On May 12, 2016, at 8:24am I reached the summit of Mount Everest for the 6th time. It was the perfect day for climbing to the highest point on the planet: no wind or high clouds, not too many people on the mountain or dangerous conditions on the route. When I took the last few steps to the summit I had tears in my eyes that quickly froze to my eyelashes. After giving a hug to Pasang Rita Sherpa, my climbing partner, and congratulating each other, I removed my backpack and took out The Live Love Laugh Foundation’s banner that was rolled inside and had been with me every single day for more than two months. We had reached our goal: climbing to the summit of Mount Everest for mental health awareness.
When I planned this expedition, one of my goals was to make an attempt to climb to the summit without supplemental oxygen, something I’d never tried before. That meant spending more time acclimatizing, climbing all the way to the South Col at 8,000m to get ready and also to go later in the season to try to go during the best and relatively warmer weather (perhaps -25º instead of -35ºC). That would only happen by the end of May and my original plan was to climb late. But during the fist days of May I had to cut short my second rotation after just two days because of high winds. The wind also affected the rope fixing team and they were forced to turn around before the South Col. After so many years spent climbing Everest I knew that being patient and adapting are some of the keys to a successful climb and that’s exactly what I did. I found myself back at my base camp on May 3rd.
Dr. Nima Namgyal Sherpa, our base camp manager was one of the people coordinating the rope team’s movements up and down the mountain. Nanga Dorjee, the leader of the Sherpas working with Asian Trekking, was sending his team to get the camps ready. I met with both of them every day to keep track of the progress. The third person that was essential to our success this season was Michael Fagin who, bases halfway around the world, provided the extremely accurate weather forecasts that I used to make decisions about when to climb.
While I was recovering at base camp on May 4th, two things happened. The Sherpas finally reached camp 4 at the South Col and the weather reports started showing much lower than usual wind speeds between May 9 and 12. The jet stream would be away from the mountain. They showed a significant increase starting on the 13th. I was still missing one rotation to the South Col to feel comfortable enough to try climbing without oxygen. But the weather forecast was just too good to ignore. And it really seemed like the Sherpa would make an effort to reach the summit on the 11th of May. One of the biggest lessons I’d learned on Everest on 2011 is to try to avoid being stuck with a lot of people going to summit on the same day. That year I decided to turn around because of a massive traffic jam below the Balcony. I promised myself that would never happen to me again. And it seemed like nobody else was aiming for the 12th of May since there was no certainty that the Sherpas would reach the summit on May 11. There had been delays before. It was a gamble. But I decided to put my trust on the Sherpa.
On May 6th I packed once again but this time I got everything I need to reach the summit that wasn’t already at camp 2: my down mittens, high altitude boots, down suit, the banner and my oxygen mask. That’s right. After debating this issue a lot, and I mean hours and hours thinking about it, I decided the only safe way to go for an early summit was by using supplemental oxygen. What tipped the scale in favor of going with oxygen was that my main goal still was bringing The Live Love Laugh Foundation’s banner to the summit of Everest to raise awareness about mental health. Going early, with no crowds and using supplemental oxygen would give me the best chance to achieve this goal. The new plan was to climb up to camp 2, keep track of the Sherpa’s progress and the weather for May 12th, and if everything still looked good, move up to camp 3 on the 10th, camp 4 on the 11th and then to the summit.
At 2:30am on May 7, climbing with Pa Rita Sherpa, we did a final puja at base camp and left to climb the Khumbu Ice Fall one more time.