Date: 9pm, 23rd May 2007
As per the last brief post, I was finally able to speak properly with Paul around 6pm tonight.
A Long Wait
After hearing that Paul and Attila were off last night for their summit bid, Reny and I decided to bunk down in the dining tent for the night where had access to all the radios (and a heater!). We expected to be getting radio calls throughout the night – or at least as the guys reached the Balcony, South Summit and Summit. We were especially concerned as we knew the winds were probably on the border of what is considered safe to climb in.
We both slept very lightly and every time a radio so much as crackled, we’d jump up, don the boots and down jacket, and head outside to a slightly higher vantage point where we usually found good reception. Alas, we never heard a word from Paul, Attila or the Sherpas they were climbing with.
By 5am, Ptemba and Meagan were both up and around 5:45, Ptemba received the muffled call saying they were on the South Summit. We huddled around the small gas heater and drank copious amounts of tea while we waited for their summit call. Again, Ptemba received a very brief call from one of the Sherpas, saying that they were on the summit – at 6:50am. This is a great time – especially considering the conditions were less than ideal. We were all very excited and relieved for them.
We then waited. And waited – expecting Paul and Attila to get on the radio. But after an hour had passed, we had to presume they were on their way down. (Even in good conditions it would be unusual to be able to stay up there that long.) Finally, I got a call from Paul around 10:45am. I was extremely relieved to hear that he was back at Camp 4, but was quite concerned about his eyes. Speaking again around and hour later, he said that he’d decided to continue on to camp 2.
And then we again waited, and waited. I thought that normally this descent would take him around 5 hours, but at 6pm I still hadn’t heard and couldn’t contact him.
During this wait, I tried to read and chat to people but it definitely seemed like one of the longest afternoons ever. I just couldn’t (and still don’t) understand why we couldn’t make radio contact when we’d been able to on those same stretches on the way up.
Around 3pm I downloaded all the messages posted to this site. I was extremely touched by everyone’s well wishes and concern, and as I read them in my tent, I realised just how anxious I was getting to hear from Paul.
Safely Down to Camp 2
When I finally spoke with Paul just after 6pm, he said that he was fine. His eyes have gradually improved – better vision and only some mild stinging now. However, he has started some antibiotics for a chest infection which seems to have struck. (Fortunately this didn’t hit when he was up high because it could easily develop into HAPE which is very dangerous.)
His voice actually sounded a lot better than when I spoke with him at camp 4 but he said he was extremely tired (hence why I am writing this rather than him).
When I asked about the climb and the summit itself, he said that there had been several mishaps – and again, concerning oxygen (unfortunately an anniversary in more than one regard). He gave me some information about it all, but on the radio I was only catching every second word so I’m not sure that I got the correct story. Anyway, he’ll explain more later, but because of this, he only spent around 10 minutes on the summit as he was not confident that he had enough oxygen left (and knows only too well what it feels like to suddenly be without). He took a few photos, admired the spectacular views, unsuccessfully tried to radio me at base camp, and then headed down as fast as he could.
He said he was very glad to get off the high reaches of the mountain without any serious problems and could now understand why I didn’t want to do it again.
A few people mentioned it in their messages, but of all people, Paul so deserved this summit and I’m just so glad that he got his chance today. Since we were here a year ago, Paul has been so diligent with his training and preparations – literally leaving no stone unturned. He was definitely one of the strongest and best equipped climbers on the mountain this year. If the situation had of been reversed, I’m not sure I would have had the fortitude to do it all again.
Even still, with the best physical preparation, good health, equipment, mental preparedness, (and of course, support team!), Paul’s experience today shows that climbing Everest is something that can never be taken lightly.
Paul and Attila (who is also at camp 2) intend to leave fairly early tomorrow to cross the icefall for the very last time (ever!!). They should arrive at base camp sometime before noon (will of course let you know). As you can imagine, I’m looking forward to having him back down on this side of the icefall.
As I mentioned, hopefully Paul will write more about his summit climb tomorrow.
All the best,
PS – Thanks so much everyone for all of your messages. Way too many to mention individually but I know Paul will be smiling as he reads these tonight lying in his tent at Camp 2.