Two South African Scouts summit Mount Everest

On 21 and 23 May, two South African Scouts, John Black of 1st Discovery and Robby Kojetin of 1st Germiston in the Gauteng Province, successfully reached the top of Mount Everest.

They have been sent a message of congratulations on behalf of the Chief Scout and all our members.

Links

John's summit on 21 May 2009

This is an account of my ascent from BC to the top of Mt Everest, Robby will do his at a later stage.

Well, the 17th May was another one of those dreadful alpine starts, up at 1am, breakfast forced down at 2am and depart at 2.30am. You will recall how much i hate alpine starts. It is dark, cold, inhospitable and my snug sleeping bag seems a far more sensible place to spend the hours leading up to sunrise. However our natural desire to remain alive meant that we had to get through the ice fall whilst it was at its coldest (-15) and most stable, we really did want to avoid an avalanche, serac fall or snow bridge collapse. We also intended to leave before any other teams to avoid delays, the less time exposed to ‘fall danger, the better. Another good reason for a stupid early start was to avoid the searing heat of the sun in the Western CWM once it has risen.

So, with hefty packs, a lot of nervous, anxious and excited energy permeating camp, the first group (The yaks) left BC. We made our way to crampon point, put our crampons on and ventured into the Khumbu Ice fall. we made pretty quick progress and emerged at C1 3 hours and 40 minutes later. (for a full description of the ice fall read earlier accounts). I had a sobering moment half way up when we saw the pack and boot of the the Sherpa that is still missing after an avalanche, it was a stern reminder of the dangers we were exposing ourselves to.

The sunrise just below C1 was once again the spectacular and the scenery breathtaking (as if the altitude was not breathtaking enough), we had a short rest in the freezing cold and then moved on directly to C2 at 6400m. I spent the last 45 minutes up to C2 in the heat and nearly expired. The temperature climbed from –15 to +35 in a matter of minutes and underneath layers of insulating clothing, I was suffering. I was one of the 1st into camp with some team members up to 3 hours behind me, how they survived 4 hours of the debilitating heat, I will never know. the whole group acknowledged that the day from BC to C2 had been a monster of a day and that we were all feeling seriously damaged. it was decided that the 13 days of inactivity at BC had weakened us and that our legs were not at their strongest, however the hard day did serve as a great shock and wake up call. We suggested that team 2 (the yetis) left BC earlier to avoid heat.

The 18th may was a rest day at C2 and we decided to engage in a wee bit of cricket in the famous western CWM, surely the highest game ever at 6400m! It was quite an experience playing on an pitch of ice, wearing high altitude kit at altitude!!!!

The 19th May saw us once again retrace our steps up the decidedly unfriendly Lhotse face to C3 at 7300m. Oddly we were slower than our previous trip up the face. I think it could be attributed to our significantly heavier packs that contained all of our summit gear, oxygen system etc! Once in C3 we immediately began the chores of melting snow for water, a task that would take all day. The treat that awaited us this time however was that we were now able to go on to Oxygen (O’s) at a flow rate of 1L/minute when working around camp and 0.5L/min when sleeping. However I did not have sufficient O’s to sleep on it all night, so woke up from a lousy sleep at 11pm and went on to O’s, sleep from then on was deep and blissful!!!! I had practiced sleeping with my mask on at BC to get used to it (no O’s though). The sleep was great.

20th May was another pre-dawn start, a quick brew, followed by forcing down a lousy bowl of Oat’so easy and off we went. It is interesting to point out that C3 is 350m higher than any place outside of the Himalaya. We left camp and got back on to the lhotse wall, this breathing |O’s at 2L/min and off we went into unchartered terrain and beyond where we had been before. Our route was mercilessly steep right from the start and so cold. we went straight up the face for a long time, before a climbing traverse across the top of the face to the base of the yellow band (so called because of the colour of the rock), we did the very awkward scramble through the mixed rock and ice of the band, a very slow and quite scary route, once we topped out we were back on to a reasonably steep traverse across ice headed towards the Geneva spur.

Moving at this altitude was painfully slow and it took ages to cross relatively short stretches of ground. As we were nearing the death zone at 8000m, I could feel every ounce of my body protest, my lungs, my mind, my muscles, nothing wanted to be there, and less so work hard there. We did a long traverse to the spur, which felt like it took a lifetime of torture, we arrived at the spur and were rewarded with the most awkward, unrelenting and simply ghastly mixed rock and ice scramble up to the crest, it was simply torturous, and psychologically it was demanding, as there was a 3000m drop directly below us! A slip would only be arrested a long way down!

Once we had topped out from the Geneva spur it was a relatively straight forward traverse around and into C4. The tricky part was crossing broken shale and rock wearing crampons with my vision obscured by my downsuit and oxygen system.

Before I knew it, we were at the famous South Col, the site of infinite triumph and tragedy, success and failure, death and survival. Without realising it, I had began to cry, I had remembered all those that had died literally within a few hundred paces of this site. Un unjust price for those that had come so close to making it “home”. I collapsed there and then vowed to myself that climbing Everest meant getting back to BC safe and complete. I walked the walk of a drunk man to my tent and fell in, next to Moises Nava, my tent mate from Lobuche and our previous sojourn up to C3. he and I had made a good team and climbed at similar speeds and managed to without planning or discussion, each do our share of camp chores.

We rested in our tent for a bit before once again beginning to melt snow. It was now just after midday and we knew that we would be leaving tonight for the summit. We forced down some food, drank, drank some more, ate soup, ate biltong and then lay down to rest in between melting snow. This went on all afternoon and it was only at 18:30 that we tried to sleep. We woke up at 9.30 after resting, not sleeping for less than 3 hours and began the 2 hour process of getting ready. I had to run wires from my foot warmers to their battery pack at my chest, run the cable from my petzl headlamp to my waist, put on clothes, socks, rig the oxygen system and the rest of the kit seemed to take forever.

At 11:30 pm, as agreed, Moises and I stepped out of our tent, ready for the toughest day of our lives. Within 5 minutes of standing up, Moises and I were on our way, headed upwards, forever upwards.

Truth be told, Summit day on Everest starts from C3 as you do not really sleep or recover at C4, at 8000m it is simply to high. We made great progress up the much steeper than expected mixed rock and Ice slopes towards the balcony. It was slow going, but we made great, steady progress. step, breath, step, breath and so on. I had drastically underestimated how steep the route to the Balcony was, but i had so much adrenaline and excitement in my blood that it made up for it. We arrived at the balcony (8500m) after 3 and a quarter hours, had a short rest and then began the climb to the South Summit, the next major landmark. Just before arriving at the balcony, I had been mesmerized by a lightning storm to the east, it was incredibly breathtaking to look down on a lightning storm, what a scene. The blackness of the night at altitude broken and illuminated by this force of nature!

It is hard to explain all the things and feeling that we have to try to be aware of whilst climbing so high. Is my oxygen working, is the flow rate optimal, are my hands warm enough, too warm, my toes, my face, wind burn, camera, route, am I on the right side of the rope, am I pacing myself properly, goggles and so the list goes, on and on. neglecting even the smallest detail can be fatal or very costly later on.

I had confided in Moises the night before that I was desperately hoping to see Everest’s shadow, and sure as nuts, just after sunrise, around 5.15am, I saw it to my left and it stopped me in my frozen tracks. It was beyond beautiful, more so than my wildest expectations, it stretched all the way to Horizon, gorgeous and unique. I decide then that even if I did not summit, this sight had made it all worthwhile.

We continued the climb to the South Summit in the glow of the sunrise, with our progress steadily slowing down as we got higher and higher. The ice encrusted ground under my feet fell away into Tibet on my right, and Nepal on my left, thousands of metres below me. The vista opened up as it light up and the other Himalayan giants began to reveal themselves, amazing!!!! The views were already amongst the best I had ever seen. Once on the South Summit (8750m) we could see the remainder of the route, down into a saddle, across wildly dislocated and awkwardly angled rock to the base of the famous Hillary step, then along the summit ridge to the top of the world!!!

I stopped, had yet another PowerGel and water before scrambling and climbing across the saddle to the Hillary step where we met a lot of climbers descending and ended up waiting 40 minutes for the step to clear. I climbed the awkward Hillary step with ease, although once on top I was completely out of breath and it took almost 10 minutes to regain it before tackling the final summit ridge. I –arrived on the top of the world, with no where higher to go, at roughly 7.15am on 21st may 2009, put my pack down and then sat down in the snow to take in the sights, thoughts and emotions. I could not fully digest exactly what I had been through and accomplished. I was swamped with emotion: Sheer joy, relief, elation and bewilderment.

Someone from the discovery film crew put a camera in my face and asked me how I felt, and with that I began to sob, great, probably the only piece of footage they will use, me crying!!! I soon began to pose for the all important summit photos some with sponsor’s logos and some with the SA flag. All told, i spent 45 minutes on the summit of Mt Everest, a dream fulfilled and a goal accomplished. I was aware of an immense sense of relief and release. without realising it until that point, I had felt an immense amount of pressure and expectation, there were so many people watching, family, friends, colleagues, sponsors and strangers, all waiting to see if i would accomplish what I set out to do. In hind sight, I only have my own pride and ego to blame to for that. And above all my biggest critic was……. John Black!

I began the descent and passed a number of team mates still on their way up. I encountered a group of 5 Indian army climbers just below the Hillary step, gave them the world of time to do what they needed, but then grew exasperated with them, apparently 5b Indian climbers do not appreciated being sworn and gesticulated at by a lone SA climber, none the less, I gave them a Large piece of my mind, and managed to narrowly avoid throwing them in to the void before continuing the LONG descent to the balcony, via the South Summit. I had a rest at the south summit before heading down the valley to South Col.

By now I was heavily dehydrated, fatigued, hungry and sleep deprived and I found the descent to Camp 4 to be a lot tougher than expected. Once safely back in C4 I had some liquids, rested a bit, sucked some more O’s, ate a bit and slept for 30 minutes. Moises and I then decided that we wanted to descend the lower, more comfortable climes of C2 at 6400m, so began the descent at roughly 13:30. within 30 minutes of leaving C4 I realised the harsh reality of what I was undertaken, a descent from 8000m after climbing to 8850m, with the destination of 6400m, down the yellow band, across the traverse, down the Geneva spur, across the top of the Lhotse face and then down the unforgiving Lhotse face.

Soon I began to feel delirous from lack of nutrition and dehydration, additionally I was still wearing all my summit gear and it was now over 30 degrees, heat exhaustion combined with dehydration was a lethal combination and I was paying the heavy price, blurred vision, weakness, loss of co-ordination etc. I eventually stumbled in C3 where I was grateful to find the Yeti team who graciously gave me water, what a lifesaver, literally. I was now also in a safe enough position to remove layers of clothes.

Soon after arriving in C3, I left and headed down the steep slopes to glacier below, rope length after rope length all the way down. My arms and ribs were now aching from all the abseils and arm wraps descent, I hurt all over! Every part of my body from my toes to my nose (literally) hurt. I finally arrived in C2 at 5pm. Had a lot of liquid, a little food and then went to bed for what i thought would be a graet night’s sleep – wrong! I had another lousy night’s sleep, the 5th in a row!

the next morning was a 4am start to get through the Ice fall to BC whilst it was safest (relatively). I had absolutely no power in my legs, nothing! the exertion of the last 5 days combined with little eating had rendered my legs almost useless!!!! It was a long, sore and frustrating descent to BC. it was glorious to be back in BC, I was greeted by the banging of pots and applause and shouts of praise from BC staff, it was quite overwhelming.

A good breakfast, liquid, shower, clean clothes and seat made me feel a whole lot better!!! My focus immediate shifted to Robby’s looming summit attempt anbd safety.

Now that I was safely back in BC, now I could claim to have truly climbed Everest!!!!

Thank you to all my Family, Friends, colleagues and strangers for their words of encouragement, support and Love. It all helped get me to the top of the world and safely back again.

Robbie’s summit on 23 May 2009

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”Charles Dickens

And so it is done. The flag is flown and the photos are shot. The top of the world is conquered and my dream is given life.

At 9h15 on Saturday 23 May 2009, I stood on the summit of Lady Everest, man of tears. After eight hours of climbing through the towering slopes of ice, snow and crumbling granite, I planted myself next to the marker that quietly announces the top of the world.

My Sherpa, Lhakpa Nuru dropped to his knees and let out a song prayer, thanking Sagarmartha for letting us be there.

From the moment the alarm went off at 11pm the night before, the summit was all I could think of.This was it. One chance. I fumbled around in the glow of my head torch to check and recheck every item, every detail. The pot on the cooker started shaking and the water was ready. Not much spoken. We knew what needed doing and and it got done. I placed the last few items in my down suit pockets and stepped out into the wind.

Camp 4 on the South Col must be the most horrible place on Earth. A field of black stones of no aesthetic value to any bugger and the wind is funnelled into it shredding tents and preaching misery in abundance.

I left the tent feeling like a stunt double from 20 000 leagues under the sea. I had battery packs connected to the inner soles of my boots, an oxygen mask with attachments, a pipe going to my oxygen cylinder, loops connecting my gloves to my sleeves… I was held together by an intricate system of wires, cables and cords.

Once my regulator was cranked up to 4 litres per minute, I became invincible. The cold sweet air fuelled each squeaking step up to the Balcony. I found a steady rhythm, and the next few hours passed with relative ease. The path leading to the Balcony is a straight line up the final face at the bottom the South Summit.

Looking up the line of head torches against he pitch black night was like floating through the Scorpio constellation and the tiny yellow spots drew the beast’s tail in perfect style.

Once at the top of the Balcony, at 5h10, we were met by wind so cold and so scouring, it felt like the lashings from the tongues of 1000 mother in laws. It cut deep into exposed piece of skin and my cheeks were aflame with pain. Lahkpa Nuru,swapped my oxygen bottles and we moved up the ridge a little closer to the South Summit.

By now the wind was slightly shielded and the sun had risen to show me the worl below me. I saw Makalu in full view and Lahkpa Ri. The Himalaya was mine to behold, but not for long.

As the queue of hopefuls wound it’s way up the ridges of stone and knee-deep snow, the cloud moved up over shrouded the mountain in airborne snow and an eerie mist.

Tick followed tock, follow tick, followed tock. The queue moved three steps and the views were gone. Another three steps and my patience wore thin. After about 3 hours I was stepping over the ridge of the South Summit and it was time to swap air again.

With the bottles in place I stepped off along the knife edge of crumbling snow and along to the Hillary Step.

After years of studying this small stack of boulders, I came face to face with the Step. Like meeting an old friend from years ago, the Hilary Step stood before and I almost knew where each handhold would be, where each foot would slot in.

Within a few moves the step was behind me and I moved my clip-gate from one rope to the next. I looked up to be met with the blank gaze of a woman who looked like she had seen Hillary’s ghost. Her wide eyes, speechless, her face a cold pale suede. Her Sherpa was short roping her down from the summit, her victory packed somewhere safely, so would not lose it. She was apparently a 60 year old USA climber, I hope she still is.

Within minutes I was standing at the back of a crowd of down-suited victors and there were hand shakes and back slapping aplenty.

Lahkpa grabbed me and pulled my harness, leading me around the crowds and sat me down next the summit beacon the way someone loads potatoes into a car trunk.

Cue the tears. My thanks to God rambled my tongue and were lost in the howling wind. When Lahkpa Nuru finished praying he hugged me and congratulated me like we were age old mates.

Cameras were past, moments emortalised as if frozen that howling wind. Tears froze, eye lashes grew crystals of fine white threads, but everyone was happy.

And the dream was finally real.

Lahkpa hauled the endless tangles of the Summit banner from my bag and placed around my neck like an Olympic medallist.

And the dream was doubled.

Every block meant something and every block represented.

I reached into my bag and pulled out Spud. Teddy Bear and guardian, my First Germiston scarf and my Wood badge.

And the dream was doubled again.

Finally I pulled the last of my sentimentalities from my now white bag. In it were a PLTU badge and the important badges from Hans Ritky’s last uniform. I planted the badges beneath some snow and made one finally prayer. I asked that he be remembered in joy and no more tears.

Then it was time to go. I had spent my 18 minutes on top, no more, no less…just enough.

The way down was cautious step after cautious step, as I tried to keep the points of crampons from endless spaghetti tangles of old ropes. With each step, i started to feel the throbbing Adrenaline has hidden from me. By the fourth hour of descent, each step was a painful hammering and my ankle joints were tender.

About an hour from home I was met by messenger who was there to remind us of the severity of where we were. His clothes were bleached by 3 years of exposure in the sun and snow. He lay in a way that made it hard to work out, had he fallen or just collapsed? I was surprisingly calm. I stood two metres from a corpse, but there was no fear. I hope his last hours were as calm.

Back at the tent, I was greeted by Sherpa staff who unlaced me from bionic bodice and I was ushered into my tent, like another sack of potatoes.

The night passed, but not without incidence. my tent mate was violently ill, the wind raped the tent from sundown to dawn and my mind raced around the hours just passed.

Morning came and with it another story. Its been a long day for me and my fingers are done typing. I hope this let you taste a small piece of my experience with Everest, creator and destroyer of men.

be prepared...