Getting down from the top of Mt. Everest was probably the most difficult thing that I have ever done in my life! I thought that getting to the summit would be hard (and it was extremely difficult), but getting off the top was harder!
When I started my descent off the top I was blind in my right eye, had blurred vision in my left eye, and was concerned that I could not get my sherpa, Dhorjee, to understand what was happening to me ... not that I knew myself! Just minutes off the summit I caught up with Dhorjee who had retreated of the summit due to the extreme cold. I continued to try and tell him that I had problems with my vision, but he still did not seem to understand and again walked away from me as he seemed intent on getting down the mountain! I too wanted to get down the mountain, but knew that I would need help!
And then it happened, at the very top of the world, just below the summit, I fell! My foot had become tangled in the safety line and I had tripped and fell forward. I remember yelling into my oxygen mask, and am sure that it was not heard above the roar of the wind, but know that it was deafening in my ears as panic, fear, and shear terror gripped my body as I fell onto the trail in front of me! Dhorjee apparently saw the fall and was almost to me before I hit the ground! I lay there motionless not knowing if one side of me was favoring a quick descent into Tibet, or if it would be a trip back into Nepal. Thank God the drop to Tibet was a little further ahead of me as I fell on a section of the trail that was actually forgiving of a fall. Dhorjee was already trying to sit me up and trying to see what was wrong. I took advantage of my seated position and removed my snow goggles to show Dhorjee a swollen right eye which was weeping, and a left eye which was partially open and weeping fluid also! They say a picture can be woth a thousand words, and with the exposure of my eye to Dhorjee it seems like our communication problems were solved as he immediately understood my dilemna with lack of vision!
I would like to say that the trip down was much easier now that Dhorjee realized I had a problem, but it still remained a dilemna! Dhorjee remained very close to me, but I still had to navigate the challenging sections of ther trail. Soon after my initial fall I was on the Hillary step and fell again as I tried to navigate down it's face. I found myself dangling in ropes just off the top of the step and after reassurance from Dhorjee was able to make it to the base of the step. My pace continued to be very, very slow as it took so much more effort for me to strain my good eye to see where to put my feet. I was very astute to make certain that I clipped in/out of the safety lines properly as I did not want to risk a fall and not be clipped in properly! Stops were more frequent on the way down also as I was starting to feel tired from the lack of sleep, hydration, and nutrition! At the balcony I shared the last of my fluids with Dhorjee as he had not drank all evening. We still had a long way to go, and now without fluids! Dhorjee made sure that I had a new oxygen tank and I believe that he turned up the oxygen flow to help me get down!
The trip down to Camp 4 took about 5-6 hrs. and I fell/tripped/slid a few more times before I arrived safely in camp. Each fall was scarier than the previous, yet I seemed to be getting used them and that was even scarier! It seemed forever to get to Camp 4 even though I could see it for hours! I crawled into my tent and found my team mates fast asleep, and within minutes I too was asleep, sitting up, fully clothed!
Sometime during the night my oxygen ran out and I awoke to a flurry of activity as oxygen tanks were being replaced, sherpas were barking at us to get out of the tent as they were being dismantled, and the wind outside was blowing so strong that it felt like our tent would be ripped away before the sherpas could dismantle them! As I stepped out into the blinding sunlight I felt like I was in the arctic as the winds and cold were "biting to the bone". My down would not be coming off in this weather! The trip from Camp 4 to the Geneva Spur was quite perilous as the blowing snow had covered the trail and with no fixed ropes on this section it was more disconcerting! Once over the spur the trail was a steady descent which crossed the Yellow Band and then progressed down to Camp 3. At Camp 3 all of the tents had been dismantled as all of the teams had already left the mountain! We were actually the last team to summit and I was the last person to stand on top of the world as no one else came up the mountain as I descended! From Camp 3 the descent challenges again became very problematic as the extreme angle of the Lhotse Face slowed my descent again to a snail's pace! My legs now felt like rubber and again I fell a few times, yet these falls were more terrifying than those on the summit as the extreme angle was frightening! Each fall took longer to recover from and my confidence was slowly leaving me as I did not know if I had what was needed to make it off the Lhotse Face! I was on the final pitch with the end in sight when I again fell ... for the last time! This time I slid for awhile, but as with all the other falls, was safe. I rested for quite along time before I managed to get to the bottom of the Lhotse Face and then collapsed. I have never been so exhausted in all my life! I still had another 1 1/2 hrs. to go on a gradual slope to Camp 2, but was being "fried" by the intense sun, had no fluids left, and was very, very weak! I barely made it to Camp 2 "on fumes" and was treated to a fantastic meal and enough fluids to sink a ship! It was great to be almost down the mountain, but I could not relax until tomorrow when I get to basecamp!
Sleep was deep and intense this night at Camp 2, however was punctuated by the roar of frequent avalanches ... all night long! The topography had changed drastically since we were here 4 days ago as almost all the snow in camp was melted and on the trail there were now small streams as the seasonal changes were warming everything up! With that knowledge in mind we departed Camp 2 very early in the morning as we wanted to get through the Khumbu, our last and final trip, as fast as we could to avoid any potential problems! After a little over an hr. we were at Camp 1, and while all the others took a quick break, I forged forward as I did not want to slow until I reached the bottom! As with Camp 2, alot of the topography here was changing in the Khumbu and the route down had changed quite significantly since we last were here! At the lower part of the Khumbu the melting of the icefall was quite evident as there were now small streams to navigate. This was quite disconcerting as I was very worried about the taller ice structures towering over us on the trail and just how solid they still remained!
In record time, and without incident, I made it to basecamp ahead of our team! What a relief, what a relief, what a relief! I celebrated the arrival with other team members (see picture above) and then further celebrated with the sherpas by giving away all of my daily mountaineering gear! It was like Christmas for them as I gave away goretex jackets, down mitts, plastic boots, etc. I had made a promise to Carol that this was the final of the 7th Summits and upon completion I was done with mountain climbing! I felt it would be bad karma for me to continue to climb after I had made this promise ... so I kept true to my word! Besides, I could use a break from high places as my fear of heights sure was challenged on this trip!
That's it for now for the completion of my summit stories! My vision returned to normal the following day after return to basecamp and has not been a problem since!
My plans for the summer are to write my book about the 7 summit experience while everything is relatively fresh in my mind! I don't expect to continue blogging regularily on this site but may come on periodically to update everyone on my progress. Updates can also be found on my personal website (www.Amercan.us) and I hope to soon have my photos posted there too! Also, I will be busy writing responses to those that have contributed to the Summit Scholarship as well as creating some gifts for certain levels of contribution. I have been contacted by a variety of groups to do talks/presentations and any monies associated with those functions will go directly to the Summit Scholarship!
I want to thank everyone for your prayers, warm wishes, and friendship! I could not have made it up, and I know I could not have made it down, without all of the contacts I had from those on the blog! I feel very blessed to have been in contact with such a great group of people!
I want to thank all that donated to the Summit Scholarship and really appreciate your investment in nursing! I have made it my priority in life to continue to advocate for nursing and hope to have many more opportunities to speak to groups about our issues. If any of you have organizations that could finance my visit and a presentation please let me know as I am eager and ready to speak ... and for those of you that have followed my blog, you know that I can talk!
I would like to finish with a few quotes that typify my life! This first quote is not from a mountaineer, but a famous adventurer named Neil Armstrong that braved the elements to conquer his own Everest .. that of outer space!
"I believe every human has a finite number of heart beats. I don't intend to waste any of mine"
And now a quote from myself that I have used forever:
"Life is short, and you only go around once! Try and experience life as much as you can in the short time that we have"