From the Cairn Ban Archives...
Alan Wade Conquers Everest!!!
Alan Wade, 22 May 2011
Just in case anyone has not yet heard the news Alan Wade became the first Cairn Ban member to summit Everest on 16th May and is now safely back in base camp. A copy of the Jagged Globe report is attached together with a clip of a 2008 summit day by the South Col route. Alan is due back on the 6th of June and we shall be trying to arrange a soiree soon after to celebrate his achievement. Details shall follow in due course. Lorimer
Between 12.00 and 13.00 on 15 May the 8 climbers and 7 Sherpas of Jagged Globe’s first summit team reached Camp 4 (7,950m) on Everest’s South Col. The climb form Camp 3 (7,100m) had been straightforward and few other climbers were on the route. A few Sherpas from other teams were carrying loads to Camp 4 before descending to the relative safety and comfort of Camp 2. A single American guide was descending the route after being the only person to reach the summit the previous day (15 May).
After a sunny and wind free climb, arriving at the South Col felt like landing on the moon. 30-40 mph winds swept the barren, open expanse while Everest’s summit towered 900m above. Evidence that it had been a hard season lay strewn around. There were more than a dozen shredded and tattered tents that had been brand new just a few weeks before; their bent and broken poles jutting skywards through ripped and flapping fabric. Abandoned food, gas cans, stoves and ropes lay scattered on the ground. Lighter articles were being picked up on the stronger gusts and lifted, bouncing across the stony surface eastwards towards Tibet.
Our Sherpa team struggled against the fierce winds to erect Jagged Globe’s distinctive green Terra Nova tents. We had two large Terra Firma tents, each large enough to accommodate 4 Sherpas, plus four Hyperspace tents, each spacious for 2 climbers. Over the years these have proven much stronger than the yellow and orange North Face and Mountain Hardwear tents used by most Everest expeditions. During the 42hrs the tents were pitched on the South Col, they gave excellent service providing a secure reliable shelter from the extreme weather, while we watched several other tents being torn apart by the wind.
Once installed in the tents we quickly set about eating and drinking in preparation for the climb ahead. We all tried to drink a few litres of fluids. Some preferring hot drinks and other cold. Some people managed to eat hot food (such as ‘beans and bacon’ in a bag) while others ate a few chocolate bars. Then we put on our oxygen masks and turned the flow rate up one litre per minute and lay back to get a few hours sleep before the start of our summit climb.
A 20:00 alarm call was the prelude to a 21:00 departure. Our summit bid had been planned on the basis of forecasted wind speed of 20 kts. As we emerged from the tents and began to prepare our equipment it was obvious that the actual wind speed was close to double this figure. A quick consultation with Mingma (our most experienced Sherpa with 16 Everest summits behind him) revealed that he considered the winds acceptable, so long as they did not increase further.
The combination of bulky down clothing, large gloves/mitts, darkness, oxygen equipment and crampons made getting ready in time a challenge for everyone. But the team did very well and by 21:08 we set off through the debris of other teams’ destroyed camps towards the long snow slope leading towards the summit.
Our line of 15 head lamps providing the only illumination in an otherwise pitch black night. For the first 45 minutes the terrain is quite gentle, then it quickly rises up to a steady 25/30 degree slope, and this continues unrelentingly to the ‘Balcony’ at 8,500m. In ‘dry’ years this slope is made up of small loose stones. This is not only a tedious and unpleasant surface to climb, but higher parties can knock stones onto those below, creating a significant hazard. This season these stones were completely covered by snow making progress a little easier and a lot safer.
We climbed upwards in the pitch black at a steady pace led by Mingma. I regularly checked my watch and Altimeter and noted that we were progressing at a rate of 125m per hour. By 01.15 the lead climbers had reached the ‘Balcony’, the first small patch of level ground since the South Col. 15 minutes later the last members of the team had also arrived. We paused briefly to eat and drink something before continuing on our way.
By this time a bright full moon had risen and illuminated not only the route ahead, but also the surrounding landscape of peaks and valleys. We could make out low clouds lying in the Western Cwm along the route of our ascent. The distinctive shapes of the neighbouring peaks of Lhotse and Makalu could be seen [the Jagged Globe Makalu team were at Camp 3 and might have been visible with a telescope! - Ed]. Behind us to the south we could see an electrical storm in the far distance with forked lightning jumping between clouds and flashing towards the ground.
After a short section of fairly level snow, including an exposed ridge, the ground ahead reared up into a steep rocky face. The line of yellow and black fixed rope that we were following headed vertically up this obstacle and did not seem to deviate to follow the obvious lines of weakness. We had no choice other than to follow the line no matter how difficult the terrain. The rope led upwards for over 100m before the ground became easier. This was perhaps the most strenuous section of climbing on the summit day. As I looked back I could see and hear the crampons of the other climbers scratching on the steep rocks below. Above this the angle eased slightly and the surface underfoot became more snow than rock. I checked my Altimeter and noted that we were at 8,650m, only 100m short of our next objective. The steep rock face had caused the distance between the front of the party and the rear to increase. There was perhaps a 20 minute interval between the first and last climbers of our team as we reached the South Summit at 8,750m. The time was now 04.15 as we dropped a few metres onto a level section of the summit ridge beyond the South Summit.
By the time we had changed our oxygen bottles the first light of dawn was beginning to brighten the Eastern horizon. In the space of a few minutes the sky brightened and we could see the final ridge leading to the summit, 800m ahead and 100m higher. The winds that had been a constant accompaniment to our climb at a steady 30-40 mph seemed to be even stronger on the exposed summit ridge. They blew from the west hitting us on the left side as we inched our way along the track in the snow toward the summit. In places large cornices overhung the west side of the ridge and we had to be careful not to venture too close to the unstable crest of the ridge.
Although most of the route along the summit ridge was on snow there were some sections, or steps, on rock. The best known of these is the ‘Hillary Step’ which occurs about 25% of the way between the South Summit and Main Summit. In some seasons this can present a difficult obstacle of steep rock with few easy holds. However this season there was a lot of snow on the summit ridge and this made the climb easier than ‘normal’. Most of the team quickly climbed the step, some without even being aware that they had climbed the last obstacle on the way to the top.
After this the route continued along easier ground until at last the large accumulation of colourful prayer flags that mark the true summit came into view. Mingma led the way and reached the top a few minutes before 06.00. I followed a few minutes behind having made frequent stops along the final ridge to photograph the following team members. Between 06.00 and 06.30 all 8 climbers and 7 Sherpas reached the summit.
Strong winds continued to blow for all the time that we were on the top. This made taking photographs difficult. Some of the flags, banners and souvenir items that climbers had carried to the top remained hidden inside pockets and backpacks, as it was simply too difficult to remove gloves to retrieve them. Using whatever cameras were at hand we took as many pictures as possible before fingers and camera batteries became too cold to work. We made radio contact with Base Camp to tell them that all was well. After everyone had spent 15-30 mins on top we turned to retrace our footsteps along the ridge and begin our descent to the South Col. With the elation of reaching the summit behind us several members of the party found their energy levels dropping and we became more spread out on the descent to Camp 4.
Despite having been first to reach the summit Mingma offered to stay at the rear of the group and assist those climbers who were slowest in descent. A member of the Sherpa team remained with each climber as people found their own pace on the long, hot climb back to the South Col. On the way down we were able to enjoy views over the surrounding landscape that had been hidden by darkness during the ascent. Although several people were too tired to appreciate this! The first climbers arrived back at Camp 4 by 10:15 and the last by 11:30. The round trip had taken between 13 and 14.5 hrs. The list of summiteers and times is as follows:
06:00 David Hamilton
06:05 Alan Wade / Chiring Pemba
06:10 Tanel Tuuleveski / Wangdi
06:15 Geoff Chambers / Pasang
06:20 Andy Chapman
06:25 Martin Smith / Pema Chiring
06:30 Dave Gott / Tundu
06:30 Andras Kaasik / Pem Chiri
This has been a slightly ‘unusual’ season on the Nepal side of Mount Everest compared to my previous five expeditions. Weather conditions in Base Camp were colder than ’normal’ during the first part of the season, and there were almost daily falls of snow. The ropes were fixed to the summit on 5 May (the same date as 2009 and 2010) and there were one or two very early summits. There appeared to be fewer climbers overall on the mountain compared to previous seasons, and this meant that there were few queues, or delays in passing through the Icefall between Base Camp and Camp 1. Climbing conditions in the Icefall were also straightforward with fewer long ladders and difficult sections than ‘normal’.
The weather forecasts all indicated a fairly long spell of benign weather during the middle part of May and it looked like the majority of expeditions could look forward to ‘easy’ summit conditions. The absence of obvious ‘bad weather spells’ and ‘good weather windows’ ensured that there was little ‘bunching’ of summit attempts and enabled the various teams to select separate dates for their summit attempts. However, in reality the weather was not as stable as the forecasts had predicted and several teams found themselves experiencing stronger winds than expected. This forced some teams to abandon or reschedule their climbs after reaching Camp 3 or Camp 4.
Of those teams that pushed on to the top several had quite low success rates and others suffered a number of cold related injuries. Although the Jagged Globe summit team on 16 May experienced stronger than expected winds we were ultimately successful because we had strong team of climbers who had practiced and trained hard since the start of the expedition in late March, and we were supported by an exceptionally strong team of Sherpas. All 8 climbers who attempted the climb on 16 May reached the summit in good time (9 - 9.5 hrs) and in good style. All returned to Camp 4 on the South Col by late morning and no one suffered any significant injuries from the cold or the wind.
Two days later everyone was safely in Base Camp.