Ladies and gentlemen, Dominic Renshaw is once again our guest writer. Those of you who have been following my little blog will know that Dom has spent April and May away from home, following his childhood dream to climb Mount Everest. This is Dom’s account of summit day. It’s in his words, completely unadulterated with no editing or alterations. Sure there are a few typos, but it was written in the heat of the moment and I think it’s proof that being dyslexic doesn’t stop you being able to evoke incredibly raw and powerful emotions, indeed I think this piece is all the better for it.
If you’re new to my blog, you might also want to check out Climbing Mount Everest’s North Ridge and Camping on Mount Everest’s North Ridge to fully immerse yourself in this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Just when everything was going so smoothly. Could it get any harder? Oh Yes!
Summit night, we are sitting at camp 3, 8300m, only a few mountains are higher than this in the world. It’s about 9pm and we can hear people shuffling around in their tents, just two hours to go until we start the summit push. Getting ready, it freezing, try to put all your kit on is no easy task and takes 2 hours.
10.58pm just minutes to go I’m sharing with Martin yep the extra tall chap. We are a few minutes late, but no worries a large group is easy to catch as they naturally move slower through the technical sections.
But what was happening I couldn’t make the couple of minutes back, and every step was causing me to be breathless. Must be nervous, hey lets keep going. The route up to the ridge gets very steep, and i mean very steep remember it’s dark, cold with just head touches to light the way. We were constantly taking the expedition mits on and off to clip into the rope, but all this did was make your hands cold.
After an hour or so we neared the ridge, i realise something didn’t quit feel right, every step meant I was out of breath. I simply couldn’t get a single breath something wasn’t right i shouldn’t be feeling like this I was on 2.5 itres of oxygen per minute and should have had no problem breathing, oddly it was easier to breath with the mask off rather than having the mask on. Alarm bells were ringing, my Sherpa kept checking, and could hear gas from the outside, but I certainly could not feel it on the inside, I was not getting the oxygen I so desperately needed.
Ok let’s check the energy levels, grabbed some high energy gells. They should kick in soon. As we had reached the ridge up around 8500m it flattens out so this plus the energy gells should make it easy. No! I could only take three steps and I was Keeling over deprived of Oxygen. The same check on the mask, hitting it to release any ice, but no sound of gas this time either.
This is where it became serious, I’ve been climbing without oxygen for some time now and was around 8500m, time to make a decision I needed oxygen.
Thank god my brain was still just about working as I had noticed my walking, was getting wobbly, add in the sheer drops close to the path and this was a rather dangerous place to be. I heard Martin who was just behind call out for the third time is everything alright, second alarm bells, clearly he could also see something was wrong as well.
Decisions around me were happening, some saying carry on, others I could see were not so optermistic. My brain kicked into gear, what was I doing, clearly something was wrong and simply hitting the mask was not resolving the problem, i was clearly lacking in oxygen. I simply said ‘I’m going down, no questions.’ Khama my Summit Sherpa kicked into gear, and we were off. Well I say we were off remember I’m still only able to move 3 steps before Keeling over.
I’ll just take a second out before I explain the decent. Remember I’m at 8500m its freezing, dark except for head lamps, and we are on a ridge with sheer drops either side. You can’t call an emergency number at this altitude it’s up to you to get yourself down and the decent is not a simple walk, it serious climbing. If you become unresponsive at this altitude sadly your options become very limited, as I knew this was a serious possibility if I didn’t get oxygen soon.
Back to the decent, we moved slowly across the ridge I found it easier to let air into the bottom of the mask than try endlessly sucking it from the mask. Now we turned to the real decent, when I say it was a serious scramble I’m underestimating. The real problem was the hand abseils (basically grabbing a rope in your hand and absailing, but without the belay device) I had to stop half way down each section as I simply could not breath, clinging on to a freezing rock, in the dark with your lugs burning its not something I want to experience again. Ice, snow, rock, darkness add in not thinking 100% clearly because of the lack of oxygen and the altitude if 8500m. We moved slowly down the decent, not a time to slip or take a wrong step. That said we got to the end of one rope and it wasn’t connected to anything, we had managed to clip into the wrong rope, thank god we didn’t slip, but it showed how easy it is to make a simple mistake that could be fatal.
It seemed to take an age but finally we are back at camp 3 (8300m), huge thanks the Khama showing the way and been exceptionally patient at my incredibly slow pace. Back at the tent I’m still keeled over and get the mask, regulator and oxygen bottle into the tent. It takes us nearly 10 mins to get it working, changing oxygen bottles, getting any excess ice from the mask, adjusting the regulator. We could hear gas but nothing to the mask. Finally it sprung into life I had air, and did it feel good! Even sleeping without oxygen at this altitude is not advisable.
A lot goes through your mind when something like this happens. Getting back safely was always the number one priority and the decision to turn around when I did was mine, these decisions define who you are in life and I’d have no hesitation in making the same decision again if put in the same position.
Well what can I say, what an adventure which was priority number two,I however don’t recommend climbing at such altitude without oxygen I can testify first hand it’s not good for you.
Yep the summit would have been nice, and I don’t regret not making the summit the decision was the right one .
As most of you know i’m not or wasn’t an emotional guy but I had to shard a tear at how close another decision could have had a very different outcome, even just going on for another hour may well have meant I would still be there now!
Remember it’s still not over I grabbed 4hours sleep. I’m still sitting at 8300m and still have to get down. Woke early and grabbed a quick drink, could I get down to ABC today? Setting off down the 60c snowslopes I was moving well, until. Camp two 7900m then the earlier exploits started to take there tole. I stopped many times as I moved through camp two at 7900m to 7400m, it’s exceptionally steep in places. Finally I made it to the snow slope which leads to the top of the North Col, this took ages the fatigue and dehydration took its tole and it took a long time to decend to 7000m and I was spent. I took the decision to jump into a tent and tackle the ice wall down to ABC tomorrow, a good decision. Oddly no one else was there, this was the meeting point it you summited or not. Finally two of our team turned up looking in the same shape as me. We all stayed overnight and tackling the ice wall together the next day. Finally back at ABC, getting from the ridge to ABC was brutal, but essential, it’s a long walk to Basecamp but at least all the danger of climbing and most of the altitude had gone. Funny how 6400m or 6 times the height of Snowdone all of a sudden feels a safe place to be. Finally hiked the 23km out to Basecamp.
What more can I say, I aimed for 8894m and hit 8500m, pritty close so I’ll take that.
Something far more important had happened I had been able to make the correct decision at the right time to turn around, many have sadly not done this and still lie on Everest to this day
I certainly don’t regret not standing on the summit it was one hell of an adventure that I’ll know doubt be talking about for years to come. I didn’t know I had it in me to make the hardest decision of my life, but it appears I do.
I made another decision on that night and fingers crossed this one’s has gone well as well.