The Hope Affair

It’s been a while since I last posted as I have been settling back in to a “normal” work and life routine, healing up and cheering my wife Stef on as she became an official iron(wo)man at Lake Placid this year.

Wanted to share this bit of news with you folks who so generously supported my cause this year. The American Kidney fund host their annual charity gala down in D.C. and this year is entitled “The Hope Affair”.

I am delighted and humbled to be included in the list of honorees this year – although as I’ve always maintained, it’s really the generosity of you, the donors that should be honored. So thank you, again for rallying around such a great cause.

Of course, I have to give a small speech and have been reviewing my previous work on fox5dc… noticed that I have one hell of a “resting bitchface” (always said I had a face for radio), so I’ll need to work on that probably more than my wordsmithing before then. I’ll give an update – and may even have a separate video clip of interest next month.

Hope this note finds you all well.

Cheers for now.

Justin

A week home & a little perspective…

Cover photo: When it was all still ahead of me…

So it’s now a week after I was released from hospital in Kathmandu and I am back home in Hoboken 5 days. I’ve had some time to reflect on the expedition and how everything played out.

Honestly, I am not much further along to processing this yet. I completely acknowledge I couldn’t safely proceed but it has been a very bitter pill to swallow, considering how strong and prepared I felt – and was – right up to the point my damn first rib broke – and it was just all downhill from there. That said, with the 4 tragic deaths on the mountain last weekend going to/from the summit USA Today article – and the second 4 dead found NPR article (from a previous year), I am reminded that you need to be on your A-game and no less heading above c3 – and that there are worse fates than being back home early. I also got to speak with two other team-mates from my third rotation that recently made their way up the hill for their summit rotation but had to turn arond beyond c2 due to pulmonary issues – they too ending up in hospital in Kathmandu. This mountain is different in that it really is a war of attrition – and one of the hardest parts is simply staying healthy long enough to make a break for the summit.

I am very pleased for the folks (both IMG and Irish compatriots) just completing their summit rotations this weekend but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sick to my stomach at the outcome of this climb for me. I just needed a little luck and couldn’t get it. Yes – I’m angry. 

Despite – and maybe even because of – the odd ratio of climbing days to rest days on this expedition, this has been one of the hardest trips of my life. I really, honestly didn’t get to enjoy much of it at all – spending more of my time worrying about the next unknown – and I really had not planned on coming back here ever again. However, if I ever want to climb this thing – and from what I have seen on this trip, I know I can – then I will have to come back some day. I have learned some clear lessons from my first experience on Everest – that I could benefit from on any second attempt. Like a boxing opponent – to respect it, not under-estaimte it, but also not to afford it too much respect and be intimidated. There are definitely a few things I could do differently in my day-to-day on the hill also. But I still need to take time to absorb all of the lessons – more to come yet.

I am, as always, reminded of the Ed Viesturs climbing autobiography…  that there are “No shortcuts to the top”? (Question mark added by me)… Not bloody kidding, Ed!!! That said, special thanks to my climbing pal and all-round bad-ass, Ryan Laughna – not to mention, best guide around – Jon Schrock – for getting dad’s expedition patch to the summit when I could not – it is bittersweet for me – but definitely happier to see it up there where it belongs.

ryan


I am also very curious if they can determine if the Hilary Step is still there or not CNN article – but may have to wait to speak with my pals who are on their way down to see what they experienced.
I’d like to go exercise this frustration out of me – a 10 mile run or 2 mile swim or hour on the stairs… but of course my ribs will prevent that for a while. We’ll rapidly see what an impatient patient I make!! I did at least get the all-clear from US doctor earlier this week to exercise at a moderate level – as my body allows me – so I’ll try a swim or run or yoga over the long weekend and see what works and what doesn’t. The slow road to recovery and match fitness begins here. For once, I have the luxury of just training for the sake of training – I don’t have a pending race or climb to add pressure – and for once, that is a pretty nice thing.
On a lighter note – I am home for my one year wedding anniversary (tomorrow) – so it’s not all bad news – will get to celebrate with Stef and worry about the next climb another day.

Cheers, Justin

The best laid plans…

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

Third rotation done – C3

Cover photo: Making our way up the Lhotse face above lower c3 (below)

Was it really only Monday of this same week that we headed up the icefall once more to C1?? It seems like an absolute lifetime ago. I guess mountain years are akin to dog years in that regard.

So we left 2:30am Monday and I had two possible options available to me that day – either move to C1 alone (approx. 5hr task at  reasonable pace) or if feeling really good, to pick up few bits of gear there and move up the Western Cwm to C2 – about another 2-3 hours, but here you run the risk of being caught in a huge solar reflector (read: oven) as you ship out of C1 when the sun is truly up – risking fatigue from heat and dehydration. That said, there is some reward – in that the second day could be spent entirely at rest at C2. Every decision up here – no matter how small – has consequences.

Ladder up towards c1

Ladder up towards c1

Given that I was marginally “recovering” from my now definitively cracked rib, I figured discretion was the better part of valor and decided on minimal increments with minimal risk, still ready to leave for C3  as expected. In other words, day 1 to C1; day to to C2 (joining any that made the full push the day before); day 3 to C3.

I made C1 in approx 5hrs+ but given that I was consciously taking my time, I could live with the fact that I was not the fastest of my team this time round. Pulling into C1 I was pleased with my decision and while falling into a tent at 9am with nothing to do but wait for the next day – while avoiding baking – is not exactly the most luxurious thing to do – it was the right choice. Turns out that by the next AM, a fellow climber that appeared to feel strong the previous day and had pushed hard – even to C1 – was turned around and headed home – a stark reminder (like I needed another one) of how quickly things can change.

The following morning, light one climber – we headed out to C2. This was the first time I had the luxury of knowing this part of the route in advance – and as with everything the second time around, it did seem that bit easier and shorter… except for the damn stretch from “crampon point” at the start of C2 proper to where ultimately the IMG part of the camp is… I swear to god, they moved it another few hundred feet further back! Felt like it anyway. Still – push came to shove, and I was there. Yet again, not the quickest, but perfectly good time – and mostly, the rib was not screaming too loudly. I did speak with two chaps who had made the push to C2 the previous day – and they had paid a price. They got caught out in the heat and had barely scraped by eating snow after having run out of water and stuffing more snow in their shirts, helmets etc. in a frantic attempt to cool down – that left them badly dehydrated and trying to recover. My decision to stop at C1 seems like the right one.

Sitting at c2 with view of Lhotse face

Looking up the glacier & Western Cwm towards Lhotse face in the rear

So now it’s Tuesday night going on Wednesday morning and the plan is to leave early and head up the Lhotse face to C3. This is a daunting task for several reasons:

  • It’s my first time on this stretch, so the fear of the unknown is kicking in
  • At 23,600 feet – it will be the highest I have ever climbed, my previous record being Aconcagua @ 22,841 – a not insignificant jump
  • Once you have made the initial 500 feet or so and crossed over the bergschrund, the face itself is an intimidating fixed roped climb for ~1800 feet of very steep ice where the slightest slip can result in death. One of the other IMG teams were on the face when a Sherpa almost did just that – sliding (sounds too gentle – let’s go with “plummeting”) almost two thousand feet, somehow miraculously living to tell the tale. Simple rule of thumb – at NO point on this stretch are you ever not clipped into the fixed ropes (either primary or secondary safety line).
  • The other risk on this stretch is other climbers. There is a lot of traffic moving up and down the same ropes, with people clipping in and out around each other. That Sherpa mentioned above who fell, almost knocked another climber off the rope – only narrowly avoided by a quick-thinking guide and a good shove out of the way. Another example is of a climber losing a rappel device (made of metal) that hurtling from tens or hundreds of feet quickly becomes a deadly projectile to anyone below.
  • Even when you do get to C3, it is literally an ice ledge carved into the side of the mountain with little air (approx 40% of available O2 at sea level) or general comfort to have any appetite or get any rest once there. There is a true story of a half delirious climber making it to C3, only to get out of his tent to go to the bathroom in his down camp booties – slipping and falling, literally 2,300 feet to his death. NOTHING can be taken for granted.
  • Have I made my point yet? This is a bad place…

Lhotse Face – Showing bergschrund and IMG camp at Upper Camp 3

So, with all of the above in mind – after staring futilely at a breakfast none of us could stomach, we headed out around 5AM and started the slow, steady plod to the bergschrund. My cough – and rib – made themselves acutely known once again the previous night – so to say I was enjoying any of this would be a complete lie. It’s days and nights like that, that the whole thing is just one god-awful sufferfest and I try to cling to whatever reasons I have for being there… personal, for sure; to make dad proud and stick with it – absolutely; to see this through for the American Kidney Fund and everyone who has donated either their money or kind words in support – most definitely. Even with all of that, there was just no smelling of the proverbial roses – it’s just too barren up there for that – both physically and metaphorically – and I spend my days half doubting, half terrified. I manage to keep a lid on it. I know people who have done this, who know my measure, and if they say I can do it, then I believe I can. I take strength in their belief even if mine wavers.

Approaching the Lhotse face – bergschrund clear in the distance
The route over the lowest point of the Bergschrund & on to the face proper

As we approach the bergschrund I see that the tiny dots moving like ants are in fact climbers making their way up the face. Christ, its steep – all that optimistic talk of “it’s not so bad from another angle” goes out the window – either that or I’m not looking at this right. And sweet Jesus, does it go on – and on! There are actually two “camp 3s” – the lower one where most non-IMG teams camp and then the upper IMG camp a further 1000 feet or so above. This days battle will be hard fought. As you can guess, the logic here is to achieve extra acclimatization, where the general philosophy is to put the body in an oxygen deprived state thus forcing the creation of oxygen carrying red blood cells. Sleeping at camp 3, 23,600 feet, should do the trick. Needless to say, there will be no sweet dreams at this altitude – sore rib or not!

Above the bergschrund – making our way up the Lhotse face (below lower c3)

Yet again this day I am the slowest. Based on individual times up to C3 so far it seems like a 7-8hr average would work. On this day, it took me 10hrs to finally make C3. My known rib was already aching and now joined by a second pal about halfway up the face. With every move, I feel the rib pop out and fall back into place where it is broken – quickly becoming the new norm. In ascending the fixed ropes, you use a jumar (ascending device) with one hand always in the device itself and oftentimes the other hand on the rope itself, using both as necessary to leverage up the rope. In short – any time I had to physically use my left side – either on the jumar or the rope, I was in increasingly severe pain. Not ito stop this stubborn Irish mule – I kept at it – my sole rationale being to somehow get to C3, do what I needed to do for today – if even with a crappy time – and figure out what to do tomorrow, tomorrow.

Above the bergschrund, making our way up the Lhotse face (below lower c3)

This was to date, the hardest thing I have ever done. I panted and gasped the whole way up that face like a fish out of water. I have had previous climbs – all tough – Denali, Aconcagua – all hard, but where I got in a rhythm, my breathing and recital of “Invictus” in unison – over and over and over again. And it has worked. Not this time. I’d try to slow my breath but could never catch up – it seemed my broken rib was preventing me from a full, deep breath. I’d try to recite “Invictus” but I don’t think I completed one full recital of the poem – every time I’d get halfway through my rib would scream at me, throwing me off. At one point I am pretty sure I felt something new (another rib?) give out. Sadly, I was starting to grow used to the experience. I sound like I’m making excuses now, but I appreciate how hard things are at that altitude and I don’t know if a fully fit me would have done any better. It must have taken me a half hour just to make it the final 30 yards into C3. For you non-mountaineers, you have no idea what a bizarre feeling it is to see camp right there – you can almost touch it – and absolutely nothing you can do to get there any quicker than a crawl. Like living your life in slow motion, with no air, if you can imagine.


Passing through lower c3 – still another 800 feet or so to upper c3 (IMG)

Halfway through the day the weather went from freezing morning air to roasting afternoon sunshine – at which point I stripped down the top half of my down-suit – a lifesaver in frigid times but an absolute curse in the heat. Of course, I was definitely dehydrating and not getting enough calories – and I didn’t stop to lather up with the necessary sun protection which ultimately meant that my face and lips would later look like they had been exposed to a hot plate. At this altitude, the effects of the suns UV rays are infinitely worst than sea level.


Blue ice on the face as we look back down to lower c3 (mid-left) and c2 (top-right)

All of that aside, make it there I did. In 10 hours. 2 hours over where I needed to be. I still figured I’d speak with the IMG folks once down to EBC – I truly believed I could chalk this up to my physical situation and maybe I could pull another “Lukla miracle” between now and my final summit push. My plans aside, I can’t imagine my Sherpa was too impressed – and I can’t blame him. These incredible, strong, gentlemen of the mountain guiding clowns like me. Unlike me, a useless sack upon arrival, my Sherpa had prepared me a pot of Sherpa tea (I devoured) and a bowl of ramen noodles (which I could barely touch).


View back down the Western Cwm from c3 (23,600 feet)

That night was spent in misery – trying not to throw up at the smell of my MRE dinner, and more importantly, clinging to my ribs with each dry, hacking cough – that seemed to come from the bottom of my lungs yet yielded no phlegm (which would have at least been some relief). The most notable point of the night was one particularly violent cough where I felt something pop following by a searing pain – again in my rib area, this time just below my sternum. As used as I was getting to pops, twangs and twinges – I was neither comfortable nor pleased. The only thought in my head (other than “you PAID to do this, you complete idiot”!!!) was – you did what you had to do; let today go, get down Thurs/ Fri and regroup. All is not lost, thia can still happen.

Thursday I made it back down to C2 in three hours or so and we descended pretty well, confident enough to use arm-rappels to descend most of the 2,300 feet, and only using our more safe rappel devices on two parcticularly steep and icy stretches. This was all downhill (if even quite steep and exposed), but maybe there still was a shot. By now, cough and ribs were an all-day affair.


Oxygen cylinders stacked at c2 upon our return

I returned to my tent and threw on my earphones to distract me from where I was, the hell I had been through. I listened to my meditation app (corny? Yes. Effective? Also yes – at least for the time I use it). I put on some favorite tunes – reminding me of family, wife, dad – why I am here. I cry. Christ, it’s as much of an emotional battle as a physical one. I quickly wipe the tears away before my tent-mate notices. Men, eh?!? Not that he’d ever criticize or be anything but supportive. We are all brothers in arms in this struggle. As in war, I imagine – you cannot but build a bond with people you go through hell with. Each for your own reasons – all equally important. For me, it’s legacy – it’s being the son dad would have been proud of; it’s making sense of his senseless and untimely death; to see something through so that others mightn’t suffer his fate. I’m no martyr – but this has HUGE personal meaning to me. Still. That’s a good sign.

Night falls and I am tucked into my sleeping bag – as tucked as one gets when it is so cold outside that by the morning the condensation from your breath all night has frozen to the roof of the tent. With each brush of the roof resulting in a minor snow flurry – making it all that much harder to lie in!! My cough is now so hacking and dry that I literally do not sleep one minute that night, and my pee bottle now doubles as a spitoon for whatever I can wrench from my lungs. This is the long, cold winter of my trip so far – and small reward for making it up to C3 and back.

There are a lot of minutes from 730PM to 5AM when you don’t spend a single one of them sleeping – and you aren’t at a party 🙂 A lot of minutes. 5AM finally did roll around and my only thought (other than “somebody kill me”) were thank god – it’s Friday – it’s time to go back to EBC. You’ve heard it before, know my mantra – just do what you have to do today, just get back to EBC in decent shape and you are done with this godforsaken rotation – and you can worry about summit rotation another day. You did this in pretty good time last time – it’s all downhill, how hard could it be? How hard indeed.

From the outset I was dragging – even the simple task of rolling back down the Western Cwm to C1.  Even the last few rolling hills into C1 are absolutely killing me – I seem to have nothing in the tank. Speaking of tanks, it is decided by smarter men than me back down at EBC to put me on oxygen from C1 back down to EBC. I don’t argue with that call and it seems to give me new legs – I at least have EBC in my universe of possibilities – a rapidly diminishing thought only an hour before. Where did this all go so wrong? I had gone from “if only I can make it to EBC, I can think about the summit another day” to “if I can only make it to EBC”, period. I was once again crawling. Yet another ladder, yet another crevasse, demanding my ever-waning attention. The sun is too damn hot, I’m sweating my arse off. Is this f**king oxygen mask really on? Why am I still gasping. This god-awful mask is chafing against my scalded skin. I have to pull it back to spit out what I can manage to hack up. I couldn’t be more miserable. It seems like we are making this descent foot by foot – and for many hours we are.

We finally get back down to crampon point at the foot of the icefall – many hours – after when we’d typically expect to be there. We (I) rest, take off our crampons and begin the final plod back to camp via my second stop at Everest ER in as many weeks, where Greg, base camp manager, class act that he is – has walked up to meet me.

I’ve been thinking about this all the way back down – what I should do and how – if at all – I could possibly proceed. Did I trust myself to sufficiently recover back down in Lukla, and even if so – would any Sherpa in his right mind want to go back up even higher with me on the mountain given my physical ailments and ensuing issues?

I was back down to EBC, I did what I had to do today. But I think for the first time I realized – I hadn’t done what I had to do for tomorrow.

Despite my very best of intentions – sheer will power alone was not going to get me where my body simply couldn’t follow.


 Feeling pretty terrible at this point – probably not even obvious from this photo

A new dawn, a new day

After 4 days rest and almost eating my body weight back down at Lukla, it was a pleasant relief to get back up to EBC early this morning!


Air feels thinner and crisper for sure, but sun is shining, forecast is decent for the next few days, rib is cooperating thus far and I am itching to get at the icefall after these last few days sitting around (albeit necessary for recovery). This return is a stark contrast from my uncertain and unhappy departure a few days ago. Once again, possibilities exist – at least now, I have a chance – whereas 4 days ago I really wasn’t sure. Forward progress – that’s a result.

I have heard reasonable reports of the climbing conditions from folks just back from C3 and every reason to hope for a good run back up to C2, passing my guide Jon, old Sherpa Sonam and team-mates on their way down as I move up – it will be very good to see them and hear how they got on.

This is the last rotation before the summit push – and is essential to get up the Lhotse face, remove that mystery and spend a night above 23k feet. Won’t be fun but will be very useful. It’s always good – for me personally, at least, to peel back the layers of the unknown – making it that bit easier on the summit push – forewarned is fore-armed, and all that!

We leave 2:30am tomorrow (Monday).

More updates from above to FB and Twitter via delorme GPS drom now until I return to EBC next Friday…

Meanwhile, sadly – the second death on Everest this season – Min Bahadur Sherchan, 85, trying to reclaim his record as the oldest person to summit – heart attack at basecamp.

A few days forced rest

Made it to Lukla earlier today and headed straight to the hospital where an X-ray confirmed I have fractured my L7 rib from coughing these last few weeks.


The doctor has prescribed painkillers, plenty of rest, food, liquids and lots of the thick, oxygenated air available down here. He said that technically there’s nothing to prevent me going back up the mountain from a mechanical perspective – it will all be down to if I can manage the pain if I attempt to climb with the broken rib.

Per Greg and the revised IMG schedule, I plan to rest here for the next 3 days along with several other folks with varying ailments, and hope to return to EBC Sunday and join with other climbers starting their third rotation to C3 next week. 

It’s time to settle into my new home and enjoy the rest – even if forced.

This fight is not over yet!!

Update Thursday AM:

Last night, after a hearty dinner that I actually had an appetite for, I slept like a baby with very little coughing and my ribs not too bad for once. Far from cured but far better than I have felt in days.

I woke up this morning, showered, had my first solid toilet trip in days (TMI most likely, but you are getting the full-on expedition report!!), had breakfast and am generally dedicating today to sitting on my behind and resting. I cannot say for sure but I would certainly like to think that three more days of this should go a long way towards helping me back up the mountain.

All going to plan, we will return to EBC Sunday and should start the third rotation to C3 on Monday. As the doctor stated – it is all down to containing the pain of the rib – and only one way to find out if this is possible – is to try for C3. That rotation will very clearly inform me if there is still a chance for the summit.

I want to also take this opportunity to say a huge “thank you” to everyone for the massive outpouring of concern and support – all your notes and messages, both here and throughout social media – were just the encouragement I needed – and don’t ever underestimate the value to me! The time came – I needed support, and you answered! If I don’t make it up this mountain, it won’t be for lack of well wishers! So thank you again.

Keep your fingers crossed for continued progress. And I’ll let you know how I get on. My next update should be upon my return to EBC at end of the week.

All the best, Justin

Back to square one – Lukla

So it’s 10AM Wednesday and I’ve just had a meeting with the senior IMG folks – western guides and Sherpas regarding the best course of action for me. This is where and why I choose to go with IMG… they know the mountain best and they have a wealth of situation management experience that puts them in a position to make the best call for me, even when I cannot.

The icepack on my ribs all day yesterday certainly helped but I could still feel significant pain and something pop slightly in my ribs every time I coughed. Add to that my overnight sleep, which was good – but during which the ribs seized up a little bit and once again the pain and lack of mobility were back with a vengeance this AM.

I desperately wanted to make the next rotation tomorrow AM – no matter how painful it would be to carry my backpack (not even sure how I would manage it without screaming) or how risky it would be without full mobility or use of my left arm. The logic of this desperate climber being to somehow make it to C1 tomorrow and on to C2, C3 (no idea how – but would worry about that then) over the following days, then somehow make it back to EBC and take stock of any damage done at that point.

This is where the wisdom of Greg, Jangbu, Jon, etc. comes in to play – they are of one mind on this – and that is: if I was to go back up tomorrow, I would likely end my trip – or at the very least, would not have exercised the best option available to me.

With my myopic view seeing no further than the next rotation tomorrow, I failed to count the fact that we still have another whole month to climb this mountain. With that in mind, I am advised to helicopter back down to Lukla (8k+ feet below with much thicker air – better to heal), get an X-ray of my ribs and give my body a chance to heal. The assumption being that once I am on the mend, to helicopter back up, and either rejoin Jon’s team or if that not possible due to scheduling, join another guide, Luke – who I have also climbed with before.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sorely disappointed – but am just disappointed that my body has let me down, not at all at the expert advice of the IMG crew – which I am only too happy to follow. In my heart of hearts I know it is the right decision.

I can only hope that given the opportunity, my body can heal sufficiently – and in time – to get back up here and summit this mountain. Perhaps false bravado – but after what I have seen so far, I truly believe that with my health I can make the summit.

So – my apologies to anyone following if this blog goes a little quiet or dull for a few days – I will most certainly let folks know the outcome of my X-ray, etc. but I hope to quickly move from Himalayan ER back to our regular programming – i.e. Climbing this damn mountain!!

Thanks for you patience and continued support – I don’t plan on letting you down – and I hope to still make you all proud and yet make the summit.

Justin