At 10:00 pm (Everest time) we received word via radio that all the NOVA climbers
are on their way to the summit. They are climbing with headlamps and the aid of a
full moon. It has been a long day of decision-making: weighing the factors of
weather, and the number of other climbers (about 50) who may also make a bid for
the summit tonight.
All radio calls with our climbers are punctuated with heavy breathing, a sign of
the severely oxygen-deprived environment which they have entered. Earlier today,
David Breashears, Pete Athans, Ed Viesturs, Dave Carter, Jangbu Sherpa, Guy
Cotter, Veikka Gustafsson, and Tashi Tenzing were all in their tents at the South
Col (Camp IV) at 26,000 feet. They were not expected to get any sleep tonight, as
they had only five hours to rest before they began their two-hour process of
getting ready to leave the South Col (Camp IV) for their summit attempt.
Last night, we spoke with Dave Carter by radio at Camp III just before he went to
sleep. In his altitude-infected raspy voice, Carter was able to give us a status
report. A transcript of our conversation follows:
Base Camp: Dave, how are you feeling, now that you're at Camp III?
David Carter: I'm getting a high-altitude cough. I'm very worried about the wind.
But I know I'm in good hands. I'm a little nervous. I'd be lying if I told you
Base Camp: When will you go on oxygen and do you find that breathing supplemental
oxygen makes a big difference?
David Carter: Tonight I will be breathing oxygen on a half-liter flow. It does
make a difference. We had the oxygen on and my oxygen saturation without
breathing oxygen was 71 and then when I went on oxygen it jumped up to about 84.
What's interesting is that I breathed it before I ate lunch to get my appetite
back up and it really helped.
Base Camp: Otherwise, you're feeling well?
David Carter: Right now I feel pretty good. My head cold is dragging me down a
little bit, but I feel good and ready to go.
This morning, David Breashears called in by radio on his way up to Camp IV. For
voice-over for our NOVA documentary he described his surroundings and how the
altitude is affecting him:
David Breashears: I left Camp III over two hours ago. I'm feeling very good,
actually, considering the lack of sleep I had at Camp III without supplemental
oxygen. I crossed the Yellow Band about five minutes ago—it's about 1,000 feet
out of Camp III at 25,000 feet. It's very hard work. This is where climbing at
altitude really starts to take its effect. I'm starting to feel the effects of
the so-called Death Zone. I'm at 25,200 feet now. The summit of Everest, 3,800
feet above me, has a very nice plume blowing off of it at the moment. Jangbu is
five feet ahead of me and Ed is three feet behind me. We tend to take about 10
steps before we rest and catch our breath. The ropes are really crowded up here.
Looking at the trail 2,000 feet ahead of me I see eight or nine Sherpas, some
resting, some moving.
Next on the radio was Ed Viesturs:
Base Camp: "Ed, last year you climbed Everest without oxygen. How do you feel
being on oxygen now?"
Ed Viesturs: Being on oxygen is a little weird. The mask is in your way, but it
feels better, you don't lose your breath quite as easily. And probably tomorrow
and tonight I'll feel a lot better and a lot more refreshed rather than climbing
Base Camp: Are you having any thoughts of home, now that you're getting close to
the end of this trip?
Ed Viesturs: Tomorrow is our last day basically—this has been a long trip. But
to be successful in these mountains you've got to have a lot of patience and
hopefully ours will pay off.
Base Camp: What about the numbers of people that may be climbing with you to the
summit tomorrow? We hear there are about 50. Are you concerned about that?
Ed Viesturs: It concerns me—there isn't a lot of safety in numbers—our plan
is to try to get out ahead of everybody. We think we can do that, but I'm sure
that will be the same plan for the other teams. So, there'll be a number of
people leaving at the same time. If we can get ahead of everybody then it'll be
fine climbing until we start coming down. Then we'll have certain bottlenecks
that we'll have to look out for, particularly the Hillary Step. People will be
coming up that, but we're bringing a rope so that if there is a bottleneck we can
simply throw another rope down and have an up rope and a down rope. But it does
concern me with all these people here. There's a lot of relatively inexperienced
people. Hopefully nobody's going to get in trouble. If they do, of course, the
more experienced people always have to help out.
We again heard from David Breashears a few hours ago, before we signed off for
two hours to enable the team to rest in a radio-free silence. Before David made
his final decision to go, he expressed deep doubts about climbing to the summit
with so many other climbers, something that he did everything to avoid last
David Breashears: Something is bothering me and something was bothering me May
9th, 1996. There's things you really have a lot of faith in and things that you
don't and I have a lot of faith in my gut feelings. I'd like to see this day sort
itself out without me being a part of it. Pete and I have had a very exhausting
day, as we've had to shoot all of the climbers' neuro-behavioral tests. We need
time now to eat and drink and try to rest. We're not 100% sure whether we'll be
going for the summit tonight, especially with these growing numbers of people and
if the weather is bad."