At just short of 8500m above the
South Col, near the Balcony and with increasing wind speeds and falling
temperatures we had no option but to turn around. As it stands we are the
group to get to the highest point this year. Apart from being physically
exhausted the bad weather is due to continue at least until the 29th and the
authorities will close the Ice Fall no later than 4th July due to the danger
As we decided to turn around I became acutely aware of my own predicament!
Since 9pm when we set off I had been fighting for breath! My Summit Oxygen
equipment was playing up and my cough and overall condition was not good. We
had arrived on the South Col at about 3pm after a debilitating 7 hour climb
from C3. Tired and exhausted we arrived on this bleak moon like landscape
littered with discarded Oxygen bottles and in gale force winds. I climbed into
a tent with Pasang and Lakpa my personal Sherpa relieved to have got there and
to be out of the wind. Until about 8pm we ate and drank as much liquid as was
humanly possible. We changed our socks for a new dry pair and adjusted our
harnesses over our down suits. Then came the first danger signs!! I couldn't
get my crampons on. I knew what to do I just couldn't do it!!
Eventually we set off, the
night was perfect and moon lit, the wind had decreased but I was still having
breathing problems with the summit mask and regulator. I had to swap the mask
for the canular partly because of my coughing and partly because it wasn't
responding for my demand for oxygen. The unit pulsed small doses automatically
and on the top setting at least I got some oxygen into me! Hour after hour we
climbed steeply up the triangular face toward the ridge, sometimes on deep new
snow, great avalanche conditions I thought, and sometimes on ice more like
metal in texture, hard and very difficult to get the crampons to bite! However
I was struggling and no amount of mind games would remove the urge to turn
around. I just kept repeating to myself this will be over in 12 hours - just
hang in. Lakpa must have known this as for the first time he turned into my
shadow and guided every dangerous move as this section was all unprotected. As
we got higher fixed ropes provided protection but clipping in and out with
huge mittens on is not an easy trick. By now the wind was picking up and there
was a massive and spectacular lightning storm ragging over Makalu lighting up
the night sky every few seconds. Within minutes of the moon going down my
headlamp failed, my anxiety increased.
Eventually just before the
Balcony I'd had enough at the same time rest of the team also came to the same
conclusion. It was suicidal to go on! I don't really know happened next but I
became very conscious of how frightened I was! I was struggling to breathe,
coughing uncontrollably and all my power had gone!! Now I know why they call
it the death zone. Lakpa was having none of this! He took control and started
issuing commands from under his Poisk oxygen mask. We stopped every rope
length for him to swap my descender and he went ahead in case I fell.
Eventually we arrived back on the South Col at 5pm. I was in a state of
collapse!! Lakpa removed my harness and crampons and then manhandled me into
the tent boots and covered me with my sleeping bag.
I woke in a coughing fit
about 2 hours later with diarrhea. The next 10 minutes felt literally like I
was dying. I can't find the words to describe how I felt. Finally exhausted,
back in my tent I began to understand the reality of the situation. My
breathing was getting worse, I was completely exhausted and my legs wouldn't
work, yet staying here in the gales force winds was not an option! Somehow I
had to find the mental and physical strength to at least get down to C3. By
now I was also aware that Klaus, Luda and two Sherpa were also in a very
debilitated state. Lakpa issued commands and promised to follow me down just
as soon as he could take the tent down.
It was about 8am when I set
off alone. The rest of the team had gone and I just had to follow. Taking
rests every few minutes I traversed around the South Col toward the near
vertical drop down toward C3. At this point I came across Luda, she was
exhausted and weeping, her oxygen had run out and she was stuck at the top of
a vertical section. I talked with her and tried to coax her down but she was
adamant she couldn't do it. We agreed that the Sherpas would be along shortly
and we knew they would have a spare bottle of oxygen. If she sat tight and
waited for them she would be ok. I could do nothing, I was very ill myself - I
had to go down. I pressed on relieved that at least some power was returning
to my legs and my breathing and wheezing was getting marginally better. I
passed Klaus above C3 moving slowly like a robot and at 5pm some 32 hours
after I'd last slept I staggered into the relative safety of ABC and
I'm now back in Base Camp
after a great nights sleep and with the Ice Fall behind me I can finally look
forward to coming home. A second attempt is out of the question. The weather
is forecast to be bad until the end of the month and this may be one of few
years since 1953 when there is no summit from the South side.
So how do I feel? pretty good
on reflection. I'm alive, I've achieved one of my personal objectives which
was to get as far as C4 the South Col. I've blown away my high altitude record
at nearly 8500m and I've had the biggest adventure of my life!
And so finally, a message to
the kids at Bolton Brow, there is a saying that it’s better to have tried and
failed than to never have tried at all. Getting to the top of this great
mountain is what I set out to do. We can't always have what we want and you
can't buy this with money.
I have tried with all my
heart and power and the mountain beat me! That's life and I'm a much stronger
person as a result. I've met some incredible people especially amongst the
Sherpas. I've learned tolerance and humility - not two of my strong points.
I've learned where my limits are, both physically and mentally. And finally
I've remembered how much I love home!! So I'm not sad and I'm looking forward
to sharing my experiences with you all when I get home.
Anybody have a spare magic
carpet or broomstick!!!
See you in a couple of weeks!!!! Keith
Dirk Stephan and Keith Woodhouse, a small German/English team of two will
attempt Everest in Spring of 2005 via the normal southeast ridge route. Keith
is in his fifties, Dirk 39. "Both of us have extensive mountaineering
experience, I am in a lifetime project of the seven summits, already started
with Kilimanjaro, 20 years ago. My expeditions have been self organized
whenever possible. I soloed Aconcagua and Elbrus - if you can call it this way
on this beaten tracks. Everest and Carstensz are still missing. Keith and me
climbed Denali together the year before. Keith works for British Telecom as
Manager Global Solutions. I am Pilot for a German Charter Company. My aim is
to support a cancer charity. This has a personal background, as my wife has
cancer herself and I am greatly involved in researching things and supporting
people with the same fate. Everest is a good opportunity to raise funds things
like this. Every support is welcome!"
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