Everest Without Oxygen, Singapore 2005

FOLLOW OUR JOURNEY

June 2

Edwin descended to Camp 2 this morning, satisfied that he had given his
best.

"No point losing my digits," he said. "It's more important to come back
without injuries. Afterall, the mountain will always be here, but I
can't grow back fingers and toes if I lose them."

June 1 - part 2

At 8.30pm, Edwin set off from South Col with his Sherpa, Permba Dorje,
despite the howling 40-knot winds. It was freezing cold, more so as he was not using oxygen.

After about an hour and a half, Edwin's fingers and toes were numb, and
he knew if he continued, he would surely lose them to frostbite. It was
with a heavy heart that he decided to return to Camp 4, an especially
difficult decision as he felt strong and could have carried on were it
not for the winds. But he also knew it was the correct decision, as the
mountain will always be here.

June 1 - part 1

After one night at South Col, Robert decided today to descend. He assessed the weather forecasts and saw that they predicted increasing windspeeds in the days ahead. Even if the forecasts were wrong and the windspeeds decreased, he said, the decrease would be slight, not enough to make it possible for him to summit.

"Climbing without oxygen requires near perfect conditions, including mild winds," he said. " I was feeling fit and strong. In fact, Ed and I went up camp to camp in record time. But unfortunately, the weather was not on our side. "There was no point in going up when I knew I would not be able to overcome the winds."

Edwin, however, decided to give it a go. So at 8.30am, he headed for the summit. But after about an hour and a half, he realised the windchill was freezing his fingers and toes. He decided to return to Camp 4 and give up his summit bid.

It was a disppointment for both climbers that they did not make it to the summit. However, they felt good knowing that they had the capabilities to make it, were it not for the weather.

May 31 - part 2

At 8pm tonight, when the guys are preparing to leave for the sunmmit, the winds were whipping at 60 to 70 knots, with gusts of about 80 knots.

The decision was thus made to wait another night at Camp 4, to see if the winds die down a little.

The down side is that they will be sleeping another night without oxygen.

May 31 - part 1

At 5am, Robert and Edwin set off for Camp 4 on the South Col. They arrived in about 6 hours, a good sign of their fitness and strength.

They will rest here for a few hours, preparing for their summit bid the same night.

May 30

Robert and Edwin left Camp 2 this morning and are now resting at Camp 3 (7,300m). Unlike climbers with oxygen who would sleep with oxygen at Camp 3, they will sleep without oxygen which means it will be a fitful night for them.

Tomorrow morning at 5am, they will leave for Camp 4 at 8,000m. After a few hours' rest, they will set off for the summit at about 8pm tomorrow night, a climb that will take about 14 hours.

May 29

Robert and Edwin left for Camp 2 on May 27th, with the aim of summitting on June 1. Leaving with them were two of the National University team members. (The other three members had left some days earlier for Camp 2.)

The delay in their departure was due to the weather. High winds have plagued Everest this season for an inordinately long period, whipping the summit with winds of 50 knots and higher.

Latest forecasts are predicting winds of about 40 knots on the summit between May 30 and June 1, with which the climbers would be able to cope.

The other problem has been with the delay in the fixing of ropes to the summit. The bad weather had prevented the team of Sherpas responsible for this from carrying out this crucial task.

Thankfully, they will now fix the ropes on May 30. About 100 climbers, including Sherpas, are aiming to summit on May 30 and 31. The route up to Camp 3 yesterday and today has seen long lines of climbers snaking up the Lhotse Face.

Robert and Edwin are aware of this and want to avoid the "traffic jam" as it would mean long, cold waits. Hence, their target summit date of June 1. They are now resting at Camp 2 and preparing for their ascent tomorrow to Camp 3.

Another point of interest is that there has never been a summit on Everest in June before.

May 27

At last, the summit bid has begun!

Robert and Edwin left this morning at 5am for Camp 2. After a day's rest tomorrow, they will climb to Camp 3 the day after (29th).

They left in good spirits, relieved that the long wait for a summit window is finally over. The predicted milder winds nearer the end of the month will be most welcome.

May 24

After weeks of waiting at Base Camp, the weather forecasts are finally suggesting that there is a summit window opening up at the end of the month. This is the latest first summit during any Everest season in recent memory.

Robert and Edwin, who had wanted to leave tomorrow for Camp 2 to begin their summit bid, will now be leaving on either 26th or 27th. Their summit target dates will thus be 30th or 31st May, when the winds will be milder.

Climbing without oxygen is a daunting challenge and the climbers want to maximise their chances of success by taking advantage of the best possible weather.

Kim Boon, meanwhile, given his problems with acclimatising, has decided to climb with oxygen. He is leaving for Camp 2 where he will wait for the ropes to be fixed to the summit.

May 11

Robert & Edwin at SpurRobert (left) and Edwin at the bottom of the Geneva Spur

Edwin and Robert spend a harrowing night sleeping at Camp 3 (7,300m) without oxygen. The winds were raging at 70 knots (120kph), threatening to flatten the tents, and making a racket flapping the tent fabric so loudly that they could not even hear the walkie transmissions.

Bleary eyed this morning, and tired from not having slept a wink, the two guys and their Sirdar Kami set off at 6.30am for Camp 4 (8,000m). It was a torturous struggle.

The westerly winds came straight at the climbers, causing wind burns. The winds also picked up sharp snow crystals which pelted their faces with tiny painful cuts.

“The winds were whipping our faces,” said Edwin. “Although I wore a balaclava which covered my whole face except my eyes, and I had goggles on, I still suffered wind burns on my left cheek. The winds felt like I was being slapped in the face constantly.”

Said Robert: “It was an exhausting climb because every step took us higher into thinner air. What seemed like a short traverse to the yellow band, but took us almost four hours. Our slow pace was due to lack of sleep as well as the increasingly thin air. It was the first time this season we were at that altitude.”

He added: “We were feeling OK and strong. We could go up higher, but we were just slow.”

At the bottom of the Geneva Spur, at 7,600m, the men turned back because they needed to return to Camp 2. “We didn’t want to spend another night sleeping at Camp 3 which would do our bodies more damage,” explained Robert.

“After this final acclimatisation cycle, we are doing well compared to those climbing with oxygen,” he said. “Kami said that with this speed, we would reach the summit – slow but constant.

“We are optimistic, but we know it will be a mighty hard push for us both because of the long hours needed to get to and back from the summit. It is expected to be a 24-hour slog.”

May 10

After resting several days at Camp 2 to recover from the avalanche ordeal, Robert and Edwin climbed to Camp 3 this morning. They were met by howling 100kph winds and spindrift that blew snow into the tent, their rucksacks and clothes.

The snow covered their tent and filled the insides as well, and they had to clean it out before they could climb in and shelter from the elements. "The winds here are epic," Robert reported on the walkie. "I don't know if our tent will withstand this beating. If it collapses during the night, we may have to evacuate."

By late afternoon, the winds were beating the tents so hard they could not hear the walkie transmission from BC. If this continues, their ascent to South Col the next morning may be in question.

Meanwhile, team mate Kim Boon left Base Camp at 5.10am for Camp 2. After many days resting and eating well at BC, he was feeling strong. After a day's rest, he will climb to Camp 3 and beyond to acclimatise.

6 May

AvalancheMoment after the avalanche, Robert (standing in front) and the sherpas dash downhill. The arrows show the direction of the avalanche.

Robert Goh narrowly escaped with his life this morning when an avalanche crashed down on him at 6,800m.

He and Edwin Siew were climbing from Camp 2 during their final acclimatization cycle before their summit bid. They were aiming to spend the night at Camp 3 before acclimatising up to Camp 4 on the South Col the next morning. But that was not to be.

At about 9am this morning, Robert reached the bottom of the Lhotse Face, which was covered by snow after four days of heavy snowfall. He had put on his
crampons and was about to ascend the Face.

"I heard a rumble and when I looked up at the Face, I saw a curtain of snow and ice falling right on me," he said. "I immediately crouched down and tucked my head
in. Luckily, I had my helmet on because I felt several knocks on the helmets, which were probably chunks of ice.

"In a minute or two, I was half buried up to my chest. I knew that if I did nothing, I'd be buried alive. So I jumped up and ran downhill with the flow of the avalanche, which was one of the ways of avoiding being buried.

"I ran for about 20m which was really tough because I was wearing crampons and we were at high altitude. I didn't dare look behind until the rumble died down.

"Only then did I stop running and took a peek behind. I saw a big pile of snow which filled up a huge crevasse, and the Sherpas running away from the avalanche."

He then saw that Edwin, who was some distance downhill putting on his crampons, was unscathed and video-taping the aftermath.

Some of the Sherpas who were higher up the Lhotse Face also took a direct hit from the falling snow. They would have been swept away had they not been clipped into the fixed rope.

Robert and Edwin then descended to Camp 2 where they are now resting.

"We are waiting for suitable conditions before going up again to acclimatize up to Camp 4 without oxygen," said Dr. Goh. "Once we have done that we will be ready
for the summit bid."

As for the near-death experience, he said: "I was quite shaken after it happened. Ed and I were speechless for the rest of the day. But these things happen in mountaineering. I have to push it out of my mind and not let it distract me from the task ahead."

May 4

Robert (left) and Edwin, all kitted Robert (left) and Edwin, all kitted up and ready for move up the mountain

At 5.15am this morning, Robert and Edwin were having breakfast, preparing to leave at 6am on their final acclimatisation. There came a rumble on the top of the icefall, a sure signal of an avalanche. Those who saw and heard it then paid scant attention to it as avalanches are commonplace, although usually on other mountain slopes.

The guys left on time, eager to be on the montain again. After a long wait for good weather and for the fixed ropes to be established up to Camp 4, they were now able to climb up to acclimatise to 8,000m.

At 8.30am, the whole Base Camp was a-buzz with news that the avalanche had flattened Camp 1. At least seven climbers, including one sherpa, had been injured. One of the experienced base camp managers took charge of co-ordinating the rescue efforts while guides and sherpas from other camps stood ready to send supplies, gear and sherpa power to help. Other guides and sherpas who had spent the night at Camp 2 were also ready to descend.

The rescue effort was well-managed with no over-reaction and people dashing up. It was a concerted effort to identify the injured parties and the equipment and manpower needed.

Identifying the injured was no simple matter. A climber with serious face injuries was seen by some rescuers who were unable to tell who he was. Robert, on approaching Camp 1, came upon him and asked him for his name and the expedition he was with. The climber was unresponsive and would only say he was Czech. He was also well-taken care of by guides and sherpas.

When Robert saw there wasn't much he could do to help, he went to his camp site. It was totally devastated. The tents were all flattened and their contents no where to be found. He reported the situation back to Base Camp.

When Edwin arrived, the two moved up to Camp 2 for the night. Although dismayed by the injuries, the guys know that the situation was well-taken care of. Such incidents are part and parcel of mountaineering and one could only do one's best to avoid them through careful assessment of weather and snow conditions.

23 April

The team began their second acclimatization cycle on 21 April, moving up to Camp 2 on a warm and sunny day.

After resting a day at Camp 2, Robert and Edwin climbed to Camp 3, a gruelling 7-hour journey over hard, blue ice. "It was much tougher than in 1998," said Robert, recalling his previous Everest attempt. "That time, there were many groups before us, so there were already steps cut into the ice. This time, we were one of the first and the route was new."

Said Edwin: "With every step, we had to make sure our crampons were biting into the ice, which can be very slippery. Covering the ice was a thin layer of snow, which masked the condition of the ice below. We had to be sure we were stepping firmly into the ice and not just on soft snow."

The journey was made more dangerous by the threat of falling serac. A falling piece of ice in fact hit the head of Pemba Dorje, one of our Sherpas, who fortunately sustained only a minor head injury, but serious enough to make him descend to base camp for treatment.

After their successful ascent to Camp 3, Edwin and Robert returned to Camp 2 for a day's rest. They are confident in their plan to go up again on 25 April to sleep in Camp 3 without oxygen, to prepare for their eventual no-oxygen summit attempt.

Kim Boon meanwhile is suffering from a mild case of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). After ascending from Camp 2 to the start of the Lhotse Face, he was forced to turn around and is descending to Base Camp to recover. Once he is well, he will decide on an alternative acclimatization cycle in preparation for the summit bid.

19 April

The team has been sitting at Base Camp waiting for Camp 3 to be set up before going for their next acclimatistion climb.

Today, tragedy struck a member of another expedtion team. A Canadian climber took a tumble when descending the icefall and broke his leg. Almost immediately, a group of sherpas who saw him fall dashed to his assistance. Among them was our head sherpa, Kami Ang Chiring. Help was also summoned from the climber's team down at base camp.

He was carried on a stretcher rigged up with ladders and carried slowly down. Sadly, that's the end of his expedition. A helicopter has been summoned which is expected to arrive tomorrow or the day after.

This is a reminder of the importance of vigilence on the mountains. We can only wish the climber a speedy recovery. Everest will still be here when he has recovered.

April 12

The team returned to Base Camp after a successful acclimatisation climb to Camp 2. The winds were howling when they left BC on April 11 to spend the night at Camp 1. It looked as though their plan to ascend to Camp 2 the next day at 6am would be scuttled because of the 100kph winds, but cool heads ruled.

Robert on LadderAt 10am, when winds died down a little, Robert decided they could brave the winds and move to Camp 2. This was preferable to staying at Camp 1 doing nothing.

The gamble paid off as the team had a relatively easy climb over a fairly gradual slope. The team reached Camp 2 and turned round and headed back to Base Camp, pleased with the highly successful climb.

Up Vertical LadderThey found that they were able to acclimatise well, suffering from no more than the slightest headache. Ed is especially pleased with his unhurried ascent to allow for his usual slow acclimatisation in the early stages. He feels confident and looks forward to the next acclimatisation phase. "If I can eat well and sleep well in Camp 3, I will be fine," he said.

Kim Boon, for whom this was the first time on the Khumbu Icefall, said this was the biggest icefall he had encountered in his life, with broken ice towers and endless deep crevasses. "It's one of the most dangerous areas," he said. "It's best to move as fast as possible." He was especially impressed with the work of the ice doctors who had  marked out the route with precision and thought.

He found the location of Camp 2 amazing, nestled in a cwm, surrounded on three sides by high mountains. "This is still new to me," he added. "Everything here is huge. And it's a long way to the top."

The next few days will be spent resting and eating to recover from the climb. And waiting for the start of the next acclimatisation.

10 April

At 5am this morning, the three mountaineers left for their first acclimatisation climb to Camp 1, across the Khumbu Icefall, the site of the most fatalities among Everest climbers.

For Edwin and Robert, who were with the first Singapore Everest Expedition in 1998, this was a repeat experience. "The icefall was more or less the same as in '98," Robert said. "The previous experience helped this time; I was able to anticipate what was coming and could prepare myself better.

"What's different this time was the team. In '98, we were a fragmented group; this time it was more like a family, looking out for each other."

Climbing with the Singapore Mountaineers were members of the NUS Centennial Expedition team which Robert's group have been directing for the last three years.

Edwin, a '98 Everest summitter, also had a good climb. "I was going slow and steady to acclimatise," he said. "No problems, just hungry. Camp 1 this time is further away from the lip which is quite precarious."

First-timer on the icefall, Kim Boon found it an exciting experience, but worrying. "I am worried about the tumbling blocks of ice serac," he said. "You have to fully concentrate; but it will be easier the next time."

The team is spending the night at Camp 1. Their plans tomorrow will depend on the weather. One big worry is the high winds which has been forecast for the next two or three days.

8 April

With yesterday's 3-hour puja to appease the mountain gods, little now stands in the way of the guys ascending the mountain.

Our sherps returned this morning from making their first ferry load to Camps 1 and 2. The route up has been established and the guys plan to go up the day after tomorrow. This is the start, and everyone is mentally prepared.

Says Edwin, who summitted in 1998 with oxygen: "Having been up before does give me confidence, but it does not give me an advantage as the icefall changes every year. Also, this time, we will be going without bottled oxygen. I will just take it with good faith."

5 April

Today is the first day with warm sunshine and little wind. We took advantage of the weather to take lots of photos with sponsors flags and clothing. A punja has been planned for April 7, an auspicious day, according to the sherpas. Meanwhile, the ice doctors have been laying the ladders cross crevasses on the icefall, a treacherous steep stretch of broken and shifting ice blocks.

3 April

Arrived at Everest Base Camp, which sits on the Khumbu Glacier. The camp is surrounded by boulders, loose rocks and sandy slopes.

28 March

rob on_island summit ridgeThe team summitted Island Peak (6,130m) today, arriving at the summit at about 11.20am local time. The climb was to help the guys acclimatise to high altitude and to prepare for the icefall at Everest leading to Camp 1 and Camp 2. On summit day, the weather was good, with bright sunhshine, but there were high winds of up to 80kph. The climbers were pleased with their performance as they were not tired and suffered no AMS, which meant they had been well prepared

16 March

Kathmandu: Spent the whole of yesterday sorting and repacking gear, writing postcards and unwinding. Tomorrow, we will fly to Lukla from where we will begin our trek. We will be heading first for Island Peak (6,180m) which the team will climb, to acclimatise before Everest. Estimated date of arrival at Everest Base Camp is 3 April. More reports will follow after that. Do join us on our journey. Write to us at singaporemountaineers@yahoo.com

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