Asia | Nepal | Mount Everest – Nerves tingle back at ABC
18:30 GMT SUN MAY 12 2002
Report from: Advanced Base Camp
Hundreds of emails! That’s what we have come back to and we’ve only just finished reading through them! I thought we were getting excited about the top, but summit fever is catching on! Particularly liked the one that said ‘You make Everest come alive for us, the human story, the trials and tribulations, the decisions, the daily life, the humour; your website is far and away better than the others!’. Thank you all so very much, we’re just sorry we can’t reply to them.
There’s just too many and things are getting a bit busy here now. But rest assured every single one is read, mulled over, laughed about and considered. One thing is for sure, we’re not alone up here. And teamwork is the key. Will and I, apart from welding into a strong team on the hill, have not spoken a word in anger yet; in fact we’ve managed to maintain a high degree of common sense and humour. This was helped by our recent holiday down at Base Camp where thick air and good food awaited. We never realised how tired we were!
After fitful sleeping up here, which is par for the course, we slept as if we were in hibernation at BC! Will went into a particularly deep sleep whenever cooking had to be done. Even his raucous snoring failed to keep me awake though. We ate like horses. Plates of fried potatoes, whole tureens of soup and noodles and sides of yak meat disappeared in double quick time.
During the day it was all we could do to move outside into the sun where vital repairs to body and spirit were made. Split fingers and lips healed miraculously, sunburn marks paled away, scabby feet came good and our bowels, keen to keep in the conversation, restored themselves to normal functioning. In, fact, if the only thing that Will and I ever suffer from on this expedition is continual HAFE (high altitude flatus expulsion) then we will have done well; how unfortunate that it is one of those afflictions that can turn a happy interlude in a tent into an eye-watering, throat-constricting maloderous nightmare!
Will for one has yet to learn the advantages gained by warning people in the near vicinity that there may be need for a rapid exodus.
Will: Jesus, Gav, was that you?
Gav: No, we’ve just camped in a field of active sulphur pits.
Many humorous moments come up and here are a few:
Gav: Will, do you want to listen to one of my CD’s? Sting perhaps?
Will: Oh no, not that house music stuff.
Gav: Well, what about Dido then ?
Will: (pause)…you mean you brought one of them sex toys up here?
Will: I’ve got this big lump of phlegm at the back of my throat that I can hardly breathe past.
Gav: Hold on ’til I get a straw
Will: Tirta, whats this for lunch?
Will: From the glacier?
Tirta: (pause, doubtful )…erm, yes
Will: Just look at those thighs, thems will carry me up to the top of Everest!
Gav: Jesus Will, put your pants on!
On route finding:
Gav: Camps a lot easier to find when you’ve been there before isn’t it?
Gav: (on the headwall to the north col, calling down the way ) Will, is this our rope?
Will: It’s the only rope.
Gav: Will, where are those gas canisters you carried down?
Will: I left them up at interim camp.
Will: (pause) I thought they were too heavy
Gav: Will, what’re you doing?
Will: I’m writing the word ‘left’ on my boot so that I’ll know which is which when we get higher
Gav: No, I meant why are you writing ‘Left’ on your right boot!
Will; Gav, remind me again why we’re going without oxygen or Sherpas
Gav: Because it’s a bigger challenge, harder, more purist, more of an achievement…
Will: And whats the downside?
Gav: Well there’s hypoxia, massive deterioration of bodily functions, loss of mental actuity, danger of oedema, physical exhaustion on a level you can only hint at, degeneration of brain cells, hypothermia and little or no chance of rescue.
Will: Well thats me convinced.
On meeting people:
Will: (hailing another climber on the way down ) ‘Scuse me sorr, is this the way to Everest?
Climber: (bewildered)…erm, well yes
Will: Tanks be to God ! Goodbye now !
Will:(plastered) Oh well okay then, one more
There is a serious side too. Tomorrow there is a big pow-wow in the Swiss Camp to discuss timings for the summit bids on this side. Most teams have got gear in place, Sherpas have been busy all the way to 8300 metres, clients are rested, dreams held in abeyance over the past weeks are now being given free rein and everywhere the air is filled with plan and counterplan, tactic and gossip.
It reminds me so much of spring 2000 when we were all glued to the weather forecasts, waiting to go up, waiting, waiting. What would the mountain do? Would we summit? Would we come back? Questions and thoughts, some too delicate to voice. Tension in the air. And then we ended up summitting first on the south side..pow ! complete surprise, to us most of all.
No such plans for Will and I.
Two of us without oxygen, self-contained in an Alpine-like ascent. We want big, huge trenches in the snow to follow in! Dot-to-dot route finding! We have our good days and bad days. Sometimes we look up and quail, Everest can be a menacing sight. Other times we say to each other: ‘But look, we’ve been up to 7000 metres six times , overnighted twice, up to 7600 metres twice carrying loads – once in a storm; we’ve got combined experience of 8000 metres plus between us that is far in excess of most other people here, we’ve not even suffered a headache up till now, we’ve done things right, we’ve got to have a good chance !’
Other times we question every minute that we’ve been up here. For Willie it’s a lifetime dream to be so close to the top of the world. ‘I’m here as an Irishman, for the common people, to achieve my dream of becoming the first climber from Ireland to summit Everest without oxygen. It’s a new boundary to be pushed for high altitude mountaineering in Ireland. It’s a big chance for me. Not for the establishment, but for all those folk out there in the Irish hills, perhaps dreaming same as me of coming to the high places in the world. I’m just a simple person from the foothills of the Sperrins, just like a thousand others. There’s nothing special or elitist about this, I just believe we have the right attitude up here; no arguments, just a dream and the determination to make it happen’.
We both know that with determination, good luck and a nod from the Big Man upstairs, we have a good chance to do this. Now, with just a day or two to go, those hundreds of emails we’ve been receiving become more important, more meaningful. For Gav, it’s not just a case of unfinished business.
Turning back 100 metres from the top on the south side always meant for me that I would have to come back. I just hope it doesn’t turn out to have to be third time lucky ! But for me this is also about my business Adventure Alternative; since 1995 I’ve been building it up the way I see an expedition company should be, and now things are expanding very fast.
This is the second Everest Expedition I’ve organised, I know that I can put together some great adventure holidays around the world, especially now with Helen, Chris and Richard on board. Climbing Everest and of course doing the Seven Summits in the Millennium Year is all part of that process. I want to see it develop now.
Also there is Moving Mountains, the charity I started following on from all the work myself and my friends have done in Kenya. Hundreds and hundreds of street kids being educated, being given an opportunity to live. Now the programme is extending to Nepal where we’re planning a school, clinic, micro hydro project and clean-up campaign on the trail to Everest. There’s so much happening, so much future to plan and so many wonderful people to do it with. For me, it is my life. It’s nothing to do with silly posturing over fame or whatever, but if by climbing this big auld hill then people get to know about all of this, and want to be part of it, then it’s been a success. I owe that much to kids like Peter and Kelly in Kenya, like sons to me now, who in their own way taught me about those things in life that are most essential. Oh, and I’m also doing it for a certain person in Galway. (Will: OHHH, who’s that then ? Gav: Never you mind)
So today we have been watching and listening, waiting and talking. I know it’s dangerous to build these things up; it may all end up in anticlimax. But we owe to it to all you people to let you know what goes through your head when you’re up here, when the big black triangle of Everest is always just outside the tent door and the top is within your reach, within your dream.
A bit of unrelated news. We hear that Andy and Louise, new parents to baby William, are all doing very well and that the newborn is healthy.
Thanks to both of you for your words of encouragement. Can’t wait to wet the baby’s head in a few weeks ! We’ll keep you updated with the latest after the meeting tomorrow.
Meanwhile ‘Hello, good morning, good afternoon and see you later!’
Gav and Willie
Advance Base Camp, Everest.