Monday, August 16, 2010

The Summit Push (part 8)

A swift, deliberate punch to the face by our sirdar, Dorjee Sherpa was enough to bring Mike to some sort of coherency. He was really quite dazed and confused but after this lucky strike he began to cooperate. He still refused oxygen but there was no way he could refuse a shot to the left butt cheek of dexamethasone. This wonder drug helps to temporarily reduce cranial swelling therefore allowing the would be rescuers to have some sort of chance at bringing a climber down - alive. At this point several famous faces in the high altitude climbing world began to show up. Of course they quickly wanted to assist. I had no problem with that and we all welcomed as much help as possible. Eventually there were many people much stronger than I on the scene and so I decided to get myself down to camp IV and leave the rescue for the more able bodied souls.
 The weather was a complete whiteout but thankfully the wind had died down and was not a problem. I rappeled a couple of the rock steps and made sure to stay tied in to the safety rope. I was exhausted. What an ordeal. I knew I was o.k. to get down. I just did not know how long it would take me. I could only muster up no more than 10 steps and I would have to sit down and rest. Oh well. Not a problem. I knew that eventually I would get down. Upon arriving at the balcony I noticed 2 of my teammates. One was a very accomplished marathon runner and she had some wonderful sports drinks tucked away inside her down suit. Upon seeing this I asked if I could have some and she gave me the entire bottle. The flavor of something other than bland, smokey tasting water was a treat. I drank almost the entire bottle and I noticed someone next to me crying. It was Dorjee, our Sirdar. He was in great shock because of the condition of Mike and he kept repeating that Mike was going to die. As a veteran of 6 previous expeditions to Everest, Dorjee had never lost a climber and he was devastated that Mike may be the first. I gave him some sports drink and reassured him that Mike was in capable hands and would almost certainly get down alive.
With that forced bit of calming reassurance I resumed my descent of the Triangular Face of upper Everest. I still was running low on energy and every 10 steps I would sit down and rest. This terrain looked really different than on the way up. Even though it was a whiteout I could still make out a few rock features that I could not have seen earlier due to the pre-dawn darkness. I knew I would be passing a few famous dead bodies on the descent and I kept my eyes wide open. I could now see camp IV down below and I knew I was getting close. I sat down again and took a few pictures of Lhotse and a few other mountain features as the clouds and snow were moving in and out.  Eventually I got to the flat part of the South Col where, in a whiteout like this one, a dozen climbers got disoriented and most of them lost their lives on May 10, 1996. This time was different. In anticipation of bad weather a 5mm perlon cord was tied from the outermost tents of camp IV to the edge of the flat area. This way a climber could use this safety tether as a lifeline, almost assuring a safe arrival back at camp. I slowly wandered in to camp and was greeted by a few of our superstar sherpas. A hug, handshake and a warm drink were all welcomed enthusiastically. I took off my oxygen bottle and climbed in to the tent. After opening my sleeping bag I strapped on my oxygen and just layed there trying to understand what I had just accomplished. I was so excited for tomorrow when I was to be able to make the phone call home and let everyone who was diligently praying for me what had just happened. As excited as I was for what I had accomplished a Bible verse kept coming to mind. King David's words in Psalm 115 verse 1. "Not unto us (me), O Lord, not unto us (me), But to Your name give glory, Because of Your mercy, Because of Your truth." I still understood that only through the strength given to me by God, only through the mental toughness granted me that day by the Almighty was I able to do what I had just done. Several hours had passed and a few of my other teammates began to filter back in to high camp. Eventually, as darkness began to overcome us, all had returned except for two - Mike and Phil. I knew the rescue would take a little bit longer than normal because of the conditions. I just did not realize it would be this long. I prayed for their safety and dozed in and out of a joyous, hypoxic stupor.