Post summit celebration, recalling an incredible effort to Summit
Below: Makalu from near the Summit
Friday June 1 , 2012.
I’m sitting on a Jet Plane, en Route back to the United States. I can see on a screen that I’m over Greenland now, and only a few hours from the East Coast of the United States. I am definitely ready to go home, it’s been nearly two months since I stood on American Soil. It’s Friday, but I am also still less than a week removed from standing on top of the highest point on Earth. It was only last Saturday Morning May 26, and roughly 330am. Jangbu Sherpa and I shared that highest point on earth. It was a small snowy triangle, and a jumble full of prayer flags attached to an icy snowy cornice at the Apex of our planet.
There was barely any wind and the Horizon was lit up with the approach of the oncoming day. We had stayed ahead of the nearly 75 other climbers that were also choosing to make the 26 their day to summit. It was probably the last chance to go to the top of Everest for this climbing season.
That effort to summit ‘First’ on that day brings a smile to my face. I am looking and the Map Monitor here in this large Qatar Airways jet, which indicates the cruising height of our Jet: 31,000 feet, and outside temperature -50 degrees F. Wow! Thinking back to that morning, I could take my mitts off at 29,035’ (close to the cruising altitude of this Jet) and it was probably 15 to 20 degrees below zero. But most importantly no wind! The sense of pride and accomplishment for overcoming a disastrous storm on the 19-20 of May, and mustering up the courage and energy to climb back up and get to the top of the World hit me as I stood on that summit alone with Jangbu on the 26. It was pretty surreal.
I felt like I had fulfilled the goals of my expedition, and there were so many people back home that were pulling for me. I was happy that I could get to the top for everyone that was following my journey. Rarely does anyone ever get a chance to Climb Everest twice in a season, unless you are a Sherpa. While I was forced to turn around less than 1000 feet from the summit a week earlier, on this day I was on top and couldn’t get any higher. I felt like a Sherpa on that day.
Jangbu’s elfin grin and trademark laugh as we shot a few pictures in the dark indicated to me he was very pleased. We were also treated to one of the nicest weather days you can possibly get on Everest. There were lights coming up from the south Summit, but the start of the rest of the climbers wouldn’t arrive for at least another hour. By then we would be on our descent and out of harms way. Descending would be fun, the sun would come out to warm us, and more photos could be taken as my cameras thawed out. This was one of the most enjoyable days in my entire climbing career, but more importantly, I had become even more of a compassionate climber in the past week from witnessing the tragedy that unfolded and learning more about the details that led to the downfall of climbers on the 19 and 20. I am preparing myself to chat with family members of some of the fallen climbers from this disaster (some of whom have already contacted me), so that they can attempt to put the pieces together from the loss of their loved ones. God had blessed and protected me, and sadly he had not spared the others on that day. Standing in the summit I thanked Chomolungma and Sagarmatha, it was truly an honor to be on top, something I will cherish with honor and respect for as long as I live.
On that special summit day, we had left the high camp on the South Col in calm conditions at about 8pm the evening of the 25. Winds are NEVER calm in the South Col, but that night they were. A Sliver Moon Greeted us as we departed the high camp. It felt like it would be an incredible night. I was actually hot, and I sweat a lot and had to vent my Orange SD Jacket as I climbed up the chutes above the col and approached the slight ledges and rock gullies where at least four bodies would still be perched from the chaotic night of the 19 and 20 a mere week earlier. I wasn’t afraid to see these bodies again, but instead, I was happy that I could maybe see the bodies again and put some of the pieces together as to why these climbers died. I also wanted to be able to talk to the families of the dead (when contacted). I would be eager to try to understand and explain what I felt happened, and then also recall just how awful the weather was in the early morning hours of the 20.
On the 25-26 Stars were bright and there was no wind! Wow, it was such a delightful climb and I pushed up through the rock gullies and ledges. I remembered how I couldn’t see much on the 19 eve as wind gusted from left to right (from the west) across my body that evening. I even thought it was bizarre that nearby clouds packed the snow but also had some episodes of lightning and some crackles of Thunder. At least 5-8 different strikes between 8 and 11pm that night. That couldn’t be a good sign.
The beam on my headlamp soon reflected upon the presence of the first victim from the tragedy on the 19. As it turned out, three of the four bodies were still up there, while one was gone. Everest has a funny way of dealing with bodies of fallen climbers. They can disappear into thin air…….or maybe the strong winds pick them up to take them away forever, It’s hard to say what truly happens.
*Details of the fallen climbers are being kept confidential until I am done speaking with some of the family members at this time.
When you make the summit of the peak, many people approach this idea with fear and worry. They will often say “ Most people die on the descent.” On the contrary, I actually embrace the descent by saying “now the pressure is off.” It doesn’t mean you let your guard down, but it does mean that you focus, and get down fast and efficiently.
Regardless, Succumbing to crowds on the summit day was something that I couldn’t even avoid. Fortunately Jangbu and I were on our descent and even below the Hilary Step before we got stuck for nearly an hour and a half trying to get through some rocky portions and on to the South Summit. At least 50 climbers had no regard for us descending, and continued to push up towards us and the Hilary Step and then the Summit. In trying to say hello to some of them, some of the climbers seemed hypoxic and so focused on going up that their Oxygen starved brains didn’t allow them to think much more logically past a mere function of seeing us standing there and then literally thirsting for the Summit beyond.
Fortunately for us, the sun was coming up and the morning was warm. We took advantage of the nice morning and shot some photos of the Hillary step and South Summit, as well as a brilliant summit Pyramid of Everest to the West.
It was incredible just how much higher Everest is than the surrounding peaks. We were looking down on everything around us. Peaks like Ama Dablam and Pumori as well as Makalu were much lower than us. There was even some cool morning lightning way to the south over India. Truly a spectacular morning.
By 530ish, we were finally on our way back across the south Summit and en route down the fixed lines to the balcony. After waiting for another group of RMI climbers below the South Summit, and stopping to have a short Chat with Conrad Anker (who was climbing w/o oxygen, we took a break at 7am at the Balcony)
Below the balcony, down the ramp and then on the Rocky ledges leading back to the Chute to the South Col, I had to pass the Bodies one last time. I payed my respects to the climbers and was also shocked at how warm the sun was and how gorgeous the morning was.
I was back to my tent at 8000m at the South Col before 9am. I took about an hour to hydrate some and eat a little bit then I packed up my backpack and headed down the Lhotse face to Camp 3 and then to Camp 2 by 2pm. Getting down to lower camps is also a good idea in order to help the body and stay away from exposure to high altitudes. As it turned out, I had made my summit and descent of Everest in a very short time frame (Up from Camp 2 to the Summit and Back to Camp 2 in about 36 hours, therefore I was only above 7000 meters for about 24 hours and above 8000 meters for a mere 14 hours or so. On the Morning of the 27 I woke from Camp 2 and descended to Basecamp by 9am. My successful summit was complete!
*Thanks again to the thousands of people out there that supported me throughout my quest to the top. You can order my “Book Sleeping on the Summits: Colorado 14er High Bivys” from this website directly. If you donated money to this endeavor, you will hear from me in the coming Month with a thankyou card. Stay tuned for even more photos and Videos in the coming week(s). I will also be releasing a Media Page soon that has links to all of the articles and Videos with the various media throughout the U.S. and the globe so that the events of this project are available. If you have any other questions for me and would like answers to anything, please send me an email and I will try to respond the best I can. It’s been an honor to be a part of this and I am truly humbled by everyone’s support!
Dr. Jon Kedrowski