Cover photo: Farewell hug from guide Jon Schrock before I get helicoptered to hospital in Kathmandu

Well, like I said in one of my very first posts – men plan, god laughs.

Firstly – let me apologize for my choice of blog post photos – or, as I like to call it – a visual anatomy of my body shutting down 🙂

At the end of my last post I was headed into the Everest ER with Greg from IMG. My vital signs were better than we might have expected but there was a visible swelling under the left side of my sternum where I thought something had popped two nights before at C3. The doctors insisted that I do not climb back up higher – and in that decision we – doctors, Greg and I – were in unison. My previous consultant in Lukla had “suggested” not going any higher (not being flippant in any way, just reasonably advising me between what was preferable – and what was yet possible – within the limits of my body at that time) but this second time was different. I know my body and I had pushed it to breaking point – and then some.


Back at C2, and really starting to feel the pain

The doctors informed me that I wasn’t the first person to break my ribs from coughing that season – but small consolation in not being the sole member of that rather unique club.

I knew this is what would be said, what would be decided – by me or for me – but hearing it out there, finally, was almost too much. I fought back tears – and have been – at every turn since. This is not the fairy tale ending, where the little guy conquers the world. This was stark, harsh reality crashing in at breakneck speed to crush my hopes. The practical part of me realizes I probably saved my own life – and more importantly didn’t risk a Sherpa life for my stupidity. The romantic part of me was devastated. One part of me said – you are only one rotation – one week away from doing this. The other part of me knew I was a whole world away.


Back at EBC and so much weaker than I look – was carried to my tent

That said, it became increasingly obvious this was the right decision – as I only got far, far worse as the day progressed. I barely made it back the relatively flat 20 minute walk to camp, sat immobile when there, unable to catch my breath through dinner – and afterwards I was all but carried to my tent and put on oxygen just to get me through the night.

I have since been evacuated this AM by helicopter back to Kathmandu and am writing this from my hospital bed where it appears I will be resident for a few days of recovery before flying home. The doctors are still bemused at someone who broke his ribs coughing – and find it hard to believe I didn’t fall.


Admitted to hospital in Kathmandu – my face (especially mouth) roasted from the sun

Now that I have had all day to think about this, nothing much has changed. More than ever I realize it was the end of the line for me, but more than ever I hate that this is the outcome. I know I gave it my all and I left nothing on the table – but is small comfort. Yesterday I just wanted to get to today in one piece and never cared if I ever saw this mountain again. Today, even as crappy as I felt – sitting at the helipad at 6am waiting on my ride out, I couldn’t help but marvel at the beauty of this cold, harsh place.


Given oxygen and nebulizer to help my lungs

I am also reminded of the real value of this expedition – and that was to raise awareness and money for the American Kidney Fund – and that has been an incredible success. From the originally planned goal of $10k – I just saw upon my return to EBC yesterday that collectively, we broke $25k!!! Every one of you readers contributed to that – and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Dad may not have got a Mt. Everest summit in his name (yet) but he sure as hell will be known for an epic outpouring of generosity and fundraising effort. The people at the AKF are simply fantastic – and they fight an issue that I guarantee more than one of you will face, so please keep them in mind going forward.

I have to give very special thanks to the entire IMG team – with particular mention to my immediate guide Jon Schrock, just a simply great guide and great guy – and the perfect guide for this Irishman – and also Greg Vernovage, our expedition leader and base camp manager. Their genuine friendship, concern and support throughout this whole experience left me touched far beyond my expectations. This is why you pick a company like IMG. This is why you readily decide to do something insane like this with a particular bunch of people. It’s because they are more concerned about getting you back than they are about getting you there. I’ve put my life in their capable hands and would go to war with these guys. If any of you out there feel the urge – either Everest or something far smaller – then folks, IMG is the operation for you – and I’ll happily do an intro!

I have to thank once again the unsung heroes of the mountain – the Sherpa. I can only hope my admiration for them has already come through many times throughout the telling of this story. Without them, this would all be a pipe dream for me. Their skill, dedication and care were unsurpassed – and I have to thank Mingma Tenzing on Lobuche, Sonam (Jangbu) on my second rotation through C2 and Sonam especially for getting me through several of the hardest days of my life during my third rotation up and back from C3. He likely doesn’t fully realize what I was saying to him before I left through my wheezing, raspy voice – but without him yesterday, I could have easily been another western climber face down in the icefall – and for that I will be eternally grateful. I only wish that I could have honored him and the others better by giving them a better climber to guide.

Lastly and probably most importantly, I also have to thank every last one of you that has commented or messaged me – here, on FB, Twitter and email. Your support has been incredibly overwhelming and more than I ever deserved. I have felt loved and supported during the toughest challenge of my life. Your notes were just the thread I needed to cling on to for dear life during many of the dark times – and seeing my phone light up with messages upon my various returns to EBC was a delight you can’t imagine – short of being a prisoner or on a desert island. If anything I just regret having let you down – you delivered your end of the bargain. Unfortunately I couldn’t reciprocate.

I refuse to end this on a negative note. This experience has still been incredible – and for a guy who was 100 lbs heavier and a former chain smoker and drinker, just to even have been able to shift my universe so much that even giving this a shot was possible – I have to say life is good. Could I have done things differently? Prepared some way better? Done better maintenance so as to avoid the issues I had? Who the hell knows. I expect I’ll agonize over these questions in good time.

All the while I expected it to be the crevasses of the icefall that would eat me alive or the heat of the Western Cwm that would broil me, or a slip on the Lhotse face or if I got far enough – the exposure of the southeast ridge and the Hilary Step that would be my downfall. I never thought for a moment it would be my own internals – my very muscle and bone – that would let me down. There is something to be said for that – I stared into the face of some real monsters and am left still standing. There may yet be something to build on here.

Without sounding like the latest in Everest self-help books (I joked with one pal about all the nonsensical post-Everest books where every climber suddenly thinks he holds the key to life!) – I did walk away from this experience having learned yet more lessons about myself and life. I guess round one goes to Everest. Will there be a round two? Yesterday I would have said hell no. Today I would suggest we not rule anything out. In the mountains, it appears I have a tendency to do things better the second (or third) time round!

But first things first – I want to get better and get home, hug my wife Stef, see my mum and sister in Ireland and just revel in all the things that I am blessed to have. I want to sit and speak with my pals who have climbed Everest and can give me the perspective that – no offense – but non-climbers cannot give me, despite their best intentions. Oh, and I plan on eating my own body weight in cheese cake.

I look forward to seeing absolutely as many of you as possible upon my return home – preferably at your largest local  commercial buffet.

And life will start over again.

Love and best wishes to every one of you.

Justin

45 thoughts on “The best laid plans…

  1. Thank you, Justin. You have made incredible sacrifices to raise awareness for kidney disease. We are in awe of what you’ve accomplished! I’m so glad you are returning home safely. Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Justin, as someone who knew the party boy you used to be, I am in awe of the man you have become. You’re on an amazing journey that is far from over. And more of an inspiration than you may ever realize. I have no doubt that your dad will get his name on that mountain. Wishing you a speedy recovery & even speedier trip home to your loved ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Justin, congratulations. You have chosen wisely, fought valiantly, and accomplished so much. Impressed with you, and proud to know you. Well done. Now… enjoy the journey home. That’s the best part of any expedition!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah Justin, I can feel the disappointment, but this is not the end of the road. You’ve accomplished millions upon millions wouldn’t dare to dream of doing much less dedicate the time & sacrifices to train for such an expedition. You have every reason to be proud, mostly for actually standing up & trying. Your dad would be immensely proud & you’ll still gate a hero’s welcome home. Very well done! It just wasn’t your time, this time. Rest up, heal up, and many adventures are on your horizon I suspect. Take care of yourself, very proud of you

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  5. Justin I never met your dad nor you mine (a Galway man) but if they have any similarities -you made him the proudest this week as he watched you make the tough and heart breaking decision to end the journey as this is when your true strengths shown through. Safe travels home!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Well done Justin the whole family are so proud of you and I know Uncle Gerard will be the proudest one of all in Heaven.. You’re a tough nut and have my full respect for your achievement. Get well soon .
    Ken & Family

    Liked by 1 person

  7. All this time I have been quietly following along as you pushed your body and mind to the limits. There is no failure in this. As in life, you prepare and work towards your goals and simply have to hope luck is on your side as well…
    Get well soon and safe travels home back to your loved ones! (And enjoy that cheesecake, it made me smile as it suddenly brought back memories of how we were looking forward to that good cake and tea place in Addis Abeba.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marieke – thanks so much for the words and the donation! I was wondering who in the Netherlands was following along – and had not put two and two together. Funny you remember the planned cake in Addis!

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  8. Oh Justin, I’m sorry to hear you are in hospital but there is no failure in what you have accomplished. Your dad would be immensely proud as are all of your friends and family and, without a doubt, the ALF. Sending you love and hugs for quick healing.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. “The struggle goes on. The victory is in the struggle, for me. And I accepted that a long time ago.” Al Lewis

    All of us that have our lives touched in some way by kidney disease appreciate the courage you have shown and the awareness that you have raised, thanks! #thestrugglegoeson

    Liked by 1 person

      • Justin! I am so amazed by what you have accomplished! I know you are disappointed but you are larger than life to me! I pray for a speedy recovery and that you get back home safe and sound. Now it’s time to relax, recover, and revel in the fact that you’ve accomplished something that most people can only dream about. I look forward to the day when I can tell my son that dreams do come true because I knew a man who climbed Mt. Everest! Congrats to listening
        to the limits of your body and Congrats on a job well done! Xoxo

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Great achievement – definitely not a failure! You accomplished so much, on the mountain and for the Kidney Fund. Definitely something to be proud of. And I hope you get that Cheesecake soon. Hate to tell you my friend, but you look like shit in these pictures. 🙂 All the best and get well soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Seriously, “sorry I let you down”??!

    Man we are so damn proud of you and what you have accomplished! (A bit envious to tell the truth LOL)

    Just happy you’ll be ok. Heal up and hold off on that cheesecake until I buy stock in The Cheesecake Factory and Juniors.

    Looking forward to connecting when you get back.

    Safe travels, my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. How insightful and what a life altering experience! Be oh-so-proud of yourself, many other people are. Nothing like experiencing the feeling of being alive when faced with something like this. Safe travels!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. You are the only person I have ever known who even made it that far! What an amazing adventure you have had even if you didn’t make it to the top. Lots of good wishes and thoughts from your friends at Surya yoga. I hope to see you again after you get back.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. You are one tough guy! Tremendous accomplishment.
    If “Pain is weakness leaving the body” you should have little physical pain left to give in the future……
    Congratulations !

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Sorry to hear this but credit to you for not only putting all this work in but also making the sensible call and recognising that sometimes you just have to accept and adjust to reality. Proud of everything you have been doing.
    There will be other mountains to climb – both figuratively and literally. You have already made an impact in memory of your Dad and will continue to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Seán. Not the entire outcome I wanted but not all bad either. Tough lying here in hospital bed in Kathmandu when I know they just ropes the route to the summit – but I’ll just let this year go, and will have a think about a rematch later. Good to hear from you.

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  16. Congrats on making it as far as you did and for hitting your $25K fundraising goal for the American Kidney Fund. Two great achievements you should be proud of!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Your impressive strength and “perseverance in the face of adversity” (while injured) was inspiring, Justin! Glad to hear you are taking time to fully recover and spend time with your family! What an amazing first attempt! Loved reading your blog! Thank you for sharing in such exquisite detail! – Roz Brown (AKF)

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  18. Justin….You have done MORE than most people even talk about accomplishing!! Well done and congratulations on these incredible achievements! Thank you for the amazing example of personal determination both through your physical/mental efforts, and on behalf of your father’s memory and those dealing with kidney disease. My religion may be showing… but I think your dad was watching over you and clearly still thought you had much more yet to do “on the ground”! 🙂 Congratulations again– rest up and get home safe to your family and friends!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Justin, Congratulations on getting as high as you did, and having the sense to leave before the situation became critical. A tremendous adventure, and an honor to your Dad. Martha and I hope that you and Steph can make it down to Nashville to promote your recovery eating BBQ and listening to music. And maybe a bike ride or hike to get you warmed up for the next adventure – we make a little whiskey down here which has proven medicinal properties for HAPE recovery. Wes Chapman

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  20. Super proud of you mate! most mere mortals wouldn’t have made it that long. keep your head up and get better. we are all looking forward to your return!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Justin – thank you so much for all you do to raise awareness for the American Kidney Fund. It was such an honor to meet you a few months ago – thank you for your dedication. I am happy to hear that you are safe!!

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  22. I never had the honor of meeting your father, nor you mine (a Galway Man). But if they had had any similarities at all -trust me – your Dad was proud of you long before this trip started.
    Safe home Justin.

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  23. Be proud of all the you have accomplished Justin. Don’t forget about how important your story is to all the advocates who were with you at the fly-in, and how motivating you story can be for everyone who will hear it now. For a lot of people on dialysis, they really do have to climb their own Everest. Maybe no one else will try to summit a mountain, but your story will hopefully serve as motivation for them to persevere through another dialysis treatment or to maintain a kidney-friendly diet. Congratulations on everything you’ve done so far and can’t wait to catch up. I’d gladly come to New York and visit with you, maybe even at work if my sister would allow it 🙂

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  24. Congrats Justin on all the money raised and the admirable decision to have a crack at Everest. Glad you’re safe and sound after all the terribly sad news over the weekend. I think Gerry may have been looking out for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. I hope you aRE IMPROVED. WE REAd .

    ABOUT YOU ON YESTERDAYS IRISH TIMES 20TH MAY.WE WILLKEEP YOUIN OUR PRAYERS MARIE AND TOM HERLIHY

    On 13 May 2017 17:14, “Gerry Condon Memorial Expedition” wrote:

    jcondon0806 posted: “Well, like I said in one of my very first posts – men plan, god laughs. Firstly – let me apologize for my choice of blog post photos – or visual anatomy of my body shutting down 🙂 At then end of my last post I was headed into the Everest ER with Greg f”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marie & Tom – thanks very much for the concern. Happy to report I am back in NY and healing slowly but surely. Will be back home to see mum and isabel later I. The summer and licking my wounds until next time on Everest. Best wishes, justin

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