Everest Summit 2002

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Journey Through Pics

The expedition started with a trip from Kathmandu to Lukla. The day was foggy and the arrival to the Lukla airport was hair-raising. Visibility was not to standards recommended for low flying between high peaks.

The first stop was the town of Phakding for some trekking and conditioning. The town is located at 2850 meters. The bridge to get into town was used by everyone including yaks with large loads on their backs.

While trekking to Kongde the team arrived at the top of a ridge where there were spectacular views of Everest, Lhotse, Nutse, Ama Dablam, and Taweche.

Trailbreaking while descending to Thame. This steep snow field without fixed ropes was probably one of the most dangerous passages of our entire trip.

This is the beautiful town of Thame which is home to the internationally famous Apa Sherpa, 20 times Everest summiter.

The city of Namche Bazaar was the next stop. The team spent a few hours in the town with time to call home and have tea.

Time to leave Lukla Airport and go back to Kathmandu and from there to Tibet.

On the way to Tingri the team spent time at the Snow Land Hotel in Nyalam.

The Town of Nyalam

The cave and altar where Milarepa used to pray circa 1052. He was one of Tibet’s most famous yogis and a prominent figure of the Buddhist religion of Tibet.

Tibetan black-necked cranes. Extremely rare birds which fly over the Himalayas as part of their annual migration.

Chinese Base Camp with a view of Everest.

Puja ceremony in preparation for the climb.

After the ceremony the Lama leaves in his motorcycle. His cellular phone went off a couple of times during the ritual.

This was the team altar where the puja ceremony was performed and the prayer flags raised.

On the way to advanced base camp (ABC).

Fur Nuru prepares food.

The team at ABC.

Lhakpa Gelu

Tents in the North Col (Camp I)

Enroute to Camp II

View from Camp II. The blocks of snow were placed to function as protection from the high winds.

Summit Day!!! Here Lhakpa Gelu assists with the display of the Puerto Rican flag.

Apa Sherpa, Julio Bird, Jordan Romero, and Lhakpa Gelu; a total of 37 Everest summits between the four climbers and several new records. Apa completed 20 summits, Lhakpa Gelu his fourteenth, Julio becomes the oldest Westerner to have summitted both sides of the mountain and the only Puerto Rican to have climbed both sides of Mount Everest, and Jordan became the youngest summiter ever at the age of 13.

The Descent

I've got an hour before I have to board the plane out of LAX for Chicago, so I can write about our descent from the summit of Everest.

At the time of our summit, we shared the top with approximately twenty other people. There were fourteen Tibetan Sherpas and six Chinese clients, two climbers from the South Side and three of us: Lhakpa Gelu, Lopsang and myself. The sky was absolutely clear, with beautiful views all around, but it was moderately windy and cold.After about twenty minutes on top we decided it was time to descend, particularly since we had been on the move nonstop for nearly fifteen hours.

It was now daytime, so we were able to see our route as well as other details. We ran into at least five bodies on the way down, grim reminders of the heavy toll that can be paid on Everest (or any other mountain, for that matter).

The Second Step presented the greatest challenge for me, and this had to do with the difficulty seeing the top of the high ladder as the oxygen mask blocked my view. After some careful probing, Lhakpa Gelu reassured me my feet were on the top rung and the descent was straightforward. There was a feeling of significant exposure when negotiating the saddle-shaped rock, but quickly thereafter the Second Step was done.

On the First Step, I repeated my 2007 performance and once again ripped my down suit, so my descent was subsequently marked by a contrail of goose feathers!

By this time I was getting very tired, and I fixed my gaze on the tents at 8300m camp, which appeared tantalizingly close. I expected to rest there and get some water as well, since we had all run out sometime before summitting. The oxygen we were breathing is not humidified, so it has a marked drying effect on the mouth.

By the time we reached Camp III (8300m) I had this intense urge to lie down and take a nap. This area is not steep, and the sky was sunny and clear; it felt as if a was in a grassy meadow. I lay down to rwest and told Lopsang to please get me some water. I tried to sleep, but Lopsang kept pulling on the fixed line and waking me up. A little chagrined, I asked what the heck was going on, and he told me he thought that if I went to sleep I would never wake up again. Dutifully I got up, walked to the middle of Camp III, and drank some water with a much relieved Lopsang.

Subsequently I tried to negotiate staying at Camp III for the night in order to recoup some energy, again to no avail, so, very slowly, we began our descent to Camp II (7600m).

About 500m down the mountain we stopped briefly in an open area and were suddenly peppered with small rocks. Lhakpa gelu was hit in the face by two of them, Lopsang and I in the arm and back. I thought Lhakpa may have been badly hurt, but his oxygen mask and sunglasses bore the brunt of the impact and he was unhurt. He looked at me and said: "Karma".

We slowly continued on our way, and finally reached Camp II around 8:30 PM, after a total of nearly 28 hours since we had left. My cough lasted all night, but I woke up completely relaxed and re-energized (don't know if I can say the same for the other two). After some milk tea, we descended in beautiful weather to Camp I and then ABC. Every few steps I would look back and say my goodbyes to the Mother Goddess of the Earth.

Upon our arrival to ABC everyone seemed to be aware of our early summit, and it was a very happy trio that arrived at our tents and began celebrating the successful outcome of our adventure.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Summit push

After a few days of R&R in Kathmandu it's time to deliver on the promised update, so I'll write on our summit push.
As stated before, it's been a very windy and relatively inhospitable year on the North Side. We had decided as a team to take advantage of the first reasonable weather window, using meteorological forecasts as a general guide but recognizing that the likelihood of a long window was low. We had heard that the winds would abate slightly on May 17-18 so we targeted those days for the summit attempt.
On the 14th we left ABC for Camp I on the North Col. This was a nice climbing day marred only by the fact that we found ourselves behind the Chinese team, and were severely slowed down by their frequent documentary filming and photography (on the other hand, it made for a relaxed climb).
The 15th was an entirely different. For approximately six hours, as we made our way to Camp II, we were buffeted by 60-70 mph crosswinds that did not relent. Our cache site for Camp II was hard-packed snow, which added significantly to the work of setting up a tent site. Appropriately, I was asked to be the dead weight inside the tent to anchor it while lines were secured!
The winds had been so severe that Lopsang was not able to reach a cache site in Camp III (8300m), therefore we either attempted the summit from Camp II (7600m) or lost our window.
We chose to go from Camp II, somewhat concerning because of the very long summit day, but the only option if we wanted to take advantage of the weather window.
On May 16th we slept in. rested and ate well. We left our tent at 5:00 PM with plans to climb throughout the evening and night. Just before 10:00 PM we reached the Camp III site and found that the Chinese team had not left! After a lot of scrambling they managed to get their team out. Of course, no pleasantries were exchanged, and no hot tea was offered.
We continued on, negotiated the exit cracks without difficulty and soon found ourselves on the summit ridge.
After a short break, we continued, with Lhakpa Gelu going into tour guide mode: "now First Step", "now Mushroom Rock", "now Second Step", etc. Regarding the Second Step, the Chinese have modified it by adding two short ladders to the first rock slab and bolted a beautiful aluminum ladder to the top of the Step. If only Mallory could have used those!
After reaching the base of the summit pyramid I decided to take my time and attempt to take in all that was happening (a tall order in a hypoxic state!) At 7:00 AM we stepped on the summit (I found out later that I was the first Westerner to summit from the North Side this year...I've always said it: better to be lucky than good!)
Next entry will be on the descent.
I want to take the opportunity to thank Maribel, my wonderful and very understanding wife, for the great blog she ran based on my phone updates. She did such a much better job than I would have! Also thanks to all of you for your caring, your messages of support and, yes, your daily jokes! Lastly, I dedicate my climb to my dear friend Ants Palm-Leis (may he rest in peace), who taught me by his example the meaning of courage and grace under fire.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Back in Kathmandu

I am in Kathmandu waiting for the opportunity to change my tickets and go home. I have pictures and many stories to share. Thanks to all of you for your words of encouragement and your prayers. I look forward to being home soon.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Summit Update

Julio is now resting at ABC. They are waiting for the yaks to get up there to pick up their stuff. Lhakpa Gelu, Lopsang, and Julio are actually celebrities at ABC. They were the first to get to the summit from the North side this year. Julio was the first Westerner to reach the top. He is looking forward to return to BC and eventually home. Hopefully he will have time to read your comments from Kathmandu and write some of the details of the summit day.


Monday, May 17, 2010


Julio and the Sherpas left Camp 2 and took 14 hours to reach the summit. They reached the summit on the 17 of May at 7:00 in the morning. He was not able to call because of battery problems. He is now resting at Camp 2 and will move to Base Camp soon. He was very happy and can’t wait to be home.


No News

I have not talked to Julio since my last post. I have contacted several people including Alan Arnette, and two other individuals he suggested that are climbing on the North side. They all seem to agree that phones and spot-check are not reliable. The good news is that no incidents have been reported.

I will update this Blog the minute I hear anything at all. For now we can only wait.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Camp 2

Julio made it to Camp 2 (24,750 feet). From Camp 1 to Camp 2 the climbing was brutal. The journey took six hours. They had hurricane like winds of 60 to 70 miles per hour all the way up. He had to use oxygen at the end of the climb but was able to take it off and sleep without oxygen last night. He mentioned that his blood oxygen saturation was at 60% in the morning. Saturation of oxygen in blood is an indicator of risk of mountain sickness. He was happy with his results.

Julio's SPOT
GPS location Date/Time:05/15/2010 23:54:09 CDT

Click this link to see where I am located.

Message:Hi, how is everybody? Things are going very well here on Everest. Julio

Summit Push

Julio sent a spot check. He said he will try to send one as he arrives safely to each camp. This means they spent the night at the North Col (Camp 1). They should have moved to camp 2 last night. If that is the case I will receive a notification sometime tonight.

A climber from Mexico (sorry I did not get a name) will be moving up with them. By now everyone knows he is climbing with Lhakpa Gelu but he also wants me to let everyone know he is climbing with Lopsang and Fur Nuru. Lopsang is helping with the logistics of the climb while Fur Nuru is the cook. They are all strong climbers, wonderful people, and great friends. “In our team we are all on equal footing; we respect and appreciate each other, we all have a voice.” Julio

Julio's SPOT
GPS location Date/Time:05/14/2010 21:20:33 CDT

Click the link to see where I am located.

Message:Hi, how is everybody? Things are going very well here on Everest. Julio

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Plan

This is my version of the Northeast Ridge route. The rectangles mark what is supposed to be the North Col-Camp 1, Camp 2, and Camp 3; and the dots mark the First Step and the Second Step. The route seems pretty straight forward until you google some images of the Second Step which in the picture above is a very small bump just before the last wall to reach the summit.

Julio and the Sherpas are leaving today (the 13th for us/14th for them) for the North Col. They plan on spending the night there. Tomorrow night (morning for them) they will leave for camp 2 and spend the night there. From there, they will assess the situation and proceed to camp 3 or turn around. If they continue, they expect to reach the summit on the 17th (the 16th for us). He promised he will be careful and proceed only if it is relatively safe. Lhapka Gelu is not worried about the lines not having been fixed yet. He is more concerned about the heavy traffic up and down the mountain after the 22nd. Many large teams are waiting at BC for the longer weather window.

Julio is hoping to send a satellite signal from every camp as he moves up. More than anything he is hoping the weather will cooperate.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bad Weather Continues

Unrelenting weather conditions are threatening summit bid plans and time lines. Some climbers have been forced to leave ABC for BC due to losing their tents and other personal belongings to strong winds. Weather forecasts are predicting a short window perhaps between the 17 and 19 with a longer window appearing after the 23rd. On top of the weather or because of it, the fixed ropes are not in place yet above Camp 3.

Julio and other climbers like him find themselves trying to decide if they should stay at ABC and hope for the short window or go down to BC, renew their energy, and go up again later. He is considering whether to take a chance or wait. They all want to come home soon but do not want to have regrets, and they will, if they miss real good weather by a few days. In my opinion without fixed ropes, low temperatures, and windy conditions-the short window seems a precarious option.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Turbulent Weather

Julio called from ABC. They have had winds as high as 70 miles per hour. The jet stream is moving right above them and it is brutal. They have been checking out their tent at the North Col with binoculars and it is still standing. They are happy about it since not very many are. They still have to set up a tent at Camp 2 but the winds are not letting them move from ABC.

While we were talking the tent was buffeted by strong winds, and Julio had to call for help. Even the cook was bracing the tent. One could hear the winds punishing the tent, voices, and all kind of racket going on. I was worried and waited on the phone until he was able to talk again. He said their outhouse tent was torn in half and needed repairs. Other tents had been blown away.

Julio mentioned the Spaniards are still at BC and so are Jordan’s team and the Brazilians. They all have sophisticated and reliable weather forecast available to them. The fact these teams are still at BC means the weather will continue to be treacherous for a few more days. In the meantime the Sherpas are getting discouraged and look forward to go home sometime soon.

I read some of your posts to Julio and he was appreciative of your prayers, your jokes, and your positive thoughts. He needs all the help he can get. Keep them coming.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Julio’s 60th Birthday!

Not surprisingly, Julio did not tell anyone it was his birthday today. He spent the day reading and resting. He is excited about a book he is reading called The Spanish Civil War by Antony Beevor. Julio sends best wishes to all the mothers so dear to him, especially his mom Aida, his sisters Lilian and Aida, daughter Denise, daughter-in-law Heidi, and my mom and sisters. He wished us all a very happy and special day.

Julio had found out about the weather and what to expect for the next few days. The winds are already threatening to blow away tents at ABC. He thinks the wind makes it more difficult to move but it is the sub-zero temperatures that hurt them. Just taking the glove off to take a picture or send a spot message can cause serious frost bite. His cough has returned but he is feeling fine otherwise. For now they are planning a departure day (for the summit) not later than the 14th. According to him they may only have one shot at the summit since bad weather will be moving in again.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Acclimatized and Ready

Julio is at ABC after spending the night at the North Col. They all slept in one tent because that was all they had. Julio and Lhakpa Gelu walked to Camp 2- not to stay, but to check out the route. At Camp 2 they already have the supplies needed for the summit bid. They feel they are acclimatized and ready to ascend when the weather allows and the ropes are fixed.

One interesting note about weather predictions is all the politics and deception that goes on on the mountain. Only a few teams are privy to reliable weather forecasts, and they have to pay for such information. Other teams rely on friends and/or word-of-mouth to plan for the summit day. According to Julio, some teams lie about the weather in order to send teams up the mountain and force them to give up their attempts when confronted with bad weather. This tactic accomplishes one important thing- which is to get rid of crowding and queues while going up or coming down on summit day. In my opinion, it could also cause some people to brazen out weather conditions that could harm them. That said, I rely on Bill Burke from 8 Summits to have an idea when the guys will be able to resume their journey. He paints a vivid picture of what climbers are dealing with when it comes to weather and other conditions. You may listen to him at Eight Summits.

Julio has lost a lot of weight. He is hoping he will be strong enough on summit day. For now he is looking forward to suitable weather conditions sometime after his birthday on Sunday.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

North Col

Julio called today from Camp 1 a.k.a. the North Col. Due to the avalanche, the route had been changed and Julio found it more difficult. He was coughing a lot again. It continues to snow, which makes it harder to move. But they reached their goal for today. They plan to spend the night at Camp 1 and move back tomorrow. Julio and Lhakpa Gelu were celebrating the fact that several Sherpas had reached the summit from the South side.
I was able to talk to Lhakpa Gelu and wish him well. I mentioned his celebrity status and he laughed. He was all business, though, when it comes to the expedition- very positive. He reassured me that they are cautious and that everything is going according to plan. I was impressed his English had improved so much since a year ago when I talked to him last. Like Julio always says, “Sherpas are outstanding people."

From Julio:
Julio's SPOT
GPS location Date/Time:05/06/2010 04:24:26 CDT

Click here to see where I am located.

Message: Hi, how is everybody? Thanks for your messages. Things are going very well here on Everest. Julio

This is a message Julio sent today from the North Col. Tingri, Rikaze, and Tibet refer to the surrounding locations, and they will be part of the message even if it is sent from the summit. The spot mark is where they have their new tent- according to Julio.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ready... Set... Wait...

Julio and Lhakpa Gelu were so excited I was able to buy minutes for their phone they made me feel like a heroine. I have saved the dying phone! They were laughing and celebrating that the phone was "alive". Yesterday, the team moved from BC to ABC. The trek was extremely difficult because of the heavy snow. Almost 4 feet of new snow had fallen since they last traveled the route. They were slipping and sliding all the way up to ABC. It took them 9 1/2 painful hours. According to Julio this was the first time ever he has heard Lhakpa Gelu complain about anything, and the first time Julio questioned himself as to what he was doing there. They were mentally and physically exhausted by the time they reached ABC.

Julio used foul language in Spanish while recounting the treacherous walk to ABC and I heard Lhakpa Gelu laughing and adding to the conversation, in Spanish! Julio explained that Lhakpa has spent time in Argentina and knows the “essential Spanish". I took advantage of their good moods and told Julio to tell Lhakpa Gelu he is a rock star according to Jordan Romero’s Blog. This is what the blog states “He holds the world record for base camp to Summit of Everest and back. That’s right, world record and he’s here going for his 14th summit. A man with the softest smile and a voice you can’t imagine. After giving 3 truckloads of advice to our team and Jordan, he offers his personal help should our Summit days coincide. This is like Michael Jordan walking into your gym, when you’re a freshman in high school, and offers to personally coach you before the big game. Ok, not the perfect metaphor, but dang close.” I told Julio, Lhakpa is probably the most famous Sherpa in the world by now not because he has the record for the fastest ever to summit Everest, but because he had tea with Jordan Romero.

Tentatively the team expects to move on to the North Col tomorrow, spent the night there and return to ABC until there is a weather window suitable for a summit bid. Lopsang already took oxygen and other needed supplies to camp 2, so they feel they are ready. Julio sounds positive they could summit if the weather cooperates. That’s the main caveat for now.

I heard some Sherpas have already reached the summit from the other side of the mountain. That means the ropes are fixed on the South. Hopefully the North will be ready soon.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Base Camp

Weather predictions have proven to be inaccurate- this holds true even on Everest. While some teams remain at BC waiting for a promised weather window, others continue to gain altitude- taking advantage of nature's good moments. Julio is expecting to leave tomorrow or the day after. He is hoping the weather will cooperate if they wait another day.
Maoists are causing havoc in Kathmandu and all over Nepal demanding that the Prime Minister quit. Because of the strikes, the office Julio calls for phone services is closed. Obviously the mountain alone is not the only challenge. Fortunately, I was able to buy minutes off the Internet so Julio may call home and stay in touch. With more minutes available, I am hoping he will call tonight and give us some details.