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Gavin recounts summit bid: Part Three

From Everest with Love Part 3:

But distance can be cruelly deceptive and it was over an hour before we reached the Camp 4 at 8300m, now deserted. We ducked into a tent and rested for two hours. When we made ready to leave, Will sat up and promptly vomited into his balaclava. I remember thinking to question this action but at the time I didn't. It seemed natural.

We started off again, now pressing towards the northeast ridge and now the first flush of dawn lightened the sky but of course on the north face we wouldn't feel it's warmth for many hours. We moved strongly up loose shale and up steepish snow ramps again and I remember looking down the north face and across at the broad sweep of Himalayas. It was exhilarating stuff, not easy by any means and we were certainly gasping for breath every three or four steps. My throat was so dry I just couldn't swallow and therefore couldn't speak properly. Just a whisper. Will was the same but together we moved on like insects stuck to a massive board. It is to vast, that face, I can hardly match the words to describe the feeling of being pinned to it, so high and so exposed. A slight breeze up here, just ten knots of wind, and we would have been in deep trouble. The cold would have sapped our energy in minutes.

Then a bizarre incident. We were approaching a narrow snow gully, quite steep and halfway up, quite motionless, sat a figure gazing down at us ! It, he, she, never moved and for forty minutes we clambered slowly towards this figure who just looked down at us. The last bit was a steepish rock section with myriad ropes from years past hanging off it, tat we call it, and since I was leading at that point it was my job to negotiate us both through this mess. It was extremely exhausting but I kept looking up at this figure, now obviously a man, who sat watching in complete silence. 

Eventually I got to within six feet of him and was lying semi-prone on the ground trying to muster some sort of oxygen into my lungs, and he spoke. "Do you have radio?". I nodded no, I couldn't speak; behind me I could Will like an old locomotive grunting in disbelief. "I am needing my Sherpa and I have no glasses. Have you seen him ?" I looked closer and sure enough the man wasn't wearing any glasses and his eyes had that terrible unseeing gaze of the snow-blind, the sclera an angry red. Dear God. 

It turned out that he could see, just. We put him on the rope, made sure he was safe and told him to descend slowly to camp. Off he went. As we watched he seemed to negotiate himself quite well, the sun wasn't on us yet and we felt he would  be okay. But why come out here without sunglasses ?

The route continued ever upwards towards the exit cracks that led onto the northeast ridge. But it was never-ending. I could see Will hunched in frustration, his head occasionally nodding; by now I know every nuance of his moves and gestures and he mine. We had reached a pinnacle of teamwork up here that is absolutely essential. It requires no words, sometimes just a look. There is tremendous security to be had from this, and I'm sure there are few situations on earth where it becomes to important. We couldn't talk to each other, words were minimal, gestures plain. It is one of the reasons I love expeditions so much, that degree of companionship and trust and friendship is so strong that it lasts a lifetime. People don't realize that out there, without the securities and comforts of home, you are only left to rely on your own resources and often they are just your respective characters. Challenges force that, and there on Everest, on the final slopes, we were quite literally as one. Ask any high altitude mountaineer and they will concur.

Then suddenly we popped out on top of the ridge, and narrow it is too. Will was ahead and I suddenly saw him, like an angel, bathed in the mid-morning light. I was about twenty feet behind him and experience a sudden jealousy - I wanted to be there ! He looked down and pointed outwards. "Gav!" he croaked, "Oh Jeez Gav look, Makalu !, the south side ! Oh my God !". I wanted to just race up those last steps and say "Oh yeah !" but I couldn't, my body just refused. Patience is a virtue on Everest ! 

Then I was there and the view was with me. Will and I just stood and looked. I completely welled up. The last time I had stood and looked down on Makalu, fifth highest peak in the world, was on the 16th May 2000 with Andy Salter. Now on the northeast ridge, literally a couple of hundred yards away, I was staring at the same sight. On either side of this fantastic ridge, snow and rock covered but narrower than you would think for such  a huge mountain, were the Himalayas. Like a vast topographical carpet of mountains laid out in ranks, disappearing off onto the horizons in all directions. 

"Kanchenjunga!" gasped Will, clearly having an emotional moment, and yes there it was in the distance. Possibly my next mountain, I thought. And cutting a triangle, clear and shining in the sun, between the two sides of the world it seemed, was the last couple of hundred meters of Everest itself, an easy snow slope. I could see the summit ! There it was and all of a sudden after all the weeks of work and preparation, I knew it was ours to reach. Will was obviously thinking the same too because he started off. We were going to the top of the world !

Part 4 to follow.... Stay tuned

Part one is here.


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A drop of many thousands of feet down the north face outside our tent at Camp3, unbelievably windy and exposed.