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Sunday, 1 June 2014

Day 66 - Back to Kathmandu

The next day runs pretty smoothly. Border crossing and drive are both ok and we are in the hotel for mid afternoon.

Border town of Zhangmu

Zhangmu with its mountain backdrop

Trees and greenery - a real sight for sore eyes!

At the border

We find some scales and I am down to 79kg - a weight I have not been since I was in my mid teens! I am still feeling pretty ropey and so next morning I head off to hospital to find out what is wrong with me - to convince the others that I have not become a hypochondriac and that my travails on the mountain were justified. It takes a while to go through all the procedures and my Everest story makes me something of a celebrity with a number of senior doctors coming to see me which only adds to the overall disturbance in A&E - there is probably an element of them wanting to get time onto my bill as well I presume. But, eventually I get the news that I have two broken ribs and a lung infection. I feel oddly pleased about this as I can now understand the problems that I had and hopefully justify them to others.

I am still feeling pretty weak and tired; the terrible air quality in Kathmandu can't be helping either. So I get my flights changed and head off a couple of uneventful days later.

However, I still feel pretty weak when I get back to London and, instead of celebrating, have a relapse in the refrigerated section at Sainsburys (a supermarket) and then end up in the majors section of A&E in hospital. It turns out that my lung infection is in fact pneumonia and I had better start taking it seriously!

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Day 65 - Off to Zangmu

Today we are driving all the way back to the Nepali border town of Zangmu where we will overnight before crossing the border and driving to Kathmandu tomorrow.

Final breakfast

Packing the land cruisers

Final group photo
First stop is Tingri which is the small town on the trans-Tibetan highway that is the turning point for Everest. There we have a fantastic Chinese meal before heading on to Zhangmu. 

Heading for a Chinese meal in Tingri

The bathroom mirror in the hotel is my first chance to have a look at a myself after my ordeal and I am fairly shocked by what I see. At the start of the expedition I was in very good shape - muscular and with little fat despite weighing 91kg. Now I have lost most of that muscle (especially on my upper body) and have very little fat left - I have never looked like this before and hope I don't get again as I look pretty unhealthy and would presumably need to be pretty ill to get into such a position again. it's going to be interesting to see what I weigh when we get back to Kathmandu. That evening we find a bar in Zhangmu where we are hoping to celebrate getting off Everest but I soon feel pretty miserable and after a bit head back to the hotel - keeping up my proud record of missing all the group nights out.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Day 64 - Rest Day BC

There is still quite a bit of equipment, including our main kit bags, at ABC and we need to understand when we can get these back. The snow has spooked the yak drivers and so there is likely to be a bit of a delay now - the risk of avalanches and rock falls is very dangerous for yaks as we saw yesterday.

Then we hear that following an argument over compensation for the death of the yaks, the yak drivers have gone on strike. It is now pretty clear that we aren't going to be getting our gear for a good few days. I really need to get off the mountain - we are still at 5,200m which is dangerously high for someone with ongoing lung problems and the others are pretty fed up with base camp having been down here for quite a number of days now. As one of the last groups at camp it is not hard to organise transport back to Kathmandu for the following day.

The rest of the day is sitting round, chatting and packing up what we can in preparation for an early departure tomorrow morning.

Pretty emaciated and with my certificate

Not sure my feet have enjoyed the past few days - only time will tell what is actually wrong with them.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Day 63 - Down to BC

Breakfast is a bit of a failure again, as is trying to pack up my things in a small tent - which I do slowly and inefficiently. Then, a bit late, we set off down the mountain. The huge storms I suffered through higher up have transformed the lower reaches and this section is now beautiful. There is a good sun and a light breeze so conditions should be great for the descent. 
Good conditions (if a bit snowy) for the descent

Heading down

Beautiful scenery
Beautiful scenery
Unfortunately, I need to stop every 50m of so for a coughing fit which not only takes a lot of time but also it's toll on me and drains my air supply.

Lunch stop in the (abandoned?) Chinese mess tent at Intermediate Camp

Dog star sun as evening approaches

The snowfall, and now melt, has also destabilised a number of rocks overhanging the valley and as we come into the final section, a number of mini landslides are triggered. I have been walking pretty slowly and so it is now late and dark so it is very difficult to see where these are which makes it pretty dangerous! We come across a yak which had been smashed into by one of these and had been left by its owner with some hay to die.

Finally, pulling into the mess tent is an amazing relief; not least as it is completely dark and pretty cold now and we are all very tired. Very nicely there is a mini-celebration prepared - including a summit cake! This gives us renewed energy to stay up for a couple of hours.

Summit cake

(Safely) back at BC group photo

Another very bad night for coughing and my side - I have started bringing up blood in my phlegm which is quite worrying - I will probably need to go to hospital when we get back to Kathmandu now ...

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Day 62 - ABC Rest Day

Gargling the aspirin seems to have worked as my throat is now relaxing and I can actually breathe without collapsing into a coughing fit. There is still quite a bit of inflammation and irritation in my lungs and my side is still in a lot of pain - but at least now that we know, or suspect what is wrong, we are able to apply the relevant treatment.

It has snowed a lot overnight so moving from my tent to the mess tent is pretty tricky as I am still unsteady on my feet - it is also tricky to leave a nice, warm sleeping bag when you are not particularly hungry and you know that moving will just cause pain.

ABC - looking pretty good with a clear sky after the storms

But I do need to start eating to get some energy for the 20k walk back to BC tomorrow so I do make the effort and get to the table dizzy and out of breath. A group sets off back to BC in the morning and then we rest for the remainder of the day.

I have a look at my feet for the first time and there are rather concerning black areas on some of the toes on my right foot - it is hard to tell whether this is boot bashing damage of whether I have got some slightly severe frostbite for the first time - we will have to see! The night is again uncomfortable with my ribs, lungs, throat and feet all clamouring for attention.

Pretty sore toes!

Pretty sore toes

I have not really eaten much since I coming down; I don't really feel hungry and anything substantial makes me nauseous. I am not too worried as I know my appetite will return, but I am concerned about having enough energy for the long trip to BC. There is no power in the evening so Rob and I end up having a bit of supper in candlelight around one of the heaters - it would have been quite romantic of we weren't both coughing so much! Again I can't eat much and take a lemon drizzle cake to bed to see if I can eat some of it -which obviously I can't.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Day 61 - Descending from Camp 1

I awake to an eerie silence and it takes a while for me to realise that rather than going deaf, the violent storm that has been sitting over me for the past two days has now moved on. After a quick drink, I head out to find a clear but grey sky overhead and no signs that the wind will return any time soon. However a huge amount snow has fallen since yesterday and overnight meaning that even the tracks of the large rescue party have been covered up. This is going to make getting down the headwall pretty tricky! I am still unable to move properly without oxygen.

I start down the headwall and set off three avalanches in the first 50m - this section is a bit of a traverse - which is a real worry for later on but also exceedingly dangerous for anyone coming up. Sherpas will be coming up to clear the North Col at some point today given the beak in the storm and a quick radio call to ABC reveals that they won't yet be on the headwall so I carry on down. Things soon get even trickier as there is deep snow over a very hard, icy base and I lose my footing on a few occasions. As above, most of the anchors here have blown, so there is little protection from the ropes here and again a couple of times I am hanging from my ice axe having slipped down the near vertical sections. After the second one of these I give myself a good talking to - I am so close to getting back to camp and despite my state and the conditions of the mountain, I have the strength and skills to get down safely as long as I am sensible. From then on it actually becomes rather enjoyable aided by the fact that the weather has been continually improving. The last time I came down this, I made it in 20 minutes; this time was nearly two hours!

From there, it is just the long trek across the glacier and then the top of the moraine field back to camp which is just a long, weary slog before I can collapse into a chair back in the mess tent for a well earned drink of green tea and a can of coke! In fact this is pretty much the pattern for the rest of the day but I still have little appetite and can eat little more than noodle soup. My sleeping bag starts calling and in mid afternoon I totter off to my tent to get some sleep.

ABC is still under a few feet of snow!

However this doesn't last long and by early evening I am coughing badly and starting to have breathing difficulties again. This is pretty worrying as I have come a long way down the mountain to an altitude at which I am fully acclimatised and all I am doing is lying in a tent! This gets worse and worse so eventually I have to get some medical help from Rob along with yet another bottle of oxygen.

I am first treated for Hape (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) which is basically the lungs being severely impacted by the altitude but this is more precautionary than anything as I don't really have other symptoms and it has actually got worse rather than improving as I have descended. My throat still looks horribly irritated and inflamed which is a typical (although in this case very severe) reaction to the cold, dry air on mountains and especially when using oxygen - and what caused my original cough that started this all off. The treatment for this is to gargle and swallow aspirin dissolved in water. We have no idea what is going on in my lungs or any way to diagnose it here so we will just have to hope that I can deal with it until we get back to Kathmandu and a 'decent' hospital.

With the oxygen on at a low flow rate and breathing through a buff to provide some protection to my poor throat, I feel better and manage to sleep through until 1 am when Rob comes to check me again. My throat feels better but there is little change in my lungs so we continue with the aspirin in water treatment and I sleep relatively well through the rest of the night aside from my continual coughing intervals.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Day 60 - Descending from Camp 3

I come to early the next morning and for a couple of seconds bask in the warmth of the sun coming through the tent walls until I am jolted back to reality with the realisation that I am stuck on the side of Everest well into the Death Zone at 8,300m with broken ribs, a barely functioning respiratory system and very little oxygen left to help me get down. My hope is that I can get to the snow field below camp 2 from where it is an easy snow slope down to Camp 1 and with any luck I should be able to breathe 1,000m down from here.

The sunshine turns out to have been just a small break in the clouds as after a quick drink and a snickers for breakfast I head out into a growing blizzard and white out. It is pretty chilly and blowing an absolute gale but luckily the fixed lines provide a good path down the mountain. Surprisingly there are a few other people up here still in addition to some Sherpas clearing their group's equipment off the mountain - they look in very bad shape and are moving very slowly. I am feeling a bit better this morning and can walk (albeit slowly) with my oxygen on a low setting which is pretty crucial as there is not too much left in the bottle.

The going is very tough as I am now walking through fairly deep snow which has covered up the nice, hard path that has been created over the past few days. Not only is it simply more tiring to walk in knee deep snow, but it also covers up the various dips and rocks under the surface causing a number of staggers and trips which are pretty exhausting.

This soon becomes dangerous on some steep traverses as I can't tell where the path has weakened or, in some cases, collapsed down the side of the mountain and on a few occasions end up hanging from my ice axe after breaking through the snow beneath my feet and falling down the side of the mountain. Whilst there are some ropes around to clip into a number of the anchors have blown and others do when we put any real weight on them. Whilst this would normally be quite exciting, I have nothing like the energy or strength to enjoy dealing with this at the moment, but there is a different type of reward from struggling through terrain, conditions and a situation which is really rather serious. After a bit of this slow going, there is quite a queue of the other straggling climbers behind me but oddly none of them seem keen to take turns at the front, breaking trail or dealing with the treacherous terrain.
After a few hours of fun the traversing comes to an end and we start the easier descent towards Camp 2 - given the conditions this remains challenging and the other parties soon fall behind and are out of sight by the time I get to the top of the Camp 2. The place seems post- apocalyptic! There are broken tents and abandoned equipment strewn all over the side of the mountain and a thick layer of snow over everything save the larger rocks. The low cloud keeps visibility down to 10-15 metres and things and people come looking out of the cloud before disappearing again back into the cloud.

There are many more people down here and a number of them are in a bad way - anyone capable would have left first thing in the morning to get down the mountain. A number of these are having arguments with their team mates and/or Sherpas about staying here for longer with the Sherpas especially anxious about getting off the mountain and out of the weather - I have never heard a truly worried Sherpa before and to hear so many of them in such a state is rather concerning. The lone Sherpas all seem to be clearing the mountain and again it is pretty worrying to see how much of the equipment they are leaving behind to give them an easier and quicker descent - there is a clear atmosphere that we are in a really dangerous situation and it is imperative to get out as quickly as possible!

My oxygen bottle is again pretty much empty and I have been asking everyone that I have come across for some but no one has any spares left at this stage. My big concern is that despite starting well my lungs and throat have been deteriorating all morning and even though I have descended a long way I am far from convinced that I will cope well when it stops. I have also still got quite a long way to go to get to the easy snow slope so I looks as though things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. Sure enough my oxygen soon runs out and without it I am back to an unsafe stagger through the rocks and snow of Camp 2. At times, I revert to a mixture of crawling, rolling and sliding down the slope. However, even at this slow speed it becomes dangerous as the storm has got a lot worse and and I am now in white out conditions which mean that I really can't see what the ground is doing when there aren't rocks to help provide depth to my field of view. I fall off a couple of snow ledges (one that is about 2m) and the now much stronger wind is driving snow inside my gear which is starting to become wet. This is very dangerous as down become useless when wet and if I am stuck up here for long in a storm without fully functioning down gear I will end up with hypothermia pretty quickly and in these conditions death could well follow!

I make what feels like a big, final effort to get to some tents ahead and collapse inside the least damaged of them managing to stick my ice axe and crampons through the worst tears to give me some protection from the elements. Luckily I am still warm which gives me a bit of a chance to undo my zips and dry some of my clothes out before my shelter gives way. I also get a chance to drink some water and enjoy what's left of my last pack of Haribo - I am now out of food and water.

Taking refuge in a tent - sitting in a pile of snow but at least I am out of the storm for a bit!

After dealing with my most pressing needs, I have a look round the tent I have chosen and see that it seems to have been used as a bit of dumping ground for equipment to be left behind and at the bottom of a pile seem some telltale cylindrical forms which can only be oxygen bottles - I don't let myself hope that there is a full one here but with any luck they won't all be empty. I go through all the ones in the first two piles I come across but they are all empty and to my great joy, the penultimate bottle in the third pile has about a sixth left. I just hope that if I keep this on the lowest setting that there is enough to get me back to Camp 1 on the North Col.

In renewed buoyant spirits I decide to try and radio camp again to see what is going on and whether there is anything else to help me on the mountain. Finally, for the first time in really quite a while, I manage to get through to camp and it is great to hear positive voices rather than the weak, weary and scared ones of others on the mountain. They confirm that pretty much all our equipment has been cleared down to Camp 1 and the forecast is for more bad weather so I really need to get down quickly as I have been up in the Death Zone for far too long.

A short while later it seems as though the peak of the storm has passed so I set off again. As before it is painstakingly slow but the ground is treacherous, visibility is very low and the wind is still so strong that I am frequently blown off my feet. If this happens on a tricky, high technical section there is a big risk of injury which would quite probably prove fatal up here. But at the same time I need to move quickly as I really don't want to risk my oxygen running out again when I am short of camp given my continually worsening throat and lungs. As before, I am staggering through a desolate landscape. A few people come and go, Sherpas overtaking me and me overtaking some struggling groups. There is little more than a barely perceptible nod, as we can do little more than recognise the presence of another human being before returning to our grinding task of getting down the mountain. Despite stumbling countless times, I managed to avoid falling; despite the high winds, freezing temperatures and driving snow I manage to keep warm although as before my down jacket is starting to accumulate snow in pockets and folds which then melts and starts to wet the down; despite the fact that my throat and lungs have continued to deteriorate rather than improve as I have been descending, I finally make it out of the rocky top section of the mountain onto the steep snow slope that leads down to Camp 1.

Whilst normally this is the home stretch as in good conditions it is a pretty easy quick walk, it is probably going to be a bit tougher than that now. Although not technical, there is deep snow and very strong winds meaning that the going is slow and tiring as opposed to the hard icy surface that is normally here - not really ideal when I am in a race against my oxygen running out.

Anyhow, I set off and start making some good progress however I find that whenever I start getting up a good rhythm and so pick up some speed I soon need to sit down and rest completely out of breath. This is rather worrying as I was hoping that at this altitude (7,500m) I would be able to cope without oxygen but apparently not. Anyhow, I bow my head to keep my face out of the howling wind and trudge on through the gloom of the snow and cloud, occasionally stumbling after falling into an unseen dip or hole and eventually after about two or three hours I near the saddle of the North Col before my oxygen runs out. The big problem is that my throat and lungs have continued to tighten and my breathing has become increasingly laboured throughout this time. Whilst I am only a few hundred yards from camp there are two small hills between the saddle and the tents. Although I am back down at 7,000m I am unconvinced that I will be able to cope with them without oxygen.

I manage to stagger the short distance to the base of the first one but can make no progress up it with any attempt leaving me on the verge of passing out if I don't sit down. My next plan is to try to crawl up the slope but this falters in the deep snow on the gentle incline at the start of the hill. I try slowly clearing a path in the snow but whilst this gets me up the start, the incline rapidly steepens and again I am back to almost fainting when I try to move up it. While having a rest, I come up with the bright idea of radioing ahead as if there is anyone still in the camp, they can get out here and help me within a matter of minutes.

Again luckily, I manage to make contact with ABC who say that they will do what they can to help but there are two problems. They are unable to contact people up at the North Col but will go to one of the other expeditions with working communications to get them to help or pass a message on to one of our Sherpas up here and secondly there is a big rescue going on at the moment and a large number of the people still at the North Col are involved in that. Unable to move for the time being, I dig myself a snow hole to get out of the wind and lie back and relax as dark descends on the mountain. This coincides with the arrival of the last few teams who are in a terrible state (many of them are out on their feet) although they have had sufficient oxygen for the descent and so can carry on into camp. I ask the guides / Sherpas for each group to see if anyone is in our tents to bring me some oxygen or to do so themselves if not - I am not filled with confidence by the responses. After about 15 or 20 minutes, one of our Sherpas appears over the hill to come and help me and once I have oxygen again it is only a matter of minutes before I am staggering into one of our tents - two of the remaining four have blown off the mountain earlier in the day despite being laden down with our gear and oxygen bottles!

First thing to do is get some hot water on to drink and given the continuing wind we have to do the tent right up and melt the snow right inside the tent. Combined with the steam coming off my wet clothes I am soon having paroxysms of coughing fits which are rather painful given my irritated lungs and throat not to mention broken ribs but all of a sudden two huge globules of soft, gooey stuff the size and consistency of reasonably large oysters come out - whether this is just phlegm or part lung / throat lining I don't know. All of a sudden my airwaves feel a lot freer and I can breathe a lot more easily. Despite this, the fluctuations in my respiratory system and the fact that I don't understand why they are happening means that I need to keep the oxygen on its lowest setting so that I have enough for the descent to ABC tomorrow which is unlikely to be easy!

I am absolutely exhausted and have no real appetite and so shortly after fall into a deep sleep although I do wake a number of times throughout the night as I continue to cough and more worryingly find that I am struggling with my breathing again.

The effects of the storm at ABC
The effects of the storm at BC

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Day 59 - Summit Day

Unfortunately it seems that pretty much every other group had decided to set off quite a bit earlier than us and by the time we get out of the tents there is a huge line of lights leading up the hill - all of which are moving very slowly. The bad start doesn't end there - my crampons (which have been excellent on all my expeditions so far) chose this time to snap, so it is leatherman and some rope to the rescue and then a few minutes later Sas decides that she is not in the right shape to start for the summit and so heads back to the tent.

We set off and within 5mins hit the back of the line and come to a complete halt. The next four hours are incredibly frustrating as for every 5 seconds of movement we rest for about 20 meaning that we get to the ridge after 4hrs rather than the normal 2! From there it is a long, slow trudge along the ridge, over the three steps and then up the final pyramid to the summit. Along the ridge my breathing becomes increasingly laboured with both my chest and throat tightening - I am not quite sure what is going on but just hope I can last the day!

The sun rises as we approach Mushroom Rock and we can start to take in our surroundings on the roof of the world!

Sun rising over the Himalaya

Sorting out our oxygen at Mushroom Rock

Sun rising over the Himalaya

The second step is my big concern - this is a bit of a scramble up some big rocks and there is some pretty nasty exposure there; ie a several thousand metre drop off the side of a less than 1m square platform half way up this cliff. This is the point where my summit bid could fall apart if my vertigo kicks in badly so I have spent a lot of time thinking about and trying to visualise it.

Second Step

Looking down the Second Step
In fact, and really quite bizarrely, my reaction is limited to looking over the edge thinking that the ground is really quite a long way away and then turning round to carry on up the step - is this mind over matter or me being hypoxic to really register what is going on? Anyhow, from there it is a flat easy path along to the third step but it is amazing how even this is very difficult at this altitude and takes a remarkably long time.

Long traverse to the Third Step

Approaching the Third Step

Bottleneck developing at the Third Step

View back down whilst waiting at the Third Step

Unfortunately, the third step is developing into a bit of a bottleneck both above and below it. The very earliest summiteers are now coming back down and a group or Russians seem to have come to a stop below it. Waiting for the climbers to come down takes about 45mins which is pretty annoying but luckily no more than that and it pretty luckily gives me a chance to jump ahead of the Russians. From there it is up the steep slope onto the summit pyramid, the final tricky, rocky traverse, up the rocks and a final stagger along the summit ridge to the top - sounds easy but it takes a long, long time and unfortunately in this time (since waiting at the base of the third step) the weather has come in and there is now pretty much complete cloud cover and the wind has started to pick up. The final ridge is fairly short with only a few small inclines but my breathing difficulties mean that even this is a real struggle and takes a ridiculously long time - imagine three steps forward and then 10 seconds rest.

Anyway, by the time I get to the summit I am feeling so wretched and combined with be lack of any view, that I feel very little about being on top of the world and having got to the end of my challenge. There is also the dread that I now have to make the long journey back down without being able to breathe. I feel oddly numb and none of the sense of elation that I have had on prior summits - perhaps it is the realisation that now I have come to an end, it is back to reality and a finding a job....

Exhausted, out of breath and with no view - but the highest person in the world!!!

As I had no view whatsoever by the time I summited, the following photos were taken by others when they summited at a time of excellent conditions.

View I think down the South side

View back down the North Ridge

View down the West side - following the Rongbok glacier

Possibly the East side of Everest

Anyway; there is a bit of a wait for my turn on the summit but then I am up there on top of the world amongst the clouds. With no view there is not much point staying for long - it is also cold an windy and starting to snow so we do some photos, change onto a new bottle of oxygen (my last) and set off down the mountain. I was hoping that the ease of descending would put much less pressure on my breathing but my chest, lungs and throat have been deteriorating and tightening over the past 10 hours and even this is a struggle as I need to stop every now and then to catch my breath. Whilst this slows my speed below what I was hoping for, I am oddly  still moving faster than most others heading down which is a real source of comfort!

Unfortunately my oxygen seems to be depleting really rather rapidly and finally runs out on the ridge at 8,500 just above high camp which is 200m further down. This is fairly unbelievable as I have only been on it for 4 hours and it should have lasted for 5.5 at a minimum - I have been turning the flow rate down for the past hour to try and eek it out until I got back to camp but for some reason there has just not been enough. This would normally be very challenging but with my chest and lungs I really have no idea how I will be able to survive without oxygen as I just can't breathe up here.

Try as I might, I just cant get enough air to carry on walking and there is no one anywhere near me to help so I start crawling along the ridge. Even this is taking more oxygen than I can breathe in and in am soon feeling very sick and absolutely drained. I am stopping every 10 seconds to catch my breath and having frequent racking, coughing fits that leave me prostrate and gasping for air to avoid passing out. Things are really not going well and I have got to the top of the sections that lead down to camp - there are a number of sections here where I will need to climb and also some pretty big drops. It really isn't safe to continue as I am, so I have no choice but to wait for people to come along who can either give me some oxygen or get some sent back up from the camp below. This is rather worrying as the weather has continued to deteriorate and it is now getting very windy with frequent snow storms - I am not that warm at the moment and lying on a very exposed ridge waiting for a random person to come along with oxygen is going to be a very cold wait! If no one comes along and I am unlucky with the weather I might have to start heading down to try and generate some heat and get out of the wind but that means taking a risk with falling which could be a lot more serious ...

Just as I am about to abandon waiting for help and start down the tricky descent, having been passed by a couple of people in a bad way who could not help, a team comes past and one of them (a Sherpa I think) is bringing down an empty bottle and is more than happy for me to carry it down for him. The pressure gauge is not quite on zero but pretty much there, so pulling myself together I set off again.

Given the minimal amount of oxygen in the bottle, I have it turned right down which gives me enough to stand and move very slowly but little more - I just hope that this can get me back to camp - or at least down this steep section from where I can stumble / crawl into camp. Moving slowly and safely, I make decent progress on what I my weakened state are some pretty tricky sections despite falling a few times. These are mostly tired falls / sit downs after technical bits so I am not too worried. After the exit crags, there is a short walk across a flatter section and then about another 200m walk through the camp to our tent. Unfortunately my oxygen bottle is now pretty much empty and I am walking on vapour - it will be interesting and a little dispiriting to see how far I can get before it runs out.

The camp site looks fairly post-apocalyptic. What tents are left, are situated amongst rocky outcrops and new snow from the days storms. The area is littered with broken tents, rope, oxygen bottles and other detritus and there is no one in sight. I seem oddly to have moved ahead of the group that stopped to help me and I am now on my own again. Whilst not a problem when I have oxygen, things are going to get rather tricky when my oxygen inevitably runs out. Sure enough, this happens just when I get to the camp leaving me another 200m to go. Getting back down to 8,300 seems to have helped and I am now able to walk (albeit very slowly and unsteadily) the tent is tantalisingly close and I really need to get out of the weather and get a reliable source of oxygen to stop further damage to my lungs and get some rest for the rest of the descent. I make very slow progress through the camp largely as I need to stop every few seconds or so for a coughing fit or just to rest but eventually I collapse into the tent at about 15:30.

Once safely in the tent there is oxygen, hot juice and a chance to rest. It is very unsafe to spend a second night at this altitude so I am very keen to carry on down the mountain to get to Camp 2 which is another 700m lower and at the edge of the Death Zone rather than a long way into it. However, my breathing continues to deteriorate and I am having 'episodes' where I am virtually unable to breathe and so need to turn the oxygen right up even though I am just lying in my sleeping bag at the moment. I have also started to become delirious and, for the first time on the mountain, I can really recognise that my mind is not working properly as I struggle to think clearly even when lucid. I try radioing down to camp a few times but, as usual, I can't get any response.

A big concern is that this is the last bottle of oxygen up here and it appears that the group Sherpas have cleared our equipment off the mountain. Quite why this has been done before there has been confirmation that we are all safely down is an absolute mystery and taking the general incompetence in the organisation of this expedition to new and very dangerous levels! My lungs / throat / chest are not improving and for the first time I start to wonder how on earth I am going to get down; not much I can do at the moment so we will just have to see how I am in the morning.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Day 58 - Move to Camp 3 (8,300m) - the highest campsite in the world!

Today we are heading up to 8,300. The first part of the climb is up through the rest of the campsite, which is spread up over about the next 200m of the hill, and then some traverses on a mixture of rock and snow - nothing too tricky but I spend most of the morning trying to overtake those who have got up earlier but are waking far slower. This is a bit of a concern for summit day where these sorts of speeds cause hold ups and bottle necks.

Leaving Camp 2 in fine conditions

Heading up through the remainder of the camp

Tail of climbers behind us

Conditions starting to deteriorate

Getting worse as we get to our camp spot
By the time I get to camp (at about 1pm) the wind has picked up and it is rather amusing again trying to put up a tent on half a ledge in this wind; I have taken my oxygen off to breathe some fresh air but that makes any form of exertion tricky.

Trying to pitch the tent in some pretty tough conditions - and on a pile of rocks 

Relaxing (!) in our tent at the highest csmpsite in the world

The rest of the group arrive a bit later on and we end up in one tent with the Sherpas in the other (a bit of a change of plan from earlier in the day). We have about 7 hours to rest now with the plan to set off at about 10pm. We talk, drink and eat for a bit while discussing the plan for the next 24 hours and then try to get a couple of hours sleep - the plan being to wake at 8 to give us a couple of hours to get ready.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Day 57 - Move to Camp 2 (7,700m)

As is usual at the North Col, we are woken by the sun at about 6 am and start getting preparing for the trip up to Camp 2 - which will be a record height for all of us. I struggle with my breakfast but am not sure whether this is my appetite going or simply that I am not keen on rehydrated porridge and strawberries. As a result I take a wider range of food for the next few days than I had planned which means that my bag is quite a bit heavier than I had hoped.

Gus doesn't appear to want to get out of bed and hasn't really moved by the time I leave at a bit after 8, complaining of stomach issues - I just hope that this is not a continuation of the revenge of the chicken!

Right from the start I am feeling strong and soon end up walking with some Sherpas again - eating two meals a night seems a recipe for success; I will just have to see how long I can carry it on for.

The plan is to start using oxygen at some point today as the key to summiting Everest is using as little energy as possible on these two days to start your summit bid with as much energy as possible. I end up leaving this until quite late on and am surprised at how little noticeable effect there seems to be. So I try a few things out and it appears to be that the regulator provides a set flow of oxygen (I was using 1.5 litres a minute) and this doesn't do a lot to the large amount of deep breaths that I take. If I move slower and breathe slower and deeper, I seem to get a much better return from the oxygen. This was something I was always concerned about as I use a very large amount of air when scuba diving.

The day is a snow slope for about 500m vertical with a range of gradients and then rock and rubble for another couple of hundred metres; there is quite a bit of scree which makes the final route into camp pretty tiring. Camp is very spread out with tents on any available ledges and many of these ledges are rather concerning with most tents having up to a couple of feet hanging in thin air - especially worrying as we are being buffeted by the high winds keeping us off the summit! These make putting our tents up a cold and tiring business but provide great relief when we finally get inside - the sun is pretty strong so it is actually quite warm in the tents.

Getting ready to head up to Camp 2

All set to head up the mountain

A long line of other climbers
Getting close to the transition to rock here - Camp 2 is the mass of yellow tents above
Climbing through the rocks

Final few climbs up to Camp 2

A very rocky Camp 2 with the weather coming in - pretty difficult to pitch tents in such conditions!

Erecting our tent on a pile of rocks

After the weather clears, we get some great views

View back along the North East ridge

View out across the Himalaya

Food goes well again and I manage two meals in the afternoon / evening. It's a shame I haven't been able to make more of a dent in my snack bag as that is really pretty heavy - quite a few snickers, mars and other assorted sweets. But they will (hopefully) keep me going on summit day!

My main concern at the moment is my ribs which continue to deteriorate. I am in agony when I cough, sneeze, sit up, roll over etc. the only good thing is that it is not quite so painful when I am breathing normally; the pain goes as soon as it comes so unless there are any funny moves on summit day I should be ok and will just have to deal with the consequences when we get off the mountain.

Unfortunately, Gus hasn't been able to make it today and has returned the North Col camp. I have not been able to make radio contact yet but hear a highest altitude attempt may be on the cards for tomorrow!

At this camp it is just me and one of the Sherpas so we have a spacious tent for a change - lucky as the 'space' is in fact where the tent is hanging off the ledge and so usable for bags etc but little else.