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Gavin Bate Everest 2002 Expedition

May 1, 2002 ABC, Everest North

How to climb Everest !

Will and I have spent at least the past three hours deciding how to make our next moves on Everest. Most of the other teams are at Base Camp while this period of bad weather continues to cast doubt on what we can do. We have to think carefully because we are trying without supplementary oxygen and we have to do our own carries. Some of our priorities are:

1) Do we actually bother to make a cache at 7900 meters with gear for the summit bit and in so doing exhaust ourselves ?

2) Or do we try a semi-Alpine style ascent by dumping gear at Camp 2 (7600m) which we know we can do now, and then collect gear on the way to the summit so we have to carry the gear on our backs from Camp 2 to Camp 3, then Camp 3 to Camp 4 (8300 meters), pitch a tent, go for the summit and then come back down to Camp 4, try to take the tent down and make it all the way down to Camp 3, below 8000 meters to rest ?

3) If we try this semi-Alpine style ascent then we strip down to minimum gear - say, 10 kilos each - and we just carry enough food and gas to assume we make it to the top in that go. If we don't summit or something happens then we are stuck up above 8000 meters with the absolute bare minimum of food. What if a storm descends and we're stuck for 48 hours?

4) Added to this, the problem with the Alpine-style ascent is simple bulk. Can we get all we need to carry into the large volume Berghaus sacks we are using ? The sleeping bags are huge, half a rucksack on their own. We have already decided no axes, just one small stove, one pole each, a man rope, a pot, two boil-in-the-bags of food each and some pocket snacks. Can we carry it ? Our tent above Camp 2 will be a lightweight North Face VE24, which weighs 4.5 kgs. At 8000 meters plus every pound will be discussed and either discarded or added. Much of this afternoon has been spent doing this.

5) Coming back to our other option which is to carry a big load to Camp 2, we could then make another carry to Camp 3 at 7900 meters and dump gear there. A lot of effort for getting about 10kgs a further 300 meters up the mountain. Weigh that against the fact that using masses of energy above 7000 meters is rapidly deteriorating our bodies.

So what to do ? When I climbed Everest in 2000 my guide was John Barry. There is no doubting the man's incredible knowledge about mountains, he is a remarkable mountaineer. Our success on Everest that year (he, Andy Salter and Polly Murray summited - I got to the South Summit ) was due to three factors I believe - Organization and Preparation - we had the best kit from Tiso's and our logistics was very carefully put together Attitude - as a team from day 1 I believe we exhibited excellent teamwork, attitude to the mountain and the climb Climbing Plan - we climbed high, slept low and we never went high when we didn't have to. This last factor was down to John Barry. Because we never got excited about rushing to the south col at 8000 meters, we remained strong. When we eventually did go for the top we all felt good, none of us had symptoms of high altitude illness and consequently John, Andy and Polly were the first to the top by the south side in 2000. John became the oldest Briton to climb Everest and Polly the first Scotswoman. Andy, in my opinion, became one of the nicest guys I ever met to summit Everest. So here I am now with Will, with a copycat conversation about how to climb Everest ! All I can do is repeat John's axiom that to go high 'just for the sake of it' is silly. The fact that we have no Sherpas and no oxygen this time should not detract from the good advice. So we will go up to Camp 1 where all our stuff is and make another carry to Camp 2, probably with around 12 kilos each. That'll be it, all our gear except clothing, to 7600, buried in the snow. Then we'll go all the way down the valley and rest. In 2000 this is exactly what we did, we went to Lobuje and gorged on good food ! Then we'll come back up here, liaise with the other teams and we'll go for the summit when the weather and the timing is right ! We don't want to be first so we have been discussing timings with our good friends the Russians and the guides from Russell Brice, who runs the most experienced operation here. We'll slipstream them hopefully. At the end of the day we know our chances are much slimmer because of our choice not to use oxygen, but we feel that this lightweight style is the only way forward. It's not Alpine-style by definition but from Camp 2 we will definitely have everything on our back that we need. No more dumps. Perhaps all this sounds quite nonchalant, but not really ! Our decision is based on the fact that we have made four very successful carries to Camp 1 already and one tough carry to Camp 2 and neither of us have fallen ill. This is critical. Some climbing members of other teams have not yet made it to the north col because of illness. It is very clear, one thing for sure. There is no soft option on Everest. 

You only have to sit here and watch the mountain, the streamers of cloud and wind coming off the ridge, the terrifying speed with which the weather changes. We've just sat through the 48 hours of storm at ABC and it hasn't been much fun. Tents have been collapsing everywhere. And climbing Everest is not a technical challenge like a good day in the Alps; it is a combination of getting so many factors right, of which luck is a major one. Getting your decisions right, planning properly, staying healthy and, when it finally comes it to, exhibiting successful teamwork and endurance at the highest elevations in the world is what it's all about. Something else I learnt from Mr Barry. We have had HUNDREDS of emails from all over the world. Thank you especially to the school in Oregon which is following our progress, and also from the lady in South Carolina whose words meant so much. There is a large contingency from Australia and Northern Ireland following these little reports and we want to say thank you very much for the often hilarious emails. Thanks especially to all those people coming from Tiso's - if you ever want to climb Everest, you know where to go for your kit !

I got a lovely email from Kenya where of course so many of the children we are trying to support through the charity Moving Mountains live. We've had tremendous response from people who want to help, thank you very much. If climbing Everest,, or at least trying to !, is raising awareness of the charity and the work it is doing in both Kenya and Nepal then I will have achieved my purpose of being here. Will personally would like to thank all his friends and family for the multitude of supportive emails. He reports that his burnt ear is now almost healed. To everyone in Northern Ireland and Australia, especially of course to Rebecca, he sends his thanks and regards and love.  

Without sponsors, a lot of this would be impossible and I am ever thankful to Chris Tiso, my friend and Chief Executive of Tiso's the Great Outdoor Specialists. Also to Ian White and particularly the staff at the Leith store in Edinburgh who really pulled out the stops in the final weeks before coming here. Tiso's kitted out the early Bonington Everest Expeditions and they still do now; it's a reflection of the tremendous tradition for quality and service that Chris and his staff still promote and encourage. That's not idle promo-speak by the way ! Finally one of my best friends and my co-adventurer during the whole Seven Summits Expedition in 2000 Andy Salter has just become a father. His wife Louise, who was proposed to at Everest Base Camp in 2000, has given birth to a 10lb 4 oz boy and I for one would like to say congratulations ! Andy assures me that both wife and baby are doing just fine. Congratulations Andy and Louise, to one of the most wonderful couples I have the pleasure in knowing ! Andy ,all those days and weeks and months spent in a tent with you discussing how babies are made finally paid off !! I can't wait to visit you all when I get back from here. To all and everyone out there, our best regards from Everest

Gav and Will


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Will on North Ridge near to Camp 2

Looking back on North Ridge - sorry quality not so good on this one (I think camera must have had problem exposing for all that whiteness...)