It was an awesome sight to behold.
Mount Everest rose up sky high, like a mighty fortress.
The chilling North West face consisted of vast areas of snow and ice and bands of rock stretched right across the upper half.
It towered over eight thousand feet above the Rongbuk glacier.
A ridge ran down to a Col, which joined Everest to its lower North peak, Changtse.
The South West face looked just as formidable with dark rock mostly on the upper slopes and overhangs too.
That side of the mountain rose up over seven thousand feet.
Beneath the North West and South West sides, was the West ridge and the enormous West shoulder.
Then there was the menacing Icefall, which led up into the Western Cwm.
The Western Cwm was surrounded by sheer cliffs. The slopes of Everest rose up on the left and the precipices of Nuptse on the right.
At the head of the Cwm, there dominated the West face of Lhotse.
Lhotse was joined to Everest by the South Col and to Nuptse by a long, jagged ridge.
It truly was an awesome sight to behold.
Then there were all the other peaks in sight, including nearby Pumori and Cho Oyu.
Situated at the head of the moraine covered Khumbu glacier near the Icefall, there was Everest basecamp. The tents were minute against the surroundings. Even the largest one was no more than a mere speck.
From the campsite, Everest was hidden from view by the West shoulder and the Western Cwm was hidden by Nuptse and the Icefall. Only a small portion of the upper West face of Lhotse could be seen.
The campsite belonged to a small expedition that had come to climb Everest without oxygen.
There were six climbers, called Steve, Amy, Brian, Alice, Chris and Rachel.
Then there was Lisa, the expedition doctor and finally, the expedition leader Terry.
Furthermore, there was a team of Sherpas, whom had set up higher camps and fixed safety ropes. Everything had been prepared and the climbers were ready to head out of camp.
However, the expedition leader was going to stay behind with the doctor and the Sherpas.
Sherpas usually climb with mountaineers, but Terry wanted his team to climb both without them and without oxygen.
The extreme adventure had finally begun.
The band of climbers had left basecamp and was heading towards the treacherous Icefall.
Treacherous was the right word to describe the Icefall.
It was a two-thousand-foot-high maze of horrifying, gaping crevasses, overhanging walls and huge ice towers – ready to crumble and fall at any moment. Furthermore, it was the only way to the Western Cwm.
In single file, the climbers made its way up through the monstrous Icefall. They had to watch their every move with extreme care, for the Icefall was said to be always changing, always moving. The only lifelines were safety ropes, ice axes and each other.
Ascending the Icefall turned out to be most hazardous.
Steve almost fell into a crevasse while crossing a ladder, Rachel nearly lost an ice axe, Brian almost fell into a crevasse, Chris almost broke a leg and Amy and Alice were only just missed being hit by large pieces of falling ice.
However, every member of the team made it through the Icefall and into the Western Cwm.
The moment they reached camp one, a huge avalanche gave way on a slope further down and roared down the Icefall into the Khumbu valley.
The enormous mass of snow and ice just missed basecamp by less than a hundred feet.
A very lucky escape the team had.
THE WESTERN CWM
After spending a freezing night at camp one, the team began the next stage of the ascent. The next stage, was up the Western Cwm.
Unlike the Icefall, the Western Cwm wasn’t difficult. The crevasses, which were less, were easy to skirt round and the gradient was gentle.
The surrounding slopes painted a different picture. They looked most fearsome, rising up thousands of feet.
Nuptse was all fluted, the West shoulder of Everest rose up like a huge tidal wave, the South West face towered menacingly and the infamous Lhotse wall rose up ahead.
Furthermore, everything except the upper slopes of Nuptse, was in total shadow – silhouetted against the Sun. The Lhotse face looked rather terrifying while cast in shadow.
As the team moved on further and further, the Sun finally appeared. Its wonderful rays flooded into the Western Cwm.
Eventually, the climbers came within three hundred yards of camp two, which was situated right at the foot of the mighty South West face.
Then something unexpected happened.
A huge mass of cloud, which had been creeping up the Cwm, engulfed the team.
Although camp two was out of sight, the climbers pushed on, for they didn’t have far to go.
In no time at all, they reached the tents, which were barely visible and went inside them.
The mountaineers were very fortunate.
Had such a condition occurred on a steep slope, a ridge, or worst of all, in the Icefall, it would have been a totally different story.
When the climbers got up the following morning, they discovered that it had snowed heavily during the night. Almost everything was covered.
Fortunately it didn’t take too long to shift the snow.
With everything uncovered, the team prepared for the next stage of the ascent.
THE LHOTSE FACE
It was a nightmarish sight to behold.
The huge West wall of Lhotse rose up over four thousand feet in height. It consisted of sheer blue glacial ice, huge bulges and a crest of jagged black rock. It looked even more horrifying cast in shadow.
The vast South West face of Everest looked menacing enough, but wall of Lhotse was far much more so.
In fear, the climbers left camp and headed towards the vast nightmare, which they were going to climb.
When the mountaineers reached the foot of the face, the Sun had risen, but they were still afraid.
They grabbed the safety ropes and began to ascend single file. It was going to be a long climb – a long climb up very steep, hard ice.
The climb up the face turned out to be just as difficult as it looked – if not more. One false move would send one sliding back down to the Cwm.
Furthermore, the progress was beginning to slow, due to the effects of altitude and exhaustion. The air was getting thinner too, which meant that every breath took more of an effort.
At one point, the exhausted team reached camp three, which was situated about two thousand feet above the Cwm.
Full of tiredness, the climbers entered their tents.
It had been a major feat, but the challenge was not over yet.
The following day, the climbers left their tents, only to discover that the Cwm was hidden by cloud.
More clouds could be seen in other regions too. Both base camp and the lower half of Pumori were shrouded, as were many other lower peaks and valleys.
Fortunately, camp three was above the clouds in the Cwm. The next stage of the climb could continue.
Onwards and upwards the mountaineers went. Each step was slower than the one before and each breath more of a struggle. The effects of altitude were increasing too.
But no one so much as gave up.
At one point, the climbers traversed over the top of a feature called the Geneva Spur, before they finally reached the South Col.
THE SOUTH COL
A major stage of the ascent had been achieved. The Lhotse face had been climbed and the South Col reached.
A barren and freezing place the Col turned out to be.
The tiny red and orange tents of camp four vibrated heavily in a wild, howling wind.
From there the climbers could see further.
Beyond the vast mass of Cho Oyu, there were mountains, deep valleys, foothills, ridges and clouds, stretching hundreds of miles to the far horizon.
A cluster of high peaks dominated the horizon – one of which was K2.
Everest’s West shoulder was now on the right and Nuptse, which was roughly the same height as the Col, on the left. Then there was Lhotse and the small South face of Everest. The upper most of Lhotse’s West face poked out behind the Geneva spur.
It was so overwhelming, but the climbers wanted to see the view to the East of the Col.
They climbed a rise on the Eastern edge of the Col and gazed beyond.
It was another stunning view of mountains, ridges, valleys and clouds. The horizon was dominated by Kangchenjunga.
Makalu rose up over a dozen miles to the right, along with its lower side peak, Chomolonzo.
The Tibetan plateau was partially in sight to the left of Everest.
Between the Makalu massif and the Tibetan plateau, was the vast Kangshung valley. The Kangshung glacier, which ran down through the valley, was obscured in areas by cloud.
A number of shorter glaciers branched off to the left.
The slopes of Lhotse’s North East face dropped away to the right. A crest of jagged rock lined the top of it.
Finally, there were the slopes of Everest’s vast, snow-clad Kangshung face, which at that point, wasn’t in full view.
One area of the face dropped away directly below the Col.
To the immediate left of that, there was a mighty spur, which ran all the way up to the South East ridge of Everest.
The rest of the face was obscured from sight by that spur. The lower slopes were concealed too.
So relieved were the climbers, that they hadn’t climbed the Eastern side of the Col. The thought of ascending those slopes sent a wave of fear over them.
Tearing their eyes away from the chilling sight, they walked back to the tents.
The following day, the team was going to head for the summit of Everest.
THE SOUTH SUMMIT
Early next morning, the team left camp and began to push for the top of Everest.
The first obstacle, was the South face. Compared to the South West and East faces, the South face was much smaller – reaching about two thousand feet in height. It was smaller, but very steep.
To climb it, the team had to climb a gully, which led to the South East ridge. It wasn’t too difficult to climb.
From that point on the ridge, the rest of the Kangshung face was in sight.
The lower terrain consisted of smaller spurs, separated by large gullies and the upper terrain of sheer glacial slopes and flutings.
Then there was the upper section of the North East ridge and the East ridge, which ran straight down to the Kangshung glacier.
For a moment, the climbers stared in sheer terror at the face, before going on.
The next stage of the climb was a series of slopes leading up to the South Summit.
Climbing those slopes wasn’t the least bit easy for the tired mountaineers.
Slower and slower the pace was going – slower due the increasing effects of altitude. The air was thinning, the cold increasing and the progress slowing.
Furthermore, the slopes were on the very edge of the Kangshung face. One false move there would send a climber straight to the glacier.
Fortunately however, the team managed to reach the South Summit.
THE FINAL CHALLENGE
Reaching the South Summit, was an outstanding achievement for the team.
But, the ascent of Everest was not over yet.
Beyond the South Summit, there was one final ridge.
That final ridge looked atrocious.
On one side, the South West face fell away to the Western Cwm. On the other side, there were ghastly, claw-like cornices projecting over the Kangshung face.
Some distance along the ridge, was the Hillary Step.
The thing was, the team had to ascend that ridge, in order to reach the main peak of Everest, which was hidden from view three or four hundred feet above.
No other way was there of reaching the top, no detours, no bypasses, nothing. The only route, was up that murderous ridge.
So the team left the South Summit and started off up the ridge, which proved to be just as tough as it looked.
The climbers were terrified beyond measure. They were terrified of either falling over seven thousand foot to the Western Cwm, or steping on a cornice plunging over nine thousand feet to the Kangshung glacier.
The fear of falling was of greater concern to them than the effects of altitude and lack of oxygen.
At one point, the ridge was so narrow, that they had to cling to it for dear life.
Fortunately, there were safety ropes, which the Sherpas had put in place all along the route.
After some while, the team reached the infamous Hillary Step. The step was positioned right on top of the Kangshung face and had a cornice clinging to it.
In mortal fear, the climbers grabbed the safety ropes and climbed the Step one at a time.
Beyond the step, the ridge broadened, but it didn’t make the going any easier for the team.
It was extremely cold and the air was ever so thin.
The climbers were going almost at a snail’s pace.
Every step was a mighty strain, every breath a tremendous struggle.
The effects of altitude were increasing too.
However, the team reached the top of Everest.
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