A Short Walk in the Khumbu
May 2010.   Report by: Ruairidh Finlayson


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As you probably know, my brother and I summited Everest on 17th May this year. The following is a report on the summit bid from Base Camp up. If you are interested in the particulars of the entire 2 month expedition, from the Base Camp Trek, to the many acclimatisation climbs through the superb terrain of Everest, please get in touch and I'll fire you a copy of the full report.

To give some background, we had flown from Kathmandu to Lukla and trekked in to base camp (5,364m) in around 10 days. We then spent the following 34 days at base camp and above, climbing up through the Khumbu Ice Fall, into the Western Cwm and onto the Lhotse Face on numerous occasions, spending as many nights on the mountain as needed to acclimatise to a reasonable level. The Plan of Summit Attempt thereafter:

  • Day 1: Head straight up the Khumbu Ice Fall and Western Cwm to Camp 2
  • Day 2: Perhaps rest at Camp 2
  • Day 3: Head up the Lhotse Face to Camp 3
  • Day 4: On oxygen, head over the Yellow Rock Band, over the Geneva Spur to Camp 4 at the South Col, rest and that night leave for the summit
  • Day 5: Summit and head back down to sleep at Camp 4
  • Day 6: Back to Camp 2
  • Day 7: Back to BC

The timing of the above was utterly crucial weather wise. This was to be determined via a combination of our Swiss weather reports, other teams' reports and the Tibetan weather calendar which was written by a high Lama. The Tibetan one worked on Cho Oyu last year and I now had little confidence in our Swiss reports after the unpredicted storm we were caught in during acclimatisation. At the time our super Swiss was saying the 15th and 16th May (low precipitation but as cold as -30) and the sherpas were saying the 16th and 17th.

BC to Camp 2 (6,350m):

We left on 13th May after 3am. The Ice Fall had changed dramatically, particularly lower down, so much so that we had trouble finding the way. We didn't get lost but it did add time to the journey. Angus and I stopped off in our solitary tent at Camp 1 (6,040m) for a rest, and then plodded up the rest of the way to Camp 2. Rob, Bunter and Ginger all seemed to have picked up a stomach bug, most likely the same one as Foo had.

We sat at Camp 2 on the 14th and watched all the people go up to Camp 3 like ants. Ginger, Bunter, Tim and Rob (our leader) were to go down the next day due to their illnesses and Angus, Foo, Tore (assistant leader) and me to go up. It was a big decision to split the group but they were just too ill to go on. The weather forecast update mentioned dangerous winds, and the window consisting of the 15th and 16th, not the 17th. I was worried that we had missed it but Robert said we were still on. We just needed to move it on the 18th from the South Col before the weather closed in.

Camp 2 to Camp 3 (7,100m):

We set off around 7am with relatively heavy packs. We didn't hit any queues as most people had gone up the day before. However, we found it harder than last time, particularly the last 200m. I munched some Pringles at Camp 3 (high calorie:weight food believe it or not) but they screwed up my stomach. I didn't eat until lunchtime the next day. We went on oxygen that night (only 1/4 litre per minute). The masks definitely have condensation problems and your face is permanently wet as a result.

Camp 3 to Camp 4 at the South Col (7,950m):

Got changed into full down gear and left at around 7am. Sherpas turned our oxygen to 1.5 litres/minute. Didn't realise it was that low until later, although this should have been obvious considering our slow pace.

Straight out of Camp 3 there's one of the steepest sections of the Lhotse Face (basically steep ice climbing on fixed ropes). Last thing we wanted to start on! I wished our Camp 3 wasn't as low in comparison to the real Camp 3 as it took us a couple of hours just to reach it.

Once there, we were greeted with a body wrapped to the ropes like a mummy; probably the Russian who died on Lhotse a few weeks before. His face and body were covered up completely with his down gear. It was impossible not to look as I clipped the ropes next to him. He died of a heart attack apparently.

We were switched up to 2 litres/minute at some point which made all the difference. It was a relief to get to the top of the Lhotse Face section and traverse to the Yellow Rock Band. We pulled up that and plodded up the curved, easy angled slog to the Geneva Spur. Foo was told that we were moving too slowly and may have to go down. We sped up and stopped under the Geneva Spur. Our oxygen levels were checked (reasonable) and we moved quickly up the Spur, over it and north along the flattish ground to Camp 4 and the South Col.

I fell into the tent straight away. Four of us would be squashed into it with all our gear (very cosy). I got to cooking up water from ice after a while and took over radio duties from Tore. I said to Rob in BC at 5pm, that if he gave the go-ahead we would leave at 9pm for the summit. It turned out that no one had summited that day, and so everyone at the South Col was planning to leave that night. The idea of leaving at 9pm would be to avoid the crowds and the bad weather predicted for the following day. He said go for it. We went to 'sleep' at around 7.30pm, but shortly after sherpa Mingma popped in and said we might have to go down instead if the wind didn't die down by 8pm. It did die down, so we were awoken at about 8.30pm.

Summit attempt:

We were basically kitted up and ready for 9pm but the sherpas weren't. The South Col was packed with people getting ready and going. We left at 9.30pm but by this point we were well behind the masses. We started up together after meeting our sherpas, mine being Pema Tsering. The route is flattish, then steeper and steeper to the Balcony which felt like it took forever. Boring, monotonous slopes, behind tens of people in a line on the ropes, plodding then stopping, plodding then stopping. I fell asleep several times on the rope. After a few hours I begged my sherpa for a rest so I could drink and stop passing out. He said no. Eventually I disobeyed and sat down at the side and drank ice and juice from my bottle. Foo caught up and sat beside me. I gave him painkillers for his back which was buggered from earlier that day. By this time we were at the back of the traffic jam.

The Balcony (8,400m):

We eventually got there just before dawn and got our oxygen tanks changed. I think I was boosted up to 3 litres/minute; what a difference! With no one in front I paced it up towards the South Summit as the sun came up on Tibet, Makalu (another 8,000m mountain) looking very impressive. However, before too long, we hit a queue. This one was long and slow. I fell asleep waiting a few more times but eventually got to the rocky section. This consists of steep, highly friable rock with thin fixed ropes attached to god knows what to pull up on. These days this section is far harder than the Hilary Step due to the lack of snow. Global warming, contrary to popular belief, is making Everest harder to climb every year.

South Summit (8,750m) to Summit (8,848m):

After the rocky section we followed the slope to the right and the South Summit. I begged for another rest and got one. Unfortunately my Nalgene was frozen solid despite being in my inside pocket, but the Thermos in my bag was surprisingly still slightly warm. Very nice.

We made our way along the Summit Ridge which was very busy. The Summit Ridge is nigh on knife edge, Nepal on your left, Tibet to the right, and with all those people, potentially a death trap if the weather breaks. Two thirds of the way along the ridge is The Hilary Step. This is a block of rock, of which the North face must be climbed before ‘gracefully' straddling the top and pulling over it. I assumed the top would be just round the corner from there; a bit further than that unfortunately with an additional plod. I got to the summit at around 10.50am and had a sit on the highest seat in the world. What a relief I can tell you!

The views back into Nepal were superb, but Tibet was where the clouds and snow were now coming from. Felt pretty rough after a few minutes without oxygen so clambered down and had some. I took various photos and videos and ate and drank something. I said to the sherpa after a while that I had to wait for my brother and that was that. He totally understood because his brother was also up there guiding.

Foo got there around 11.20am. He was knackered, largely because he was ill on the way up and his back was stuffed. I think I may have been the youngest Scot to summit Everest until he turned up. We are most likely the first Scottish brothers to summit and the youngest British ones. We did photos together and radioed Gavin in BC with the news.

Down from the Summit:

We left sometime after 12 having been on the summit for well over an hour. There was no one else coming up and not many behind us coming down; the turnaround cut-off time is normally midday. The Hilary Step was an easy abseil but I almost put my foot down into Tibet through a cornice. Foo was going very slowly so I waited. I donated my sherpa to Foo as his guy wasn't around, and I knew I could probably get myself down safely. The way down from the South Summit was steep and hard work, with a mix of wrapping and abseiling. On steeper sections, people were accidentally kicking down massive ice blocks. One hit me on the leg and a few on the back pack when I was sitting down. I waited for the big group to come down to avoid worse injury and Foo was amongst them. We got down to the Balcony, had a rest and Foo got his oxygen changed. We got down the rest of the way to the South Col for 5.30pm, 16 hours after we left. When I got in the tent I realised I hadn't put sun cream on all day. Realistically, the only time I could have put some on would have been on the summit and I was thinking of other things. My face resembled garlic bread with cheese, although not quite as tasty. Silly sod.

Camp 4 to BC:

The next day the weather hadn't closed in as expected. I was trashed after the Geneva Spur and the Lhotse Face was horrendous in the heat of the day. We stopped at Camp 3 to get changed and then headed to Camp 2 to sleep, eat for a change and drink plenty. We moved out fast from Camp 2 the next day, despite pretty much constant chest pains. I think I was pushing it a bit too hard and my body wasn't happy. I started hallucinating about half way to Camp 1 and couldn't see anything. I had to kneel down and breathe deep to see again. It happened 5 times in total but stopped when I crouched. Even after a few days in BC we were all more breathless than we were before we went up which was odd. Post Expedition: I lost 6kgs and Foo lost 10kgs, mostly muscle mass unfortunately; at that altitude you don't lose fat first as at sea level, you lose muscle. We reached our CAIRN Trust fundraising target and I need to thank those who donated so - thank you!