THE CLIMB- Filling in the Gaps (7th October) Summit bid

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Day 7- October 7

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Although Sheena’s symptoms of altitude sickness were worsening last night, she woke up this morning feeling a bit better; but Julia, Sheena, and I all had stomach cramps, presumably from the water which boils at a lower temperature than at sea level, making it less effective at killing bacteria.

We were all rugged up, as you can see in the photos- Julia and I  “fell in love” with our down jackets- when they went on at Xidatan Truckstop (~4000m), those babies never came off! I will say, in hindsight, that I’m sooo glad we didn’t skimp on sleeping bags & down jackets!

Carl and Philip (our guides & Philip, director of LOVEQTRA) gave us a head-start (from where we made camp at 5,300m, our unofficial Camp 1). They would follow, carrying our climbing boots and crampons (spikes that fit under specialised climbing boots for gripping the ice and snow)….so we headed hopefully upward to the official Camp 1 (C1).

 

When we arrived, we found a man asleep in his sleeping bag (no tent). We assumed he had just attempted the summit and was resting before heading back down. I talked to him in as many languages as I could muster; he was Asian so that narrowed it down a lot. I asked him if he was going down soon, that he shouldn’t be sleeping here at altitude and exposed to the sun. He just waved me off, as if to say leave me alone. He never said anything but I just left him alone after that. Apparently Carl and Phillip tried to talk to him, and walked away with the same result.

I remember being annoyed that Carl and Phillip were taking so long to meet us at C1, as this was our big day, our bid for the summit. I quickly reprimanded myself when I realised they were having difficulty boiling snow for water for our summit bid.

This man had set himself up with rocks all around his sleeping bag. Some of the team thought it was like some sort of ritual, others including myself, thought it was like a wind-break or something.

 

When Carl and Phillip arrived with our climbing boots and crampons, we geared up and were on our way. Carl broke trail and we followed his footsteps, it saves us vital energy that way. Philip was the sweep (the person responsible for making sure no one gets left behind). At parts, the snow was knee-deep, and the view was one in a million. From the official C1 upwards, there’s no more scree [mentioned in Oct 6 update], it’s all snow, soft, powdery snow. I remember thinking it’d be fantastic skiing!

 

At about 4pm we decided that as a team we weren’t going to reach the summit and come back safely while it was light. The wind was also picking up- the weather was starting to turn. My gut sank; I realized my dream for the summit was gone. I was so sure we could do it, when we started out this morning.

We decided to go on to a group of rocks which was about 6,000m according to Philip’s altimeter, and then make the final decision. Carl said it was a shame that he couldn’t put at least one of us on the summit, and that it was safe to take one of us up. No one was jumping for the chance because we all knew our limits, I think.

I, (not the fastest walker by far) said to Carl, if he thought it would be safe, that I would like to try. I felt that I had the most emotional investment in this, and I wanted to give it a shot. When am I likely to have this chance again? The others were agreeable to separate; as we had discussed this back in Sydney.

At the rocks, it was decision time. I asked Frank if he would pray with me because I knew that I would feel a peace for the right decision after that. After the prayer, it became clear to me that turning around was the only option.

We had planned to show our thanks to all our supporters and sponsors by displaying our Supporters’ Banner (with all your signatures) at the summit. At this time, I carefully took it out from my pack. It was confirmation that we’d made the right decision, as by now, the wind was so strong that one slip of the fingers and the banner would have flown away.

We took some photos and headed back down. I think each of us were genuinely proud of what we had achieved. We knew the reason for climbing was to raise funds and the funds had been raised, so there was no reason to risk lives to reach the summit. This is one of the most difficult decisions climbers must make, some even being strong-willed enough to turn around 20 metres before the summit of Everest, the highest mountain in the world.

 

When we reached (the official) C1, we saw a sight which brought about up all different emotions in us. It made me feel sick in the stomach.The man was still lying there in his sleeping bag!  I thought that there was a purpose for our turning around at the precise time that we did. My mind went into a “zone”- we knew something was terribly wrong and went straight to do whatever we could to save this man’s life.

We gave him oxygen, water, hand-warmers, whatever we had.  We talked to him but he was unresponsive as though really drunk, unable to control his own body anymore. We knew that the only way we could save him was to get him to a lower altitude. After some oxygen, he rolled over and started snoring, which Carl said was a good sign; but that didn’t last long.

We tried to carry him down, but at that altitude, it was unbelievable that the four of us couldn’t even lift him onto Carl’s shoulders. 

I had heard someone say that there was mobile reception on the summit, so I had my mobile with me. It was a miracle, (a) that there was reception and (b) that my mobile had close to zero battery life, but I could make four distress calls. 

After trying several times to lift him, it became painfully obvious to us that there was nothing we could do for him. We were forced to make that decision that no-one should ever have to make. The team’s safety was at stake too; the sun was already setting, and with that, the sub-zero temperatures (we were told it gets to -20C).

I made one last distress call to confirm that the Qinghai Mountaineering Association (QMA) must send someone up ASAP., as we couldn’t get him down to Base Camp (BC), nor even our tents at 5,300m, as first hoped.

We then solemnly and cautiously headed down the ridge to our C1 in the dark. I remember thinking one slip or wrong footing could send any of us tumbling off the side of the mountain, not having a good chance of rescue till daylight. It took us about 4 hours 45 min to get from 5,600m to 6,000m and only 45 minutes to get down! 

 

The team literally crashed into our tents from exhaustion. All I remember was feeling so humbled and thankful for Frank, who still had the strength to boil water for us, while Carl napped in preparation for another hour down to BC in the dark, to meet any rescue team. We knew Frank was as tired as any of us, but didn’t even have the energy to help him. That night was the toughest night to get through, emotionally. I know I didn’t get much sleep.

When we were all settled and sleeping, I had a big sob in my sleeping bag, thinking about him on the mountain lying there, while I slept warm in a tent.                                                                              In the end, Carl didn’t go down to BC as he didn’t see any lights there.                    

 

In the early hours of the morning, two Tibetans woke us. They were part of the search and rescue team. We presumed they were the closest that could be mobilized at short notice. They had spent two hours with him and unfortunately, couldn’t do anything for him. When they left him, he was still alive.

We would love to hear from you, leave us a comment (after the photos)- you don’t have to start an account or anything….

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Or if you prefer to see all the thumbnails here (smaller version, not as good as the slideshow above!)….

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