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.