Report: May 20th, 2004. Mount
Everest Base Camp, 5,300 meters
It's been exactly two months
and two days since I don't feel the hands of my baby Iñaki on my face or hear
It's been exactly two months
and two days since I don't touch the warm skin of my wife Cristina.
It's been exactly two months
and two days since I saw the black eyes of my baby shine behind the door, his
mom held him tight and told him with tears who was his dad and where he would
go for two months or more... my baby was six months old.
Four days ago dry air without
oxygen burned my lungs, I had been fighting for thirteen hours against
altitude, each muscle of the body suffered because of the lack of oxygen, the
terrain was not moving but however my mind forced me to make one step more
after 12 inhalations ... with each step I was closer to the pain of the
passionate quest and I was farther from conformism and normality... I was at
8,700 meters of altitude.
With each step I saw the
black eyes of my son Iñaki and his mother Cristina shine far away...
In an almost inaudible
whisper, whit the exhalation of my hurting lungs I heard my soul saying:
"Cristi, my son, I am here
for you both, I don't have anything to give you but my example; my body burns
and my mind stings, but here I am, trying to climb without oxygen, just as I
said when leaving Mexico, WITHOUT OXYGEN, I am very scared and it hurts a lot,
God, please give me strength to show my family what it is like to be a
congruent and honorable man..."
My lungs burn!!!
After all, what else can a
sportsman have?... honor, congruency... and the motivation?... passion.
Having reached almost 8,000
meters in the process of acclimatization on May 5th, I went down to Base Camp
practically destroyed, the friends from the other expeditions, one by one
insisted on how bad and wasted I looked, and they meant no harm, really the
ascent up to 7,850 meters had consumed me. I was tired and above all,
worried, I didn't know if I would have time to recover from such an effort, I
had spun the roulette and there was no way back. To recover completely I
would need at least five days, without ascending.
On May 6th I went down to
Base Camp and on the 7th I was very quiet in my tent, I went out to eat but
basically I was sleeping.
On the 8th I decided to go
down to rest in Dingboche at 4,300 meters of altitude, there, with more
oxygen, without a doubt my body would mend better. The descent from Base Camp
took us five hours.
On May 9th I woke up with
less laziness than in Base Camp and feeling definitively the benefits of a
lower altitude and better food. The previous night I had covered my back and
chest with ointments to relieve swelling, I had an injury in one muscle in the
chest and it hurt each time I inhaled. I had massaged my hurting legs and
applied ointments on the injured muscles of my right leg... I really was in
I had decided to spend at
least three days and four nights in Dingboche.
We had breakfast in the diner
of our rustic hotel and together with Libretón I decided to take a walk of 30
minutes to move my blood along the legs, that way I would pull some of the
lactic acid crystals that had formed because of the lack of oxygen.
While going down the town's
main street, I found the Greek group who had also came down to rest, they were
taking the sun and drinking tea on their hotel's terrace. Luis and I
approached to say hello and they quickly invited us to sit and chat. While we
were drinking a cup of tea with milk after another, Spiros, the organizer and
chief of the Greeks got a radio call, it was Peter Athans from Base Camp, and
he said the weather had changed suddenly, the 15th looked good to attack the
summit, it was imperative to climb back immediately. They also had came down
on the previous day, but they had came down because they were bored to wait at
Base Camp, and since their ascent would be with bottled oxygen from 7,400
meters, they had finished their acclimatization a long time before us. Spiros
looked at me and said:
"We leave early tomorrow, we
want to take advantage of the window on the 15th to attack the summit."
I looked at him like looking
to infinity juggling with logistics in my mind...
"day 10 in Base Camp, day 11
to Camp 2, day 12 resting in Camp 2, day 13 to Camp 3, day 14 to camp 4 and
day 15 to the summit... shit!, say no more, there are no more days to rest!!"
"Say no more, Spiros, we are
also going up tomorrow... thanks for the information, see you tomorrow on the
Libretón and I went back to
our hotel to tell Alejandro, Martin and Richard that we had to climb the next
On May 10th we started our
ascent to Base Camp, I wasn't completely recovered, so I decided to walk as
slow as possible. We stopped for breakfast in Lobuche and then we had some
soup in Gorakshep. After six hours of walking very slow, we arrived to Base
Camp. Shortly before we got to Base Camp I met Peter Athans and he told me
that on the new weather forecast, the 16 looked better than the 15th.
"Hooray" -I thought- "at
least I would have one more day to rest at Base Camp"
I immediately connected to
Internet to confirm what Athans had said; indeed, the 16th looked like a
magnificent day to attach the summit of Mount Everest.
I gathered the group and
explained to the detail the weather forecast and the plan to take:
On day 11 we would rest at
On day 12 we would climb from
Base Camp to Camp 2.
On day 13 we would rest at
On day 14 we would climb to
On day 15 we would climb to
Camp 4 and that same day at 10 in the evening we would start the ascent to the
Each climber would ascend
along with a Sherpa.
Alejandro with Ang Khami
Luis with Pasang
Martin with Namgya
Richard with Mhan Badhur
Tom and I with Da Nima
I looked at them and I found
with five couple of eyes wide open like plates... they were mute... scared the
shit out of them!
And then they exploded with
"Who's carrying my oxygen?, I
want to leave without oxygen but I will use it later, what should I do?, what
happens if I can't?, what if I can?, how many bottles do I need to sleep? How
many do I need to climb?, what happens if I climb with oxygen and I run out?,
what happens if I start without oxygen and then I feel sick?, can the Sherpa
carry my bottles?"
"Hey, hey, calm down, go
slowly, we had agreed that all of us are going without oxygen, except for
Luis, --Luis had approached me in private in Dingboche and had asked for my
advice about climbing with or without oxygen, after seeing his performance
along the expedition, I told him that definitively, his only chance to step on
the summit was using oxygen- I propose than for now we stick to that plan:
Everybody but Luis are going without oxygen, and if once you arrive in Camp 4
you feel sick, then you can use oxygen, after all, you all have oxygen up
there but me".
On May 11th we rested in Base
Camp, each one immersed in their own particular fears and doubts, I feared
that I would not recover at all, I felt much better than the day when I went
down from 7,850 meters, but I still had my doubts about my recovery. It had
only been four days since the day I had came back to Base Camp... now is when
I would prove if the long months of training had worked...
On May 12th we got up early
like every day when we climbed to Camp 2; breakfast at 4:30 in the morning to
start walking at 5:30. To get up so early, with the characteristic cold of
this altitude would had been an extra effort for me, in spite of having put on
the clothes I would use for climbing on the previous night (so I would not
have to change clothes in those inhuman hours), to put on the boots with cold
hands, to feel the ice falling on the face from the walls of the tent
(condensation that freezes during the night) and in essence to leave the
shelter of the warm sleeping bag and the tent always have been accomplished
with superhuman efforts and with almost inquisitional questioning about the
value of having chosen a profession so undeniably fit for a lunatic
I was as usual the last one
to abandon the warmth of the diner.
While making the first steps
on the Khumbu icefall, I immediately knew that something had changed in my
condition on the previous night, I don't know if it was motivation, illusion
or the many delicate care I had supplied to my body during the last four days,
but that day of May 12th, my body was feeling strong again, although the pain
of the injured muscles on my chest and thorax still burned hard with each
inhalation, the general feeling was of renovation, the legs answered quickly
and without pain, breathing was slow and rhythmic as I advanced on the blocks
of ice, time seemed to go by without hurting my performance that day. I had
definitively recovered. As for the disgusting pain I felt each time I
breathed, I decided to use the oldest and most efficient method against
inevitable aches: resignation and strength.
To be continued...
Translated from Spanish by