is 50% climbing, 50% orange down suit due to where it was placed on my pack). But honestly, I don’t think I would change anything about my preparation and what I knew going in. As a climbing fan, I knew the route well and the history of the mountain from the first ascent in 1953 to terrible tragedies of the last few years. Despite this, I learned SO MUCH about expedition climbing, Sherpa culture, my teammates, etc. while I was there and I’m glad I had the experience to learn this first hand.

For anyone considering the climb, my biggest piece of advice about what to do before the trip (aside from training to be in the best shape of your life) is to really get to know your team. Make sure the guiding company you go with is safe and runs a solid program (Note: I’d highly recommend the team I went with, Madison Mountaineering). But beyond that, get to know the folks you will be climbing with. I got incredibly lucky with such strong teammates (Brent, Geoff, and John), and this was a HUGE factor in our collective success.


9.  Would you do it again?  

Absolutely, I would definitely climb Everest again, but I’d have to find a way to avoid the crowds and the dangerous climbers.  Maybe the North side or another route.


10.  What’s next? 

 First some rest! After so much time up high in the cold mountains, I’m excited about spending the summer at my home by the beach in Santa Monica and breathing sea-level air, sleeping in a bed, eating good food, and having regular showers. After that, I’m targeting an ultra-marathon (50 miles) in the Bay Area in November and then hopefully completing the Seven Summits down in Australia in December (Mount Kosciuszko). I’m especially excited for that as my family is planning on joining me for the climb. Beyond that, I’d like to do Carstensz Pyramid and perhaps a climbing trip to Peru. But first, some rest .😃

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Anders Reunion!

Judy and I flew out to visit with Anders at his house in Santa Monica:


It was a great visit.  So exciting to be with him after he has achieved so much.  Great to be with him just hanging out.  Great visit.

We spent quite a few hours hearing all the detail on the trip.  I typed up a bunch of it and I suspect we'll post some of it in the near term--I'm amazed by them...

We also saw many of Anders' pictures and videos from those (epic) final days.  I'll leave you with a few screen shots from Anders' GoPro Video as he was high-up on the Summit Ridge, but with a considerable effort and some unexpected challenges ahead....(more shortly):







Monday, May 29, 2017

Madison Mountaineering Recap

This was just posted on the Madison site:

Madison Mountaineering Everest 2017 Recap, “The Leader” on Everest
Success / Safety:
All of our climbers and Sherpas are off the mountain and now and preparing to head home! We have had a fantastically successful expedition, with all 8 of our clients reaching the summit of Everest, along with 4 American guides, and 15 Sherpas. We also had several of our climbers complete the Everest & Lhotse “peak to peak” combination, where they climbed Mount Lhotse (4th highest mountain) the day after reaching the summit of Mount Everest. This amazing and unmatched level of success among all the teams on Mount Everest is secondary to our number one priority, that all members (clients, guides, & Sherpas) made it safely off the peak.
Rope Fixing to the Summit:
Our team took the lead in partnership with the British – Nepal Gurkha team in fixing the ropes to the summit of Mount Everest on May 15th. This was not part of our original plan, as the rope-fixing project was taken upon by several other teams at the start of the season. Unfortunately, after several mishaps, the lead team had to abandon the rope-fixing project along with their partners. Without any clear consensus on how or when the lines would be put in to the summit, our team stepped up to finish the job. This “mission critical” project was necessary so that teams could begin their summit attempts on Mount Everest, with teams reaching the summit the following day on May 16th and continuing to reach the summit today. We are glad that our team had the capability and prowess to organize and execute such an important task, when no other teams on the mountain could summon such an effort, at such a critical stage in the climbing season.
Rescues:
Our team was at the South Col when several climbers who had pushed themselves very hard on summit day returned and needed critical medical attention. Our guides came to assist with medicine (dexamethasone, etc) and supplemental oxygen. However, what stands out the most is that one of our veteran guides, Brent Bishop, along with our Sherpas, rescued the Slovak Climber from the Balcony (27,500’), lowering him all the way down to the South Col high camp. Our Sherpas gave up their oxygen for him to use on the descent. This heroic effort by Brent and our Sherpas involved abandoning their own summit attempt, just hours away from the top, and spending the day giving their all in an effort to save a life.
We feel very fortunate that our expedition was a stunning success. We attribute this to our careful team selection and training, our top notch Everest guides and leadership, and of course our incredible Sherpa team who we invest heavily in year after year.
We are now going to relax and enjoy the post summit euphoria before returning to our friends, families, and loved ones, as well as our busy lives back home! Thanks for following along!

Seeing Anders in LA today!

Judy and I are about to fly out to spend a couple of days with Anders and hear all about all things Everest.  The five of us did a face time with him from the Jersey shore, so we heard some more of the details...


We'll update after we seem him and wrap up this most excellent adventure....

Friday, May 26, 2017

John's detail on the fateful Everest summit push

John, the other 31 YO client, who along with Anders and guides Geoff and Brent were the four person climbing team that we followed over the last two months, just posted his recollections of their summit push.  I wanted to wait until I had more of a chance to talk to Anders to post about his memories from the climb (and will do so).  John did a fantastic job of chronicling the events and his reactions to it that I thought I would just post a copy of it here--it is very well worth the time to read:


POSTED ONMAY 26, 2017
My Summit of Everest

It’s been a couple days since my descent from the upper mountain and I have yet to provide an account of my summit of Mount Everest. I’m going to skip to the evening before our ascent of the world’s tallest peak. For those parents who are having their children follow along, you may want to read the content before allowing them to do so. It was a challenging day and one that I will never forget…

Our speedy ascent from C3 (23,000′) to C4 (25,800′) was in jeopardy as we looked up at the Geneva Spur. The Spur is the large rise of rocks in the saddle that connects the Lhotse Face and the South Col (the saddle between the two mountains) where C4 sits. We looked up at a long line of climbers that were moving at a snails pace. It was 2:30 PM at the time and it would take us two hours to cover a distance that should have taken us only 30 minutes. The climbers that were causing the delay was a Chinese team that was overmatched for the task at hand. As we slowly passed them on the precarious terrain, each one of them looked like they had been to hell and back.

Anders and Brent traversing the Lhotse Face just before reaching the Geneva Spur:



Congestion on the Geneva Spur as Geoff looks back to our team:



When we finally walked onto the South Col at 4:30 PM, we found a camp that was windswept and looked up at the peak of Everest. We quickly took to searching for our tents, which had supposedly been set up by our Sherpas a day prior. Despite our best efforts, we could not find our tent, every single one was occupied. We continued to search but soon found ourselves cold and increasingly tired from the high altitude. After working with our basecamp team on the radio, we soon located a tent that was ours and found two Sherpas sleeping in it. They had sought refuge in it because they thought that it would not be needed since no one had claimed it so late in the afternoon. They were not with our team and we demanded that they move to another tent so that we could get some rest.

A pile of O2 bottles in the middle of C4 on the South Col:


Looking up from C4 at the foot of the Southeast Ridge of Everest:



Brent, Geoff, Anders and I crawled into the tent as soon as they had moved out and quickly got back on the radio for weather reports. We spent the next 30 minutes getting the other tent set up and discussing our options for our summit attempt. At this point it was 5:30 and we were exhausted. The weather forecasts came in from EBC and it appeared that our best weather window would in fact be the following day, which meant that we would be climbing that evening. My morale was dwindling and I was very apprehensive about the prospect of making a summit attempt on zero sleep, after just climbing almost 3,000 vertical feet.

As a team, we finally decided that we would need to make our attempt that evening. Geoff and I settled into the second tent and I expressed my concerns over pushing through 6,000′ vertical feet in a 24 hour period. Deep down, I knew that it was the correct decision but the exhaustion manifested itself in a rather negative outlook. Geoff understood but we knew what had to be done.

We would begin our push at 11 PM, which left just enough time for us to eat some dehydrated food and melt snow for two liters of water each, which would be all that we had for our summit attempt. By the time that we had eaten and filled our Nalgene bottles it was 8:30 PM. We spent the next couple of hours preparing our packs, prepping our gear and closed our eyes for a brief moment. It was impossible to sleep as the wind beat our tent and the sound of the winds passing over the Col sounded like a freight train. It seemed like only a few minutes had passed when our alarms went off and we sprung into action.

Brent and Anders were ready first, so they set off up the mountain, ahead of Geoff and I. Once we were ready, we began our slow pace through the dark night. The wind burned my eyes and cheeks as we crawled up the hill just outside of C4. We were the last team to break camp for a summit attempt and I looked up at a line of headlamps that stretched across the Southeast Ridge of Mount Everest. It was all that I could see, outside of the few feet ahead of me that were illuminated by my headlamp. I felt as if I were an astronaut in space, alone.

After about a couple hours of climbing, I noticed something to my left, a frozen body. I had come prepared to see death on the mountain but despite this anticipation, it gave me chills. I soon crawled through a chute of rocks and I noticed that the rest of the team had stopped. I will never forget what I saw next… Geoff was knelt down next to a man who was laying on his back. As I drew closer, I saw his face, frozen from exposure and his right hand naked and contorted with his fingers twisted in an unnatural manner. Judging by the rips in his down suit, he had fallen and been unable to recover. His eyes and mouth were frozen open and he moaned in pain. Geoff was scrambling for meds that are used to revive altitude victims as Anders, Brent and I did what we could to support, while also trying to get the man to gain consciousness. It was not enough, the man had been in the cold too long and it was clear that he would soon be dead. We tried to tuck his bare hand into his suit but his body was rigid and he was unresponsive, despite his flailing and moaning. We did everything that we could but knew that it had been too little too late. I looked down and noticed an ice axe that was lying next to him with his name on it.

As we stood next to him, another climber came to us and told us of a disoriented man who was just 50 feet above. We turned our attention to this man, who lay on the steep snow bank and had similar shreds in his down suit. He lay there, pleading for help to get down the mountain. His blonde mustache was frozen into an icicle but he was far more responsive than the man that we had just tried to help. We administered meds to him and urged him to get to his feet but he was unable. As he lay there, we discussed his condition and we knew what had to be done. Anders, Brent, Geoff and I decided that we had to take him down to C4, knowing full well that we would forego our summit of Everest. Geoff and Anders rigged a rope off the main fixed line, while Brent and I began to drag the man down the mountain. It was exhausting as we pushed and pulled him down, while Geoff let rope out. Within minutes of beginning our descent, one of our Sherpa’s Tashi, had climbed back down from the Balcony, a couple hundred feet above us. Tashi said that he would take the climber down and Brent agreed to assist him. Despite our apprehension, Brent encouraged Anders, Geoff and I to continue on to the summit and we eventually agreed to do so, knowing that the two of them would be able to get him down to a tent.

Neither man had an oxygen mask or canister with him. It dawned on me that both men had probably climbed on the 20th and descended late in the day, becoming disoriented from lack of oxygen and exhaustion. Being the last team to depart that evening, I knew that teams had begun ascending Everest at around 7 PM and that every single one of them had passed these men, fixated on the opportunity to summit. I felt nauseous knowing that so many had passed these men and had been unwilling to help them. One was too far gone to help, while the other was hanging onto his life by a thread. Perhaps, if we had arrived a couple hours earlier, we would have been able to save both of them. This was a moment in my life when I lost a little faith in humanity…

As the three of us pushed upward, conversation was limited to occasionally checking on one another to make sure that we were doing OK. I felt sick to my stomach and could not get the image of the man writhing on the ground with his face frozen from exposure to the elements. The darkness of the night made for a lonely ascent and I eagerly awaited the sunrise. When we finally reached the balcony, the sun slowly peeked over the horizon and we scrambled for cached O2 canisters. As we changed out our O2, we didn’t speak much. We were all in shock and our minds remained with the man who was being carried down by Brent and Tashi. Geoff did his best to get us to regain our focus but he knew that it was a feeble attempt.  With our O2 replenished, we pushed up the ridge. At this point, Siddhi and Anders were out front with Geoff and I following. The sun helped to warm us, after our bodies had cooled during the two hours that we had spent attempting to rescue these two men. I wish I could say that the sunlight on the face of Everest brought me some happiness but I was too exhausted from a lack of sleep and felt sickened by what we had just experienced. We pushed on, digging deep for energy…

The Summit Team: Me (bottom left), Anders (top left), Siddhi (top right), and Geoff (bottom right):



Climbing towards the South Summit after switching out O2 canisters:



Taking a rest at an anchor just before reaching the South Summit:



After a few hours, we had ascended the ridge and reached the South Summit, which lies at 28,500′. Before us was the famous Hillary Step, congested from climbers trying to weave through one another, some descending and others who were still ascending. Anders and Siddhi had maneuvered through some of the traffic, leaving Geoff and I behind. Geoff and I briefly became separated due to some climbers who were descending, causing me to wait to pass.

Geoff was about 150 feet ahead of me when I began climbing through the section of rock before the Hillary Step. This was the point when I realized that something was wrong. My footwork on the rock was sloppy and I couldn’t seem to gain my footing, despite my best efforts. I felt drunk and seemed to be losing consciousness. I was scared and didn’t know what was happening to me. When I was able to gain enough composure, I braced myself on a rock and checked my O2 gage, which read zero. I had been climbing at 28,500′ without oxygen and hadn’t heard the noise of my canister running out because of the loud winds.

Geoff had been watching as I uncharacteristically struggled with my normally sound footwork. I waved him over and he rushed to my side. As soon as I told him that I had run out of O2, he quickly removed his own canister and attached it to my regulator. This was one of the most selfless acts that I had ever witnessed and I could hardly believe as I regained my composure. After a couple of minutes, I came to and was able to begin moving again. Geoff was now out of O2 and we had to find Siddhi, who was carrying the extra canister. When we had sent Tashi down, he had gone with an extra O2 canister, so the only person carrying extra was Siddhi, who was already near the summit with Anders.

The Summit Ridge of Mount Everest. Notice climbers nearing the top:


Geoff and I moved slowly across the extremely exposed summit ridge. I was still somewhat woozy from overexerting myself without supplemental oxygen, so Geoff moved forward to try to find Siddhi as quickly as possible. Soon he came into sight, as he had come back to check on us. We quickly placed a fresh canister in Geoff’s pack and we took a few moments to catch our breath, before pushing to the summit just ahead.

At 10:45 AM, Geoff and I, side by side, walked onto the summit of Mount Everest. I shed a few tears of happiness and relief as we looked at the prayer flags that adorned the highest point in the world. I thought of the struggles of the past 24 hours but soon found myself reflecting on the events in my life that had led up to this point. I thought of my Mom and her unwavering love and support throughout my life. I thought of my Dad and his influence in helping me discover my passion for climbing. I knew that they were with me in spirit and my soul was warmed knowing that they were there with me, as well as a true friend who would risk his own life for me.

The Summit of Mount Everest:



After five minutes, we were in a hurry to descend.

Anders had already begun to descend but Geoff, Siddhi and I spent about five minutes on the summit, taking a few pictures before we decided it was time to descend. It was late in the day and we needed to move quickly before afternoon weather moved in. Still groggy from my incident on the South Summit, I focused on every step to move quickly and safely down the mountain. Unlike our ascent, the descent was smooth and without issue.

It took us four hours to make our descent to the South Col and throughout the entire time my mind wandered from thoughts of our accomplishment to the horrors that we had witnessed just hours earlier. I was exhausted from the effort and lack of sleep but found comfort in strength in my amazing team. As C4 came into view, we passed the body of the man that we had tried so hard to save. He lay on his back, frozen, while other descending climbers stopped to look. I couldn’t look at him but saw the ice axe with his name and I said a prayer for him and his family.

As we walked into C4 and the other members of our team surrounded us with hugs and congratulations, I once again found my mind wandering. While my summit of Mount Everest had included feelings of elation for accomplishing what I had worked so hard to do, I was disheartened. The man that Brent had carried down would die in a tent 24 hours later, after hours and hours of medical attention. I couldn’t help but wonder what had gone through the minds of all the people who had passed these two men on their way to the summit. What would posses someone to find more value in a summit of a pile of rocks than in helping to save the life of another human being? Why did it take the last team on the mountain to do something? I’m not sure that I will ever understand why but I do know that there is hope in the world, as long as there are people like Anders, Brent and Geoff. Life is far more valuable than a summit of Mount Everest and these brothers of mine are shining examples of the character that we should strive to uphold.

My summit of Mount Everest will forever be a bittersweet memory of one of the greatest accomplishments of my life but also the challenges that humanity faces. I hope that you will remember my story, always follow your dreams, and never turn a blind eye to those in need.

-John

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Anders back in the USA!

He survived a 25+ hour travel back to LA, landing shortly before 8 LA time this morning.  so awesome to have him back and not exposed to all of the risks of the high Himalaya.

Looks like Judy and I will probably go visit him in LA and celebrate both his amazing accomplishments and his May 1st birthday (when as he says, he migrated further into the late 20s/early 30s period of his life).

I plan to update this blog with the following:

1. details on the climb from C2 to the summit and back down to EBC, including the two rescue attempts.

2. more pics

3. Judy and my observations

4. anything else anders wants to add

5.  possibly a reunion of the team next week in Cali

After that it's back to how many yards I swam last week and how much my knee hurts--I expect that the 2000 of you that have been following will stay riveted....

Brent on CBS....

Anders is about an hour out from LA--can't wait to have him back on US soil!

Here is a CBS news cast with Brent in it (they interviewed Brent in Kathmandu):

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/nepal-officials-doubtful-about-4-bodies-reported-on-everest/ar-BBBtiKL?ocid=se