Episode 024: 7900 Meters
A Personal Altitude Record. I awoke on this first morning at Everest’s North Side ABC with the most beautiful sight. No, it wasn’t the world’s highest peak, but the intricate lace of frost that had formed on the inside of my tent. Up here at 6400 meters, or 21,000 feet the temperature drops dramatically overnight. Although it can feel like you can’t breathe well up here, you actually can quite well, and the water vapor from your breath magically freezes into beautiful frost patterns on the nylon tent cloth above you.
I didn’t think I was going to sleep very well, but I did. My head was a lot clearer this morning than yesterday morning and as I was layering up with clothes I realized that I was sitting in a tent nearly a thousand feet higher than the summit of Alaska’s Mount McKinley; the great Denali. “Well, ” I thought to myself, “this is a personal altitude record! I wonder what’s for breakfast?”
I managed to stumble into our ABC cooking tent and was greeted with the news that the climbing team had grand plans for ascending to 7900 meters to continue their task of acclimatization. Now that’s getting up there in altitude. Later on in the day I discovered that they did, indeed make it to their goal of over 25,000 feet and had made the return trip back to the North Col safely. This was a personal altitude record for Ben, as well.
Hooray for us! It was a good day.
Total Running Time: 17:38
Dispatch 23, April 25, 2003, North Col 23,000’+
Today I set a new personal altitude record, 25,000’+. It was a struggle but the most rewarding time of the expedition. It was a constant battle with many small victories. Nothing is like working hard at high altitude.
Laboring from early morning until the afternoon I had a great time. Every step was like lifting a 500 lb. weight up to my chest but in reality it was more like lifting my foot 8” and taking two breathes per step.
Each step would seem like an eternity.
I am climbing at this altitude without supplemental oxygen and it is the most fascinating sensation I have ever encountered. Sometimes I would look west to 26,900’ Cho Oyu and it would seem as if it were at eye level. I would look east and there would be nothing but a barren brown desert beyond white capped Himalayan jewels.
I thought about the hundreds of hours and thousands of steps I put into each tiny increment I could muster at this altitude and when I reached 7900 meters it was one of the most exhilarating accomplishments I have ever felt. It was vindication for all my work and yet it was an introduction to the Death Zone. I know now what I am up against, I know now how I am going to deal with it, one step at a time, ten feet at a stretch and humbled by whatever this magnificent force will give me!