I didn't want to have to decide between going to the summit without my team or waiting for them. My guide John and I talked for a while via radio. He said I could make my own decision. He and Darrell felt great on the route between camps two and three and would definitely be in the South Col in time to head to the summit on May 23rd. The weather forecast suggested we'd have slightly lighter winds on May 23rd compared to the 22nd. What was I to do?
I wanted to climb with my teammates. I'd been on several mountains with them before and Darrell, if successful, would also be finishing the Seven Summits on top of Everest. It would be special to share realizing this dream with both him and John. It would also be safer. Teng Dorje is a very experienced climber, having been to the summit of Everest five times already. I had no doubt he would be a strong climbing partner. But his English is not good and if one of us got into trouble on summit day, that could prove to be very problematic.
Weather in the mountains is always changing. Even though the forecast suggested the window would be there the next day, we knew the window was there for us that evening. I was faced with one of the most difficult decisions I ever had to make: wait for my team and climb in a group increasing my personal safety or go right away when I knew with great certainty that a good opportunity was there. In the end, I chose safety. So we stayed put in the South Col.
The next day, as predicted, Darrell and John arrived in the camp four before noon. We spent the afternoon hydrating, eating and trying to sleep in preparation for our overnight climb. We planned to leave the South Col by around 8PM. By mid-afternoon the upper mountain was engulfed in a blowing whiteout - snow was falling fast and the winds had picked up to 50 miles per hour. Climbers who had gone to the summit the previous evening were still trying to get down. We heard of one guide who had to climb up to rescue a client who had exhausted himself in the process of going to the summit. I think we were all a little shaken up by that rumour.
It's not uncommon for winds and snow to hit the mountain in the afternoon. It's one of the reasons why we climb overnight: so we can summit early and get back to camp four before the weather hits. But this afternoon storm didn't dissipate. Instead the snow started accumulating fast. By 7PM it became apparent we would not be going to the summit. I didn't know what to think. None of our forecasts predicted this storm. There was no way anyone of us could have known it was coming. If we had, I would have tried to summit the night before.
I was dejected. I was thinking of 2008, having come to Everest not to set foot on the mountain because of illness. I thought about how healthy and strong I'd managed to be this entire trip. I thought of the 16 days in base camp waiting for a weather window to come this high on the mountain. I thought about going home, again, having come so far, only to be unsuccessful. Words can't express how disappointed I was at that moment. Thankfully, I had teammates with me, to reassure, and be reassured. John quickly started doing an inventory of our food, fuel and oxygen. Within minutes he stated: "Darrell, Rob, we have enough to stay another day. If the weather clears, we'll try tomorrow."
I'd already been in the South Col for 36 hours. That's longer than most climbers will spend above 27,000 feet, even if they reach the summit. Each hour at this elevation robs your body of necessary strength to climb because of the extreme altitude - even when breathing supplemental oxygen. I just hope I can stay strong enough through the night - and the day tomorrow - to climb.
For more details, visit Rob's No Guts Know Glory Everest Expedition blog.