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[TR] Mt Everest No O2 Attempt to 8500m - SE Ridge 05/22/2023

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Trip: Mt Everest No O2 Attempt to 8500m - SE Ridge

Trip Date: 05/22/2023

Trip Report:

Mt Everest No O2 Attempt to 8500m

Eric and Matthew Gilbertson, Steven Song, Darren V

May 22, 2023


Me and Matthew on Kala Pattar with Everest in the background

March 26 – Depart Seattle
March 27 – Flying
March 28 – Arrive Kathmandu
March 29 – Fly to Lukla, hike to Phakding 2800m
March 30 – Hike to Namche Bazaar 3400m
March 31 – Hike to 3800m, sleep Namche 3400m
April 1 – Hike to Tengboche 3850m
April 2 – Hike to 4600m, sleep at Dingboche 4350m
April 3 – Rest day at Dingboche 4350m
April 4 – Hike to Lobuche 4900m
April 5 – Hike to Gorak Shep 5190m


Map of the route

April 6 – Rest day Gorak Shep 5190m
April 7 – Hike to BC 5300m
April 8 – Hike Kala Pattar 5640m, sleep BC 5300m
April 9 – Rest BC 5300m
April 10 – Hike to Pomori BC 5720m, sleep BC 5300m
April 11 – Rest BC 5300m
April 12 -Rest BC 5300m (khumbu icefall closed due to accident)
April 13 – Rest BC 5300m (khumbu icefall closed due to accident)
April 14 – hike to Lobuche high camp 5200m
April 15 – Climb Lobuche East false summit side slope 5950m, sleep Lobuche 4900m
April 16 – Hike to BC 5300m
April 17 – Rest BC 5300m
April 18 – Rest BC 5300m (khumbu icefall still closed)
April 19 – Hike to C1 6100m
April 20 – Hike to C2 6500m
April 21 – Rest C2 6500m
April 22 – Rest C2 6500m


Flying to Lukla

April 23 – Hike to C3 7100m, descend to BC 5300m
April 24 – Rest BC 5300m
April 25 – Rest BC 5300m (got sick, respiratory infection)
April 26 – Rest BC 5300m (sick)
April 27 – Rest BC 5300m (sick)
April 28 – Rest BC 5300m (sick)
April 29 – Hike to C2 6500m, throat constricted, lost voice, descend to BC 5300m (sick)
April 30 – Fly to Namche 3400m (sick)
May 1 – Rest in Namche 3400m (sick)
May 2 – Rest in Namche 3400m (sick)
May 3 – Fly to BC 5300m (sick)
May 4 – Rest BC 5300m (sick)
May 5 – Hike to Pheriche 4200m (sick)


Approaching Lukla

May 6 – Rest Pheriche 4200m (sick)
May 7 – Hike to BC 5300m (finally recovered)
May 8 – Rest BC 5300m
May 9 – Hike to C2 6500m
May 10 – Rest at C2 6500m
May 11 – Bad weather, Rest at C2 6500m
May 12 – Move to C3 7100m
May 13 – Hike to South Col 8000m, descend to BC 5300m
May 14 – Hike to Pheriche 4200m
May 15 – Rest Pheriche 4200m
May 16 – Rest Pheriche 4200m
May 17 – Rest Pheriche 4200m
May 18 – Hike to BC 5300m
May 19 – Hike to C2 6500m


Trekking to Phakding

May 20 – Hike to C4 8000m
May 21 – Bad weather, stay C4 8000m
May 22 – Summit attempt, Bail 8500m with signs of HACE, descend to C2 6500m
May 23 – Descend to BC 5300m
May 24 – Hike to Namche 3400m
May 25 – Hike to Lukla 2800m
May 26 – Fly to Kathmandu 1500m

Mt Everest is the highpoint of both Nepal and China, so we had to go for it as part of our country highpoints project. I wanted to save some money and climb it as honorably as possible, so planned to go without oxygen or personal sherpa support. I’d previously climbed K2 this way so figured it was possible. Matthew, Steven, and Darren would climb the more conventional style with supplemental oxygen and personal sherpa support to increase chance of success.


Namche bazaar

I started planning the trip about a year in advance, in March 2022. Mt Everest is not a mountain you can just show up and climb on your own. You basically have to go with a company, at least for logistics support to pay for permits and permission to use fixed ropes. There are two main climbing routes, the south col route from the Nepal side and the north ridge route from the Tibet side. China was still not issuing climbing permits this year so the only option was to climb from Nepal.

The Nepal side has one advantage that there are no major bottlenecks on summit day. The Hillary Step basically fell off in 2015, and that was the major bottleneck. The upper route is south facing so it is generally warmer and sunnier. Unfortunately the lower route passes through the Khumbu Icefall, which is dangerous due to constantly shifting ice blocks.

The route from the Tibet side does not have any dangerous lower section like the Khumbu Icefall, but does have three bottleneck ladder sections on the upper mountain that can lead to traffic jams on summit push.


First view of Everest

I found a list compiled by Alan Arnette of all the companies guiding on the Nepal Side along with median prices. I contacted the cheapest four companies, to ask for 2023 prices, and then tried a little bit of negotiating. I would bring a few other climbers along (Matthew, Steven Song, Darren), and I also wanted to climb a second peak, Kangchenjunga. Kangchenjunga is the third highest mountain in the world and the highpoint of India. I figured I could potentially take advantage of my Everest acclimation to make a quick ascent of Kangchenjunga afterwards. It is illegal to climb Kangchenjunga from the India side, for religious regions, and it is thus only climbed from the Nepal side.

By asking for a deal including multiple climbers and multiple mountains I was able to haggle the price down from multiple companies. The cheapest was seven summit treks. They also had the resources to helicopter me directly from Everest to Kangchenjunga. They could also offer me basecamp services for each peak, which is what I wanted. This meant they would take care of permits, permission to use fixed ropes, getting all my gear and myself to basecamp, and providing food and tent in basecamp. But above basecamp I’d be completely on my own with carrying gear. And I wouldn’t have any oxygen.


Yaks near Namche

They could provide full service for my climbing partners Matthew, Steven, and Darren for Everest, meaning supplemental oxygen and personal sherpas.

In June 2022 I paid a 20% deposit, then I paid the full remaining balance in February 2023 as a wire transfer.

In the summer of 2022 I actually met Dawa, one of the owners of Seven Summit Treks, at K2 basecamp, and I met many of the sherpas working for the company on the upper slopes of Broad Peak and K2. Everyone seemed super friendly and it seemed like a great company to go with.

For training for Everest for the year in advance I didn’t really do anything different than normal. In summer of 2022 I spent two months in Pakistan climbing Broad Peak and K2. Then I rested a bit in the fall before continuing my normal weekend warrior routine of mountaineering trips in the Cascades. In the winter I generally climbed one of the WA top 100 bulger peaks every weekend in Washington. These generally involved 20-30 hour continuous pushes breaking trail and climbing technical peaks over one or two days, and I figured this was excellent training for 8000m peaks. Often summit pushes on 8000m peaks can be around 24 hours I’ve found.

By mid February I stopped skiing and instead only snowshoed for approaches, since skiing has a higher risk of injury. I then tapered down my activities the last two weeks of March.


Snowy morning in Namche

My plan for acclimation on Everest was to exactly replicate my acclimation strategy for K2. Everest is only about 240m taller than K2, so I figured a similar acclimation schedule should work. Everest is farther south, which lowers its apparent altitude (based on air pressure at summit), but the season is earlier (May instead of July) and cold temperatures raise a mountain’s apparent altitude. It would still likely feel higher than K2, but not by too much.

The spring climbing season on Everest is generally dictated by when the jet stream moves off the summit making winds low enough to allow safe climbing. This generally happens for about a week in mid/late May. It’s a short season and you must be ready to push for the summit whenever this happens. My plan was to finish all my acclimation rotations by the beginning of May. This would give me at least a week to rest at low altitude to recover before summit push. If I applied my exact K2 acclimation itinerary and worked backwards this meant arriving in Kathmandu late March. I assumed (incorrectly) that I would be able to do the exact same acclimation schedule on the south route on Everest in this amount of time.

I paid professional meteorologist Chris Tomer to give me daily weather forecasts for Everest sent by satellite to my inreach. I’ve found having an accurate weather forecast is perhaps the most important element for success on big peaks like this, and Chris has also forecast for me for big peaks like K2 (2022) and Pobeda (2021).



March 28

Matthew, Darren and I arrived in Kathmandu March 28 in the morning. Steven planned to arrive 10 days later. He was going with supplemental oxygen so didn’t need to do as many acclimation rotations as I did. Darren and Matthew would also go with oxygen, but figured some extra time at altitude would still be helpful. We got a pre-arranged taxi from the airport to the Aloft Hotel. There we met Dawa, Thanes, and Tashi, who were in charge of Seven Summit treks. We sorted out last minute details and arranged to fly to Lukla a day earlier than scheduled since we didn’t have any delays to make us need our built-in buffer day.

March 29


Yaks at Tengboche

We shuttled to the airport at 5am and got the first flight out to Lukla. The flights to Lukla are very often canceled due to poor visibility. The airport at Lukla has been rated the most dangerous airport in the world. It is at an 11.7% grade on the side of a mountain and visibility is often bad from clouds and rain. Conditions have to be perfect for it to be open, and I’ve heard stories of it being closed for up to two weeks straight! Thus it is important to take advantage of good weather to get on a flight when possible.

Our flight landed no problem and we soon got started. We had left most of our gear at Kathmandu to be shuttled by helicopter or yak to basecamp. That would be much faster than us hiking so didn’t need to go as soon.

When we landed we met Kami and Raj. Raj would be a porter to carry some of our gear and Kami would be our guide. The Nepal law was set to change April 1 that a local guide is required for any treks in Nepal. Though, there was some confusion whether the everest basecamp trek was an exception or not. Either way we were covered having Kami as our guide.


Nearing Dingboche

From Lukla we made an easy trek a few hours downhill to the village of Phakding at 2800m, where Kami arranged a hotel for us for the night. I discovered the whole trek to Everest Basecamp is full of tea houses and hotels every few miles. So you can get by bringing practically nothing, just buying food and staying at hotels along the way. Hotels are only around $5-10 a night, so very cheap. I actually am not sure if it is legal to camp. I didn’t see any tents.

March 30

The next day we hiked along the river and officially entered Sagamartha National Park. We then made a steep climb up to Namche Bazaar, the largest village along the trek at 3400m. Along the way we crossed one of the highest swinging bridges along the route over the Dudh Koshi River. I later heard a porter was crossing at the same time as a yak train and one of the yaks got startled and pushed the man off the bridge! But luckily some rope on his pack got hooked on the side and he survived without falling.


Acclimating above Dingboche

In Namche most buildings in town are hotels so it wasn’t hard to find a place for the night. We stayed at the Mountain View Lodge, arriving around lunch time and resting the rest of the day.


Hiking to Thukla

March 31

The rule of thumb for acclimation is to ascend at most 400m per day and take a rest day after ascending 1000m. For the everest basecamp trek this generally means taking a rest day at Namche and at Dingboche. Another good rule of thumb is to climb high and sleep low. So this day we hiked up to 3800m where there’s a good view of Everest at a restaurant. This restaurant at the Everest View Hotel is popular with people helicoptering from Kathmandu. They heli up there, stop for lunch, then heli back.

After stopping for lunch we hit a few peakbagger dots as side trips (Lapcha and Chhorkung Ri) then hiked back to Namche and spent the night.

April 1


Gorak Shep with Kala Pattar and Pumori in the background

We got fresh snow the next morning but slept in enough that some yak trains had already gone out and broken trail. We descended down to the Dudh Koshi River at 3300m, stopped there for lunch, then climbed steeply back up to Tengboche at 3850m. The snow was deeper there and we stopped there for the night. Unfortunately the famous monastery there was closed for tourists. Maybe it was still early season. I think we were a week ahead of the main trekking crowd. This was kind of nice because no hotels were crowded yet. Kami said a week later it would be hard to find a room.

April 2

The next morning we had more fresh snow and we hiked back across the river a few times, eventually reaching Dingboche at 4350m by lunch time. After lunch we went on a short acclimation hike behind the hotel up to 4600m along the way to Nangkartshang Peak. It was a bit ambitious to go up to the peak, so we turned around at a good viewpoint and returned to the hotel.


Everest Basecamp

April 3

As recommended, we took a rest day at Dingboche, reading in the hotel and walking around the small village.

April 4

We next had a short day hiking to Thukla for a hot chocolate break then up along the toe of the Khumbu Glacier to Lobuche village at 4900m. There we stopped at the Himalaya Eco Resort for lunch and to spend the night.

April 5-6

From Lobuche it would make sense to hike all the way to basecamp, since it’s only a few hours. But we were very early in the year and SST hadn’t yet completely set up basecamp. So we just hiked to Gorak Shep at 5200m and spent the night and the following day there.

April 7


Looking at Everest from Kala Pattar

Basecamp was finally set up, so we were able to finish the last leg of our trek. After a few hours we reached the start of everest basecamp and saw a huge tent city in the process of being built. There was a huge boulder at the entrnace of camp with “Everest Basecamp” spray painted in red. All the trekkers were getting pictures there and we waited in line to get ours. Then we proceeded to hike a full mile through camp to the Seven Summit Treks area at the far end. This location was nice for moving up the mountain since it was the closest to the start of the route through the Khumbu Icefall.

They had individual tents set up for each of us, and the tents were large enough to stand up in and had thick mattresses. All our gear had made it in on helicopter and we soon got set up. We were the first clients in camp, though more would be trickling in over the next few weeks.


On Kala Pattar

April 8

In order to replicate my first K2 rotation I needed to tag 5600m and return to BC. There was a peak called Kala Pattar near Gorak Shep that was an easy hiking peak and was at around 5600m. So the next morning we made the hike back down to Gorak Shep and then up to Kala Pattar. There we got a nice view of Everest. We saw a lot of helicopters landing on the side of the peak, and I think people fly up from Kathmandu to there to get a view of Everest. They are unacclimated, though, so can only stay a short time before flying back.

April 9-10

We rested the next day in BC, and then my next rotation would ideally be to drop a cache of gear off at camp 1 on Everest at 6100m. But we weren’t allowed in the Khumbu Icefall yet because the sherpas had not yet done a special Puja ceremony believed to allow safe passage. We would need to wait a few more days.


Sunset over basecamp

So after resting a day we decided to do the one other remaining easy acclimation hike, to Pumori basecamp. Pumori is a 7000m peak behind everest basecamp, and has an easy trail up to 5700m before the route becomes technical. After breakfast Matthew and I hiked up with an SST sherpa to 5700m just before the route turned 4th class. Supposedly I later learned to go any higher we would need a Pumori climbing permit, but that location was permitted.

We took in a nice view of Everest before returning down in time for lunch.

April 11-13


At Pumori basecamp looking down the khumbu glacier

We rested one day, then were hoping to hike up to camp 1 to drop a cache of gear and tag 6100m. But we learned on the morning of April 12 that a team of three sherpas had been killed in the Khumbu Icefall when a serac collapsed on them. The plan was search and rescue teams would be going in to look for them, then the route would be modified to avoid that zone. All of that would take time, and no climbers would be allowed up the icefall for a while.

We decided the best way to still acclimate would be to climb Lobuche Peak. The peak is around 6000m and is a common way for climbers to get in a rotation while avoiding a trip through the dangerous Khumbu Icefall. Unfortunately Lobuche is tall enough that it requires a $700 permit. I was also told you must have a sherpa accompany you, and if you make the summit you must pay them a $300 summit bonus. This is much more expensive than just hiking up and tagging camp 1, but appeared to be the only option short of waiting perhaps up to a  week killing time in basecamp.


Looking back towards Everest

By this time Matthew had gotten sick in basecamp (something that would happen to all of us at various times). He decided to descend to Pheriche to recover while Darren and I would go to Lobuche. Steven had just arrived and would take a few rest days first.

April 14

Darren and I with sherpas Mingma and Pasang hiked down after breakfast to Lobuche village and stopped there for lunch. We then continued outside of town to hike steeply up to Lobuche high camp at 5200m by mid afternoon. There we stayed in some SST tents overnight.

April 15


Ascending Lobuche

That night at 3am we left camp going for Lobuche. The route involved steep icy snow slopes down low for which we used crampons and ice axes. Up higher we encountered some fixed lines and passed a group camping around 5600m. We then started jugging up the fixed lines as the sun rose. By 7am we reached the end of the fixed lines, though we weren’t quite at the summit. My watch read 5950m and we were on the slope on the side of the false summit of Lobuche East.


Near the false summit of Lobuche East

We had great views of Everest and Mingma and I topped out at the same time as a Chinese climber Carmen and another sherpa. We soaked in the views for a while as Darren caught up. If I had brought my 30m rope and a few pickets we could have made it to the false summit of Lobuche East, but getting to the true summit would have been more technical. It was just an acclimation hike anyways, so we considered that spot good enough.

Note: I would be skeptical of anyone claiming to have climbed Lobuche East. Most likely they just went to the spot I went where the fixed lines end on the side slope of the false summit.

We made quick time back down and had a late morning meal back at high camp. We then descended to Lobuche village that afternoon. I had originally thought of hiking back to basecamp, but it was probably actually best to stay lower in town like we did. That allowed our bodies to recover better from the new highpoint reached.


Descending from Lobuche East

April 16-18

The next morning we made the leisurely hike back to basecamp, and then took two rest days.

April 19

The re-route through the Khumbu finally got completed and regular climbers were allowed to enter. Seven Summit Treks still hadn’t done the official Puja ceremony, though, so no sherpas would agree to go through. Most climbers paying for the full service trip were thus not permitted to go up yet since they needed a sherpa accompanying them. Since I had just paid for basecamp service and was on my own above basecamp, though, I was allowed to move up.


Starting up through the Khumbu Icefall

I convinced SST to allow Darren to accompany me as long as he didn’t need a sherpa helping him carry gear. They agreed it would be safer if I weren’t solo, so Darren and I were allowed to start our first rotation.

We were told it was safest to pass through the icefall at night, so started out at 2am that morning. The plan was to stay up above the icefall for around five days, sleeping at camp 1, then camp 2 a few  nights, then tagging camp 3 and returning. This would combine several of my K2 rotations into one rotation, but that is important on everest to minimize trips through the icefall. In fact, for climbers using oxygen that is the only rotation needed before summit push. Though, I would try for a few more since I was going without oxygen.


Sunrise looking back at Pumori

As we left camp we saw a string of lights already going up the icefall. It was likely sherpas ferrying loads up. They generally go up to camp 1 or camp 2 then come back down to basecamp shortly after sunrise. Some sherpas even manage to get two loads hauled up to camp 2 in a day!

We walked through some morain, then put on crampons at the base of the icefall. At the bottom was a near-vertical ice section we jugged up. From there it was continuous fixed lines the entire way. The route wove around quite a bit avoiding crevasses and weaving around seracs. There were a few places we had to cross ladders bridging deep chasms, but I heard these were pretty infrequent compared to previous years.

I ended up being a bit faster than Darren so got a bit farther ahead. I would occasionally get passed by sherpas going up or down, but never saw any non-sherpas.


Tough wall to jug up with a dislocated shoulder

At one point the rope above me was wrapped around a serac on the side. I tried flicking it off but had no luck, so I ventured over to the serac to remove it. This required walking briefly off the main track on some big ice blocks. They appeared stable and frozen together, but when I stepped on one it slid out from underneath me. I got flipped over and landed hard on my right shoulder. I felt instant pain throughout my arm.

I quickly tried to wiggle my fingers and found I still had sensation in all my fingers and my hand. But I had excruciating pain throughout my arm. I was solo and wasn’t sure what to do. My arm was no longer useful for holding any rope. I really needed help, like from a doctor, and I was pretty sure the expedition was now over for me.

I was mostly through the icefall and it was already light out, so I figured it was safest to go up to camp 1 and look for help than to retreat. Rappelling down with one hand seemed riskier than jugging up with one hand. So I tied my lame arm up across my chest to get it out of the way and continued jugging up. It was kind of tricky with the big 50 lb pack on with my non-dominant hand (I’m right handed and had injured my right arm).


Approaching camp 1

I slowly made progress, and eventually caught up to a sherpa and western client. I told them my situation and the client said it sounded like my shoulder was dislocated. He said he had personal experience with that and could help reset it. But he wanted to wait until we got to a nice flat area.

I really wished he could have helped right there, but didn’t want to argue. Above us was a near-vertical wall to get up that looked very difficult for me one-handed. I had him hold the rope taught below while I jugged up one handed. At the top I was in a lot of pain but it was indeed a large flat area. I untied my arm, threw my pack down, and laid on the ground in pain.

The climber then made it up and had me stand next to him. He held my arm and started twisting it as I nervously bit a wad of shirt in my mouth anticipating excruciating pain. But I felt a small pop and then the pain went away! He indeed knew what he was doing and had popped the shoulder back into place!


At camp 1. Not too crowded

It was amazing how the pain instantly went nearly back down to zero. It still felt very sensitive, though, and he advised me it was at a high risk of popping out again since the muscles were all loosened up. So I made sure to not touch any fixed ropes with that arm again.

I waited around for Darren to catch up, told him what happened, and then proceeded onward. After one more tough steep section we soon made it to camp 1 in late morning.

There was nothing set up yet, but regions were roped off for various operators. I found the SST region and we set up my Nemo Tenshi tent there off the side of the trail after probing for crevasses.

We melted snow, ate some food, and hung out in the tent acclimating until dark when we went to bed.


Camp 2

April 20

The next morning we were packed up and moving a bit before sunrise. Lots of sherpas had already passed us hauling gear up, and we’d heard it could get very hot between camps 1 and 2 once the sun came out. We each moved at our own speed and made good time up the trail. This section was much easier than the khumbu icefall and was mostly flat with only a few steep sections requiring jugging up ropes. I continued to jug up one-handed.

The first section had fixed ropes to clip onto on the flattish glacier, and a few ladders over crevasses. But then the route mellowed out and the fixed ropes ended. I made good time up the route, reaching camp 2 after 2.5 hours.

As in camp 1 nothing was set up yet from SST. I had some trouble locating their roped off section, but eventually found it and set the tent up. Darren arrived a bit later and we finished getting camp set up. We melted some snow, ate and rested.

April 21


Camp 2

We took a rest day in camp but noticed the two other clients we’d seen in the khumbu were moving higher with their sherpas in the late morning. We went out to talk and they said they were going to try to tag camp 3. That seemed very ambitious. I definitely didn’t feel acclimated enough, and I’d read the normal schedule was to take a rest day. We watched them proceed, and the wind picked up and it started snowing. They all soon turned around, probably having just tagged 6700m, barely above camp 2. But I’ve heard this is actually sufficient for climbing with supplemental oxygen, so their rotation was likely complete.

Darren and I hung out in the tent reading through the bad weather.


Starting up for camp 3

April 22

The next morning we felt like we still needed more time, so decided to take one more rest day. The weather was nice, though, so we went up to scout out the route. Unfortunately the wind had blown over the previous days tracks. We went up as high as we dared, but at the edge of the glacier outside camp we couldn’t find any tracks or rope or wands. So we turned around.

Our plan was to head up the next morning to tag camp 3, but without being able to find the route in the daylight we were nervous about being able to find it at night. Darren had brought his paragliding wing and was hoping to fly back from camp 3 to avoid descending through the khumbu icefall. The best flying conditions would be in the early morning, so he needed to leave before sunrise.

I advised him not to fly since he didn’t have a permit and could get in trouble, but he said it was unlikely anyone would see him, based on his experience. To get help navigating we walked over to the 8K camp and found some sherpas going up the next day. Darren paid them a bit of money to leave early and let us tag along. Most requests are possible for the right price on everest, we found.


Climbing up to camp 3

April 23

The next morning we met up at the 8K tent at 4am and after some tea and porridge were moving up by 4:30am. The sherpas expertly led the way and we soon clipped onto some fixed lines on the glacier. We made our way up, crossing a few ladders, until we reached the bergschrund around sunrise. From there it was fixed lines all the way to camp 3. In fact, they had just been fixed a few days earlier.

The sherpas went off ahead there, since navigation would be easy. I was getting very cold fingers and toes so went off ahead also at my own speed. It was a little tricky getting over the steep bergscrhrund, but above the slope eased to a nice snow slope. There was an up rope and a down rope there to help ease traffic jams in the future. Though this day it was just me, Darren, and a few sherpas above.

I climbed up the snow slope, and then the ropes went steeply up an ice slope. This early in the season there were no steps kicked in yet and I had to do a bit of tiring frontpointing. Finally the sun hit the slope and my cold toes warmed up. After about 3.5 hours I eventually popped out on the tiered snow slopes where camp 3 is placed.


Windy camp 3

The slopes were icy and steep, and it looked sketchy to me to dig out a tent platform. I saw the remains of a few old tents frozen in ice lower in the camp. There was a small platform in the middle with two tents set up and sherpas standing outside. It was extremely windy and I saw a few sherpas at upper camp continuing up ropes towards south col. They said they were working on fixing ropes up to the col and might finish that day.

It was very windy and cold and I didn’t want to stay long. The purpose of the day was to merely tag camp 3 and descend, so I snapped a few pictures and soon turned back around. I rapped back down the down line and met up with Darren part way down.


Cold camp 3

I told him it was too windy to hang out and I would wait for him down at camp. Or he would text me on the inreach if he flew down. I gave this a very slim chance of happening given the wind, though.

I soon made it back down, and spent some time hanging out in the 8K camp drinking tea before going back to our tent. I think Darren and I were about the only non-sherpas there. It was still very early season and camp was just getting set up.

Back at camp I happened to glance up and saw Darren flying down! Apparently the wind had calmed at camp 3. That looked like an amazing way to descend. He would be back in basecamp in 30 minutes and completely avoid the dangerous icefall, while I would take hours and have to go through the icefall.


Darren flying down

I texted Matthew that he was coming, then I quickly packed up. I locked up the tent and headed down by noon leaving most of my gear at camp. It took me an hour to get down to camp 2, and then I met up with a group of ten sherpas going down the icefall. They said it was random when the ice shifted and afternoon was about as safe as night as long as you moved fast. So I descended with them and made it down in about 3 hours, reaching camp by 4pm.

Unfortunately Darren had gotten caught by the nepali army when he landed and was now in trouble for flying without a permit. He would eventually be required to helicopter down to kathmandu to meet with the tourism ministry in person.

Matthew was back from Pheriche by then and feeling better, and a lot more climbers had made it to basecamp.

April 24-28


Hiking back down

I planned to rest for three days before moving up for my next rotation. The next planned rotation was to sleep at camp 2 one night, then sleep at camp 3, then tag camp 4 and retreat. This would be approximately in line with my K2 acclimation schedule. Also, the sherpas said if I did this one more rotation I would be ready for summit push.

I found a few other rotation schedules for climbers doing Everest without O2. One of my friends had his highest rotation as sleeping at C2 and tagging C3, which I had already done. David Goettler did his highest rotation as sleeping at C3 and tagging C4 once. Rasmus Kragh did more rotations and tagged C4 twice, sleeping at C3 multiple times. It was apparent different schedules worked for different people. Rasmus’s schedule was closest to my K2 schedule and I’d ideally like to tag C4 multiple times, like I had before K2.


Crossing a few ladders

Unfortunately on April 26 I started feeling sick. I later heard there was a respiratory infection going around basecamp, and most people in basecamp got it. It didn’t help matters that each meal for SST was held in a big 30-person tent that was full, and trekkers were passing in and out each day sharing meals. That was basically a recipe for disaster with most everyone eventually getting sick.

I delayed my next rotation a few days, hoping to improve, and the camp doctor said I would probably be ok if I tried going up. So I decided to give it a try. I left camp 11pm April 28 heading up.

April 29

I left before midnight to avoid crowds in the icefall, but unfortunately that meant I didn’t get much sleep. I started out the only one in the icefall, but soon groups of sherpas caught up to me and passed. They were all very fast.


Climbing back up with a team of sherpas

As I got higher I noticed my throat getting drier and eventually I lost my voice. I would try to say namaste to passing sherpas but couldn’t. I was feeling ok, though, so continued up. I made it to camp 1 in 4.5 hours, then to camp 2 two hours later, a bit after sunrise.

Matthew and Steven were already there, having arrived the previous day on their first rotation. The SST camp was now set up and a bunch of other climbers were there. I met one other solo no-O2 climber, Roland, in camp and we exchanged ideas on which rotations to do.

I then talked to the camp manager and he told me to move my tent to a different location. I was starting to feel crappy then and still could really only whisper to talk. Matthew helped me move my tent and all my gear over to the other spot, then I laid down to rest in the tent.

After an hour I went to the big dining tent and hung out with the other climbers. I drank some water but was still feeling bad and it seemed like it was getting a bit harder to breathe, like my throat was getting constricted.


Descending back down

I had originally planned to move my tent up to camp 3 that afternoon, but that seemed like a bad idea. If I’m ever feeling bad, then moving up will only make things worse. I hung out for another hour and debated just sleeping there that night and seeing if things improved. But I knew I wouldn’t get a good sleep if my breathing was difficult like it was. I suspected the crappiness was related to me being sick, and I decided the best course of action was to descend. That was the only way things would improve, and there was a good chance things would get much worse if I stayed up high or tried to move even higher as intended.

I told everyone I intended to descend that afternoon, then the camp manager told me he’d changed his mind and I needed to move my tent back to its original place. I got pretty frustrated since I was already feeling bad and low on energy, but Matthew said he’d make sure some people up there would do it for me. Someone offered I could helicopter down but I didn’t want to pay $3000 for that when I could walk fine on my own.


Retreating to Namche to recover

But I needed to get moving, so soon headed out by 2:30pm. I made good time to camp 1 and started descending the khumbu solo. By then my throat was getting worse and breathing was getting more difficult, so I tried to move fast. I managed to hack up some junk that cleared my throat a little as I got lower, and drinking lots of water seemed to help a bit.

By sunset I made it back to camp, and people were surprised to see me. My voice was gone but I could whisper that I needed to see the doctor. The doctor gave me a shot in the butt and some medication and said that would help me breathe until morning, but then I needed to go down to Namche to recover. The loss of voice and trouble breathing had been caused by my respiratory infection plus going to higher altitude with drier cold air.

Indeed the butt shot helped and I was finally able to breathe and talk that evening.

April 30-May 2

The next morning I got on a helicopter out of basecamp. I made it to Pheriche but then had to wait for a transfer to a different helicopter. The weather turned bad and I ended up hanging out in a restaurant for a few hours. By late afternoon there was a brief clearing and I quickly got in a helicopter and took off. But it only made it to Phungi Thenga before the clouds closed in. We stopped at a small helipad on the edge of the cliff over the river and waited.

We had tea at the trail crossing but then just before sunset the pilot motioned for us to get in. The weather still looked bad to me but he pushed through the clouds and soon emerged at Namche. They dropped me off and continued down to Lukla.

I quickly walked down the trail in the waning light and found a room in the Mountain View hotel for the night.

I stayed in town the next few days coughing a lot in my room. I took time to go down to the medical clinic the next day and the doctor gave me a bunch of medicine for the respiratory infection. He said I would have it for 7-10 days and a lot of people were getting it in the region. But the good news was I’d be immune to that particular strain once I got over it.

May 3-4

It had been seven days since I’d started being sick and I was finally starting to cough less. I’d by then finished all the medicine the doctor in Namche had given me. The BC doctor had recommended three days in Namche and it had been three days. So I decided to fly back up. The hotel owner arranged a helicopter and I went out to the pad with him to wait. The best he could do that day was get me on a helicopter scheduled to go pick up some tourists from Kala Pattar. That was close enough and a little cheaper than a flight to BC so I agreed.

I soon got on and we made a very rapid trip up the valley to land on the slope of Kala Pattar. It’s amazing how fast those helicopters are. I jumped out and a bunch of trekkers jumped in.

I quickly hiked down the trail and made it back up to basecamp. I rested the rest of that day and the next, but unfortunately I was still coughing up a lot of junk at night and wasn’t yet feeling 100%. Based on the forecast there was a potential weather window starting May 10 and I really really wanted to be feeling 100% for that. I consulted with the doctor and decided to go down to Pheriche to rest a few more days. I could hike there and back so didn’t need to pay for the expensive helicopter.

I was getting a bit nervous about summitting, though. With all the time lost being sick it was unlikely I’d be able to get two rotations to 8000m before summit push. I considered just going with oxygen and not needing any more rotations, and asked about the price. I could pay $3500 to have four oxygen cannisters deposited for me at camp 4, though I’d be on my own carrying them all up above camp 4 and operating them. Each weighs 10 lbs so it’s not a trivial weight for each. Supposedly I’d use one to sleep at camp 4 and have to carry up the other three for summit push. I got a lesson in how to operate the regulator, but that made me really nervous. If that regulator broke higher up and I didn’t have a spare and wasn’t acclimated I’d be pretty screwed. I’ve had multiple friends tell me about their regulators breaking on Everest in years past.

The only safe way to use oxygen, in my opinion, is to go with a sherpa who is an expert at fixing mechanical issues with the regulator and brings a spare regulator. That would add $9000 to the price, so $12,500 total.

I also wanted to give myself a possible chance of summitting Kangchenjunga after Everest. I talked to some sherpas and they said if I could summit Everest by around May 20 I’d probably still have time for Kangchenjunga before the monsoon came. Apparently the Kangchenjunga season lasts a little bit longer than the Everest season since it’s shorter and in a different location. It looked like there would be a summit window from around May 11 for at least a week or two on Everest this year. The sherpas said one rotation tagging 8000m should be sufficient to climb without oxygen in their experience (maybe that means sherpas can do that but not necessarily other climbers). I figured if I could tag 8000m at the beginning of the window, then rest down low, I could maybe summit at the end of the window and still have time for Kangchenjunga.


More recovering in Pheriche

It seemed feasible enough that it was worth going for and saving the $12,500 that I couldn’t afford anyways. So that was my plan. Attempt Everest without O2 still with the minimum acclimation that might possibly work, and still give myself a potential shot at Kangchenjunga.

May 5 -6

After breakfast I packed up a few items in my small day pack and started out. It was a relatively easy hike down past Lobuche and Thukla and after four hours I made it to Pheriche. I decided to stay at the Pheriche Resort, since that’s where I’d hung out waiting for the helicopter.

I spent the next day completely resting in town, having some good meals at the local bakery. Finally it had been over ten days since my respiratory infection started and I at last felt like I was over it. I was getting good nights sleeps with no coughing and feeling normal.

May 7-8

I left town after breakfast and started slowly hiking back up. The doctor advised hiking up slowly would be better for acclimtion than helicoptering back up quickly. After five hours I got back to camp and was still feeling good. I was nervous about getting sick again, though. One climber announced during dinner time that he’d heard a lot of  people around basecamp were getting sick and having to leave. Some teams had people with COVID. Others were quarantining sick members away from healthy members (SST was not).

This made me eager to minimize time in the dining tent and get up the mountain as soon as possible.

The forecast was for a potential weather window with low wind starting May 11. So I decided after one rest day at BC I’d head up. I’d wait out bad weather in camp 2 and continue up whenever it improved. This would get me out of basecamp as soon as possible and minimize chances of getting sick again. I preferred the risks of the mountain over the risks of basecamp.

May 9

This would likely be my last rotation and I wanted to sleep at camp 3 and tag camp 4. I left camp at 2am and encountered a mostly empty khumbu icefall as usual. I made good time again, reaching camp 1 in 4.5 hours and camp 2 two hours later. By then it was extremely windy.

I dropped my gear in the cook tent and went out to scout out my tent. Unfortunately the sherpas had done a very poor job moving it after I’d left. The vestibule wasn’t even staked out, and was instead limp in the front and frozen under a bunch of ice. I couldn’t even unzip it. The main tent was only partly staked out and the poles were poking out the corners. It was in tough shape.


Reading a lot of books to kill time in camp 2

I didn’t want to work on it in the wind and in the frozen state since that would just make it worse. Luckily the camp manager saw my predicament and I think he realized it wasn’t really my fault. The camp was basically empty since all the climbers had gone down in the bad weather, so he offered I could stay in one of the vacant tents until the weathe improved and I could fix mine.

So I threw my gear in a big Kailas tent, which was actually more comfortable than mine anyways. The manager very generously offered me some breakfast in the dining tent, even though I had only paid for basecamp services.

I met Roland up there, and he was heading down to wait for better weather. I also met a German guy going for Lhotse and he was also heading down. Soon I was the only climber up there in the SST camp, and probably one of the few in any camps. That sounded like an excellent way to avoid getting sick!

Interestingly, the camp manager said sherpas had been ferrying loads of oxygen to south col the past few days, even with all the wind. Unfortunately quite a few had gotten frostbite on their fingers, and some had gotten frostbite on their eyes from going without goggles at night! I saw a few sherpas being short roped back down, presumably with bad vision after the ordeal.


The storm finally clearing at camp 2

May 10-11

I spent the next two days up in camp 2 riding out extreme wind that destroyed quite a few tents. Luckily my Kailas tent remained unscathed. I hoped spending so many nights at 6500m would help with acclimation. Indeed, the health stats on my watch (HRV, respiration, pulse ox, heart rate) all improved over those days. Eventually the wind died down enough that I went over to take my tent down. I brought it in the Kailas tent and used most of my gorilla tape to repair it.

Later in the day Sajid from Pakistan made it up to camp 2 and he was planning to go for the summit the next window. He had already acclimated by climbing Annapurna in April so was a bit ahead of me. We agreed to move up to camp 3 together. Dr Jon also came up on an acclimation rotation and we hung out in the dining tent a while.

May 12


Heading up the Lhotse face

With my tent repaired I packed up and headed up at 7am. I had overnight gear for one night and my pack was pretty heavy. I slowly made progress up towards camp 3 and by this time there were excellent steps kicked out of the ice from some many climbers doing their rotation to tag camp 3. I noticed a lot of sherpas above camp 3 that morning and I think they were ferrying loads of oxygen to south col in preparation for summit pushes.

Unfortunately some of them were also kicking rocks down from the geneva spur section. This was extremely dangerous. Rocks would come whizzing down like bullets and we’d yell to climbers below to watch out. There were a few sherpas behind me that were obviously faster than I was. I offered to let them pass but they never wanted to. It was clear they wanted to be below me in case rocks fell they would hit me instead of them.


In Camp 3 with Sajid

I did notice later in the afternoon one sherpa got hit in the arm and had to be helicoptered out unfortunately.

After four hours I finally reached camp 3 and stopped for a rest on a small platform. Sajid soon caught up and sat next to me to rest. We hung out for an hour, then started trying to plan where we would dig platforms for our tents. There were a lot of sherpas from different companies already digging platforms, and we didn’t want to mess up their plans by digging one in the wrong spot. We asked the SST sherpas where we were allowed to make platforms, and they said there would actually be a bunch of empty SST tents there that night and we should just sleep in one of those.

That was great news! We gladly accepted and threw our gear in a tent. It wasn’t super level but we made it work. We melted a bunch of snow and Sajid graciously gave me some lentil soup for dinner. His plan was to move to camp 4 the next night and summit on May 14, assuming the rope fixers finished the summit ropes on the 13th as planned.


Sherpas digging platforms at camp 3

He offered for me to join, but I didn’t think I had enough rotations yet. I know one friend who summitted with no O2 after just touching camp 3, but I thought that was too risky for me. I at least wanted to touch 8000m and do a russian rest before going for summit push without O2.

May 13

The next morning I stashed my overnight gear in my pack and went up light with just my down suit at 7am. I clipped one nalgene in an insulator to my harness and stored another in a pocket, then stuffed another pocket with snacks. That would be sufficient to just go up, tag south col, and return.

The route was steep right out of camp, but then eased up a bit. There were good steps kicked in the ice, likely from all the sherpas carrying oxygen to south col. I don’t think there were too many non-sherpa climbers that had made it above camp 3 by that point.


Approaching the yellow band

I passed a lot of sherpas coming down after dropping off loads, but I was one of the few climbers going up. I did pass one climber on oxygen going really slow, and I think he was moving to camp 4 to get ready for a summit push.

The route eventually cut left and I scrambled up the yellow band. Above that I caught up to another climber in just a down suit, and it turned out to be Szilard, also from SST. Like me he was also planning to climb solo with no O2 and no sherpa. He was doing the same rotations as I was and was also planning to tag south col that day before returning to basecamp. I told him I’d wait for him at the col.


Looking down the geneva spur

I continued on ahead a bit faster and made good time up to Lhotse Camp, which was still just the remains of last year’s abandoned tents. I then cut across a rock band and was very careful not to dislodge any rocks. The route traversed around and eventually went steeply up to the edge of the Geneva Spur at 7800m.

After cresting the spur the route turned to complete rock and I took off my crampons. I traversed easy ledges until eventually reaching the south col proper at around 7950m by 12:30pm.

There I got a great view of the upper route and even saw the rope fixing team descending from the south summit. It appeared they had indeed fixed the ropes to the summit that day. In the col were lots of remains of old tents, and just three tents set up by seven summits club. I noticed a few pyramids of oxygen cannisters, and that’s where all the loads had been dropped off. Though, interestingly, along the way nearly every anchor for the ropes had a bundle of oxygen cylinders tied to it also. This made passing the anchors quite difficult while staying clipped to the rope, and was pretty annoying. I think this means the sherpa ferrying those cylinders couldn’t quite make it to south col as intended so just tied them off as high as they got.


Camp 4 with summit in the background

I spent about 10 minutes taking pictures at south col but then headed back. I usually like to minimize the time I spend at a new high elevation since the longer I spend there the more likely I am to get altitude sickness.

I made good time back to the Geneva Spur and then met Szilard there. He was taking a break and I think he was calling that good as his high point for the day. It was about the same elevation as south col anyways. We each took pictures of each other with Everest in the background and then descended down.

On the way we passed a group of ten oxygen climbers on their way up, and they planned to camp at south col that night and summit the next day. Sajid was in the group going without oxygen and I wished him good luck.


At the Geneva Spur with the summit in the background (photo by Szilard)

I soon made it back to camp 3, packed up my bag, and continued down. By then camp 3 was extremely crowded with new climbers coming up. I think it was going to be a big summit push for May 15 and I was happy to not be a part of that. When going without oxygen it’s very bad to be stuck in a line up high since it’s much easier for fingers and toes to get cold if you’re not moving and thus much easier to get frostbite. (This is not a problem is you’re breathing supplemental oxygen since that warms your body significantly). My big goal for the whole trip was to be out of phase with the crowds, and I had so far achieved that.

It looked a little weird for me to be the only person going down with a fully loaded pack and everyone else going up. A few sherpas asked me about this and I told them I had just done my last rotation for going without oxygen, and then they understood.

I made good time rapping back down, and made it to camp 2 just before dinner time. By then more SST climbers were in the cook tent and I stopped to have dinner with them. I poured hot water in my mountain house, but then the sherpas offered me a hot dinner of dahl bat. I told them I had only paid for BC services but they insisted so I of course agreed. Killian Jornet was there and he was planning to also tag camp 4 the next day for his last rotation before descending. A few SST climbers were heading up to camp 3 on their summit push the next day.


Looking back down towards the yellow band

I wanted to get low as soon as possible to start resting up for summit push. So after dinner I continued back down solo in the dark. As usual I had the entire Khumbu icefall to myself, and I made it to basecamp a bit before midnight.

May 14-17

The next morning after breakfast I packed a small day pack and hiked the four hours down to Pheriche. I’d read that most no-O2 climbers prefer to rest down there before summit push since it is low enough for the body to recover better. This time I stayed at the Edelweise Hotel, which appeared to be the nicest hotel in town and also the only one that accepted credit cards. This was important since I was starting to run low on cash. I also wanted to make myself as well-rested as possible before summit push.


Descending one of the sketchier ladders

I spent the next three days relaxing at the hotel and eating at the bakery across the street (that also accepts credit cards). Killian and his friends also stayed at that hotel, and we exchanged information from each of our weather forecasts. I was paying Chris Tomer to give me custom forecasts daily and Killian had a french meteorologist giving him forecasts. They seemed to agree that May 21 was a good summit day.

May 18

I debated helicoptering back up to basecamp to save energy, but then considered that the doctor had advised hiking up slowly for better acclimation. So I ended up hiking back up to basecamp over five hours. People had been summitting every day starting May 14, and Sajid had already been the first to summit with no O2. Darren had summitted May 17. I was eager to get on the bandwaggon and reach the summit also before the window closed.


Hiking back up from Pheriche

Chris forecast the last summit window days would likely be May 23-24, and I’d read some big teams like Madison were targeting those days. Chris said May 20 and 22 were bad but 21 was good for summitting. It sounded to me like very few big teams would go for the 21 since it was between two bad days. Thus I planned to target May 21 to potentially avoid crowds. If the weather was a little bit windier but there were no lines to get stuck in that would likely still be safer for me going without O2 since I could keep moving.

It’s an unfortunate reality that one of the main difficulties of climbing everest is dealing with other climbers, whether it be avoiding getting sick or avoiding getting stuck in lines.

My schedule would thus be to move to camp 2 May 19, camp 4 May 20, and summit May 21. I usually skip camps like this on summit push on 8000m peaks, and this was consistent with what other no-O2 climbers had done. Though the more conventional guided schedule is to hit every camp and even take a rest day at camp 2 on summit push. One advantage of skipping camps is in theory I would only need to know a good weather window three days in advance instead of five or six days in advance.

May 19


Moving up to Camp 3

That morning Matthew would make his summit push, though unfortunately he encountered very high winds when he reached the Hilary Step before sunrise and would have to retreat around 8800m, just shy of the summit.

I left camp at 3am and soon caught up to a group of other SST climbers, including Steven. They were targeting May 23/24 for summitting on a conventional schedule. I managed to pass most of the climbers, tailgating behind some fast sherpas, and made it to camp 1 after four hours. Even getting stuck in traffic jams this was my fastest time yet, and I hoped this meant my rest down in Pheriche had been helpful.

I soon reached camp 2 1.5 hours later and the manager let me stay in an empty tent. Darren was on his way down after a successfull summit, and Matthew soon came down describing his trouble with the high wind at the Hilary Step.

Chris gave me the updated forecast and it no longer seemed like a slam dunk for the 21. The 22 sounded bad but the 23 and 24 sounded ok. The problem with those days was there would be crowds, and that would definitely be too late of a summit to give me a chance for Kangchenjunga. The 21st sounded almost as good as the 23 and 24 so I decided to go for it.


Windy camp 4

May 20

I left camp 2 at 6am going light with just food, stove, and warm layers. Dorche said there would be empty SST tents at camp 4 that night and I could stay in one. That was another advantage of going for the 21 to summit – I didn’t have to carry a tent up. I just planned to rest a few hours then start up in the evening, so decided to save weight and not bring a sleeping bag.

I made it up to camp 3 in three hours, again beating my previous times and giving me hope that I was well-acclimated. I stopped for a rest and saw my friend Paul heading up. He would be going for Lhotse without O2.

I soon headed up also and made good time up the slope. It was a little windy but that was true to the forecast. I even passed some oxygen climbers, which also gave me confidence I was well-acclimated. The route wasn’t very crowded and I hoped that not too many groups would be going for the summit the next day. I knew no SST groups were targeting the 21, but I had heard a few other teams were, so I wasn’t the only one thinking the weather would be doable.

I made it through the yellow band and then up to Lhotse camp 4. On the way I passed one no-O2 climber with a sherpa moving slowly, but I’m not sure which peak they were going for. I was moving a little slower there than the previous time, but that was likely since I had a pack that time and not the previous time.

I caught up to a pair of elite expedition oxygen climbers and kept up with them most of the rest of the way. I eventually traversed over to the Geneva Spur then climbed up to and over the crest. By 3pm I rolled in to camp 4, taking seven hours from camp 3. This was an hour slower than before, likely because I was carrying  a pack.

It was extremely windy in South Col and I was happy to have a tent waiting for me. In fact, there were about eight SST tents and I chose one that appeared to have nothing wrong with it – no rips, no snow inside, good condition. I threw my gear inside and was happy to get out of the wind.

I soon got my stove out and melted some snow, then cooked up some dinner of ramen noodles. That’s one meal I’m certain I can eat at altitutde even if not acclimated, since it tastes so good.

I had brought a few very light items to help me stay warm – my inflatable pad and my vapor barrier liner for my sleeping bag. I inflated the pad then crawled in the liner and tried to relax. Chris said the wind would start dying around 8pm and I hoped it would eventually get low enough that I could start up.

The general strategy for oxygen climbers is to leave camp 4 around 7:30pm and hope to summit around sunrise at 4:30am. A nine hour summit push is pretty standard. This allows most of the climb to be at night when winds are generally lowest, and gives enough time to descend back to camp 2 before dark. However, the schedule needs to be a bit different for no-O2 climbing. The problem I’ve found is before sunrise above 8000m my fingers and toes get cold very easily when going without O2. I have to be very diligent to stop frequently to rewarm them. This is much harder for the feet than for the hands.


Sunset at camp 4

I’ve tried to modify my setup to improve the situation over what I had on K2. For my feet now in addition to Olympus mons boots I brought overboots and electrically-heated socks. For my hands I had trigger finger electrically heated liners and an extra pair of overmitts to go over. I’d tested this setup in the winter in washington and it seemed to work. But I still wanted to maximize time in the daylight when I don’t have a problem with my fingers and toes.

So, instead of targetting summitting at sunrise I would target summitting at noon and getting back a bit before sunset. Then descending from camp 4 in the dark would be ok since it’s below 8000m by then. I’d read other no-O2 climbers generally take around 12 hours to summit. So I would start at midnight, summit around noon, and be back by sunset hopefully to camp 4.

Sajid had said he started at 1:30am and summitted at 1:30pm, then was back by sunset. However, the forecast was for the wind to pick up by mid afternoon on May 21 and I wanted to beat that. So I would hopefully just have a few hours in the dark and most of the time in the daylight.

I put on all my layers, crawled in my liner, and tried to take a nap after sunset. Though, I couldn’t actually fall asleep. Aside from nervous anticipation, the air was too thin. My breathing rate would drop and I would just about fall asleep, but then it would drop too low and I would jolt up momentarily gasping. I tried this for a few hours but then gave up. The highest I’ve actually legitimately slept before was at about 7600m at camp 4 on K2 where I managed to take a 2-hour nap before summit push. But I was now at about 8000m, which was too high, and I was less acclimated than on K2.

I think the only way to sleep at that elevation is to breathe supplemental oxygen.

May 21

Eventually midnight rolled around but it was still very windy. I had seen a few oxygen groups leave earlier moving up, and I saw their lights high on the route. But they could tolerate colder windier conditions using oxygen since that makes the body much warmer. I needed low wind.

I said I could at latest leave at 1:30am like Sajid had but after that it was too late. I waited until 12:30am and poked my head outside again. It was still super windy and by now one of the groups had bailed and was returning to camp. If it was too windy for them it was definitely too windy for me. I was worried if I made it up a few hundred meters and bailed then I’d expend too much energy to give it another shot, since moving up high without O2 takes so much energy.

I texted Chris and he said the models showed the wind should be dropping, but it wasn’t. By 1am another group bailed and by 1:30am the last group I’d seen also bailed. It appeared the forecasts were wrong that day. By then time was getting too tight to squeeze in a summit before the afternoon winds picked up. I really don’t like rushing to beat a storm in the mountains. It can end up bad if the storm comes in early, which often seems to happen.


Trying to stay warm with my legs in my pack

So I reluctantly gave up for that day. This was unfortunate since I hadn’t really come prepared to sleep at camp 4, and indeed spending a lot of time at camp 4 at 8000m was not super beneficial without oxygen. There’s a reason they call it the “Death Zone.”

I bundled back up in my liner and laid back down. It was pretty cold for the next few hours and I got through it with forced shivering and situps. I occasionally ate some snacks since sugar also helps me keep warm.

Finally the sun came up around 5am and things started to warm up. I ate some more bars then walked around outside. I talked to some sherpas and they said it was too windy last night, though a few sherpas had continued up. I think they might have been depositing oxygen bottles at the balcony and not going completely to the summit.

As the sun got higher the tent warmed up a bit from the greenhouse effect and I tried again to sleep. This time I took off my boots and just kept my liners own. I then crawled in the vapor barrier liner and stuck my legs inside my pack, pulling it up to my chest. This setup  was actually warm enough that I could theoretically fall asleep. I tried again, but annoyingly could never completely fall asleep because I would always wake up when my breathing rate got too low.

I eventually ran out of snow to make water so took a bag outside and harvested some nearby freshly-drifted snow that looked clean. Of course, just after I finished a climber walked over and pooped right there in the snow. There are plenty of snow-free places around camp 4 so it’s pretty inconsiderate to go to the bathroom in one of the few places people can harvest snow for drinking water. Luckily I had harvested enough for the rest of the day.


Hanging out in camp 4

I spent the rest of the day melting snow, eating, and trying unsuccessfully to sleep. I texted with Matthew and he suggested descending to camp 3 and then climbing back up to climb with Steven. But that would take way too much energy and I’d probably have to bail on the summit bid. Chris said now the 22nd looked like acceptable weather. He double-checked with another of the top everest meteorologists and they concurred. Also, I knew one SST team was planning to go for the summit that day. So I figured if I stayed at camp 4 into the evening I could get one more shot at summitting. That would be my very last chance. The forecast for the 22 was decreasing wind throughout the day into the evening, which I liked. There would be no race to beat the weather.

A few more teams arrived that evening, but the SST team was ok with me staying in that tent. I wanted to stick with my same plan of starting at midnight to minimize time in the dark and cold.

May 22

I shivered in the tent until 11:30pm, watching a few other teams start up. Then I started packing up. I considered going up with just my down suit, but my nalgene clipped outside on my harness would likely freeze too easily. And two nalgenes in my down suit was too much. So I brought my pack and put inside it my extra nalgene and a spare pair of mittens. I stuffed snacks and a primary nalgene in my pockets. Then I turned on tracking on my inreach and put that in my pack. I switched on the batteries in my socks to the lowest setting and hoped this would last five hours until sunrise.

By midnight the wind had calmed as predicted and I headed out. I saw a string of lights up the route all the way to the balcony. As expected I was the last one up.

I followed fresh tracks through the snow and soon located the red rope at the bottom of the route. There happened to be a frozen dead body right there, and I’m not sure if it was from this year or a previous year. I clipped on and started up. The bottom section was icy but there were snowed-over tracks kicked in the ice and progress was no problem.


Sunrise below the balcony

I soon crested the first hill and the terrain leveled out. I started catching up to a group ahead of me, and then got passed by a sherpa from behind. He caught up to the group ahead and then five climbers turned back around. I asked and they said “no problem,” so I’m not exactly sure what happened there.

By then the terrain started to get steep again and my fingers started getting cold. I switched on the battery packs and tried putting my overmitts over top. But it was too annoying to deal with the ascender and the overmitts. So I ended up pushing the ascender up then pulling up on the rope to avoid touching the metal. I’d wrapped the ascender in duct tape to make the metal less cold, but it was still cold. In the end I had to stop every ten minutes and ball up my hands to skin-on-skin inside my mittens to warm them up. Luckily my feet were doing fine inside the overboots with the battery packs going.

I made steady progress this way, though slowed down a lot by warming my fingers. I was breathing fine, though. A few more sherpas came down, and I suspect they had dropped more oxygen at the Balcony. Everyone but me was breathing supplemental oxygen.

As I got higher one client and sherpa came down, and I suspect they had bailed on a summit bid. The client warned me I was still very far from the balcony and I wouldn’t summit until the afternoon. That was basically my plan anyways, so I’m not sure why he was telling me that. I’m also not sure why he thought he could estimate my speed. I was still feeling fine and told him thanks.

Eventually a group of seven oxygen climbers caught up to me and passed, and then I got in line behind them. It was kind of nice to have them breaking trail, since the descending climbers had all destroyed the up track. In general I kept up pace with that group, though was slowed down every ten minutes to warm my hands and they sort of pulled ahead.


The team of seven passing me below the balcony

By 5am the sun started popping out, but by then my sock batteries had worn out and my feet started going numb. It’s unfortunately much harder to warm up toes than fingers, but I knew I had to try to avoid frostbite. I’d previously gotten frostbite on my fingers on Peak Pobeda in Kyrgyzstan and didn’t want to repeat the experience. For my feet I would kick them out for a few minutes, then shake them back and forth, and this usually momentarily helped.

Luckily the sun eventually got higher and I gradually had less and less trouble with my toes, until I stopped worrying about them at all. Up higher I had to scramble through some rock sections, and I got through one section where the fixed ropes had been cut. Then I reached a final long slope below the obvious balcony.

I was slowing down by then but still making good progress up the tracks from the previous team. But then a group of sherpas came down and destroyed the up tracks. That was demoralizing, though one of them was nice and gave me a fist bump.

Progress got much more difficult when I had to kick my own steps up, but by around 8am I at last reached the balcony and stopped for a break. I took a swig of my tang water from my pack and forced down part of a cliff bar. I was surprised I was able to hold the food down this time, since I usually have trouble eating above 8000m. That’s why I brought the tang. I can actually injest calories if I drink them.

There were a few oxygen canisters laying around and I could see the seven-person team making slow progress above me. I could clearly make out the South Summit above and it didn’t look too far away. If I could just get there it seemed the true summit would be close. I was starting to slow down, but this was consistent with how I had felt on K2 at 8400m, which was the elevation of the balcony. There was still plenty of daylight left and conditions were breezy but manageable.

I slowly started up the ridge from the balcony making steady progress. A few sherpas came down, and I steadily started catching up to the seven person team. By about 8am I reached a level part of the ridge at 8500m just before it started climbing steeply up to the south summit. The big team seemed to be taking a break and a few more climbers came down. I wasn’t sure if they’d bailed or just summitted very early.

By then I had slowed down a lot more and stopped to try to eat part of a cliff bar. I drank some water and then continued. But something felt off. My balance didn’t seem quite right and I felt much slower than before. I knelt down again, forced some more food down, and tried again. But I again had trouble balancing even on the flat terrain. This was very troubling, and hadn’t happened to me on K2 at that elevation. This wasn’t just a symptom of fatigue. It seemed like a symptom of HACE (high altitude cerebral edema).


Looking up from the balcony to my highpoint near the south summit in the background

I recalled my friend Ben had tried to climb K2 without oxygen and had collapsed around 8400m and only made it down because a sherpa had given him his own oxygen. I didn’t want to get to that stage, and I already knew there was a chance I hadn’t done enough rotations to be fully acclimated. Rather than wait until symptoms got worse I decided to bail. If something happened to me up there when I was solo I knew most likely nobody would help me and I’d be totally on my own. So if things weren’t going perfectly I basically needed to bail. And it seems the only way to get a no-O2 ascent of a peak this high is for everything to be going absolutely perfectly.

By that time I had already spent 40 continuous hours above 8000m without O2 and had pulled two consectuive all-nighters up there. It’s not clear to me if this contributed to the HACE, or if it was purely since I hadn’t done enough rotations. But the sleep deprivation and extended time in the death zone certainly didn’t help matters.

I quickly took a dexamethasone tablet out of my chest pocket, swallowed it, and descended. Dex is the medication of choice to treat HACE. I stumbled a bit going down but took my time and eventually got to the balcony where a group of climbers was taking a break. For some reason right then my breathing got more labored and I started breathing quickly and forcefully. That was definitely a bad sign, and I was happy that hadn’t happened higher up. I popped in another dex tab, then quickly started rappelling. The safest course of action was to get down as quickly as possible.

Luckily for me the next section was steep. I quickly rapped down 100m and symptoms started gradually improving. I finally got my breathing back under control. I carefully downclimbed the section with the cut rope, then continued rappelling.

The sherpas and clients caught up to me and we took turns rappelling, eventually making it to the flat section at 8100m. Then I slowly arm wrap descended back to camp 4 and staggered back to my tent by early afternoon.

By then camp 4 was very crowded with climbers coming up for the May 23 push. That was the crowd I had successfully avoided, though I hadn’t made the summit. I found some sherpas had taken my liner and gear out of the tent, and somebody had stolen my stove! They would have had to untie my liner, sift through all the gear inside, and consciously steal the stove from my stuff. It definitely wasn’t a casual mistake. But that meant I couldn’t melt snow for water.

Matthew had paid to have a sherpa carry his spare sleeping bag up so I could use it to sleep that night if needed, and it had supposedly arrived that morning. I asked around but the sherpas told me there was no sleeping bag for me. They also said there was no available tent space and I needed to descend. I was worn out and really wanted to sleep there, but I knew it was not possible for me to fall asleep at 8000m without supplementary oxygen, and it would be bad to pull a third consecutive all-nighter. So going down seemed like the only option.

But I didn’t have water left and couldn’t make any since my stove got stolen. I finally convinced one sherpa to give me a half liter of water to get me down. Then I packed up my remaining unstolen items and started down slowly.

Many climbers were still trickling up, and I anticipated a lot of traffic jams the next day. I met Dorche coming up and told him what happened. He said there was a tent with sleeping bag and stove available for me at camp 3 and I should sleep there. That sounded great and I told him that was my plan.

I had to wait for some traffic jams to clear but eventually rapped off the geneva spur and arm wrapped down farther. It started snowing below the Lhotse camp 4 and that wiped out most of the tracks. I rapped down the yellow band, and by then the fixed lines were covered in new snow and the route invisible. I was able to rap down some sections and arm wrap descend others, and eventually reached camp 3 shortly after sunset.

An SST sherpa caught up to me then and showed me the SST tents. He said I should just knock on tents until I found an empty one, then he went on to descend to basecamp.

Of ten tents only the very last one was unoccupied. But it didn’t have any sleeping bag or stove, just an empty tent. Apparently somebody had taken the sleeping bag and stove Dorche had told me about. I guess I wasn’t too surprised at that point.

I took a break and considered my options. I ate a snack, took a last swig of water, and rested a bit. If I stayed there I would have no water and would basically have to pull another all nighter since I probably wouldn’t get any sleep without a sleeping bag. A third consecutive all-nighter did not sound appealing.

I was a little concerned that the fresh snow had covered the tracks below Camp 3. That section didn’t have ropes or wands but wound through crevasses. That sounded dangerous with no tracks to follow going solo. However, the other sherpa had already headed down and I presumed I could follow his tracks. And there would likely be other sherpas coming up since it was still a super popular time on the mountain. So I decided to head down. If  I could make it to camp 2 I could reach my stashed sleeping bag there and there would likely be leftover water in the dining tent of SST.

I soon rapped down and made quick progress. I saw two climbers coming up and the one sherpa going down and was confident I could follow tracks back to camp. When I reached the bergschrund I noticed a headlamp up on the west ridge of Everest making its way down. That had to be Killian, and it appeared he had delayed his summit push a bit like I had but was now retreating. When I got lower another climber caught up to me and it was Bertrand, who was planning to film Killian from camp 4 and down. He said Killian had gotten caught in an avalanche in the Hornbein Couloir and was retreating, unfortunately.

Bertrand was much faster than me and cruised down to camp 2 quickly. I eventually caught up, reaching camp around midnight for a 24-hour day. Killian arrived shortly after and we all split the small amount of remaining water in the dining tent. I munched on my few remaining bars and then we all found empty tents to crash in for a few hours until sunrise. I guess it was a little comforting to know I wasn’t the only one to not complete my objective that day.

I sent an inreach message saying I was ok, and realized that the inreach had been off. Apparently it got too cold after about an hour of being in my backpack on my ascent and hadn’t sent any signals all day. In the future I now know to store it in an inside pocket of my clothes so it will stay on.

May 23

The next morning we all packed up our gear and headed down. My pack we enormous but everything just barely fit. I was a little slower than usual but managed to make it down to basecamp by mid afternoon.

I heard Steven and sherpa Nima made the summit around 3am that morning and descended back down to camp 2.

Basecamp was already getting dismantled since the season would be over in a few days. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to give Everest another shot, even with oxygen. The last summit day would be the 25th, in two days, and then the ladders would all get removed from the khumbu icefall and the mountain would effectively close down. The window is really only at most a bit more than a week, so there’s really only time for one summit attempt.

I packed up all my gear and went to bed early, exhausted from two consecutive all-nighters followed by a night with only a few hours nap.

May 24


Hiking out from basecamp

The next morning Matthew took an early helicopter back to Kathmandu and I was the only one left in camp eating breakfast. At that point I figured the season for Kangchenjunga was probably also over, and I was too worn out to think about trying it anyways. The helicopter flight to Kathmandu was $1000, but hiking out to Lukla and taking a fixed wing flight from there would be free since I’d already paid for that cheap flight.

I was exhausted but really did not want to lose another thousand dollars. I figured if someone told me they’d pay me a thousand dollars to do the everest basecamp trek out in two days I’d gladly accept. So I decided to tough it out and hike out to save the money. Then I’d see if I could get some portion of my Kangchenjunga payment refunded (unlikely) and just fly home.

I packed up all my bags and they got sent to Kathmandu on helicopter (this had already been paid for in advance). Then after breakfast I packed up a small day pack and headed down. I made it to Pheriche for lunch at the bakery, then continued all the way to Namche by sunset for a 22-mile day. The small up sections were exhausting and I clearly hadn’t yet recovered yet from my summit push. But I powered through and made it to the Panorama View hotel.


Hiking out below Tengboche

May 25

The next day I hiked down to Phakding for lunch and decided to check the weather. It actually looked like sunny skies and low wind on Kangchenjunga for the end of May and beginning of June. It looked like very summittable weather, surprisingly. I texted Chris to see what he said about the forecast. Then I messaged Dawa from SST on whatsapp to ask if I was still able to try for Kangchenjunga. I started thinking it would be a shame to be in Nepal, at the right time of year, with a summittable weather forecast, fully acclimated, with permits already purchased and logistics arranged, to go ahead and bail on Kangchenjunga. Sure, I was still exhausted from Everest, but maybe after a few days rest I could go for it. I remembered reading that Grace Tseng, a mountaineer with Elite Expeditions, was planning to climb Kangchenjunga after Everest. So maybe there would still even be other people there to help break trail even very late in the season. If I could get Kangchenjunga that would still make the whole trip a success. Some people spend two months and just get that peak.


Back to Namche

I continued hiking and made it to Lukla by noon and messaged Thanes to see if I could get on a flight. But by then the weather was socked in and it was raining. I would need to wait until the next morning to try to fly out.

I found a room at “The Nest” hotel, with a view of the airport just in case planes started coming, and slept there for the night.

May 26

The next morning I managed to fly back to Kathmandu and set up a face-to-face meeting with Dawa and Thanes to discuss possible Kangchenjunga logistics. If possible I really wanted to salvage the trip by getting at least one of my two objectives. I knew I would eventually return to try Everest again, and if I could get Kangchenjunga on this trip it would make the next one logistically much simpler to just be going for one mountain.

I met in person with Dawa and Thanes from SST shortly after landing. It turned out there were currently two solo no-O2 clients of SST in trouble on Everest and Kangchenjunga and rescue teams were being sent to help. Suhajda Szilard, who I knew from basecamp and some of my rotations, had attempted to climb Everest solo with no O2 two days after me on May 24 but had not made it down. He was last seen laying down below the Hillary Step. SST was scrambling to send a rescue team to find him (the search would end up being unsuccessful and his body is still up there). Also, skier Luis Stitzinger had failed to return from his solo no-O2 summit bid on Kangchenjunga also on May 24. SST was currently organizing another rescue team to look for him (he didn’t survive and his body was later found at 8300m).

With this situation unfolding, understandably SST did not want another solo no-O2 client up on one of those mountains. I was told I needed to go with sherpa and supplemental oxygen. I was confident I was acclimated enough to summit without oxygen, but it appeared my options were to either summit with oxygen and personal sherpa or go home and lose all the money I’d already spent on permits and logistics.

It would cost another $11k to hire sherpa and oxygen for Kangchenjunga, and I could just barely afford that if I zeroed out my bank account. That would be cheaper than losing all the money I’d already invested and then paying more a future year to come back, so I reluctantly agreed.

I would later go on to summit Kangchenjunga in the last window of the season in early June. 

In retrospect, I’ve thought of some recommendations for a no-O2 ascent of Everest from the Nepal side (I’ve heard it’s illegal from the Tibet side now):

1. Acclimate on a different 8000er first. Maybe Dhaulagiri since it gets climbed in April. Too many factors make acclimating on the Nepal side of Everest difficult. The Khumbu icefall is often closed, the khumbu icefall is very dangerous (I dislocated my shoulder there and three sherpas died there in a serac collapse), winds at and above camp 3 are often too high for rotations there, sickness is basically gauranteed in the crowded basecamp (I lost 2 weeks being sick), and sleeping at 7000m at camp 3 is sketchy/exposed/dangerous.

2. Tag 8000m twice before summit attempt. It's unclear if once is enough for me or not. The only data I have is that before climbing K2 with no O2 I had tagged 8000m twice (on Broad peak). Maybe my acclimation on Everest was sufficient, but spending 40hrs in the death zone with no O2 and pulling two back-to-back all-nighters was just too much for me to then push on to the summit. (I don't think this has been done by too many other climbers, so not much data out there).  

3. Minimize time in the death zone. This was my plan, but the weather didn't cooperate. On K2 I was in and out of the death zone in 8 hours and my body did fine. That was the goal on Everest, too, of course. 

4. Avoid going solo above south col if possible. Nobody will help you if you get in trouble. Maybe this means highering a sherpa with oxygen to accompany just in case. Or finding a climbing partner to accompany.

5. If possible leave any gear at south col with another climber who is staying there. Otherwise it will likely get stolen.

6. Find a higher-capactiy battery for the lenz heated socks. This setup with the overboots worked well to keep my toes warm, until the batteries ran out.

7. Find a warmer glove setup. This could be a slightly bigger overmitt over the trigger finger mitts, and a higher capacity battery for the lenz heated liners.

8. Use a plastic or better-insulated jumar. The cold metal, even insulated with duct tape, caused my fingers to go numb.

Gear Notes:
Standard 8000m gear

Approach Notes:
Flight to Lukla, hike to BC
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  • 5 months later...

Wow dude, amazing write up, and a great effort! Thanks for all the effort explaining the whole trip; I'm actually more interested in the logistics than the thought of climbing the peak so it was very interesting. 

Did you do a write up of Kangchenjunga?

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Honestly, people post TR's about cragging at  Exit 38.  I think any Himalayan trip is worthy here.  Your writing style is fantastic for folks aspiring to attempt any of these peaks, lots of important details, no drama.

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