(Transcribed from a satellite telephone voice message
received May 16, 2003 at 5:42 AM)
Camp 17,600 feet May 16, 2003
the last several days I have become a meteorologist.
Through the networking activities of my team members,
we have managed to gather together five weather
forecasts dispatched from various parts of the world.
The quantity is only significant as each outlook casts
a slightly different prediction on the next several
this point, all of the forecasts show that there will
be only one or two days that a summit attempt will
even be possible. There is, however, a disagreement on
which day it will be, with the current range covering
days from the 19th to the 26th.
The most optimistic reports
predict a two-day window with summit wind speeds under ten miles per hour.
The most pessimistic report predicts only one day with winds around thirty
miles per hour. While this may sound insignificant, the difference at 29,000
feet is severe.
The route from Camp IV to the
summit is protected by the Southeast Ridge for a majority of the climb. Wind
speeds only become a critical factor during the last two to three hours of the
climb after departing the South Summit. At that point air temperatures are
expected to be at least 20 degrees below, which is tolerable with light
winds. As wind speeds rise, the risk of frostbite increases exponentially. An
additional complication is the lack of oxygen critically reduces circulation
in the body’s extremities, exacerbating the problem even further.
Now, put yourself on that
Summit Ridge for a moment.
You have been working for
this goal for years, with months of extreme training to prepare you for these
last steps. You have invested most, if not all of your life’s savings; and you
know the likelihood of ever returning is quite small. You have already spent
two month’s on the mountain, enduring all sorts of hardship, including
injuries such as snow blindness, frostbite, mountain sickness, and numerous
stomach ailments. You have probably lost between ten and twenty pounds while
eating everything in sight, most of which you never would have eaten if not on
Everest. Perhaps you have even missed a couple of great weddings.
In the last fours days you
have pushed yourself beyond any physical and mental limits you though
possible, likely without eating or sleeping for the last two days. Over the
last eleven hours you have been hiking very slowly towards your goal, while
everything hurts. You have a migraine headache that worsens with each step and
you are probably suffering from periodic vomiting. It is cold enough that your
fingers and toes have been cold for hours, but you are fairly certain they are
not yet frozen.
From the top of the Ridge you
can see the Summit there in front of you, maybe an hour or two up over the
Hillary Step; and then it’s done. You have come so far, endured so much, that
for the first time, the path to your dream is only a few steps away…
…How high will you let the
wind get before you turn around?
Well, tomorrow the show
begins and we are on our way to Camp II.