Stuart Holmes Everest Exhibition at Theatre by the Lake
Along with his photo exhibit, Stuart has also shared an account of his 2005 expedition to Everest, he wrote an article for the Keswick Reminder post-expedition.
Karrimor 2005 Everest Expedition – Final Report by Stuart Holmes
October 2004. Matt and Dan were off to do a climb on Gable. We’d just come down from Scafell Pike when we met them at the Sty Head Pass Mountain Rescue box. We chatted about their upcoming, 2 years in the planning, Everest adventure. ‘Bear me in mind if anyone drops out’ I said in passing, half joking. Hah…
Friday 27th May. After 2 months at or above Everest North Side Base Camp, the team (Tom Richardson, Ian Wade, Mick Bromley, Matt Sharman, Dan Short, Tim Mosedale and myself along with Pasang, Phenden, Jangbu and Karma Sherpas) climbed once again up to Camp 1 on the North Col. Lenticular clouds, like flying saucers, over the highest peaks suggested strong winds at altitude. Lower down however it turned into a very pleasant outing, we stopped for regular breaks and to chat with the Sherpas and other teams. Once in camp, we brewed up and had some re-hydrated cardboard for dinner, I think my variety was imaginatively called Lamb Fettuccini! The night turned out to be quite dramatic as thunder and lightning crashed and flashed around us.
Saturday 28th May. We all (apart from Ian) found the plod up the snow slope to Camp 2 (7650m) interminable. Near the top of the snow I started getting serious gastric rumblings. I managed to catch up with Tom at around 7500m then got left behind again as my stomach condition required urgent action of the unzipping of flaps kind! In far from ideal conditions, I managed to pay a visit 4 times in the space of an hour between altitudes 7550m and 7650m (some kind of Everest record???!!!).
The final vertical 100m to Camp 2 is up a rocky ridge requiring a bit of easy scrambling. Fortunately the tents on this exposed ridge had been well lashed down as the wind had picked up dramatically. I crawled into a tent with Tom and struggled to get comfortable. Ian and Tim were in the tent below and Matt and Dan followed shortly after to occupy the third tent on the ridge. The Sherpas were all huddled in the highest of our Camp 2 tents.
We melted snow for brews inside the tent but conversation was limited due to the background noise of the tent fabric flapping in the wind. We should have eaten but the thought of food was nauseating so we retreated into our sleeping bags early. Tom and I both decided to sleep with our oxygen masks on and a low flow of 1 litre per minute.
Sunday 29th May. The night was a very windy one, the rattling of the tent reducing already disturbed sleep for most. For me at least, I woke rested and feeling relatively good (thank you immodium and O2). Ian and Tim had decided that if they slept without oxygen, they would really feel the benefits the next day when they put their masks on and consequently had a rough night with little sleep.
Dan at this stage had made the difficult decision to descend. Tom also decided after a short distance that he too would return to ABC. As Phenden Sherpa opined honestly to Tom: ‘too long at Advance Base Camp and too old!’
Ian and Tim despite their rough night were the first to head off up the hill leaving Mick, Matt and myself to bring up the rear. My thoughts were to see how far I could get, bearing in mind that I had barely eaten or drunk in the last 24 hours, if I got to 8000m that would be a bonus.
Ian, who could only talk at a whisper, was obviously suffering with his chest infection whereas Tim who had been coughing and sneezing for a few weeks seemed to be cured. We made steady progress up the easy scramble of the North Ridge, Matt and I were using 2 litres per minute oxygen, Mick preferred to do without and strode out in front. Matt during the morning had decided that he would break the 8000m barrier then return. Mick at this stage tried using his oxygen mask and found for whatever reason that he couldn’t get on with it and made the decision to return with Matt.
We followed a rising diagonal ramp leading across the North Face up towards the yellow Band. Half way across this (around 8100m) I said goodbye to Matt and Mick and continued with Phenden Sherpa who had come down from Camp 3 to collect some gear that the others were carrying. Most of the North Face is made up of beds of Shale and Limestone, inclined at just the wrong angle and direction to make passage tricky. With crampons skating around on sloping slabs interspersed with passages of hard snow, I reached the final snow slopes leading up to Camp 3 at the base of the Yellow band around 8300m.
Plod, plod, a few steps, a few breaths, a few more breaths, more breaths and repeat, until Camp 3. What a campsite! Stuck improbably on the steep North Face; a few tents, a few figures, lots of rock, patches of snow and most of the world below. Mountains we have stood at the base of and strained our necks looking up at, we were actually looking down on; Pumori (7145m), Changtse (7585m), Cho Oyu at 8201m for heavens sake! We’re going camping higher than Cho Oyu. Incredible!
I squeezed into a tent with Tim and Ian who were already in the process of melting snow for brews. It was 17:30 (Nepal time) so we had less than 5 hours before our planned departure to try to eat, drink and rest. As the sun got lower I kept looking out to check the view and the weather, we commented on the absolute lack of wind and marvelled at the spectacle of the myriad peaks and ridges in the setting sun.
We managed to arrange our respective limbs and bodies in the tent so it was possible for us all to lie down of a fashion. It would have been an hour and a half’s rest but for Ian’s persistent shuffling and fidgeting: ‘Hey chaps, anyone seen my pee bottle?’
At 21:00 our alarms went off and Tim set to melting snow for more fluid. Ian was really quite ill at this stage with his chest infection, speaking in only a whisper and doubling over with coughing fits on a regular basis. We drank and filled our water bottles then it was time to go. It was cold outside, -25 degrees C, but almost windless. We donned crampons and each put 2 fresh oxygen bottles in our sacks.
Monday 30th May. At 23:00 we started our climb. There were lights already above us and we soon caught up with a small party of Indians, one of whom was having a crampon tied onto his boot with string! (One of the Indians took 14 hours to summit and was not to return). Shortly after, we caught up with another group of around 6 people. The ground was steep and it was not possible to pass them for some time. Tim was in front at this stage and made a good overtaking move as soon as it was possible. I followed right behind and we quickly moved ahead.
I remember being very concerned about the number of people all hauling on the fixed rope in the blind belief that it was attached to something immovable. I tried to explain to the Sherpas that it was unwise to trust all your weight to a 6mm fixed line that someone else had attached to an unknown and possibly loose object.
Tim and I raced ahead leaving the rest of the team stuck behind the slow moving group. The route follows a narrow snow gully interspersed with sections of rocky scrambling all the way to the North East Ridge. On arrival, all of a sudden you have a new 180-degree’s worth of vista open up below you. Makalu, the World’s 5th highest mountain was just there to the south, almost continually being backlit and silhouetted by lightning from the huge storm clouds of the approaching monsoon.
Tim and I were making great progress along the relatively easy ground up to the first of the 3 rock steps. The second step is the crux of the climb and took a bit more effort to overcome. In two sections; the first requiring some energetic and, with a 9000ft drop on one side, very exposed climbing, the second is the famous Chinese ladder with a brand new ladder in place. Getting off the ladder required 3 or 4 delicate crampon moves on very small rock ledges, very thankful for the fixed lines. The sky in the east by this stage was slowly brightening.
An almost flat section of ridge leads to the Third Step that again requires some rock gymnastics. We climbed up the snow slope above, unclipping from the fixed rope to step past the body of a Slovenian climber who had died the week previously, to arrive again at the North Face. The sun rose above the eastern horizon casting a huge triangular shadow of Everest. An exposed 100m traverse along sloping ledges led to the Dihedral, the final bit of rock climbing before the summit ridge. From here it was only 10 minutes up easy snow slopes to the summit. A few people were just coming down so we had the top of the world to ourselves.
The sense of relief and emotions I was expecting to have on summiting did not materialise having been tempered by the numerous bodily reminders of our mortality. Most deaths after all occur on the way down, the summit is only half way. This did not however reduce the awe in which I stared down at the rest of the world below. It was too much to take in, too much to look at. I tried to engage Tim but he was too busy taking pictures. We never got a summit photo of us together.
The wind that up to now had been very light was increasing and combined with the temperature, my thermometer had bottomed out at -28 degrees C, decided us to head down. We met Ian on his way up with Pasang, Karma and Jangbu at the foot of the Dihedral, only 30 minutes from the top. After congratulating us and shaking hands he mentioned he was having problems with his eye and could he borrow mine? I swapped sunglasses with him as I was using my goggles at the time. Tim, Phenden and I continued down making good time.
Along the NE Ridge, abseiling down the rock steps, to the top of the North Ridge. We had descended to within 200m of Camp 3 (8300m) when there was an urgent exchange on the radio. It seemed that Pasang had come across Ian lying collapsed in the snow somewhere below the Second Step. Our hearts stopped, our minds raced. What could we do from here? To climb back up would take hours. Dr John in ABC was talking with Pasang on the radio explaining that he had to draw off 2cc of Dexamethasone (lets hope it’s not frozen) and inject it into Ian’s leg. None of the Sherpas had done this before. In the end Ian came around enough to do this himself.
Within 5 minutes the drug had taken effect and Ian was able to stand and eventually make progress down. On arrival in Camp 3 he looked terrible, he could barely stand, his eyes were bloodshot and he couldn’t speak. We piled him into a tent and plied him with hot fluid and a high flow of oxygen. The weather had deteriorated with snow falling and a strong wind. At 13:00 hours Tim gave Ian a tablet of Dex to top him up and sent him off with Pasang to descend. Remarkably, Ian managed to get down to the North Col where he was met by Mick and Matt and then go all the way back to ABC.
A situation that could have easily turned into a disaster was avoided by good planning (Dr John had provided everyone with an emergency medical kit), teamwork and support from our phenomenally strong team of Sherpas.
Tim and I made it down through conditions resembling Scotland in winter to Camp 2 where we crawled, exhausted but happy, into one of the tents. We both craved a long cold drink so our efforts at re-hydrating with hot tea or Bovril were half hearted to say the least. The following day we were met at the foot of the glacier by Matt, Dan and Tim. It was then some emotion was released: ‘I’m OK, probably glacier dust in my eyes’
The reception on returning to Keswick has been fantastic, we had no idea there was so much interest in our endeavors. To learn that so many people were climbing the mountain with us is heart warming to say the least. I get glacier dust in my eyes almost every time someone comes up and asks me about it. The expedition was an overwhelming success because we were a group of friends who got along like a house on fire. None of us could have reached the top without the support of the others.
As Roger Baxter-Jones put it: ‘The priorities in climbing mountains are to come back alive, come back friends and lastly to climb the mountain.’ I’d say we excelled on all counts.
Thank you all.