Trip Highlights Everest Home Home

DAY EIGHT Lobuche, 16,200 ft. to Everest Base Camp and Kala Pattar, 18,500 ft.
There's a knock on the tent, hot coffee. My mind stirs. It seems extremely early. It IS early! 3 a.m. This is the big day. At 4 a.m. we depart for Mt. Everest.

Talk about cold, I'm freezing. Well, no wonder!  The temperature is nine degrees below zero! After drinking the coffee I begin to assemble my gear. I'm shocked to see that my water bottles are frozen.

My contact lenses are frozen! My contact lens solution is frozen! In fact, all my solutions are frozen, even my shampoo! This is great, just great! And we leave in 45 minutes. My most serious concern is my contact lenses and they're just blocks of ice. At that moment one of the sherpas shows up with hot washing water and I have a brilliant solution to a tough problem.

I soak the contact lens case and solution bottle in the hot water to the point where they are finally thawed out. Whew . . . that was close!

I get dressed as rapidly as I can, putting every piece of clothing on that I have . . . two sets of long underwear, one set of fleece pants, one set of Gore-tex outer pants, one fleece vest, one full fleece jacket, my down jacket, a Gore-tex jacket on top of it, and two pairs of gloves.

Now my boots . . . my boots which were kept outside of the tent for purposes of cleanliness are frozen, completely frozen. Unfortunately I can't put several additional pairs of socks on to keep my feet warm, but I know if I keep wiggling my toes and taking my shoes off periodically and rubbing my feet that I will avoid frostbite.

With headlamps pointing the way we depart camp at 4 a.m. Little did I know that it would be over 15 hours before I would see this frozen tent again. I grew up in western Pennsylvania where the temperatures get down to twenty below zero. It was so cold you had to take the battery out of your car to make sure it would start the next day. That was cold . . . but nothing could compare with the cold of today and, just two weeks ago as I left my home in Arizona, the daytime temperature was 97 degrees. I am experiencing a 112 degree temperature change in just two weeks!

After a hearty, hot bowl of porridge we are on our way. At 4:00 a.m. that means headlamps. I feel like I'm going to work in a coal mine.

We've all heard and seen stories about mountain climbers who, in preparation for the climb, leave at 4 a.m. in order to make the summit. I have always been impressed by that, and now that I'm doing it I'm even more impressed.

Mike prepared us the night before and just reminds us again . . . this will be our hardest day and if the first 20 minutes is any indication he is right on. We are stepping from boulder to boulder, occasionally knee-deep in a snowdrift, just working our way across the glacier, continually trying to find some sort of a pathway.

I think I see it . . . yes, I do . . . it's the SUN! It is clearly in the sky, but is shining on the wrong side of the valley in which we are walking. The other side of the valley is bathed in sunshine -- and here we are freezing to death walking on the opposite side. What's wrong with this picture?

When the sun finally hits us full force, the feeling is indescribable. We stop and begin immediately peeling away clothing that has been hindering us since 3:30 a.m. Ahhh, nothing ever felt so good.

Our first objective is a small town called Gorak Shep where we will have tea. This will be the final teahouse before we see Everest Base Camp. Unfortunately, the snow at the base camp is waist deep in places so we will climb Kala Pattar, an 18,500 ft. peak from which we will get an unparalleled view of the world's highest mountains, including Mt. Everest and base camp. 

We go up and up and up. Right now we are at 17,200 ft.. When we reach the summit where we view all of this we will be at 18,462 ft. I am moving VERRRRRRY slowly. I take five or six steps and then rest for about a minute. Take another five or six steps and then rest another minute. And so it goes. My lungs feel like they're on fire. But I'm going to keep pressing on. I will not be denied this summit.

As I rest my head and my hands on my hiking poles I ask myself, "Is it really worth it?" to look at Everest and the base camp. That's what I'm here for, that's what life's all about, setting objectives, difficult objectives and then enduring unreasonable pain to achieve them. I keep going.

I continue moving slowly, very slowly, doing a "climber's blow." Essentially you breathe in deeply and then blow the air out quickly. By doing this at several intervals you find it easier to breathe and find yourself panting much less. The work is hard. I look up to see Mike, Tom, Bert, and Jeannie standing on the top . . . I push on. I stop, look up again . . . why don't I seem to be getting any closer? Keep going. Keep pushing. One step at a time. Up, up, up.

No doubt this is our hardest day, but I make it and feel a great swelling pride in doing so. I stand on the summit, turn around, and there before me like a magnificent, overwhelming giant stands the tallest mountain in the world -- Everest -- and all of its 29,029 ft. I am mesmerized. I can't take my eyes away from it.

Out comes my camera, and I shoot over 50 pictures of the mountain and surrounding peaks. The photographs will never begin to capture the true magnitude and emotion of this moment, but it will remain alive in my mind and heart forever. No, that's not a tear on my cheek . . . probably just blowing snow.

We spend an hour looking at the mountain, eating our sack lunches, and then we begin the long, long trek back to our tents.

As we continue our walk I reflect upon all the famous mountaineers who trekked to this point with a large number of porters and sherpas loaded down with a lot more gear than we have, and then spent two to three months climbing the mountain. I have just passed over the exact same route they have for half a century. The experience is very humbling.

It is late in the afternoon. We are all beat so we stop at the teahouse to rejuvenate ourselves for the long trek back to camp. I'm not looking forward to it. My legs feel like rubber. I point them one way, they seem to want to go the other. Further, it is all up and down hills with great exposure. One misstep and my next step could be 12,000 ft. below.

All of the people have departed the teahouse prior to me; however, I don't want to leave. I just want to sit here and take in the view. Finally I leave at the concerned urging of Hari, the trip sidar (lead sherpa).

The trek is long, it's hard and as the sun begins to set behind the mountains, it becomes extremely cold. Just as I had started the day wearing every piece of clothing I had, shedding it bit by bit as the weather became warmer, now I have it all back on again.

But it seems colder than it had in the morning because then we were on our way to the objective, on our way to Mt. Everest. Now we are trudging back to camp facing a cold tent and a cold sleeping bag.

The sun has now completely set and it becomes necessary to use headlamps in order to follow the trail. Finally, finally, 15 hours and 20 minutes after we started this morning I crawl into my blue tent . . . or white tent since it now is completely covered with frost.

Frost flies off the zipper of my duffel bag as I open it, my contact lens solution is frozen again, my shampoo bottle is hard as a rock, my thermometer reads 7 degrees below zero. I climb into my sleeping bag fully clothed and fall into a deep sleep after one of the most difficult, challenging, spectacular days of my life.