Close – but no cigar.

Dear Family & Friends,

I couldn’t believe it!

Kneeling in the snow with my back to the 70km winds I was yelling and swearing (in 2 languages) at my fingers desperately trying to force some warmth into them.

It was sometime before 3am on May 12th, I was on the ‘Balcony’ at an altitude of 8400m with no sensation in fingers that suddenly looked and felt about as useful as claws; they began to freeze almost instantly as I removed my mittens trying to switch my regulator to a full oxygen bottle. Turning to the wind the spindrift would sting my face, but I had to get my bearings and see if others were around; no I was alone.

The summit of Everest, 8848m, was still hours away but I felt I was so close….

In BC late on May 7th 3 independent weather forecasts suggested summit conditions would be perfect on May 11 & 12th with the temperature expected to be a balmy minus 27 degrees Celsius and max wind speed around 5km an hour.

All right then I thought, better go and pack – looks like my summit push is on!

I had decided to go it alone and left for C2 early the next morning, thinking this would be my last trip up the icefall. Camp 2 was a mess after strong winds had destroyed several tents during the night and some of my personal belongings (a down bootie, primaloft pants, a sock, stuff sacks etc….) had vanished down a crevasse somewhere. The 9th was a rest day and I moved to C3 on the 10th feeling strong and confident.

The Big Show and his sidekick having fun in the icefall

Approaching C1

Climbing up the Lhotse Face to C3

The 11th was a big day and getting to C4 on the South Col took me close to 9 hours; climbing up the steep Lhotse Face, traversing to the Yellow Band and up and over the Geneva Spur to the South Col at 8000m while wearing a full down suit and carrying a big pack was energy sapping to say the least.

Traversing to the 'Yellow Band' with the 'Geneva Spur' and Everest in the background

Sherpa on the 'Yellow Band' with the Western Cwm below

The summit pyramid with a plume of the Everest South summit. The Balcony is the snowfield in the midle of the right skyline

The first thing you notice when you round the Geneva Spur is not the South Col, but the impressive summit pyramid of Everest. It nearly to my breath away and for some reason I had the thought I was about to set foot on Everest for the first time; that getting through the Khumbu Icefall, the Western Cwm and up the Lhotse Face were obstacles and barriers you had to overcome before facing the real thing.

On the South Col I busied myself putting up a tent and brewing up in preparation for the final summit push later that evening.

The South East summit pyramid of Everest from the South Col. The true summit is not visible from here.

I left C4 at 8.15pm and arrived, 6½ hours later, at the scheduled stop on the Balcony, a snowy rocky feature on the South East Ridge of Everest, and where a change of oxygen bottle usually occurs. It was as I approached the Balcony the wind unexpectedly started to pick up and I knew my change of oxygen bottle had to be done as quickly as possible…

It took 30 minutes before the warmth – and with it the pain – finally returned to my digits, but at least I knew I wasn’t going to loose my fingers to frostbite.

Looking down at the South Col and the tents at C4 with Lhotse behind. Tibet is to the left and Nepal the right...

Early morning @ 8200m. Very windy conditions with lots of spindrift....

Looking and feeling slightly shell-shocked at the South Col after my aborted summit attempt

I also realised that to continue in these rapidly deteriorating conditions would be nothing short of stupid and made the decision to abandon my summit attempt and return to the South Col. Back in C4 I rested for a few hours until the winds died down somewhat and I managed to descend all the way to camp 2 later that afternoon and finally down to base camp shortly after midday on the 13th.

May 12th afternoon light on Pumori. C2 is visible bottom right.

I’m not giving up and will be having a second go at Everest, but for the next 3 days my plan is to do absolutely nothing!


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