“Huge congrats to this guy for completing the Seven Summits with his ascent of Everest on the 22nd! I first met Wayne on Aconcagua in 2003 and we climbed together on Everest in 2005 turning back below the south Summit with the Gibbon boys. 14 years on, he again put his trust in me to get him to the top and this time he got the job done in fine form. Thanks for all the morning cappuccinos, team support, and crass conversation, Wayno. Enjoy your success and no I don’t forgive you for stealing my Woodford Reserve Bourbon! “

CTSS Owner Mike Hamill

The boss and I at Everest Basecamp saying farewells after a successful summit

The South Col hadn’t changed in the slightest since 2005; initial impressions revealing the same trash sitting in the same places, the same shredded tents half buried in the frozen terrain, and the same human crap piled behind each and every significant rock. I’m sure if I had looked hard enough a corpse or two would also have been discovered! The actual tented area was smaller than anticipated, surprising knowing the amount of climbers expected to be making summit attempts over the coming days. Soon enough the real estate landscape would change for the worse! We had rolled into camp later than planned due to the amateurish climber holdups, unfortunately reducing our pre-summit recovery to less than 4 hours. Whilst the teams expected to make summit attempts later this evening were few the CTSS plan was for us to be ready for an early 6-7pm departure, meaning we’d be descending as most others were still on the ascent. Bu would the South Col weather dictate otherwise?

The gibbon and I upon arriving at the South Col
CTSS Sherpas preparing camp

Surprisingly, even though we were in the Death Zone at 26,000 ft it didn’t feel too uncomfortable to be breathing without supplemental oxygen; although having it available for those moments after the struggle of taking a ‘long’ toilet was a huge relief. Our guides however encouraged us to get horizontal sucking on O’s when not taking the call of nature or off on high altitude photo shoots – it was rare to see any of the super human Sherpa’s without a bottle slung over their back, a hint to us how vital it was up here. However what we didn’t realise at this point was how valuable oxygen would be!

It was clear something was amiss due to the amount of time our Sherpas spent counting and recounting the bottles and making sure our flow rates were below a litre per minute. They were concerned! We soon found out that more than seventy of the CTSS life preserving bottles had gone AWOL, stolen in the few days they had been sitting at the South Col. I was selfishly pleased that we were the first team and didn’t have to be concerned with what had now become such a scarce resource!

Clients of the Sherpa guided expedition had 8 bottles available, our usage shown below. Summit day bottles were reconnected and used on the descent too.

    • fresh bottle when we arrived at camp 3 to last through the night
    • fresh bottle for the hike to the South Col (camp 4)
    • fresh bottle for night spent at South Col
    • fresh bottle when departing the South Col
    • fresh bottle at the balcony
    • fresh bottle at the south summit
    • contingency bottle for possible post-climb night at South Col
    • fresh bottle at the South Col for the descent to camp 2

Whilst having so many bottles was good for safety and something to fall back on if the shit hit the fan, it also provided warmth and an instant energy boost when the flow rate was cranked up. Also, the higher the flow rate the lower Everest’s summit would feel – why not make climbing to the top of the world feel like an easy jaunt up Kilimanjaro! Then for those with a gas-guzzling addiction and enough spare cash to buy a used Subaru Outback, CTSS had a pre-trip option of an additional 3 cylinders for $9000.

Unfortunately Top Out oxygen is the preferred system above 8000m, also making it a target for the thieves of the climbing world!

Spending the little time we had trying to replace some of the days spent energy wasn’t as easy as we’d hoped. Flat spots on the Col are limited and without inflatable mats the 3 of us under the adult supervision of Tenji Sherpa attempted to chill out, an obscene amount of goose down providing warmth but very little padding! We eagerly awaited the late afternoon weather forecast relayed up to us from Everest basecamp, giving or taking away the evenings go-ahead. Conditions outside our cocoon sounded ominous, the tent noise indicating the wind strength was potentially well above what was ideal.

The forecast eventually arrived calling a halt to the evenings proceedings; apparently 50km/h gusty conditions causing a brutal windchill are a little too risky. Tonight, instead of bagging this peak our bodies would be dying a slow death! Our Sherpas were in a worse situation, still waiting on tents, cooking equipment and gear coming up from lower camps.

Whilst one team did decide to venture up the mountain, a team of Millet clad Indians, we instead worked on calorie replacement, quenching thirst, and sucking on life-giving O’s. At 0.8 litres per minute we would probably survive the night! It’s little wonder that supplemental oxygen is necessary – at sea level there’s 20.9% of the stuff whereas on the summit of Everest it dwindles down to a mere 6.9%, two thirds less!

The night was a long one, made longer with the intermittently blowing wind tugging at any part of the tent not secured. My biggest concern during the night was not about the tent imploding or being blown into Tibet but the newly occurring pain that had established itself in the middle of my chest – surely this wasn’t an early warning sign of HAPE, or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema! But why weren’t there gargling sounds coming from the expected fluid build-up in my lungs? As daylight came and with it the urge to sit upright the pain mysteriously vanished. What it was I have no idea but each time horizontal came so did the annoying pain.

Not much room to maneuver for the 3 of us clad in down suits, complete with oxygen bottles, backpacks and triple boots

Other than the size of the tented area my recollection of the South Col was no different from 14 years prior, only this time we get the fun of an extra night in this sought after location. The day, just like the night, took hours to slowly go by. Watching the returning climbers from the previous night’s departure and their sloth like movements didn’t improve my stir crazy state of mind! Had they made the summit and should we have been up there with them? I do know that it would have been extremely cold in the windy conditions and I also know that they would have had no traffic jams and the summit to themselves. Just like being pissed about not tagging the Lhotse camp 3 on our second rotation (causing us to miss out on the mid May summit window) I was now feeling frustrated about not being amongst the climbers returning from a probable summit. It’s always easy to have this ‘should have’ and ‘if only’ attitude as a client!

To go along with that, watching the South Col swell in size as the other big expedition parties rolled in guaranteed that we were either going to have to leave mid-afternoon, summiting in the pitch black or become stuck in the world’s highest queues! How dare these other groups intrude on our summit bid!

By mid-afternoon we had received news that an early evening departure was looking likely. We already knew that Madison Mountaineering, IMG and a large Chinese team were leaving the South Col around 8pm and with the basecamp powers that be not wanting us trapped amongst that lot it was an easy call. There was no way we could spend another night at 26,000 ft whereas other teams still had that flexibility.

Finally our skipper confirmed that Team Tenji was moving out by 6pm!

Having spent most of the afternoon with inner boots and fresh socks in the sleeping bag with me it was nice to slide both feet into warm clothing – starting out with cold toes was not an option. I hadn’t bothered changing anything under the down suit from the previous day; my decision based on the fact that I usually don’t feel the cold and if I do I typically thaw out pretty quickly! This was the same hypoxic reasoning I had not to bother putting brand new unused, fully charged Hotronics foot warmers into my triple boots made for these kind of extremes. Just days before, Hamill had sent up the cabling for these by helicopter. I had thought them gimmicky and unnecessary and on D Day I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of fitting them. Hopefully five minutes of sloppiness wouldn’t bite me in the ass at the south summit.

South Col with upper reaches of Everest behind
CTSS camp in the Everest Death Zone

Unlike the end of May 2005 when we were forced to leave camp 4 in far-from-ideal conditions, on this occasion we were departing in fairly typical Everest weather; breezy and chilly but doable. The 3 of us had been introduced to our personal climbing Sherpas at camp 3 – these new Team Tenji members were each carrying, and were hopefully going to be swapping out our oxygen bottles at the balcony and south summit and basically making sure we didn’t do anything stupid. My guy was Sonam Jangbu, a prior Everest summiteer who had already been involved in significant load carrying up and down the mountain with clients gear. Sherpas are absolute rock stars who make us Westerners look like mere mortals and without whom we wouldn’t even get close to the summit! Whereas sometimes I found him impatient I definitely needed the extra encouragement every so often to actually put one foot in front of the other.

The route out of camp 4 follows an initially easy incline, perfect for a body having seen no activity in over 24 hours, before following a steep and sustained route up the Triangular Face, eventually running into the Balcony and the nights first oxygen bottle change at 27,500 ft. A turn to the left continues steeply up towards the South Summit – this section offers a decent amount of exposure, bringing the climber to a second oxygen bottle change at 28,700 ft. From the South Summit an extremely narrow cornice traverse leads to the next obstacle, now misleadingly known as the Hillary Step. Since the 2015 earthquake it’s been more of an inconvenience although still capable of causing major slowdowns. At sea level the final short section would take minutes but when well above 28,000 ft it becomes a step, three breaths, step, breaths, step, three breaths routine.

The huge area of the South Col, Everest out of picture to the left

An hour behind some of the other CTSS clients, the 6pm daylight departure felt uncomfortable and the thought of probably standing on the summit before sunrise frustrating – you don’t typically leave for the top of the world in blue skies with no headlight. Is this what it takes nowadays due to the masses? What was comfortable were the 7 of us in a line, mimicking the slow footsteps of Skipper Tenji as we made our way up the steep Triangular Face; unfortunately not lasting too long before he inherited a bunch of oxygen bottles when taking over from one of our unwell personal climbing Sherpas! With this new promotion could I lead our small conga line at a steady and sustainable pace?

Being the pace setters on all the acclimatization hikes and rotations it was a little surprising not to be making faster ground on the people ahead of us – were we moving too slow or was this pace ideal? Was the continual manoeuvring around fixed line anchors breaking a steady stride or allowing for a slightly longer rest? Even at snail speed the feet felt pretty good and the medium weight gloves were doing their job, the fingers a bit chilly at times but nothing that a good shake couldn’t fix. Heavyweight gloves would make clipping in and out with the jumar device and safety on the fixed lines far more cumbersome.

In the 14 years since last being on this same stretch of the mountain I recognized nothing, and was expecting the Balcony to be a larger more prominent setting. Eventually after more than 4 hours of plodding the brief rest stop was welcomed – Sonam wasted no time on swapping out my oxygen for a fresh bottle leaving me with the simple task of replacing calories. I’ve always found this hard at extreme altitude, something that’s very typical but also very vital. I managed a single Gu sachet and a sip of water, far too little but in the current hypoxic state no big deal to me!

From here on up it would all be about how I handled the intermittent mind games – this was almost new territory and the type of demons that cause quitting were beginning to mess with my head.

The route from the Balcony was pretty consistent with the previous 4 hours; beginning with a comfortable but often exposed incline, soon returning to a steep slog as it followed the Southeast Ridge. It wasn’t too long before a new personal altitude record was set, the terrain from now on up being unchartered territory – nothing else changed; the relentless routine just to put one foot in front of the other, breath, rest, repeat, then to spice things up throw in a fixed line rope change every so often. This required first unclipping the safety carabiner that was securely tied into my harness from one fixed line to another, then secondly releasing the jumar ascending device and moving that to the new fixed line – this way we were never detached from a rope. This was done without even thinking lower on the mountain but up in the death zone these steep sections have seen many a climber take a big catastrophic fall, the comatose hypoxic state messing with any hint of sound judgement!

Traffic jam from the Hillary Step almost to the summit
Sonam Jangbu, my summit day Sherpa high above the South Col

Somewhere after departing the Balcony I began to notice a strange, not cold, but tingling numbing feeling in my left foot. The lack of oxygen induced head-fuzz ensured that this wasn’t alarming, and that I just needed to do a bit of toe wriggling. The body otherwise was feeling knackered but warm! Still, I managed to keep putting one foot forward, soon realising that the trail of lights up ahead were disappearing over the top of a bump, that bump being the South Summit. Finally happy times. The South Summit was our epic view from camp 4 and now here we were standing at 28,700 ft; a small downhill and the final section leading to the just-out-of-view true summit some 300 ft above. In the excitement any thoughts of quitting were well and truly banished, and along with those thoughts any urge to eat or drink had gone too – although I did get a fresh oxygen bottle to devour! Ominously a few short lines had formed just up ahead of us, mostly around the infamous Hillary Step and more than likely our own team.

Little did we know at this time that these multi-person slowdowns would develop into something far more sinister!

Excitement, frustration and hypoxia were now in battle, an overwhelming desire to finish what was started some 7 weeks earlier. Standing around waiting hadn’t changed the feeling, or lack of, in my left foot and I still had no cause for concern, and the hands were functioning well with the occasional shake and movement of fingers into main part of gloves. Slowly we inched forward along the narrow and super exposed cornice traverse before making the relatively easy ascent of the snow covered ‘Step’ – take a fall in this area and it’s a heck of a long way down however you look at it. The finale followed a snow cornice a few feet off to the right, the steep gradient having diminished substantially; pure adrenaline was now the name of the game! The mass of 20-30 down covered climbers milling around up ahead bought a huge grin to my face, a tear to my eye, and the need to stop for a few minutes to take it all in.

Then finally there was no more up, nothing – this was the realm of jet aircraft and the ISS. Here I was with Team Tenji standing on top of the world at 29,035 ft; beat up and exhausted, elated and overwhelmed, happy and sad. Emotions were running high! Daybreak wasn’t too far away, a spectacular orange band in the distance marking the arrival of a new day – there was no way we were going anywhere until the dark skies became an early morning blue and sunset arrived. In every direction mountains were slowly coming to life, the likes of Makalu, Lhotse, Ama Dablam, Cho Oyu and Kanchenjunga littering the skyline.

Looking down on the South Col, the lower flanks of Lhotse to the right

I had to get at least one good summit selfie photo before Tenji decided it was time to begin our long descent. For this I needed access to the inner pocket of my down suit, something I soon discovered was far easier said than done. Casey Grom, one of the CTSS western guides had warned us not to zip up our suits, but to close the upper part using only the velcro that was typically part of the outer storm flap. Well dumbass here hadn’t thought about that when leaving the South Col 10 hours earlier so here I was on the summit of Everest unable to pull down on the frozen snot covered zipper whilst wearing gloves, and then how much of a great idea it would be to remove those gloves and try again. That didn’t work either, the zipper was stuck fast – also in the suits inner pockets were my warmer mittens with liner gloves for when I had uncomfortably cold hands, that moment being right now! But for now the hands could wait as it was far more important to be involved in Aussie Peter’s GoPro video (usually providing pretty good quality stills) with his intrepid team of climbers enjoying their summit moment. A third $50,000 attempt due to no summit photo would have been grounds for divorce I’m sure!

Either it had gone from dark to light extremely quickly or we had been up in the cold for a bit too long. Where were the tingling sensations indicating my left hand coming back to life and why was the skin strange to the touch? Oh well as long as it was useable for the next few hours then life was okay! We made our way down from the by now crowded summit totally unaware of what lay ahead – a line of climbers and Sherpas were pretty much static all the way through the most exposed sketchiest part of the descent, passing the Hillary Step and continuing on almost to the South Summit. These lines were going to make for an extremely slow down climb, a situation that my left hand and foot needed to realise how bad this could be for them! At least the head and desire for self-preservation were still firing on three out of four cylinders.

With the ascending climbers far outnumbering the few of us heading down it quickly became apparent that for us to make any kind of progress there was going to be a certain amount of risk taking. And so it was that instead of my safety carabiner being on the fixed lines it was attached to Sonam Jangbu, my climbing Sherpa now becoming the only protection I have! Looking back I have no idea why there were no thoughts of the potential outcome had he placed a foot wrong, leaving us both dangling down Tibets Kangshung Face from what appeared to be nothing more than thick washing line.

What began at the summit being a group of 6 soon turned into two, my guide and I managing to make a little more forward progress as we weaved in and out of the conga line – whilst most climbers were pretty much incoherent just leaning into the wall of snow and ice to their right some actually allowed us to pass. Just as long as Sonam clipped in with his safety before clipping out with his primary carabiner we would be relatively safe! Every once in a while people would yell up for those descending to stop and wait, a brainless call that warranted a zero flow-rate on their oxygen setup. The exposure off to our right was ridiculous; a few rocks to bounce off followed by a huge glissade down thousands of near vertical feet.

InReach conversation with Andrea during the summit bid

Me: So got 2 South Col in 7+ hrs, lots of traffic on Yellow Band & Geneva Spur. Windy & light snow here so we wait until 8 for change. U have a 4cast?

Wife: My forecast is clear w/ 40k winds so not watching it. So happy to hear from you. Be safe. Good luck! You can do this

Me: May b leaving @ 8 but depends on wind conditions! Out 4cast is 30-50k. Other team leaves @ 7.30! U have plans 2day? Is urs 40k wind all nite?

Wife: Tonight 25, tmr am 40. Tmr night 15. 22nd am 20. Work today. Did gym this am

Me: Thx. Will let you know if we go. Lips on fire from spicy ramens! We the 3 amigos in tent full of down! No room to move

Me: Spending nite in the death zone at 26000′, too windy to leave! Highest ever spent nite and typically not a good idea. Leave tmrw pm. Tell Strite but no FB

Wife: Shit caroline posted it so I did too. sorry. I deleted it. worried about you. Stay safe. I’ll tell Jeff

Me: Oh, guess it doesn’t matter then, feel free to put it back! Goin to be a long nite with oxygen mask on and tent being pummeled by wind!

Me: Good morning, spent day 3 of us in a down filled tent, mostly hot as hell in downsuit in down bag! Team that went up last nite summited! Leaving @ 6. Weather?

Wife: 21st night is 30, 22nd am is 25. That is great news on that team. Sounds like u needs to get going! So glad to get news from u

Me: Not bad! Should be on summit approx 4-4.30. Many other teams arrive at south Col today so busy night. We will hit traffic on way down instead of up

Wife: Good luck! Check in when you can. Stay safe. We are all rooting for you. You’ve got this!! Excited as hell

Me: Holy shit, this really is the top of the world and the final of my 7 Summit quest. So freakin happy!

Wife: Incredible! So happy for u. Cant wait to hear all about it. Please be careful. Where u r now?

Me: As is typical we rested a couple hours b4 continuing on down to C2. Btw I have 2 black frost bitten fingers on left hand, heading 2 Ktm tmrw by heli from C2

Wife: Ugh. Not what I wanted to hear. Sorry honey. Glad ur safe. Can I do anything?

Me: Fell on the yellow band and cut knuckles open, lot of pain last night, then mattress deflated and slept on rocks! At least I had O’s!!

Wife: So happy to hear from you! Yikes. When do u leave? Hope u can call from Kathmandu. Worried about you

Me: They won’t let me walk from C2 after seeing couple of frost bitten toes this am! So pissed as want to finish this journey! Some turned around b4 summit today

Within a couple of hours we had pushed, shoved and precariously stepped passed the masses on what would become the busiest day in Everest’s climbing history. The day was still far from over but once we were beyond the South Summit it was all steep snow and ice, nothing technical just a long belay1 or rope arm-wrap. Not the smartest idea due to fatigue and hypoxia but using just a lazy arm-wrap got my guide and I to the Balcony in no time, the final leg continuing down the same steep terrain to the South Col. Seeing the tents come into view from the Balcony and then taking the final steps into camp felt pretty exhilarating. It was finally time to assess the hand damage, the foot still causing no reason for concern!

It had taken over 10 hours to reach the top of the world and not much more than 4 to fight through the crowds and make it back down – the rest of Team Tenji pulled into the South Col some 2 hours later! My left hand had been fully cooperative but not entirely happy for the descent and later I’d come to realise that my left foot had felt similar since well before the summit. Back at the South Col most of my fingers felt waxy to the touch and a couple of them were already discoloured, not a sight I wanted to see. Tendi had swung by to give big summit congratulations followed by a quick frostbite synopsis – I instantly dismissed his comment about potentially taking a helicopter from camp 2 back to Kathmandu!

Just like back in 2005 the plan was to crash out for a couple of hours before making a move from camp 4 all the way back to camp 2. There was absolutely no reason to feel excited about this additional huge descent of close to 5,000 ft, similarly nothing made me want to stay in the Death Zone for another night on O’s! Lacking even a hint of enthusiasm it took almost 3 hours to be in a position to move on out; packing sleeping bag into its stuff sack – hard work, deflating mat – hard work, everything was hard work, and all whilst having the constant urge to go for a final high altitude crap. Sonam was eager to get the heck out and had no problem cranking my oxygen flow up to facilitate this. When we finally did get a move on the first few steps across the rocky tundra of the South Col had me concerned as to whether or not I’d even make it back down at all.

Sonam Jangbu descending to camp 4
Peter, Wayne, Richard & Tenji after summiting
Posing at camp 2 after summiting

The pack was heavier than it had been at any point so far, steps were clumsy at best, and the oxygen flow had very little room for improvement. I already had vague thoughts in my fuzzy mind that it would be very easy to sit down and sleep for…. ever! The Col was soon behind me followed by the Geneva Spur and Lhotse high camp – seeing the recently dead corpse that looked like it had been thrown from one of the tents, landing feet from the trail kept me somewhat motivated. Continuing on after a clumsy fall on the rocky Yellow Band the rest stops seemed to become more frequent, even Sonam ceased to complain when I decided not to move for minutes at a time! At some point during the descent it was time to crank the O’s up to max and finally breathe like the climbers who had the luxury of running 5 ltrs/min2 continuously.

Camp 3 halfway up the Lhotse Face came and went and so the steep descent continued. Due to the time taken to use an ATC descending device on the fixed lines it was far quicker to just wrap the rope around my arm, hence creating the necessary friction to prevent serious freefall. This is also the method that many of the Everest corpses probably used on their descents! I was beginning to get some level of self-preservation as the distant tents of camp 2 came into view, wrapping the rope just a little more securely and holding it a little tighter – then suddenly I was finally able to unclip from the fixed lines at the bergschrund separating the Lhotse Face from the Western Cwm. The terrain was now almost flat but with extremely heavy legs and pack this final thirty minutes felt like a 45° uphill incline.

With just one more clumsy fall under my belt camp 2 eventually arrived, feelings of both ecstasy and exhaustion running through an utterly spent body. Other than oxygen cylinder changes I had been 100% self-sufficient up until this point – now it was time to let the guys still awaiting their summit bid remove crampons, backpack and harness for me! It was also time to let Tommi and Casey, the western guides who were far more concerned than me, tend to any extremity damage that may be going on. The general consensus was that the fingers on my left hand were frostbitten to some degree and that I should keep them protected from further damage, the left foot and toes currently being of no concern for me to even mention to the guides. However, this changed the following morning!

May 23rd at Camp 2
May 23rd at Camp 2
June 1st before wound clinic
June 1st before wound clinic
June 3rd after wound clinic
June 3rd after wound clinic
June 28th in Chamonix
June 3rd after wound clinic

The night was a shitty one and the day continued in the same vein; my inflatable mattress deciding to deflate providing a luxurious back stabbing surface, then Casey wanting to check out the toes before beginning the final walk back to basecamp. Overnight they had gone from feeling strange but looking almost normal to their new lighter shade of purple, the consequences sounding very much like a helicopter would be coming to whisk me off to Kathmandu! I didn’t want to leave this way, so wanting the rescue insurance company to decline it. Initially it was a huge problem not to be walking down this mountain, my mindset adamant that I needed to finish this journey – hours later accepting the fact that this was serious and as I’d walked from camp 2 down to basecamp around 8 times in the two trips there would definitely not be an asterisk against my name!

And so it was that I bid Team Tenji a safe hike and jumped in a helicopter on a 4 minute $10,000 ride following the spectacular Western Cwm and Khumbu Icefall back to basecamp. I barely had time to collect my already packed duffels and say farewell to Hamill before continuing on to Lukla and eventually Kathmandu where an ambulance had just arrived for the transfer to Ciwec Hospital Travel Center.

Instead of being out celebrating with my team mates I got to enjoy 5 days of 5 hours a day laying in Intensive Care being pumped full of some treatment that may help the affected fingers and toes remain attached to the rest of my body! …and to think I was prepared to forfeit far more than that not to fail to summit yet again 🙂

Summit Day
South Col to Balconygain: 1,562 ft, altitude: 27,500 ft, hiking time: 4:30
Balcony to South Summitgain: 1,200 ft, altitude: 28,700 ft, hiking time: 4:15
South Summit to Summitgain: 335 ft, altitude: 29,035 ft, hiking time: 1:45
Summit to South Colloss: 3,097 ft, altitude: 25,938 ft, hiking time: 4:30
South Col to C2loss: 4,552 ft, altitude: 21,386 ft, hiking time: 5:00ish


1: protection from falling of a roped climber by passing the rope through, or around, any type of friction enhancing belay device. Before belay devices were invented, the rope was simply passed around the belayer’s hips to create friction
2: flow rate of the Top Out oxygen setup in litres per minute

April 3rd – May 23rd 2019


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