This is a short post briefly describing our successful ascent of Everest by the North Ridge on Saturday 19 May. I’ll describe it in more depth in a later post, once I’ve recovered from summit exhaustion and had more time to reflect.
I’m also aware there were a number of fatalities on Everest on 19/20 May, including on the north side. Information about these have emerged gradually as we’ve descended by a series of rumours and contradictions. I don’t want to comment on these until we can be more sure of the facts, but my thoughts are with the families and loved ones of those who died, especially any whose final hours I may have brushed.
The North Ridge of Everest is a dangerous place, and not at all what I expected, despite having read a great deal about it. This wasn’t a snow climb, but a rock scramble. Prominent features such as the First, Second and Third Steps are well known, but there was much scrambling in between. “I counted at least eight steps,” said fellow climber Mark Dickson.
Much of the summit day route involved walking across narrow rock ledges just about wide enough for a boot, sloping downwards at an angle with a light dusting of snow, and containing three or four old ropes to snag your crampons on. Below the slabs is a horrifying 3000 metre drop down Everest’s North Face. Concentration was required almost every step of the way, and there were very few places where you could relax. The photo I’ve chosen for this post shows an example of these. It was taken above the Second Step, and shows climbers descending across slabs towards the First Step.
With Chongba I was probably the last person to summit that day, at 10am. There was no sense of elation, for I knew how long and hard the descent was going to be. Throughout the climb I was repeating the mantra in my head: must get down safely, must get down safely. My summit day took 18 hours, and again we were probably the last into camp at 5.30. One of the reasons I took so long was undoubtedly exhaustion, but I was also being so careful. I didn’t mind how long I took as long as I didn’t make any mistakes.
And throughout those 18 hours Chongba never left my heels. I can’t describe how reassuring it was to feel his footfall behind me. Had he not been there I’m sure I would have turned back through fear long before I reached the summit. This was his 13th Everest summit.
In all 11 members of the Altitude Junkies team reached the summit between 6.30am and 10am.
- Phil Crampton (UK/US), expedition leader
- Grant Rawlinson (NZ) and Pasang Nima Sherpa (Nepal)
- Mila Mikhanovskaya (Rus) and Pasang Wongchu Sherpa (Nepal)
- Mark Dickson (UK) and Ang Gelu Sherpa (Nepal)
- Ian Cartwright (UK) and Kami Sherpa (Nepal)
- Mark Horrell (UK) and Chongba Sherpa (Nepal)
The only members of our team not to reach the top were Margaret Watroba, travelling with Chedar Sherpa and Nima Neru Sherpa. Margaret made the wise decision to turn back at the Third Step. That’s why she’s still alive. She made a similar decision on the South Summit in 2010, but she does have the great consolation of having reached the summit from the south side last year.
We were blessed with perfect weather throughout our summit day. Had we not been so I can’t imagine how dangerous the North Ridge would be.
We’re now all safely back in Base Camp, and will be heading to Kathmandu in a couple of days. As we sat in the dining tent yesterday with a celebratory glass of champagne, Ian Cartwright summed our summit day up for me.
“I don’t think I respected Everest enough before, but I do now.”
The mountain gods were kind to us on 19th, but not everyone was as lucky as we were.