Valerio Massimo Everest Expedition 2009

Me on the summit of Cho Oyu with Everest in the background

South Summit reached – still going strong

May 21st, 2009 by Alix

Valerio has radioed down that he has reached the South Summit of Everest at 8,750 meters (28,750 feet). 

100 vertical meters to go.

He feels strong and has just started a fresh oxygen bottle.

Tags: 10 Comments

South Col and the Upcoming Summit Bid

May 20th, 2009 by Alix

As you have heard, this is a season with only a few possible summit days and a lot of waiting, which has meant that the last two days have been almost non-stop news and events as the first summits are achieved. The mountain has been busy, with many extraordinary stories and rescues already – I am reminded how very hard and how very dangerous this is for each individual climber. There has been one climber fatality so far, on the North side.
I’m sorry to sound trite but it’s been an amazing privilege to be here and watch firsthand the amazing amount of work and coordination that goes into this climb. Russell snatched the last few hours of sleep he’ll be getting for the next three or four days last night. He has two or three radios constantly going on different channels , and I sat mouth agape at dinner as he and the doctor, Monica, coordinated some rescue attempts with other teams. One man was found unconscious at 8500m and carried down; it looks like he will make it after several shots of Dex and a night on oxygen, saved by the efforts of at least three team leaders and their Sherpas and guides on the mountain. Russell’s Camp 3 is the highest as Valerio mentioned on his last trip there, so it is the first for climbers coming down, and throughout the afternoon and evening the radio would bark into life with a report from one of the Team 1 guides that another person had stumbled in, apparently near death, and demanded oxygen. The problem of course is that everyone is (and certainly looks) ‘near death’ by this point and usually their tents are only a few metres further down. Despite this, Himex guides played host and nurse to several returning summitters last night.
Valerio reached Camp 4 on the South Col at 7960 metres after 6 hours of climbing, so is just forty metres shy of the famous ‘Death Zone’ of 8000 metres where the body begins immediately to deteriorate and no one has been able to stay alive more than a couple of days. The whole team has now gone onto a low flow of oxygen to preserve their strength and some warmth, which will be hiked up to a higher flow when they leave tonight.

This is where it becomes really real. To a mountaineer or anyone interested in Everest, the South Col is littered with legends. To Valerio, this is what he’s been dreaming of and where he truly starts to follow in the footsteps of history. .. although I just spoke to him for the last time before he goes up and I have to admit it was quite harrowing. I think he’s thinking just of his own tired body rather than the footsteps of glory. Although his voice sounded strong, he said he was utterly exhausted and admitted, for the first time, that today had been very hard. At that altitude every step gained would be more difficult than the last. For the first time, I think he’s feeling unsure if he could do it… he described the South Col as hell on earth and said the summit looked very far away. I know he’s strong enough but it must be difficult to feel strong when you’re in such a bleak place.

So… a little picture (it’s not pretty) of Valerio on the South Col. He is higher than almost anywhere else in the world, more than a mile and a half above where I am, where he was just a couple of days ago. The tents are tied to the steep ice and balanced precariously on shallow carved-out shelves- this is the camp where people have famously stepped out of their tents without crampons and slipped immediately to their death. He now shares his tent with Chinese-born ZQ, so they are bundled into their too-small sleeping bags trying to preserve warmth and taking turns to boil snow into water- the body constantly dehydrates in the thin air (but too much means you have to pee, which can be a pretty horrific prospect in the biting cold). He’s wearing his oxygen mask, mitts, boots, and full down suit. He will try to eat (the famous tortellini and pana he brought all the way from Luigi’s on Fulham Rd are finished and it’s basic ramen now) but it is very unlikely – appetite and even digestion were left by the wayside. Batteries for his headtorch, camera, and bootwarmers are duct-taped to his body as anything outside will freeze, as will any water that is not actually boiling. It’s here that he has to decide how much water to carry up- difficult as it is likely to freeze and thus be nothing more than dead weight, but he needs fluid. I think he plans to take two half-litres in all, for the minimum 18 hour climb ahead. Weight is obviously an issue; the much repeated axiom here is that 10 grams feels like two kilos up there. Before he attempts to ‘sleep’ (almost certainly impossible at this altitude) he will make sure that he is wearing everything for the summit bid, including his boots, crampons, harness, and oxygen mask. Then when the time comes all he has to do is sit up and set off in the pitch darkness (it’s a new moon so there won’t be any helpful moonlight) with only a patch of light from his headlamp to see the steep ice in front of him. Currently it is around -20 Celsius up there, but when he is climbing tomorrow in the wee hours it will probably drop to around -25 or -30, before the temperature rises again after around 8am, when he could well be on or near the summit.

Lovely!! After the miserable details in this post you may want to read what Valerio wrote on ‘Why Everest?’ at left as it may seem a bit unfathomable! I’m heading to a sleepless night by the radio and will be posting if I get any news… he should reach the Balcony around 4am.

X from EBC

Tags: 25 Comments

Back to Camp 3, and an Empty Base Camp

May 19th, 2009 by Alix

I woke up yesterday at 4am to the unexpected sound of freight trains rushing through the camp, while my tent snapped and flapped wildly around me. We were in what I would call a windstorm, with anything not tied down being lost and many tents in other teams being flattened or blown away. The wind was enough to make me breathless as I battled through it to the mess tent for breakfast, so was I amazed to hear that it was ‘only’ gusting around 40 miles an hour. It makes me realize how awful the conditions on top must have been last week. Mentioning I was impressed by the sangfroid exhibited by the remaining climbers and guides, I set off a storm of reminiscing of ‘real’ wind… in ‘88 when a gust ripped open Russell’s mess tent and swept away every single item on the dinner table from under their noses, lost into the night… whole campfuls of tents destroyed and expeditions ruined… a more sober story of an entire lodge with three climbers in it that was gusted off a cliff, just before a guide here arrived in a rescue attempt; and most of all Kiwi stories of the winds of their homeland which are enough to sandblast the paint off a car in the night. This little bluster, I was assured, was nothing.

It still sounded pretty loud.

Camp 2, where Valerio and the rest of Team 1 were enjoying a rest day before pushing on to Camp 3 this morning, was not badly affected. They even managed to get in a game of cricket as promised on the glacier, apparently, although I’m waiting to see the photographic evidence! After general fears of losing strength during the weather-enforced fortnight of rest, the entire team were delighted to find they were stronger than ever – they got through the Icefall in three and a half hours, faster than last time. Valerio continued straight to Camp 2 and reached it by 9:30am. Some of the team rested at Camp 1 and then unfortunately got stuck in the Cwm just as the sun began to beat down, making the trip between camps a bit longer and more difficult – it was  miserably, bakingly hot (often 40 degrees, and sunburns can be  permanently scarring). However, everyone made it safely by midday. Today they got up at 5am and made their way up the Lhotse Face to Camp 3, where they’ll be resting and boiling water (at least two hours per litre!) in their familiar tents for the last time before ascending to Camp 4, a completely horrible place from what I hear- more on that next time.

Yesterday was meant to be a summit day for several other teams (back to tactics- with a summit the size of a dining table it was felt better to hang back and let some other teams get the early days) but the rumour is that they were not able to go due to the winds; if true this means they were stuck in the energy-sapping altitude of Camp 4 for two nights, an unpleasant idea.

The second team left last night at midnight and are now safely in Camp 2. Among the first to arrive, we’ve just heard, was Chris Macklin, Valerio’s tentmate throughout the expedition. He’s consistently been one of the strongest (and most fun!) on the team so it was a great pity that they had to be split for the final attempt. Chris got frostbite on one of his fingers during the trip to Camp 3 a couple weeks ago due to a split in his liner glove and the decision was made to give him as much time as possible to heal before braving the cold again. He will be fine, but won’t be taking his mitts off, even for a second, until he gets back down here in a week, a major inconvenience when in the tents boiling water.

Meanwhile, four of us are left in EBC, spending our time fixing tents, laying rocks, and tidying up – but most of all staring intently at the crackling radios, waiting for static-blurred news from the teams on the mountain.

Oh lastly in News of the Truly Pathetic, while Valerio stays strong at 7400 metres I have managed to get mild frostbite on one of my toes here at Base Camp. It is painless and slightly embarrassing among all these mountaineers! 

X from EBC

Katrina – I looked for Yonden Nuru but he was swapped and is actually climbing in Team 1 with Valerio and the others. He’s listed as the guides’ Sherpa so is climbing with them. I’ll ask V to pass on your message when I next speak to him.
Paul – Ummm… yes. But not the lovely ones. xx

Thank you all for your comments and support- I pass them all on to Valerio.

Tags: 15 Comments