So after sitting around at the unhealthy altitudes of ABC, it was time to make our attempt on the North Col. That is why we came to the mountain and there was no use putting it off any longer, as the trade-off between our bodies acclimatising and deteriorating was starting to show. We had to get down to lower altitudes soon.
The North Col was already proving itself to be no easy feat. As part of the team was ahead of us, some of them had already attempted the near 1000 metre climb.
Three of them did not make it (after three attempts). The Seven Summiteer and mountain enthusiast was sick when he reached the top. The impressively fit Red Arrows pilot coughed up blood as he staggered into camp. So needless to say Dad and I were slightly worried that we had set ourselves too ambitious a target!
To get to the foot of the 600 metre ice wall that you have to climb up to reach the North Col, there is a two and a half hour walk to get there up a steady incline. As we were now in serious mountain conditions, we were wearing our ‘summit boots’ to protect us from the cold and snow. It made walking cumbersome and slow.
Halfway into the walk to the ice wall you reach ‘Crampon Point’, where you put on your harnesses and crampons in advance of reaching the ice wall. The North Col climb is probably the most technical section of the whole of the Everest north face ascent.
‘Jumar Point’ marks the foot of the ice wall and is where the fixed ropes begin. We reached this point within about two hours despite the weather closing in and a snow storm around us. Things weren’t looking good – the others had struggled in sunny weather and we were taking on the North Col in a storm. Graham at ABC radioed twice to see if we were still proceeding.
The standard four hour ascent of the 600 metre ice wall was definitely the hardest part of the whole trip. The gradient was 50 degrees in some places and you could see other climbers slowly making their way up the cliff like little ants disappearing into the distance. If you look carefully at the photo and zoom in, you will see the lines of climbers going up the ice wall.
But being built like a Sherpa (i.e. small and light!) I seemed to race up the cliff much faster than the others. Indeed, Dad had several Sherpas come up to him saying “Your son – strong!” What a compliment coming from those guys!
After about 20 lines of fixed ropes and three hours I was making good progress. Then my heart stopped.
We were very near the top and were faced with three ladders lashed together, forming a makeshift bridge over a bottomless crevasse.
News to me - I thought there were no such ladders on the North side! To make matters worse, the ladder was not fixed into the snow at either end, just lain on top of the ground. This made it wobble and bow as you went over it.
At the end of the ladder was a near vertical 20 foot scramble; and then – finally – I was in camp. Our tents were at the far end of the 40 foot line of tents, and hilariously this took about 10 minutes to walk as I had to stop every few steps for breath.
As soon as I collapsed into the communal tent I took a picture of myself – I think from the expression on my face you can tell how tough the climb was!
Dad did amazingly well and an hour later also collapsed into camp. He ascended using oxygen and just kept ploughing on; refusing to give up. He completed the climb in an impressive six hours.
Not bad for a 65 year old who has never climbed mountains before!
The final member of the team that day, Rikki, was about two hours after Dad.
He is the most stubbornly determined guy I have ever met. Despite suffering from a bronchial infection for weeks, he refused to give up.
He staggered in almost as it was going dark, clutching his chest and whispering “I can’t breathe!” I honestly thought he was about to have a heart attack and die.
That night we huddled together in the communal tent. I had about 10 cups of tea and pasta soup cooked in melted snow, which tasted fantastic.
It was very cold - I put on my thermals, down summit suit, hat, gloves AND slept in my sleeping bag. We all slept on oxygen that night and bizarrely I slept well…and dreamed of doing property deals!!