Almost ten years ago, I was fortunate enough to stand on the summit of the world’s tallest mountain, and even more fortunate to make it safely down. This, after running out of oxygen below the Hillary Step, (28,800’) in the middle of a deadly storm with gale-force winds of 50 mph and temperatures of -40 degrees below freezing. When I hear the audio recording (read the transcript below), I’m once again taken back to The Mother Mountain and giving gratitude every day for the privilege of being alive in the world. The speaker is Squash Falconer from our Everest Expedition; this call was made from Camp II about twenty-four hours after our summit, and when the emotions are very present and real.
Hi this is Squash from the Everest team giving the dispatch for Friday 13th May.
I apologize if I sound out of my mind and what I say isn’t completely accurate but I’m very, very tired at the moment. Basically, on the 11th May in the early hours of the morning, the Everest team (myself, Mitch, Paula, and Stew) all left Camp III [23,500’] and climbed to Camp IV [25,900’]. We climbed through the clouds and it was one hell of a day, really tough and we arrived in camp IV in the afternoon.
We started boiling water and eating food because the plan was that we would be leaving at about 8:00/9:00 p.m. that night for the summit. The reason that we wanted to leave that night was because we’d been following the weather reports really carefully and for the 12th May they had forecast clear skies, very light winds, and basically perfect weather. So we all got food and water and had some rest and prepared for the summit.
It was really rough climbing. Stew wasn’t feeling too well so he asked someone to turn his oxygen up, but it actually got turned off. It’s a really easy mistake to make but he then climbed for the next two hours amazingly with no oxygen and was quite slow. Anyways, we soon realized what had happened and he started off again when the oxygen had got turned back on. Mitch was doing really well, making good time. Paula was feeling incredibly cold though and very tired, and when you feel like that it can be dangerous to go on, so she made the very difficult, but right decision to turn back and she’d done incredibly well though and had made it over 8,000 meters [28,000+]. She’d been strong throughout, but she made the right decision to stop there. [Paula would summit some years later on her third expedition attempt.]
Myself and Mitch carried on. It was looking quite clear. We were expecting the sun to come up at about 4:00 a.m. but we didn’t see it. A lot of clouds rolled in instead and the wind picked up. At this point a whole load of other teams turned back [at the South Summit, 28,500’] but we decided to carry on. Things got really hyped up and difficult, we got a little bit cold, we got tired and I think if we were honest, we got a little bit [a lot] scared.
We were wondering if we should turn back as well but we decided to carry on and made it all the way to the summit. Mitch got there first, Stew got there second and then shortly after I arrived. Conditions were absolutely terrible, you could see about a few meters in front of you, the wind was probably about 50 miles an hour and with the wind-chill it was probably 40 or 50 degrees below freezing. It was just awful up there. So, whilst we were excited to be at the top, we just wanted to get down, I didn’t even get a camera out and take a picture at the summit unfortunately. Stew got some summit shots and so did Mitch and I did a tiny bit of filming, but we got off there very quickly.
Something very sad happened as we were walking down; we came across a Japanese climber who didn’t have any down gear, he got very cold and was struggling and couldn’t carry on. We tried to offer him help [Dexamethasone] but there was really nothing we could do so we carried on and we heard today that he actually passed away, so obviously our thoughts and concerns go to his friends and family. It’s terrible and when something like that happens it’s quite difficult to deal with. [Then and Now]
We carried on down and we made fairly good time. We got in about 4 and a half hours to Camp IV. It was amazing to get back down there, you can’t quite describe the feeling of it because you’re so tired and exhausted and you just feel all kinds of emotion. Obviously, I didn’t fly off the summit [Squash was due to paraglide off the summit of Everest], there was no question as to whether I would or not when I got there in those conditions and getting to the summit of the mountain was enough. We all got back down safely and now we’re in Camp II [21,000’] and tomorrow we’ll be back in Base Camp [17,600’] so we’ll tell you more then but that’s it for now, we’re all doing well and thanks for following.
The Japanese climber who died, Takahashi Ozaki, was a very experienced mountaineer and was only a few years older than me at the time. He was known for the first ascent of Mt. Everest’s north face in 1980 and a second summit in December of 1983 along with a long list of 8,000-meter peaks. He left a wife, son and daughter when he perished on the same morning at the Balcony after we summited.
We learned a lot from The Mother Mountain, including respect and gratitude. Respect for the Mountain and Gratitude for our after-Everest lives are some things that we will never forget; along with our remembrance for Takahashi and the other fallen climbers who are forging new routes in their own after-lives.