I looked up and saw a stream of headlamps, high above. It was summit day, and I was just about to begin the ascent. I had a long climb ahead of me but couldn’t believe that I was only hours away from achieveing my dream of being on the top of the world.
Days 42 to 44 – Everest Basecamp
After a few days of rest lower in the Khumbu Valley (Part II), we arrived back at Everest Basecamp on May 5th. The Nepalese Army announced that even if the Chinese don’t put the Olympic Torch on the summit, they will allow the route to be set to Camp III on May 10 and climbers can will be allowed on May 11. Above Khumbu Icefall, the required fixed ropes and ladders are set up by Sherpas from the various expeditions. Lakhpa from our team was one of the route setters.
Over the next two days Ngima and the other high-altitude Sherpas took supplies and bottles of oxygen up to Camp II. I had 3 bottles of oxygen and Ngima had 1.
My chore on one of these rest days was to fix my tent. The melting glacier caused it to sag where I slept. I had to take the tent down and re-level the ice underneath with an ice-axe before putting the tent back up. I remembered setting up my tent in Camp Berlin on Aconcagua. It was so exhausting that I almost passed out. Everest Basecamp is 600 m lower than Camp Berlin, but even 2 weeks earlier I don’t think I could have done this much work without struggling.
It was starting to warm up, even higher up on the mountain. I saw a few avalanches come down above basecamp. They were probably triggered from rockfall or cornices collapsing from the hot sun. They were small avalanches, not coming close to camp. In 2014 and 2015 deadly avalanches raged down the mountain covering the icefall and basecamp.
I met a man from Dallas, Texas in basecamp. He was disabled and not able to use his legs. He arrived by being carried in a basket on a porter’s back. It was his dream to see EBC and today he achieved that dream.
Day 45 (May 8) – EBC
We were awakened around 6 am by the sonic boom of Chinese fighter jets flying over Everest. We knew this meant the Chinese had summited!! They reached the summit from the north side of Everest (Tibet) and since we were on the south side in Nepal we never saw them. That meant we could begin the final preparations for our summit bid.
Day 46 – EBC to Camp II
Elevation gain – 1,075 m (3,527 ft); Climbing time – 6 hrs, 15 min
Yet another acclimatization trip up Khumbu Icefall, this time I would go all the way to Camp III. Ngima and I Ieft EBC around 4:30 am and made very good time, arriving in Camp I in 3 ½ hrs. From there though, it was very hot and we had to slow down our pace. I was carrying my backpack which weighed around 10 kg. I carried my own warm clothes and my – 40° sleeping bag. I made it to the bottom of Camp II in 5 hours and 15 minutes. By the time I reached my tent 100 m higher and one hour later, I was completely exhausted (6,430 m/21,096 ft).
Kalpana was very happy to see us. When Rosa and I went to Pangboche, Kalpana stayed at basecamp. To aid in her acclimatization, she hiked up to Camp II five days earlier and had been there ever since.
Day 47 – Camp II, Acclimatization hike
Elevation gain – 230 m; Climbing time – 1 ½ hrs
There is a large bergschrund at the base of Lhotse, above Camp II. Rosa and I walked up to it to get a little more acclimatization and to take a closer look at Lhotse Face. It looked so close but took 1 ½ hours to get there. On the way I could see people making their way up the icy slope of Lhotse, taking supplies to Camp III. If you look closely at the first picture below you can see people on the slope.
Day 48 – Camp II to Camp III
Elevation gain – 950 m (3,116 ft); Climbing time – 5 hrs
Camp III would be the highest that I had ever been up to that point at 7,380 m (24,212 ft). I had a bit of anxiety, hoping my body would adjust. We left camp at 6:15 am. It only took 1 hour to reach the bergschrund this time. At that point I realized that I was glad our tent was at the top of Camp II, otherwise I’d have another hour of climbing to reach this point.
Above the bergschrund is Lhotse Face. It is a very steep, tall wall of blue ice rising 1,125 m (3,690 ft). Most of Lhotse Face is at a 40-50° incline but in places it’s almost vertical. There were 720 m to gain on this ice wall to reach Camp III. On the fixed ropes I used a jumar, also called an ascender, as well as two carabiners. The jumar slides up the rope, but won’t slip backward it has teeth that grab the rope. This allows you to use it to help pull yourself up. To get up the wall, I slid the jumar up the rope and then kicked in steps in the ice with crampons. The rope is secured to the ice periodically with ice screws and the two carabiners are used to ensure you are always clipped in to the rope as you navigate around the screws. There were two rows of fixed ropes about 30-40 meters apart. One rope was supposed to be for up traffic and the other for down, but the down rope crossed over steeper terrain so most people used the up rope for both directions.
Fixed ropes are necessary for safety, but they also result in line-ups. The widely publicized pictures of Everest often show long lines of people on Lhotse Face. Luckily for us, it wasn’t as bad as on some of those pictures. It was a slow climb though. Some climbers who were very tired stopped to rest in the middle of the trail and wouldn’t move out of the way. It’s too difficult to get around them so it holds up everyone below in a cascade.
Camp III (7,380 m/ 24,212 ft) is built on icy benches on the slope of Lhotse Face. There aren’t many horizontal spots for tents so often a flat spot is dug into the ice and snow. It took 3 ½ hours to reach the second tier of tents in Camp III. Our tents were still above them on the 3rd and highest tier. Between the last two tiers I had to scale a 20 m (65 ft) high, 90° bench of ice. At this elevation, it was an exhausting hurdle.
After 5 tiring hours I reached my tent. My O₂ saturation on arrival was only 69%. I checked Lakhpa’s and it was even lower at 65%. I would do this climb once more on this expedition but Ngima did it at least 4 times. It was impressive to witness how hard he works on this mountain. It took Kalpana 10 hours to get from Camp II to Camp III. That was quite an achievement. Based on her previous experience I didn’t think she’d make it that far. It was a testament to her sheer determination.
Camp III is an interesting place. It’s hard to imagine that tents don’t slide right down Lhotse Face even though they are tightly secured to the ice. There are numerous crevasses in the area so there are marked trails and in places, fixed ropes for safety. There were no toilets at camp or privacy. You had to go in the open, over whatever crevasse a fixed rope will reach.
There was a storm overnight at Camp III. My tent shook in the high winds. In the morning the tents were covered in a layer of snow.
Day 49 – Camp III to Camp II
Elevation Loss- 950 m
I had no major issues sleeping at Camp III. I was very surprised and happy that I appeared to be acclimitizing so well. The high-altitude Sherpas were supposed to go up to South Col, but they didn’t because of strong winds. After the storm overnight, we had a beautiful sky in the morning and I had a phenomenal view of Everest’s pyramid. There were often interesting clouds that formed over its summit and today was no exception.
On the return back to Camp II, I was able to use a running rappel for much of Lhotse Face but there were 2 or 3 steep benches that had to be properly rappelled. Luckily when I was rapelling, there were no climbers trying to come up the same rope. I made the mistake of wearing only light liner mitts and left my warm gloves and over-mitts in the bottom of my backpack. It was still very windy from the storm the night before and my hands were getting very cold. I didn’t want to remove my backpack to get my warm mitts on Lhotse Face because if I dropped anything, it would drop hundreds of feet below. During one of the rappels I couldn’t feel my hands. This was dangerous as it was difficult to hold on to the rope during the rappel. At the bottom of that rappel I was able to find a safe spot behind a serac where I could warm my hands under my arm pits and get my warm gloves out of my backpack. My hands burned when they warmed up.
Day 50 – Camp II to EBC
Elevation loss – 1,075 m; Climbing time – 4 ½ hrs
As we hiked down the Western Cwm we were treated to the most amazing sunrise over Everest. The sun’s rays highlighted a jet stream that is so often over the summit. There was at least a foot of fresh snow on the Western Cwm but it didn’t slow us down much.
Descending the ladders and ropes over Khumbu Icefall was getting easier, but it was still a scary place. On the way back to EBC I met Ngima’s uncle, Apa Sherpa (nicknamed Super Sherpa). At the time he had the record for having the most Everest summits. By 2011 he had summited Everest a remarkable 21 times. He was born in Thame, home of another famous Everest summiteer, Tenzing Norgay Sherpa. Apa’s record was broken in 2018 by Kamirita Sherpa who now has at least 24 summits. In 2019, at age 37, Ngima became the youngest person in the world to have summited Everest 21 times.
Our cook Lundruk made us an amazing lunch with vegetables, rice and curried chicken. I was famished. I could eat at least two times as much at EBC than I could higher elevations.
Days 51 to 53 – EBC
I had a few days in EBC to rest and eat in aniticpation of my summit push. I had lost a lot of weight so I needed to put calories in my body. We tried on our oxygen masks and tested the regulators that remained at basecamp. The masks were old and didn’t fit very well, especially when wearing goggles. Ngima’s hose was leaking so he repaired it with duct tape. It seems to be a universal repair technique. The Quebecois had new masks that they bought from an English company for $600 each. I stuck with the old, used one that didn’t fit well but was known to be reliable.
Lakhpa and Ngima had gone up to Camp II. They each carried 20 kg of supplies from Camp II to Camp IV. It only took them 9 hours to climb 1,476 m (4,843 ft) up and 2,600 m (8,530 ft) down, and were back in basecamp by 4 pm. It was incredible how fast they could climb.
There was a rumour that the monsoon was a week early in India this year. I hoped this wasn’t true because the monsoon brings bad weather to the mountains making it unsafe to climb.
The Sirdar (lead) Sherpas and guides had a meeting to try to organize all of the expeditions. They do this every year to try to prevent log jams. They decided that the route to the South Summit will be completed by May 20. Lakhpa and one more Sherpa from our team went to work on setting the route above Camp IV.
Day 54 (May 17) – EBC to Camp II
Elevation gain – 1,075 m (3,527 ft); Climbing time – 6 hrs, 15 min
Today is the beginning of the summit push. We left camp by 4:20 am and were at Camp I after 3 ½ hrs. After 6 hrs 15 minutes I arrived at our tents in Camp II. Again I was carrying my backpack weighing about 10 kg. A good weather window was forecasted until May 23. Things were looking promising.
Day 55 – Camp II
I had a rest day at Camp II. Kalpana arrived from Camp I and the one of the Quebecois arrived from EBC. We were all planning to summit on the 22nd. The reports were that 150 people were planning to summit on May 22nd.
Day 56 (May 19) – Camp II to Camp III
Elevation gain – 950 m; Climbing time – 6 hrs 15 min
Plans changed again. The route to the South Summit would be completed a day earlier and therefore my summit attempt would be May 21st. We left at 11 am for Camp III. I struggled a bit on the climb and it took 1 hour and 15 minutes longer than last time.
About halfway up Lhotse Face a huge boulder dropped from Geneva Spur. I was on the fixed rope and Kalpana was right above me so I couldn’t move. The boulder bounced around and luckily the last bouce took it away from us. It may have dislodged itself because of melting snow from the hot sun or been knocked down by Sherpas who were high above on the Geneva Spur setting up the route.
I was pretty mad because the Australian who is climbing Lhotse got his own tent at Camp III and refused to share it with anyone. This meant that I had to share a tent with three Sherpas.
My O₂ was only 70% and I had a mild headache. I experimented with my oxygen and found that even at a very low setting of 0.5 L/min my headache was almost completely gone.
In the evening monsoon clouds filled in the valley below. It was an interesting view with Cho Oyu and Pumori’s peaks proudy sticking up above the boiling clouds. The next morning a clear sky allowed me to see the entire scene.
Day 57 (May 20) – Camp III to Camp IV
Elevation gain – 526 m (1,725 ft), Climbing time – 6 hrs 50 min
I couldn’t believe that I was on my way to South Col, the location of Camp IV. It was a very long day taking 6 hours and 50 minutes. According to Ngima this time was very good. There were at least 120 people on the way up resulting in a lot of traffic jams at the technical sections.
After an hour I reached the well-known feature called Yellow Band (7,620 m/25,000 ft). As with the location of our tents at Camp II, I was happy that our Camp III tents were located on the highest tier. Yellow Band is a distinctive rocky cliff band on Lhotse Face. There was fixed rope to help climbers scale the feature. It wasn’t difficult especially since I’m used to climbing, but it was tiring. Some people sat on the rock to rest making it difficult to pass them. They were too tired to even try to move out of the way. If you look closely at the first picture below you can see the trail toward Yellow Band in the snow. The second picture shows the area from a distance for context.
Not long after crossing Yellow Band we met Rosa. She had summited Lhotse and was on her way down! I was so happy for her, but I still had a long way to go myself today. Above Yellow Band we passed Camp IV for those climbing Lhotse.
After Yellow Band I was glad to have an easier walk until I reached a large rock buttress called Geneva Spur. The route climbs a 20 m (65 ft) high rocky step on Geneva Spur. When we arrived at the base of the climb there was a long line of climbers waiting their turn. There were also a few Sherpas coming down after setting the route higher up, making the wait even longer. Since we were getting close to the Death Zone, I started to use oxygen before attempting to climb Geneva Spur.
There were so many ropes coming down the rock that it looked like streamers on a Christmas tree. Most were old ropes from previous years. I had to be careful to chose the best one. The rock has large holds for your hands and feet but at this elevation and with crampons stepping on bare rock, it was a difficult scramble. This was definitely the most challenging and technical part of the climb today.
From the top of Geneva Spur the terrain levelled out all the way to Camp IV (7,906 m/25,938 ft).
Camp IV is a wind swept, desolate place set in the col between Everest and Lhotse. The ground is littered in shredded tents and broken tent poles. At almost 8,000 meters high, it is situated at the start of the Death Zone. It’s called the Death Zone for a reason. The body can’t survive for long with such a low pressure of oxygen. I couldn’t do much at camp. I just laid in my tent and tried to rest. Even going to the toilet left me completely wasted.
Day 59 (May 21) – Summit Day
Elevation gain 848 m, Elevation loss 2,418 m; Climbing time to summit – 10 hrs
We began the climb to the summit the night before, on May 20th. It was 10 of the most difficult hours I’ve ever had. Dressed in my –40° C down suit, big warm mits, warm boots and oxygen mask I left Camp IV. There was a full moon so it was brighter than usual, but we still had to use headlamps. Not long after leaving camp we arrived at the base of the pyramid. It was dark and I could see a stream of headlamps high above. Some people left much earlier and were already close to the Balcony. It was a bit disheartening to see how high I had to climb to reach it. The first section climbs a steep, icy wall at a 30 – 50° incline. There were fixed ropes and thankfully the line-ups weren’t too bad. Slowly, one foot after the other, sliding the jumar along the ropes, I reached the Balcony at 8,383 m (27,500 ft). As its name suggests it’s a flat spot where quite a few people, including me, stopped to rest. I changed to a fresh oxygen bottle while I rested. The picture below is approaching the Balcony from above, later in the day.
From the Balcony to South Summit the climb continued up a 30° ice wall. I was in the middle of a slow line of climbers, but near the top a final steep section brought everything to a stop. The 30° incline steepens to 60°. We had to wait for at least an hour for people to try to scale over the rock bands. I was getting cold but the sun was rising so I hoped to warm up soon. The climb to South Summit (8,747 m/28,700 ft) is not how I had pictured it. It was much steeper and longer than I had imagined.
From South Summit I could see Everest’s true summit. It was still a long way away. The trail descended a little and then followed an exposed, razor-sharp ridge for 120 m (400 ft). There were steep drop offs on both sides. On the north side a huge cornice had ice axe holes in the snow. At times I could see right through the holes to the ground in Tibet, thousands of meters below. On the other side, a steep drop allowed me to see all the way down to Camp II over 2,000 m (6,561 ft) below.
Slowly we made our way up the narrow ridge until I reached the famous Hillary Step, 8,763 m (28,750 ft). The rocky spur is 15 m (40 ft) high and consists of 2 benches of rock. The route is different from year to year, depending on the amount of snow. I climbed up and around one and then up the second bench. I didn’t find it very difficult and actually, I barely remember it.
From Hillary Step there is a moderate grade snowy climb. It undulates a little so I still couldn’t see the summit and had no idea how far I had left to climb.
Finally after a 10 gruelling hours, Ngima and I reached the summit of Mt. Everest, 8,848 m (29,029 ft) at 8 am! I was on the top of the world. I spent about 30 minutes on the summit soaking it all in. What an amazing feeling, the entire world was below and I could actually see the curvature of the earth. At this elevation the sky is almost black. There were amazing views of the Himalayan Range. Giants like Makalu and Cho Oyu were beneath me.
The summit is not large. There were a few other climbers there and others were arriving. I could see a queue of people on the ridge slowly slogging their way up. I didn’t want to get caught in a long line-up on the way down, so I knew that I had to begin my descent.
On the way down I had to stop at each technical section to wait for people coming up on the ropes. There’s not enough room for two lines of rope so we had to move down when there was a gap between climbers. It can be challenging to time it properly. I remember one section specifically where I had to step on a frozen slab to avoid climbers. It felt very exposed, but thankfully my crampons kept me from slipping on the ice. Somewhere near South Summit I met Kalpana who was on her way up.
I didn’t see any bodies on my way up from Camp IV, but I did see two on my way down. One was near the Balcony and another near Camp IV. They looked so peaceful, even though I know they must have had a horrific last few minutes and hours. Most of the dead are moved away from the trail so they are not easily seen, but it is too dangerous to be bring them off the mountain.
Some people stay in Camp IV, but I only I rested there for a couple of hours. The Quebecois were at camp on their way up so I talked with them about the climb. After a couple of hours I removed my oxygen mask and was back on the trail. I went all the way to Camp II (6,430 m), arriving there by 6 pm. Ngima came with me, but he had to take down the tents in Camp III so I rapelled down Lhotse Face on my own.
Day 60 (May 22) – Camp II to EBC
Elevation loss – 1,075 m (3,527 ft); Climbing time – 4 hrs
In the morning at Camp II my O₂ saturation was a remarkable 82%. When I made my final crossing of the Khumbu Icefall it began to snow. I was very glad that I wasn’t higher up the mountain when it was snowing. I was very tired and tripped on my crampons a few times. One time my crampon got caught on a fixed rope and another time on the gator of my other leg. It could have been much worse.
My daughter, Eliza, came to Nepal to meet me after the climb. I didn’t know where she was or if I’d see her at basecamp. She left a note in my tent saying that she was going to try to climb Lobuche Peak. The weather wasn’t very good so I wondered how she was making out. She also used the same expedition company for Lobuche that I did for Everest so they will let her know I summited.
It felt so good to be back in basecamp after a successful summit. Our cook made a celebratory cake for Rosa and I, and we all had a shot of whiskey.
Kalpana also summited today, but had problems getting down and needed help from her Sherpas. She arrived in basecamp after I left. From basecamp she had to take a helicopter to a hospital in Kathmandu where she spent over a month.
We were saddened in 2019 to hear that Kalpana died in an accident on her way back down the mountain after summiting Everest for a second time. That summit made her the first Indian woman to summit Everest twice, but unfortunately she died on her descent near the Balcony. Rest in Peace Kalpana.
Days 61 to 63 – EBC to Lukla
Elevation loss – 2,564 m (8,412 ft)
It felt so good to be on the way out. I lost a lot of weight and was feeling elated and exhausted at the same time. I arrived in Lobuche at noon and my daughter was excitedly waiting for me. We spent the next two days hiking down to the airport in Lukla. On the way down we visited the climbers’ memorial. It was a difficult site to visit. So many lives were lost on the mountain.
The trail was full of trekkers and also yaks heading up to basecamp to take supplies off the mountain. We stopped at my favourite bakery in Tengboche for another apple studel and cup of good coffee. I was always hungry and was eating a lot. In Namche Bazaar I bought a new pair of pants. I had lost so much weight that none of mine fit.
The valley was beautiful with so many flowers in full bloom. The Rhododendrons coloured the valley in pink.
In Kathmandu I went for my free meal at Rum Doodle. The restaurant gives free meals for life to Everest summiteers. We returned to the restaurant in 2011, but when we tried to go in 2018 it had moved to another part of town.
While in Kathmandu I met with someone from the Himalayan Mountain Chronicler for my post summit interview. Ngima invited us for lunch at his home in Kathmandu. Getting to his house was another adventure. In Khatmandu buildings don’t have addresses so all we could tell the taxi driver was the name of an intersection near his apartment. Ngima met us at the intersection to take us to his house.
Finally, 72 days after I arrived in Nepal I was home. I had spent almost 50 days in a tent and lost close to 40 lbs, but it was all worth it.
For more pictures of the entire Everest expedition check out our YouTube video.
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