After getting back to Europe, I have begun to put in writing some of the things that happened while summiting Everest. The last few weeks have been a bit surreal and I now just plain happy with completing the Journey and starting to feel that what I went through was real. It is all just sinking in. Mostly for myself, I am now able to write about some of the events that I went through, it was such a powerful experience that I think I could be considered somewhat ‘traumatized’. My God, I still have a hard time believing I did it. I was there on Everest, standing on the summit with just one other person looking at the curve of the earth. Last night I was showing photos to friends and it all really started to come back. I felt my heartbeat increasing, I was agitated and found myself standing up with arms waving telling the stories. Paul was beside me and stopped me a few times to ask if I was ok and if I wanted to continue. It was so emotional. I will recount my final 5 days experiences during the summit push. Most of the other events before the summit were written about previously. The last few days of the journey were the most amazing. Again, it is all really starting to sink in.
As some of you may recall in a previous blog post, at ABC, on the 17th of May, Phil met with the group with the latest weather forecast and we started to discuss different possibilities…the options were for a push for the summit on the 21st or the 22th…all team members were asked to vote on which day they they thought was best. This year the weather was very unpredictable and the forecasts hardly matched the actual weather. We voted and the majority vote was for us to leave tomorrow. Margaret and I, and one other member, voted to wait for one more day. But the majority ruled and we were fine with it. That evening everyone was excited, nervous and everyone went to bed early. That night, I hardly slept at all. The rock I was sleeping on, that seemed to keep coming up more and more every day and night, seemed to stick into my back more than ever. I dont think I slept well that night. We finished our final preparations in the morning. We left ABC at about 11.
I called Paul that morning to let him know (and for him to tell you) we were starting our final summit push. He was excited and wished me good luck. There was not much else we could say to each other and kept the call short to save whatever battery I had left in the Satellite phone. I was nervous but glad to get moving. It was a nice morning a bit windy but quite warm.
I took my time on the way to the North Col. On the way, there was quite an emotional moment when my Sherpa from Cho Oyu passed me. He was working for another expedition group and he and the other sherpas from this other group were going up ahead of their Clients. I would run into him several times in the coming days and he would always check on me, adjust my oxygen and just see if I was OK. It took about 4 to 5 hours to get to top of the Col.
When I arrived at the top of the Col, I was feeling pretty good compared to the previous 2 times I had climbed it during our acclimatization. The Sherpas were waiting at the camp on top of the Col and were melting some snow for water for us to drink.
I dont even remember if I slept that night. It was about 1000 meters higher than ABC so there was less oxygen and it was exciting. I just was waiting for the morning to come.
In the morning we packed and put our down suits on. From here on, we would take just the minimum amount of things we would need. It would be cold and a hard climb so we just took extra gloves and some food, water and a bottle of suppliment oxygen that we would use at about 7300 meters or above camp 1 and camp 2, . We were getting closer to the death zone. The use of oxygen from here was vital for survival. The highest we had slept before was at the N Col. The following morning we started our climb up towards Camp 2. It was so beautiful looking at the panorama view the mountains.
I did have a bit of scare as I climbed this section. I had a some numbness in my right shoulder. I dont know why this was happening but it may have been from my packpack. I did not want to start the oxygen already or would not have made it. I adjusted my packpack straps and shuffled my bag around. Whatever I did worked becasue the numbness left my shoulder. The climb was steep on a snowy slope. I was at about at 7300 meters when I put my oxgen mask on. I felt amazing. I was totally invigorated. I passed most all my team mates and followed Ole, one of the strongest climbers. The oxygen was amazing. I felt like it was the best walk ever! This part of the climb is infamous because it is usually so stranuous, about 1300 meters of elevation, long and with some steep sections. When the snowy ridge ended, we had to walk across broken rocks, a rock scramble of moving rocks under your feet and with no fixed ropes in some places. When I finally reached my tent at camp 2, it was an incredible feeling.
The tents were set on platforms built from loose rocks so it was not very comfortable. That night the wind began to pick up. The wind howling and hitting the tent was increadible. I left my O2 on at a low rate all night, it helped me to get some rest. In the morning the wind was blowing even harder! Phil was on the radio and wondering if we should wait for the wind to drop later in the morning but it never did so we had to stay ANOTHER night at camp 2. This was very serious because we were using our oxygen and it lowered our chances of having enough oxygen for the summit The decision was based on the fact that if we carried on higher that day, we would be risking frostbite and that could be lethal. We were on the edge of the death zone and by staying there longer, you become weaker and weaker. While there, you cant really rest, you cant eat, it is a very extreme environment where you cant stay too long and we were pushing the envelop by staying an extra night. One of our team members decided to go back down. Staying at this camp for this long was too much. Some of the team members were saying on the radio that they were running out of food. I had a few extra energy bars so I gave them to the others. There was lots of food to bring but many choose not to carry more food because of the weight. This was an unguided expedition and you are to look after yourself. Sherpas DO NOT carry your personal stuff or bring food for you and DO not short rope you to the summit (i.e. pull you to the summit on a short rope attached to you).
The next morning after spending two night at camp 2 we finally packed up our stuff and started moving up to camp 3. This was my least favorite section. It was a rock scramble from the beginning out of the camp. Walking over lose rocks, slipping, with no real path or fixed ropes, also even sometimes crawling to keep my balance with my crampons on. After a few hours of scrambling across the rocks, the path joins the summit ridge. Once you get to that ridge there is a bit of relief because there is a steep section of snow where you at least you can get some footing. On this ridge, ahead of me, I saw one of my team mates sitting down looking defeated. As I approached him, I tried to cheer him up by reminding him of the Arnold (the Terminator) speech he gave us at the bottom. I gave him one of my energy blocks. I dont think I humored him much but it seemed to help as he did get up and get going. I slowly got ahead of him and had to keep going myself. Unfortunately, the snow on the ground did not last long and I found myself climbing and scambling on rocks again. I saw a motionless body laying down right over the path where the rope goes through. Before I got to the body, I ran into some people coming down from the summit. I congratulated them and asked “why is that person laying down there, is he OK?” They looked at me and gently said: ‘there are ten or more of the on the way to the summit’. I realized it must be Nangel Sherpa, a good friend of Phil, who died a few days ago on the way down from the summit between camp three and two. I got chills on my back. My God, I thought, I can’t just walk over Nangel’s body… I sat down and waited for a while. But I couldn’t wait any longer, I had to get to Camp 3. I started moving, I tried not to look at him… Later at the base camp, Phil had tears in his eyes (I have never seen Phil crying before) he told me he spent half an hour talking to Nangel. It was him who put his back pack under Nangels head. Nangel died of his heart related problems. It wasn’t possible to bring him down, he’ll have to wait until next spring.
Finally, I could see the tents of camp 3. There was a long snowy ridge and it took me an hour to complete this little distance to the camp. It seemed so close but now, at over 8000 meters, ever step is brutal. Finally I arrived at camp 3. The Sherpas were there and we started to melt snow. It takes so long to melt snow at that elevation. We made our meal of noodles and I shared my french sausage I brought along. The Sherpas were not that hungry and were going to throw away what they could not eat but I was so hungry I ate all my dinner and was still hungry, so I ate their leftovers as well! When we finished eating, we started packing for the summit. I changed my stinky socks and put on my new Marino wool socks and my inner boot to warm them up before the summit. I got my litre of warm water and put in my thermal sleeve. I knew it would freeze but I guess from habit I decide to take it anyway. I always take a couple of energy blocks (candy) and put what I had inside my down suit pocket. I also took an extra torch, my flags, a photo of my Dad and a note from Paul. In the morning I would add my supplemental oxygen bottle (3 liters). Once I had everything organized I had a few hours to rest.
We originally planned to leave at 8pm but some of the team arrived at the camp late so we decided to leave after 9pm for the all night climb. I laid down in my down suit with my pack beside me. I could not sleep but I did rest. I felt good, no headache and felt better than I expected and was positive about getting to the summit. I called Paul on the sat phone to let him know I was at camp 3 and we would be leaving soon. We said few words, but what we did say to each other was special. I told him I would call when I got back down from the summit, I could hear he was choked up but OK. I put the phone in my pocket, hoping to make a surprise call from the summit 🙂 It didn’t work out because it was way too cold to risk getting my fingers frozen while trying to make a call on the summit! After all the photos, Tarki stated going down so I could not stay any longer.
Around 9pm we crawled out of the tent. It was dark and cold. I hate the cold and the dark. I got my crampons on and my backpack which was exhausting and difficult in the dark. The moon was shining but I could only see shapes and the lights of other climbers and the shape of the black scary massive mountain. I knew the summit push would be hard but I did not know what was ahead of me could possibly be as hard or dangerous as it would be. All I could see at the start was head lamps ahead of me and behind me. I knew about the Steps ahead but knew little of the “exit cracks”. There were huge boulders where I could hardly reach the top and had to crawl over the top dangling, reaching, trying to raise my leg to get over these boulders. The word struggle does not describe it. My god, I was not even at the steps yet. There were at least three huge patches of these steep rocks and boulders before reaching the infamous first of the 3 steps. This was not just dangerous but terrifying. Before I knew it, I saw “green boots” the dead climber that has turned into a landmark. I felt terrified and didnt want to look. There were other climbers passing me and some going down at this point. I kept thinking, I cant stop, I have to keep moving. After I passed Green Boots, I found a spot to stop, a rock to lean on and rest. Phil passed me and said “you are so fast” he was just trying to encourage me. Also, others passed me and then there was no one other than people going back down who were turning around. Tarki was with me then but then he said “keep moving” and he was gone, out of sight ahead of me. I started moving again. One step, four breaths moving my toes and fingers ,between my steps. I continued with this routine until I got to the first step. There is a big boulder that I dint think I could get over. Somehow I crawled up and over and continued. I could see head laps moving up a ladder in the distance ahead of me. It all looked so surreal. There was more rock scrambling leading until I could finally see the second step. It looked brutal. When I got to the ladders, Tarki was on his way up. Once I got on the ladder (which is three ladders attached together, kind of wobbling around. They are attached loosely to the rock wall), I was fine other than that at the top where I had to pull myself up the steep rocks. There are threads of old ropes that I also used to pull myself up. On the top of the Second Step, I needed to catch my breath. I was really tired at this point. Tarki was out of my site once again. I didn’t have much time, I needed to keep moving. I needed to keep moving my toes and my fingers – it’s was kind of my fault I was getting cold because I was wearing only the insides of my mitts, so my hands were not getting any warmer. I was not using mitts – they were too thick and big and not comfortable when I was trying to use my jumar or clip my safety carabiner to the fixed rope…
Finally, the day light started to appear, the sun was rising. The views were stunning but I had no time to enjoy them. I thought, I can’t lose my concentration, I have to do more rock scrambling leading to the third step. . I saw a steep bolder in the distance. I was terrified. I thought there is no way I am going to get up that rock! Before I reach the step, I saw Tarki waiting for me. Thank god. He checked my oxygen bottle and decided it’s time to change tanks. It took a few minutes. I was shivering from the cold while he changed the bottle for me. The wind was so strong it was blowing snow and ice on my face. The exposed skin on my cheeks was burning. Before I woke up from my deep thoughts on how I was going to continue, Tarki has done his job and had gone up the third step. I had no choice. I had to keep moving. I got to the bottom of the 3rd step… I tried to lift myself up, but I was completely out of breath, I fell back. I tried again, but I fell back again. At that time I didn’t know there was another -much easier route around the rock as my brain was slow to notice my surroundings. I yelled Tarki’s name as loud as I could. My throat was very dry and scratchy. Tarki had already went around the corner but he heard me. He extended his arm and I was up above the step in no time. This time I was really out of breath. I stopped for several minutes to catch my breath. I was coughing and leaning with my head close to the ground. Again, Tarki was long gone and I needed to start moving again. Every step was torturous. I stopped counting my breaths for each step… I think the number of breaths exceeded 10 at this point. Now I was on the snowy patch of summit pyramid, which is great relief but short-lived . Then….. I see another body laying in the distance. I tried not to look… However, I cant help but clearly see his frozen white hands and fingernails… This I will never forget. Thist doesn’t help me at all , I am really terrified… I kept thinking, I need to keep moving. The wind was getting stronger as I walk on the summit pyramid. I approach a dangerous final summit ridge, the path is so narrow you can barely fit one foot in front of the another and the slope is around 3000 meters straight down.
Finally, I saw the first people coming down from the summit. I was relieved I now knew the summit is not too far. The challenge was now how to let these people pass by me. There is room only for one foot… I sighted a rock sticking out few steps away from me. I climb up but it was not much of an improvement. However, they somehow manage to get around me safely. I continued walking… I could see another steep rock section ahead of me. I was thinking there is no way I can make it. I see another group of climbers coming down. Oh, It’s Phil, our group leader. He approached me and shouted — “go Edita go, first Lithuanian female summiter… You are almost there!”. I congratulate him and asked how long I have to get to the summit. He said “it’s not far at all – it’s about 45 min”. His words gave me a real boost – I was moving again. I finally made it to the top of rocks. I caught my breath and I was continuing on a snowy ridge. Two more people came by me on the way down from the summit. I knew it was close now but I still couldn’t see it. Another section of snow ridge and I finally saw it – the summit!!!. It probably took me more than an hour since I saw Phil, but now this was real, I was real close to the summit. I climbed up the last few meters, I was stepping on the top and sitting down on the roof of the world, facing the south. I was thrilled, exhilarated, I MADE IT!
There was nobody else on the summit – just Tarki and I. I looked down the southern route – there was nobody else coming up! I couldn’t believe it! We stayed 10-15 minutes on the summit.
I was getting anxious – for me, we were only half-way. We still needed to get down. Tarki was already heading down. I packed my flag, my dad’s photo, and I am followed Tarki down.
Going down was even more terrifying than coming up. I saw what I climbed in the dark earlier and had no choice but to look down because that is where my feet must go. I now know the true meaning of being terrified! It took us around seven hours until we got back to camp 3.
I fell into my tent and I cried. I was so grateful I was still alive! A humbling victory! I made a call to Paul. He tepidly asked if I made it. I said “I DID IT!” I heard him yelling “SHE DID IT, SHE DID IT!” We talked for for a few minutes and he seemed to be almost as relieved as I was, I was safe.
I stayed at Camp Three overnight after the summit. Next day I packed my stuff and went down to the North Col and to the Advanced Based Camp. I recorded some of my emotions and my experienced going down the North Col wall for the third and last time.
I am a very fortunate person to have gone through this and all way to the summit of Everest and now get to tell the tale. It was a journey that really started years ago and I have accomplished a lifetime dream! I could never have done it alone. I want to thank so many of you for your support. I have and will continue to thank all my family and friends again. Now I would like to thank all of you who helped support the Everest fo Sahel Campaign. I might not have reached my goal for donations but I know I have reached many peoples hearts who now know about the situation in the Sahel. THANK YOU!
Everest for Sahel Supporters:
Tamara Curtin Niemi
Mark Edward Simpson
Everest 2013 Expedition Supporters:
Elena Cipriani and Antonio Susanna