Report By Ueli Steck
After 4 days in Zangmu we left for Everest basecamp. From Tingri we first take the same way like to Cho Oyu. After 15 minutes the driver turns left. Now we are definitively on the way to the Everest.
The basecamp is somehow surreal. The first thing that strikes me is the tent of Kari Kobler. A yellow dome in the middle of a field of stones. Our food tent is not as impressive, nevertheless we are served a nice dinner. Don and I leave the next day to ABC. We have to split the 25 km of distance in two stages. For the yaks with our equipment it would be to hard to do it in one day. We stay in a fix installed camp overnight. On May 17 we finally reach basecamp. Another tent city.
The weather seems good. We feel the nervousness of the other alpinists. Most of them have been up here for weeks at 6400 meters and they are waiting for good weather. We just arrived and take it quite easy. I don’t make any stress, since I do not know how my body has recovered from the past two 8000 meter peaks. Maybe I am already too exhausted, but I will go for a try. That’s for sure.
Good weather conditions are forecasted for May 21. We need a plan! Since we will be on the way without oxygen we will actually climb another mountain than most of the other alpinists do with oxygen. We decide to start from camp 2 at 7700 meters. Kari offers us his equipment: This means we leave one day later as his clients and can so use their tents. On the summit day we will stay one camp below them so that we do not get into one each others way. I am looking forward to the mountain. For me this is something new. I have never seen such an activity. Sherpas install comfortable camps, they carry equipment and oxygen. Many alpinists already start with oxygen masks at the North Col at 7000 meters. On Shisha Pangma I was completely alone, on Cho Oyu there were already quite a lot of people, also sherpas, but here at Everest, this is a totally different world. Kari gives us advices. He himself summitted Everest five times. He knows what’s the point. We discuss the time for our summit attempt. In order not to get in the traffic, we want to leave at 11 pm from camp 2. We do not need any ice axes on this mountain. The fix ropes are installed without interruption from the entry to summit. So crampons for me and two cross country sticks. On May 19 Don and I leave up to the North Col at 7000 meters. The next day we reach camp 2 after 2.5 hours. Norbu has again marked the tent where we can rest and sleep. The weather gets worse in the course of the day. It starts to storm. We are at a loss. The weather forecasts did not mention anything like that. Behind there is a local thunderstorm, which can hardly be forecasted. The dangers are enormous, especially those who start from strong winds on the ridge. That’s why the rule applies to be on summit before midday!
The bad weather continues. We sit in our tent an eat mountain cheese, salami, crackers. We drink mint tea. From time to time we open the zip of our tent to look if the weather has calmed down. We close it as fast as possible not to let in too much snow. It turns dark. Both we lie relaxed in our sleeping bags. With this wind we can not start. Impossible. We would have pretty fast frostbites. At 9 pm we turn on our walkie talkie. Karis group will start. They are at camp 3 at 8300 meters. I explain to Don that we should at least try. He is skeptical. Then he agrees and he assures me, that he will leave no stone unturned. It is shortly after 11 pm as we get out of our tent. I put on my shoes in front of the tent. Don is getting ready in the tent. We leave. There was hardly any precipitation. The path is tread. The light of our headlamp lightens our steps. We are well acclimatized. The going at nearly 8000 meters does not give us much trouble. Only the wind and the cold are uncomfortable. Don is about 100 meters befind me and when he calls something out to me, I understand only pieces. He has a funny feeling about the weather. In the south we can recognize thunderstorms. I answer him that we will be back in the camp within a short time if the weather turns bad, and I move on. At 8000 meters Don turns down. His feet are too cold. That is the crucial problem without oxygen: the cold! I move on. Everywhere I see lights in front of me. A light chain runs over the ridge. Now I can see the tents of camp 3, so I must be already at 8300 meters. Half of the altitude to the summit lie behind me. Actually we wanted to make a longer rest here, but I do feel pretty well and I do not have the necessity to rest. I move on. I am amazed how good I feel up here. Sometimes I feel my stomach but with coke I can calm this feeling immediately. I have two 0.6 liter bottles with me. Up here to eat and drink is quite difficult. I keep trying to drink small sips.The cold sets my teeth on edge. Despite my down suit and the continuos movements I do not feel hot. I like the climbing, although it has not much to do with climbing. I would rather say its walking. In the ridge I go over bands to the First Step. Here I have to climb shortly. I do not climb up the fixe ropes. I don’t know how well they are fixed. I rather climb by myself, so I can see where I can hold myself. Now the famous Second Step. A steep 30 meter rock wall assured by a ladder. Once I reached the top I see the first alpinists in front of me. They are quite slow and I overtake them. Finally it gets dawn. I hope the sun can warm me a little bit. Still I cannot feel any difference. My feet have been numb for a while now. I can feel my heels get cold and without feeling. Not a good sign. I move on to the Third Step. A Sherpa tells me that I would need max. 1 hour to the summit. Shall I…? Shall I not…? It’s not long. But my feet. I am on another mountain, without oxygen. I have to accept that. I turn down. As fast as I can down. I do not want to sacrifice any of my toes for Everest. I am totally fit, I do move on fast and at around 9 am I am back at camp 2. The same day Don and I reach ABC.
The adventure Everest is over. Pity, I was doing well. I imagined that I would only suffer up there. Not at all. I am happy about that. I had a great feeling, I moved on, that’s what I am looking for, although I turned back 100 meters from summit. Of course I would have been nice to stand on top. For a moment I have thought to ask a sherpa if I could breathe 10 minutes of oxygen. Then I would have had again warm feet. But then I would have stood on another peak. So better to go down. Everest will stay and I can come back!