My apologies to those who have been following my blog if this update comes rather delayed. We reached back to Kathmandu on the 3rd of Oct and things have been happening so fast that I have not been able to update the page till today. Currently I’m back in the safe warm arms of sunny (more like rainy) Sinapore. A lot of interesting things happened from the time of my last entry. I have found out that it is no easy feat climbing an 8000m peak, not just due to the physical demands but also a whole lot of other factors that I’ll go on to describe below. My mental strength has been greatly tested during this expedition but I have learnt tremendously a lot as well. I don’t regret coming on this trip although it’ll take sometime for the disappointment to fade away.
I’ll go on to describe certain memorable events that happened from the time of my last entry, in heading form so that its easier to read as well as its easier to write since my memories aren’t that fresh any longer.
The day which the rest of the team left, ironically turned out to be an excellent day in terms of weather. It was the 1st day out of the whole month that we spent up on the mountains that we were able to see the sunset (usually it would snow every afternoon). After receiving news from my family that they were extremely worried after the earthquake and wanted me back home safely, I made up my mind that I was not going to try again. Instead, I was waiting for the sherpas to bring back some of the equipment from the high camps before packing up and returning to Kathmandu with them.
The weather forecast on the 27th didn’t look good for the week. It was predicted that jet stream winds were going to hit the mountain on the 1st of Oct and stay for a week. This would render me unable to attempt again since I had to get back to Singapore within the 1st week of Oct. I had my mind made up confidently that there was no chance of IMG going for another summit push with this kind of weather report.
IMG used the American weather model for its forecasts. Other teams used the Swiss and the ?international models. On the 28th, the Swiss weather model showed a discrepancy from their previous forecasts while the ?international and the American models remained the same. The Swiss model showed that the jet stream winds were to hit only on the 3rd of Oct. This got our guide, Max frantic to find out the real news on the forecast. The team leaders from all the groups present at ABC had a discussion that afternoon to discuss this discrepancy. Max made several calls back to the states to talk to the weather man as well.
I got woken up on the morning of the 29th, by Max, asking me to pack my bags as we were going to make the summit push. All the 3 weather models had miraculously aligned overnight to concur with the Swiss model. We were going to make a summit push that very day and try to summit on the 2nd Oct, just before the jet streams hit the mountain. By that time, the 3-4 days of heavy sunshine would also have compacted the snow and would minimize avalanche danger.
The plan was perfect but I had many uncertainties in my mind.
2 full days of strong sunshine but the ground was still covered with heavy snow from the storm on the 26th. This made walking, even to lake camp, a big chore. The scree slope that connected lake camp with C1 was now a slurry of mud and dirty snow. Somehow this made the walk easier. Reaching C2 was fairly straightforward but it wasn’t as tiring this time round.
It was only when we reached C2 that we realised that another big problem awaited us. Everyone was under the impression that the Koreans (who summated previously) had fixed rope all the way from C3 to the summit and that all the teams could use the ropes and head up. This was not the case. The experienced Koreans (who had completed 13 out of the 14, 8000m peaks in the world) had only laid a thin piece of rope along the yellow band segment making it sufficient for them to climb to the top. The other less experienced climbers from all the other commercial expeditions needed the fixed lines to reach the summit safely. The Chinese, who we heard were taking a break in Tingri waiting for the weather to be clear, were no where to be seen. Once again they had gone against their word of fixing the lines on the 1st of Oct. Everyone was furious.
While at C2, all the team leaders present had another meeting to decide which team would employ their shepras and lay the fixed lines above C3. ?Alpine ascents agreed. They were to leave C2 on the night of 30th and climb from C2 to the summit bypassing C3, with their sherpas laying the fixed lines ahead of them as they moved along. IMG’s plan for its remaining 2 clients (myself and Patrick) was to sleep in C2 and move up to C3 on the 1st and push for the summit on the 2nd. When we awoke on the morning of the 1st we saw the AA team having returned back to C2. They had not made the summit as their sherpas could not lay the fixed lines in the cold. It was too cold and they did not want to risk their lives and limbs fixing lines even in the day. Max communicated back to ABC about the situation but Jangbu did not want to risk our sherpas to set up the fixed lines as well.
Max decided that we were not going to stay at C2 waiting for someone to fix the lines.
This compounded together with the fact that there was still avalanche danger (heavy shifting snow above C3) present, he made the tough decision to head back and pull the plug on IMG’s Cho Oyu 2011 autumn expedition. Many more commercial expeditions pulled the plug on the mountain and returned back home as well after this incident.
I never knew that there was politics involved in the simplicity of climbing a mountain.
Chinese team summiting
The Chinese team returned from Tingri. Their Tibetian sherpas fixed the lines for their clients and the whole Chinese team summited on the 5th of Oct. I was very disappointed with the professionalism of the Chinese Mountaineering Association. I have urged for IMG to write in a formal complaint letter to the CMA.
Our very own IMG Shishapangma team who waited the weather out, summited the 14th highest peak in the world on the 4th of Oct. 2 out of the team of 4 climbed Cho Oyu with IMG guide Mike Hamil and they managed to summit Cho Oyu on the 12th of Oct after the jet stream had passed the mountain.
I was happy for the IMG team with their double success, but somehow the news just made me even more disappointed at my double unsuccessful attempts in Mustagh as well as Cho Oyu. If only I had the time to stay on in the mountain and try again. There were just too many uncertainties along the way during the whole trip.
I had the plan of trying to attempt Cho Oyu with oxygen and making a 2nd attempt without oxygen by taking the personal sherpa and additional oxygen option with IMG. Mentally, it was difficult for my to let go of my 2nd summit attempt without oxygen plan as the summit date was getting too close to Oct. Usually climbers summit the mountain in Mid to late Sept. It was already going to be Oct and we had not even started our summit push yet. The experienced guides and sherpas kept telling me that it would be too cold in Oct to try without oxygen and that it was not worth risking my fingers and toes to make such a foolish attempt. I agreed in the end.
Soon after, I had to give up my dream of summiting Cho Oyu altogether after the weather situation seemed bleak and my family started getting worried about me. I started thinking of the comforts of home and the thoughts of seeing loved ones filled my mind every moment. Having to be woken up on the morning of the 29th with the notion that another summit attempt was possible, I had to once again mentally prepare myself for another summit attempt.
It was only after spending the night in C2 that we knew that the summit was not possible. Once again, mentally I had to erase the summit from my mind and prepare to go back home.
From 2 summits to 1 to 0 to 1 and back to 0. Having to wake up each morning with the uncertainty of what was going to happen next is a terrible torture for some. Not knowing if you’re going to have a restful day in ABC or going to push yourself to the limit or going to pack your bags and go back home would indeed be difficult for many I would presume. It was a tiring emotional and mental roller coaster ride for me and I’m glad I survived it. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right?
Whatever happens, families worry about their loved ones. Mine is no exception either. After the news of the earthquake with over 100 deaths in Sikkim and Kathmandu, they were terribly worried about my safety on the mountain. This worry was worsened by the news that a private jet carrying 20 passengers for a Himalayan sight seeing tour had crashed due to bad weather. My lack of connectivity via phone and very limited internet connection costing USD40 for 4mb of transmission minimised communication with my family. They were insisting on my return even when I had not summited the mountain. They strongly urged me not to climb again. My thoughts were always with them and their worries made me guilty. Thus I made the decision to not try again even though I had chosen to stay back in ABC.
It was extra difficult for me to convince myself to proceed with the 2nd summit push when the weather cleared up as I had told my family that I would not climb again. I tired multiple times to contact them via satellite phone but to no avail. I left an email explaining why I had defaulted my words and had left to C1. I was thinking about them continuously all the way and the guilt tortured me tremendously. It was very difficult focusing on the climb and the task ahead.
Just as how this climb has been a mental roller coaster for me, it has also been an emotional roller coaster for them. I love my family a lot for all the support they have given me all my life especially during this period for my climbs. I really hope that the situation will never arise for me to put them through an emotionally difficult time similar to this again. Good things sometimes arise from something that seems bad initially. Indeed this is the case for my family. They have learnt a lot more about my climbs and climbing in general and seem to trust myself and my decisions more.
Deaths on the moutain
There were 3 deaths during IMG’s stint on the mountain. The 1st was the gentleman who passed away on the 1st ice cliff. His body was left dangling upside down with his feet caught on some ropes. He could see him hanging there through a pair of binoculars from ABC. I was thankful that our climbing cycle was such that I did not have to climb past his dead body at any point in time. His body was left hanging there for about a week before it was removed. His commercial team had to contact his family to know if they wanted his body to be repatriated and if they would bear the costs. No one would be willing to risk their life for someone dead on the mountain unless the end point (re: body disposal) was clear and there was cash remuneration involved. If the person was half alive, it would have been a totally different story with all the teams chipping in for a rescue effort.
The 2nd death occurred on the 26th when the heavy snow storm occurred. Apparently, the tent in which he was sleeping in, collapsed and he died in C1 itself.
The 3rd death was witnessed by everyone at the IMG ABC. On the day we returned from C2 from our 2nd summit push, there were 2 Japanese climbers who decided to head to the summit without the fixed lines being laid. We observed them as we descended to ABC. The 1st climber was ahead of the his counterpart by a large distance, but instead of heading to the summit and returning, the leading climber kept going up and down the mountain just below the summit for about 4-5hours. No one had any idea what he was doing. We suspected he was confused from cerebral edema. Eventually as the sun was setting, he traversed across the west face of the mountain and disappeared behind some rocks. We were sure he would not have survived the cold of the night. His partner, returned to C3 safely at about 5pm.
I was terribly shocked to hear these deaths as they came along the way but the sherpas and the IMG guides didn’t flinch. They said that deaths on an 8000m peak are very common and that if it didn’t happen, that would have been an excellent year. Culture shock for me!
As I was descending from C1 to ABC, I sustained a big fall with myself landing on my back with the right side of my ribs hitting the floor. The pain wasn’t bad then but each time I coughed, took a deep breath or palpated the anterior middle section of my ribs, it hurt like crazy. I heard of climbers getting rib fractures through heavy coughing but falling and getting one on the mountain was rare. It was definitely a musculoskeletal type of pain and it most certainly could have been a rib fracture. This also influenced me against making my decision to try for the summit again. It still hurts till now but the pain has reduced much since.
Since I returned to the warm comforts of Kathmandu, the sensation over the tips of my toes especially over my left big toe and my Right big and 2nd toe had been absent. I suspect this happened due to the increasing cold towards the last few days on the mountain. There were many instances during late Sept that my feet would go numb even with multiple thermal socks and boots that I wore. However I’m very relieved now, that I’m slowly regaining back the sensation in my toes.
I was glad that I managed to use oxygen on the mountain. It makes a world of a difference to your performance. When the atmospheric oxygen is about 40% that at sea level at 7100m, slapping on an O2 mask to sleep even with the flow of O2 at 0.5L/min makes a world of a difference. I miraculously had a good night’s sleep even with the constricting mask banded tightly to my face and the condensation dripping into my nose and mouth while I slept.
Since we were not ascending any higher from C2 upwards, and there was extra oxygen, I decided to use O2 as I descended all the way back to ABC. This gave me a good practice on how the O2 system works and how to manage it while climbing. I’m sure this practice would have thought me more about the system as well as my own physiology and would help me the next time I use O2 on Everest next year.
Story of boots and crampons
I realised that I forgot to update the story of my boots and crampons as it did not arrive on time from Vpost. I arrived in Kathmandu without a pair of boots or crampons. I had to resort to my last fall back of purchasing one from the shops there. Jangbu told me that they might not have the exact size of my boots but I was really hoping that they would.
At the mountain hardware shop in Thamel, by god’s grace, they had a size 12 Millet boots and Grivel crampons. I was going to purchase both of them via Visa card but the cashier told me that I’d have to pay 5% surcharge since the total purchase was more than USD1k. Obviously 5% of an item >1k is quite significant. So instead of paying everything by Visa, I transected the crampons using my card and choose to pay the boots by cash. Since I did not have enough money with me at the moment, I traveled back to the hotel to collect my Sing $. Just then, I remembered that I was supposed to contact Jamling regarding something about my next Ama Dablam trip. After I met up with Jamling, I told him to drop me off at the mountain hardware shop for me to purchase the boots. At the moment, he told me that he had a size 12 Millet boots and told me that I could borrow them for the climb. Coincidence turned out to be in my favor. I just had saved USD800 by pure luck.
Back Home, the boots and crampons that I had ordered from Vpost came 2 weeks after the original stipulated date without any explanation. Now I own 2 crampons, Petzl Sarkan and Grivel and luckily only 1 pair of boots (Millet US size 12).
Currently, I’m in the midst of my preparations for my Ama Dablam trip. I will be leaving Singapore on the evening of the 26th. Hopefully I’ll be able to ascend higher than Camp 2 on Ama Dablam. Otherwise, my series of climbs will be unique in a way that every one of them would have ended at the highest point being camp 2.