I reached the summit of Mt. Everest on May 19, 2016. Below is a journal of my expedition.
Equipment, To-do Lists, and More Lists
An expedition to the summit of Mt. Everest requires a lot of equipment and personal gear and all kinds of other stuff. It also requires a lot of preparation just to be away and disconnected for 8 weeks. There are lists of lists to be completed and with just two weeks before departure I am in a good position, but still feeling the urgency of getting everything completed. Traci is an important contributor to my preparations — ordering and shipping supplies and medicines in advance of my arrival to Nepal, helping to pull together all of the loose ends from my equipment list, and being a big supporter so that I can focus on preparations. No one climbs Mt. Everest alone — it requires teamwork and support (except of course for Reinhold Messner).
Icefall Doctors at Work
The Himalayan Times reports that the Icefall doctors are at work preparing the climbing route.
Leaving Soon for Kathmandu!
Hello and thanks for following along.
This is just a quick post to check in. I am in India this week working from our office in Trivandrum. It has been great to reconnect with colleagues and to get a head start in adjusting to the 11 hour time difference from Chicago.
The climbing team is assembling in Kathmandu this weekend! We plan to begin the trek to Everest Base Camp sometime early next week.
(P.S. Bonus points to anyone who recognizes this picture as being from the north side of the mountain. My approach will be from the south side. George Mallory and Sandy Irvine approached Mt. Everest from the north (Tibet) in 1924; Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay approached from the south (Nepal) in 1953. )
Arrival to Kathmandu!
Today I received my climbing permit from the Ministry of Tourism in Nepal. After an official briefing, a few signatures, well wishes and a khata, I was presented with a permit and official permission to climb Mt. Everest.
One (important) step closer!
I plan to leave for Lukla early on Monday morning, April 4th, to begin the trek to Everest Base Camp, weather permitting.
Temples in Kathmandu
I visited two temples in Kathmandu today.
The Pashupatinath Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu with origins dating to 400 B.C. The temple courtyard is off limits to non-Hindus, but there is a terrific view from just across the Bagmati River.
The Boudhanath Stupa is the largest stupa in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet. The temple spire was destroyed in the 2015 earthquake and is now being rebuilt.
I hope to fly to Lukla tomorrow and begin the trek to Everest Base Camp.
Lukla to Phakding
There were just a few flights that made it to Lukla today and I was happy to be on the first to arrive. It was a gentle flight punctuated with a perfect landing and the absence of any drama worthy of another YouTube video. The views of terraced farms and big mountains were spectacular. It was just what I had hoped for.
The trek today was equally gentle and straightforward. I walked for about four hours from Lukla to Phakding on a path that surrenders approximately 200′ in elevation as it follows the Dhudh Kosi river. It was an enjoyable day and a great way to begin acclimatizing to the higher elevations. Spring has arrived to the Khumbu Valley and the rhododendrons are in bloom.
Tomorrow I plan to walk to Namche Bazar.
Phakding to Namche Bazar
Today I trekked from Phakding to the village of Namche Bazaar at 11,286′. The trekking route navigates across two valleys and is made significantly easier by several suspension bridges. The early Everest expeditions were required to climb the steep valley faces that have been cut into the mountains by millions of years of erosion from the river below. Later expeditions would cross rickety wooden suspension bridges that required courage and, preferably, a windless day. Today the crossings are steel suspension bridges that allow trekkers to cross without peril and with their full attention on enjoying the incredible views of the Khumbu.
I plan to be in Namche Bazaar for two nights acclimatizing to the higher altitudes here. Namche is a comfortable village and is celebrated by trekkers for the quality of the bakeries and coffee houses. Tomorrow I will go on a short hike to higher elevations and my first view of Everest since arriving, then return to Namche for the night. This “climb high, sleep low” routine is a central part of the acclimatization process.
This morning I hiked to the Everest View Hotel at 12,779′. The hotel claims to be the highest in the world. Today the hotel lived up to its name offering amazing views of Everest (first peak on the left), Lhotse, Nuptse, Ama Dablam (large peak in the foreground on the right) and other great peaks of the Himalayan range.
Later I visited the village of Khumjung, the political capital of the Khumbu region and home of the Hillary School. Sir Edmund Hillary founded the school and many others in the region as well as numerous clinics. Hillary is a hero to the Sherpa community and his work has made a major and lasting impact in many positive ways.
Visiting the school today I was reminded of a quote from Sir Edmund Hillary: “I have enjoyed great satisfaction from my climb of Everest and my trips to the poles. But there’s no doubt that my most worthwhile things have been the building of schools and medical clinics.”
Tonight I will be in Namche Bazaar and tomorrow I plan to trek to the village of Debuche at an altitude of 12,270′.
Namche Bazar to Debuche
Today I trekked from Namche Bazaar (11,287 ft) to Debuche (12,538 ft).
The morning began with blessings from the family who operate the Panorama View Tea House where I have stayed for the past two nights.
We took a team photo to capture the moment. The team is a terrific group with representatives from India, New Zealand, England, Germany, Argentina, Nepal and the United States.
The views early in the day were simply spectacular. I won’t try to describe the beauty, but instead share the picture below. Similar to yesterday, Everest is the first peak on the left and Ama Dablam is on the right with several other Himalayan peaks in the center.
The trail gives up altitude all morning then in the afternoon regains it all back with a vengeance plus another 1,000 ft. Trekkers stay motivated on the steep sections knowing that the Tengboche Monastery awaits them at the top. The monastery is a special place that will bring renewal to even the most exhausted trekker.
Tonight I will be in Debuche and tomorrow will trek to Dingboche (14,479 ft) with a stop in Pheroche for a blessing from Lama Geshi.
Blessings to all from Tengboche Monastery.
Debuche to Dingboche
I find every day to be special in the Khumbu Valley, and today was especially so.
Ama Dablam is a sentinel that towers over all who journey to Everest from the south. It was ever present today. One of the special experiences of Ama Dablam is that trekkers walk around the mountain and gain multiple perspectives, similar to how a sculpture might study their work from multiple angles. For most of the day Ama Dablam seems impossibly off limits, but at times the mountain seems to invite a respectful approach. Ama Dablam is beautiful beyond description and it is such a joy to spend a day in her shadows.
Lama Geshi has given blessings to generations of climbers. He has pictures displayed of Himalayan pioneers who have come seeking his blessing. Receiving Lama Geshi’s blessing is a right of passage for virtually all who aspire to climb Mt. Everest from the south. For me it was an impactful experience to be in Lama Geshi’s presence and humbling to know that I follow in the footsteps of generations of my climbing heroes.
A helicopter passed through the valley at eye level today marking a sign of progress.
I plan to stay in Dingboche (14,470 ft) for two nights to acclimatize to the 2,000 feet of altitude that was served up today. Happy to be here.
Today was divided equally between work and rest.
This morning started with an acclimatization hike to 16,358 feet. For most of the hike I enjoyed views of some of the world’s tallest peaks including Cho Oyu, Mansalu, Makalu, Lobuche, and Ama Dablam (the prominent peak in the center of the picture above.) Yesterday I wrote that Ama Dablam has many personalities. The picture above is from the north perspective, whereas yesterday I shared a picture from the south. It is hard to recognize the pictures as the same mountain. Everest was not visible today.
It was nice to gain about 2,000 feet of altitude then retreat to the comforts of our tea house for some well deserved rest. Tea houses are a central part of the trekking experience and share common characteristics throughout the Khumbu. The first characteristic is a common room where hot tea and meals are served and trekkers warmed by a stove located in the center of the space. The second characteristic is the availability of simple rooms for sleeping, typically offering just two beds and sometimes a private bathroom, but not always. All the action is found in the common area, in part, because the rooms are not heated. It is a simple, but social experience.
You meet people from all over the world in the tea houses and you never know who you might meet. I spent time with Conrad Anker at our tea house in Namche Bazaar. Conrad is a well-know climber who I have followed for years and is one of the central subjects in the movie “Meru”. It is one of my favorite climbing films. Meru
Tomorrow I plan to trek to Loboche (16,210 ft)
Thanks for following along.
Dingboche to Lobuche
Each day towards Everest Base Camp has a unique fingerprint that marks progress.
Today was marked by a farewell to vegetation and all things green among the landscape. It has been a gradual farewell. First were the trees, then the bushes, and today everything else. It is like saying goodbye to a loved one as they depart down a long airport terminal, a few last fleeting glances then gone. The difference today is that there is no sadness only a sense of progress.
Soon the rock and dirt of the high plateau will yield to the snow and ice of the Khumbu Glacier and it will mark yet another milestone in the journey.
Tonight I am in Lobuche (16,200 ft) and will trek to Gorak Shep tomorrow.
Thanks for following along.
Lobuche to Gorak Shep
Today was a big day.
We trekked from Lobuche up the Khumbu glacial moraine to Gorak Shep.
Later we climbed to the summit of Kala Patthar (18, 514″). The summit provided amazing views of Pumori, Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse and the entire Khumbu glacier.
There is no cell service in Gorak Shep so I am getting this post out by satellite and will update with pictures in the next day or two.
Tomorrow we arrive to Everest base camp!
Everest Base Camp
Big expeditions are the sum of many small objectives, each completed one at a time. Each day has its own purpose and when things are most difficult the objectives can be as small as the next few steps. Then there are times when the sum of many objectives successfully completed give rise to a significant milestone. Today was one of those days.
Today I arrived to Everest Base Camp!
My goals were to arrive here feeling healthy, strong and mostly acclimatized to 17,500 feet. It is a big task and I feel a deep sense of gratitude that I am here and well positioned for what’s ahead.
I know that the hard work is ahead, but today I give thanks for the first chapter successfully completed.
Tomorrow is our Puja ceremony and then we will have several days of technical practice in the lower Khumbu before going higher.
Everest Base Camp – Puja Ceremony
On any other day of the expedition our Sherpa team devotes their full attention and energy in service to the climbing team, but not today. Today was for the Sherpa and their Puja ceremony.
The Puja is a mandatory and special part of every Everest expedition. It is deeply rooted in the rituals of Tibetan Buddhism. The purpose of the Puja is for the Sherpa to ask Sagamartha (Mt. Everest) for permission to climb and for safe passage for all team members.
First a Puja chorten is erected as a place to make offerings and burn incense. Food and drink is blessed for the celebration to follow. The Sherpa place their equipment at the chorten for special blessings. After a long series of chants and prayers and other ritual, a flag pole is raised and Tibetan prayer flags are spread across the entire camp to bless all who pass.
Then to symbolize long life (white beards) and friendship Sherpa and climbing team members rub white flour on one another in celebration.
With our Puja now complete the Sherpa team will begin fixing the climbing route above Camp 2. The climbing team will devote several days to honing our technical skills in the lower Khumbu Ice Fall.
We will be supported in each step of the expedition by a devoted team of Sherpa who will focus every bit of their energy to our safe passage on the mountain.
Everest Base Camp
With our Puja completed and the Sherpa team establishing Camps 1 and 2, our attention is now fully focused on preparing for our first climbing rotation. Our goals over the next several days are to continue the acclimatization process and to perfect the technical skills that are required for the Khumbu Ice Fall.
Our morning was focused on acclimatization and the program was simple: we spent a couple of hours getting some exercise by walking around Base Camp. It takes about 45 minutes to walk directly from one end of Base Camp to the other, however we wandered about visiting climbing teams from all over the world and stopping in for an orientation at the Everest ER. The Everest ER provides climbers and Sherpa and local Nepalese with first rate medical care — all free of charge — and is a great resource to the approximately 1,000 people in Base Camp (of which approximately 250 are permitted climbers).
This afternoon the team spent time in the lower Khumbu Ice Fall practicing some basic cramponing skills and getting some additional exercise to continue the acclimatization process.
Tomorrow we will have a technical route fixed in the Ice Fall and will review rappelling, fixed line climbing, and ladder crossings. It will be fun and another step forward in our preparations.
Thanks for following along!
Everest Base Camp
This morning was sunny and warm in base camp. It was celebrated by all except for the kitchen staff. As the climbing team left for more technical climbing practice in the lower Khumbu Ice Fall, the kitchen staff knew it would be an afternoon of hard work.
For as soon as the climbing team returned from practice, the requests began for showers. In most any other place the requests would be routine, but not at Everest Base Camp. I will give a sense of what is involved in just providing a shower. First someone has to haul the water into camp. Our water supply is at least a 20 minute walk one way across two steep ravines. Water weighs about 8.3 pounds per gallon and each trip yields about 10 gallons of water. It is incredibly hard work.
The old-school Base Camp shower was a bucket of warm water hoisted overhead. But our camp is not old-school, we are living a much more comfortable and modern existence!
We have a shower tent (yellow tent in lower right corner of the photo above) that is fed water through a hose (normally frozen) from a large barrel positioned on top of a hill next to our camp (upper left hand corner of picture). If carrying water into camp is not hard enough, it is then hauled to the top of the hill and poured in a barrel to create water pressure for the shower.
The water then feeds a gas heating system that is controlled within the shower.
All that is left for the climbing team member to do is to listen for their name to be called and to have soap in hand. This is an example of expedition life. It illustrates a couple of realities: the day-to-day is not always glamorous and it is rarely easy, and that none of it would happen without the incredible effort and support of our camp staff.
We are now all clean here in base camp and getting hungry. Our kitchen staff is exhausted and hoping for a cold and cloudy day tomorrow.
Everest Base Camp
Today was another day of technical practice in the lower Khumbu Ice Fall. The climbing was a lot of fun—vertical ice ascending, rappelling, and ladder crossings—all made possible by fixed lines.
Fixed lines are what allow city dwellers like me to climb big mountains like Mt. Everest. The fixed line on Mt. Everest is a continuous line of rope that starts at the bottom of the Khumbu Ice Fall and goes to the summit. The line is attached to the mountain every 30 feet or so by an ice screw.
Climbers attach themselves to the fixed line with a mechanical ascender device. The ascender is designed to travel in only one direction; once the ascender is pushed up the rope the climber can put their full weight on the rope to climb the route—even vertically.
One of the unbreakable rules of fixed line travel is that the climber always remains connected to the line. So at anchor points (illustrated above by a rock), the climber will connect a carabiner above the anchor point before removing the ascender from below the anchor and reconnecting it above the anchor.
The fixed line and ascender allows climbers to traverse more safely and efficiently across even the most technically challenging features.
At ladder crossings there are fixed lines on either side of the climber.
Ascending Mt. Everest would not be possible for most climbers without the fixed lines. I have a deep sense of gratitude for the Sherpa climbers who go before me to fix the lines that make this adventure possible.
The ascender that I am climbing with this year was a 50th birthday present from my daughters. It is one of my most prized possessions. It will also be a constant reminder of my promise to always stay connected to the fixed line, no matter what.
We are getting close to our move to the higher camps.
Thanks for following along.
A Day of Remembrance
Today marked the second anniversary of the avalanche that claimed sixteen Sherpa lives in the Khumbu Ice Fall on April 18, 2014. Four members of our current team, including myself, were witness to the accident. We lost five of our Sherpa team members that day.
In commemoration of the accident, all of the climbing teams honored a day of remembrance for the Sherpa who were lost. No one climbed today. It was a day to reflect and to remember and to rest.
With everyone in camp today, it gave me an opportunity to spend time with my climbing partner Pemba Sherpa. It was comforting to be with Pemba as we prepare for what’s ahead.
Tomorrow we will climb to the first ladders in the Khumbu Ice Fall then return for our last night in base camp before going to the higher camps.
Khumbu Ice Fall
After a lot of anticipation and preparation, today I finally climbed in the Khumbu Ice Fall. It was amazingly beautiful and exciting!
We climbed about 20% of the route as a final shake out before planning to move through the entire Ice Fall to Camp 1 early tomorrow morning. It was helpful to see the route in day light before we return tomorrow at approximately 2:30 AM. We will start climbing in the coldest part of the day when the route is the most stable and try to arrive to Camp 1 before Noon. It will be a big day.
The stage is now set to begin our first rotation: the team is working well together, we have strong and caring guides, the Sherpa team has set our higher camps and will now join us as climbing partners, and I am thankful for good health and strength. Many successful climbers have reflected that their first time climbing the Khumbu Ice Fall is one of the hardest days of an Everest expedition.
I plan to be above base camp for the next four or five days. I will send updates to Traci via a satellite connection which she will post to share the progress. Other than a few simple updates, please don’t expect to hear much from me until my return to base camp. I hope to return with amazing pictures and accounts of strong, safe and successful climbing. You can also check for dispatches from Madison Mountaineering available on the Links page of my website.
Until then, I will treasure your well wishes and prayers.
As always, thanks for following along!
Everest Camp 1
We climbed to Camp 1 yesterday. It was an exciting and challenging day as we navigated through the Khumbu Ice Fall via fixed lines and ladders. We arrived at Camp 1 feeling healthy and strong. The views here are even more beautiful than I imagined.
We hiked part way to Camp 2 today and returned to Camp 1 for the night. We will move to Camp 2 tomorrow.
Thanks for following along.
Everest Camp 2
We reached Camp 2 today and are currently at an elevation of 21,000″. The plan is to stay here for 3 nights to continue the acclimatization process and then return to Base Camp.
We are experiencing heavy snow and very cold temperatures tonight. Weather permitting, we will go on hikes each day and return to Camp 2 for hot meals and rest.
The air at Everest Base Camp feels thick and sustaining and it is nice to return “home” after a successful first rotation. Over the past five days our team has climbed through the Khumbu Ice Fall twice, spent two nights at Camp 1, three nights at Camp 2, and reached a high altitude mark of 22,000 feet. It has been an amazing week!
Rotations are an important strategy for climbing Mt. Everest. The basic strategy was developed by the Russian national climbing team in the Caucasus mountains and has been widely adopted on big mountains all over the world. The science is straightforward: climb progressively higher and each time stress the body to its limits then retreat to lower elevations to recover and build red blood cells. This regimen helps climbers build the physical capacity to perform at even higher altitudes.
I will be in Base Camp over the next four or five days putting the finishing touches on my first rotation with a regimen of: eat, drink, rest and recover.
While in Base Camp I will post a series of overviews from the first rotation. Until then, I share a few images from the higher camps.
Khumbu Ice Fall
This morning was filled with an appreciation for things that can go uncelebrated: sleeping in, a contemplative cup of coffee and then another without any sense of rush, and a day’s agenda completely without ambition.
The morning scene was different a few days ago as I prepared to depart for the Khumbu Ice Fall and a move to Camp 1. I was up and moving at 1:00 AM, wide awake and without time or desire for coffee, and I had eight hours of hard work ahead to follow a single line of rope 2,000 vertical feet up a waterfall of snow and ice.
The Khumbu Ice Fall demands respect, sobriety and focus; I approached with a full measure of all three. In addition, I approached with a forced sense of confidence and a comfort in knowing that my climbing partner, Pemba Sherpa, would be there to help me. I also prayed. It is often said that climbing Mt. Everest is as much a mental exercise as it is physical and the Khumbu Ice Fall is a test of both. As I travelled through the Ice Fall I had to maintain a sense of courage and stay completely focused on only the immediate next few steps knowing that otherwise the task could unravel into something overwhelming. It helped that for the first half of the climb I could only see as far ahead as what was illuminated by my headlamp.
Pemba and I climbed together in a way that words were not necessary. For most of the climb we were alone, working together step-by-step, accepting whatever challenges were presented along our path. As morning light emerged and I could see the full environment there was a sense of momentum and a boost of confidence that had come from the predawn work. It was a wonderful experience to be so focused in a place of incredible beauty.
I recall seeing a four section vertical ladder and very intentionally rejecting any sense of fear, but rather approaching the task rung-by-rung confident more in the safety lines than the wavering ladders.
As the morning progressed we continued our work. I soon realized that we were in an area of the Ice Fall known as the Popcorn–due to the ice features creating an uncanny resemblance to a bowl of popcorn–and I thought that it was the last major obstacle for the day.
Once we emerged from the Popcorn we were on the home stretch and after seven hours of full-on climbing I let my guard down just a bit. It was premature.
I soon discovered there was one last obstacle: a 200 foot vertical ice wall that required a tremendous amount of effort to overcome. There was a back up of climbers. It was a heartbreaker, but it gave way a step at a time. I soon emerged on the top of the vertical ice wall and could see Camp 1. I gave thanks realizing that we had made it through the Ice Fall.
I thought about the Ice Fall and the life lessons that it offers as I had my second cup of coffee this morning. I will make two more round-trips through the Ice Fall on my journey to the summit and then home safely to my family.
I look forward to more lessons learned.
Thanks for following along.