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Bid for the Summit
May 22, 1997
By Liesl Clark

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 differently.

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 without oxygen.

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 year:

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."
Log on tonight, May 22nd at 9:30 pm EDT, to hear the climbers, live, as they check in with their physician at Base Camp on their way to the summit.

June 10, 1997: Back Home (27)
May 25, 1997: Climbers Return to Base Camp (26)
May 24, 1997: Descending Toward Base Camp (25)
May 23 PM, 1997: NOVA Climbers Safely Off the Summit (24)
May 23 AM, 1997: NOVA Climbers Reach the Summit! (23)
    Hear the archived live audio broadcast from the summit
    Read the transcript of the broadcast from the summit
May 22, 1997: Bid for the Summit (22)
May 21, 1997: Helicopter Crashes at Everest Base Camp (21)
May 20, 1997: Moving On Up (20)
May 19, 1997: Poised at Camp II (19)
May 18, 1997: Departing for Camp II (18)
May 17, 1997: Dead Sherpa Found on Khumbu Glacier (17)
May 16, 1997: Jet Stream Winds Blast Camp II (16)
May 13, 1997: Receiving News from the North Side (15)
    May 13, 1997: RealAudio Interview with David Breashears
May 11, 1997: Five Climbers Presumed Dead on the North Side (14)
May 10, 1997: The Waiting Game (13)
May 9, 1997: Pulmonary Edema Evacuation from Base Camp (12)
May 8, 1997: A Hasty Retreat to Base Camp (11)
May 7, 1997: Sherpa Falls To His Death On The Lhotse Face (10)
May 6, 1997: Spin: A Passenger to the Summit (9)
May 5, 1997: Delayed at Advance Base Camp (8)
May 4, 1997: NOVA Climbers Leave Base Camp for Their Summit Attempt (7)
May 1, 1997: NOVA Team Prepares for Summit Attempt (6)
April 26, 1997: Indonesian Expedition First to Summit in 1997 (5)
April 23, 1997: Expedition Leader Dies at Everest Base Camp (4)
April 22, 1997: Japanese Expedition Pulls Out (3)
April 16, 1997: Traffic Reports on Everest (2)
April 14, 1997: Rescue Season Begins (1)

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