YouTube clip of me at camp two after my summit

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  For those who may be interested, I've put a short clip of video film onto youtube.com, which I took soon after arriving back at camp two, the day after summitting. I was awfully tired, and just wanted to sleep, but I was vaguely aware that this was a special time in my personal history, and I would like some record of it. I look wrecked, because I was wrecked!! You can tell that underneath the calm outside, I was quite emotional about the fact that I'd summitted, but I was trying to keep that under control until I was truly off the hill and safe, I guess. It was a strange time, but good.

You can find it on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8XO-0g3_cU I hope.

My ear is healing well, though still surprisingly sore some eight weeks after the frostbite. I'm only just sleeping more normally.

Messages

Thanks, and congratz on the

Thanks, and congratz on the summit

Camp Two clip

Hi Mike, just stumbled accross this site in my pusuit for as much info as I can digest about summitting Everest. Was blown away with your camp 2 video, sounds an amazing expedition. I have been looking at the "dream-guides" website for some time, and pondering....one day!. It's been great to hear your life chaninging summit experience. Congratulations. Phil.

thanks

thanks Phil, I know how you feel, as I used to be hungry for info on everything Everest...probably still am in fact. Kenton Cool is a bit of a mate, and you couldn't do better than him on the hill...if you can afford him that is!
For your interest, he is hoping to develop his everest operation soon into a sort of two tier system, with "premium" clients still paying top whack for his personal "guiding", but other clients(often more experienced ones) paying a more modest price and not having his personal attention perhaps, but sharing the same team etc...it would work well, and if you are really serious about going it might make it more affordable in the medium future?
I advise against low budget outfits...false economy usually!!
All the best to you. GO FOR IT!

Experience

Thanks Mike for the info on Kenton, you have confirmed my suspicions that low budget outfits are not for me! I had pretty much settled on dream-guides because of Kenton's approach, experience, professionalism and attitude towards the environment. I'm not sure I would fit into the new proposed offering for more experienced climbers, but it will be interesting to understand the proposal better when finalised. With regards to your camp two clip, your comment about owing your life to your sherpa was brutally honest, and makes you realise how difficult the environment can be.
You are probably tired of people asking, but would you mind expanding on your experience further? .... How was trip 1 and trip 2? Did you use guides for your first two trips? What made you turn back in good weather at 200M on trip 2? What was the driving force behind the third attempt? How did you train for the trips?, How was the trek in to BC?, did you acclimatise ok? had you experienced serious altitude beforehand? (a friend of mine just came back from a trek through Langtang a couple of weeks ago and had suffered badly at 5,600M), How did you find the Icefall?, How did you find climbing Lhotse? What was climbing with Oxygen like? I have read that the south summit can be tricky? How was the weather throughout the third expedition? did you experience a bottle-neck at the Hillary Step?, How did it feel to walk back into BC after simitting on your third trip? would you consider attempting a second summit? did you have family supporting you? Have you published your photos yet? and last but not least...how is the ear? (apologies for the spanish inquisition). Phil.

Experience

My God, there's a lot of good questions! might I politely suggest that you snoop about this site a bit for at least some of the answers...click on "about Mike" on the top bar, for example....and if you plough through all the updates from start to finish there are a fair few pictures,both from the successful 2008 trip, and the almost successful 2006 one!
Trip 1,from the North side, was interesting, very cold much of the time,and involved a steep learning curve...in hindsight, though I nominally hoped to summit, we were all happy enough to turn around when the conditions deteriorated(quite rightly as it turned out)...and we were all spent afterwards, such that nobody in our group even briefly suggested trying to go back up again.We had no belief that we could summit.
Trip 2,in 2006, from the south, was a great trip, with a great atmosphere, and I suppose I exceeded my expectations by so nearly summitting. I became extremely sleepy in the last hour of ascent, and not a little confused...such that I began to persuade myself that i had too little time to summit at the speed I was moving at....I decided to turn down,alone on the hill apart from my sherpa,who had summitted earlier and was tired...my team-mates had been to the top and passed me on the way down...I felt old and slow...and pretty amazed to even be there. Like you have just said, I was under the impression,for some reason now unknown, that there were some "difficult rocks/slopes to negotiate under the south summit...and I decided I couldn't face going through more painful ascending to get to their, only to be "turned around" by Henry Todd on the radio...so I "pre-empted" him by radioing that I was coming down...he was gobsmacked, and we didn't discuss my feeling that I had too little time etc. Big mistake. A rest,a big drink, maybe a doze(it was WARM at the time, and I may have been fine.But I didn't do that,and so that was that.
I acclimatise ok, the trek in was great, we took it steady, the icefall was scary if you thought about it, but not too bad if you just didn't. I counted every trip through, and felt lucky to survive each time, 'cos people better than me can die there. I would think hard before returning that way, but it can be very beautiful above,in the Cwm.
I HATED using the oxygen mask the first time,in 2006 (we pioneered the nasal prongs in 2004, which was very comfortable, but they seem not to work well really). But after a stiff talk to myself, iIovercame my claustrophobic feelings and got on with it after that...the mask became a friend!
Our weather was fine, mostly, until the end,when we were forced to rush for the summit bid...really epic for me at my age
Walking back into BC felt pretty good, especially when compared to the sadness of 2006 for contrast, but I was very, very tired at the time. It was very special getting through the last ladder in the lower ice-fall,after which I felt "safe" at last. You really feel you have been playing russian roulette in there.
I would consider another attempt, maybe from the north one day, for completeness..and I'd love a summit photo with my bloody mask off...but I doubt the drive would be there another time...nor the money in truth..but maybe,maybe one day.....
My ear was fine after a few months...but goes a funny colour in a cool breeze, and needs care for the future I imagine. I had support from my two sons, who've known nothing different apart from a dad who went away now and again to the mountains...and to an extent my ex-wife was supportive of my dream ,years ago, in the earlier stages.
Hillary step was ok going up, a little wait coming down...it's tougher than it looks actually.
There you go, covered most of that now....check out some of my writing maybe.
Without a decent personal sherpa, the likes of me would likely die,especially with a change in weather, they can be awesome. I leave the video on, despite it not exactly flattering me, partly so that I never forget how marginal it was up there for me...in case I decide to go back????!!!
It was tough,it was scary at times, and you have to be prepared to consider the small,but definite risk of death or injury to be worthwhile before you set out.
But it WAS well worth it, in my own case...I think of it still, every day,and I'm so glad that I managed that climb, in that way, on that lucky,lucky day. I wished my friends had been with me, that's all I regret really.
Go for it,if it's in your heart. Life just flies by.

Much appreciated

Apologies, I don't know how I missed the "About Mike" link. Now read through it (brilliant) and passed your you-tube video link to a few of my friends. You should definately keep it up there as a "reality check" for people like me (just hit 40, work 18 hours a day, trying desperately to keep marginally fit, children in their teens, wanting to achieve something monumental before it's too late).
Thanks for your summary of my endless questions, there's some really good answers in there that you probably take for granted. It's now clear why you signed up for trip 3, sheer bloody determination. The icefall seems a crazy place, and so unpredictabe. Did you experience any avalanches ? which was the most difficult part of the 3rd expedition in your opinion ? As your one of the very few people who are qualified to answer...which is the most difficult route ... North or South ? (I was tring not to ask you more questions...Doh !). How did you meet Kenton ? Was he guiding Ranulph up the hill that year ? (I read he managed to summit in 2009 at 65...amazing).
Kind regards,
Phil.

More answers!

Your summary of your current situation in life sounds remarkably similar to how mine was! Hope you have an understanding partner (or are already divorced!).
Kenton was sharing our camps in 2008(under the umbrella that is Henry Todd's group)...as was Ran. We became good mates really, as you do when playing mindless games of cards and Scrabble and Monopoly etc....They are both great chaps. Ran was very strong, but had self-doubt,which must've accounted for the way he just turned on his heels around 8500m and went down...he passed me on the Lhotse face a few hours later and seemed strong and his normal self...it was quite sad.But nobody was more chuffed than me when he slipped back up "under the radar" this spring.

As for north v south,well, quite a debate there. Clearly the lower part of the route is much easier and safer on the north side (Chinese politics excepted), but the upper part is so much more prolonged above 8000m that it really sorts the men out from the boys! The rockier terrain on the north ridge requires a lot more concentration than the snowy slopes on the south. I'm not sure I'd have had enough sharpness to have managed a descent on the north side if I felt like I did in 2008!
The most striking difference was the persistent cold wind on the north, making BC and ABC bleak places..we had just 3 warm days in BC where we could sit out for a few hours in the sun,on chairs etc. Whereas on both South-side trips, the usual pattern was warm mornings and some cloud/light snow by 2'ish.Easier washing self and clothes, a holiday atmosphere really. BIG difference.
The icefall is a scary place, with the perceived risk through the stratosphere compared with the north side equivalent(north col slopes), but statistics suggest many more deaths occur on the north side...though mostly high up I think. This figure is distorted by the large numbers of very low budget,unsupported groups/individuals on that side.
For the likes of you and me, I would strongly urge 1:1 sherpa support on summit day,lots of oxygen, and trying to avoid carrying too much communal gear. One or two of my colleagues had 1:1 sherpa help throughout their entire trips, carrying virtually nothing themselves, and it was very clear how much that helped. I seriously considered that for 2008, but decided I wanted to be at the same level as my friends....if you do have a personal sherpa you are definitely perceived to be having one bit of help too many by most of your peers...if you care about that sort of thing! Funny how we all have our own "level" that we consider "fair"!
Having a summit day sherpa is just common sense...I. for one, would be up there still, if I'd been trying to manage without one, and I'm far from alone in that. Mybe if I'd been 35 and fit I'd have been fine,,,but I'll never know that.
Aesthetically, the south side wins hands down...beauty compared with brutality. And to follow the steps of Hillary etc is priceless really.
If money is not the main concern(I sense it isn't), then southwins out every time..if the north seems a necessity, I'd strongly recommend a big outfit like Adventure Peaks or Russell Brice...though I think Brice has pulled out for now having fallen out with the chinese authorities now.
I envy you your position..the excitement of will I, won't I, can I,can't I? But, never lose sight of the fact that success is not a given for anyone,and luck is needed with health and conditions.Mostof my himalayan trips have not lead to summits, but have given lifelong memories to hold nonetheless....you have to be prepared to turn back,terrible though that sounds.
LAst thing, it is clearly "cheaper" to establish how you cope with the higher altitudes on the Cho Oyu,Shishapangma,Manasulu sort of trip(or Broad Peak,Gasherbrum of course). Though at times I wondered if it would have been nice to "learn" about these things on Everest herself, that can be an expensive way if you finish early...and feels a bit disrespectful somehow. Illogically, I feel she somehow favours a bit of respect. Yes, you start speaking this way after a while!!!

Oh yes..the worst bit of 2008! When Henry suddenly radioed that we had to set off fro the summit, from ABC "NOW", at 3 p.m. on our brief rest day,due to the forecast change. Setting off from camp overdressed,heavy sacks(no free sherpas),knowing we had to basically try and climb through the best part of the next two nights and days without sleep or rest as had been planned(as a concession to my age!), well that was a low point for me...my hoped-for summit at the third attempt seemed to be being torn away from me just then,and it was grim. but as you observe, somewhere on the lower Lhotse face,in the cold and dark,as I clambered up all alone (left way behind my much fitter team mates) I seemed to have some sort of apotheosis or something...and I got almost angry,and seemed to find a way to channel it into the right areas...and I managed to will my way on and on, way beyond my normal capacity...and lived to tell the tale. It was pretty special....still makes me cry to think of it
I hope you get YOUR go at it, but would wish it to be a bit less marginal than my experiences perhaps...but,hell, if it seems easy you'd be pretty disappointed wouldn't you?
Trust me, it is NOT an easy day for a lady,whatever people say...never,ever heard anyone who's been there say that!!!!
I say again, GO FOR IT. Don't carry your regrets to old age.

Reality check

Thanks for the detailed response Mike. You may have heard the saying…”it’s grim up north” ? (or it might just be a Lancashire thing !) South side BC sounds pleasant, with a good atmosphere of like-minded people wanting to achieve the extraordinary. I appreciate the feedback on the icefall, it must be near impossible to prepare/train for crossing aluminium ladders in metal crampons ! (with 100ft drops). Sounds like something out of Monty Python, and looks very tricky on the videos I have seen.
I have tried to analyse the deaths, and it seems to me that most are a result of bad luck, poor planning or sheer madness ? (but what do I know, having never experienced severe conditions at that sort of altitude). I wonder if you heard the radio-4 interview with Cathy O’Dowd on “The Choice” program a couple of weeks ago, about when she came across a dying climber on Everest, it was terribly sad. I understand that the climber was an experienced woman who was trying to be the first American female to summit without oxygen, and unassisted…In these circumstances, you have to ask the question…was that bad luck ?
I’m not sure why you envy my position, ok the anticipation of will I, wont I etc is exciting to think about, but it can never compare to the satisfaction of actually living the dream. I envy you in your position. It must bring a huge smile to your face whenever you think of those magical moments and experiences, that just can’t be shared with anyone, because they won’t quite understand.
Your worst bit of 2008 help explain your commentary in the camp 2 clip, it still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck! Like you say, if it was easy, you would be disappointed. Not only that, everybody would be doing it, and it wouldn’t be as special as it is.
So about me ! married for 20 years, with three daughters and a wife who thinks I’m completely out of my tree for just thinking about it. Biggest trek to date is pathetic in comparison, a 3 day walk from Leyland (Lanc’s) to the top of scafell and back (approx 135 miles in 3 days) for charity with a friend of mine (it was March, with horrendous weather, thick ice on top and severe gails/driving sleet). Other than that, general peaks in the lake district…it’s on the doorstep. Also took up cycling last year and completed a number of 100 mile - 1 day challenges for charity. Having young children has meant that just a simple trip to Nepal is no more than a dream for me, never mind anything more, but now the girls are growing up, and age is not on my side, it’s appealing more and more. You sensed that money is not a concern, well $60,000 for dream guides is certainly a concern for me, especially when you consider three girls to put through uni over the next 8 years. Having said that, I’m in the advantageous position of running a business that is doing ok in today’s horrendous economic climate…which is good considering most business people I know are in crisis mode (and also compared to some of my less fortunate clients in West Cumbria with the recent floods). My initial thoughts are to take a reasonable length trip to the area, maybe BC (just to experience the atmosphere) and a reasonable peak. This will see if I can handle the environment and altitude (I wouldn’t expect to be accepted on any reputable summit expedition without some good experience behind me anyway). Does that set the scene ?
I have looked at some of the BC trips, which spend a couple of nights there then move on. I was wondering if these people (visitors/dreamers) are viewed as a nuisance and just get in the way of the real attempts ?
Lots for me to think about I suppose.

More advice

Very interesting. A trip up to BC is well worth-while,avoid some of the "express" itineraries though if unsure of altitude...if it transpires that even those altitudes are very difficult for you, well, there's the end of the summit dreams there and then.
The ladders in the icefall were indeed challenging at first, but it's amazing how quickly you can get used to them...the worst one in the end for me was the last one on the way down after summitting, when sheer fatigue lead to something of a panic half-way across etc.....humbling...but i managed somehow to gather myself and finish the job.
When I gazed across at the classic Everest view from neighbouring Kala Pattar, I was aware that Henry Todd had said to me beforehand,"if you can get yourself up to the south col,then I will get you to the summit" (not quite the case in 2006!)....and I looked deep into my heart that sunny day and decided I could probably manage the first bit on a good day...so I decided to book with him......and in the end, that was a fine choice.
If you wanted a trek in, logically one through Dream guides would be good, attached to one of Kenton's trips...though not the cheapest for sure...good investment
Think on!

Advice

Thanks for all the advise Mike, some really good stuff in your responses over the last week. Much appreciated (and i'm sure I will be asking more questions).
On my travells for more info, I stumbled accross this, and was certain it was you ???
http://www.ice8000.com/english/news/everest/latest.htm
"a gargantuan marathon effort" is the term used...!
I have requested info from Dream-Guides about the base camp trek, and will take it from there.
Thanks again. Phil