15: May 17, 2003, Camp 2. Elevation 21,210 feet: The
rush up the mountain has begun! Over the last few
days, the overwhelming top topic of conversation has
been the weather and when the mountaintop winds will
abate. Many expeditions have their own forecasting
service or have access to one. The predictions are all
over the map, but most of them say that over the next
few days, conditions should be more favorable.
Everybody feels that it's now or never. So, this
morning I joined the summit rush. I'm very excited but
also anxious about having so many perhaps over eager
climbers on the upper mountain at once.
Although I made an early start, there were long lines
at the crevasse crossing bridges in the Khumbu
Icefall. I felt strong, but the only reliable way of
gauging my fitness level was to compare my climbing
pace to other climbers. I tried to maintain a
comfortable easy pace without rushing. In other words,
I tried hard not to be competitive so that I could get
a fair assessment of my condition. I passed about 20
or 30 other climbers and got from Base Camp to Camp 2
in about five hours, even with the delays at the
ladder bridges. So I'm very encouraged.
A number of climbers have abandoned the summit effort
over the last couple of weeks for various reasons.
Still, by this afternoon, there were close to 400
climbers and Sherpas here at Camp 2. Mind boggling.
I'm determined to make a serious summit bid this trip
up. I'm going to be sensible. The mountain is bigger
and stronger than any man. If she doesn't smile on my
attempt, then I won't succeed. Nevertheless, I am
determined to not descend back to Base Camp without
giving the summit bid everything I have.
I eating as much food and drinking as much water as my
body can absorb.
Tomorrow, Camp 3.
May 18, 2003, Camp 3. Elevation 24,500 feet.
Today dawned bright and clear, but a look up at the
summit revealed a huge plume of snow coming off the
top in the high wind. Looked like about at least 80
mph. Nevertheless, I headed out across the Western Cwm
toward the Lhotse Face. At the base of the Lhotse
Face, the wind was strong, varying between what I
estimate as 30 to 50 mph. There was snow being blown
across the ice, sometimes hiding it and sometimes
It was a long hard climb, but now I'm here, hunkered
down in my tent. Whenever I got out to chop ice to
melt for water, the wind almost blows me over.
Tomorrow, I'm planning to head up to the South Col
(Camp 4). It's over 26,000 feet in what climbers
generally refer to as the Death Zone. Doctors say that
the human body can only stand to be up that high for
about 48 hours before extreme altitude sickness
symptoms like HACE set in. And
it's not just the lack of oxygen but the lowered
atmospheric pressure that will literally kill you if
you stay too long. Since I'm climbing without oxygen,
I have to be very careful to monitor my condition. Of
course, one of the side effects of extreme altitude
sickness is a loss of judgment or reasoning power. So
I have to be dispassionate and judge how bad my
condition is getting before it gets too bad for me to
do something about it (which, of course, is going down
the mountain to denser air).
So I'm really gambling that I'll be able to get to the
South Col, have the summit winds die down immediately,
spend a half night trying to rest, and then heading
straight for the summit the next morning. Otherwise,
I'll have to come down to Camp 3 or maybe to Camp 2 to
rest. I'm definitely feeling the altitude here, but
I'm raring to go higher. Pray for me.
In the meantime, I'm continuing to stuff down as much
food and water as I can.
May 19, 2003, Camp 3. Elevation 24,500 feet.
Well, I'm still at Camp 3. The winds have died down
here, but there is still a plume coming off Everest's
summit. It was tough for me to stay put, but I have to
keep my head in charge and not my gut. I can feel my
body deteriorating in this altitude, so it is a gamble
staying here that I'll get too weak to make it to the
summit. However, I have no choice. I'm comforted by
the knowledge that during my acclimatization climbs, I
spent two nights up here with no detrimental effects.
I can periodically feel my toes tingling in areas
where I've gotten frostbite on previous expeditions.
Another effect of altitude is that circulation in the
extremities decreases as the body concentrates
oxygen-rich blood in the body's core to preserve
organs and to keep warm. I've paid as much attention
to wearing light weight/high insulating clothes as I
have to my conditioning. But it's still difficult to
stay warm all over.
I'm in a small one-man tent so that my body and stove
have to heat as little air as possible. But it's
definitely cozy. In here with me is all my gear,
water, stove, and fuel.
I try to exert as little physical effort as possible
to conserve energy and warmth. High altitude climbers
get very philosophical waiting around in tents with no
one to talk to. I periodically pull the cover back
from my tent-top clear plastic window to watch the
clouds go by, inventing fantasy shapes. I also watch
other climbers coming up the Lhotse Face to the camp
here. They all look the same from a distance. A few
slow climbing steps and a pause to rest with heaving
chests trying to draw in the thin air.
I know that higher up it will be much worse. There may
be many climbers moving in a train, but we'll all be
in our own private hells battling the pain determined
to push higher, drawing on our mental reserves to keep
slowly going ever higher.
I'm hoping to climb up to the South Col tomorrow