We kicked off our summit attempt by having a birthday celebration in base camp. It was my special day so Roeland had arranged balloons and a birthday cake, which was made by our super sweet staff. So along with porridge and eggs that morning at 4am, we also had chocolate cake. What a combo!
The trip through the #Khumbu Icefall went smoothly, although you could see it was getting late in the season: #crevasses were larger and snowbridges thinner. A lot of fresh, ice debris was evident everywhere and I was glad we only had one more passage through it to do.
Camp 2 (#C2) was relatively quiet and we could easily see where everyone was: the slow, ant line of people heading up toward camp 3 (#C3) and #South_Col, aiming to catch the next window when the wind dropped. And it was blowing furiously higher up, it could not have been easy on the climbers to hang around there waiting for the break in wind.
We continued our summit push toward C3 the next day, but it didn’t start well. Roeland was feeling weak and I was also not in my top strength, but we decided to continue toward the #bergschrund. Perhaps we’d find our ‘oomph’ on the approach? Perhaps it was just morning slowness at altitude?
Sadly, it wasn’t. As we continued Roeland got increasingly slower and I was wondering how I was going to manage to get the gear in my bag, and get myself to C3 and South Col — it felt so, so heavy. Roeland slowed down even more until we decided to stop for a break and then he admitted that he could not go on. His tank was empty and although I had not reached the same level yet, it was obvious that summit push wasn’t going any further uphill anyway. Our bodies just put a stop to it.
As hard as we had tried to recover, after the illness, it seemed that we never quite got the full 100% strength back, which we’d had before, and it became evident when attempting to get higher.
And as we stood below #Lhotse face looking up at the windy C3 and beyond, it was obvious: to continue was unwise and unsafe. By pushing to C3 we’d enter a more difficult, demanding, and dangerous terrain, and for this you needed to be in top form, which at that point, we were not.
The decision to turn around was not hard as such, because it was very black and white: your health comes first, always, but of course it was crushing, sad, and disappointing. We had poured so much time and effort into it, trained like crazy people for two consecutive seasons, and now we didn’t even get to test ourselves higher up! It felt hard, but it would have been even harder to justify continuing up like this.
We sat in the snow for some time, soaking in the stunning views before gathering ourselves to return to C2. The quiet atmosphere lingered, but by next day as we packed our gear, the mood was improving. It was a tiring, heavy, and hot descent back to BC — because now we carried all our C2 stuff as well as all the #summit gear — so the rucksacks looked ridiculous! But at the same time it reminded me of what we had tried to achieve: a no O2, unaided ascent of #Everest, just the two of us. Well, we didn’t make it all the way to the summit, but we sure as hell tried our best and have had an experience we’ll never forget.
One of the most important skills as a mountaineer is to know when to turn around. We saw about a hundred people (probably more) climbing up toward C3 and higher in the brutal wind, and all you could hope for is that they’d be ok, for there was zero margin for error in those conditions, even if climbing with supplemental oxygen. A handful turned back and many have summited successfully and safely-ish, which is great. But despite those successes, our decision was the right one for our team of two at that time and we have no regrets.
Today we started our home journey, first making our way to #Lukla, and eventually from #Kathmandu to Europe if and when the flights go again, so this trip is not over yet. More adventures might be in store and no doubt we will ponder about this Everest experience we’ve had for some time to come. At the moment it is difficult to put this epic journey in words, and time is needed to process all the emotions and experiences of the last couple of months, but this I can say for both of us: it has been one the hardest expeditions either of us have ever done, but we are proud to have attempted the highest peak under our own steam in our own way. And that now we are damn happy to be going home ☺