Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey posted this a few hours ago today (Sunday in San Diego). We should all be very proud of him…
It’s almost 1am in the morning. Most of the team is about to leave camp 4 at approximately 26K’ in elevation and begin their final push for the next six to eight hours to reach the summit at 29,031’.
After spending 5-15 minutes on the summit, they’ll turn around and spend about four hours making it back to camp 4. But they can’t stay at camp 4 for too long because the altitude is too hard on the body to actually recover. So they’ll rest for an hour or two at camp 4 before climbing another four to six hours back down to camp 2 and collapse for the night. The next day they’ll walk out of completed an accomplishment of a lifetime.
I should be with them, but instead, I’m on my way to the airport to catch a flight home.
Shortly after my last post I went to sleep at base camp. My gear and nutrition was prepped for a five day acclimatization rotation. Sherpa Karma and I were scheduled to leave at 2 am. The reason you climb at night, especially through the icefall, is because that is when the environment is most stable. Every night you hear half a dozen or so avalanches from heavy snow deposits. But the ice fall is (mostly) stable at night because it’s so cold. During the day, as the sun hits the ice, it melts and often time collapses. Large house-sized blocks of ice come crashing down and if you’re in their path, there is nothing you can do. Earlier this season, three Sherpas were tragically killed in the icefall and a climber was nearly crushed when a large block of ice gave way. They were in the icefall at approximately 9:30am and the sun had already begun to hit the ice. Leaving at 2am should get us completely out of the icefall by 8am and back to camp 1 no later than 10am.
I woke up at midnight and could immediately tell something was off. For the previous week I had been down in Kathmandu loaded up on meds recovering from a respiratory infection. I figured I had mostly recovered but I grossly overestimated how healthy I was. With the medicine wearing off, my fever, body aches, and muscle fatigue came back hard…doubt quickly began to creep in.
You might be wondering why not just take more medicine? Medicine is great for temporarily helping mask symptoms and can help you get through the day feeling semi-normal. This false sense of confidence can maybe last a day, but over five straight days with extreme physical exertion and you might find yourself stranded with no energy to move beyond where you can be saved. It’s nothing to mess around with.
But I shook it off. Put on my gear and went into the dining tent for toast, porridge, and scrambled eggs.
I let Karma and the expedition leader know I wasn’t feeling my best but that I wanted to try. We agreed to check-in at various points and re-asses along the way.
By the second check-in point, I was shot. My legs were on fire and already cramping. I just had nothing in the tank physically and that doubt was now weighing very heavily on me mentally. Could we get out of the icefall before the sun hit if I was moving this slow? Would I have any energy to go from camp 1 to 2? Could I even make it back down to base camp from camp 1 if needed?
For a little perspective, part of my training consisted of 1-3 hours a day on the stair master six days a week. At a minimum I would gain 3K feet of elevation each day and I would max out at 6K feet of elevation gain once a week. And that was just part of the routine in addition to running, hiking and lifting. I was physically very prepared but the respiratory illness just zapped all of my strength and stamina.
I told Sherpa Karma I couldnt continue. He radioed the expedition leader and that was the end.
We made it back to base camp. I sat in the dining hall with Karma for about thirty minutes, exhausted. I wanted to go to sleep but I was too tired to take off all my gear and carry it to my tent. Karma helped me drag my sorry-butt and gear back to the tent and I collapsed in what I was wearing and went to sleep. It was -4 degrees.
Unfortunately I’m used to respiratory infections as I get them once or twice a year. If I can’t shake a bug in 24-48 hours, it usually means it’s going to be 2-4 weeks of muscle fatigue/exhaustion.
There is still time to summit. The window will last until May 20 and probably have a day or two during the last week of the month. But after returning back to Kathmandu and not getting any additional energy back during the last two days, I’m convinced my summit window is over. I’ll need at least seven to ten days to be good enough physically. Plus two days to acclimatize back at basecamp and four to five days of rotation again before attempting a summit. By that time, the season is almost certainly over.
So rather than wait at a hotel in Kathmandu, I’m heading home in disbelief and disappointed.
Everest can only be safely (relatively) climbed several days a year during the month of May due to the jet stream and other weather conditions. I already have plans for 2024 so that means my next realistic shot is May 2025. Ugh.
I’m definitely down. But the only way I know how to pick myself back up is to find another challenge — another marathon, another triathlon, another climb, heck maybe another political race.
As I think about the possibilities for what to do next, I already find myself cheering back up. The mountain will always be there for next time.
I’m so grateful to have met some amazing fellow climbers — each one had an impressive backstory that usually involved service to others in some capacity. The Sherpas are the strongest, most humble, and gracious people you’ll ever meet. And the Nepalese people…I can’t say enough about them. Nepal is a developing country — most citizens do not have much at all and yet both the young and old always seemed happy, content, and willing to lend a hand.
Lastly, I’m grateful to all of you for the support and encouragement along the way — it really meant a lot to me and I wish I could’ve made it to the top for you this time, but it’ll just make the summit that much more rewarding in 2025.
Provided I have no flight delays, I’ll see you at the council meeting on Tuesday 🙂