Posted by: Yury Pritzker | May 23, 2009

5/23/09 Full Summit Report from Yura

I came to base came today at 11 am. I am so happy to be here, “at home”, and to be safe. It is difficult to embrace and fully understand what was done, and it is kind of strange to listen to all congratulations from all the Sherpas  and other people that are here, at Base Camp. It feels like it was not me who just climbed Mt. Everest, but some other person.

Me and Nic (who was following the same climbing schedule as me, and reached the summit one hour after me), can not stop discussing all the nuances of our summit night. I can hardly move from the group tent to my tent that is 10 m away and when I do, I feel like I am learning to walk again.

Before I start describing what has happened during the last 6 days, I want to thank all the people who thought about me that night and followed my progress.  I think I was feeling so strong only because of all your support. Especially, I want to thank my family. My wife, who was supporting me not just in this whole endeavor, but also the million times when I called for healing, moral support, and to just hear her voice. My sister, who was always there to help me with my multiple health related problems. My parents, for suppressing their endless worrying, and supporting my dream. My son and daughter that gave me the strength and support to do what I wanted to do.

It all started on My 17, when we began our climb from BC to Camp 2 for our Summit bid. As usually, crossing the Khumbu Ice Fall was the most dangerous part of the whole climb, and  I was glad that I would do it only two more times. At  night it does not look as scary as during the day time because you can only see the part that is directly in front of you, lighted up by your head lamp. I made it through the ice fall in 4 hours and was feeling strong. It took me another 2 hours to reach camp 2. This time I felt pretty good and was not as tired as the last time.

Our next day was a planned rest day, but unfortunately it started with a tragedy. My friend Henry, who was settled in the tent next to mine, felt down outside of the tent and injured his head. I woke from hearing his screams and hurried out to see what was happening. By the time I got out of my tent, I found Henry sitting in his tent with blood all over all his face.  He was out of it and could not remember what happened. Me and some Sherpas were trying to help him, but his condition worsened.  His health was deteriorating quickly, and he started having convulsions. I would not really want to go into all the details of this accident, but want to mention that with the help of two doctors that we found in camp 2 we were able to stabilize Henry. It became evident that he had to be carried down to the BC through the ice fall and the next morning be flown to Kathmandu by a helicopter. Today he is still in Kathmandu and we know that he is ok now. It is very sad that he had this misfortune because Henry was the strongest in our team and would definitely have reached the Summit.

On May 19 we started our climb to camp 3. It was the most difficult part where we needed to ascend without oxygen from 6400m to 7200m over the steep ice wall that goes from 45 to 65 degrees. It took me less then 5 hours to get to camp 3 and even though I was happy with my time, I was very tired.

This day in camp 3 I had a lot of different feelings going through me. A big part of me wanted to quit. I could not imagine going another 700 vertical meters the next day to the camp 4 in the South Col and then to the summit. Laying exhausted in my tent that night, I could not imagine how anyone could continue. I called home that night, expecting to hear something like: “come home”, but I did not hear this and I am so grateful to Sveta for holding up and believing in me. I also remembered my thoughts back at home were I was telling myself that if I reached camp 4 at South Col, I would be already happy.

On the positive site, two thoughts came to mind: I was much faster than many other climbers around me, and I had not used my oxygen yet. I actually came to camp 3 faster than some people who used their oxygen between camps 2 and 3. During that night I started using oxygen for the first time. I had two systems for delivering it: the mask that I would use on the summit day and a system similar to one that is used in hospitals, with tubes going through my nose.  I used the latter and slept at a rate of one liter per hour. The night went very well.

May 20th we started the climb to the South Col ( camp  4) at 6 am. It was not cold enough to wear my down suit and because I am always afraid to get overheated, I was wearing my regular climbing clothes. The oxygen was helping a lot. It was still a very slow climb in comparison to climbing at “normal” altitudes, but nothing is normal at 7700m.  From camp 3 up the climb continued through the steep Lhotse face at 55-60 degrees and then to traverse toward the Yellow Band, a distinct yellow slice of rocks that we would need to negotiate. After the Yellow Band, the climb continues traversing with an altitude gain toward Everest Summit and eventually ends up at Geneva Spur, a very steep rock section. After this part the South Col is very close. I climbed from camp 3 to 4 in 4h 45 min which was very good: 6 hours is considered a fast time for this section. It was 10:45 am and our summit start was only 9 hours away.

Initially I was planning to spend a night at South Col which meant that I would start my summit push not in 9 hours, but rather in 33hours. The weather forecast was telling us that May 21st had the best prognosis for reaching the summit, so I decided to follow the regular climbing protocol that excluded the overnight stay at South Col and leave for the summit the same night.

Camp 4 is a very famous place and I was happy to be there. Also, after making it to the camp in less then 5 hours, I gained much more confidence. The Everest summit was still not visible from there, but most of the climb up became visible for the first time and it seemed like very steep and very long.

The area at Camp 4 was covered with rocks, empty gas canisters, broken tents and other garbage that has accumulated here over the years sitting on top of the rocks. It was amazing to see the climbing history reflected in this garbage. We spent time in the tent, drinking water and eating a little bit. I was trying to get some sleep, but could not get any. I was too exited and preoccupied with the preparations.

The departure time was set at 8:30 pm, but I started my preparation much earlier. I put on my two warmest pair of socks, but my feet were still a little cold, so I turned on my electric warming system that we put together with my friend Arnold Sheynman. Then I realized that my boot lacing system felt too tight with these two pairs of socks, so I spent next 30 minutes fixing the problem. Then I reminded myself that I needed to drink more. I put on my down suit and boots and was ready to go, when I discovered that my Sherpa lying near me was still sleeping. I looked at my watch and was surprised to find out that I mixed up the time and was one hour ahead of schedule. Now I had to take off my boots and repeat the whole procedure in an hour.

Finally we were ready and got out of the tents. It was not too cold, just around -15C (5F). I had two Sherpas accompanying me: Thuktan in front of me and Nima behind me. We agreed to follow this order during the climb because there are many people climbing in similar down suites and oxygen masks, so it is very difficult to understand who is who in the dark.

The bottlenecks on the fixed lines (ropes), is one of the serious problems on the summit day. The ropes start 200 m up from the camp 4 and continue up to the summit. If there is a slow climber(s) on the rope line, then all the people behind him are stuck or need to unclip themselves from the safety ropes and try to bypass a slow climber (s). It is very dangerous and difficult because you then need another 5-10 min to recover from such a sprint.

From the very beginning of the climb, my front Sherpa Thuktan was jumping the line, bypassing two or three people at a time. I was afraid to lose him and followed him religiously. My second Sherpa, was following behind me for some time, but very soon we lost him. I was a little hot and had to open my down suit. There was not a thought in my head besides just keeping the pace and breathing.

There are four major climbing points on the way to the summit. The first one is the Balcony, a small flat space at 8300 m were the summit trek reaches the South Ridge. It is the point where a lot of people feel overwhelmed by the difficulty of the climb or encounter weather conditions and turn around. The second major point is the South Summit. It is located at around 8700m. Right after this point there is the Hillary Step, a 40ft vertical rock climb. The fourth one is the Summit itself.

My oxygen plan was to start with 4-liter bottle and change it at the Balcony. Then use a 3-liter bottle and change it when it was empty and so on. As this climb progressed, I lost track of time. My watch, which I clipped to the backpack shoulder strap, was not functioning because of the cold. All of a sudden we reached the Balcony, our first stop and I sat down there for 5 minutes, drinking a little bit of water. The temperature at the Balcony fell to -20C (-5F). I could see a lot of lights coming from the people climbing up behind us, but I also saw a lot of lights shining from much higher then where we were. By looking at this line of lights I could imagine how much higher we still needed to climb. One very particular light was so high that I thought that it must have been the summit and someone was there already.

We continued to climb, bypassing more people on the way. I felt good, but at some point I was really happy to be stuck behind some slow people and get some rest by following their pace. The climb become very steep (I think it was around 60 degrees) and I was worried that if I ran out of oxygen here, there would be no way for me to change to a fresh cylinder. At some point I asked Thuktan to check how much was left in the tank and he did and gave me a sign that it was ok. He also said that we were near the South Summit.

I was really shocked because it was only around 2 am and  I could not understand how it was possible to be so far ahead. We continued our steep ascent and soon reached a group of 7 or 8  people that were going at such a slow pace that I began worrying again about running  out of oxygen. Bypassing them was out of the question on such a steep slope covered with a mixture of snow, ice and rocks.

Finally we reached the South Summit. At this point we did not see a lot of lights in front of us because we made it up almost to the front of the line. But the one light that I saw before was still there. It was so high that I finally realized that this was not a person on the summit, but a shining star. That was a big relief.

I knew that after the South Summit the trek is more exposed, but because it was very dark, I did not see much and just felt the void on both sides of the ridge. Before the Hillary Step we had to traverse some rocks. This area is very steep and flat and the rocks are hanging over a 2000 m vertical drop. All of this was happening at almost 8800 m while I was wearing an oxygen mask and my down suit, so it was hard to see my feet. That made this part quite a challenge.

The Hillary Step that is considered to be the crux of the climb was not difficult at all. However there was a rock at the top that had to be traversed, and there was no other way than to go over it as you would if you’d climb on a horse. All of all this, again,over  2000 m drop. I knew that after the Hillary Step there was only 20 minutes left to the summit. I was looking around for any sign of the dawn, but it was sill a complete nightand I could  only see some flashes of light very far on horizon as sometimes are seen from an airplane. It was 4:15am and the temperature was -25C (-13F).

I was pretty warm. My electrical socks worked perfectly and I also had some electrical warmers and chemical warmers in my mittens. I was so warm that sometimes I was using my bare hand to make switches on the fix line with my ascender. The ascender is a device that allows you to be clipped to the rope and move on the rope by sliding it up. It does not allow you to slide back and is able to hold a climber clipped to the rope in case of an emergency.

At 4:15 am we were 100 horizontal meters away from the summit that was visible in my beam of the head light.  There was a big rock on the side of the trail and a large hole around it that allowed us to hide from the wind that we experienced from the time we reached the  South Summit. We decided to spend some time behind the rock and wait for the sun to come up.

At 4:30 we’ve started climbing the last 100 m up. It was an easy climb. Finally we were on the top of the highest mountain on the Earth, watching the sun rise. What else anyone can dream of?

Then there was the drama with taking pictures. My Sherpa Thuktan was taking them for me, but when I checked his shots, they were all taken without my head or legs. Then my main camera with 2 AA batteries stopped working. We used another camera without any progress, while Thuktan wanted to go down because he was very cold. I felt great and used my bare hands to take photos and refused to get down before I would get an acceptable photo. Finally we finished our photographic business and were about to get stated our descend as Nic came up to the summit. We hugged and I took some more pictures of him.

The way down took me 3 hours. In the morning light it was now visible how dramatic and difficult was the climb. The trek between Hillary Step and South Summit has big holes in between them and you can see China 3000 m down there. These holes are just near your steps…   At the Balcony it got so hot that I pull down the top portion of my down suit and wrapped it around my waist. We finally reached the South Col at 8:30 am.

We spent time resting and drinking and around 2 pm started down to camp 2. It was hard, but it was much safer not to sleep at South Col, still at 8000 m. It was so hot that I stopped at camp 3 for an hour to drink and wait for the sun to get down a little. Around 5 pm I started from camp 3 to camp 2. I was so tired as I was rappelling all the ropes on a steep sections of the Lhotse face! I finally reached the camp 2 at around 6:30pm. It was 36 hours of climbing without sleep from camp 3 to camp 4, up to the summit and back to camp 2.

Nic and I had a dinner and I went to my tent. I remember getting into the sleeping bag, but I did not have time to zipped it up. I just fell into a
deep sleep. I woke up in the  middle of the night because I was cold and found out that my sleeping bag was unzipped. It was kind of funny.

The next day it was difficult to move between tents because my legs felt painfully tired after such a long decent from the summit. But the party was not over yet. I had to get to the Base Camp through the Ice Fall for the last time. It was a very difficult journey, but I managed it just fine in 4 hours. All the people in the Base Camp were waited for me and it was very emotional to meet them.

After all calculations and verifications from the radio reports that we made, the statistics of the summit days are amazing. I started from South Col at 9:15 pm and made to the summit in 7h 15 min, and it took me around 3 hours to get down. The predicted time was 12 hours up and 6 hours down. I used only 2.5 bottles of the oxygen with only one 4 litter bottle. Apa Sherpa who established a new record this time (19th summit) summited at around 8 am on the same day and when he came to the Base Camp, we hugged and he sad that now I am Yura Sherpa because I was so fast in the summit day. It was the biggest reward for me to hear these words from him.

As I am writing this update over 2 days period, the whole team is now on the way down. We had 6 summiters out of 14 people in our expedition (excluding Apa Sherpa). Bill Burk summited today at age  67. He is the oldest American who summited Mount Everest and we all are so proud of him. I am also proud to admit that I was the fastest among all our summiters.

There is a big celebration going on at Base Camp. Every time, regardless of the time of the day, teams ring a bell by hitting an empty oxygen cylinder as soon as there is a radio transmission of their member summiting. There are lots of shouts and songs going on from many directions. Some teams are packing and leaving.

As soon as all of our members are down we are gong to hike back to Lukla. It will take about 3 days. Then we will fly to Katmandu and back home. I am expecting to be in Chicago on June 2. Thank you all for reading my updates and supporting me. Sveta is sending me all your comments via emails, so I am very grateful for all of your  love, support and kind words.

Love Yura

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Yura Sherpa! You’re great climber!
    Thanks God, you didn’t lost your control.
    Yes, it’s take time, but you recognize in shining light a star and didn’t run to stratosphere. You stay with us on the Earth where you were above the highest point of the world!
    Your mission is complete.
    Welcome back.
    Congratulations,
    Alex Svist

  2. Congrats Yuri! I am glad you are safe and back down. I can’t wait to see some pictures. I wish you had some of those electric warmers for me when we were on Hunter!

  3. Дорогой сын, как оказалось ты не только отличный альпинист Юра-шерпа, а и очень хороший писатель. Твой отчет прочли десятки родных и друзей и наш телефон расплавлялся от поздравительных звонков в твой адрес, где кроме отличной оценки в альпинизме все отметили прекрасный литепатурный стиль, а мама и Аденский потребовали смену проффесии на писательскую. А ведь действительно ты молодец! Целуем и счастливого возвращения. Мама Папа

  4. I came here via Yan’s twitter page and, honestly, my face was nearly pressed against the screen while reading this thoroughly entertaining and awe-inspiring victory over the mountain. At my old job – this was a passion of my exboss, Mr. Sheridan. I think Everest is the only summit he has yet to conquer – he tries to do it every year. I don’t know if he has since it’s been about three years since I was at that job, but there was this one website where we could watch the different teams and see footage and stuff – this site called aplineascents.com

    This was a truly breathtaking account. I loved every sentence. I often wonder what makes men do these kinds of dangerous, death defying things – and I still have yet to figure it out, but for some reason – it’s still glorious to hear about. I kind of makes me think about my old boss and gives me a sense of what he would have felt during a successful attempt. Okay, I’ll stop now because I seem kind of chatty for a stranger, right? But that’s just how I am.

    I don’t even know you and I am very proud of you! I’ve not often been the kind of person who lives my dream so I love it when someone else actually does. I hope this is just one of many, many more dreams you will make a reality! And, Sveta – you. go, girl! I like how you supported and encouraged your man’s dream and gave him the strength and blessing to make it all the way to the top. That’s what it’s all about.

    Congratulations, again – Yura Sherpa! And WOAH! A massive congrats to Apa Sherpa for his 19th summit! I think that pretty much qualifies for a Nobel Peace Prize. God only knows the dangers that man has faced over and over again to make sure other people’s dreams come true. Please tell him that there is a chubby black girl in Chicago who is in AWE of him at this moment.

    God bless. Make it home safe on June 2. I’ll be praying for you. Please come back with some Everest snow, too! 🙂 I love snow…specially gourmet snow.

  5. It’s just amazing. Ricky and I were glued to the monitor trying not to miss a word!!! We are so proud of you. Can’t wait to see you and talk to you in person.

  6. Yuri, from your story could have been done a thriller, but you are telling about these extraordinary events so calm, like it happenes every day. Were you not afraid? I was just reading these. Congratulations! Jack London would have been proud of you

  7. As the trekking and tour guide of Nepal and part of responsible world tourism for peace and prosperity, i want to give you the millions of Namaste and congratulations on your achievement you did in your life and all the best for your up coming program for Nepal and world tourism.
    I like your adventure skills.
    thanks you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: