Our co-founder Tim Macartney-Snape has been kind enough to share with us an account of his Sea to Summit expedition. At this time 25 years ago, Tim was enroute to the summit of Mt. Everest on foot from the Bay of Bengal! Enjoy the third and final section of his narrative on this fabled expedition and be sure to Follow the Adventure on our Facebook page for opportunities to win some great gear packages.
After much agonizing, I decided to switch routes and go for the greater certainty and safety of the regular route – a big step down in the level of commitment and stamina required and therefore disappointing but in that circumstance it was the difference between a summit rather than no summit and a high risk of dying in the attempt.
So, when finally good weather seemed imminent, I began the final leg of my long walk, setting off up the well-trodden path to the south-col – winding through the always frightening icefall, a route that wouldn’t be contemplated on any other mountain. Taking a bit more than four hours to get to Camp Two meant I was getting well acclimatised. To pace myself I rested and let the weather get a little better by spending a night and a day there before leaving at 11pm for the climb up the long unrelenting ice wall of the Lhoste face. I decided to climb at night to avoid excess dehydration and also as practice for the next leg from the South Col to the summit which I would have to do the bulk of at night.
I arrived at the debris strewn plateau-like expanse of the south col around mid-morning. The climb there was never difficult but always dangerous and the scale daunting. On the South Col I gave myself a ‘rest day’ to wait for better weather on the summit and let the bulk of the other teams go before me. Wandering about the South Col during the day it was fascinating to sift through the debris of past expeditions- and there was a lot of it especially oxygen cylinders some of which still contained the gas! You could trace the evolution of the oxygen cylinder seemingly from the 1950s to the present ones which were much lighter, being made of glass fibre wrapped aluminium.
During spring the optimum time to reach the summit is mid-morning, before any cloud build up and the threat of violent storms, so I left my tent at 9:30 in the evening on the assumption the climb would take roughly twelve hours. Above 8000 metres you take five to ten steps before you must stop to regain your breath. Many climbers stop between each step to take a breath but I find that pace too depressingly slow and go all out until I have to stop!
The hours between midnight and dawn were the hardest, the cold seeped into my core causing me to shiver violently and I could barely climb fast enough to stave it off, one of the major drawbacks of not using oxygen is the fact that it is much harder to stay warm. A glorious dawn lifted my spirits for the last push up the summit ridge, along its classic and surprisingly exposed alpine crest, up over the Hilary step and finally the last snowy section to the top.
This time getting to the top felt less wild than before as I’d come up a well-trodden path as opposed to a new route and the outcome had been more certain. I also felt more in control, it was 9:30 in the morning instead of sunset as it had been on the last occasion, so I had time to relax, take in my surroundings and contemplate the incredible journey from the sea itself through the sea of humanity on the Gangetic plain to this still wild, lonely and breath-takingly (!) beautiful place.
Getting down is always a tricky part of a climb and it’s the part that experienced climbers never take for granted and always put a lot of thought into. You are always tired on the descent, you are always impatient to get down, the weather can turn against you and you are never safe until you step onto flat ground. Accordingly I descended cautiously, getting back to the south col at about four in the afternoon, then descending to camp two the next day, electing to wait for the hard snow and greater stability of the following morning before going back down the icefall and the bottom of the mountain.
Looking back on it after twenty-five years, the trip was very satisfying because it was the most complete climb you could do – uncontrived and executed with relative simplicity. There was valuable publicity for sponsors of equipment and the main sponsor was able to recoup more money than it outlaid through sales of the film, book sales (now out of print but on my list of things to do is to get a second edition published) and my public lectures. Most significantly for me it gave me the inspiration join forces with my climbing friend Roland Tyson, who had made me some gear for the trip, to form the company Sea to Summit to make outdoor gear. Our brand is now recognized as an outdoor industry leader because like the climb, our products are designed from scratch, they are all have original elements that help make them better in the performance they deliver.