Brian Smith, a 1988 South Medford High School graduate, is more than half way up Mount Everest in his quest to reach the top of the world.
The son of Larry and Linda Smith of Jacksonville will be sending e-mail dispatches to the Mail Tribune as his adventure continues. You can read his complete e-mails here; they have been edited only for spelling and clarity:
All I can say about this dream coming true is WOW!!!!!!!!! I just met some of my climbing teammates and Sherpas. Not only am I in the big leagues for the first time in my life, but I am playing in the World Series. One of my teammates is Mustafa from Jordan. Mustafa is the first Jordanian to ever attempt Everest. He is a national hero in Jordan. Our first call if/when we make the summit is a live video satellite call to the king of Jordan himself!!! How cool is that???
Mustafa has the direct line to the king’s bedroom as we will hopefully be making the summit around 2am Jordanian time. Mustafa was also knighted by the king recently after he made the summit of Cho Oyu and Denali last year. After becoming a national hero he is a full-time professional climber sponsored by about everybody now. After Everest he is continuing to work on the fourteen 8,000-meter peaks and seven summits.
Mustafa Mahmoud Salameh is climbing Everest this spring, aiming to be the first Jordanian to climb the Seven Summits. He has already climbed Vinson, Elbrus and Denali. A member in Mountain Madness team, Mustafa is sponsored by Jordan’s monarch, King Abdullah.
Salameh is climbing Everest for the second time after a previous attempt in 2005. Back then a stomach ulcer forced him back, just as it did from Cho Oyu in 2006.
Mustafa and I hit it off immediately. I can tell that we are going to become good buddies on this climb. We are about to go explore Kathmandu together. I told him that it is going to be an incredible honor to have a knight for a close buddy and to make the summit with a national hero together as teammates.
Our two Norwegian teammates are to arrive later today. What a great international team we have!
Eric and I hit it off right away also. He is another teammate who has made the summit of Cho Oyu as well (the 6th highest peak in the world) as well as Ama Dablam and multiple ascents in Ecuador, the Cascades and an attempt on Aconcagua after mine. They didn’t make the summit and he told me that since I made the summit of Aconcagua in January, only 5 climber have since made it.
Getting out of Delhi this morning was an adventure. When we flew over the Himalayas I caught my first glimpse of Everest!!! I am beside myself with amazement and excitement.
Kathmandu is a trip. It is a city of 10 million and reminds me of Manila with total chaos as you drive on the wrong side of the road while sharing 1 1/2 lanes with bikes, 5 cars, 3 motorcycles, cows and pedestrians. I was sure we would have a couple dozen head ons before making it to our hotel. I was loving the sights and smells which are as different from our sterile USA as is possible. Cows here are sacred and roam the city streets everywhere. The city is a mix of Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian. What a contrast in religions!
The poverty is like nothing I have seen. Even worse then Manila I think. Temples are all over and there is a lot of color in the city. Everybody constantly honks and swerves around each other while driving, yet there is no road rage at all.
Even though my Visa is for 60 days and I need 70+ days and didn’t fill out all the correct forms, the officials just waived me on through and said “don’t worry about it.”
I am living my personal dreams for sure and just soaking it all in. We have official team climbing jackets given to us as well that say “Mount Everest Expedition 2007.” That jacket will be a treasure for life. If we make the summit we also get an official card from the Nepalese government and then get a lot of perks and free stuff for life in Kathmandu. Being an Everest climber seems to make you a hero around here.
We are well on our way into Everest Base camp and are in the famous Namche Bazaar for the next 2 nights at 11,309 feet. We have hiked in maybe 15 miles so far.
I LOVED Kathmandu but could not get out of there fast enough because the air quality was so bad. You could see for less than 1 mile in distance. By the second day I could no longer breathe and felt bronchitis coming on fast. Not a good thing when going to 29,035 feet... I felt better after arriving in Lukla and beginning the trek.
So far the trek has been beyond amazing. We hike along beautiful rivers, through dense forests and cross many wild suspension bridges as they swing and sway a couple hundred feet above the rivers. Many yaks and porters are coming and going along the trail as there are no roads in here. Everything is carried by hand or yak. We have about 50 porters for our team, each being about 5’3”, 90 lbs and carrying 130 lbs or so apiece in baskets suspended off their heads by a single strap! These people are amazingly strong. I saw two porters each carrying 5 sheets of 3/4 inch plywood each for the past 2 days. I couldn’t carry 1 sheet for a mile and they are at 15 miles and over 11,000 feet!
The flight in to Lukla from Kathmandu yesterday was incredible. I caught my first view of Annapurna and many of the other Himalayan giants. The trekkers caught the first Otter while us 6 climbers caught our own plane after them. As we flew along at 13,000 feet unpressurized, many ridges passed only 150 feet or so beneath the plane before we landed on a narrow sloped runway perched on the side of a steep cliff. The landing was a rush. I guess many a plane has crashed there over the years.
We hike along with the trekkers but the climbers sleep in tea houses while the trekkers are in tents. We also eat dinner as a climbing team down the trail a little from them and have team jackets that we wear during the day saying “Everest Expedition 2007.”
I am the only one from my climbing team who has not been in there before. Everyone else has 1-6 8,000-meter peaks already under their belts. The Norwegians on my team have a cameraman along with them as they are filming a documentary for Norwegian TV in high definition. They promised me a copy of it. I guess I will make it on TV after all even though it is not in my own country...
The tea houses are fairly nice. We have a bed and tonight we have a shower and bathroom in our room. The food is good and the Sherpa people wonderful. I really like our 3 climbing Sherpas. My bunk mate is Mustafa. He told me today that on the summit he is going to put me on the live satellite video feed with the king of Jordan where I will be congratulated by the king and can talk to him for a few minutes. I just have to refer to him as “your majesty” while talking to him. How cool is that!!! Being able to talk to the king of a country will be a bonus to reaching the highest point in the world.
Tonight we are in Gorak Shep at 17,000 feet (5,180 meters) very close to Everest. Tomorrow we move to our new home at base camp. Gorak Shep is the last tea house before base camp and is perched on the side of the Khumbu Glacier moraine.
The hike in has been amazing. So far I have climbed 20,000 vertical feet in elevation with my side adventures up to 17,000 feet several times along the way and hiked over 50 miles. I have had many views of Everest as well as Cho Oyu and Makalu, which are other 8,000 meter peaks. I also climbed up a ridge to 16,800 feet on Ama Dablam where I had an amazing view of Everest only one ridge away from me.
Our team is coming together very nicely. Erik, Willy and I often run or hike at a 4 mph pace between Sherpa villages even at the 17,000-foot level. We are known as the speedsters of Everest. I feel really strong. This is now my 5th time above 17,000 feet so I hardly notice it. The smokey Sherpa tea houses we stay in at night though really bother my lungs but other then that I feel great. Some of the trekkers in our support team are really suffering from the high altitude though. Incredible headaches and shortness of breath. Yesterday Willy, Erik and I came across a trekker lying in the rocks semi conscious at 16,400 feet. We checked him out and encouraged him to head down immediately as he was definitely suffering from AMS.
Our sherpas have pushed up and established camp I so far on Everest but the Khumbu Icefall is really active this year as it has been exceptionally warm lately. Every day many of the ladders and fixed ropes are wiped out by collapsing seracs. This will add a little to the objective hazard as we cross through the icefall 6 times while climbing Everest. Our plan is to start extra early when we enter the icefall at around 4 am when it is good and frozen. Camp I was also nearly wiped out by an avalanche recently so it will make for an interesting year.
We have a record amount of teams on the mountain this year. We have 33 teams setting up at base camp for a push to the summit just on the south side. It will make for crowded ropes and increased risk I am sure. Along with the record amount of teams I am sure 2007 will be the record year for fatalities on Everest. On the north side I think it is even worse... Our leader Willy has been to the summit 5 times and is one of the top high-altitude climbers in the world so I am very confident in his skills and judgement.
Yesterday we passed through a region with about 40 memorials to Everest climbers who have lost their lives. It was very sobering for sure as to the risk up high. Our lead trekking Sherpa lost his father on Everest so he only guides on treks to base camp and never higher. He is a really nice and happy guy. I love the Sherpa people.
I think that they are sending dispatches daily at mountainmadness.com so that is the best way to follow our progress. Tomorrow it is on to base camp at 17,600 feet.
I really miss you Helen, Chloe and Everest! I think about you every day.
We have been at Everest base camp for 5 days or so now. My tent is sitting at 17,500 feet right at the base of the Khumbu Icefall. All day and night the air is filled with the sound of massive booming avalanches coming off Everest and many of the other high peaks surrounding us. I love the sound of an incredible avalanche. It has not happened yet but Willie warned me not to leave the tent door unzipped as camp will get blasted from time to time with avalanche powder from the ice fall.
Yesterday our Sherpas were able to punch up to camp II. I was all set to push to camp I at 5:30 am with several other climbers from our team but we called it off at the last minute. The day before I pushed up to 18,100 feet inside the ice fall with some of the climbers from our team. Wow is all I can say about the Khumbu Icefall. It is a fascinating and spooky place all at the same time. We crossed 3 crevasses on suspension ladders. Our 3rd crevasse spanned 20 feet wide and 200 feet deep. It takes fluid concentration to cross while wearing crampons over 3 suspension ladders that are lashed together at the ends. We are clipped into a fixed line with a biner, but to fall off the ladder would invite injury and be tough to get back out. The trick is to lean forward while holding the fixed line for balance and hit each rung in the center of your crampon where you can balance. I experimented with snapping my front points across the front rung and rear points in the rung behind me but found my crampons lock into the rungs making for a bouncy delicate extraction while maintaining balance.
At 18,100 we traversed and climbed what seemed to be miles of fixed lines and ladders and yet we were still 1,400 feet beneath camp I and only 1/3 of the way through the ice fall... It is hard to imagine that the summit is still 12,000 feet above base camp!! In all we will cross through the ice fall 6-8 times.
It is warm and sunny each morning at base camp and then about noon the temperature plummets down to around zero and it snows all afternoon and into the evening. Nights are cold with it being near zero at 8 am inside our tents. We only survive up here as no humans on the planet live at this elevation long term...
Our team has suffered with severe illness for the past week or so. Mustafa was down with a serious flu and is finally feeling better. Casey, Bjorn and Eirik had serious and violent diarrhea and vomiting for the past week and now Willie is sick. It is bad enough being sick at home but at 17,500 feet they all feel as if they are going to die at any moment.
I have been healthy other then a case of the “Khumbu cough.” I have had a bad cough for a week now which is common up here. My concern though is that this cough often turns into broken ribs at 23,000 feet. I steam twice a day and try to keep my mouth covered as much as possible as well as drinking a gallon or so of warm water each day.
I am anxious to get higher up on Everest. Hopefully in the next day or two everyone will be healthy enough to make our first push up to camp I at 19,500 feet.
We made it up to camp I on Everest today!
We are now actually climbing Everest. Today 3 from our climbing team of 5 and 2 of the Khumbu extension climbers made it up to camp I at 19,870 feet and then descended back to base camp. One extension climber is now out as he can’t make it above 18,100 feet and two of the climbers on my team are still struggling to recover from the flu and had to turn back around 18,000 feet.
The climb was amazing and dangerous inside the Khumbu Icefall. In all it took us 9 1/2 hours round trip. Sections of the icefall seem worse this year then in past years according to Willie. In all I climbed or crossed 33 extension ladders. We moved fast and kept in mind that the icefall is no place to hang out for long. At times we had to cross underneath arches of ice that will collapse any day now.
These arches were 100 feet high and consisted of hundreds of thousands of tons of ice. At one point Willie even said “let’s move faster, this place is freaking me out!” We only had one serac collapse about 50 yards from us today but the roar was amazing and spooky. In all we were clipped in and followed about 3 miles of fixed rope each way.
We arrived at camp I inside the Western CWM about noon, 6 hours after leaving base camp. I was feeling extremely emotional as I looked up at the Lhotse face to camp III and on past the Yellow Band to camp IV at the South Col and I could even see much of the SW ridge as it rises up to the South Summit. I have seen so much video and pictures of the exact place I was standing.
I found the day at least as exhausting as a summit day on Rainier except making the summit of Rainier via the Nisqually Icefall on 17% less oxygen. For those who have not climbed Rainier the next easiest way to compare the challenge of the day would be a 24-hour non-stop bike ride or run as fast as you can while dodging cars that are out to flatten you. At camp I today we were only a few feet from the elevation of Denali and less then 50% of the oxygen of Seattle.
Most of us are coughing a little now but I am feeling better after coughing my guts out all the way up the icefall this morning in the zero degree morning temps. The secret to keeping the cough down is to not breath the cold frozen dry air directly but when I cover my mouth I often feel like I am suffocating in the thin air.
Tomorrow we take a rest day while our Sherpas continue to work on camp I and camp II. In two days we will push up to camp I to spend the night and then push on up to camp II just for the day the following day before returning back to camp I for the night and then descend back through the ice fall once again back to base camp to recover.
The South Koreans have a huge team up here this year and are camped next to us. They are all dressed in the same gear.
Yesterday the prime minister of South Korea flew in to base camp in a helicopter to congratulate and motivate their national climbing team. He was on oxygen of course as a helicopter flight up to base camp is fatal if the person is not acclimatized. His helicopter almost crashed on take off. There are crashed helicopters all over base camp. Inside the ice fall I found a helicopter rotor blade stuck in the ice from a crash in 2005 that killed 2 people and severely injured 5 more. Helicopters do not do well at 17,500 feet.
Mustafa (from Jordan) and Casey have retreated down to Namche to attempt to recover from their illnesses. It is amazing how the body simply does not heal itself above 17,000 feet. Cuts don’t heal, coughs don’t heal and colds don’t go away easily. Fortunately I have only suffered with the common “Khumbu cough” which about 90% of everyone up here has. Some are much worse then I am. I do feel better today after my massage yesterday. It seems like I coughed up a lot of stuff last night.
I didn’t bring anything along for a cough. Another learning experience when going to extreme altititude for months.
I have read 3 books up here so far. We all trade books to keep new material going around. Right now I am reading “Swimming to Antarctica.” It is interesting how she compares her long distance swims to climbing Everest.
It was both good to get back to base camp yesterday, as well as dissapointing that I did not get up to camp III on my 3rd trip up high onto Everest. Base camp is much more comfortable than the high camps. Everyday that I have been up high it has snowed hard during the afternoon. Also the wind picks up, the tents rattle and shake, and it is cold.
During the mornings up high it is nice and warm as long as you are hanging out in camp. If we are climbing in the morning, whether inside the Khumbu Icefall or Western CWM, it is an invariable oven and feels like it is 130 degrees in the still morning air under a very intense high altitude sun. So far I have been through the Khumbu Icefall 3 times round trip. The first time through, the Khumbu was a fascinating and very spooky, unstable place. There are many double and triple extension ladders that wobble and sway as you carefully cross over seemingly bottomless crevasses.
When crossing an extension ladder it is best to focus on your boots and crampons as you carefully click your front points over the front rung and your last two points over the rung behind. To change your focus past your boots and crampons looking deep into the crevasse can bring on a case of vertigo. The ice features are amazing, deep blue and towering.
In the beginning I had to rein in my focus on the climb as I wanted instead to look around and soak in the beauty. Now that I have been through the icefall 3 times it is just becoming hard work at high altitude. I hardly notice the ladders anymore as they have become routine. My night at camp II never seemed to end. It was cold and the air thin. Having a case of the Khumbu cough going did not allow for any deep rest, as a deep violent coughing fit was never far away, and always left me breathless and exhausted. In the morning everything inside the tent was covered in frost. My -40 sleeping bag had a thick layer of ice covering it. Unless we are moving up to the next camp, we generally wait until the sun hits the tents to make getting out of our bags a little warmer and easier. Signing off until camp III!
Hello everyone. I hope that everyone is well. As always, I really appreciate the personal e-mails I have received from everyone. We are leaving tomorrow for our final week on the upper mountain before our bid for the summit within the next couple weeks.
Hello Southern Oregon! I have been thinking about how great Southern Oregon is at this time of year. The wildflowers are coming out, it is getting warm and the pear blossoms have bloomed. A little different from up here on Everest where nothing lives among the cold world of rock and ice. We do have Goraks and some type of black bird that visit us up here and eat the leftover food that the expeditions put out behind camp for the birds.
I find it amazing that I used to deliver the Mail Tribune as a kid and now I am writing dispatches for the Mail Tribune from Mount Everest that thousands of people are reading. In fact I was still delivering the Mail Tribune when my dream to climb Everest was inspired.
It has been a long and sad week in base camp this week. Since the news has broken in the outside world I will mention it. Willie wants us to be very sensitive about what we release to the outside world. There have been 5 climbing fatalities this week. We all knew it would only be a matter of time.
Willie organized a group of 50 or so Sherpas to bring down the body of a young Sherpa who was killed between camp II and camp III 2 days ago. This poor Sherpa was in his 20s and had a wife and four children back home. The sacrifices that the Sherpa people make so that we can live our dreams is incredible. The Sherpa was at the base of the Lhotse face when he was hit by ice, fell, broke his neck and died from his head injuries.
Today Eric, Lakpa myself and a couple of other Sherpas climbed up to the 18,300 foot level inside the Khumbu Icefall to bring drinks and food to the Sherpas as well as help bring his body down. I felt very connected to the Sherpa people as there were only five of us Westerners helping to bring his body home.
While we were waiting for Willie and the Sherpas at the 18,300 foot level inside the icefall, a massive avalanche broke off the West Ridge and came right at us. Everyone ran for their lives. Eric and three of the Sherpas were already a couple hundred yards below me running through the seracs and crevasses like mad men. The Sherpas thought we were all dead for sure. I stuck around for another 20 seconds watching the avalanche roar directly at me at over 100 mph. I felt totally at peace with whatever the outcome of the next 30 seconds was as I watched it come. Finally I dropped down about 50 feet and took cover at the last second with Lakpa behind a serac as day turned into night with the huge blizzard of ice that covered us. The avalanche was so massive that it blew all the way through base came coating everything in ice. We were hit at least a mile above base camp full force. I looked like Frosty the Snowman as I was coated in ice from head to toe. Even my glacier glasses were coated in ice so that I couldn't see. This is the 3rd time in my life that I have been hit by a massive avalanche cloud. Two of those times have been here on Everest... Once again all of base camp was freaking out as they watched the cloud blast over us. Trond filmed the entire even in high definition from base camp for the documentary his is filming on the Norwegians. I look forward to seeing that footage.
After the biggest avalanche of the season here in base camp we continued lowering the Sherpa's body to base camp. Everyone in base camp watched us get blasted by the avalanche and then they all stood outside their tents as we brought the body into camp. It was quite a day and has been quite a week for us.
Two days ago there was a massive collapse inside the Khumbu Icefall. The entire "soccer field" dropped about 12 feet with much of the route below getting wiped out. I believe in miracles and believe that it was a miracle that nobody was on that part of the route as it was 7am on a busy day. Had anyone been there they would have been killed... In 2005 all of camp I was wiped out by a massive avalanche. The day before the avalanche 40 climbers were in camp I. When it hit all climbers were higher at camp II or had descended to base camp... Nobody was hurt or killed, another miracle on Everest.
I am happy to also report that Jaime is recovering from being hit hard with HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema) and pneumonia at camp II when were up there earlier in the week. Jaime recognized how sick he was and descended a day behind me. He barely made it to base camp and was so sick that his pulse/ox was 125 beats per minute resting with 61percent oxygen saturation. He had to rest every 50 feet when walking. He was put onto O2 and IV's at the Everest ER for 24 hours and recovered enough to descend. His skin color was blue before being treated. When he descended his skin was still ghostly white but he was grateful to be feeling a little better as were we all. His was the worse emergency at the Everest ER so far this season. Hopefully he will be back in a week or two but we fear that his dream may be over this year to ski the Lhotse Face.
On Lhotse Shar there are currently two Sherpa's and two Koreans missing and presumed dead. The Sherpas are really sensitive right now about all the bad karma surrounding the mountain. Two of our Sherpas lost their fathers on Everest when they were children. I have gotten to know Lakpa Sherpa much better after climbing with him a couple times when I was sick. Lakpa was 7 years old when his father was killed on Everest. Now he is a high altitude climbing Sherpa and has been to the summit three times. I asked him if he enjoys reaching the summit. He said "not at all, this is how I support my family." By Nepalese standards he does very well but his wife and 4-year-old worry about him four months each year while he works Everest and Cho Oyu, the sixth highest peak in the world west of Everest. He then takes eight months off to be with his family before the next climbing season.
There are a lot of groups up here testing climbers for various things. We had the Brits test us yesterday for an interesting study. They have tested 145 climbers who have made the summit of Everest. They found that Everest summiteers have special genes that the rest of the world does not have. These genes make them stronger and able to survive on much less oxygen then the rest of the human race. What they hope is to find a way to extract this gene to give to people who are sick and injured in the hospital and struggling with their oxygen saturation. Of the three medical tests I have been involved in this one was most interesting and I was happy to pass my DNA on to them to help the human race. We will see after I make the summit (Lord willing) if I have this same genetic makeup as the other climbers. We are all definitely freaks to want to even risk our lives and suffer tremendously to realize our dreams of the roof of the world...
Tomorrow I am off to Camp II and then Camp III twice so I will be out of communication for the next week. We will push to Camp II from base tomorrow morning (Sunday.) Monday we rest. Tuesday we climb up the steep, icy Lhotse Face to Camp III. The team will spend the night at camp III while I descend back to Camp II. Wednesday I rest in Camp II while the team returns to Camp II. Thursday I then climb up to Camp III with a Sherpa to sleep at 24,000 feet without oxygen. Friday I descend back to Camp II and Saturday I descend back to base camp 2 days behind the team. Finding a Sherpa to join me at Camp III has not been easy. Sherpas never sleep at Camp III as it is a dangerous camp filled with bad JUJU. I am not looking forward to that night but it is the last step in my acclimatization process before our summit bid in the next 2-3 weeks.
I hope everyone is well.
I am sending out a quick note to let you all know that I made it back down from Camp III, but it didn't go as planned. I came down with high-altitude pulmonary edema last night at Camp II after climbing up to Camp III and didn't think that I was going to make it through the night. I did, though, and with the help of two bottles of oxygen gas, I made it back to base camp from Camp II today under my own power.
Suffocating totally alone at 21,200 feet is an unbelievably frightening experience and one I never want to go through again. I felt like I was on the moon as I gasped for air inside my tent where the thermometer was reading -10 F and I did not have the strength to pull on my sleeping bag or puffy jacket. The rest of the team was up at Camp III, where I had returned from and was to again go back to in two days.
I just returned from the Everest emergency room, where I am being treated. At the same time, the BBC is filming my story. We will see how well I respond to treatment, but my dreams of the summit may be over this season. If I respond well enough to treatment, I may attempt a late-season summit with one of our Sherpas several weeks after my team makes the summit. It is hard to say. Last night all I wanted to do was live through the night and could care less about the summit.
I am thinking a little about the summit today, but Willie said I do need to think about my family back home as my body is a ticking time bomb right now at extreme altitude. Of course it takes me quite a while to make it a couple hundred yards right now when I am not on oxygen.
I did make my new personal record for high altitude yesterday, climbing up the steep and icy Lhotse Face to 23,200 feet, so that was the good part of the day.
Mustafa and Casey have left our expedition, so it is down to just Bjorn, Eirik, Eric, Willie and maybe me. I definitely won't be summiting with them if I do make the summit at all. I realized last night that a person does not "conquer" Mount Everest, but instead they "survive" Mount Everest. I won't make a bid for the summit unless the odds swing back into my favor again.
I greatly appreciate everyone's love, prayers and e-mails. I believe that your many prayers helped me pull through the night last night when I thought that it was all over.
Today, I made the difficult decision to descend two days down to Namche Bazaar at 11,000 feet. I will spend a few days recovering and see how things go.
If the team makes an early season ascent to the summit my personal summit dreams are over for now. If they are delayed and I do recover, then I will re-join the team for a summit bid.
I allowed the BBC to film my emotional decision at the Everest ER this morning.
Discovery Channel will probably be purchasing the program from the BBC, so you can all watch me get emotional on TV as I talk about my 22-year dream coming to an end for now and describing my night at camp II with HAPE and how I thought I would not be returning home as my lungs rapidly filled with plasma fluid.
Getting on O2 (oxygen) quickly was definitely the right move. I thought about the Gamow bag (a portable pressure chamber used in HAPE emergencies), but I could not tolerate lying down at that point. The BBC is going to be following my team to the summit from base and tie in my story, HAPE, my dreams and disappointments with the team's hopeful success.
We all came to an agreement that if I attempt a summit bid without recovering fully that I will be making a one-way trip up Everest and will become one of more than 200 fatalities on the mountain endangering my team and the sherpas. I did not come here to die, so I am making the tough decision to descend. Having just had HAPE, my body is definitely a ticking time bomb at extreme altitude right now.
A good storm has moved in here, so rather then descending today I have delayed my descent to the morning. It has been a month since I have seen life so I am looking forward to seeing trees, grass and rhododendrons in bloom. With the new storm I am sure that it will rain much of the way down into the valley once I drop below the snow zone.
I have met many climbers here who have made two to three attempts at Everest. The overall statistics I have heard are 1 in 4 who attempt the summit make the summit and of those that make the summit over history 1 in 12 have died making the attempt. I guess I am not the only one to have had extreme altitude health issues. Next season or the season after I will find a way to get back to Mount Everest and be successful. This is a dream that I will not give up on until it has been completed. Comparing Mount Everest to Mount Rainier, which is widely considered the lower 48's most dangerous and difficult mountain: 10,000 per year attempt the mountain, 5,000 make the summit and 100 have lost their lives for their climbing dream. On Everest, we have had 2,500 successful summits with around 200 of them losing their lives in the 54 years since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay Sherpa's historic climb.
Thank you all for your love, prayer and support during the adventure of my lifetime. I know that there have been many thousands of people following my progress and I appreciate that. I will write more of my night at camp II later in the week.
After walking alone for the past three days through rugged valleys over a distance of 30-plus miles, I have reached the land of the living once again. It has been over a month since I've seen trees, grass and flowers.
It smells fresh and clean here. After a month without a shower, the only smells high up on Everest are your own.
Medford native runs base campEverest climber heading back to the summitEverest climber recalls 'worst night of my life''I did not come here to die'Quest on hold as climber gasps for airSherpa's death, avalanche unsettle Everest climbersIn the shadow of EverestBrian Smith plans to answer call of world's highest peak It is hard to believe that only five days ago I was at 23,200 feet on Everest. The world changed so much during my 12,000-vertical-foot descent.
There are not many states in the USA were you can get 12,000 feet of relief. You can't in Oregon or Colorado.
Everest gave me a special "hello" today just before I dropped down into Namche. I turned to look back and could not believe the point I saw floating high up in the clouds 18,000 vertical feet above me. It did not seem possible to have a peak sticking out of the clouds so high in the sky.
To get the same effect, you would have to add another nearly 5,000 feet to Rainier as you viewed it from around Enumclaw on a semi-clear day. Everest seemed to be telling me to hurry back. I enjoyed the sight for a couple of minutes before Everest in her entirety was swallowed up in the clouds and vanished for the day.
Once I reached the 14,000-foot level, the air became so very thick that my lungs were flowing in oxygen. The 14,000-foot level still only contains 66 percent of the oxygen breathed at sea level, but in comparison to the 41 percent I was breathing at Camp III, it is a life-giving difference.
I am feeling fortunate after my experience with high-altitude pulmonary edema. I was reading the other day that up to 15 percent of HAPE victims die within a couple of hours.
My body is responding quickly. My cough is almost completely gone and I am eating huge quantities of food and sleeping 12 hours or more per night as my body recovers.
It is too early to tell, but I still have a chance at the summit. Willie told me just as I was leaving base camp that if I can eat a lot, get healthy, ditch my cough and gain some weight, he will give up his Lhotse summit bid to return to Everest's summit with me around the 25th of May. This is incredibly generous of Willie. Not many people in the world have ever made two summit bids on Everest within a week or so of each other. Not many in the world have that kind of strength.
I will play it by ear until Willie calls me back to base camp and keep my fingers crossed. I have not given up on my dream, but although I am pretty much acclimatized for a summit bid, the summit is miles away from me, literally.
I did enjoy the three-day walk down here, lost in my thoughts as the miles passed beneath my feet. Life is so simple here in the Khumbu region. I have not even seen an automobile for more than 40 days. I imagine that many of the Sherpa people living here have never seen an automobile in their lives.
If you travel anywhere in this region, you walk. If you need to bring anything, you carry it suspended by a rope over your head. I saw a porter today carrying a large Honda generator along with five gallons of gas all suspended off a rope hanging from the top of his head. Amazing people, these porters are.
My porter, who carried my two bags full of climbing gear down from base camp, was about 5-foot-3 and 100 pounds. The equipment in my bags weighed in at 100 pounds! I will never complain about dragging those two big duffels through the airports again. Every time I struggle with them I will just picture them both strapped together hanging off a rope from the top of my porter's head as he walked more than 30 miles. He is headed on a three-day walk back to base camp once again tomorrow with another heavy load.
That's about it for now. Time to stuff myself with pizza and chocolate cake over at the bakery. It has been three hours since I ate last.
Since a lot of people wonder what it is like to have high-altitude pulmonary edema, I will describe my experience.
HAPE kills more people than any other altitude-related sickness. Up to 15 percent of HAPE victims die within the first few hours.
HAPE is basically caused by the lungs straining so hard to pull oxygen out of the thin air that the blood vessels in the lung walls begin to leak plasma into the lungs. Once the lungs are filled with blood plasma, the HAPE victim goes into cardiovascular collapse and dies. The person essentially drowns in his own blood plasma.
At Camp III at 23,200 feet, I was breathing 41 percent of the oxygen breathed at sea level. Back at Camp II, I was at 21,200 feet and still breathing less then 50 percent oxygen.
Drowning has to be one of the worst ways to die. Slowly drowning in your own blood plasma is far worse than drowning in water as the suffering lasts for hours rather than minutes. At one point, I was begging God to either take my life or heal my lungs. I could not stand the suffering from suffocation, violent coughing spasms and constantly vomiting huge amounts of sputum out of my lungs any longer. It was at that point that I was able to get my boots and down puffy jacket on and stumble out of the tent in search of an oxygen bottle.
I am not sure what kicked off my HAPE, but I was tired from a long day climbing and rappelling the Lhotse Face as well as dehydrated. I had been coughing for almost a month.
I could not get to sleep and continued coughing pretty violently until about 11 p.m., when I was suddenly totally suffocating. I sat up with a start and could then breathe in shallow breaths. I am guessing that I was gasping with 60-70 breaths per minute. I was panting like a dog on a hot day. My coughing turned into violent vomiting.
Then the crackling rails started. Every time any air went in or out of my lungs, it sounded like Rice Crispies were going to boil out of my throat. As the rails intensified, I knew that I had a bad case of HAPE going and was going to die within a few hours if I did not do something about it.
I began to yell, "Undi, Tindi, Myla. Are there any Mountain Madness Sherpas here to help me? This is Brian. I have HAPE, can't breathe and need help!"
The Sherpas must be deep sleepers. Nobody stirred in camp. I started to pass out and each time I fell over I would waken with a start with more violent coughing and suffocating. I was so tired. I tried leaning against the tent wall but I just slid down the side and fell over once again and stopped breathing.
I sat up in just a light and heavy weight poly pro shirt with the temperature reading -10 F inside the tent. My down puffy was somewhere behind me but I could not find the energy to get it on. I didn't care if I died from hypothermia or HAPE at that point, please just stop the suffering!
It was now reading 1 a.m. on my watch. I felt like I had been choking for 10 years. The night had turned endless. I then knew that to survive I had to get up and find oxygen.
There are three ways to stop HAPE. The first is descent of a couple thousand feet. I was in a bad place. Camp II is almost 4,000 feet above base camp. It was the middle of the night with the treacherous Khumbu Ice fall between my descent and me.
The next option is the Gammow bag, a hyperbaric chamber that tricks the body into thinking that it has descended a couple thousand feet. Since I could not lie down, the thought of crawling into a small inflatable tube and lying on my back sent waves of panic through me.
The last option is to breathe oxygen gas. I had seen a dozen or so oxygen bottles sitting in the mess tent.
I spent about 15 minutes struggling to get my boots on. My hands were totally numb. Where are those gloves? I gave up on finding them as I struggled to get my down parka on and crawl out of the tent. Once standing I stuffed my hands in my pockets and stumbled through camp in search of my Sherpas.
After banging on a couple of tents yelling for Undi, I finally found his tent. He poked his head out to see what was up. Undi does not speak a lot of English. I told him I had HAPE. He just stared back. I was not sure if he was just tired or didn't understand, so I said, "My lungs are full of water, Undi. I can't breathe! I need oxygen now!" I then stood there panting into the frozen night air as another violent coughing wave overtook me and I doubled over.
Finally Undi said, "oxygen yes but no mask." All of our masks and regulators were either at Camp III or base. I re-emphasized that I needed oxygen one way or another right away. Undi told me to wait while he went to get Tindi up. I saw them disappear into the other camps so I knew they were hunting for a mask.
Finally they came back and took me into the mess tent, where they fitted an old mask they had come up with and a bottle and then I drug myself back into my tent. They put the mask on me, turned it up to about 1 liter per minute and got me into my bag.
Suddenly the oxygen took effect and I could breathe! Oh, sweet oxygen, God's gift. My coughing stopped almost instantly, the blood plasma drained back into my system from my lungs, and I could lie down on my back. Tindi slid a couple of hot water bottles into my bag. All of this was so great that I passed out almost immediately into a deep sleep. It was about 2 a.m. at this point.
In the morning I got up around 8 a.m. to talk to Willie (the team leader) on the radio and give him an update. He wanted me to head down immediately.
I got off oxygen for a few minutes to eat some breakfast and drink some tea. My system had nothing in it and I was badly dehydrated. Tindi helped me pack up my gear. I knew my trip was probably over.
We made good time down to Camp I in an hour and 14 minutes. Oxygen gave me tons of energy. In all it took me about five hours to reach base from Camp II. Not bad for a guy who was dying only eight hours before that.
After a couple days of treatment at base camp, I had recovered well enough to descend to Namche, where I currently reside awaiting my hopeful hike back to base camp and bid for the summit.
I hope that I never experience HAPE again. It had to have been the worst night of my life.
The time is finally here to head back to the summit. I am leaving Namche in the morning as I hike the 35 miles back to base camp, which will take me three days.
I plan to arrive back in base on the 13th, rest on the 14th and then leave again the 15th, climbing back up to Camp III at around 24,000 feet on the 17th. I will climb alone to Camp III, and Mila Sherpa will be at Camp II to cook a few meals for me and help out if high-altitude pulmonary edema nails me again. My team is planning on the 16th to summit, so we should cross paths at some point on the upper mountain.
There are many factors between here and the summit. First I must stay healthy enough to go straight up the mountain. I am very motivated, strong and full of energy once again, but if my cough returns, I am finished as I am much more susceptible to HAPE on this second trip now.
The other factor is Willie's strength. Our team leader and a Sherpa need the strength to return to the summit with me only a few days after his first summit. This has only happened a few times in history, so Willie will truly be the greatest if he can pull it off. My gratitude to him is beyond words for giving up his Lhotse attempt and making a second climb with me.
At this point we don't know if I will continue on to the summit from Camp III or if I will return to base for a few recovery days and then climb once again to the summit. A lot will be decided a day at a time.
This is my last day on this e-mail until June. I will have a day on the 14th and who knows after that to check the Mountain Madness e-mail account at base at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please pray for my safe climb, no cough and no HAPE this time.