My name is David Tait - I'm an NSPCC Trustee and 'charity mountaineer' having now successfully climbed Mount Everest four times - in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011. I climb to raise both awareness and money for the many violated kids - one of whom was I. This is my first of many dispatches that will accompany my effort to summit for the fifth time. I hope you follow along, find it interesting, and spread the word. There are many children in our society who know only too well that monsters truly do exist.
Dispatch 18, C3 [7500m] to BC via C2 [6400m] - Part 2.
The tent floor sloped - unfortunately, towards me. Throughout the incredibly long sleepless night my tent-mate succumbed to the draw of gravity, gradually adding his substantial weight to both the sleeping bag and down-suit that insulated me from the extremely cold temperatures within our tiny nylon cocoon.
I slept wearing every single piece of clothing I had hauled up from C2, conscious, as I was from painful past experience, just how hideous the night would be as ones body desperately tries to marry your deficient blood chemistry, the lack of ambient oxygen and the inherent deep-cold.
As the last of the sun's warmth had ebbed away, my little gas stove had roared [to little effect], finally delivering me a semi-warmed "boil in the bag" Thai Chicken Curry with Rice. Much of my willpower had been expended simply deciding to try and eat this "treat". Altitude and appetite make alien bedfellows. Ten minutes of noisy boil later, I tore open the top of the silver sachet, peered inside and was struck by just how much the meal looked as if it head been eaten, digested and excreted once before. However, it did smell reasonable. My very nauseous tent-mate disagreed - strenuously. He covered his mouth and nose as I forced the fuel down my throat, making a great show of swallowing another anti-nausea pill, and declined my kind offer of a heaped spoonful.
As dark swallowed our precarious camp and the temperature plummeted I wrapped myself every ounce of clothing, turned on my battery boot warmers [inside my sleeping bag], turned on my sat-phone [always praying for an unexpected text], typed a message to Vanessa at home, pulled any electronics I wanted to survive another day inside the nylon folds and closed my eyes.
Suddenly, flashes of headlamps penetrated the tent walls and the ever-frantic chatter of Nepalese could be heard. I glanced at my watch - 12:30am - I had been asleep 5 ½ hours. I groaned inwardly, aware that I had been very lucky so far, but the prospect of falling back to sleep was distant. Sherpa traffic had been scheduled and expected for 3am as some of these workhorses set off to attempt Lhotse rope fixing, but midnight had surprised. It was only in the morning that we discovered the death in his sleep of a 37-year-old Sherpa - the cause of the commotion.
At 5am the frigid camp eased itself into life. All those destined to descend this morning hurriedly dressed, re-stored their sleeping bags, strapped on crampons and gingerly emerged from their very crispy tents into a -30 degree breeze. As the rest of the team readied themselves I set off solo, clipping into one of the two lines that ran the length of the face, wrapping the rope 3 times around my right arm, leaning forward and beginning the descent.
With my crampons struggling for purchase on the blue ice I arm-wrapped from rope junction to rope junction, firstly passing "lower camp 3" [the first tents I had passed on my ascent the previous day] and eventually reaching the Bergschrund at the foot of the giant ice wall. I swam against the single-file tide of ascending American climbers to cross the chasm separating the Lhotse face from the Cym - a little uncompromisingly.
I was at the bottom of the "fixed ropes" and dutifully reported as such over the radio. However, my fingers, especially those on my right hand, were deep cold - I couldn't feel anything, not even that they were cold. I have an acknowledged circulatory problem, specific to this hand, called Reynaud's disease - an issue that will preclude me from ever climbing Everest without supplemental oxygen, unless I wish to return with stumps for digits.
I wandered off towards a distant C2, trying to shake life into my hand and praying the emerging sun will have the desired warming effect. As I walked back into camp if felt the rebirth of my hand, the pain as my fingers coughed into life completely excruciating. For five minutes I sat alone on a rock curled over my hand, teeth clenched waiting for the agony to abate. My right index finger is now swollen and blistered - a harsh warning of what awaits me unless I can keep my right hand warm come summit day.
Finally the whole team returned, lunch was consumed [with much effort] and the remainder of the afternoon squandered. I loaded my pack for the early morning descent to BC then, still wearing my down suit, retired to my corner in the mess-tent, read a few chapters on my Kindle and, for the first time this expedition, watched a harrowing movie called "End of Watch" stored on my mini iPad. Three hours painlessly discarded. I can recommend the movie!
My watch screamed 4am. I sat bolt upright, unzipped my sleeping bag and because I had gone to sleep fully dressed, simply reached for the boots I had been using as a pillow. I was almost good to go for the Icefall descent to BC. By 5am and after a slurped cup of steaming coffee I was once again on the move, crampons clutched in my hand, rock hopping the 100m to the snow of "crampon-point". However, my confidence once again got the better of me and as my boot touched a small pool of ice I slammed down on my back, but not before I had thrust out my right arm to break my fall. My very heavy pack, containing all my communications equipment took the brunt of the impact, itself causing me much angst, but not before I felt something expire deep within my very cold shoulder. No long term issues, but once again so close to disaster.
An hour later we trudged past a dismal C1 and with a certain degree of mental hesitancy, re-entered the Khumbu Icefall - now moving as fast as my legs and lungs would allow. With acute apprehension, especially passing the remnants of the dreadful avalanche that swallowed me; we soldiered on, eventually emerging into the morning sunlight at crampon point - the very periphery of BC. 3 ½ hours from C2 to BC.
I now sit in the comparatively luxurious Pod at BC typing this dispatch. The team has not only vacated the mountain because of the forecasted very high winds - this descent is a formal part of the acclimatization schedule. However there was an outside chance that I would circumvent this format and snatch an early summit. However, owing to the gales and the fact that the ropes have yet to be fixed from South Col [C4] to the summit it was not to be. Hence my return to BC with the remainder of the team.
It now seems likely that the rope fixing, this year "politically" denied to Westerners, despite being led by my old friend Phurba, will be executed on the 10th [ish], and that there is the faintest of summit windows on or around the 13th. This seems my best shot, but each day's forecast changes, sometimes for the worst, sometimes for the better. The bottom line is my fitness has thankfully bought me the credibility to at least be considered for a more vague opportunity. One has to be able to operate at circa "Sherpa speed" to make use of such an opportunity - otherwise the Sherpas are themselves put at risk.
Luck, timing, weather and a bold approach will win the day. The only things I can control are my own legs and mind. If the weather window solidifies I will be expected to leave BC soon - my rest at BC, although very welcome will come to an abrupt halt.
I have a very important flag to get to the summit.
PS: Please allow me to remind the world of why I am here once again climbing this huge, hostile rock. The NSPCC helps many children to turn away from oblivion and attempt the painful rebuilding of their lives. I was one such child - I stepped away from the "edge", literally, and tried to retrieve my life from the jaws of a childhood sexual abuse. With the NSPCC's help I, and many others, wouldn't have suffered as much. There was much pain and misery - unnecessary misery.
You can help. I am here to raise awareness and hence funds - your help is needed and very much appreciated.