I just climbed Mt. Everest (really). Saw the Sherpa fight. AMA!
My short bio: I'm a regular guy who always had a dream of climbing Mt. Everest. On May 21st, 5:48AM, I stood at the top of the world's tallest mountain at 29,035ft/8850m. Was featured on '60 Minutes Australia' and I witnessed the fight between the Sherpa and Europeans. AMA.
My Proof: 60 Minutes: http://sixtyminutes.ninemsn.com/article.aspx?id=8674061. Nearly all climbing video in this segment was taken from my GoPro.
Summit photo: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151612802944588&set=a.445691929587.239035.854334587&type=1&theater
I nearly had a panic attack when I saw a man who was on his last breath, unconscious, but still alive. I stayed with him for some time, but he passed within a few minutes of my seeing him. I talk about this in depth in the 60 minutes story and I've had nightmares about it nearly every night since. In the nightmares, I'm upsidedown on the mountain, my arms frozen into the ice, which is the same position I found the man in, in the dark. In my dream, I'm looking at the summit past my boots, then I look behind me, and it's my family and friends. As I die in the dream, I wake up in a cold sweat.
So, yes, it affected my ascent and every day since then!! (phew...!)
wow that's heavy. >_< I hope you stop having those dreams.
me too... it's becoming less frequent, thankfully.
Get some help man, there are people out there who specialise in helping people get over these kinds of experiences in a productive and respectful way.
I've thought about this and probably will. It's likely a milder form of PTSD...
That was my question more or less, how does one deal with seeing those who have come before and ... well, failed. They are as a memory, locked into place and preserved for all those climbing to see, is it a caution, or a warning, or does their not succeeding push you to try harder?
That was well-put. I saw them as a caution and a warning. They made me realize that we all sign an unwritten agreement that for any reason, at any moment, that could become us.
Personally, that gave me motivation to be more safe, as I thought how devastated their families must be, and how selfish it would be to do something like that to my family. So, it made me push to succeed in an excessively vigilant manner.
I like that very much, it stirs one to want to take action in their life. Even to me, one who would not presume to think I have what it takes to climb Everest... As we all take our lives into our hands everyday when we step out the door, and we all can become as those left on the mountain, if not in actuality, but in the memory of those who love us. With them holding on to the memory of what we were when we left them until the end of their own lives, and to be put in someone else's memory.
Thank you for your answer and a new favourite phrase of the day... may we all do our best to remain ever excessively vigilant!
Sounds like you have some great life experiences of your own to recognize that! Excessively vigilant!! :)
Can I ask a potentially indelicate question? I don't mean this to be rude AT ALL, but I have been wondering: With all the technology, the amazing climbing gear these days (it's so light, so warm nowadays, etc.), Gore-Tex, just unreal jackets, etc., what's the real challenge in climbing Everest? It's become a pretty "mechanized" ascent these days, basically. I realize it's still dangerous, but, honestly, if you want a climbing challenge, why not climb K2 instead? Or something else, somewhere? Seriously. I met someone who climbed Everest and I thought to myself, "Maybe if this was 1968, I'd be impressed." Seriously, what's the challenge?
I seriously apologize up front, and hope you can share your thoughts.
No problem, I know that some people think that! I answered this in a June interview:
"I’ve never once met someone who has actually climbed the mountain and calls it anything less than an enormous undertaking. Yes, with technology and experience, we have some extra protection from the elements and better understanding of weather and logistics for the mountain, but when it comes down to it, the challenges and dangers aren’t that much different from 60 years ago when Norgay and Hillary made the first ascent."
Now adding to that... the main issue isn't staying warm or battling the elements. The issues on this mountain are 1) the icefall... still heinous as ever and goretex can't pad a 150ft. fall into a crevasse 2) oxygen. We're basically using the same technology from 1968 and we're not a lot closer to understanding cerebral and pulmonary edema than we used to be 3) the Lhotse face. 3000ft of ice at a 45-55 degree slope... killed then and kills today.
You're right that there are some mitigated challenges as opposed to years ago. But the same challenges are mitigated on K2, Annapurna, etc. and the reason I won't climb those is because the risk of death becomes even higher... and I've learned I can have just as much fun in the Alps or Rockies, without the altitude risk. All that said, still the toughest thing I've ever done and probably ever will do.
The full interview I referred to is here: http://www.thetraveltart.com/climbing-mount-everest-nepal-john-beede/
Thank you for your gracious reply. Again, just a huge respect for what you've accomplished. But, respectfully, I have to somewhat forcefully disagree on you about the technology. Having sherpas laying ropes and carrying huge loads around the mountain for climbers saves a huge amount of energy (not to mention using trails and cuts laid down by precious climbers). I've heard that Everest is almost an assembly line, with climbers literally running into "traffic jams" on the way up the mountain. The weight savings modern equipment provides, not to mention the significantly improved performance, also has to make a huge difference. What little sleep you can get on the mountain is sure helped when you're dry, right? And how many times would a climber wake up, see a cloudless sky, and strike camp and head out to climb the mountain, only to have the weather turn suddenly and send him scrambling back down the mountain? Today, a climber sees his GPS in a whiteout, or get accurate weather forecast data that would enable him to just stay in camp. I don't know. That energy savings is HUGE when taken cumulatively over what Everest USED to represent. And, as with anything extreme, the edge is logarithmic... just a small advantage can mean a LOT. We see this in other top, athletic sports. Take baseball, for instance, which has banned composite/metal bats.
Your points, though, are still valid. But I'd bet you that the guy that you saw taking his last breath, was he a seriously experienced climber? Or just a young, investment banker who decided to take a crack at Everest for the bragging rights?
Again, I really, really apologize for how ignorant this is coming across. I see your points, definitely.
And no matter what anyone like me says, YOU have climbed Everest. :)
You make good points about savings of weight, being dry, GPS, and weather forecasts... but those technology advances aren't specific to Everest, they're amenities to the climbing world in general.
The Sherpa do fix ropes and carry loads. They are the incredible heroes of the mountain. They did the same when Hillary and Norgay first reached the summit 60 years ago. It took a team to get those two up as well.
So, you are correct in a lot of what you say, but the main thing that still makes Everest an enormous undertaking is the lack of oxygen. Even when you have supplemental oxygen, it's not like you are climbing in a pressurized airplane chamber. You are slowly yet actively dying. Everyone is. Yes, there are steeper slopes, more technical cliffs, I've climbed many of them, but it's the altitude battle that still makes Everest the king of them all.
The guy taking his last breath was Bangladeshi, an experienced climber who had succeeded on many other 8000m peaks... Due to altitude sickness, which can strike anyone at any time, as it did Scott Fisher in 1996.
Amazing conversation. Considering that I'm only in shape to ride a bike or play with the kids, well, amazing to talk to you. All the best, and please continue, as I'll definitely refresh this tab in the AM to see what else I can learn from you. Cheers.
Sounds great! Likewise, amazing & thanks for the candor.
I'd like to recommend the book, "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer. It's a book detailing the author's personal ascent of Everest - the very trek that /u/jbeede mentioned above, where Scott Fisher died.
I, too, though that with modern technology, it'd be the same as climbing most any mountain in the snow. But after reading this book, I have a better (and more intimate?) understanding of the real challenges, difficulties, and dangers that these climbers undertake - and the very serious and mortal consequences than even one stupid mistake or careless error can have on the person who errs, and the ripple it can have throughout the entire climbing group. One person messes up, and it could very easily mean no one goes home.
Even if it doesn't change your mind, or it only solidifies your beliefs, it's still a great adventure book by a great author.
I'd also suggest reading Anatoli Boukreev's The Climb for another perspective.
Reading both The Climb and Into Thin Air, if nothing else, will show how much the altitude affects rational decision making skills and perception of the world. Two intelligent, respected men watch the same events and have vastly different memories and conclusions.
And thank you for graciously stating your mind! It's rare that people say what they're actually thinking, so I really appreciate this one.
I heard you get so dehydrated up there that you have to manually remove waste from your bum with your fingers. True?
We asked our climbing partners to do it for us. HA no, I'm kidding. I've never heard of this. Drink water.
The oxygen level at that altitude is ridiculous. If I remember correctly, the "death zone" actually refers to the part of the mountain above the altitude, where the body is even capable of obtaining enough oxygen to sustain life indefinitely. You are being slowly suffocated to death while you have to do a difficult physical feat. If you look at videos of climbers up there (and most of them are very, very fit), you will notice them taking a few seconds between each step because they can barely catch their breath. In wind and extreme cold.
Some mountains are harder and deadlier, but no matter what, it is no small physical accomplishment to have done it.
You remember correctly! The death zone is called such for a reason... My pace was 1 step for 4-5 breaths (in and out). Thanks for the defense!! :)
This sounds unpleasant. :D But then again, every joint in my body was screaming at 8000 feet up in Wyoming. Glad I didn't drive through Utah, that range is supposed to be up to 9k feet, plus, it's Utah. ;)
HA! I hear ya on the screaming joints... :)
Can you go into detail with what F_cat_pics means by "...the body is even capable of obtaining enough oxygen to sustain life indefinitely." I have never heard of this before.
Yes, he F_cat_pics is saying that there becomes an elevation where your red blood cells cannot physically carry the necessary oxygen to support life. There is not oxygen in the air for your lungs to extract and use. I'm not a doctor, but I go into detail about what I know from my studies and how to overcome this in a response to princehamletlives.
Is this why sleep pretty much becomes pointless? I have heard that, after a certain altitude, it becomes really, really difficult to rest.
This is why the mental game is the toughest part of the climb. You feel akin to a prisoner who is being tortured, not allowed to sleep, and constantly being told, "you want to quit, don't you!?" Then you see your fellow prisoners quitting and breaking. So you just focus on one step, one day at a time, and know that each step and day gets you closer to the top and back down safely.
Now THIS is the amazing part. It's literally like torture. And no matter what, I'm looking at this pic of you on the summit and thinking, "Bascailly, this guy's, like, stepped out onto the wing of a commercial airliner. Look at that altitude!"
really good feedback, to know what the most amazing part is! Yes, you are literally at the altitude small commercial aircraft fly. Everest is actually blasted by the jetstream for all but 2-3 weeks of the year, which is the hurricane force wind that airplanes get into to save fuel. That's why there's no snow at the top; it won't stick! So when the jetstream moves off the mountain as the monsoon pressures change, it creates a still opportunity to go for the top.
I knew that a bunch of people who happened to read a Nat Geo article about Everest becoming crowded with climbers would be in here to say "No big deal."
I would not-so-sensitively argue that they're at home reading a magazine that helps justify why they're sitting at home.
You saw the incident with Ueli Steck? What happened?
Yes! I did see it... wow, that's an enormous question. I side with the Sherpa. I know that's controversial... but here's why:
Steck and Moro were asked by the Sherpa to NOT climb above them on the Lhotse face. The sherpa were fixing rope for EVERYONE else on the mountain, an incredibly important task.
Steck & Moro They basically said, "F you, Sherpa..." in the Sherpa language. That's like going to the Bronx and yelling out racial obscenities. You just don't do that.
They then climbed directly above the Sherpa, kicking ice and rocks in their faces. Everyone descended. At the base of the Lhotse face, name calling continued, and a Sherpa was reportedly held against the ice by shoulders & neck. This is at the word of my Western guide who was on the rope fixing team.
They went back to the tents (fights don't last very long at 23,500 feet, huffing and puffing), and 3-5 sherpa crowded around Moro & Steck's tent. These Sherpa DID throw rocks at their tent, which is a shame. This is where I began watching, as did ~40 others. Not hundreds as was stated in the media. There certainly was no mob in an outright attack!
Also, everyone on Everest has knives, ice axes, and we all have our faces covered because it's Mt. Everest... COLD! And we need equipment! So to say that a mob of armed sherpa came at them with their faces covered with intent of all-out assault is totally ridiculous.
There was another scuffle, not even worthy of being called an Australian bar fight, and Moro and Steck became scared, retreating off the mountain. In the North Face video, they blame it on 'commercialism of Everest.' Me? I think it was caused by two jerks who disrespected the culture and protocols of the mountain and the people surrounding it... and they then blamed commercialism to protect their sponsorships. The $$ they'll make in publicity as a result of their actions is likely 10 times what 10 Sherpa will earn in a year of work. A real shame, as the Sherpa are notoriously peaceful, wonderful, happy people. Yet I believe they had a right to protect their honor... without the rock throwing.
Thanks for the response. As a follow up, are you gonna go for K2 next? :P
No. I've had my fun above 8,000m! It has a draw, but K2 is even more dangerous. I'll still climb, just not into the 'Death Zone.'
I don't blame you. Congratulations on summiting Everest.
I read that climbing Everest costs upwards of around $100,000. How much did it cost you? As a "regular guy," how did you afford it?
I spent 40,000 for my guide service and another 10k in travel, equipment, etc. Now, I am broke!!
As a regular guy, I saved for YEARS. I've had every job you can imagine... chess instructor, climbing instructor, beer promoter, computer sales... I finally settled in on giving speeches at schools and universities about climbing. I also run some websites in my spare time. That's what's allowed me to save up enough.
Very cool; I made sure to go give you a 'like'.
Appreciate that very much!!
I honestly have to ask... how does giving speeches at schools and universities pay?
Depends how good you are! There are tiers... Free - Few hundred bucks - Low 1000's, above 10k for celebs. Only universities can pay above 5k. Schools usually nowhere close to that.
How frequently do you throw in a "hehehehe" during your speeches?
It's my go-to line.
Have you ever climbed Space Mountain near Anaheim, California?
HA. Yes, that was actually harder than Everest. Was hit by a spaceship.
"Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer is one of my favorite books. Have you read it, and if so, what are your opinions on it?
Yes, I've read it multiple times... Even since climbing E. Interestingly, in his book he says he'll never return, yet in one of the tea huts we stayed in on the trek to base camp, there is a signed copy from him dated 2012 (i believe... maybe 2011).
The book is haunting, appears to be very accurate, and I believe Krakauer did absolutely everything in his physical power and limited knowledge of the events that were unfolding, to keep himself safe and to help others as he could.
Even since climbing E.
So now that you've mounted her, you're on a first name basis?
She calls me J. I call her E. It's sort of our thing.
.... appears to be very accurate.
Did you read Anatoli Boukreev's account of the same events?
yes... which is why I say 'appears to be.' I believe both men accounted for the events to the best of their rational ability. There has been prolific heated argument between the two men, and Krakauer's appended Into Thin Air answers/breaks down Boukreev's account quite powerfully. Maybe Krakauer is simply the more skilled debater, but to me, he made a more compelling and objective case.
Maybe he meant to the summit? I read that book twice, don't remember that part though.
Yes, that's possible. it's towards the end, but I understood it to mean he never wanted to return to the region. He was understandably very upset by the events.
Which was harder mentally and physically, climbing up or down?
On summit day itself, going down. That's when you're exhausted and it's when 75% of fatalities happen.
In general what is the toughest thing to overcome while climbing?
It's mental endurance. You're there for 7 weeks. Every day you wonder if it'll be your last, and you regularly watch others quitting. You feel like garbage all the time. You rarely want to eat, and you lose 25-45 pounds over the journey because your body is consuming itself. You miss your family and friends. You're cold. So, when the summit push comes around, many people just plain didn't give a damn any longer and gave up. Having the mental fortitude to wake up and give it another go, every day, was the hardest part.
I love that line "You feel like garbage all the time". Climbing Everest just seems like a hassle.
HA... yeah, what a pesky annoyance it was!! :-)
When you reach the "death zone" is it really noticeable? Or is it all just really hard and high altitude.
I've noticed when hiking my local mountains that at 10,000ft the altitude really hits me (I live at sea level and it takes me 4-5hrs to get up to 10k) 8k and 9k I'm fine but once I reach that 10k mark and I really feel the altitude.
I know the feeling! I'm particularly slow to acclimatize and altitude affects me more than the regular mountaineer.
With that said, the difference as you go higher becomes exponentially more profound, especially into the death zone. From 10,000ft, up to about 24,000 feet, the body will still adapt and attempt to acclimatize. If you go slowly enough (over days), you will be fine. However, in the death zone, it's too much for your body to acclimatize to, and eventually, even with oxygen, you will die. You are in an active state of dying at that height. Totally hypoxic, totally exhausted, and in a lot of ways, you can't summon the energy to even care. It's terrifying. To multiply your feeling at 10k times 2.6 (26,000ft) is a logical thought. It's what I thought it would feel like at that height! However, it's more like putting yourself on a different dimension, a completely different and infinitely more uncomfortable experience.
Thanks for answering, might be crazy but high altitude mountaineering sounds like my kind of "fun". My current high point is ~13,000ft on one nights rest usually if I get reasonable aclimitizing time I do fine. hopefully I get a chance to try Everest, but I have smaller mountaineering goals like Rainier to keep me busy and learning.
I totally get it; only fellow climbers understand the drive! Start with Rainier, go to Aconcagua and Denali after more training, keep moving that baseline 13,000ft high point up foot by foot and as you get more experience, you will either be more compelled to go for Everest or say, 'neh, not for me.' but you'll never know unless you get out and keep climbing!!
How did you first get in to climbing?
I was 13 years old and went rappelling at Camp Black Mountain Boy Scout camp in Washington State. Hooked.
Major congrats to you sir!
Did you have a preference in doing the south face route over the northern one? I assume the expedition company has control over which route they take that year? Are you thinking of going back to do the north route this time?
Thank you! Climbing the South versus the North side was a very big question for me. Here are the pros and cons of each and why I chose the South:
The South side is steeper at the top, so you spend less time in the Death Zone = +. It has a long trek to base camp, as opposed to driving to base camp on the north side = + or - depending on if you are in shape or not and how well you acclumatize, and the Khumbu Icefall is a significant, potentially lethal danger = -. The south side has much more human traffic = - and is more expensive = -, but the route is well-known = +, and there's a sentimentality to going the way it was first summited = +. The permit for the South is MUCH more expensive = major -. This is the side featured in the IMAX and Into Thin Air stories.
The north side is the way the mountain was first attempted when it was discovered that Everest was the world's tallest mountain, but now Chinese/Tibetan regulations make is so unsure about getting a permit, that you have no idea if your expedition is going to happen or not until a few days, maybe weeks before hand = major -. This side starts steeper then levels off, giving you more time in the Death Zone = major -. It's less crowded, so this is a significant safety increase, though this also means the rescue and medical facilities are worse = wash. You DO get cell service from China, so I hear, which does incredible things for morale =+. (you can get limited service at base camp on south side, no higher). The North side is MUCH cheaper = +, and this is the side that Mallory and Green Boots are on = weird +. If you watched Everest: Beyond The Limits, all but the last season were on this side of the mountain with Russel Brice, who interestingly now runs service on the South side. If you choose this side, go with Project Himalaya. Jaime McGuiness nearly had me as his client, but the uncertainty of an actual trip happening was too much for me to risk.
On the South Side, the success rate of International Mountain Guides was a stunning 80% of people who reach Camp 4... also reach the summit. So I figured I'll use my skill and knowledge to reach C4, then lean on them for summit guidance. It worked. And their safety record is outstanding.
No, I won't be returning to climb the North side. Once was enough for me..... ..... .... maybe.
I hear that the runway on base camp is petrifying. Is that the scariest runway you have ever been on?
More people have died landing at the Lukla airport than on Everest itself! Ironically, when Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mt. Everest, brought his daughter and wife to see the schools and hospitals he build in the Khumbu valley, they were sadly killed while landing at that airport.
I believe they died on the runway above Namche, very sad. Congratulations on the summit, was the power still shut off in the valley on the trek back ?
Hmm, I should look into that. Thank you... yes, power was back on my the time I reached Namche.
When did you first decide you were going to climb Everest? And how long did you start preparing before you went?
Good question. I made the solid commitment to climb it in 2007. My preparations involved climbing experiences since I was 13 (now 31) while climbing 100's of mountains. However, I began rigorously training and preparing specifically for Everest 9 months in advance.
To build on the question, how fit must one be? How many weeks of physical and mental training and preparation did you do?
I was in the best shape of my life. However, because the climb was 7 weeks, you GET in shape as you go up... so I think I overtrained, where I could have had more energy for the climb itself had I not pushed so hard in the 9 months prior to the climb. With that said, the correct training is absolutely vital.
Thank you for doing this AMA and I just wanted to say that 7 weeks is a lot longer than I had imagined. Thats such a brutal long trip to be waking up cold and hungry everyday and so far away from loved ones and home.
It was... sometimes it felt like that was my new reality... that I was just some guy living cold and hungry in the ice. I think most people don't realize it takes so long.
What were some challenges that you faced that you did not expect or were not prepared for? Mental/preparedness/etc.
I wasn't prepared for the heat. The Western Cwm (between C1 and C2) BAKES. I mean, we filled trash bags with snow and duct taped them to our necks, faces and backs because it was SO hot. 85-90 degrees with intense light radiating non-stop.
I also wasn't prepared for the recovery time. It'd take 5-8 days to be ready to climb from base camp again, after making a rotation. (You go up to Camp 3, for example, then back down to basecamp to recover. That's called a rotation.) With my training, I expected 2-3 days to be ready again, but your body can't heal without oxygen.
Only other thing I haven't mentioned in other threads is the discomfort while sleeping. You are on an active glacier the entire time, so you hear and feel the cracks, moans, and snaps of the glacier below you every night, all night. Plus 8-20 avalanches per night in the distance. It makes for incredibly restless sleep!
What is "the icefall" and why scary?
Yes, that's important... A frozen waterfall of ice that is 3000 feet tall. It's required to cross it 3 times up and 3 times down during rotations. Massive crevasses, 100 ton blocks of ice can fall on you at any moment, delicate snow bridges can collapse on any step, and avalanche danger is always present. This was a good video showing it off, start 15 seconds in. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moBJMGNSql4
What is the next mountain you want to climb?
But seriously? Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia then Vinson in Antarctica. That will finish the 7 Summits for me (tallest mountain on each continent)
What has been your favorite so far?
Climbed Kilimanjaro with my dad. That was magic. Mt. Blanc route I took was incredibly rewarding... but that's not technically one of the 7. Aconcagua took me 3 tries over 4 years, so that was my personal beast to tackle.
What's it like after coming off Everest? Does everything seem mundane or dull compared to the views on Everest?
It's actually the opposite. I value everything so much more. Shower?! Yes please. Bed?! Oh yeah. Food?! I'll take another burger... and a beer to wash it down. Warm water that I don't have to cook on a stove from melted snow!? I feel like even a faucet is a miracle.
congrats! How do you use the bathroom in extreme cold weather?
There are 3 major types of frostbite. Fingers. Toes... and... You guessed it!!
I kneeled down so the wind didn't spray frozen pee particles all over me, and I ate a bunch of immodium to constipate myself before going up on summit day. #2 would be a nightmare that high, so I just blocked it up entirely... and dropped the biggest one ever about 3 days later.
My favorite Everest quote, when asked what the hardest part about climbing everest, anon. answered ""Pissing through 6 inches of clothes with a 3 inch penis" HA!!
congrats on the amazing feat! Also serious question: what is the view from the top like?
Thank you!! The view is of course, amazing. Most of us are too hypoxic to really enjoy it though. To me, the most special moment was at the Hillary Step at sunrise, seeing the shadow of Everest cast for dozens of miles into the distance, in a perfect triangle, and seeing the sun fill in the clouds and shadows over the next 30 minutes of the 'golden hour' as I got to the top. You are literally the height that small commercial aircraft fly, so a lot of what you see is unrecognizable, but the other mountains of the Himalaya are breathtaking.
I read that our lungs cannot endure the higher points of Mt. Everest, so climbers resort to climbing up, going down, then going back up, then going back up until they reach the top. How did this affect you? And did you use this method?
Every climber undergoes some degree of pulmonary edema, so the medics told me. In some, the symptoms are unrecognizable and in others, like me, they are audible... you can hear noises in your lungs.
The up, down, up down segments are called, 'rotations.' Doing this isn't for your lungs, but rather, for your blood. Your red blood cells are what carry the oxygen. If you were do go straight to the top of Everest, right now, you would die within minutes because you don't have enough red blood cells to carry the oxygen that your lungs would be attempting to give it.
However, you can change the physiological makeup of your body, over time, by climbing high and sleeping low. So, yes, you climb to Camp 1, then back to base camp. Then to C2, then back to base camp. Then to camp 3, then back to base camp. Each time you return to base camp, you rest for 5-8 days, waiting for your body to generate more red blood cells in preparation for the next ascent. You are tricking your body.
Everyone, even Sherpa, undergo this process, which is why it takes 7 weeks to go up and only a few days to go down and return to Lukla (the closest airport).
Woah highly informative. Thanks for the enlightenment, and kudos for an absolutely beautiful feat, sir.
Cheers, thank you very much!
what did you do when you had to rest for those 5-8 days each time?
Lots of reading, sleeping, some movies, hikes, and cards. Like the best vacation ever if you didn't feel disgusting.
Thanks for doing this AMA! I'm really interested in trekking to basecamp one of these days (going for the summit is not for me). Do you think it's worth it?
Yes, the trek to basecamp is completely safe and absolutely stunning in every way. Absolutely worth every penny, minute, and calorie!!
Awesome thank you so much for the response. And congratulations on summitting - it sounds like an incredible experience, and one you worked hard to earn!
Thank you! Yes, it was incredibly hard work! I appreciate the congrats!
Probably a dumb question, but when you climb Everest, is there any actually scaling of cliffs, like climbing up a 90 degree wall, or is it mostly trudging through a steep incline with the terrifying elements and extreme cold with the possibility of death lingering every moment?
It's more the trudging through steep incline with terrifying elements and extreme cold with the possibility of death lingering every moment. HAHA loved that!
The only 'scaling of cliffs' is at the Hillary Step, which is about 30 feet of cliff right below the summit. Would otherwise be a very easy climb except for the whole possibility of death lingering bit.
There is also the Khumbu Icefall. There are no technical moves other than ladder climbs and crossings throughout that, but it is nevertheless terrifying and demanding.
Thanks for responding!! Also, with so many people making it to the top, and many experts of the terrain, what do you think is now the leading cause of people becoming frozen corpses? Do you think they skimped on quality gear and they got cold? Underlying health issues prior to going, or not being in good enough shape to do it? I did read something about a guy who's oxygen mask stopped functioning properly just 200 feet away and he made the decision to turn around and it probably saved his life. So I guess dumb decisions and accidents happen.
Good question. I believe it to be altitude. Those down suits, boots, and mitts are pretty dang warm when used properly, even against -40 temps plus wind.
The altitude does weird things to your mind. I saw one guy showing off his frostbitten fingers like, "hey! check this out!" in sub zero temps. It also causes summit fever, and can strike at any minute. So, being less technical than many other worldwide climbs, I believe it's the extended time above 26,000 feet that causes the majority of deaths. Two Sherpa did die this year, one was an icefall doctor who fell into a crevasse and another fell down the Lhotse face.
The guy whose oxygen mask stopped working, for example, may very well have just been ice clogging the valves and his mask didn't work. You never know. 200 feet, however, is measured vertically, and he was probably at the south summit, which is 300 feet from the top and a more likely turnaround spot, still some hours from the true summit.
He was smart and cautious. The top isn't worth your life. The mountain will always be there.
I've been waiting a while for someone to do this so thank you!!
How hard is it to acclimatize to the different altitudes?
What is the hardest part of the physical climb? (both technically and mentally)
What other peaks did you summit before attempting Everest?
What would you say to someone aspiring to summit the world's highest mountain one day?
Is it really worth the all the money, time, and inherent risk?
1) it depends on the person. I acclimatize slowly, and I constantly had headaches, lung issues, and difficulty sleeping. Others do better, but everyone suffers.
2) Technically, the Khumbu icefall is the hardest section. It's exhausting and technical. You have to be 100% attentive for 5-8 hours at a time... or fall into a crevasse. Mentally, it's an endurance game, to actually WANT to be there after 6-7 weeks after you've been beat down by the cold, it's a lot of inner strength to muster up!
3) 4 of the 7 summits and hundreds of other peaks in the USA & South America.
4) I would say: perfect preparation makes perfect performance. Read everything you can get your hands on, watch shows and videos, study other climbers, mark up your copy of Freedom of the Hills, and climb like crazy. Never lose the love of it.
5) For me, yes it was. But maybe if I lost a finger or toe, I wouldn't feel the same...? Glad I've got all 21 digits in place heheheh.....
How difficult is the descent (and how long does it take) compared to the ascent? How long does it take, once reaching the summit, to actually be back in your bed at home? What was the most unexpected thing about the experience?
Descent: From the summit to Camp 2: 13 hours. Slept there. 8 hours to base camp. Slept there 2 nights. Trek to Lukla from base camp, 3 nights. 3 more nights in Kathmandu, and something like a 36 hour flight to get home!!
Most unexpected thing about the experience was thinking that the man I saw on his last breath (see threads below) was a backpack or a sleeping bag from a distance. Because it was dark, I didn't recognize it to be a man until I was about 10 feet away. That was shocking.
Would just like to briefly say congratulations. Mad props bro.
Thanks a billion! Mad thanks... :)
How long did you train for the climb and what kind of physical state should you be in. I know that you can't be overweight, but could someone that runs a 7 minute mile and works out every other day dream of this, or is this more of a challenge for marathon runners...
Good question! See responses to fivewaysforward and vulgopus. Regarding runners, it's really apples and oranges. I've run marathons and used to run a 6 min mile, but those are different types of muscles and a different athletic build entirely. Runners, even distance runners and triathletes, are famous for starting strong on mountains and fizzling out before reaching the summit of big peaks. In my experience, strong mountaineers don't go extremely fast, they are steady, consistent, can carry a LOT of weight, and have strong mental endurance over the course of weeks and months.
I've always been extremely interested in George and Sandy's story and have studied them off and on for years now. Do you think they made it to the summit? I like to think this is one of those great adventure mysteries that could actually be solved one day if climbers are ever able to locate Sandy's remains.
I like to think they made it, but man, those last cliffs would have been formidable back then. Finding Sandy, plus hopefully the camera, is what it would take to say for sure!
From what I understand if Kodak got ahold of the film it could still be processed. Man I'd love to see the shit hit the fan if and when they ever find him. Congratulations on reaching the summit and making it back safely. Commercialized now or not Everest is an amazing thing. I can't even begin to imagine the view up there.
I'm sure it's perfectly preserved somewhere on that behemoth of a frozen rock! It'll make international news if/when they find it, and man, if he made it, what an interesting dilemma for Norgay & Hillary's legacy! Thank you for the congrats. And yes, the view is incredible!! :)
First off, Congratulations. I may never get to climb Everest , however as someone very interested in climbing, I was wondering if there was one tip you might pass along to someone getting started? Would hiking up my local "mountains" be a great starting point?
Yes! It's like playing piano. You don't start with Mozart (aka Everest). You play 'mary had a little lamb' and see if you enjoyed the experience. Get outside, go for a hike, and see if you like it! If so, give Mt. Shasta or Whitney a shot. If those go well, Rainier... and up you go until you're at Everest!
Thank you! I got to see Mount Rainier for about a week from Seattle. I was in awe of it and that started turning the gears in my head. That is my final goal here in the states and since I live out on the East Coast I feel like it is the perfect starting ground.
How much litter did you see and what's your feelings on Everest being so commercialized and not "the mountaineer's mountain"any longer.
Nepal is requiring companies pay a $10,000 dollar deposit, which they only receive back if they leave with the same weight they enter the mountain with. This is quickly fixing the trash problem because the companies leave with their food weight in trash. The ONLY place I saw trash as an issue was at Camp4, where there are shredded tents and scattered feces lying around.
For commercialization, there is some truth to this, but it's definitely still a mountaineers mountain! It had it's people, but it never took away from my experience. For more details, see my response to karmaismeaningless
Great IAMA, I love climbing and fell in love with reading stories of climbers like you. Stay safe!
THANKS!! :) I will, you too
Cool - well done. How experienced were you before you decided to climb it?
What company did you use?
How was the weather during the top climb?
Was it worth it? If yes, would it also be worth it if there were no bragging rights and you could never mention it to anyone?
How sure were you, that you were capable of summiting?
Were you scared at any point?
You: Cool - well done. How experienced were you before you decided to climb it?
Me: Very experienced climber but had not been on any 8000m climb prior to Everest. Had completed 4 of 7 summits and have done 100's of climbs.
You: What company did you use?
Me: International Mountain Guides on their Classic program.
You: How was the weather during the top climb?
Me: The temperature on my thermometer said -40F (where C meets... also -40C) and with windchill, it was -91F. Generally clear on my summit day until descent. The craziest thing was looking DOWN at stars on the horizon as I climbed through the night.
You: Was it worth it? If yes, would it also be worth it if there were no bragging rights and you could never mention it to anyone?
Me: Yes... Also yes. The dream started with a desire to have bragging rights, but as I matured as a climber, I started doing it for me.
You: How sure were you, that you were capable of summiting?
Me: 50%. My biggest worry was my lungs as I've had issues with pulmonary edema previously. Second worry was my knees as I have a torn meniscus in both. Never had a question about whether my skill, willpower, or endurance would meet the mountain's demands.
You: Were you scared at any point?
Me: Every single time I went through the icefall (x6). Serious pucker factor.
Was it difficult to fall asleep in the tents or were you so worn out it didn't matter ?
Difficult. There is a condition called 'Chain Stokes Breathing" where you will actually stop breathing right at the moment you fall asleep, then wake up gasping. It's a normal part of the acclimatization process, but makes for incredibly rest-less sleep. I'd often lay in my tent in the dark starting into nothing, completely exhausted, unable to sleep.
Sounds fun. Does it stop when you go to a more normal altitude or acclimate to it?
yeah, it's a blast. As you acclimatize and/or descend, it improves.
Is it true that there are actually bodies laying around near the top?
Yes. I saw 3 frozen bodies... and 9 people died this season, one being the Sherpa of my good friend. The reason bodies are still there is because the air above 8000m has 1/3rd the oxygen you are breathing right now. It takes 6-12 Sherpa HOURS to move a body just a few hundred meters. Because the timeframe to of the actual summit window is so small (1-2 weeks in the spring, 1 week in the fall), this is the only opportunity for them to be removed. End of the day? People could die moving a dead body off the hill, and the reward to risk ratio doesn't make sense to remove them.
Thank you for this AMA, great stuff!
I was wondering, what did your diet consist of prior to and during your ascent? Also, what was your training routine prior to ascent specifically?
Thank you for being a part of it! Pretty cool experience for me here on Reddit! :) Hope I can ask for a video 'like' at http://ChiefWorldExplorer.info in exchange :) Means a ton to me!
Diet was atrocious prior to summit day. I think a sports nutritionist would be appalled by all the fried stuff we ate. French fries, fried rice, fried eggs, fried... everything. We also ate lots of Yak. Yak steak, yak burgers, yak omelets. Salty foods that don't go bad. I brought my own cytomax and Gu gels for energy, plus a mix of vitamins.
On summit day itself, I loaded up on some mac n cheese, ramen noodles, and on the climb itself, ate 5 Lara bars, 5 Gu gels, and 1 gallon of water (wish I took 6 liters). When I got down I stuffed myself silly on anything in sight.
For my training regimen, specifically, I'll quote myself from the LVAC Magazine, Fall Edition
"To train, I did laps up and down Mount Charleston (edit: a mountain near vegas with 4000ft elevation gain parking lot to summit) and other peaks around the valley, carrying 60-100lbs on my back. LVAC (edit: the gym in town) was instrumental in my training… For gym training days, I'd be at an LVAC facility for 3-5 hours, typically starting with a spin class, moving on to stair steppers, again with 60-100lbs of added weight. Then I'd get motivated in 8Strikes (edit: cardio kickboxing). Finally, I'd finish with swim sprints to teach my body to work at high levels of performance without much oxygen. I trained 3 days on, 1 day off, for 9 straight months before the climb, never once skimping on the regimen. My life counted on it. During that time, I gained 20lbs of mass, nearly all in my core and legs. On March 23rd, I flew to Nepal in the best shape of my life."
Full article here, pg. 16&17: http://www.lvacmembers.com/lvacmagazine/
Biking 60-80 miles per day when my knees couldn't take the weight on mountains, plus swim sprints, were also critical training elements.
Oh, and I also did a decent amount of slacklining to improve my balance for ladder crossings in the icefall.
Did you train? If so, how? And can you describe the feeling of being on top of the world?
Yes, I trained intensely. 3 days on, 1 day off, minimum of 4 hours a day (usually 6-8) for 9 months.
The feeling of being on top of the world was contrasts. I was elated and terrified. Relieved and exhausted. Weeping with joy and pain. The worst part, after all, was yet to come... going down.
My oxygen bottles BOTH leaked empty, so I only had 11 minutes at the top. In my hazy mental state, I only was able to snap 4 photos, then put my gloves back on. That is still disappointing. Wished I'd taken out the gopro and filmed, but my fingers were too cold and I was more concerned about getting down quickly & safely. It was 37 hours round trip on summit day, and the real elation of having climbed it only recently set in, months later, after full recovery.
This is something I've always wanted to do. What is the cheapest way to climb the mountain?
The cheapest way is to go on the North side with an Asian discount outfitter. However, you get what you pay for when it comes to safety, food, and knowledge. If you get in trouble, they won't come rescue you. My research showed Project Himalaya offering the highest quality yet cheapest way to climb on the North, floating under the 20k mark.
If I have some tree, rock, and non-ice mountain climbing experience - and I emphasize SOME - how many years should I honestly put aside to climbing Everest if I really wanted to? If a completely inexperienced person told you they wanted to summit, how long would you advise they work toward the goal?
From summit photos I see, it always seems as if the summit area is extremely small. I get acrophobia just looking at the images, as if the people might be in danger of falling off the top of the world. And when we think of peaks, we tend to think of small juts out of the top of extremely steep crags that one might have to hold onto to keep from falling. However, in my mountain climbing experience, the peak is seldom that small and instead is simply the highest point of a relatively open spot. What is it like on Everest?
It's hard to say an exact timeframe, but with zero experience, the absolute minimum I'd suggest would be 2.5-3 years climbing experience, and that's with a LOT of rigorous climbing and training... like, it should be your only dedicated pursuit. For the average Everest pursuer, 5-10 years is more likely. I'd been a climber for 14 years before going to E.
You're right about summits. Some are enormous flat areas, like Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua. Some are pointy precipices. The actual summit of Everest is covered in prayer flags and things people leave behind, making it very dangerous to walk onto the true summit because your crampons will get wrapped up in stuff that will make you trip and fall off the cliffs!
On Everest's summit, you have an 8000 foot drop on one side and a 10,000 foot drop on the other. We joke that if you're going to fall, you want to fall onto the 10,000 foot side because you'll live longer.
So are we talking like a 10x10 meter area, something that small? How many people can fit comfortably up there at once?
5-6 people if they were holding each other tight! Way smaller than 10x10 meters.
I saw on the Everest show on Discovery that it's incredibly dangerous to remove your goggles at the summit. One guy did it anyway and had to climb down blind. Is this true and did you remove your goggles at all?
This is true. It is possible to not only go snowblind due to the intense light radiation, but you can also freeze your eyeballs, like a frozen grape inside of your skull. This mildly happened to a climber on my expedition. Once it warmed up, I switched my goggles for my glacier glasses, but otherwise, no, I had eye protection at all times.
who was in the right? The European's or the Sherpas?
see answer to schizoidone :-)
1) Was there any type of conditioning that you did for this climb? 2) How long did you spend on top of Everest?
1) Intense training, see responses to blandestk, BKBJ, ziggie43, fivewaysforward and vulgopus. 2) 11 minutes. See guitarguy12's answer. Cheers!
How many dead bodies did you encounter during your climb?
3 face to face, more were in vicinity. See reply to Mishatje below
Thank you for this and congratulations! Really enjoy reading stories from climbers such as yourself and how the journey is such a humbling experience.
You are welcome, and thank YOU! :-)
Congratulations on summiting!
How was waiting in line at Hillary Step? No, seriously...
how has the vast "tourism" on the mountain affected your climbing?
What is your opinion on the fight between Steck and the sherpas?
I waited at the Hillary Step for about 5 minutes on the way up behind 3 people and didn't wait at all on the way down. The 2 ways street rappel route they installed this year all but eliminated the traffic issue on the Hillary step.
The 'vast tourism' didn't affect my climbing, personally, very much. It's no more crowded than Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro, Mt. Blanc, etc, the stakes are just a lot higher on Everest.
It DID have a massive impact on one man that potentially cost him his life. A climber had cerebral edema while climbing Lhotse, the next closest 8000m peak which has the same ascent route as Everest. He desperately needed rescue, and a team of Sherpa were dispatched to rescue him. The were on the way in good weather.
They quickly came upon a bottleneck close to the Yellow Band and couldn't pass a group of several dozen Indian Army climbers (India pays any citizen who reaches the summit of Everest. Some weird way of conquering the world I gathered).
Here's what still infuriates me: the Indian Army REFUSED to let the Sherpa pass. The Indians physically blocked the Sherpa from passing, as a point of pride, even though they were attempting a rescue. The man could not be reached by dark and he died waiting.
From what I understand there is a lot of racial tension between Nepali people and Indians, and this crowd plus the inability to cooperate cost the man his life.
For the Moro/Steck fight, I thought it was a joke and I stand in defense of the Sherpa. See my answer to schizoidone for my detailed perspective.
What is your opinion of the increasing commercialisation of Everest? I don't know about you, but I was somewhat disheartened to see the recent photographs of the waiting line to summit, and can't help but feel that we've invaded this epic, harsh wilderness in order to make money from rich tourists with minimal mountaineering experience. I realise the importance of the economical boost to the Sherpa, but as a mountain man myself it makes me a little bit sad that there's no longer any room for "real" mountaineers on Everest.
Also, did you get a chance to see High Tension in the current Reel Rock film tour? It's about the fight and the current Everest situation, and it's pretty interesting!
I was also disheartened to see those photographs, which are from 2012, but did not find any waits that slowed me for longer than 10-15 minutes and I didn't find there to me an unmanageable number of people climbing. The only time I was affected by other people was when an oxygen tank came whizzing down the Lhotse face and nearly obliterated my Sherpa, Nuru and I.
Additionally, I found that many of the 'rich tourists' actually had decent skill and climbing resumés. The scariest climbers, regarding inexperience, was the Indian Army. See karmaismeaningless discussion for details on that sh*t show...
I guess what I'm saying is that yes, there is some negative effect on the purity of it all, but just as you can still enjoy Yosemite National Park even though it's not as empty as John Muir found it, you can still enjoy Everest, even if it's not as empty as Mallory found it.... but there are a LOT fewer people on Everest than Yosemite!!
I'm scared to see the movie because friends tell me they victimize Steck and Moro... my blood would be boiling and I might throw a rock at the screen because that's SO not the case.
The photo of you on the summit is absolutely stunning, that view! Just breathtaking. What camp did you stay at before attempting the summit? How long did it take you on that final stretch up and how long to get back down? How did you find the altitude acclimatisation? Awesome AMA, thanks for doing this :D
Thank you! I appreciate that... I was out of breath in the photo too!! :-) Our final 'sleep' (if you can call it that) is at Camp 3 which is literally carved into the side of a 3000 foot wall of ice. That's at 23,500 feet. From there, we departed at 6am (start of the summit push) and climbed to the South Col aka Camp 4. That took ~6 hours. At C4, I loaded up on food, made last minute gear checks and preparations, went the the bathroom (#2) and then ate 3 immodium to be sure I wouldn't have to again, and switched oxygen tanks. I also caught a 90 minute cat nap. It's now 7PM... departure time.
From 7PM until 5:48AM I climbed to the top through the darkness, only the visibility of my headlamp, lighting the way in front of me, and the eerie trail of headlamps of other climbers lighting a white pathway into the black heavens.
From 5:59am (I know the exact time because my camera recorded it in the photos) until about 12 noon was the descent to Camp4. I rested for 30 minutes, but it is very dangerous to rest that high after climbing, so I continued walking until 7pm, which is when I made it back to camp 2.
All in all, it took me 37 hours for my summit bid. You're welcome, glad you enjoyed!!
Once you got lower in altitude, did your energy increase? Were you too exhausted to even notice a difference? Thanks for the interesting AMA! I've actually learned a lot.
Yes, slowly, over the course of days, your energy returns. However, it's just been in the past 2-3 weeks that I'm finally starting to feel like myself again, 4 months later.
Thanks for the response! I actually meant did you feel your energy increase on your initial descent from the summit, when oxygen became more abundant. Or we you just so tired it would be imperceptible. Congratulations by the way!
Ahh, yes, I could feel my lungs actually giving my muscles energy as I got lower. I mean, it was like a really slow version of when your foot falls asleep and you have pins and needles, then you feel the blood rushing back into your foot... kind of like that but less dramatic.
Can you still answer my question? I really saving up to climb kilimanjaro one day Did you climb there already? What do you think i reeally have to prepare before taking that trip?
Yes, I have climbed Kilimanjaro and it is a beautiful, amazing hike! You will not be disappointed! The most important thing is to be in shape... and to take iodine tablets or a water filter! You're going to love it... if you stay in Hostel Hoff, you will have opportunities to volunteer in Moshi and make a difference while you are there. Don't forget to go on Safari!
What type of climbing gear did you use?
Here's the gear list I went off of http://www.mountainguides.com/everest-south-gear.shtml but are you asking about specific brands?
Dude, If I could shake your hand right now I would. Congratulations man.
I would shake back and say thank you!!! :)
Did you have any close calls on the way up?
THE moment where I was questioning my life was when an oxygen tank came hurtling down the Lhotse face (a 3000 ft. wall of ice) at, I'd guess, 80-120mph. It would have vaporized me, but bounced over my rope 50 feet in front of me and shot into the bergschrund (a crevasse) at the base of the face. SCARY!!!
Did you feel like a superhuman with all that O2 when you got back to sea level?
Thought I would, that's how it felt coming down from other mountains, but after Everest, it took months to recover.
May 21st is my birthday.
It was a great day for both of us!
Have you climbed K2 yet?
no, don't have an interest in going back above 8000m anytime soon. Honestly, it's regrettable that K2 isn't the world's tallest mountain. It is a much more technical and dangerous climb! And it kills a lot higher percentage of people who attempt....
my boss is going to EBC but no higher. He has a rather important position and needs to stay in communication as much as possible. Will an unlocked smartphone with NCELL pre-pay SIM card, a Satellite phone, a solar charger and a satellite IP wifi hotspot be enough to stay in touch? Is expecting to be somewhat reachable a pipe dream?
There is now cell coverage at EBC. Don't know who set it up, but there was enough opportunity.
true. There is daily coverage from Lukla to base camp, but not consistent... he won't have 24/7 contact. Unlocked quad band cell phone is plenty. A sat phone would guarantee anytime calling... but what's so important that he can't simply enjoy his trek through the marvelous Himalaya?
How did viewing some of the corpses affect your ascent?
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