The South Col & Summit Push Decision
I’d like to thank everyone for following the climb and the AFAC foundation effort. I’m sitting in the spacious and nice restaurant in the Hyatt hotel in Kathmandu. It is nearly empty due to the COVID pandemic having come to this region a few weeks ago. The US Embassy has contracted with a local company to assist in getting flights out of Nepal and on to US destinations. I’m hoping to fly out in the next few days. Many people here have been affected. In fact, we saw the virus spread all the way up the Kumbu valley to Everest base camp, with one of our team members being infected and having to be evacuated to Kathmandu for treatment. He is recovering well. We saw other reputable guide companies shutting down their expeditions just before we left base camp, headed for camp 2 at 22,000 feet. I believe the creeping presence of COVID played a role in our team’s decision to go up. About the same time, a typhoon from the Bay of Bengal, India was moving towards us. Although the usual approach would be to spend a day or two at camp 2 and then move through camps 3 and 4 quickly and on up to the summit in a matter of a few days, we were stuck at camp 2 (22,000 feet) for 8 days. I’ve heard experienced mountain guides express the opinion that nothing good comes out of being at camp 2 for any length of time.
Anyway, for a couple of weeks the team had been focused on a supposed weather window that was to happen as early as May 20. It eventually got shifted to May 21-22 and we moved out and up rapidly. From camp 2 to camp 3 perched precariously on the Lhotse Face ice wall, on to camp 4 on the South Col at 26,000 feet. The plan would be to arrive at the South Col early afternoon then go for the summit that evening around 8 PM. All went as planned and after very steep and difficult climbing for about 10 hours Pasang Nima Sherpa and I arrived at the South Col. I was tired but in pretty good shape at this point.
It gets interesting here. Instead of finding the weather window with acceptable wind conditions, the South Col was being hammered by hurricane force winds. Our team Sherpa were scrambling around trying to get tents set up for everyone. It was such a departure from what had been expected, it was very confusing. After about 30 minutes or so one of them shouted for me to come enter a nearby tent.
There was some small refuge being in the tent, initially with Reid, and eventually with Carsen as well once he arrived a couple of hours later. The wind continued to blow ferociously up until and past our designated summit approach time of 8 PM. At around midnight, the sherpas came to our tent and said the decision was made to go for the summit. I remember verbally voicing my surprise at this.
In the next many minutes I ascertained there was some disagreement within the team about whether or not to go up. At this point I decided, along with Carsen and others within the team, not to go, but to wait until the next next day to see if the winds would die down. Many on the team however, including Reid and many of the Chinese climbers went for it at this point and were ultimately successful at reaching the summit. I’m happy for their successes.
The next day, the winds had not died down much. It is difficult to exist in the death zone at camp 4, so my options were waning. If I were to go down, it would need to be all the way down to camp 2, so Pasang Sherpa and I would need to leave by 1 PM in order to arrive by dark. I had a difficult time making this call. Stay another day and go for the summit only 8 hours away or give up the dream and head back down to a safer environment at camp 2. I remember taking from 12 to 12:30 to make the call.
At 12:30 after consulting with some of the most experienced team members who were up at South Col and receiving nothing solid that would indicate the weather would be better that evening, I made the call to come down. That day we descended all the way back to camp 2 and early the next morning back through the Khumbu icefall for the fourth time and on to base camp. The next day I was able to connect two helicopter flights back to Kathmandu. The dream of standing on top of the world had ended.
I have this strange mix of emotions. A knowledge of how incredibly difficult and dangerous it was to get to the South Col over those many weeks, yet a strong sense of failure and shortcoming. So close. I’m hoping to get on a flight headed back to the US today or tomorrow. I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed everyone back home and how ready I am to get back to a sense of normalcy and routine. For the folks in our Parkinson’s program back at the fitness center, I’ll see you in a few days. Until then, ROCK STEADY!
Pictured: Adam sits above the Lhotse Face on Mt. Everest