Everest Update 9 of 10: Stop the Clock – New 7 Summits World Record (and Everest & Lhotse Double Summit)

In 7. Everest, Asia, Project 7in4by Steve

Everest Day 30, 14-May-2018: Everest Summit!
  • Everest Summit!
  • Project 7in4 Complete!!
  • New 7 Summits World Speed Record!!!

What a day. I know it’s cliché but I’m actually lost for words. December 2014 I was lying in hospital with a broken neck. At that time I set myself the goal climbing the 7 Summits in under 4 months. Today, three and a half years later, I completed that goal and set a new 7 Summits world speed record in the process.

Last night Jon, Pemba and I set off from Camp 4 at the South Col at about 22:30 aiming to be on the summit around sunrise. There were about 25 other people going for the summit that evening, most left around 6pm to 7pm. We intentionally held back a few hours trying to keep out of their way and have a clear run to the summit. We thought we’d given them enough of a head start so that we wouldn’t get caught in a queue behind them but it is remarkable how astonishingly slow some people can go.

We made good progress for the first couple of hours but unfortunately quickly ran up the back of the people in front of us. For the rest of the night our progress slowed dramatically as we had to wait for suitable opportunities to overtake safely.

The evening was cool but initially quite pleasant. We stopped for a short break at The Balcony then continued on. Shortly after leaving The Balcony we gain the ridge leading to the South Summit. Below the ridge we were actually sheltered from the wind, but once on the ridge conditions became a little less pleasant with the wind gusting and whipping up spindrift.

My biggest challenge the entire night was trying to keep my toes warm (that and maintaining my patience while stuck behind other climbers). I had sustained mild frost nip during our Denali ascent only a few weeks earlier. Consequently my toes were much more susceptible to the cold while still healing. When we were moving I was able to generate body heat but stuck behind other climbers, the slow, stop start pace, made it particularly difficult. Whenever stationary I could quickly feel my toes going numb. I had to make particular effort to try and keep circulation going. Standing on one leg I’d swing the other leg briskly forcing blood into it, then swap legs and repeat. I’d also do the same with my hands, swinging my arms in circles. Not an easy task while standing on steep terrain on the side of Everest. But I still have all fingers and toes so it worked.

We patiently pressed on throughout the night, jumping passed people whenever we could. Watching the sun rise over the horizon below us was remarkable. I guess one advantage of going slow was that I could actually stop and enjoy the sights.

Shortly after sunrise we reached the South Summit and could finally see the true summit. Only the exposed southern ridge and Hillary’s step to go. By that stage there was only half a dozen people in front of us but it was too narrow and exposed to overtake so just had to fall into line and wait patiently.

Those final few hundred metres seemed to take forever. Finally, at around 07:30 Jon, Pemba and I took the final steps to the summits of Everest, the roof of the world.

I thought reaching the summit of Everest would be a momentous, exhilarating occasion but it was actually quite the opposite. It was bittersweet. I sat down on the snow and reflected. Yes I was proud and excited to have reached the summit on Everest but simultaneously I knew that was the end of a remarkable journey. From there on I knew it would be all downhill (pun intended). For almost four years I had dreamt and worked towards this moment. For four months Jon and I had been on the road together, through highs and lows. And now, suddenly it was all coming to an end. What will it be like going home? How will I assimilate with my family and friends? Where do I go to from here? What will I do next? These were all questions going through my head. But I had to put all that out of my mind and initially focus on getting down.

We spent about 45min on the summit then noticed a few others getting ready to go down so set off ourselves as well. We didn’t want to get stuck behind people again like we did on the ascent. We made it back to the South Summit then the weather changed rapidly. Cloud came in, wind picked up, snow started ripping around and visibility reduced. Jon, Pemba and I continued pressing on as quick as we could, following the fixed lines.

After a couple of hours the terrain started leveling out as we got close to the South Col. Visibility was down to only a few metres and the fixed lines stopped. From there it was only a few hundred metres of open terrain back to camp, but impossible to see which way to go. We were heavily reliant on Jon’s GPS to navigate. Things would have got pretty interesting had we not had the GPS tracker.

As we were getting close to camp I noticed a shadow moving through the whiteout off to my left. It was a climber who had turned back on the ascent but had got disoriented in the white out and hadn’t made it back to camp. We signaled to him and he followed us back.

It was 11:00 by the time Jon, Pemba and I got back to our tent, almost 12hrs since we set off last night. The next people didn’t get back down from the summit until about 18:00. Would have been a very long, tough day for them. Fortunately by the time they were getting back in, the white out conditions had lifted so they could at least see which way to go.

Back in the tent we got a brew on, had a quick feed, and then discussed what to do. The options were: 1) pack up and continue descending down to Camp 2, or 2) stay up at Camp 4 overnight and attempt the Everest / Lhotse high double. I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was get down, but I knew I’d regret it if I took the easy option. So needless to say, Jon and I are currently enjoying another night in a tent together, preparing for another early, pre-dawn start tomorrow morning.

Everest Day 31, 15-May-2018: Lhotse Summit (8516m)!

It haven’t had a proper meal nor good night’s sleep in days. I am beyond tired. Even typing this message is a struggle so I am going to keep it short and sweet.

After summiting Everest (8848m) yesterday, today Jon and I summited Lhotse (8516m). Summiting both on consecutive days completes the “High Double”. A feat rarely achieved. It was an incredible day and a nice cherry on the top after completing the 7 Summits in record time yesterday.

Jon and I were both pretty exhausted when we got back to the South Col yesterday after summiting Everest. Jon asked me what the plan was. I was sooo tempted to say we descend straight back to basecamp, but we had talked about Lhotse and had permits. There was really no option.

We left the South Cole this morning around 04:30. We climbed back over the Geneva Spur, another brilliant Himilayan sunrise, and around to the Lhotse high camp. From there we continued straight on up, eventually reaching the summit around 12:00. We then descended all the way back to basecamp getting in around 21:30. It was a massive day but well worth it. A brilliant way to conclude Project 7in4.

“Go with the decision that will make for a great story”.