Sorry for taking so long for this final word from from the mountains. There are some big gaps I need to fill in to bring us up to the present.
I am writing this from the almost tropical conditions of lakeside in Pokhara, Nepal where our remaining team is patiently waiting for flights home. We hope to do a bit of paragliding with the backdrop of the Annapurna range but mainly just rest a bit and recovery from the high Himalayan mountains. On the 27th May we have been invited to a reception at the Australian Embassy in Kathmandu and then will be home on the 30 May.
On the 12th May we reached camp 2 on Everest for what I thought was going to be my last crossing of the Khumbu Ice Fall, as my destination was The South Col, via camp 2, camp 3, and staying at least one night on oxygen at camp 4 and paragliding back down. Let me explain what happened ……….
The paragliding permit…….. what a long and protracted process. We kept, by necessity, the processes and complications of obtaining the permit quite secretive for a good reason. Firstly, I have been working on this for over 3 years using all contacts at my disposal including local Rotary clubs, influential local government officials, the Australian department of foreign affairs, provision of official letters of request and recommendation. I seemed confident that this approach was working but …….. apparently not. A permit to fly from Everest had never been granted before so we were at the cutting edge of a process that didn’t exist. For two and a half months our application sat on a tourism ministers desk without being assessed. No action but also no rejection which seemed strange. Fees hadn’t been established, government department approvals needed to be gained from civil aviation, and national parks, liaison officers needed to be agreed, we needed high altitude flying certification, and it kept going on and on. And still it sat on the same desk.
With the assistance of Babu Adventures (Babu himself) representations finally had some resolve and a permit was eventually achieved. There was continued efforts from our guiding company (thanks Sumit for all your time and effort including the countless meetings you attended on our behalf). We purposely did not advertise the permit process just in case an additional government department came forward with other requirements and thus adding additional costs or conditions. We thought let’s just move slowly and cautiously on this. We kept it off our social media reports.
Through discussions with other climbing agencies we found out that there was another potential pilot from South Africa. Pierre Carter, I met him by chance at Loboche, a town relatively close to Everest Base camp. Pierre is a very experienced pilot and climber whose ambition it was to fly from the 7 highest mountains in each of the 7 continents, Everest being his second last of the 7 (Vinson in Antartica will be his final flight).
To cut to the chase, a permit was issued to both Pierre and myself, through Babu Adventures, to fly from 8000m, not the summit as we were hoping. My only thoughts as to why this was the case, I believe the ultimate height was being saved for climbers and the tourism ministry was protecting the summit for the benefit of mountaineers not wanting to risk the ultimate draw card in any way, possibly further commercialising of the summit by opening it up to paragliding pilots.
I here wish to congratulate Pierre for his flight from 8000m on Everest, the first legal flight from Everest. His flight was scheduled 2 days prior to mine, he launched from camp 4 at 8000m and landed at Gorek Shep, some 3000m below. Well done Pierre, and thank you for your good wishes for my flight. I was honoured to share to preamble to the flight with such a well known pilot as yourself. Congratulations. A bit of history created.
greeting with mountaineer and fellow pilot Pierre Carter
I arrived at camp 2 on the 12th May, completely exhausted, I mean completely exhausted. I was suffering quite severe coughing bouts and severe dehydration, but felt I could continue and these impacts could be overcome. The icefall conditions was more difficult than previously negotiated due to the hot weather and the slog up the Western Cwm was done in the extreme heat of the day. Our entire team really did it tough, even our Sherpas. The following day was a rest day, but for me, with chest and breathing difficulties, this was not enough time to recover, not usual for me as I generally recover quite quickly. I was still carrying the Khumbu cough which was getting worse and coming from deeper in my chest - really starting to be of concern.
I decided another rest day was needed and so waved off our other 4 team members who left camp 2 for the eventual summit. They each have stories to tell, 3 of them being successful which personally I found so gratifying as when you spend so much time with them you really start sharing their dream, their challenges and also their success.
Joel, Ludmila and Gabriel, - congratulations and thank you for sharing OUR polio dream - the photos of the END POLIO NOW banner on the roof of the world are brilliant and really cemented our efforts for Polio eradication. Carlos, to attempt Everest without oxygen is superhuman - I’m sorry you didn’t get the view from the top but so close my friend - you should stand proud.
On the 15th May, with Lobsang Sherpa, I left camp 2 with the plan of climbing and spending the night at camp 3, the following day then ascending to camp 4. The plan was then to launch the glider as soon as weather conditions would allow. Not 200metres from camp 2 coughing fits started, and non existent energy levels meant a decision needed to be made. To continue on at that time would be fool hardy. Camp 2 is the altitude limit of helicopter rescue and to continue on puts yourself in quite a dangerous situation should deteriorating health occur. I had made a friend of an experienced high altitude doctor at camp 2, Christian, so returned to seek his advice which he gave enthusiastically.
His response however was not what I was hoping ,- “as a climber you have spent a lot of energy and resources to get here so I don’t want to say to you to go back, but as a doctor my firm and only instruction is go down- you are not going to get better up here so I think this is you only option. Go down, recover and have another go“. Dr Christian made a preliminary diagnosis, using the limited resources that he had, as most likely pneumonia.
OK, easy decision, let’s get back to base camp, recover and meet the weather window due for the 21st May back at camp 4. A major setback but not the end. We can still do this.
Returning unwell from camp 2 after coming back through the icefall - again. My son, Matt and I, wow to be met by your son.
Returning through the ice fall (again) that day, completely drained of energy I went directly to the base camp clinic. There was no sign of any altitude illness so I thought a couple of days down lower would sort out the chest issues. Unfortunately the chest infection deteriorated. Today is the 23rd May and the chest infection has not cleared. We are of course off the mountain and the expedition has been concluded, Everest season has come to an end until next year.
To say I am disappointed at how it ended, is obviously an understatement at the very least. I was not done and there was work unfinished. We were on target for something great but without fitness and good health, high altitude climbing is like pulling the tail of the tiger - you just never really know the consequences. And this is without adding the further risks of high altitude launching and flying. I know of 3 deaths reported on the mountain this year alone, just on Everest. We are playing a dangerous game.
I made some definitive promises before we left Australia
*to do our very best to succeed,
*to do what we could for the eradication of polio, and
*to come HOME.
This sport is all about pushing the limits, if you don’t you may as well not even bother, but there comes a time that commonsense should be obvious and despite the personal drive to continue and keep the dream alive, the risk to life is just to great.
I rang home and Elle said to me, in no uncertain terms, “you have done enough, it’s time to come home”.
I wish to thank all our supporters at home and everywhere, the good wishes have been inspiring, the heartfelt comments of support unparalleled, the donations to Polio eradication have been humbling and I think together we have all made a positive difference, this always being our only true goal. My team was always about what we could do for Rotary’s Polio eradication program and we will continue to promote this until complete eradication is achieved- we are very close.
Ludmila and Gabriel- congratulations on your summit and thank you for supporting our End Polio project.