EVEREST SOUTH 2016
EVEREST SOUTH 2016
Mt. Everest is the tallest mountain in the world and it's a peak Nelson has attempted twice before, in 2011 and 2013. He first climbed with Peak Freaks and the second time with Altitude Junkies. This attempt was also with Altitude Junkies, again on the South Side of Everest through Nepal. Unfortunately he suffered from early signs of HAPE as he reached the South Col (26,000 ft) and had to abandon his attempt. Below is his story from that trip.
April 2nd, 2016
April 2nd, 2016
***(My Delorme GPS link is up and running in case you want to see EXACTLY where I am at ALL times: https://share.delorme.com/NelsonDellis)***
Day one in the books. Filled with last minute errands and Fire and Ice pizza (think Nepali food, then think pizza, then think how Nepali pizza probably isn't very good, then think how if I ate at this place how good their pizza must actually be). Since our team is helicoptering into Namche Bazaar tomorrow (into the Everest Khumbu Valley) we all decided to get sweet badass shades to wear on the flight, since flying via chopper is as badass as it comes. Pics coming tomorrow
Being in Kathmandu again for the third time, and after three years, it feels a bit bizarre. Some of my memory palaces I use to memorize are from here and I realized they are actually spatially incorrect. Whoops. Guess I constructed them wrong in my head. But also, it's interesting comparing 27 year old, first time Everest climber, to now 32 year old Nelson, 3rd time Everest climber. Back then, I was so excited for this, everything so new and exciting. Now it's all like, seen this done that, let's go climb and do this. I like that. It's more natural, taking care of business style. BRING IT ON!!
For now, off to bed. We have an early start.
April 3rd, 2016
April 3rd, 2016
I'm pretty sure people thought we were snobs in the KTM airport this morning. Filled with Trekkers and climbers, we made it known to all that we weren't flying fixed wing, but rather by helicopter. We did the thing! Flew by helicopter! No one does that haha. Were we obnoxious? Probably. Did our matching team aviator sunnies make us unbearable? Definitely. But I don't care, because we saved ourselves from having to trek in from Lukla to Namche (notorious for its mega hill) and also because I got one of the most beautiful flights (and coolest) is ever been on! Gosh that was awesome.
When we landed in Namche, we unloaded the chopper and trekked downhill until we hit our lodge, the Moon Light lodge. Cozy little place with basic enough rooms and decent food.
I of course had Sherpa Stew, which is my absolute favorite dish here in the Everest valley - I've waited 5 years to have it again. It was glorious. Then we climbed down to the center of town for some bakery items and wifi. But I was so exhausted. Jet lag is still killing me. So a short nap came after and then just now, yummy Yak steak dinner.
Who knew climbing Everest was so easy and relaxing! Kidding...
April 4th, 2016
April 4th, 2016
I really saw her! She was huge! Beautiful! Naked! Made of mountain!
Went on a short, relaxed acclimatization hike today and saw her, the big E, poking her head through the clouds. I had that moment where all of a sudden I felt incredibly tiny and I said to myself “Shit, I have to climb that thing??” It felt so far away and so frigging BIG. It might as well have been on a different planet.
While it definitely brings up those kinds of feelings, I also get really excited. It’s that feeling that I climb for, for that exact feeling. It’s hard to explain, but it’s something along the lines of that it humbles me; re-aligns me. Any problems I have in my life just disappear because I realize that they just don't matter in the grand scheme of things. I'm just a tiny insignificant thing and that massive Everest rock is millions of years old, bigger than most things I can fathom. It’s a pretty sweet feeling.
So there’s that.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in downtown Namche, forced into visiting a new cafe owned by the owner of the lodge we’re staying at. He was REALLY excited to take us all there and buy us each a coffee (he kept reminding us every 5 minutes until we agreed to go). Anyways, it was actually the chiquest place I’ve seen in the whole Everest Valley. It had trendy music playing, trendy lighting, trendy coffee, everything trendy. Very impressive for being in practically in the middle of nowhere. As Nepal is begging for any tourist business it can get, I gotta give it a plug: Sherpa Barista (follow them on Facebook HERE) and if you ever trek into BC, make sure to stop there and have a drink.
Tomorrow we head up to Deboche. We'll do the famous Tengboche hill, which is a killler only because it zig zags you up a path for some serious grueling elevation gain and then forces you down -- LIKE ALL THE WAY DOWN -- back to the valley river. Not cool, Tengboche. Not cool. Our lodge for the night is right after that.
Before I sign off, I’d love to make a couple of shout outs to my main sponsors of this trip. Both great companies doing really great things. The first, Lokai, you may know for their awesome life-balance bracelets. The bracelet holds both water from Everest and mud from the Dead Sea, signifying the highs and lows of life, encouraging balance. The company started for a similar reason as my charity: Alzheimer’s. So it made sense to partner as that’s what I climb for.
The second company is Denali Therapeutics, a research company looking deep into therapies to fight against cognitive affecting diseases. Their logo and company name is Denali, the tallest peak in America and they see that fighting these cognitive diseases is difficult and extremely challenging like climbing a peak. Hence the synergy.
I’d like to give them both a big thank you and am honored to take their logos up to the summit!
April 5th, 2016
April 5th, 2016
Honestly. Where are the climbers, the Trekkers, the yaks? The Everest valley is so empty right now. It's eerie. I've only got 2011 to base this comparison on, but Alan and the rest of the team (who between them, have been out here dozens of times) agree as well.
There were rumors that this was going to be the case. Less people climbing the big mountain (and I guess less people trekking). Phil even said there are rescue choppers hanging at Lukla with nothing to do. No one is here to get rescued! Crazy. This bodes well for us up high though. Less crowds == more chance of success!!
Anyways, we made it to Deboche today at around noon for some yummy Dhal Baht, staying at the sweet Rivendell Lodge. What a trek today. My pack is super heavy since I'm carrying all these cameras, and we had to go up Tengboche Hill, a steep-as-hell rise up to the famous Tengboche Monestary. I remembered doing it in 2011 and really finding my groove. Not so much today. I felt super sluggish. Heavier than I was in 2011. But I made it. I may have been sluggish but I'm feeling good mentally. All good there.
Filmed a bit with my VR camera. Did I mention I'm lugging up the Nokia OZO VR camera? Think "first ever Everest virtual reality footage." YUP. Given to me by Lokai and Not a Billionaire. Just a quick mention to Not a Billionaire, the third sponsor of my climb, helping make the visual content of this climb INCREDIBLE.
April 8th, 2016
April 8th, 2016
5 years ago I was a naive little 27 year old who thought he had what it took to climb Everest. Spoiler alert: I didn't. I tried my best, but boy did that experience humble me. I remember back then I had just come off my 2011 USA Memory Championship win, the first one for me, and I felt unstoppable. Thinking back, what I would kill to have that blind confidence again. But even so, here I am 5 years later and I've been beaten up a good number of times since then. All for the better though.
The last few days we stayed in Dingboche, in somewhat of a cell service dead zone (yeah yeah, I know Alan Arnette got some blogs out but he is a mastermind at finding 3G where there is none), acclimatizing with some day hikes and drinking way too many cups of Khukery Rum for Phil's birthday (he's 46), where Barbara got him a beautiful cake that beautifully read: "Happy Birthday Barbara". Good times all around. Then we got up early this morning and trekked a relatively short day up to Lobuche, the last sort of civilized outpost before base camp.
I had forgotten completely about this part of the trek from 2011 but as soon as we climbed over Dingboche it all came racing back. This was the exact moment I remembered thinking how lucky I was to be climbing Everest back in 2011, and I was feeling it again walking back through the same route. Let me try to explain it to you:
First of all, Dingboche is a village. The houses are made of plywood and tin roofs. The "Main Street" is just a dusty carved pathway lined with rocks stacked on either side to mimic walls separating the local's potato growing plots (the potatoes in this village are DA BOMB btw, I'm not even joking). Anyways, the village is tucked away on the back side of this pretty big hill (I'd call it mountain if it wasn't for the other massive mountains around it), so to get out of it you need to slowly plod up said back side hill. Once you clear it you're suddenly slapped in the face with a clearing that exposes some of the most massive snow covered peaks you have ever seen in your entire life. And it's not just one, or two, or even three. They are ALL around you. And it just makes you feel yay small (imagine me squeezing my fingers together to show how infinitesimally small I'm trying to explain). Yet, there you are. Walking, one step after the other, taking you from one side of that clearing to the other which looks like a MASSIVE distance, but you manage to get there in just an hour of quiet trodding along. And then you face a massive hill, which you need to climb, but the air is so thin that you just have to accept taking one slow step at a time. And then you reach the top and are yet again faced with the most breathtaking views of multiple monstrous peaks, as well as, memorials for all the fallen legendary climbers of Everest.
And then you finally arrive at Lobuche another hour later, exhausted, covered in dirt, trying to find your breath. And you enter a tea house, joining the rest of your team to stuff your face with some delicious dhal bhat.
YES. That is what it's all about. It's hard to explain what that feels like. It's a you-gotta-be-there-to -get-it kinda thing. I seriously hope all of you who follow me try something like this before you die. Not even kidding.
In what might be the most exciting news of the day though, I ran into the Sherpa dog from 2011!!! He's still climbing! For those that don't remember he is this dog that apparently climbs up and down the valley with climbers and even up to Camp 2 on Everest (he jumps on his owners back when crossing the crevasse ladders). You can see him in my Everest 2011 Camp 1 to Camp 2 video on YouTube if you can find it. Anyways that made me happy. He let me rub his belly.
Now I'll probably get diarrhea.
April 10th, 2016
April 10th, 2016
We made it to base camp yesterday. That trek kicked my ass and I have a horrendous headache. It will pass though.
Coming into base camp is always like that. We're just gonna spend the next five days doing nothing so we can properly acclimatize. So that's good, I can catch up on some mental training and get some sweet footage for the VR camera I'm lugging around with me.
I guess it's about time I give a little mention about my team mates:
Nelson - That's me.
Phil - Our team leader NOT our guide (he will stress that). He's summitted Everest 7 times and has gone on over 40 8000m peak expeditions. Woah.
Ben - An Aussie electrician. He previously summitted Everest in 2012 with Peak Freaks and is here with his wife Laura to do it again. He's gotta heck of a good sense of humor but the most unintelligible accent.
Laura - Ben's wife and first time Everest climber. She is or was a professional cyclist and has a fashion blog type thing on the side. And she shares my birthday, what the...
Robert - Climbing buddy from Everest 2013. Robert has come short on Everest 2 times prior (like me), so we share a lot of the same struggles here. He owns the TOP motorcycle dealer in the USA (and by top he means he has gone to the top of the world. Does that count? Ehhh....)
Barbara - The queen of bad luck. She had a crappy situation happen to her on Everest in 2013 (faulty oxygen tank) and then was here the last two years (Avalanche and earthquake). So she is here for the 4th time to finally, hopefully, get to the top. She's from Guatemala and stands in malls all day raising money for her climbs.
Lyle - South African fitness guru. He climbs for Huntingtons Disease and was also here last year (cut short by the Avalanche). He is a strong dude and fast as hell. He'll summit before anyone even knows he has. Not sure what he does for work but it sounds super top secret.
Alan - The famous Alan Arnette. He's actually climbing Lhotse (which is the 4th highest peak and attached to Everest high camp). He's one of the top reporters on all things Everest and has an awesome blog. He also climbs for Alzheimer's like me.
So there you have it. Between us, we were calculating this morning, we have 28 8000m expeditions (not including Phil's). That's a lot of experience! Looks like our Puja ceremony will be on the 14th (that's where we do a big party and blessing on everything before we start climbing).
April 12th, 2016
April 12th, 2016
When I was about 21, I went to visit New Zealand. It was kind of a graduation gift from my parents and I was so stoked. The reason I was going? Because I was an epic Lord of the Rings fan.
But no matter, the reason I wanted to go so badly is because of all the mountainous scenery the movies showed me. I didn't believe that that kind of epicness existed and I just had to see it for real.
So I went, and loved it, and geeked out, and saw all the mountains. I loved it so much that I actually came home after the two week trip and then flew right back over for another week. This time I stayed with my guide and her parents. This is important because while the father looked 100% like Gandalf the Grey, he also had some serious photo collections of his climbs up Mt. Cook (the tallest mountain in New Zealand). And he made sure to show me. I remember looking at those pictures thinking, Wait, normal people can climb mountains? Maybe being a Gandalf lookalike isn't normal to most people, but he seemed like a normal person to me.
I always say that that's when the germ of an idea of climbing mountains originated. After that, I always found myself not necessarily climbing mountains, but at least traveling to see them, whether it was heading to the Swiss Alps, the Moroccan Atlas Mountains, or the Andes. And it wasn't until I saw a little show in late 2007 on the Discovery Channel called "Everest: Beyond the Limit" that my fate was sealed. I was going to climb Everest.
I wasn't sure how or what that even meant, but I was going to do it. I remember telling my parents in a very passionate and sure way that I was going to do it and I was met with both laughter and anger (I think part of them thought I was joking and another part of them thought I was an idiot). So like anything in the world that's a dream, I took baby steps toward it. I didn't necessarily know how one goes about climbing Everest, but I was sure as hell gonna try and find out! I read about a dozen books on the subject of mountaineering, starting with Into Thin Air, then reading just about every Ed Viesturs book, and then every other Everest disaster book. Many of those books were pretty grim, but for some reason I was getting more and more motivated to do this thing.
Then I realized I needed to learn how to actually climb. How to actually survive on a mountain. So in May 2008 I headed out to Seattle to join a training course set up by Alpine Ascents on Mt. Rainier. It was an 8-day Denali prep course. I actually had no intention of climbing Denali after but it was the only course available since I had joined so last minute.
So I did the course, fucking hated it, but summitted, but absolutely frigging hated it. Did I mention I hated it? I almost gave up and went home 45 minutes in from the parking lot. Another dude actually did give up that fast and I was like, Yeah I feel his pain, this sucks. It was snowing blizzard style and I quickly realized mountaineering isn't a fun game. But for some reason I stayed - probably because I was too embarrassed to quit so fast like the other guy. And before I knew it, a few days later, I was standing on the summit. We came down, had some beers wearing our panda-eyes sunburns proudly, announcing at every moment we could get that while it was a cool experience, we would never climb anything again. No way in hell!
One year later I was standing on the summit of Denali, than a year later on Mont Blanc, and then in 2011 I finally found myself in a position to climb Mt. Everest - so much for never climbing again. I didn't summit but I got real close (the Hillary Step, 50m from the top). I was devastated but stayed the course and found myself giving it another go in 2013, this time from the Tibetan North side. Failed again, coming short about 250m.
Frustrating as hell.
And here I am again, in 2016, almost ten years later after watching that Everest show thinking to myself, I'm gonna climb that thing, on Mt. Everest preparing to climb it once and for all.
And to make the story even more circular, last night we had happy hour at our base camp with the one and only Russell Brice (the head guide of Himalayan Experience, the main star of that same Everest show). It's absurd to me that years ago I was just a young little punk dreaming of Everest, watching this guy on TV run an Everest expedition, and now here I am an experienced Everest climber years later, laughing together over boxed wine with that very same guy!
Who would have thought I would have ever made it to the mountain, let alone three times. I would have loved to summit that first time (it would have saved me a lot of money, time, and effort), but I have to admit that I am grateful for having failed twice before. I think I learned so much about who I am and was and will be, just by failing on that mountain. It's the cliché thing to say, but those failures are what drive you. Fall down seven times, get up eight. It that balance of highs and lows in life. Ups and downs. But it's true, what else is life but trying to accomplish the things that we dream about, that we can't erase from our minds, the things that we are basically telling ourselves, Hey, see that experience over there? I want that as one of my memories. A memory that lasts a lifetime.
April 15th, 2016
April 15th, 2016
Puja was yesterday. What a gorgeous day. It had snowed a bit the night before but the sky was clear blue. The lama arrived the night before and was setting up at around 8 in the am. We ate breakfast and then gathered around the altar while he sang some Tibetan scripts.
Pujas are necessary for Sherpas to climb. They won't without one. The purpose is to ask the mountain to allow to climb her. We also bless and pardon the tools we'll be using on the mountain (ice axe, crampons, tools, etc).
The ceremony itself is always a beautiful thing to watch and really gets me appreciating where I am. But the fun starts after. The Sherpas go around to each of us making us do shots if Sherpa rum. Ouch. Then the bottomless cups of Chang circulate (rice beer), and finally the beers. It's 9am and we're made to aggressively drink. Again, ouch.
The Sherpas did their little Sherpa dance, we drank, socialized with the team, then passed out in our tents.
Rest day today, although the Sherpas went up to camp 2 to carry some loads. Hats off to them. BEASTS! We will head out into the ice fall tomorrow for or first foray. Nothing crazy, maybe an hour or two deep and then we will come back. Just to get out climbing legs going.
Let the climbing begin!'
April 18th, 2016
April 18th, 2016
4am, go time. Daylight is just up and I'm freezing in my sleeping bag. But I need to crawl out of it. We're leaving for our first climb out of Base Camp into the deadly Khumbu Ice Fall.
The first objective: get out of my bag and into my climbing clothes with minimal heat loss. I'm freezing, yes, but not as freezing as I'll be if I fuck this up. First step, put my light puffy jacket on - that'll keep my core warm when I get out of my bag. Then my socks and boot liners. Then pants, which I've slept with next to me in my bag so they're already warm.
Okay, I'm good.
Now to brace for the cold outside. It's cold, but relatively warm for this time of year. Tolerable.
Now breakfast. I'm not particularly hungry, but I need the energy. I scarf down some eggs, baked beans, and toast.
Alright, let's go!
Out the door, it's 6am, cold, relatively light out, and I'm pumped. It's been 5 years since I climbed through this thing. The last season I was here, I loved it. One of the most dangerous parts of the mountain, the Ice Fall is a glacial labyrinth rising nearly 1000m above Base Camp. This thing is alive, moving 6 feet a day and avalanching constantly. For some reason though, the challenge this part of the mountain offers is like non other to me. It scares me shitless before I enter it and after when I think back on it, but while I'm in it I just lose myself. Nevermind the massive ice blocks that could crack and crush me instantly, nevermind the large seracs that could break off and cause a hellish avalanche situation. Climbing up, down, around, below, rappelling, jumaring, front-pointing, it's got everything. New York's hottest night club is....the Khumbu Ice Fall.
Maybe it's the danger that makes it so exciting, I don't exactly know. You need to move fast in it or you risk being in some seriously precarious situations. In 2011, the Ice Fall route (as best as I can remember it) was challenging but straight-forward and quick, with a generous amounts of ladders to join crevasses. It took me and my buddy Kevin (who now guides for Adventures Global) a short 3 hours to navigate. I remember there being a good amount of ladders to cross and climb (maybe 40-50?). This year, not so much. We crossed only 4 and there was a report of a 4-strung ladder higher up (we didn't climb all the way through the Ice Fall just yet but probably 70% of it to get a little taste). This year was HARD and challenging. All ice, real vertical. Lots of steep sections. I liked it, but it left me super tired.
We headed back down as soon as the sun hit (ITS SO UNSEASONABLY WARM HERE ALREADY!). You do not wanna be in the Ice Fall when it's hot and melting. I was fine with that. Down climbing is my jam, probably because I just throw myself down the slope and in my head I think I look real cool (but probably don't). There was one steep rappel option I took (you could take the slightly less steep option to the right), and man did that wake me up and get my adrenaline going. LOVED IT.
All in all, we all got back to Base Camp safe and relatively quickly. There were a few other teams in the Ice Fall, but we smoked them. Great sign. We're a strong team. I really felt in the moment and climbing in it really reminded me of why I'm here and why I love climbing on ice. Would I rather be chilling on a couch eating a pizza with my fiancé back home, definitely. That's the easy option. But being out here, putting myself in a calculated, somewhat safe, risk and pushing myself, there's nothing like it.
Now we're back here for a few days. Our Sherpas (only a few at a time) will continue carrying a couple loads to Camp 2 to continue setting it up. Once that's ready we will head up to do our first rotation. Word has it that most teams are going to do a one rotation approach this year, to avoid trips through the Ice Fall. That means we go through once, chill at Camp 2 for a while (5-7 days to acclimatize at 6400m) and then maybe tag Camp 3 if it's set up, then come back down. Then wait till the weather window opens and then we GO! Summit time. The weather is like May weather already so it could very well be an early summit window. Let's see.
One last tidbit. We had Russ over for dinner again last night but he had a special guest with him...Conrad Anker!! He was super humble and jam-packed with climbing history. I couldn't help asking him about whether he thought Mallory summitted Everest first (since he found the body in 1999). He thinks "no way." Interesting. He also had some serious interest in my team-mate Laura's Louis Vuitton high heel, bright pink, spiked stilettos (yes she actually brought them, no she isn't planning on wearing them on the mountain). He said he would post a picture of them on his Instagram, so keep an eye out. Wine was flowing, and emotions got high, but it was another memorable night. Super cool.
What next? Today was a rest day for all teams to pay respect to the Sherpas lost in the 2014 Avalanche. So Sherpas climb tomorrow, some teams will do their Puja, then I'm sure the Ice Fall will get slammed by numerous teams climbing up. We will probably go back up April 22-23 or so. Stay tuned!
April 21st, 2016
April 21st, 2016
We have some updates!
Phil went to a team rope fixing meeting the other day. Choppers will be flying the ropes up to Camp 1 today or tomorrow. This is flipping awesome because it means the Sherpas won't have to carry them through the Ice Fall. Safety for everyone! It's a historic first.
Yesterday was a rest/exercise day. I went up to Pumori Advanced Base Camp, which took me up to about 5700m and I just chilled there for an hour to breath the thin air. Two awesome things happened.
1. I saw what was probably the MOST amazing view of Everest I have ever seen! I've always thought that the view from Kala Pattar (a nearby trekking peak) was the best because you can see the whole top, but from Pumori, holy hell! You can see the North side AND South side of the mountain at the same time, if that makes any sense. Here is a photo. You can see base camp (yellow/orange tents below), the North Col (far left), the whole North Face (the left side of the mountain), the South side route (right side of the mountain), Lhotse (that rocky jutting out in the middle), the Lhotse face (below that), EVERYTHING! SO awesome.
2. As I was trekking up I ran into Roger, an Aussie I climbed with in 2011! Small world. Apparently he's back to climb Lhotse. Always funny to see old faces.
That's all for now!
Here's a cool picture of a sweet moonrise we had the other night. Bye.
April 24th, 2016
April 24th, 2016
Finally the ropes were helicoptered in to Camp 1 yesterday. This was a super historic event. Up until yesterday no government sanctioned helicopter assistance has ever been made on this mountain. Typically ALL gear, supply, and ropes has been carried up by human strength through the Ice Fall, so this new move makes it a lot safer for all.
Tonight at 1am we will set out through the Ice Fall to Camp 1 for a night, then on to Camp 2 the next day for as many nights as we can tolerate.
Camp 2 is at about 6400m and not a fun place to stay a long time. We have tents and nice food and a dining tent and all that but it's super cold and the altitude really can hit you and drain you. Phil's allowing us an open schedule so if we feel like crap we can just come back down, but the idea is to sleep a few nights there to keep our red blood cells doubling.
Not sure if we will have any connection up there so this could be the last post for a few days. Make sure to follow my GPS tracker though. That'll be working.
April 28th, 2016
April 28th, 2016
It's been a couple days but we are back at Base Camp. Yesterday we were at Camp 2. And the day before that, we were at Camp 1. The Ice Fall is HARD this year, wow. It changes every year and maybe I had an easy year in 2011 (flew through it in 3 hours), but this year took 5.5. Some of us even took up to 8 to 10 hours. Holy hell. What a challenge.
We had ventured into it a week or so ago and we thought we had made it to about 3/4 of the way up. Wrong. Apparently that was barely just half way. And after that was some major ups and downs. And to top it off, at the end was a huge wall that was insane to climb. I climbed it and spent 15 minutes sprawled out on top to catch my breath. Ouch. Not sure how some other people are gonna climb that thing...Then another hour of zig zagging and we were at Camp 1. I collapsed inside my tent but I had made it, and in decent time I guess. The rest of the day was pretty miserable, getting so bloody hot in the tent (I was practically naked), then the sun disappearing and a breeze coming through and it was suddenly freezing. I was tenting with Sangey Sherpa who was a rock star and boiled water for me because I was too wrecked.
We ate dinner at 5 (freeze dried chicken and rice FTW) and then it was lights out. My body was sore so it was tough to stay still in my sleeping bag. I didn't sleep very well. Not to mention we were at 6000m.
We woke up at 4am the following day and Sangey was already boiling water again. He's fucking awesome. Then out of nowhere we hear someone singing "Her name was Lola..." - it was Phil having just arrived at Camp 1 (he left Base Camp at midnight and was stopping by to say hi). He gave us a small pep talk and then was gone POOF up to Camp 2 already. We followed suit and packed up our things and made way. I lagged a little, leaving at 20 past 5 (I wanted more sunlight and hopefully more warmth, but it was windy as hell so no cigar).
Sangey and I made our way out of Camp 1 and it was 5 vertical ice wall sections back to back - what a way to start the morning. I was exhausted 10 minutes in and was seriously thinking to myself "well alright I guess I can't do this." But somehow I did, and at the top of that last wall you could actually see the slow ramp to Camp 2. That was semi-encouraging. That took another 1.5 hours slowly trodding along. I at one point started counting my steps and got to 1500, but then got bored because 1500 steps didn't really get me very far in actual distance travelled. I caught up with Ben and Laura eventually and we entered Camp 2 together. Once you get to the start of it, there's actually another 75-100 meters to climb before getting to the actual Altitude Junkies tents. That was painful, and had us stopping every 30 steps or so to rest. OOFF. But eventually we got there. Exhausted, but with Phil merrily cheering us along and congratulating us.
Overall, it was a tough two days. 5.5 hours the first, then 2.5 the next. Our next rotation we will have to do that all in one go when we head for the summit. 8 hours straight. Yuck. But we will be better acclimatized. I felt surprisingly well at altitude but my main issue (and similarly in the past) was keeping my extremities warm. My toes were solid blocks of ice all that morning and it took me an hour to thaw them out. Not sure why that happens to me, I'm warm otherwise, my boots are warm, and I'm exercising. Why is it that my toes just freeze up (just the big toes). That worries me a bit, but I have feet warmers so I'll just have to use them earlier on...
Anyways, so there we were at Camp 2 and the question was how long do we stay here before heading back down. It's not comfortable and your body wastes away. The answer is, just a day. I went back down the next day with Phil, who was antsy to leave. Here's our reasoning: I've stayed up at Camp 2 elevation (6400m) for a week in past seasons and while it helped me acclimatize, it depleted my body. I felt REALLY acclimatized up at camp 2, which is amazing (probably because we spent a solid 2 weeks at base camp) so no need in letting my body wasting away!
Phil and I left at 5am the next morning and basically ran down in 3-4 hours. I twisted my ankle in the Ice Fall (bravo, Nelson), but I'll be fine. Just a small sprain. And here we are at Base Camp again just relaxing until summit push time!
May 2nd, 2016
May 2nd, 2016
Don't freak out. This is temporary. I'm down in Kathmandu just for a couple days.
Believe it or not, taking a few rest days at lower elevation is very common in the Everest season. Once you have your acclimatization rotations done and you're waiting for your weather window for the summit, you can (if you choose) trek down to one of the lower villages to gather up some strength. In 2011, we had a team member go all the way down to Namche (~11,000 ft) and most of the rest of the team went to Pheriche (~13,000 ft). Historically, there have even been people who fly back to Kathmandu. And that's what we decided to do. Is it overkill? I don't think so. Is it cheating? Hell no. Why would it be?
Think about it like this. We've just spent a month at altitude and 3 straight weeks at 17,500 ft or higher. Your body does NOT like you at those altitudes. Just to give you an idea, at the start of the trip I forgot to wear light gloves and didn't put sunscreen on my hands. The result? A gnarly burn and now a couple of festering boils that just won't heal. At sea level, this burn/rash would have cleared up in a few days. Up at altitude, it has stayed and scabbed over a dozen times, not getting any smaller. There just is no oxygen here to heal things well. You don't sleep well, you don't eat crazy well, your nails don't grow well, etc. While I'm strong and feeling great, there is nothing like a blast of strength to your system than sea-level oxygen, copious amounts of food, and creature comforts that you've mentally been missing. THAT's what Kathmandu has to offer. So why not?
So here we are (all except Barbara and Phil, who decided to stay up at Base Camp) at the Hyatt, recharging our systems, feeding our systems (both physical and mental), before we go back up in a day or two.
Will we lose our acclimatization? Nope. Well, if we stayed here long enough, yes. But over 2-4 days, no. According to Phil, if you've been acclimatizing for 3 weeks, then it takes roughly that much time to lose it. The big picture is that we are gaining more by being down here than by sitting around up there.
So, voila. Here I am in Kathmandu, taking lovely showers, eating mad amounts of pizza and drinking coke, hanging by the pool in the hot, oxygen-heavy air. It's glorious. I'll be catching a flight back up to Lukla tomorrow, then a chopper to BC or near BC and then I'll walk.
Ropes are still supposed to be fixed on the 4th, and once that's done, the summit is officially open. Phil seems to think it will be an early summit window for all, so maybe (seriously, just guessing), May 12th? If the summit were May 12th, we'd have to leave BC on the 8th or so. Let's see. That's quite soon. Can't wait!
In the meantime. I'll be by the pool.
May 5th, 2016
May 5th, 2016
Arrived back at base camp the other day feeling fresh and ready to go. Ankle is a bit sore still but okay. Unfortunately we were met by some snowy weather and have been cooped up in our tents since then. Ropes were fixed up to the Yellow Band, but hopefully up to Camp 4 today if the weather was good up high (it was snowy and cloudy down here but we think it was decent weather up high, we will find out tomorrow).
As you can see, it's a waiting game and we will have to wait a little longer. Updates to come as they come!
May 9th, 2016
May 9th, 2016
Ground hog day to the max over here. The past few days have blurred together and it's definitely becoming a mental game now. The end game is in sight though, so we just gotta sit it out and be patient.
In the meantime, we've been doing hikes up to Pumori Camp 1 to break up the monotony and yesterday we hung out with our neighboring team, Furtenbacher Adventures, doing some ice climbing in the lower Ice Fall. Good times. Also doing a lot of in-tent memory (and other mind stuff) training. There is a LOT of down time here right now, but that'll change once we start moving.
But at least things are moving here and there around Base Camp. Some teams decided to head up today on their summit push. Our Sherpas carried the ropes up to Camp 4 the day before yesterday and are finishing the rope carrying today. Once those ropes are there, the fixed rope to the summit can be put in (it hasn't been decided who will fix them yet). The weather forecast looked good yesterday, which is why some teams decided to leave despite the ropes not being done just yet. But this morning, according to our weather forecasts it looks like the jet stream is returning as of the 13th. So let's see. These weather forecasts can change over night, so who knows? Might as well be throwing chicken bones in the air. The one thing we do know is that we're in no rush and the longer we wait the warmer it will be. I like my toes and fingers, so that sounds like a plan.
I'd like to pause for a moment here and address some comments I've received on my blog recently. Apparently how I spend my days climbing this thing seriously bothers a few people, not sure why. I hate having to bring up mountain politics, because that's not why I climb, but some of those ignorant readers apparently need a little mountain knowledge.
Those readers gave me a bit of heat for dropping down lower and staying in a hotel for a few days to rest (mind you, I was also making sure my ankle wasn't broken...you know, so I don't end up endangering other people on the mountain by being the asshole climber climbing with a broken ankle). I was told by these readers that I should instead be on the mountain helping fix the ropes myself and that I should also be putting my hotel money towards it.
Okay, let's get some facts straight for these folks (simple googling could have helped them figure it out, but I'll help them).
To climb Everest, every climber has to pay a fee to the SPCC (the rope fixing committee). We ALL chip in to pay the Ice Fall doctors and to pay for the ropes and rope fixing through the Ice Fall. That's a government sanctioned fee. We pay it. And that's that. We also pay a separate fee that goes toward the rope fixing from Camp 1 to the summit. We pay that too.
Can we pay more? That's a hard question to answer. Who would we give the money to? It's not like one Sherpa is fixing and even if we did pay one Sherpa more to specifically fix "HERE, go and fix the ropes please", it's not that easy. And are there teams that don't pay this fee? I'm sure of it. But Altitude Junkies is not one of them. End of discussion.
Secondly, I can't fix the ropes. Nelson Dellis, amateur climber, can not and will not fix the ropes. For one, I'm not strong enough. No way in hell. If you want to berate me for being a weak climber, that's absolutely fine because I know I can't do what the Sherpas can. Period. For two, the Sherpas get paid to do this. This is their job and livelihood. Again, I don't want to get into this kind of discussion but the Sherpas are paid extraordinarily well for their job. The national average salary in Nepal is around $300...A YEAR. The Sherpas comparatively are paid like kings. They work hard for two months on Everest (some a bit more if they work on other peaks throughout the year) and make enough money to support their families for the full year. Many can afford to live in Kathmandu, many can afford to put their children through great schools, many can afford to open their own tea houses in the trekking regions and run a side business. They have it really good. Is their job dangerous? Sure. But they aren't forced into taking these jobs. They do it because the money is great and so is the prestige. Is it bad that their well-paid job exists only because of us climbers wanting to spend a lot of money to climb Everest? No. Why would it be? It drives millions of dollars into the Nepal economy each year and provides incredible job opportunities for Sherpas. How is that a bad thing? And if you expect the Sherpas to be paid Western salaries (which I would love for them to because they work hard enough to earn it), you're living in a fantasy world. That's just not how the world works. That's an issue to take up with the Nepali government, not me.
Finally, remember 2013 when there was a scuffle between Sherpas and Westerners? That all started because some Western climbers pushed too close to the rope fixers (the Westerners even tried to fix ropes a bit after) and that caused some major tension. The Sherpas pride themselves on their job and they don't appreciate us intervening.
So to call me a "freeloader"? I don't think so. Get out.
And seriously, last point here, mind your own fucking business. Simple as that. I climb for two reasons. 1. Because it makes me happy. 2. To raise awareness for a cause (Alzheimer's) that is meaningful to me. I don't claim to be a good or expert climber (this mountain is hard as hell), but I enjoy it and saved up a lot of money, trained excruciatingly hard, worked my ass off to get sponsors to help support me, and got here on my own two feet. If you don't like what I'm doing, don't read my blog.
And if you still feel it necessary to send me more hateful comments then do what you gotta do, but email them to me personally rather than hiding behind an alias, posting anonymously on my site. Criticize me respectfully like a proper person, give me your name, and let's have a discussion. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
On complete side note, congrats to Alex Mullen for winning the 2016 USA Memory Championship! I wish I could have been there to defend my title, but it is what it is. Congrats buddy! You deserve it!
May 11th, 2016
May 11th, 2016
Yesterday afternoon at 5:02pm, 9 Sherpas summitted, being the first to summit on the South side of Everest since 2013. Amazing. They also finished the highly anticipated last 50 vertical meters of fixed rope from the South Summit to the Summit. This officially opens up the summit to for the season on the South side!! Exciting!
A number of teams are in position to try and sneak in on Friday the 13th. From what I know, that's Jagged Globe and Adventures Global, with Madison Mountaineering a day or two behind. Let's see!
May 12th, 2016
May 12th, 2016
5 year ago today, I went up for the summit of Everest on the South side. I was strong and felt good until after the Balcony (8400m) where my mask froze. Almost simultaneously I crossed a dead climber from the night before and that pretty much all got in my head. I kept climbing to the South summit (50m or so from the summit), made it, but exhausted myself in the process. I fumbled about for the better part of an hour going between the Hillary Step, then back to the South summit, not being able to decide if I could continue or not. Eventually I got freezing cold hands and that was that, I headed down, devastated.
In 2013, I tried from the North side and the frigid temperatures and strong winds on our summit day, turned my fingers and toes to ice blocks at about 8500m just before the First Step. I turned around once again, not so devastated as before, more accepting of my fate. Of course I was disappointed, but I knew that I'd get another stab at the mountain some time in my future.
Finally, after 3 long years, having had to push my return back because of a freak pulmonary embolism in my lung (which coincidentally was caused by my 2013 climb), I'm back and our summit push is finally happening. We've heard a million different forecasts and interpretations of forecasts for the next week, but it's time to make a move. It's now or never.
We are officially leaving on or summit push tonight, Saturday at 1am (the 14th), hoping to summit the 18th or 19th. We'll go straight to Camp 2, rest a day or two there, then hit up Camp 3 for a night, then Camp 4 (South Col), then summit. I'm feeling good and strong and healthy and pumped to get another shot in the next few days. I can't believe it's been a five-year long wait to hopefully snag this thing.
I won't have any cell comms while up there but my GPS tracker will track me and I'll be able to send small messages to post on my blog. Make sure to track me!
SUMMIT DAY (PART I)
May 12th-26th, 2016
SUMMIT DAY (PART I)
May 12th-26th, 2016
For all those wondering (who may not follow me on Facebook or Instagram), I am down safe from Mt. Everest, back home, healthy, and recovering. The quick story is that I didn't summit. I got sick and decided to yet again, turn around near the summit.
It's been about a week now since we got to the apex of our summit push. I apologize for not posting as soon as possible but I wanted to make sure me and all of my team had returned down safely before I posted anything. Also, having not made it to the summit again, I needed some time to ruminate on what that meant and how to come to terms with another seemingly-failed attempt. Not the easiest thing to swallow.
But anyways, let's start from the beginning of the summit push, which started on the early morning of the 14th of May.
The forecasts this year were total garbage for the most part, but we had to believe in something and make a foray up to the higher camps to really feel it out and see for ourselves. So within our small team, we decided on the 18-20th as a possible weather window (Just a quick reminder, the summit of Everest is so high that it's nearly pummeled year-round by the jet stream. Somewhere in May, before the monsoon season comes in, this jet stream lifts out of the way. That's when climbers sneak in and snag summits. So all through May, this is what climbers are paying attention to the most in the forecasts, whether the jet stream is there or not).
We decided on those dates a few days before, so that gave us about 2-3 days to pack, organize our gear, and get mentally back in the game. Just 10 days prior we had taken a short break down in Kathmandu to refill our reserves. I had waited 5+ years for this moment, so I was super anxious and excited to get up there and climb this thing. I had slightly injured my ankle a few weeks earlier, but it was all healed and ready to go. No worries.
The night of the 13th (Friday the 13th, to be sure), we ate a delicious steak sizzler from our amazing cook Da Pasang and went to bed early at around 5:30pm. I couldn't sleep. I never can sleep before going through the Ice Fall. It's the one part of the mountain I absolutely dread before going through it. It just feels like a Russian Roulette to me. All season long, all day long, all night long, you hear the thing groan and creak and avalanche and collapse. Most of the time it's nothing that would harm anyone, but sometimes it is...people are just lucky not to be around when it happens. Not to mention climbing through it in the dark of the night. There is nothing more soul-breaking than climbing in the dark through that thing. I hate it. It's cold, bleak, scary, ALL THE THINGS. Watch this for a taste:
Anyways, balance that fear out with excitement for the summit and it ends up okay. Plus, once I get moving and climbing, I'm in my happy place and I'm fine. It's just the build up, more than anything, that I hate.
Day 1 - Base Camp to Camp II
Midnight hits. I wake up. I've got all my layers on, boot liners on, in my sleeping bag, already toasty as hell so that when I exit my tent, I'm not searching for warmth. I throw on all my outer shell layers, strap on my high-altitude boots, activate my hand warmers, make sure my pack is ready and packed, and then go to the dining tent. Everyone except Robert is already there and we get served a quick potato omelet and some toast (and hot tea and water, which fun fact, I can't drink. I just can't drink hot drinks).
Time to go.
I zip up my tent, secure my harness, helmet, hand warmers. Throw on my pack. Chest bump Sangay (my Sherpa climbing partner), throw some rice onto the Puja while he says a little prayer, and then we're off in line with my team up through Base Camp to crampon point. It's about 12:40am, pitch black, and surprisingly warm. I feel great and I'm oddly not scared at all. In the zone.
We arrive mostly as a team at crampon point about an hour in and I think to myself, NICE, already an hour of this Ice Fall climb behind us. One less hour of climbing that I'll never have to do in my life ever again. We all stop on this icy clearing to put on our crampons. All of us except Robert and Barbara, who are a bit behind. They show up just as I've tied on my crampons and we huddle for a big HOOAAHH! cheer (I learn later that Robert is a bit behind because he's fighting a stomach bug that's suddenly making him vomit and "scheizensplatzen").
Up we go. And up, and up. Climbing in the dark is terrifying, but there's also a peacefulness to it. You have your headlamp on so you can only really see a few meters ahead of you at a time, which makes your surroundings a little less noticeable. Before I know it, I'm passing landmarks that are quite a ways up the Ice Fall. Nice! And suddenly, we are traversing from the right of the Ice Fall to the left. I know at this point, there's about a third left to go and then the final headwall up over onto the Cwm. I can see Lysle (team member) and his moving headlamp up above me as a guideline. The break of day hits just as we break out of the Ice Fall and I feel good. I'm about 45 minutes faster than I was the first time through the Ice Fall. Acclimatization has been good to me. I rest about 10 minutes before continuing on, weaving through the massive crevasses before Camp 1.
I get to Camp 1 at around 5:30-5:40am and rest for a good 30 minutes, letting Laura and Ben catch up and eventually overtake me. I'm suddenly cold, but there's no where to take shelter. The only way to warm up is to keep climbing and make my body work...but suddenly I'm also exhausted. I remember thinking that this is strange. I worked efficiently through the Ice Fall and usually I can just keep going at the same pace, but I'm suddenly wasted. I don't want to move, and can't imagine spending another 3-5 hours plodding on to Camp 2. But there's no choice. I have to keep moving.
Right out of Camp 1 are 7 ice walls. You climb down into a crevasse, then back up the next wall, higher than the next. Each has its own difficulty, one with a ladder, another with ice steps, another with a combo of a ladder and steep climb. They are exhausting. But right after them is an "easy" walk to Camp 2. I get through each one as if they are their own mini-Everest, exhausted beyond measure after each. But I make it. And I soon find myself on the home stretch.
Let me explain this "home stretch" a little. You can see Camp 2. It's right there. And the slope up is nothing crazy, just a gradual incline. You're essentially just walking. But for some reason, it is the hardest thing to do. It just never ends, and it tires you out. And me especially this time round...I can't take more than 30-50 steps before I not only have to stop, but drop myself into the snow to just lay there, catching my breath while my Sherpa looks at me (he's totally fine). I quickly accept that I'm basically going to be taking a minimum of 30 of these breaks to get to camp. And by now, the sun is slowly creeping up the Cwm. It's just dozens of meters away from me, but it just won't reach me. I'm freezing, and the sun is just right there. I have an idea that the sun won't hit until an hour from now, so I can't just wait for it or I'll freeze. I need to keep going to stay warm. I'm miserable.
Finally after 7 or 8 hours of climbing from Base Camp, I reach the base of Camp 2. Unfortunately, there's still 100 vertical meters or so to climb in Camp to get to our tents. It's the worst 100 meters of my life. You're just so spent at this point (no matter how fit, tired, or upbeat you are). Luckily, Sangay had radioed ahead and had one of the kitchen boys bring down some juice for me. Absolute LIFE SAVER. Also, thank god, the sun has finally hit and I'm warming up just a little. I sit there and drink the juice, thinking to myself, OK, I'm almost there. Just take your time. No rush.
I muster the strength, throw on my heavy pack, and take the next 10 steps....and then stop and lay down again. Are you serious?? Is that all you've got, Nelson? Apparently so. I take my crampons off and then repeat the process. It's really all I can do. I start to play a little game with myself. Don't sit/lay down until you do 3 or 4 sets of 10 steps. You can stop at each 10 step increment, but only sit/lay down after 3 or 4 sets. Deal? OK. I do that for the next hour until I get within 30 meters of camp. Lysle finally notices me and comes over and gives me some sweets. Thanks bud. He offers to carry my pack the last few meters but I refuse. IM GONNA DO THIS ON MY OWN. 9 hours from our early morning start, I've finally made Camp 2. Kill me.
Day 2 - Rest Day at Camp 2
I spent the whole rest of the day and the next day (15th) doing two things: resting and trying to figure out why I had crashed. My whole team convinced me it was my heavy pack. Just a bit of context on that...one of my sponsors had given me a beautiful VR camera to document my story. I was hell bent on carrying that thing to the summit. Only problem? It weighed about 12 pounds. That may not sound like much, but it's A LOT at altitude (plus it needs a laptop to run, which I was also carrying). I decided, after much difficulty, that I was going to have to ditch the camera at Camp 2. F$#% storytelling, I needed to summit this mountain. If a camera was going to the be the end of my summit push - the very camera trying to capture my summit - there would possibly be no summit to story tell in the end anyways...so. I felt better instantly. No pressure. Just me and my legs. We finished out the rest of Day 2 feeling good, recovered, and strong. All except Robert who was possibly harbouring some stomach virus, still puking and pooping all over (I was somehow the only person worried about this?? HOW?).
Day 3 - Camp 2 to Camp 3
We headed out at around 5ish. Robert and Barbara left a little earlier than us, but I was adamant about starting closer to sunlight hitting just because I needed more warmth. I was quick out the gates to the Lhotse Face. The path to Camp 3 starts by slowly meandering upwards (on an easy incline) out of Camp 2. It's really just a chill walk until you hit the base of the face, which folds into itself like a calzone, aka - the Bergschrund. Things suddenly got steep, and we were suddenly on the fixed ropes. Good. Because I'm better at this than walking anyways. So up we went. Robert leading the pack (and looking good, surprisingly, despite his stomach issues). I remember in 2011 I enjoyed this part of the climb tremendously. It's a 45-60 degree slope with some ice sections here and there, and you just climb up it with your jumar like a steep staircase. A few steps here, a few steps here, and you make incremental progress over the hours. I again, felt great, up until I didn't. I hit a wall about 3 hours in and then suddenly, I was the slowest climber ever. Ben and Laura overtook me on the home stretch, just as we entered the lower part of Camp 3. Getting to our actually camp (a few tens of meters higher), felt like an eternity. I just kept staring at it as it didn't get closer and closer, even though I was taking steps. It actually was getting closer, but man, it just felt like it wasn't. I plopped into camp and just sat there looking out on the beautiful views, in the bright sun, outlooking the Cwm. Stunning. Robert was behind me in great spirits, talkative, and clearly feeling a million times better. Laura and Ben had also made it in and were comfy in their tents relaxing. Lysle was there too - was he even trying?? It was at this point that I knew something was wrong with me. I had climbed the Lhotse Face in 5 hours. Not bad, not great, but not horrible in the grand scheme of things (for comparison IMG was giving their clients a 12 hour time cap to climb that....some weren't making the cut). But I knew, from my pretty obsessive training, that I was performing under par. And with no clue why....just gassed.
I got in my tent and was totally expended. Not to mention it was hot. Especially inside the tent, with three climbers (me, Lysle, and Sangay) just laying there. Within minutes, I was practically naked, begging the outside for a breeze. That was rough. And my breathing was quite labored. I couldn't quite catch it. Despite all that, Lysle and I had a good time in that tent that day just sleeping in the heat, eating our tasty freeze dried meals. It soon became night, and I laid down to rest in my downsuit, in my sleeping bag, squashed between two other dudes. It was the most claustrophobic and uncomfortable sleeping situation I've ever been in. I panicked many times in the night, and probably didn;t sleep a single fucking wink. But eventually it was morning, and Sangay was boiling water already, prepping for our push to Camp 4. UGH.
Day 4 - Camp 3 to Camp 4
No joke, I woke up (didn't really sleep, but okay...) thinking to myself, I'm done. I'm turning back down today. Something is wrong. I don't feel good. But before I knew it, I was putting on my boots, cranking on the oxygen, and getting out of my tent to start climbing. Once I got out of the tent, there was Phil, climbing up (he had joined us after delaying a few days because of a small head cold). Something about Phil, he makes you feel like everything's gonna be okay. I CAN DO THIS, I thought after seeing him. Before I knew it, I was out on the Lhotse Face trail again, plowing up on 2L/min, and at a pretty good pace too. Phil came by me after an hour of climbing and told me I was moving FAST. Nice to hear. I'm moving, and feeling pretty good. The only difficulty is the weather. The winds are UNSTOPPABLE. Blasting with sleet and gusts of around 80-100mph. Not constant, but every minute or so we get blasted by a gust. Maybe it's better higher up? Before long, we had reached the left hand turn on the face where you turn to cross the Yellow Band (a famous feature on the mountain noted by the "yellow band" of rock). I got to the Yellow Band in just under 4 hours, not horrible. Getting up the thing was a lot harder than I had remembered in 2011, but I got on top without much trouble. There was a line of Sherpas ahead of me, which I actually ended up passing. I pressed on.
Next up was a feature I like to call the Geneva Bowl, kind of a bowl shaped ramp that leads up to the Geneva Spur (a jutting rock that stands between the Lhotse Face and the South Col, aka High Camp). Once you get over the Geneva Spur, it's essentially a flat walk to camp...so there's that to look forward to. But this thing is a slow burn. You can see everyone in front of you traversing the bowl, but they just don't make progress. It's slow. To make matters worse, I'm looking ahead and seeing those same people slip and have a hard time. It looks like there is some deep snow up ahead. Not fun.
And then it happens all over again. The crash. I'm crashing again. I'm exhausted. I can't breath. My legs are jello. I want to turn back. Give up. But I know I'm closer to Camp 4 than turning around. And also, I'm almost up at the end of my oxygen bottle (8 hours at 2L/min = empty oxygen bottle). If I turn now, I'll run out of oxygen and then I'll truly be fucked. Dangerously fucked, to be honest. So I continue. I eventually get to that deep snow section I had noticed earlier and it's as bad as I had anticipated. One step and you sink down and slide down the face. You have to violently kick in each step and it's so much more tiring. Not to mention the wind is blowing you over and filling in each bootstep you make before you even make it. 2 steps at a time and I collapse in the snow to catch my breath. I finally swallow my pride and ask Sangay to go first to help me kick in the steps (what a savior). He does. It helps, as long as the wind gusts don't hit, otherwise the steps disappear and I'm on my own.
Finally we reach the steep final section of the Geneva Spur. It's essentially a vertical section, with two ropes to help support you, but the snow is loose and soft. It's going to be a painful battle. This is going to hurt. I know it. But just on top is the home stretch, and then I can rest. So there's that... Laura and Ben are suddenly on my tail, so there's no more wasting time. I need to move. Step by step I hoist myself up. I'm honestly mostly using arms at this point. I pull and I pull, gathering 5-7 steps up at a time (half of them are wasted steps, sliding me back down a bit because of the snow). After 4 or 5 exerting efforts, I'm on the last pull. I see the lip of the Spur and know it'll be the last one. But I just stand there, slouched over in the snow, wishing I was anywhere but here. Breathing my fucking lungs out. This fucking sucks. Why do I do this? Why does anyone do this? Why didn't I just summit the first time? I wouldn't have had to come back.
Okay, enough whining...finish this.
I practically kill myself getting over the lip, but I'm rewarded. There, in plain view, is the final summit pyramid of Everest (with a massive looming lenticular cloud over the top of it) and a nice rock to sit on while my lungs scream for air. Beautiful. I sit there...no, lay there, sprawled on my back trying to find some way to calm my breathing and make the pain go away. It'll take 10 minutes before I'm okay again. And then I get up and walk again. Get blown over by the wind. Lay down. Walk again. Get blown over by the wind....etc. Repeat. For another 30 minutes until I finally see tents....the South Col! .... Only the tents are flapping in the wind, mostly ripped to shreds. What's going on?
I see Phil and he looks at me through his mask and makes a cut-throat signal with his hand. No tents,he screams. Too windy! We have to turn around! Bad weather. All the teams have turned around. Wrong forecast! We have to go. NOW! Um...what? Lysle, Laura, and Barbara are huddled in some random tent (not ours) trying to stay warm. I just plop myself on the ground outside the tent as I continue to get hammered by the 100mph gusts of wind. This is bad. Really bad. My hands start to freeze and I worry if I'll ever be able to warm them again if I stay here. Luckily, Phil makes a final decision and says we are all going down. Now. It's way to dangerous and we can maybe try our luck on a different date. Yeah right, I think to myself. If I go down, I'm done. My trip is over. I don't have the strength to do this all over... sorry. But orders are orders. I turn around and head back to the Geneva Spur. It takes another 15 minutes but I run into Robert, who is still on his way up. He's out of it and completely knackered. I explain to him that Phil has turned us around and that we aren't going for the summit tonight. I try to decide if Robert's relieved or disappointed by the news. At about the same time, I hear Pasang yelling my name from a distance. I turn around. COME BACK! he yells....huh? Okay... I'm skeptical. And a bit annoyed to head all the way back again to the Col, but I do. And it's a good thing I do too, because just after I had left, Phil had apparently changed his mind. The Sherpas had started erecting tents and the plan now was to wait out the storm. According to the forecasts, the winds were eventually going to die down and we would be able to go for the summit one day later, on the 19th.
Fine. Whatever. I don't care. Just get me in a tent.
They first stuff me in a tent with Ben. We get in, and just lay there chuckling to ourselves and at each other as we break off the icicles hanging from our beards. No sooner do I get comfortable, I'm told by a few of our Sherpas that I'm supposed to be in a different tent with someone else (WHO FUCKING CARES, IM EXHAUSTED!). I eventually leave, a move that takes way too much energy, and I finally collapse in my proper tent. I stay there for the rest of the day, half in my sleeping bag, half awkwardly smooshed up against the tent walls as 3 other Sherpas cram in. But at least I'm resting...somewhat.
This is my life right now. 8000 meters above sea-level, cold, in pain, exhausted, stuffed in a tent, with killers winds outside. Waiting. Just waiting.
SUMMIT DAY (PART II)
May 12th-26th, 2016
SUMMIT DAY (PART II)
May 12th-26th, 2016
I'm huddled in a corner, half in my sleeping bag trying to keep my toes warm as Sangay and Pemba Shiri are boiling water and taking great care of me. Outside, the wind has quasi-died down, but there are still occasional heavy gusts. The 18th is not going to be our summit day. But possibly the 19th, Phil tells us. So we wait.
My tent mates are kind enough to make me a killer RaRa noodle soup, which I surprisingly slurp up in no time at all (usually I have no appetite at extreme altitude, so this is a good sign). We all get cozy in our sleeping bags, lined up like sardines for the night, in the hopes that we wake up to some pristine weather conditions. I'm sleeping on O's tonight, so my situation feels a little better than the night before at Camp 3. I feel tired, but excited and grateful to be in a fighting position for the summit. It's all hitting me now. I can't believe I'm back here, at 8000 meters in the Death Zone, within striking distance of the summit that has eluded me twice before. It's mine for the taking. I really think I can do it this year. I think, If I was just able to climb for nearly 9 hours on the brink of exhaustion from Camp 3 to 4, in those horrible weather conditions, then getting to the summit will be hard, but just a mental slog. Definitely doable. I can do this!
And then...without warning, I wake up somewhere in the middle of the night, roll onto my side, and then proceed to hack up pieces of my lung (some with traces of blood). WHAT? I make sure to spit out these "pieces" to properly examine them on the tent floor next to me. They definitely don't look normal and it's definitely not just some phlem or something. These are colorless, solid chunks of stuff. The coughing eventually stops and I lay there, wide-eyed, suddenly really worried. I think to myself, This is what early signs of HAPE looks like... And even if it isn't, why is there blood coming from inside of my lungs? There's no good explanation for that. I go back to sleep.
The coughing fits happen about two more times before the morning starts, and while the coughed up sputum is troubling, I don't actually feel bad. Nothing feels wrong or painful. It's just a cough, some objects came up, and there was a bit of blood in it. Other than that, I'm fine. No wheezing, no pain, no discomfort (okay, the exhaustion and labored breathing thing, but hey, I'm at 26,000 ft). What makes things worse is that the morning turns out to be absolutely beautiful and calm. I've never seen such a pretty day on a mountain. Everyone is out and about at the Col, standing outside, smiling, laughing, and....no wind. Not a single gust.
So my thoughts at this moment are:
1. Fuck, this is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen! Tonight will be a perfect summit day. Can't wait!
2. Fuck, I have blood coming out of my lungs. I'm going to have to descend so that I don't risk getting even more sick, possibly dying. Great...
When the words "lung," "blood," and "HAPE" even cross your mind at high-altitude, there's really only one proper thing to do (that is, if you care about your life), and that's to get the hell out of there. Like, instantly. But I stall. I journal, I do some memory training, I eat another RaRa noodle soup, I talk shit with the Sherpas, I go outside for a quick poop, I take sponsor photos with the summit in the background. But then I go and do the responsible thing and chat with Phil. I tell him what's up and the first thing he asks is if my breathing is crackling/wheezing. I say no, and that my breathing is a bit labored but otherwise fine. It's just those chunks I coughed up...and the blood. Blood, he asks? He wants to see. We go over to my tent and I literally hand him the pieces of my lung and place them in his hand. If that's not enough of a WTF visual for you, then I don't know what is. I think if you were holding some of my lung in your hands, you'd ask me to go see a doctor pronto. So that was that. He tells me to think about it (whether to go down or not) and leaves me for a bit, but we both know that I'm going down.
And then it hits me. It's over. Again. Before I even had a real shot. So quickly, it's just done. I can't believe it. 5 years down the road since I first started on this quest, my third attempt, and I STILL can't fucking climb this mountain. What is wrong with me? I wait for my Sherpas to leave the tent, and then I bawl. Not on purpose, but I just can't hold it together. It's really hard to put everything you've got into something, three times, over the course of years, and then suddenly something out of your control just rips it from your clutches. I'm screaming at the top of my lungs inside of my mind, in frustration. It's the most frustrating thing I've ever experienced. Especially for someone like me. If I have a dream, I train my ass off obsessively, and then I go ahead and achieve that dream. Always. I know that sounds selfish and arrogant, but it's true. I've always prided myself on hard work and getting things done that way. And it always works. Why won't it work here?
I take a deep breath, and let it all wash past me. I'm not going to think this over right now. I need to get down first. Right now.
Phil gives me Nifedipine (for HAPE) and we pack up as quick as possible and start heading down. He's decided he's coming with me to monitor me as I descend, to make sure I get down safe and that my condition improves. I give quick hugs and say some hurried goodbyes to the whole team and then I'm off. Karma Gelgin (aka Vin Diesel) joins us to help carry some of my gear (he was chosen because he actually wasn't feel well too and needed to descend). My oxygen is flowing at 4L/min since I'm going down, just to make it as easy as possible for me. It's a hard thing leaving because I actually feel fine - great actually. But I know that inside my lungs, something is lurking and that it could get instantly worse if I continue up. I turn and face the summit one last time, pause, soak it in, and then turn and bury my head into the task ahead: get down fast and safe.
We hand wrap relatively quick and easy down the Geneva Spur, across the Geneva bowl, and then down to the top of the Yellow Band, before we hit any climbers coming up. But there's a good amount of climbers on their way up the Lhotse Face a bit further below. It could get a bit hairy. As we approach the Yellow Band, suddenly that familiar feeling of exhaustion hits me. It hits me like a freight train and I immediately need to sit down. I can see Phil ahead turn to watch me rest and I know he's thinking that he made the right call. He knows I'm a strong climber, and to be descending on 4L/min and still needing to sit down must mean I'm suffering and that something is very wrong. The Yellow Band proves to be a quick steep hand wrap, but it wrecks me, depleting me of all the energy I have, and I need to sit down again. My lungs are screaming. We slowly continue from anchor to anchor traversing the face, me sitting down every number of steps, trying to catch my breath, trying to dig up another ounce of energy to get me through the next few steps, unclipping and re-clipping around the up-climbing climbers. It's so tiring. Way more tiring than I expected. I'm glad I came down. This would have been really bad had I continued going up.
Down and down we go. Anchor after anchor. Clip after clip. Rope after rope. Rest after rest. It's a slow game but Phil and Vin Diesel are extremely patient with me. But we make progress, bit by bit. And I'm slowly feeling stronger the more we descend. We finally get to Camp 3, where I take a much anticipated 10 minute rest, but we still have a ways to go. I'm thinking of other things, how I'll be home soon, breathing thicker air, eating good food, being with my fiancée. It's exciting. And for a moment it helps me forget the failure. We finally reach the Bergschrund at the bottom of the Lhotse Face, and I'm met with a five-meter high mini-climb back upwards to reach the trail down. Really? I'm supposed to go uphill right now?? It takes me a good 15 minutes to walk up (it couldn't have been more than 30 steps). It was the hardest bloody thing, but once I got on top of it, it was now only a gentle slope down to Advanced Base Camp (Camp 2) of maybe another mile in distance. I take my time, eventually stopping at a clearing halfway to sprawl out on my back, drink a half-liter of water and just lay there. Vin Diesel pulls up next to me and sits down with a big grin on his face. We share a moment. He can't really talk (his voice is almost completely gone) but I ask him if he's disappointed that he isn't going to get to summit this year. With his raspy voice he says simply, "No, if I'm healthy, I'm excited to summit. If I'm not healthy, I'm excited to go down". That's it. And isn't that just how it should be? I should be allowing myself to be excited to go down. I don't feel well and that's that. Nothing else I can do. He also tells me he's excited to see his wife and three children. So we share that moment as well, thinking of the family we have waiting for us back home. I instantly feel better about my decision.
After about 10 more minutes, we stand up and finish the remaining walk. It's painful, but doable. We know we are close and that we'll get a good proper rest in no time. Getting into ABC, Phil is already there in Crocs, relaxing. I take off all my gear, my massive down suit, boots, stinky socks, take some more Nifedipine, crawl into my tent, and pass out. For the first time in five days, I feel safe and happy. The worst is over.
That night was mostly a blur, just from being so exhausted and concerned with my own safety. I knew up above, as the night was winding down, that our team and many others were starting to leave for the summit. Our plan down here was to continue down through the Ice Fall to Base Camp as early in the morning as possible. For one, to beat the heat of the sun in the Ice Fall (which can be miserable) and for two, to continue my rapid descent to improve my health. Although I was tired and my body was aching for sleep, that night at Camp 2 was really difficult. I didn't sleep well at all. I was still coughing really hard (although by this point the Nifedipine had kicked in and my cough was nearly completely dry) and still breathing weird. I slept with oxygen on and off throughout the night. Eventually it was daylight, and Phil was shouting from his tent for me to start getting ready.
At about 6am, we were gone. A little later than we had anticipated, but I had run out of hand warmers and was trying to get my hands warm before we left. It was an ice cold morning. We got down to Camp 1 pretty quickly (less than an hour), but then we hit those 7 walls that lead down to the actual Camp 1 tents. These proved to be challenging for me, again because they each just took all my energy and breath away (literally). At the bottom of each I had to gather myself to find my breath...which then followed by me having to go slightly uphill, which at the time, felt like the end of the world. One by one, I made it up and down...slowly but surely. Eventually we found ourself at the top of the Ice Fall where the big rappel down was (pictured to the left). That wasn't so hard, and I actually had fun doing it. And then the wandering through the Ice Fall began. My last time through it. I was moving slow, but I knew that every step I took was just one closer to safety (and possibly a Coca Cola). I mentally lost myself, just focusing on something entirely different, putting my body on automatic. I wasn't my normal climbing self, but I was moving, and doing all the things I needed to do to get down through that freaking Ice Fall. Before I knew it, two more hours had passed and I was starting to recognize the last few bottom features of the Ice Fall...I knew there was one last rappel and then I'd be in the "safe" zone. Phil had asked Lapsom to meet us at this point with some juice, so there he was. I can't remember what juice it was, but it was canned, and it was maybe red grape? I drank it in two gulps and it was the most satisfyingly sugary thing I could have wanted at that moment. He then offered to carry my bag. I think I loved him then.
The rest of the walk down was a dream, just weaving in and out of ice blocks at the very base of the Ice Fall. We had planned to walk directly to the Everest ER to have my lungs checked out, but we first made a stop at the Mountain Trip camp (Phil knew some Sherpas there) where they offered me a Coke (HELL. YES. BELLS OF GLORY.). I could barely drink the Coke I was so thirsty, I kept coughing it up like a dog who drinks his water too fast. But it was delicious. Absolute gold.
The doctors checked me out. I was fine. My lungs sounded perfect, no fluids in there. So whatever I had had up at the South Col, after descending 3000 meters rapidly and taking drugs, was gone. My lungs were clear. Not the news I actually wanted to hear though. It would have been nice to know that I came down because my lungs were a mess and that I had saved my life. Instead, I just have to assume I would have gotten worse had I continued, but that I caught symptoms of HAPE early enough by coming down quick such that nothing bad happened to my lungs. Or maybe I made a mountain of a mole hill and I was actually fine? I'll never know. The only thing I know is that I was coughing up blood. And that can't ever be good. And that I was oddly exhausted and breathing funny. Okay, yeah, I guess that still sounds pretty bad...
Phil and I go back to camp and I feel relieved to be safe and relatively back in comfort. Da Pasang makes a delicious meal for us and now it's just a waiting game. Wait for my team to summit (finger's crossed) and then wait for them to come down so we can all chopper out together as a team. The day transpires as normal, with some radio chatter that our whole team successfully summited and is doing well on their way back to Camp 4. SUCCESS! I go to bed early, being tired and all, and I just lay in my tent trying to process the last 24 hours.
And then Phil wakes me up...
He asks me to run to the neighbors to ask if they have radio connection with Camp 4. Something's wrong. He thinks Robert, one of our climbers, is stuck at Camp 4 in a really bad way and he's trying to communicate with him to figure it out. The neighbors don't have any radio comms with C4 at the moment so I run back down to Phil, who's in the kitchen tent by the radio, speaking with Lysle (another team member) who is at Camp 2 (he had descended all the way from the summit that afternoon) relaying messages from the rest of the team at Camp 4. For whatever reasons, the radios weren't working very well. This can happen, as Base Camp is tucked away out of sight from the summit. Camp 2 gets a better signal, hence why the communication has to be relayed. NOT the best way to communicate. Well, it technically is the best way to communicate - the only way, really - but it's not always the most reliable.
Anyways, everything quickly is revealed to me: Robert summited (along with the rest of the team), but he took the longest and was in "critical" condition back at the South Col. Apparently he had collapsed on his descent, and had been minutes from death before he was administered Dexamethasone (not sure on the details here, but I think by an IMG guide who was nearby). "Dex" is essentially a "come back from the dead" drug. Something you take to help you come back to life so you can get down off the mountain in an extreme crisis. This was an extreme crisis. The only issue was that it was now night time. No one was going anywhere until morning. From our broken communication, we learn that Robert is in "critical" condition, being taken care of by Ben, Laura, and Barbara, all huddled together in the same tent.
I'm not going to go into the details of what he was going through, considering I wasn't there. Since Robert, THANKFULLY, is still alive, you can read his own account of it all HERE.
The whole night was a blur. Phil and I manning the radio, trying to figure out what options there were. Essentially, there were none. As Phil told me many times that night, Robert was as good as dead. It would be a miracle if he made it through the night. And even if he did, he'd need a large team of Sherpas to help him down. Risk 10+ Sherpa lives for one? That's a tough ethics questions... So there we were, basically trying to figure out how to accept the fact that one of our teammates was going to be dead by morning. Heavy. Robert's a good friend of mine; a great guy. We climbed (and failed) together in 2013 on the north side of Everest. All I can think of is the last thing he said to me when I said goodbye to him at Camp 4, after having explained to him that I was going back down and that my climb was over. I'm jealous.
I have to commend Phil on his perseverance. Even though he knew the situation was bleak and that there was nearly nothing he could do, he was still devising plans. Some were absolutely fucking insane plans, but you have to hand it to the guy for not giving up. He was going to try everything in his power not to let Robert die. I think one idea he had was to be long-lined in to Camp 3 (as high as a chopper can realistically go with an extra passenger), jump out, speed climb up to Camp 4, and then save Robert? If you don't know what long-lining is, please OBSERVE. Um, yeah.
For whatever reasons, Robert luckily felt better the next morning and descended. Took him the whole day and with the help of an entire crew of Sherpas (and Ben, who ended up getting frostbite on his toes), but he made it, and is now recovering back home in Nebraska.
As for me, the next morning I was still coughing up "things" and feeling immensely out of breath. I didn't want to take away from the situation that was going on up high (Robert was a big priority), but my own health was of concern too. I was worried about the fact that I wasn't feeling 100% down at Base Camp. With my history of lung issues and blood clots, I wanted to make sure I was fine and not in trouble. That meant I needed a chopper and that I couldn't afford to wait a few days for the rest of the team to descend. Thanks to the Global Rescue folks (I can't stress enough how amazing these guys were. If you are ever traveling anywhere remote, unsafe, questionable, PLEASE buy their rescue insurance. They will extract you in a heartbeat if you need it. It's worth it.), I texted them and after a series of questions, they agreed that I needed to get to the Kathmandu clinic ASAP. They were at the BC helipad within the hour. I quickly packed my duffels, emptied my tent, hugged as many Sherpas as I could, said bye to Phil, and was out of there. I brought Sonam (a climbing Sherpa from our team) with me as he had some severe frostbite on both his hands (he had been to the summit the day prior).
The heli flight was a memory in itself. Ryan Skorecki, who was being filmed all season for an Everest helicopter Discovery Channel show, was our pilot and had just completed his second trip up to Camp 2....in some of the worst weather he'd ever flown in. The clouds had just swooped in and visibility was nil. This continued down the valley on our flight as we navigated just meters above the river that flows down the valley, following it down to figure out the way. It got so bad that at one point he literally "parked" the chopper on the side of a river bank and waited until the fog cleared. This was a kind of hilarious sight because he just plopped the chopper down in the middle of some local village path. Locals were suddenly like "um...why is there a chopper in my back yard?" We hung out there for about 30 minutes, drinking tea, chatting about how one gets their pilots license, and then we were off again. The sky had cleared, so we made a straight shot to a small grass field just below Lukla. Grabbed a tea there, swapped choppers, and headed all the way to Kathmandu.
Once we landed, we went straight to the clinic. I was evaluated and tested real quick, only to find that I had indeed suffered from HAPE, but actually also a bit of HACE as well. Luckily, because of Phil's speedy decision-making and our quick descent, I was doing really well. No fluid in my lungs. X-ray, EKG, blood work, all looked good. But I would need a follow up CT scan back home. For now, I was safe. The Hyatt and some Butter Chicken Masala was calling my name.
And that, folks, was the end of my 2016 Everest attempt. I spent another two days in Kathmandu, buying some last minute gifts, eating food, and soaking in the culture one last time. I got on my flight after that and was home a day later, in the arms of my lovely fiancée and family. I couldn't have been happier. There's plenty more to say about this season, but I'll need some proper time to reflect on it first. For now, I leave you with that story and with the short update that I'm doing well and getting my CT scan shortly. Already back at the gym, sore as hell, and trying to gain back those 37 lbs I lost (I'm already back up 15!).
Thanks again for all who followed and supported me. I've had so many nice comments and supportive messages over the past week, it's been so positively overwhelming. Thank you!
I think this will close up this 2016 Everest blog. I will add pictures and videos that I edit over the next few weeks from the climb (I have some awesome content), and eventually a 360 VR experience of my whole expedition. My normal "everything" blog will resume back at http://www.nelsondellis.com/my-blog, so make sure you switch over to that to hear my post-climb thoughts and everything else related to memory and mountains in the future.
Logging off. Cheers!