Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Summit Push (part 15)

His head hung low, Phil walked back into Everest Basecamp. We had been up on the mountain for one week and the oxygen rich atmosphere of 17,500' was a welcome relief. Our eyes met as I inquired about Mike. What happened? A quick thumbs-up was all Phil could muster. I was so relieved and thankful. The helicopter somehow managed to land and pluck Mike off of Everest. How did this happen? I mean, when in the Western Cwm the helicopter flew back and forth so quickly there was no way possible that he landed.
Sipping on cold juice and now sitting down, Phil began to recount the amazing rescue of Mike. Little did I know that upon leaving from Camp 2 Mike was eager to follow me so we could began planning further "missions". Thinking that I was waiting for the helicopter Mike strapped on oxygen and began the hike outside of Camp 2 to where the helicopter was to pick us up. Just upon arriving the helicopter flew in hugging the icy contours of Everest. Phil said the helicopter came in shaky and wobbly. All the pilot could manage to do was put half of one skid on the ice. The pilot had to keep his rotors spinning full blast. The air was so thin that there was barely anything for the rotors to slice into and create lift. Upon touching down Phil and one of the Sherpas literally threw Mike into the helicopter. There were no seats. Just an empty cargo area and a pilot sipping oxygen himself. For a landing this high the helicopter personnel had to strip everything out of the inside in order to eliminate as much weight as possible. Before even stepping back the pilot began to take off. Phil quickly turned and sheltered his eyes from the razor sharp shards of ice. Mike had been rescued.
Over the next few hours the rest of the team arrived back at basecamp tired but happy. Not everyone summited but everyone made it down alive. Wow! what a blessing. The great 19th century author, Henry David Thoreau wrote, "Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake." Climbing Everest had been a dream of mine for many years. With God's help I did it. I am so blessed, so thankful, and still amazed that while standing on top of Mount Everest I was able to experience my dream - awake!


Mike is doing just fine and his health is back to normal. He lives in Singapore and still dreams of standing on top of Everest someday.

The pilot who so heroically rescued Mike died a few months later while attempting to rescue another climber a few miles away on Ama Dablam. We are so grateful for his selfless act of heroism.

Phil is getting ready for his 8th expedition to Everest. He leaves in a few weeks for Kathmandu and then on to Everest.

I still climb as often as I can. In October of this year a buddy and I are guiding a small team of climbers on Mount Kilimanjaro - the rooftop of Africa. I hope to return to the Himalaya one day soon. I love the people, the country and especially the mountains.