You The long way down from Lhotse summit …

We spent about an hour at the top and switched oxygen bottles. I run on 3 liters for good measure. At last the way down should be a lot quicker and 3l get you 5hours plus and safely to camp 2 my sherpa advised. At 8am i was on the descent with Pemba.​​

​We overtook two climbers in the couloir that were probably afraid of ice and rock that our steps kicked lose. My gloves came under real strain from the ropes (i would subsequently give them to Pemba – despite all their holes they are workable). At daytime you get a better view of the couloir and magnificant views of the surroundings. Stunning and enjoyable. Progress was still slow given energy reserves depleted. One always underestimates how much strength it takes to go down steep hills.


Half way through Pemba told me that he had been ordered to go to south col. Presumably to fix the missing oxygen bottles we had encountered when we hit our camp 4 (his english is limited). After two hours we reached the camp, boiled a drink and he left. I had to carry my sleeping bag to camp 3 (not planned) and was by myself (not planned). Not sure what drove this decision to take away required ressources from me to be honest. One of so many issues during this expedition – just this time they impacted my safety directly.


After camp 4 I walked slowly down despite oxygen. After some 3hours i finally got there. On the way i met karl from germany again. He is a friend of scott and does everest unsupported, as he told us over tea and cookies in camp 2 on our failed first summit bid. Then i escaped some injury. While waiting to abseil down, a guy jumped the queue. Initially i was upset. However, when a guy in front of me let an oxygen bottle lose that shot like torpedo into my direction only to be stopped by my waiting feet … i was quite relieved not to be abseiling and get the 3kg bottle into my face. Disaster one averted.

Once at C3, i brewed some much needed water. While pemba is a strong though more junior climber, he doesn’t stop you often enough to replenish energy (too time focussed). I felt it. I got some water and chocolate in and rested on the last bit of oxygen. 

Some time later Pemba was back from south col. probably surprised to still see me at camp. He took the sleeping bag and seeing his heavy, double rucksack load i let him set off to camp 2 – todays final destination. I rested a while longer and continued down without oxygen but with a lighter pack.

What a difference that made. Completely exhausted and without my flow of fresh air. I took ages just to get going. I literally moved meters in minutes (i was still above 7000m). But there was time i thought. 4.30pm it was or so. Then i went down the wrong side of the lhotse face – where people come up. Abseiling difficult yet my only way of making any progress. Tight lines (so you cant put figure of eight in to abseil) in came on top. I spent a long time on each rope section before i mastered it. Chatted with folks coming up and down including the guide of one of the deceased on everest. I even took all my Dex steriod tablets in hope to get an energy boost (they reduce swelling – so no help). Only after sunset in complete darkness i was down the face. It was nice to watch, but it was getting cold and late. I ate snow lacking water. Mainly candies i had left to go on. Now the flatter, but longer section back to camp 2 awaited.

Initially i walked slowly (extremely slowly). That was until my dry cough got so bad that i thought i cracked a rib (only pulled muscle as it turned out). I couldn’t carry my bag anymore and wondered if it was time to ask for help. My team i couldn’t, as clients didnt get radio’s on summit day different to prio trip chat (well, most of them don’t work anyway) and my sherpa support wasn’t there.

I decided to drag on. Thirsty. At some point around 8pm a member of our camp2 kitchen came to help. We were still slow, but with him carrying my rucksack we moved faster. I went straight to bed when we got to camp at 9.30pm. It took me 5 hours from camp 3 down (sherpa take 3h up!). My life was probably not very much at risk (given some other climbers around even after dark), but something in the setup went wrong big time. My guide, as i discovered later, didnt even know about this situation. He was busy chatting to the press about the hillary step that appearantly is gone.

Next day Pemba took my bag and we made in 4 hours or so through the icefall to base camp. The icefall was in a horrible state and melting/collapsing across the board. Extremely unsafe. We pulled at least three anchors. Many more were out already. Some ice screws we fixed again. One large section on which i was about to walk (30m away) collapsed. Good i walked slow! 

Base camp was deserted (the other three clients now on their everest summit push). Tim still busy chatting to global media about the hillary step. I contemplated a chopper to get me out quick (shared about usd900), but ended up hiking down. It took me two days with some stops and a little getting lost near phakding and two hours in the morning the day after. Speed no longer my forte. I did bump into reinhold messner just before namche (and his film crew for a movie on ama danlam). Quite fitting since lhotse was the last pf his 14-set of 8,000ers (probably my last too). Once in lukla, I got lucky and caught a 12pm flight to kathmandu and on to bhaktapur. 

Medical damage assessment: the main issue was my chest problems, but more humid air would fix that quickly. Fingers and toes were still there, just the two big toes a little bit numb (faded within days). So overall, not much to report. Thankfully.


Idea was to head to chitwan national park for safari and more humid air to cure my chest infection. Local temperature +40 degrees – a 80 degree delta to the summit of lhote. But at least there was life! I couldn’t do more tea houses and hiking for now. I needed a holiday ;o)

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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!

2nd rotation done – waiting for summit window

Sponsor me! It is for a good cause. 

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

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)

​​

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.