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Everest 2003: Charlie Wittmack
Dispatch


(Transcribed from a satellite telephone voice message received May 16, 2003 at 5:42 AM) 

Base Camp 17,600 feet May 16, 2003

Showtime!

Over 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 days.

At 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.

Dispatches

 





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