Friday, 21 May 2010

the end of the top-up at ATM Everest Expedition

HI all,

firstly- sorry for the lack of updates on the blog, from the 13th May (if i remember rightly?) we were heading to the summit from BC, and from there on its been none stop the hardest week of my life. I simply forgot that internet existed!

So... wow. At 10.30am on the 17th May 2010 i fell to my knees on top of the world and thanked God for allowing me to get there.

It was an amazing ascent- our team left at 9pm on the 16th and unfortunately were stuck behind a long, slow que. We made it to the balcony just before sunrise.

As i walked up the south east ridge towards to the south summit i glanced away from my plodding feet to my right and saw the most brilliant sunrise about to burst onto the horizon- the curvature of the earth was clear, and the Himalayas sunk away below us, some of the snow covered peaks just glinting in the dawn light- it was like being in space. I knew from that moment that i would make it.

Me and my sherpa- Lakpa, waited patiently in line at the first rock step, and when i freaked out a bit at the vertical wall (one side going into tibet, the other into nepal), he stuck right behind me and helped me on my way. Soon we were on the south summit...

Here i met kenton- he had just broken his own record for summitting everest 8 times- i was so close, he hugged me and told me to be safe. He had broken trail for the rest of us so that our ascent wouldnt be in knee deep snow, after such an effort he had to get back down- we were not that far behind. This fired me up even more.

At the south summit the Hillary step revealed itself- i had seen it in so many photos- a towering 70ft wall of rock, with footpaths only a few inches wide. I wasnt filled with fear as i thought i would be- i thought it was the most beautiful thing i had ever seen- it was the gateway to the top of the world. i felt strong, and carried on moving.

Here, a climber passed me- i recognised his green eyes past his oxygen mask immediatly- it was Manuel. We had spent a few days together with his wife down in pangboche. He saw me too- he put his arms on my shoulders and with tears in his eyes said to me 'Beautiful Bonita, just beautiful'. He looked like the happiest man on earth. I had a lump in my throat- the emotion was high for everyone as we neared to roof of the world.

I cant remember much of the ascent of the Hilary step- apart from that it was over much quicker than i imagined, and i had not looked down once as the drops were so sheer and so unforgiving!

From here, the weather started to close in- a thick fog was coming over the ridge from the Tibetan side, and as i walked those last couple of hundred metres to the true summit, we were slowly engulfed in white.

In front of me i could see the rest of my team members- Tom and Rick. I saw them embrace on the summit and knew that i would be there in a few minutes, but it felt like forever. Every step was so slow.

Out of the mist came the prayer flags that are attached to the summit- bright colours of red, yellow and blue. I remembered suddenly being in the Tengboche monestary and having a vision of walking towards the prayer flags- they were caling me to me. Before i knew it they were at my feet. I looked up and there i was, surrounded my other climbers on top of the world. We had ran out of earth- no more up. We had done it.

There i saw my team mate, Rick, holding up a t-shirt for his sons that read 'live the dream boys'. I gently sobbed behind my oxygen mask- he and his wife, Ally, live for the three sons- to see him get that treasured t-shirt out on top of the world for them... well, it brings a tear to my eye to write it now.

I sat for a few moments in my own thoughts, i wondered it my friend Geordie, who is climbing on the North side, would be somewhere on the summit- we had bought union flags together in Windsor and i hoped that we would be able to get them out on the summit together. Alas, he is still waiting high up on the hill for his turn- i am sure he will make it. best of luck Geordie.

The winds blew and occassionaly i could see the huge mountains below us. It didnt matter that there was no view- what mattered was the people around me. I hugged my sherpa an embarrasing amount of times, and recognised other friends there who i had made along the way. We were all lost in our own thoughts- exhausted but elated, trying to let the reality of our situation sink in- we were the highest people on earth!

I finally came round to doing what i had come to do- present the three flags to the ceiling of the earth. These flags had been auctioned on Ebay for Global Angels on behalf of top-up at ATM. I realised that when i wrote them, they all had the word 'love' in them. I motivated myself on the way up by telling myself i was taking a lot of love to the top of the world. This lead me to have that Beatles song in my head 'love, love, love' all the way up- i think i need to finally buy an i-pod!

Suddenly, Lakpa was urging me to go- the weather was closing in- it was time. As i plodded away from the summit i took one last look at it- i knew i would never see it again. I felt so very lucky. So, so lucky.

*

The descent started smoothly, we got stuck behind some climbers literally sleeping on the path. People felt like they had done the job and now could rest- we were very aware that safety and relaxation only comes when you are back safetly at camp 4.

The HIlary step was busy- it was my turn to descend a short rock step.; I did the nornal- clipped in, took hold of the rope, and as best as i could- walked down the section of ice and rock. This is where my crampon must have slipped. The rope, which was anchored behind me, pulled me backwards and the next thing i knew i was face in some snow.

At the time i felt fine- i was still on the path! Not in Tibet somewhere without a visa! 20 minutes later though, my neck and shoulders had siezed up to such a point that i took one last step and a shooting pain went up my spine- it was so painful i yelped and Lakpa stopped. He saw i was crying- but this time with pain. It was then i realised something was wrong- i must have pulled a muscle in my neck, maybe whiplash. I didnt know what it was, but moving was excruciating. We were in trouble.

About an hour later and only a couple of hundred feet in distance made, Lakpa and I stood back on the south summit in a total white out. Here i radioed Kenton and told him the situation- i had done something to my neck, i had plenty of oxygen but was going far too slow. I didnt think i could make it wthout extra help.

Kenton got into action straight away. Thankfully he was back at C4 with the sherpas and organised a 'rescue' alongside Henry and Kami at base camp. As the sun set the first sherpa came to greet us with more oxygen.

Finally, about an hour below the balcony, another group of sherpas arrived, from here on i dont remember much- apart from the pain of being dragged across ice and rock as the attempted to get me back to camp 4 as quickly as possible. My neck was blinding with pain, but i remember having covnersations with the sherps and thinking i felt OK bar the neck- i knew if i just let them do the job we would all be home safe.

Before i knew it Kenton's headlight was glaring into my face, he had marched up the face again to ensure i was doing OK, and had bought others with him- including doctor from another team, just in case. After that i remember being at camp pretty quickly- hot tea being poured down my throat and down jackets and sleeping bags shoved onto me. Kenton and the team warmed me up- they were dreading to see my feet, thinking i might have frost damage. Thankfully all digits were in order, and i was passed out asleep from a 28 hour ascent of Everest as they sorted me into my spot in the tent.

After that- all is blank. Sleep overwhelmed me like nothing before. I was safe, we were all safe. The warmth of the tent was intoxicating. I must have snored so loudly. I owe Kenton, the sherpas and the rest of the team my life.

*

So, climbing Everest. Someone said to me 'well, it's only putting one step in front of another'.

yes... i suppose it is. But when that single step feels like lifting your leg out of a concrete swamp, when you fall asleep on your jumar every couple of seconds because you are so exhausted after 10 hours of climbing that you cant keep your eyes open properly... when that next step is marred with the sting of blisters, the cramp in your calf muscles, the heaving of oxygenless air in your lungs and the biting cold in the tips of your fingers- is it really that easy to put one foot in front of the other for hours and hours at a time?

Those 5 days of climbing and descending off of Everest were easily the hardest of my life. It was harder than i could have ever imagined- but i can honestly say that until my slip on the Hilary step, i took every step with gratitude- i was so lucky to be there, and felt prepared and resilient towards the emotional and physical pain. After the slip, i still did not resent the mountain or my situation- but i did crack and let the pain get to me.

Two Robs, who i value highly, have said to me at different points in my life very poignant things, which i will always remember.

The first- my step Dad, who would train me for athletics when i was 10, once said to me on at the end of an evening run when i was obviously about to give up: 'Bonnie, this is the point where you can be a good runner, or a very good runner'

I knew what he meant- i didn't want to give up, i wanted to be a very good runner. But that required more determination and more pain- was i willing to do the trade? I ran home as fast as i could.

Rob Casserley has a saying- 'there are fair weather summitteers and all weather summitteers'. Was i going to give up once the sun went in and the white out engulfed me? Was i only going to summit in blue skies? Again, i knew i was made of stronger stuff- i wanted to give Everest my best shot, even if that meant bad conditions.

I have come out of this experience, i believe, unchanged. It has simple compounded my beliefs already- work hard, believe in yourself, follow your dreams. There are no short cuts- expect set backs, expect it to be hard, if you want it bad enough- if you want to be a 'very good runner' or an 'Everest summitteer', you have to be honest with yourself and work your butt off.

But- never under estimate yourself. I really hope i have shown people this in some way.

*

The true feeling of jubilation came when i arrived back at Base camp with Kenton and Rick. Kenton had stayed with me all the way from camp 4- rarely leaving my side and ensuring i got through the ice fall safetly.

At camp we were met with cheering, pot banging, lots of hugs, beer, sweets and beautiful posters made by Ally and Kritika- i cried and cried! I was safe, we had all made it. The sun was shining, i had a cold drink in my hand- it was a beautiful day.

I'll blog again tomorrow- as i feel i might be boring people! thanks for all the messages- i am reading every single one.

Bonita x

18 months worth of hard work was worth it just for that moment of arriving back in base camp.

11 comments:

  1. Such an amazing achievement. The whole world is proud of you and I'm sure you've inspired every single reader to push that extra yard in life, no matter what they do.

    I guess it's too soon to think about future adventures? Whatever it is you do, I'm sure you'll carry this success on throughout your life.

    Congratulations yet again.

    Andrew, Liverpool.

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  2. Amazing effort! Saw on Everestnews about a woman being carried down after an accident and couldn't help but worry when no blog posts appeared from you or DG; great to hear it was, relatively, minor.

    Definitely an inspiration and rather wish I was one of the many school kids you'll get to inspire now with your experience of climbing the 'highest mountain in the world' !!!

    Hope the last few days in Nrpal finish off an amazing expedition.

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  3. Congratulations! Your story is truly inspiring, and I'm so glad you're safe and sound now. Although I have no doubt that it was incredibly difficult, that is something to be SO proud of.

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  4. Even more inspiring is the story of Bonita's rescue and the fellow climbers who risked their lives to save hers - an episode she clearly forgot to mention in the initial round of publicity surrounding her successful summit bid. Never mind all the blah blah blah - how about sticking a big thank you right at the top of this report? Shame.

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  5. Wow. What a great post - really inspiring to read and so impressive how you've managed what you have. "Well done" sounds so weak, but it's really appropriate. I like the attitude that come through in your story - it's a lesson for us all. I hope you can find focus for that in whatever future challenges in your life.

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  6. you brought more than a tear to my eye, you amazing woman! your spirit is truly magical, well done for such a herculean effort, come back home safely and can't wait to hear all about it! xx

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  8. So glad to have read Robin´s post... as I feel the same.. it´s all about you.. there´s not one, "I wouldn´t have survived without the selfless help of others.." Did that not count for anything? No "thank you"??
    I am a volunteer in a mountain rescue patrol, I do what I do for the love of the mountain and the community in which I live but can honestly say I was disappointed to read your blog.. and a little angry as a fellow female British mountaineer.Do you even know the name of the doctor from another group who helped? Or the other members? You felt safe because you were in the hands of experienced mountaineers who would save you. Without the glory of a title, or new record.
    Humility and respect go hand in hand with the mountains.I hope the mountain has taught you that even if you don´t realise it yet.
    Melanie

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  9. A hearty congratulations....I follow the Everest Season online and really enjoy reading the blogs. Yours was particularly fascinating. I shared it with my 12 and 10 yr old kids and truly felt the effort, jubilation and pain you went through to achieve this goal. Though I will never be able to achieve what you have on that mountain, I greatfully use your and others experiences to help teach my kids that dreams are within your reach. Very inspiring....cheers to you
    Ken

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  10. Congratulations on your achievement! Very inspiring to read this post.

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