Seven years ago today...
MAY 22, 2009 I left the tents of Camp 3 headed for the South Col to Camp 4 from where we would launch our summit bid. Every year I cannot help but relive the next following hours and days as my life took a turn. Upward and forever upward.
I have decided to leak a small piece of the Book I have been writing since then. I hope this passage takes you to the mountain, the way it does for me. The book (as it is still titled) first draft will be ready for the end of the month, then the editing process begins and I would like to see it published before the end of the year. Enjoy, and I would love to hear your thoughts. (Strong Language Warning - Content copyright of Robert Kojetin 2016)
..."I stepped out of the relative comfort of my tent into the icy wind of Camp 3 pitched three quarters of the way up the Lhotse Face and over the threshold of Hades. This would be my second journey into hell, but this time it was all my doing. Every grimace, every tear. Every step further away from my humanity, every moment of anguish. Each one a product of my own choices.
As a result of the effects of altitude combined with exhaustion, dehydration and oxygen deprivation, I also have large gaps in my memory regarding the ascent from Camp 3 (7 500 metres high) to the summit. My recollection of that day is a series of still images and not a fluid sequence, as if my brain switched from recording video to snapping photos.
The day had started just after sunrise on 22 May, and eventually I arrived in Camp 4 just after 15h00. A distance of just over a kilometre on foot took me an agonising ten hours to complete. I was hobbling badly and was far from alert having taken at least eight Synap Forte tablets since breakfast. I was a semi-functional junkie at best.
After packing our bags and washing down as much cereal as my gag reflex would allow, we departed Camp 3 for higher ground. The pace started slowly and stopped often for various team members to adjust gear and shift oxygen bottles but despite the gentle start along the faint path, any effort to gain any movement in my right ankle joint proved futile. It felt as if a nerve was trapped underneath my outer ankle bone and bearing weight on it was painful. A pain I was going to have to make friends with. The swelling and inflammation had left me with about 10% movement in that foot. The path leading out of Camp 3 leads up the remainder of the Lhotse wall and veers off to the left to the Yellow Band; a slip-and-slide of glass-like rock and ice. Crossing this famous section of rock was tricky. My rigid limbs made balancing incredibly hard and at times I found myself on my hands and knees. A fall here could put an abrupt end to my expedition as well as anyone I may bowl over on the way down.
By the time I joined the long line of climbers edging their way up the wall, I was the only climber not getting impatient with the slow pace. With my right foot being upslope and the Lhotse wall disappearing nearly 2 000 metres down to my left, it wasn’t long before I was almost last in the queue. Climbers would move past me on the lines as I had to stop often to try to ‘jiggle’ some movement into my wooden club foot. A technique that had proved successful in the past but now fruitless with each attempt. After the Yellow Band, the mountain reveals the rest of the curved slope heading leftward up to the Geneva Spur; a small ridge hiding Camp 4 and the South Col from view. I managed to stumble another two hundred metres past the Yellow Band until I eventually collapsed to my knees. Tears came easily, a sour mixture of pain, frustration and embarrassment. I looked up the slender couloir leading to Lhotse’s summit, a thin strip of ice at 45 degrees. “What a shitty place to die” I said out loud. I turned over to sit on the hard mountainside and dug my crampons in to avoid a slide back down the Cwm.
And then the monologue began. “Is this it Rob? Is this the obstacle that is going to turn you around? You made it this far, but now you’re fucked.” “You can’t climb Everest on your hands and knees” I uttered in a New Zealander accent, mimicking Russell’s conversation with Tim Medvetz from the first season of the Discovery Channel documentary - Everest Beyond the Limit. “Is this the obstacle you chose to end your one shot at Everest?” I asked again my voice quaking like a nervous child. I unshouldered my bag, my oxygen set still in place on my face despite it only delivering two litres of sweet muthi per minute. In my bag was a packet of the tablets which only three years prior was intended to spell the end of me.
Unscrewing the lid of my pink Nalgene bottle, I swigged a mouthful of the icy water, sending the first four tablets to work and leaving an aftertaste of bitterness and whatever was left in the pot when we melted water last night. I closed my eyes for a moment but the feeling of slipping out my seat and out of control overwhelmed me. The entire time I sat there, I kept pumping my right foot up and down, like an imaginary accelerator pedal, in the hopes of regaining some movement in what was now being called “this fucking foot.” After ten minutes or so I scrambled to my feet and attempted to carry on. Within a few steps I found myself on my knees, my rigid boots digging into my shins. I looked at the rope, a bright red thread leading the way to Camp 4 on the South Col and my new goal. With my right hand I slid the ascender device a foot or so forward and took two steps forward on my knees. Again I slid the ascender and took another two steps forward. Despite the thick padding of my down suit, the hard ice was digging into my shins and it felt as if it would split the skin on my knees with each step I took. I found myself in what, to this day, is one of the most awe inspiring and magnificent places I have ever been, with a panoramic view that stretches for literally hundreds of kilometres in every direction.
Going nowhere. I once again dug out the bankie stashed in the lid of my backpack and down the hatch went the next four tablets. After researching the drug on the Internet, it is more than apparent that I put myself in grave danger of kidney malfunction, especially in that state of severe dehydration but in all honesty, had I known the risk I faced, I would have still done it. This was not the obstacle that was going to send me home. There is video footage of me on this section of the route, skidding awkwardly down the Lhotse face several times, tripping over my own immobile feet and coming to a jarring holt on the fixed line. It looks like I’m wearing roller skates not crampons. The camera may add 10 pounds but it cannot hide the fact that I was living up to the title I was given in the final edit of the documentary - “Russell’s weakest climber.”
I will be presenting a FREE slideshow on my ascent of Everest at the Mall of Africa on Wednesday evening, 25 May 2016, 18:15 for 18:30 at the Cape Union Mart Store. We would love to host you, but booking is essential, please email your RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org