By Doug Pierson on June 2, 2008 10:13 AM | Comments (0)
Then it's time to go, and picture time is behind us. What Willie tells us later is that he and another guide have stationed a Sherpa at the South Summit with a radio. As the mobs of climbers are ascending higher and higher, they know what sort of window we have before the Hillary Step turns into a massive traffic jam. So, we head down. Slowly, slowly. As we approached the Hillary Step, the numbers started arriving and at one point Willie threw some old ropes apart and found a mini notch, right on the step itself. If you could call it a cave then great, but it was just the right size for two people and Francisco and I found ourselves huddled in this little cave for about 15 minutes while we watched climber after climber pop his head up and look at us with a surprised look when they saw us sitting there.
Finally, we saw an opening and took it -- hand over handing down the step, onto the SE Ridge and painstakingly across the narrow footholds with nothing between us and Camp Two but air. All four of us thought about how great it would be to have a parachute to get to Camp Two from there instead of have to go through everything we would have to in order to get back down there.
Finally we gain the South Summit, passing a Swiss climber without oxygen who looks literally blue. From the South Summit, the sun is now in full strength and climbers are arriving in large numbers -- many who look happy to be there, although not trapped in the snail pace queue that has developed. Many who should not be there -- well above either their climbing capabilities or physical limitations. Snow blindness will become an issue today for several people, and several others that need even more extreme medical attention. Thank two groups for this: the Chinese, for forcing Nepal under a photo op to keep climbers from properly acclimatizing, and the climbers themselves, for developing "Summit Fever" and ignoring either their own bodies or those around them when ignoring warning signs.
From the South Summit, it's a long, long way down to Camp Four, and we begin our slow and deliberate down climb.
By the time we make the Balcony, we are tired, hot, and our feet are on fire. But we make the slow, steady progress that allows us to take a breather here for a few minutes before continuing on. Ahh.
From the Balcony, we descend down through the rocky, icy scree above the triangle face. The team continues on, down, down, down until making the ice shelf, where we are met by Danuru! He showed up with juice and oxygen for us, which was a super-amazing effort, and we were all so glad to see him. I think by the time I walked up to him I had so little energy that I just plopped down in the snow and imitated a rag doll. But having something to drink and relax after a long night and morning with one of our own was rewarding and gave us the energy to make the final push down to camp where we were still hours ahead of other teams who had made their attempts last night.
Chilling out in our tent, Tendi and I fell asleep in minutes and stayed that way for most of the afternoon. Danuru checked in from time to time to see if we needed anything but for the most part we just needed sleep, and our tent was the perfect home away from home.
As for the whole team? Tomorrow we make for Camp Two at a minimum. But for now? Time to relax and relish what we accomplished today, a day that 20 or 30 years from now we will be able to look back and tell stories about. And, it reminds me of that quote from Mara, the Jagged Globe Guide who said, "You don't just go climb Everest. You earn it."