Lhotse summit success: Climbing up (includes 3D video of ascent)

This is gonna be the first part of my summit blog. The way up, the success and the glorious bit. The way down, which is the more important for any mountain, follows in part two. Stay tuned. Check the video at the end!

First up, a few words of thanks. To the people that helped my prepare (Di, Tim, Paul, Rachel, Shane, the team at Barry’s and the altitude center/physio in London), my extended family, friends (Cedric, Chanel in particular) and the mum of my son who took good care of him for so many weeks. I also want to thank my sponsors (Alister & the Blackrock crew, Davide & Algebris, Andreas & the autonomous team, Yash & KBW to name but a few) who have helped to raise some GBP8,000 so far for disabled Nepali kids & diabetes research. Much appreciated!

https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/rocketontour-lhotse

The entire summit bid came together all of a sudden. We were still at Namche Bazar for 6 days and had already checked into the Hotel for another night as choppers weren’t flying due to misty weather. Then they were and we enjoyed some crazy & beautiful cruising through the Khumbu valley. Within an hour we were having tea at base camp.

Scot left and we discussed options / weather window with Tim. He suggested to wait for a longer window opening on the 26th and to avoid the huge crowds summit bound for the 21/22 May. Winds were still uncertain. However, while we were away two climbers that had just summited Makalu had joined our team. They were going for Lhotse that night. It didn’t take me long to decide that I would too. Pack your bags rocket, bed at 8pm and then I set off with my summit sherpa Pemba at 2am. Tim stayed at base camp. Radio’s (which had caused us much headache so far) would be my only contact to my guide. They would prove mainly useless again.

The hike up from base camp through the icefall and to camp 2 took me 9 hours. A personal best though still the slowest of the remaining team members. We skipped the typical rest day to position ourselves for a 21 May summit. Tough. The climb up to camp 3 was cruel. We started 5am and it took me 7hours. Sherpa’s cover the distance in just 3hrs. I had never been above 6,650m and C3 was located just under 7,100m. No oxygen for climbing just yet.

The first part of the route takes you through camp 2 (our camp was at the very beginning) and to the end of the Western Cwm. Then comes the steep Lhotse face. Jumaring up was exhausting to say the least. Once the sun is out, you get roasted from top and bottom as the heat reflects from the ice. I literally crawled the last meters into the tent under the burning sun in my down suit where I rested & slept on oxygen. What a help that is! We brewed up drinks, had soups and chilli con carne and rested. We would need it.

The next day proved easier than expected. While we headed to camp 4 at 7,800m the oxygen improved my movement markedly. It was busy with all the Everest guys headed for south col. We parted ways towards the end of a traverse like section called the Geneva spur. Camp 4 on Lhoste had only a few tents bunched together on the steep face. Ropes everywhere to secure movements. Going to the toilet became a real hazard! thanks god I had my pie bottle ;o). We ate, but not too much. Pemba took on most of the cooking and brewing. I rested on O’s.

Then it was decision time. The original plan was to head up 1am if the winds stayed low. Then another sherpa suggested 11am already. Pemba wanted to go. I wanted to get a check with base camp for an actual weather update. Communication was horrendous. We somehow got the message that 4am was fine too and winds would gradually ease over the day, but somehow I felt pretty alone out there. So we observed the actual weather and did go for the 1am slot.

Conditions were really good. Starry night over Everest and lhotse. We were on our summit bid. That one takes you more or less straight up the hill. After two hours we reached the final couloir. A valley between lose rocks on each side. Very dangerous if any climber above kicks lose rocks. But the snow covered a lot of the ground and made it safer. Behind us we could see a chain of headlights marching up Everest. Fascinating. We passed a struggling group of two climbers and caught up with a pair that left hours before us. I was initially on 2 liter oxygen per minute, then 2,5 and near the summit on 3l. One bottle got me all the way up.

On our way up, we passed a dead body and had to step over another one right at the very top. When I saw that dead face staring at me, I almost fell off the hill. Reminds you how dangerous that is. As a sidenote, 4 climbers died on Everest that night.

Finally at the top at 7am. Stunning views from the tiny summit ridge with the deadly Lhotse south face on the other side. I had achieved what only about 600 other climbers had done. No 13 German on the hill and the first ascent of a climber from the Free State of Saxony. Happy. Happy. Exhausted. We took our summit pics and headed down after less than an hour. The hard bit lied still ahead, but I leave that for the next post.

I decided to dedicate this summit success to my grandpa Manfred and my late grandma and Rita. You are great! Love you both. And of course, my son Alex.

Here the full ascent video with 3D animation using data from my Suunto watch. Enjoy!

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Climbing back down …

First up, thanks for all the generous donations since my last post especially from AH. It is really appreciated!

We finally departed for our first summit bid on 8th May early doors (3am). I left with Steve (also Lhotse bound and a machine on the hill). The everest bound guys had already left on the 6th. Our plan was to hike up to camp 2, rest 1 day, then progressively move up the hill to summit on the 11th morning. It was meant to be the early, early window. The team to fix ropes was on the hill and meant to get the job done between 6-8 may. So far the theory …

The climb up to camp 2 was the usual. Decent 5hours through the icefall and a very slow and cruel walk through the western cwm of 6hours. It remains my weak spot. But then there is always the rest day at camp 2 to recover. The mood was good. Other teams including the team in charge of fixing ropes to the summit (himex led by kiwi climbing legend russel brice and star climber kenton cool and david tate) were positioned at camp 3 ready to move to the south col and to the top. We listened to their radio chat and all looked set – we are going up.

Now to practice: The everest guys left 5.20am for camp 3 as planned. We were to follow a day after. By the time steve and I had our breakfast, the bad news broke that ropes in fact hadn’t been fixed. The official version was new snow (waist deep at the balcony on the way to everest summit) and resuming winds that caused unworkable conditions for the fixing team (risk of frostbite etc). However, there was an incident earlier that i think certainly played a part. A sherpa on lhotse apparently slipped on his way down though got saved by the anchors in place (some say he got injured, others not). Sherpa work on the hill stopped for two days. Probably as much responsible for the failure to get the job done. We heard stories of kenton cool and his (rich) private client offering a years salary to the fixing sherpa’s to make things happen. They didn’t. With all major teams on the hill leaving and conditions challenging, we also headed down. Bad luck.


Jon and I didn’t wait long and left for Panboche right after lunch. Idea was to get to Namche the day after. Blake, rory and scott were to follow by chopper the day after. 

We only made it to loboche after a tiring day and stayed there. We had a little pubcrawl on the way enjoying a cold beer in gorak shep and had a fun evening in ‘above the cloud’ lodge where we met two US trekkers and played monopoly deal before retiring to the room. I had downloaded a few movies. Jon introduced me to a skateboarder cult movie (lords of dogtown) and o shoed him Leon (he loved it).


Next day started very late. We had a long way ahead of us if we wanted to get to namche (some 20km). Before we left, we quickly dropped a message to the team asking for the status. The last thing we wanted was a ‘please come back to base camp’ type message while just descending the khumbu valley. 

Right after loboche we passed by the graveyard of himalayan climbers, most famously scott fischer who tragigally died in the 1996 events alongside rob hall and many clients. Readers of ‘into thin air’ (jon krakauer) and ‘the climb’ (anatoly bukreev) will be aware of the story as the everest drama.


We got to panboche via dughla (quick pitstop) and pheriche (same) by 1.30pm. By then, we had confirmation that blake, rory and scott had already made it to namche (having coffee at the everest bakery). All looked clear … 
The hike down was beautiful. Increasingly better air, bushes and trees, nicer villages (rather than saisonal outposts further up), rivers and gorges and sunny weather. Super enjoyable and one of the best days yet. No itinerary, just time by ourselves. 


At panboche bakery we waited out a bit of rain while enjoying a large piece of chocolate cake with a khumbu kölsch. Trekkers lunch!


From there the path takes you to tengboche monastery. However, there was potentially news that might require a quicker than planned return to base camp. What a mess! In order to assess/decide we had to make it to namche tonight. We got there by 7.30pm after a much enjoyably walk into sunset. 

Rory grabbed us as we walked past the sherpa barista restaurant/coffee shop. Discussions in full swing. In the end we decided to stay at Namche to rest for a few days back in civilisation, but that will be anothers days story. 

2nd rotation done – waiting for summit window

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Our 2nd rotation was meant to take us to camp 3 at 7,200m. We didn’t quite get there due to strong winds that have been plaguing the summit preparations of climbing and sherpa teams alike this season. Still, we made it close to the Bergschrund at c6,700m (way past my previous altitude record) and were looking straight at the steep Lhotse face. To test our ascending skills on this wall of ice will have to wait until summit day.

The first news that was overlaying our activity on the hill was that Blake was on his way back. He had dropped out due to ancle injury, retured to Barcelona and arrived back at base camp just as we hit camp 2. 

The second, and very uncomforting news, was the tragic death of Ueli Steck not too far from our camp two. He was training for his Everest – Lhotse traverse on Nuptse and fell into his death. I had seen him once racing past me in his grey suit and once actually exchanged a few words with him, as he was waiting on a ladder I was just climbing up near camp 1. Sad really, but at least he dies doing what he loved so much.

Back to the rotation, the way up from base camp to camp 2 in one go was long. We had pretty heavy packs, as we already ferries up provisions for the summitt attempt. I decided to climb with Billy. He continued to suffer from shortness of breath due to some lung condition or so. Doctors help was only very marginally positive. Additionally, his headlamp and walky talky didn’t work. So we teamed up. It took us some 6.5h-7h through the icefall and another 1,5-2h to camp 1. 


While way behind our team, I enjoyed my time with now good buddy Billy. We allowed ourselves breaks where secure and chatted about god and the world. It was here that Billy first mentioned that a summit attempt on his part and given his not improving condition would be very irresponsible. He’s got a son and Tina – a relationship he values highly. By now, his departure is confirmed and he will leave us tomorrow. All the best my friend!


At camp 1 I suggtested a quick lunch to rehydrate. Chicken noodle soup in the sunshine and with great mountain views. We were happy. Very.

The episode after was less so. It was again time to pass through the Western Cym. I hate this stretch and took 4,5h. Billy 4h. That left me with a total of 14h walking that day. Long, but under control and including many breaks. The evening and next days we spent resting. I finished my German book and felt really good and slept well at 6,400m altitude. 


Next day we left camp at 7am or so. I felt really good and could suddenly walk at high pace. The about 300m altitude until we turned around due to winds took a mere 1,5h or so. Seems my body prefers steeper terrrain (hope that this will last for it will only get steeper). Question now was if we stay another night and try again for camp 3 or descent. The decision fell for the latter given heavy snow in the afternoon and heightened avalanche risk.


So we departed camp 2 for base camp next morning. I walked fast and think had the fastest time to camp 1 at only 40mins (prior 1h solo and 1,5h with Billy). From  there progress came to a sucden halt. There had been several collapses in the icefall that required fixing by the ice doctors. The flowback of sherpas and climbers coming up from base camp took some 1,5h to clear. Noone would let us slip past to my very annoyance. 


We also witnessed some rather dangerous situations. Short roped climbers, a polish team that didn’t know how to use the figure of eight to abseil, shaky ladders etc. After a good 5h and 9km I finally hit base camp having descended 1,2km. Lunch time and of course – hello Blake!

In the evening Tim discussed a potential good weather window and selected two teams. I fell into the second one, which would mean I’d miss the first window. The reasoning was built on a) limited time to arrange summit logisics and b) my pace that had been so much suppressed by staying with Billy. I was disapoointed to say the least and spent the coming two days mostly by myself reading (Nanga Parbat – the german mountian). 

After Tim retured from his rotation to C1 with Blake we eventually sat down and discussed matters. Thanks to the chat and a now longer sumot window (logistics etc), we will now try to attempt the summit push more or less together. Details remain tbc though. 

So eat and prepare mentally is the name of the game. A lot of snow has been coming down and we constantly hear and sometimes see avalanches. Once the window opens and ropes have been fixed to the sumotts of Everest and Lhotse, we will likely depart with one day delay between the Everest and Lhotse guys. Patience now.


Unfortunately I have gotten sick with a cold since my return to base camp. Fingers crossed the medication will help enough to give me a fair shot at Lhotse. Wish me luck! 

Climb on!

… and the beard keeps growing …


High altitude first aid & oxygen testrun … and a belated birthday cake for Jon

High altitude first aid & meds


Prior to sending us into the death zone (8,000m+) Tim sat down with us to go trough key high altitude medication and how to deliver it. For that, he fitted all climbers out with a first aid box. 


Whats in the box?

In the box you find meds to treat everything from a pain to the various forms of high altitude sickness (HACE/HAPE) and nausea (that for some patients could prevent the delivery of life saving meds). All meds are nicely labelled and a short use despription added.


Two rules rule that I think is worth remembering:

  1. It is that it’s better to give all meds than none. The former won’t kill the patient, the latter might. 
  2. Always turn up the O’s first to max flow (4/6l) – don’t use yor own first, but the patient’s or spare from sherpa.

Also important to be aware is that most likely emergency and rescue folks (ER) will be involved via radio and advise climbers step by step. 
The most contentious med for me is certainly the dex injection. It is injected directly into muscle fibre (best upper thigh) and as a strong steriod should awaken the most exhausted and HAce plagued climber enabling him to decent. 

We teated administering dex to a mandarine (similar texture). Important is keep hands together when filling dex into needle, remove down suit before injecting and pull back after sticking needle in to see if any blood vessels had been hit (ideally not). 


Lets hope our kits remain unused. 

Climbing (&sleeping) with oxygen

Oxygen use comes into play from camp 3. There we will sleep on O’s and climb to camp 4 / summitt with additional oxyen. 

We will be using 4l and c3.5kg bottles with 1000l Uncompressed oxygen. Each climber has 3 bottles plus two for the summit sherpa. Condensation level of the  O2 we carry is  -85 degrees (vs some -30) and hence should not freeze. For simplicity and to have a buffer, we assume 12h per bottle at 1l flow rate (16h really). 


At night, we sleep on 0.5l flow rate each and climbing is done at 2l for Everest guys. I will probably go for 2.5l given its there and my summit day is much shorter. More O = more power and less cold. Good. Using 12h per bottle (1l flow rate) that means 3 bottles at 2.5l give me 15h climbing time on summit day for c600m altitude. Always check the flow barometer.

The masks we are using are based on tornado pilots (compromised ability to communicate). They fit well with my mammut helmet and julbo goggles. Just the balaclava leaves a tiny gap each side of my cheeks. Every 15min it is advisable to clear the jacket’s zip due to condensation drip. 

We rounded up the day with a belated, yet very impressive birthday cake for Jon. He turned 25 while we camped at camp 1. Great job kitchen!

First rotation to camp 1&2: Beautiful, but exhausting …

I left base camp with Billy and a sherpa around 3.15am. Thank god we had him, as I would have struggled to find the way in the dark. We passed through base camp looking up into the Khumbu icefall where many headlamps moved up slowly. Its a path of about 700m in altitude terms through ice bricks as large as houses (or bigger). we used fixed ropes, ladders (vertical and horizontal) and a lot of leg work to manoeuvre through this. It took me about 5 hours to the top. 



once you emerge from the icefall, you enter the western cwm (welsh for valley) and camp one seemed so close now. think again! no straight lines here, but rather meandering through a snow dessert in all directions. ladder crossings, climbing down hills, jumaring up hills (basically clipping into a fixed rope with an ascender device). and by now the sun was burning hot and my pace slowed markedly. the news over the walky talkies of other team members already hitting camp one didn’t help psychologically, but one has to go at its own pace. after 6:45h I made it to the camp just before 10am (team members ranged from 4/5h to 9h). exhausted to say the least.


after arrival, Jon was already waiting in the tent, the normal procedure of re-hydrating began. that means brewing loads of water in the provided jetboil-stoves one liter at a time. a nap ensued ;o) dinner had some high altitude food on offer. specifically smoked bacon and bean soup that just needed heating up in hot water. done. sleep though this time with first use of demux and some painkillers for the headaches. first night at 6,050m was restless.  

in the morning we had the option of resting a day or going for camp 2. I chose the latter, which resulted in an ordeal to say the least. camp two is located some 350m higher up the western cwm and 3.5km in distance. it turned into a psychological nightmare. my Suunto watch measured the altitude incorrectly. so when after some 1,5h or so our strongest climber (Steve) reported to have hit camp 2 and my watch showed I had barely made it to 6,100m I thought OMG. i just didn’t have the breath to go much faster than I did. at this pace, I calculated, I would get to camp 2 only by 3pm … 7hours of climbing. that would mean on summit day I’d need 12hours or more to hit the top. bad. 


after a period of strong sunshine, the valley clouded up though the heat remained as if were in a greenhouse. hot stuff. after 3hours of walking I bumped into Jon on his way back down. I told him that i was slow and asked if I could borrow his head torch given that I left mine at camp 1 and I though at this pace I might well end up returning at night. he looked confused and said that camp 2 is merely 20mins away. different to my watch (that said I am at 6,200m) I was already close to the 6,400m target level. slow, but not that slow after all. brief stop at camp and then return down with Tim and Scot in one hour. that day I was less tired in the end and slept better as well. 


day 3 was technically meant to be the day when we all move up to camp 2 to overnight there. however, there had been an accident in the icefall that injured one sherpa (he is fine now) and blocked the supply route preventing our sherpa’s to fit out camp 2 beyond the mess tent and one single tent that had already been in place. Steve and Scott moved up, the rest stayed. not to waste time we enjoyed a few rounds of frisby dart (it was the wrong terrain for frisby golf). we chatted to Andy (scotland) and Hanna (Poland) who joined in for a game. Jon’s double out finishes were unbeatable delivering two victories to team Jon & Rory. the rest of the day we spent reading books – I recommend ‘die rückkehr zum cafe am rande der welt’ (available in 20 languages). food was a little tight by now and so Jon and I shared a coup a soup, he had crackers with pate and I had crackers with a can of sardines. bon appetite!

day 4 was then back to schedule and we all moved up the hill. it was to be my worst day yet. despite a rest day, it took me 4 hours for the stretch and last one to arrive. just didn’t have the air again. however, i pulled through and made it to camp. short evening, scare of a mild cold (nose running, coughing etc) and a very restless night of sleep at 6,400m. usually, I sleep well until say midnight or 1am and then turn and roll. this time, it felt like I was rolling from the start despite a very warm sleeping bag (love the RAB1400 expedition bag!). that is acclimatisation for you I guess. 


day 5 … finally! we return down to base camp. 1,100m descent through the cwm and the icefall. I went with Billy. great time at an enjoyable pace saw us back at base camp 5:30m later. much abseiling, ladder and rope action included. great day though somewhat ruined by the movie choice in the evening … Lars and the real girl. what a rubbish (many members falling asleep), but I am not pointing fingers ;o)

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Today I am enjoying a day off in Gorak Shep (5,200m) with some beer, many trekkers and good friends Jon & Rory. Next rotation to camp three (7,200m) starts saturday.