Mexican Everest 2002 Expedition




It's May 17th in the afternoon.

An expedition leader on the North side of Everest, told Javier and Luz María at ABC that his Sherpas saw Demetrio Carrasco, member of our expedition, fall and die at 8500 meters, on the day of the summit attack.

There was also a contact loss with the summit group and, because of the late hour, two of them would have to bivouac above 8300 meters, which few people survive. The situation is dangerous...

There were really moments of anguish like this during the expedition; it looks easy that 4 Mexicans get to the Everest summit, but it isn't. There have to be many factors together, and a little luck to achieve it. The CEMAC expedition could gather these factors... This is a summary of the story...

Seven members of CEMAC formalized their assistance to the Everest expedition, the world's highest mountain, since 2001. It was decided to attempt it without Sherpas or oxygen. After months of work, planning and organization, we left towards Katmandu, Nepal, on March 29th. This is the obligatory gate to go to the North Face of the mountain by the Tibetan or Chinese side.

The members were:

María del Carmen Peña.

Luz María Zamudio.

Demetrio Carrasco.

Javier Santos.

Javier Salazar

Raúl Ledesma.

Jorge Hermosillo. Chief of the expedition.

We were in Nepal's capital for 5 days shopping for equipment, backup oxygen in case we decided to use it, food and configuring our satellite phone with a solar panel. Luz María caught the flu which would affect her during all the approach.

We began the trip towards the Chinese border by bus. We left Nepal in Kodai, and Zhangmu is the entrance to Tibet. The next day we traveled to Nyalam for 2 days of acclimatization with ascents to almost 5,000 m. Afterwards we moved to Tingri, at 4,300 m. and 2 other days of acclimatization. Then we went to Everest Base Camp at 5,100 m., very close to the Rongbuck monastery.

We were from the 11th to the 13th of April organizing loads and acclimatizing. Luz María was still sick with the flu. On the 14th, the 7 members of the expedition, 2 cooks and 30 yaks, moved 1,800 kilos of equipment to the intermediate camp at 5,800 m. A dining tent was fixed late for all of us to spent the night there. The wind was strong.

At last, the next day, the Advanced Base Camp was installed at 6,400 m. on a moraine at the foot of Shangste. Only 2 days later, Demetrio Carrasco had pulmonary edema and descends with one of the cooks to Base Camp for 9 days.

The rest of the group ascended on the April 19 and 20, up to 7,100 m. to Camp 1, stocking it with a tent and equipment in what is called the North Col. Camp 2 was intended to be fixed on the 23 th and 24th but the eternal wind on this face of the mountain did not let us, so the equipment was left at Camp 1.

Demetrio is back, but Luz María and Javier descend to Base to rest. Three days later Carmen joins them. Camp 2 is installed until May 4 and 5 at 7,600 m. in 2 groups. Raúl, Salazar, Demetrio and Jorge participated. There is no wind on the ridge but Camp 2 is strong. The tent was left there without rods.

The days between workdays are less every time. On May 6, Javier Salazar has pulmonary edema and has to descend to Base Camp. We tried to advance to Camp 3 on May 9 and 10, but it is impossible to get there, the wind is like a hurricane and literally flies. Raúl, Carmen, Jorge and Javier Santos participated. The latter spends a night at Camp 2 and the wind threats to rip everything, tent included, spending there one of the worst nights of his life.

Only 2 days later, the summit attack begins. It would be the first and last because the weather has not let any expedition get close to Camp 3. Everything started with a weather report that indicated that on the 16th and 17th there was going to be little wind at the summit zone, with slight snowfalls and clouds... only the wind worries us and this would be the waited opportunity.

However, we did not have installed Camp 3 or 4, which we wanted to install at 7,900 and 8,300, respectively. The attack would be Alpine style carrying everything from 7,600, which implies 20 kilograms for each of us.

It was intended in the beginning to climb in 2 parts, separated by a day, to give us a support on the summit day, but we decided to put all our cards on the table and 5 of us would do it at the same time. This implied logistics problems, because the tents were not enough and we would have to pack ourselves in just one, in the higher camps.

On the 13th, Carmen, Demetrio, Raúl, Jorge and Javier Santos climb to Camp 1. One more day to get to Camp 2, at 7,600 m. Javier Santos quits his attempt due to respiratory problems and migraine. He descends to Advanced Base. Javier Salazar gets to this camp on the 13th, after recovering from his edema and finds out that the rest has gone to the summit. He announces that he will immediately join them; he is recommended not to do so, because of his previous problem; however he feels strong and decides to reach them having one day of delay.

On the 15th, the group advances only 300 meters reaching 7,900 m. The extra load exhausts them, besides installing camp and preparing water and food. The next day, with unstable weather, we reach 8,300 m. late in the afternoon. Back again to install camp and rest because in just a few hours the summit attack begins. During the night, Javier Salazar reaches us, who, exhausted, would rest 2 hours and joins us for the definitive day.

Every movement exhausts us; nobody had ever camped so high in our lives. It is the first attempt to reach Everest's summit for all of us. We feel tension because we don't know how we will feel on the 3 steps of the route. Time flies by. At midnight on the 17th, we dress up and decide to use the oxygen backup to attempt the summit. Each one has 2 tanks which in normal conditions last 6 hours each.

At 1:30 in the morning, Carmen leads trailing the rest. At 3 am we meet a climber who is doing a bivouac because he lost his sight and waits for the Sherpas to help him the next day. He is like a zombie but he is alive. At dawn we pass the first step, with 40 meters of easy climb at 70 degrees.

At sunrise we are at the famous Step 2. We all make it, except Raúl. His cornea was beginning to freeze, we wait for a long while to see if the problem is controlled, but he has to take the hard decision to go down, but it's the right decision to avoid irreversible damage.

On the third step we make short climbs with intermediate rests. We are at the summit pyramid. It looks easy but it takes us more than 2 hours to do it.

At the end, wavy snow slopes that lead us to the summit. Jorge Hermosillo reaches it at 1 pm. Demetrio Carrasco half an hour later, and Carmen along with Javier Salazar get there at 3:30 in the afternoon, being the last of all who made it to the summit that day. They could be seen from Advanced Camp at plain sight. Those who were watching thought that descent time has gone by, but they kept on climbing until they reached the summit.

From it some eight thousands could be seen: Lhotse, Kangchenjunga, Makalu, Cho Oyu, Shishapangma... The landscape is unique... we were on the top of the world.

During descent everybody runs out of oxygen and trouble begins. All effort was used to reach to the summit and descent was very hard, and to the limit. Jorge reaches camp at 8,300 at 6 pm. Demetrio at 9 and Carmen, along with Salazar, until 11 pm. We were convinced they had to do a bivouac, but they never gave up and reached the camp exhausted.

Our mates at Advanced Base could make a radio communication at last with the guys at Camp 3 and find out that Demetrio is inside the tent... It is not possible, but the expedition leader told us about the wrong dead man, we knew later that the deceased was a Slovenian who was mistaken for Demetrio by the Sherpas. [Actually it is believed by George Dijmarescu that this was a Japanese climber who fell, but who was saved by a unbelievable effort from a Sherpa climber. The Slovenian, we have confirmed died at 7800 in a tent. We are going to have to wait for that story until George Dijmarescu's computer gets out of the shop... ] At midnight they can all take a deep breath knowing that everybody could go down to camp 3.

The drama did not end until everybody reached Base Camp. It took 2 to 3 days to descend in the worst physical conditions, dehydrated and exhausted, literally in zeros.

3 days of rest followed to recover bit by bit, although Carmen was still weak. On the 24th they descended to Base Camp. During this trip her health suddenly gets worse. It was a pulmonary edema that brings along edema and pneumonia. From that moment on she would be the main worry for all the expedition, until they get to Mexico.

On the night of May 27, the jeeps that are going to take us to Tingri arrive. The next day they will get to Katmandu, where after 4 days they begin their trip back to Mexico. The trip ends on June 1st. However, Carmen spends one more week in the hospital.

Four Mexicans, members of Club de Exploraciones de México, reached Everest's summit, also Badia and Alejandro, from other friend expeditions, which were mutually supporting each other to achieve the objective, instead of destroying ourselves with envy and competition.

This is an undeniable fact: 6 Mexicans who knew how to work as a team, reached Everest's summit.

We have a lot of people to thank for their support. Instituto Mexiquense de Cultura Física y Deporte del Estado de México, Club de Exploraciones de México, its partners in Mexico and Toluca, Lise Waitier, Mexicana de Aviación, Singapore Airlines, the physicians team of Sección Toluca who were paying attention to every clinical case we ran into, and in general to everybody who cooperated for the success of this expedition.

Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera.

For more on Zoran's death (the Slovenian) read here: I lost my friend Zoran.

The rest of the story on Zoran's death is going to come later...

For more information on this expedition see here.

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