Expeditions to climb Everest this year are oversubscribed. – report.
Damn! For $40 000 I could have joined an expedition and had my own Sherpa.
Not that I hadn’t already climbed Everest. I seem to remember doing it in ’94. Or was it ’96?
It was that year when simply everybody was climbing it.
I remember reaching the summit. Oh, the noise! And the people!
I hadn’t really planned to climb. I was actually on my way back from our local hardware with a collapsible aluminium ladder to fix my gutters and just got swept along by the crowd.
Afterwards I found it difficult to understand why people climb Everest – apart from the fact that it’s there. There’s absolutely nothing to do when one is up there except freeze or fall off.
Once into the snowline I found the crowd had thinned so I plodded on following a line of people.
Accommodation was a problem. The base camp looked like a pop concert was taking place – Woodstock or something. So I pressed on to Camp 1. Same thing, except there was more nosebleed at that level and much more panting and you couldn’t see who was addressing you because their breath created a cumulus nimbus cloud totally obscuring them.
I pitched my tent next to a nice couple from Durban – Ernest and Molly Pemberton with their dog, Popsy. They said they’d never climbed Everest before, but they’d done Mount aux Sources from the Witsieshoek car park.
At Base Camp, they’d bumped into their neighbours who’d already summited with a bunch of noisy Japanese schoolchildren.
“They complained about the queues,” said Molly. “So I told them – if you can’t stand queues you shouldn’t be on Everest!”
During the night, a 120km/h wind brought the temperature down to minus 42 degrees. “Nippy, hey?” I quipped trying to raise people’s spirits. Ernest Pemberton laughed so hard that the cold contracted his teeth fillings which shrank and fell out.
Obviously he had to turn back because the queue at the dentist’s tent was half-way round the glacier. Molly said she’d press on with the dog.
Many climbers suffered frostbite and next day I saw several discarded fingers.
That’s one of the problems on Everest: the route up the South Col is littered with fingers and noses dating back to 1924 as well as discarded oxygen bottles and Kitkat wrappers.
You’d think people would pick up after themselves. Mind you, if your fingers fall off how can you?
Near the summit, the crowd thinned even more but, of course, the space available begins to narrow till eventually it comes to a point. That’s another problem with Everest: one constantly has to say “Excuse me”.
And then as I neared the summit the Indian bloody Army team came clomping down, followed by some Frenchmen who can be very pushy – rather like the Russian climbers who are rowdy with it.
There were Swiss, Czechs, Irish, Britons… There was a Chinese railway engineer using a theodolite. There was even a Zulu from Mtubatuba.
I got to the summit thanks to a Sherpa who said I could hang on to his belt with six Japanese ladies.
You should have seen the crowd!
I shouted “Sawubona!” to the guy from Mtubatuba and asked him, “Likuphi ithoyilethe?” (Where’s the toilet?)
He shrugged and said, “I’m a stranger here myself.”
He asked me to take his picture so I asked him to step back a bit.
Silly of me.
At the summit, seized by an inspiration, I uncollapsed my collapsible aluminium step ladder and sat on top of it. The throng fell silent. Many turned green with envy because they were standing at 8848 metres, but no man on this earth has climbed higher than me.