Elation and loss

Reaching the top of Mount Everest fulfilled South Medford grad Brian Smith's dream, but images of those who died trying haunt him
Brian Smith. right, and Tendy Sherpa are shown at the top of Mount Everest at 2:45 a.m. on May 24.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Brian Smith, a 1988 South Medford High School graduate, reached the top of Mount Everest on May 24. The son of Larry and Linda Smith of Jacksonville, Brian has been sending periodic e-mail dispatches to the Mail Tribune since his adventure began in Kathmandu on March 28. For more stories, photos and Smith's complete e-mails, visit www.mailtribune.com, click on the drop-down menu for "Special Reports" and then click on "Ultimate Climb."


May 26

Willie, Tendy Sherpa and I arrived on the summit at 29,035 feet on Thursday, May 24, at 2:45 a.m. We spent 20 minutes on the summit and then descended all the way to Camp II, 8,000 vertical feet beneath us. A good time from the South Col at Camp IV to the summit is nine hours. Many climbers need 12 hours. Willie, Tendy and I made it in five hours 45 minutes and were back at the South Col in eight hours. Most need 17 hours. It was still early, being only 5 a.m., so we kept going all the way down to Camp II at 21,200 feet, arriving around noon.

Although I did not get a view from the summit as it was pitch dark, I was really happy to be one of the few to stand on the roof of the world in the middle of the night. It was bitter cold, maybe -60 F with the wind-chill, so that was really cool. We tried to slow down by turning down our oxygen flows and waiting a little at the South Summit at 2 a.m., but frostbite was coming on quickly in those temperatures so we had to keep climbing to stay warm.

This was Willie and Tendy's second summit in only a week. I believe that Willie now has the Westerner record. Willie has seven summits of Everest now and Tendy has five. Our summit yesterday was by far their fastest ever in half the time of all of their other summits. They were both really excited with our screaming fast time.

Willie gave me the honor of being the first to step onto the summit. My first thoughts were "I am the highest person on the planet right now!"

There were a bunch of people waiting for me at the edge of the icefall. Many told me that they had their radios tuned in on our progress and when we called down at 2:45 a.m. while standing on the summit, that the tears started to flow with their excitement for my success.

We were also the last of teams to summit Everest from the south in 2007. The weather closed in behind us. The wind is now howling at 70 to 90 mph on the summit and will for the next week. The monsoon is also now here so it looks like things are done on Everest from the south this year.


May 28

I am back in Kathmandu now after our helicopter picked us up in Pheriche at the 14,000-foot level at 6:45 a.m. this morning. It has been total culture shock to be eating a huge buffet breakfast here at the Yak & Yeti Hotel in Kathmandu by 9 a.m. after being at Everest base camp only yesterday and on top of the world only four days ago!

I have been looking through my pictures from my eight-day summit bid. One is of two dead Korean bodies that were being lowered down the mountain while I ascended the Khumbu Icefall for the seventh and last time. That was a bad day on Everest. Five climbers were killed in one day. It was a sad sight to have to step over the Koreans' bodies and look into the eyes of their surviving teammates who were on the edge of tears as they lowered their comrades down the icefall.

In all, I stepped over or passed by six dead climbers while on my summit bid. Of course one was Scott Fischer (Mountain Madness founder) and another a Sherpa who died in 1991 on the upper mountain. I also sat down and took a break in the exact spot that Rob Hall died on the South Summit. It reminded me of how dangerous climbing Everest is and how I needed to try to focus my hypoxic brain at all times or I would be going home in a box myself.

Two days later Pemba Sherpani fell 1,800 vertical feet to her death down the Lhotse Face. Although I did not see her fall, I did see her broken body lying up on the Lhotse Face, which claimed two climbers' lives this season. When Willie, Jaime and I arrived in Camp III, the Sherpas recovering Pemba's body lowered her down into our campsite for the night. I ended up seeing her shattered body up close which once again shocked reality into me of how a simple mistake on the Lhotse Face leads to a long fall.

Pemba was Willie's friend. He had visited with her only a few days earlier. It was sad for him when he and Jaime had to package her body (for the rest of the trip down the mountain). Also sad was loaning some of my gear to her husband to help lower her body. He was in Camp II when she fell to her death.

Another picture is of a Sherpa that I revived at the 23,800-foot level with some water and candy bars. He had collapsed in exhaustion after making the summit and then carrying a huge load down the mountain from Camp IV. I gave him most of the last of my water and was quite parched myself but he was in a worse condition. He asked me to take his picture to remember him as he rappelled on down the face after we rested together for a little while.

Carrying huge loads on Everest is a requirement for everyone. I carried about 50 pounds up the mountain as high as Camp IV and then carried 80 or so pounds back down the mountain from Camp IV to base camp. Carrying large loads is exhausting at extreme altitude. The Sherpas help a ton but can't do it all. Willie and I found it extremely irritating to see Westerners asking Sherpas to carry their personal gear up and down the mountain while they carried a tiny pack. If a climber cannot carry at least 70 pounds they should not be on Everest in the first place.


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