Reached the summit of Mount Everest 8,848m (6.00am Nepalese time) 25th May 2012

We left for camp 2 early on Monday May 21st. Getting up at 1 am to make our way up the Ice-fall and onwards towards camp 2 felt very strange this time. I knew it was the last chance of making a summit attempt. There was no talking in the group and nobody was taking photos or anything for our trip to camp 2. People seemed to be nervous about what lay ahead. We had spent 2 days in base camp and during those two days we got reports of serious injuries and fatalities on Everest on the last trip. I moved quickly up to camp 2 so I could rest for the day. It seemed a bit harder than the last few times. This might have been due to the short rest we had in base camp and I also didn’t have a great sleep the night we left. I was thinking about the mountain and wondering what had happened to those people who had died.

Myself and some of the team members spent most of our time at camp 2 playing cards. We had two days there. We also kept a close eye on the weather to make sure we still had our window for a summit attempt and also nice weather to enable us to go to camp 3.

As I had left some of my summit gear and equipment at camp 2 for the summit push, I packed and re-packed my gear, checked and re-checked my equipment. Once we left camp 2 there was no going back for anything.

We left for camp 3 on weds May 23rd. I was carrying a heavy pack and felt the strain on my body. Even though we had been to camp 3 before it was still a tough climb up the Lhotse face. I was a bit worried at this stage, for two reasons. The first was we were climbing, where a few days earlier Pemchiri, one of our sherpas had been hurt in an avalanche. You are looking up the face and you see these huge Ice seracs above you which could fall any time and destroy anything in its path. The other reason was I knew there were no more rest days until we got down and I had to keep healthy and strong. As I was carrying some weight on my back, I was hoping it wouldn’t drain my energy for the trip to camp 4 and then the summit.

Surprisingly, I made it to camp 3 in good time, and had the rest of the day to eat, drink and rest. When I arrived into the tent, I noticed that there was a lot of rubbish around and that some people had slept there. Our sherpas said that as the avalanche had taken out about 10 tents at camp 3, people would just come and use our tents. Not only did they sleep in the tents, but some of our team had left food, hand warmers, and gas in the tents, but to our amazement a lot of this was gone. Sometimes people use oxygen cylinders, gas, food, that doesn’t belong to them in an emergency, so maybe thats what happened after the events of May 19-20th. I had left all my gear, food etc down in camp 2 knowing that this could be a possibility. At camp 2 we have a sherpa cook who keeps an eye on the camp.

The next morning we left around 6am to make our way up the final part of the Lhotse face, I left camp about 15 minutes later than the rest of the team as I was helping my tent mate with his oxygen. We made our way up the Lhotse face and I noticed that I was feeling pretty tired compared with any other trips I had done on the mountain. This was a big worry for me. A lot of the team had been sick at various stages of the Expedition. I had been lucky so far and was thinking maybe it was my turn to be sick. Then it struck me that my pack was the heaviest I had carried all expedition and seeing as we were leaving camp 2 at a height of 7,200m and moving up to the South Col at height of 7,950m, the altitude was getting to me. Once on the upper sections of the Lhotse face its very hard to stop and take a break. Its steep Ice and there is huge risk of avalanche and rock fall. When I started the traverse across the Lhotse face and towards the yellow band, I could see after a bit of a rock climb there were people sitting down. At this stage the sun was up and the heat was draining my energy. I made it to the yellow band and did a scramble up to a relative safe zone to take off my pack and have a drink. Its not easy scrambling up rock with your crampons on specially at a height of 7,700m. When I got to sit down, it was such a relieve to take off my pack, and drink some water. I had noticed that my oxygen didn’t seem to flowing properly. I checked the flow rate and it seemed fine. The masks we were using are different than the ones I used on Cho Oyu. I thought the mask wasn’t tight enough on my face. I tightened the straps and put it back on. It still seemed like I wasn’t getting much oxygen. As I was on my own at this stage, I thought I would wait a while for some other members of the team who I had passed on the Lhotse face. They seemed to have been struggling too. I could see the Genenva Spur up ahead and said to myself, to get to there and then see if I can sort out my mask and see how I feel. I knew one or two of our sherpas were close and they might be able to help.

I struggled to get to the bottom of the Geneva Spur. I did feel a bit better once I got there, had some chocolate, and drank water with one of our sherpas Wongdi. He was also going slow but his pack was alot heavier than mine.

At this stage I thought that it wasn’t the mask that wasn’t working properly, but the high altitude, lack of food, and dehydration was getting me.

I knew if I could climb the Geneva Spur that camp 4 (the South Col) was close and once there, I could rest for a while, take off my heavy pack, sort out my oxygen and get ready for a summit attempt.

Climbing up the Geneva spur was easier than it looked or maybe I found that because I knew it was the last hard part of the climb before camp 4. I went up fast and once at the top took a break to take some video and photos.

As I was at a height of about 7,850m and it was getting late in the day I knew I had to get to camp to rest. We were planning to make our summit attempt that evening. From the top of the Geneva Spur it was a scramble over rock and ice to get to camp 4.

The view of Everest from the top of the Geneva spur was amazing. You could pick out the route and I was amazed at how steep it looked. I knew we would be climbing in the dark so I tried not to think about it as I was dealing with alot of pain from the days climbing due to a heavy pack and oxygen mask not working properly.

When I arrived into camp there was nobody around. I knew there were some team members behind me. Thundu, showed me to the tent were I was staying. I had two new tents mates, Warner and Phil. They were both in with there oxygen masks on, boiling water, and snacking. They said I looked terrible. I was a bit surprised that they had been there for an hour or two.

When I settled into camp 4, I noticed that the wind had picked up. I started drinking lots, eating and trying to organise myself for the summit attempt. In the back of my mind I was hoping maybe we could go the day after and take a nights rest at camp 4. You don’t really get any rest when you are living at 7,950m.

While resting at camp 4 I noticed that my oxygen valve reading hadn’t changed much over the last 3 hours. I also noticed that the oxygen bags on my tent mates masks were inflating and deflating as they were breathing at a normal rate. My oxygen bag wasn’t inflating or deflating. This was a major worry with only a few hours before we left for the summit. I went and got Phuba. We called Mingma (our head Sherpa), and he took a look at it. Part of the mask had frozen and the cylinder wasn’t working properly. We quickly got a new cylinder and fixed the mask. It was about 5pm and finally after a real tough day making my way to the south col, my mask was working and I was getting oxygen. We were told that the winds had picked up since our original forecast from the day before. Base camp manager Adam had checked the weather that day at 12 and said we were looking at 40-50km winds on summit. You usually don’t climb in winds above 30km. We were told that they might die down by the time we hit the summit. The decision was made to leave camp 4 at 8pm and attempt the summit. If the weather was real bad we would turn back and that would be our expedition over. On the 19-20th May people had bad weather and didn’t turn back and there were a lot of fatalities. I was still trying to recover from the previous days climb, whilst trying to get ready for the summit attempt. I knew that drinking and eating as much as possible would be key as once we started the climb it would be all go and it would be too cold and too dangerous to stop for a snack or drink let alone go to the toilet.

We were all nervous in the tent. Once our gear checked and rucksack ready, we just lay there, no talking and just contemplating what we were about to attempt.

I did some video interviews with myself and my tent mates about how we were feeling and what we expected. It was more to break the tension and take our minds of the dangers.

We left camp 4 at 8pm on 24th May. The wind was blowing very strong. Each climber would climb with one of the sherpa team. I was with Thundu who I climbed with on Cho Oyu last year. He knows my ability, strength and we get on well. We moved very quickly and were given our place of 2nd on the team. The first section of the climb is relatively flat but very icy.

After about an hour or so, we started getting to the steep sections of rock and ice. There were some other teams in front of us but they were moving slowly. It was hard to pass them out as it was dangerous. I got hit by some big rocks and ice blocks in the shoulder and lower body. It hurt but there was nothing I could do about it. It was so dark and you couldn’t see anything. Also when your breathing through an oxygen mask, all you can hear is your breath. As we moved higher the wind got even stronger. Many things were going through my mind, I could barely feel my fingers and toes and was worrying about frostbite. I kept moving them and switching my hand using the jumar (climbing device to move up rope). All of a sudden, I looked over to my left and saw a body lying there. It was victim from the summit attempt on the 19th. Thundu sped up to try and get away from the body. As I moved pass it, I said a prayer both for the victim and for a safe passage up the mountain. It was horrible to see, and it plays with your mind. I thought of the disaster in 1996, where some of the best climbing guides in the world and their clients died high on the mountain. I have read and researched so many books and stories about Mount Everest and a lot of them are about the deaths and disasters. When its freezing cold, dark, windy, and your on a very steep slope with rocks, and ice blocks coming down your mind plays tricks and you ask what are you doing there. At this stage my body was in alot of pain. My legs were so heavy and felt like lead. My lungs felt like they were on fire and my heart was going so fast I thought it was going to explode. I was also worrying about my oxygen mask freezing up or not working like the day before.

I tried to block this out of my mind and focused on the training I had done over the last 3 years, the expeditions I had been on, the support I have got from family, friends, trainers, and lots of other people involved in the Ireland to Everest journey. It really helped me push on. Thundu said to me the balcony isn’t far. I said to myself keep going and get to the balcony and see how things are going. We passed another two bodies. It was as bad this time as I was more concerned about keeping myself alive. I said another two prayers and looked up to the beautiful moon and stars. It was weird climbing by dead climbers in all their gear. You really have to stay focused and concentrate on yourself or else you will end up like them. A small mistake there or a bad decision or judgment will cost you your life.

Thundu said to me I was going strong and to keep moving. He told me we would take a small rest at the balcony, and take a drink. I was so dehydrated and pushing my body hard. A few times I started to cough through my mask but it turned into a dry vomit. I was glad nothing came out as it would have blocked up my oxygen mask. My body was telling me that this was not a place for human beings to be in. We were well into the Death Zone (above 8,000m) and you could see people a bit out of it. There was one more body we had to pass before the balcony. This time the body was still attached to the rope we were climbing on. Thundu went a good bit ahead of me and unclipped from the rope and free climbed past it. I stalled for a min or two. I didn’t really want to free climb unclipped and have no safety as a slip or mistake would have meant I would have fallen to my death. It was so dark, windy and cold that it made it hard to climb properly. I thought about clipping onto the body and climbing over it but it didn’t seem right. I plucked up the courage to traverse across the icy patch using the front points of my crampons and then quickly climb up past the body using whatever handholds I could find and then clip back onto the rope. As I did this my breathing sped and I felt I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. Again I was worrying about my mask not working. I took a 30 sec break to check it. Everything was fine.

We made it to the balcony and started climbing up along the ridge. It was so windy and we could just see big black drop offs into the night on either side off us. At some point along the balcony, I had to get down on my hand and knees to prevent myself from being blown off. Thundu knew a place to have a drink that we could shelter from the wind. When we got there, he checked my oxygen, we drank and I had some energy gels. It was our first break on the summit push and I was delighted to get a break. When we stopped I was wondering whether to sit down as its so much effort and to get back up and start climbing again. It was nice to have a break with Warner, David and Mingma and to check how everyone was doing.

As we were leaving our resting spot Thundu said next break will be the South Summit. I felt much better after the break. I drank a lot of water and tried to rehydrate myself. We made good progress and got into a good rhythm. As we made our way towards the South Summit, I was wondering when it was going to get light. Fingers and toes were very cold, I had to keep them moving within my boots and gloves. I knew when the sun came up it would get warmer. At this stage I knew I was going strong and felt good. There was still a long way to go. I was relieved to have my oxygen working properly.

Thundu, kept giving me the thumbs up to let me know I was going well and to check if I was ok. As we got to the South summit, I was surprised and how my body felt. Everything was going well. Once there, the sun started to come up and I could see the Hilary step. I knew that this was the last major part and if I climbed over the Hilary step I was nearly on top. I climbed down to where Mingna, Warner, Thundu and David were taking a rest. I looked around and was amazed at the sight off the sunrise over the highest mountains in the world. I felt strong and wasn’t scared. I knew that with all my concentration and energy that I was in a good position.

We took a few minutes to have some water. This would be the last break until the summit. When we got walking again, I was thinking about putting on my Go Pro camera. I thought about just leaving it as didn’t want to have to take off my gloves. I called Thundu, he had one of the Go Pro cameras and I had the other. My hands and fingers felt ok I got it out of my jacket pocket and quickly turned it on and put it on my head. It was the perfect time to get a bit of video, we were climbing towards the Hilary step and the sun was coming up to keep myself and the camera battery warm.

As we got closer I could see it was going to be a tough scramble. I made sure I was looking at what Thundu and other climbers in front of me were doing. I knew if I could do the exact same as them I would be safe. Its difficult to climb with crampons on rock. We had already done a lot of it throughout the climb but up here was different. As we got to the start of the Hilary step, I took a mental note of what Thundu was doing to climb it. I took a look on the right side down the 11000 ft Kanchung face, and then looked on my left side down the 8,000ft southwest face of Everest. As much as it was beautiful, a mistake on the Hilary step could send you down either side. A lot of people say that sometimes there is a big wait at the Hilary step. We didnt have to wait for too long. There was a few climbers in front of us but they were about 30 minutes ahead. We had our group of Mingma, Warner, Thundu and David. I climbed up the Hilary step grabbing onto some rock and old ropes that I had seen 3 other people using. Once on top of it there was still a ridge walk, and scramble to get back to the snow. It was scary climbing up the Hilary Step. There were gusts of wind. There was a big boulder sticking out further up that we had to climb around. The rope was so tight on the rock that it made it difficult to clip in. Once I clipped in I managed to straddle the boulder and wedge my leg into a crack in on the other side of the boulder. Any climbing technique went out the window and all I wanted to do was get to the small ridge were I could take a min or two rest. When I got to the ridge, my safety karabiner had got caught back over near the boulder. I was on this tiny little ridge enough to fit one boot,with my safety stuck. I had to free the safety but couldnt reach the rope. As my jumar was up on the next part of rope, in order for me to get back and move my safety karabiner, I had to release the jumar and move back. While I was moving back and I released the safety karabiner, a huge gust of wind blew and nearly knocked me off the small ridge. I held onto the rope for dear life. I wasn’t clipped in properly and knew if that the minute I got my safety in my hand I needed to get it clipped onto the rope. I was looking down at the drops and trying to place my feet perfectly. Once I got clipped in the panic was over and I started making my way upwards. As I climbed up, I kept thinking to myself that once I had climbed the Hilary step I was near the top. When I saw the summit ridge and the prayer flags at the summit, I knew that it was close. Once on the summit ridge the wind was really strong and gusty. I was moving slow and was a bit behind Thundu. He kept looking back to see how I was doing. As we moved along the ridge people were coming down. It was hard to get out of their way and move. I started thinking just keep concentrating and your nearly there. I didn’t want to make a mistake now. As I got closer to Warner, Mingma and Thundu, I noticed that there was no rope on the last section of the summit ridge. Before this section Thundu checked if I was ok, and then we moved off again. I started to think what I would do when I got to the summit. As we were walking across the summit ridge a huge gust of wind blew and I punched the snow with my fists on the right hand side of me and took a small break to regain my balance. One slip here with no rope would mean a long fall down the southwest face of Everest. As we got closer to the summit, Thundu grabbed my hand and we walked up to the prayer flags together. Once there we hugged along with Mingma and Warner, congratulated each other and sat down for a tiny bit. The wind was very strong and it was difficult to stand up. As it was very cold and windy, Thundu said we needed to get the photos taken and get out of there as soon as possible.

I sat down got the Irish flag out first, and Thundu took a photo. The camera didn’t work that great at first due to the cold.

I realized that my go Pro had stopped working and that I had no video footage. Once we had taken some more photos, took a break and were ready to go down again I quickly stood up on the highest point and did a quick video using a spare camera. It was unbelievable. I can’t describe how I felt. It was a dream come true and meant so much to me. I thought of family, my girlfriend Marama, friends and all the people who had supported the Ireland to Everest journey. To look at the curvature of the earth and stand on the highest point was an experience I’ll never forget.

Once your on the top, you quickly realize that you have to get down as soon as possible. I was so tired and cold but had to get moving. We made our way down the summit ridge. We met some other people coming up and took little rests to let them pass.

By the time we got to the Hilary Step there was a lot of people trying to come up. We got down the Hilary step and once past the que of people and on a relatively flat area, we took a small break to have a drink.

Mingma, saw that one of the sherpas was in trouble. He had snow blindness and was above the Hilary step. Mingma went back up to help the Sherpa and we sat there for another few minutes. As we were at a height of 8750-8800m it was so nice to sit there and look at the view. I was exhausted at this stage and knew that I had to keep moving. My legs were so heavy and I kept saying to myself to get up and keep moving. We left our rest stop and then made our way towards the south summit.

Once at the South Summit, it seemed like my oxygen mask was causing problems. I knew I had taken it off on the summit and it might have been frozen. I blew on the valves and put it back on, tightened the straps and checked that there was still oxygen coming out of the mask.

I knew if I could get myself past the South Summit, I would be down to a lower altitude and past the tricky higher section of the mountain. We kept moving down the mountain and as we were getting lower all I wanted to do was sit down and drink water. I knew how hard it is to get up and climb down or walk again so I kept going. I wanted to get out of the death zone as soon as possible. When we got to the Balcony, we took a good rest as we were all exhausted. There were sections to get there that I couldn’t believe we had climbed up in total darkness. It was scary going up and now we could see everything around us and how high we were. With my legs and whole body in a world of pain I hadn’t experienced ever, I knew we were still a long way from camp 4. 80% of accidents happen on the way down and I didn’t want to be in that statistic.

There were still lots of rock, ice and snow that we had to climb down to the safety of Camp 4. It was such a relieve to see the tents far off in the distance but I knew I could make it down safely. Once we left the balcony there were those 4 dead bodies that we needed to climb past but this time it was in the daytime.

We kept getting lower and gradually I found some energy and concentration to make my way back to camp. I was so happy to be down safe and when Pasang came out to give me a big hug and help me with my gear, I was pleased to see him. I had climbed with Pasang last year and on Everest and he knew how much it meant to me. He was delighted for me and got me some juice and helped with crampons and bag. He didn’t go up to the summit as he had to help client back to camp 4. It was an amazing feeling getting back into camp and then just lying there in the tent. I got as much water into me as I could and took some video, made some phone calls and talked to the sherpas. Its hard to describe the feeling knowing that I was in the relative safety of camp 4.

The next day we packed up early and made our way towards camp 2. As I had all the camera equipment and other gear, it was a tough climb down. My legs were wrecked, and the rest of my body was in pain. I took my time going down. I went with Wongdi sherpa. He was carrying 12 empty bottles of oxygen and some other gear.

We kept in radio contact with Pasang who had left earlier to bring two clients down ahead of it.

As we went down, I thought about the next few days trying to get down to safety. I was so happy to have finished the summit day but there was still a lot more to do.

As I was walking into Camp 2 I did take a shortcut of the track to the camp. Wongdi was a bit behind and didn’t see where I was going. Camp 2 had changed a lot. The ice around was melting and you could see crevasses everywhere. I was walking across some ice, I had one foot on a bit of rock and one on the ice. The next minute, the ice cracked and my whole left leg, up to my waist went down in the freezing water. I had a heavy pack on and used my left foot and leg to lift myself up and make sure I didn’t drown in the crevasse full of water. It was a bit of a scare as I was coming into camp 2. When I got to camp 2 and took off my pack I was so glad to be down at a lower altitude. Pasang came out to see me along with Thundu and the rest of the sherpas. Its great to feel so welcome and see the sherpas happy to see you in the safety of camp 2.

We rested, ate, played cards and drank water. The next day we got through the ice-fall one last time and went back to Base Camp for a warm welcome from some friends we had made in base camp and our base camp staff. I was delighted to be back down and knew that I was safe.

I have spent the last few days travelling back from base camp. Had some good parties along the way and went to the Namche Festival with the sherpas. I’ve been exhausted, my whole body feels like its been through something that I wouldn’t wish on my worse enemy. It still hasn’t sunk in getting to the summit. I have spent a lot of time thinking over the last few days about the climb and talked with other team members about it.

Climbing Everest had been my dream since I can remember. I used go out hillwalking with my dad and family and always thought about it. It’s hard to explain the feeling when I stood on the high point. I have never felt anything like it. It meant so much to me to stand on the summit of Mount Everest and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. I had to give up a lot to get there and work very hard but it was worth it and in aid of a good cause Cystic Fibrosis.

There are so many people I would like to thank who have been great in supporting the Ireland to Everest journey, my Parents, family and girlfriend Marama. All my friends, Ian Taylor and his trekking company, John Burke and the Armada Hotel, my trainers, Eoin Lacey of the Irish Strength Institute, Derry Temple of Temple training, The Roving Soles hill walking club, Denis Gill, John Byrne, Martin Lyons, Margaret, Maire, Lars and everyone else in the club. Seamus Rodgers from Spring in your Step, Hilary Kearns from Abhul clinic, Noel T Surge from Northside Osteopath, Basecamp store and of course Berghaus have been of great support. Thanks Brodericks, Reads and the Wee Adventure Film Festival for supporting the Ireland to Everest journey.

Its so nice to be home now. Am relaxing and catching up with family and friends.

Hopefully will have some sort of presentation about the Ireland to Everest journey in the next few months.

Thanks for all the support.
Cian

2 Comments

  1. Hi Cian
    Thats an amazing description of the ascent & descent of Mt.Everest.You have a great strength of character both physical & mental to have overcome the 1st attempt at summiting.
    Then to succeed on your 2nd & pass those poor souls who had perished so near their ambition that most of us only read & dream about.
    Talk soon
    Andy

  2. Alan McDonnell

    Congratulations Cian

    Top marks for perseverance and bravery.

    You are an example to us all.

    Alan & Niamh

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