By: Grant Rawlinson
In the first issue of EX, Grant ‘Axe’ Rawlinson described his battle with bloodied lungs and frostbitten hands in his attempt to reach the summit of Everest. After being forced to turn around just 500m from the top Axe returned this year determined to stand on the world’s highest peak. Here’s how Axe got on, in his own words:
In April and May 2011 I made an attempt to fulfil a lifelong dream by climbing the North Ridge of Everest located in Tibet. The traditional route on Everest is from the South side of the mountain located in Nepal. This has seen serious problems with over crowding, especially this year, hence I opted for a less popular route. The North Ridge is colder and windier, has a lower success rate and a higher death toll than the South side, however I felt it was a better option for me due to the fewer people on the route.
I had a hard expedition in 2011 where I developed High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (H.A.P.E), tooth abscesses and food poisoning before recovering enough to make a summit attempt late in the climbing season. The calm weather we so desperately required for our summit attempt did not come however and I turned back at 8350m, 500m below the summit of the world with freezing hands in horrific winds.
It took me a few months to get over the expedition and the failure when I got home. I had put so much time, effort and money into following my dream that it was very hard not to feel depressed. I thought long and hard if I really wanted to go back and try and again. What if I failed again? How would I handle that?
After a great deal of thought I finally made the decision to return to Everest. In April and May I returned to Tibet and began the long process of acclimatising my body slowly to the higher altitudes. After 5 weeks on the mountain we were finally acclimatised and had our camps stocked with oxygen and other supplies. We were ready to make a push for the summit. We just needed that lucky break with the weather. The weather plays such a key part of climbing Everest. There is only a very few days of the year when the jetstream winds move off the mountain for a day or two and allow climbers to sneak up to the summit and back down again safely.
We studied the weather forecast for days and finally spotted a possible summit window around the 19th May. After a hard 4 days solid climbing all the way from basecamp up to Camp 3, the highest campsite in the world at 8300m, we were in position to make a push for the summit. I rested in the tent breathing oxygen all afternoon until 11:30 PM that night when I left together with Pasang Nima Sherpa and we began our climb along the infamous North East Ridge to the summit of the world. The North East Ridge is the highest ridge traverse in the world. It is considered as one the great feats of human endurance to successfully negotiate the ridge.
Wearing a full down suit, triple insulated overboots, crampons, oxygen mask and bottle and three layers of gloves, I felt clumsy as I carefully picked my way along the ridge in the freezing night by the light of my torch. The exposure is tremendous, if you make a mistake here and take a fall you will go all the way 3000m down to the Rongbuk Glacier far below you. I passed the bodies of 6 dead climbers as I slowly worked my way higher up the mountain. At 7:10AM (Nepal time) I finally took the remaining few steps to the summit of the world. It was with immense relief that I put my pack down and took out my sponsors JOHN FOORD and UFIT’s Flag’s to take a photo. To know I had finally repaid their faith and trust in me was hugely rewarding.
Getting to the top of any mountain is only halfway. 80% of the accidents occur on the descent as climbers get exhausted, run out of oxygen and begin to make mistakes. I was very careful on the way down. Unfortunately that day two other climbers on the North Ridge were not so lucky. One ran out of oxygen, and one fell and broke his leg. They both passed away. The North East Ridge is so exposed and steep that it is impossible for any person to help another down who is incapacitated. It was a grim reminder of what happens if you make a mistake.
I finally made it back to our high camp at 12:00PM then over the next 3 days all the way back to basecamp.
My climb was in support of the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust. An organisation which saved my sisters life after a horrific car accident in February in New Zealand. For a donation to this charity I give speaking and slide show presentations on my Everest experiences and the lessons I have learnt along the way. Please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange.