Mt. Everest Expedition: Linden Mallory Describes His First Summit of Mt. Everest
It has been three days since Dave, Tshering, Kaji and I reached the summit of Everest. Our short and fast summit bid was a whirlwind of a climb, an exciting and tiring endeavor up and back down the mountain’s upper reaches.
Leaving Camp 2 in the early hours of the 20th I was full of excitement and anticipation, eager to finally be setting out on our summit bid after so much time here on the mountain but also nervous about heading to altitudes far higher than I had been to before, uncertain of how my body would react. Within minutes of leaving Camp 2 those thoughts were pushed from my mind, replaced by nothing but pleasure: it was an incredible time to be climbing. The waning moon was still so bright that the entire Lhotse Face shone above us, our shadows stretching across the glacier of the upper Cwm. We switched off our headlamps and climbed by nothing but the light of the moon, easily making out the ice and snow features of the Face as we ascended. We managed to climb at the same rate as the moon’s descent so that the moon hung just above Nuptse’s Ridge, never managing to slip behind it until daylight was well upon us. Dawn found us reaching Camp 3, passing by the tents of groggy climbers just waking up for the day.
Strapping on oxygen at Camp 3 changed the game. Dave, Tshering, Dawa, Kaji and I cruised past other teams that were just leaving Camp 3. I was amazed by how much stronger I felt, even at the relatively low flow rates we were using. Before long we had crested the Yellow Band and navigated through the Geneva Spur, arriving at the South Col by late morning. Above us clouds gently swirled off of Everest’s South Summit and we could pick out climbers descending from the summit. Dave spent some time explaining the route above to me, pointing out notable landmarks and their elevations and what to look for as we passing them in the dark. Soon we crawled into our tent for some much needed rest after our push up from Camp 2, now sitting a vertical mile below us.
We spent the day melting snow and doing our best to recover from the climb. The winds picked up in the late afternoon, gusts shaking the tent walls, but I managed to drift off for an hour or two of restless sleep. Before I knew it we were firing up the stoves, filling our waterbottles with boiling water, and choking down a little bit of food before heading out. Above us we could see a string of lights bobbing up the Triangular Face - climbers who departed a few hours before us. By midnight the evening winds died and we set out - walking across the Col to the base of the Triangular Face. The approach to the Face is far longer than it looks from Camp and I felt like we were making hardly any progress, the silhouette of the mountain above us in the darkness seemed to retreat with each step towards it. But as soon as we hit the Triangular Face and began to gain elevation the mountain side slipped quickly by as we climbed. Before long we had passed the climbers we had seen on the Face from camp and were cresting onto the ridge, pausing on a small bench known as the Balcony, no bigger than the backseat of most SUVs.
After swapping out our partially used oxygen bottles we continued up the ridge towards the South Summit, still some 1,200’ above us. We continued upwards, bracing against sporadic gusts of wind sweeping down from above, and battling the frozen condensation that formed on the masks, occasionally freezing the valves. Entering the rock bands below the South Summit Dave stopped and pointed off to the east where a thin line of purple and red was spreading across the horizon. The sky gradually lightened while we navigated the short rock steps and soon the sun found us, suddenly turning the snow and rock brilliant orange around us. The sun brought me a new wave of energy, we were just a handful of vertical meters shy of the south summit and my excitement was growing with each step. The sharp cold we battled throughout the night dulled slightly and my fingers and toes pulsed with warm. Within minutes we were standing at 28,700’ on the South Summit looking across the narrow ridge line to the top of Everest just a few hundred feet above.
The final portion of the climb was a blur. Traversing the ridge line to the Hillary Step demanded intense focus with the 8,000’ of exposure on each side. We followed the route crossing back and forth across several rock outcroppings, and up the narrow choke of rock and snow up the Hillary Step, moving over the awkward step around at the top of the Step, and up the gentle snow slopes to the summit. The views from the top were stunning, it was incredible to gaze northwards into the Tibetan Plateau, to the south into the middle hills of Nepal, and to the east and west ran the Himalayas, a jagged white strip piercing into the horizon in both directions. Below I could make out the peaks surrounding Base Camp - Pumori, Lingtren, Khumbutse - looking tiny compared to the prominence they hold from below. We spent some time on the summit, snapping a few photos and exchanging celebratory hugs before heading down, reaching camp back at the South Col by late morning.
We rested for a short moment at the South Col before breaking camp and heading back across the Geneva Spur and down the Lhotse Face into a high altitude furnace. Clouds settled on the face, trapping the sun that bounced off the face and rocketing the temperatures. Wearing down suits and carrying big loads, it felt like as much of a battle to descend the face in a couple of hours as it had to ascend it the day before.
Camp 2, at 21,300’, never felt so good. We covered a lot of ground in the 36 hours since we left Camp 2 and my legs felt the effort, my toes screamed from the 8,000’ descent that day, but the grin on the faces of Dave, Dawa, Kaji, Tshering - and doubtlessly me- told the the bigger story: we were all elated to have had such an incredible climb.
We slept soundly that night and it took us a long time to get moving in the morning, lethargically packing our gear before leaving Camp 2. By the time we walked into the sun while descending the Western Cwm I began feeling stronger, the sun again bringing much needed warmth and energy. We made a furious and fast descent back down through the Khumbu Ice fall, well acquainted with the ladders crossings and tricky sections of the route by now. Emerging from the Ice fall our pace quickened as we climbed up and down the dozens of large pressure ridges of ice back to Base Camp, despite our tiredness we were eager to put the final stretch behind us and just make it back to Camp. Cokes, flip flops and a big meal awaited us.
We’ve been back at Base Camp for two days now, drying out our gear, sitting in the sun, eating, drinking and recovering from the climb. Melissa Arnot and Dave Morton arrived in Base Camp today; already acclimated from 45 days spent climbing on Makalu, they are hoping to make a fast attempt on Everest before the end of the season. It has been a blast to sit around today swapping stories from the past month and a half of climbing on our respective mountains and catching up with them - it has been a spring full of adventure.
RMI Guide Linden Mallory