The third part – After returning to ABC we spent 3 nights there using the middle evening to comprehensively review our individual acclimatisation, how we should divide into teams & what each teams strategy was going to be in order to maximise our chances of summitting. Kyle was able through his gadget to give us a 5 day weather forecast (these were less than totally reliable but did seem to give a good basis to think that it may well play ball with our preferred plans). We agreed to divide into two teams, mine consisted of Troels & Georgio, with all 3 of us having been to camp 3 & been on the summit of Razdelnaya & two of us having spent a night above 6,000 metres our team was better acclimatised. Based on this the agreement was that the other team would re-ascend first spend a night at Camp 2, then a night at Camp 3 before descending to ABC to make an actual summit attempt later. We on the other-hand would set off a day later ascend to Camp 2 for one night then to Camp 3 the next day & then a push for the summit the day after, we all went to bed feeling finally things were coming together as we reached the crux of the expedition.
Georgio, Troels & I set off early on Sunday 30th July joined by Dave who having arrived on the Wednesday was on his own acclimatisation schedule but like us needed the security of a rope through the crevasse field which by now was becoming increasingly unstable. We roped as two pairs with Dave setting a good pace with Georgio & Myself & Troels following, the weather was less kind as snow swept into our faces on the lower slopes only to be replaced by spindrift higher up. At least Camp 2 wasn’t going to scorch us today. We again reached Camp 2 after some 5 hours only to find it inhabited by both our other team as well as a Swiss/French team who were also inhabiting our ITMC tents. I won’t beat about the bush, a few direct discussions followed, options were considered but our team stuck to our guns & plans, this was our agreed summit push & took the priority it deserved.
The rest of Sunday was dominated by a German climber who fell 20 feet into a crevasse whilst in our supposedly safe Camp, in fact Camp 2 had always been a bit of a shithole, now it was one that was literally opening up into a very dangerous shithole. The poor German did well to prussik himself out but then the delayed shock & injuries took over & 3 hours later he was on a man made stretcher being pulled off the mountain by a porter & 7 of his fellow teammates, their descent ended in the dark at ABC some 6 hours or so later, he was helicoptered out from there the next morning having been diagnosed with spinal fractures. Sadly this wasn’t the only incident where the mountain flexed it’s muscles, a week before a Russian who had slept in our Mess Tent the day we arrived in ABC died of altitude sickness near the summit having tried a 5 day ascent to replicate his own achievement 30 years earlier. An Iranian died on the knife section of the summit ridge the day before our own summit bid was due, a woman who bivvied at 7,000 metres presumably having failed to turn around at a reasonable time suffered serious frostbite & had to be rescued (no helicopters fly above ABC so that’s a big rescue operation by other non-rescue mountaineer’s) & another Iranian guy seen forcing himself onto Camp 3 when clearly he needed to turn around passed me & Troel’s on our first climb to Camp 3. When we saw him he was bound in a stretcher & being lowered back to Camp 2, at least his head was moving.
Monday dawned the weather window had arrived, under clear skies we set off at approx. 9:00 am, now all wearing Green (by chance), our Green Team ascended well, in just 3 hours I walked into Camp 3 to soon be followed by Georgio & Troel’s, what a difference a week had made, we were all going well. We were joined by the Skiing team who had by now decided not to make a direct ascent of the North face, snow conditions being well & truly against them, they would aim to join with us & then two of them would make an easier ski descent via our ascent route whilst Kyle would abandon his ski’s & come up & down with us. So that was it 6 of us would leave early tomorrow & together. The rest of a long day in Camp 3 was spent melting snow, drinking what we could & eating surprisingly pleasant dehydrated expedition food. Earlier in the day I had suddenly realised that tomorrow would be the 1st of August the third anniversary of Ian’s death, that realisation did not sit well at all. However I slept well, the wind began to blow, just after two Georgio asked ‘Paul, are we going for it’, the reply was yes & no further questions were asked.
Just after 3:00 we set off with a few headtorches up ahead, our group was not quite on our own. The push starts with an annoying 100 metre descent to a Cull before a big 400 metre climb to Camp 4 (rarely used these days). This climb is tough our pace was slow & it felt hard despite my bag now being only half the weight I’d been carrying on previous days. With one inner mitt on my right hand & a big outer mitt on my left hand this was no time to discover that I couldn’t grip my ice axe with my outer mitt securely thereby making the axe useless. Stop, outer mitt back in bag, inner mitt on, that’s better, but what would I do on Cho Oyu drifted through my mind. Two thirds up the climb Ernst stopped, un-beknown to me both he & Rob had contracted the shits (probably in Camp 2), less than 3 hours in & they were both out of the climb, we were down to four (high mountains, shits & safety are not good bedfellows when hydration is a matter of necessity).
Kyle continued to lead, we reached Camp 4 after 3 hours & took our first break near a solitary tent (Camp 3 had 30 or so tents so really is the main base these days prior to a summit push). The going from here became easier with a mixture of level or gently ascending ground, the sunrise became magnificent lighting the peaks all around with breathtaking views particularly to the South into Tajikistan where 5,000 & 6,000 metre peaks go on for ever to the distant horizon, our photographic stops almost distracted us from what lay ahead, ‘the Knife’ loomed ever steeper, ‘get over that Paul & the summit is not far’.
The knife is in fact a gully albeit a pretty steep one (probably 40 degrees) it has the summit days sole fixed rope but in truth it’s not needed going up, as you approach the knife the ground noticeably steepens before you reach it, this was our excuse to rest which we & another couple of groups of two did also. Then Georgio led off (the first time Kyle hadn’t led), I followed & my day changed from here-on. Having felt heavy until now I suddenly felt un-leashed, this was going to be hard, that’s what I do isn’t it, so go on get it done. Georgio called me through, I was on the Knife, I was up it, I was off. Some ten minutes above the Knife having gone past a solo guy & catching another resting at a cull I let the adrenaline subside & waited, Georgio & Troels’ joined me, the solo guy I’d passed informed of the route (someone in his group had summitted the day before) ‘we climb, we cross a wide plateau, we climb, 3 hours we get to the summit’, the Knife was not the gateway to the summit I’d been dreaming of. But the weather was good, we were feeling good, we set off together but tackled it alone from here, it was quite simply an invigorating experience of isolation on a very big mountain. My pace was now set, steep sections 70 paces, stop for rest, easier sections multiples of 70 paces i.e. 140/210/350 & rest, less than 2 hours later I passed Kai (a very friendly Australian who we’d befriended in the lower camps) coming past the other way ‘Paul, if I’d known I’d have waited for you’, he’d been the first to summit that day & literally turned around walked back up hill 10 metres to point to the summit cairn, I was 10 minutes away, Kai & I hugged, clicked the camera’s ‘see you later’.
At just before 10:00 am I reached the summit, touched the scalp of Lenin’s bust & cheered myself at what I was seeing & had achieved. Down Jacket came back on, as did big Mitts, Buffs & Jelly Babies were gobbled as I waited for the others. Some 30 minutes later I stirred from an increasing slumber ‘no good Paul, cold, must move’ I left the summit alone as I’d found it. Roughly where I’d met Kai I met Georgio & gave him the same good news Kai had given me, next was Troel’s, followed by 6 other climbers we’d passed on the way & then Kyle too, for such a busy mountain that was are summit day (11 climbers, this was no Snowdon or Everest we could all enjoy our achievement in relative isolation). My descent felt as glorious as the last 2 hours or so of my ascent, with Kai stashing ski’s there was no catching him so I remained alone, took it steady, tied to the rope on the descent of the Knife & negotiated myself onto the safest central line on the long descent from Camp 4. Frequently my mind considered ‘go here Paul & no one will have a clue what’s happened to you’ but despite this I felt calm & in control (I genuinely felt this ‘solo’ was a big step up in my game) but there was still one final battle – the 100 metre climb back up to Camp 3, after 10 hours that’s not to be looked forward to. I stopped at it’s base, drank, ‘it’s not going to go away, get on with it’. 70 paces, don’t stop, 140 paces, don’t stop, 350 paces, don’t stop, 1050 paces, haven’t stopped, I’m in Camp 3, f…… good effort!! It was by now 1:30 pm, 7 hours up 3 hours down, felt a much bigger day than that!
Kai was asleep in his tent, so the celebrations would have to wait, I too fell asleep & missed Georgio & Troels’ return at some time between 3:00 & 4:00 but had awoken to greet Kyle who came in shortly after 5:00, our party of four were all safe. A bad night’s sleep followed, Kyle descended early with a bad cough, I almost feinted at the start of my descent which Georgio spotted & gave me a sugar releasing Twix, then duly recovered I did a slight diversion above Camp 2 to tag another couple of sub-peaks before walking back into the now horrible stench of the Camp. From here we roped up, the route through the crevasses was by now un-recognisable, once past the major difficulties my inability to re-hydrate the night before caught up with me, from the back of the rope I shouted ‘guys I need to stop’ to roars of laughter Georgio & Kyle yelled ‘I never thought I’d hear Paul ask to stop’ well I did & I needed to!
I’m going to gloss over the 4th & final part, it was basically several days spent in ABC waiting for our other group to return from their summit bid whilst some of our party made early returns to civilisation. They weren’t to make it firstly weather & then events early on their summit day worked against them but a sensible decision made sure they all got back down safely. For me these days felt a bit anti-climatical but I’m glad I stayed on, got to know Dave well & enjoyed Beer in his & Troel’s company. Sun-bathing, reading & a couple of relatively safe ridge excursions on my own helped to past the time but I was itching to get back to Dorina & a normality which I have yet to find.
On the summit day itself I had for some ‘clear’ reason kicked Cho Oyu into touch but now back Cho Oyu has been googled, 1:1 Sherpa, do I need to pay for that, probably not, Tim has been e-mailed, the wheels to one more high challenge before I seek ‘retirement’ in the Alps & ‘lesser altitude’ might just have begun to turn.
Too many people to thank but everyone at ITMC for some good friendly support throughout & a genuine look of pleasure at our achievements felt great, the certificates you gave us on the morning we left BC for the last time were a lovely icing on the cake. Georg & Simona for logistics of getting me to & from Manchester & of course the members of our group who made the relative discomfort much easier to handle, to name but two would seem un-fair but: Georgio for passing me his half litre of tea on summit day rather than disposing it when my own water bottles had frozen solid & Kyle for a good & knowledgeable tent partner. Last & never least Dorina, occasionally we were able to text or even speak but I have never missed you so much, told the guys, if you kissed my beard it meant you still loved me & of course you kissed it before making me run for the razor!