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  Ian and Andy Prentice Mount Everest 2004: Their personal stories

Final Dispatch: Well our final dispatches are finally being posted...

so, you have probably heard that things didn't quite go to plan on our summit bid. On a tragic night that left 5 people from 3 teams dead on our route we experienced the darker side of the worlds tallest mountain.

Before you read personal accounts of that night let me bring you up to speed with what happened pre-summit night. as said in the previous dispatch we were heading for ABC. Unfortunately when we got there we were met with bad news that our high altitude tents at 8300m had been damaged in the wind and it would be 2 days until new ones were in place ready for our summit attempt. already our weather window was getting smaller. we set off from ABC for the north col on the 16th May - everything was going great, the weather was warm and sunny although there was some signs of a change in weather in the clouds. we arrived at the north col feeling strong. about an hour after arriving at the north col Ian started to vomit. we don't think it was attitude be more likely something he had eaten. however, it did mean that he was very dehydrated and exhausted from sitting upright all night. he had also used some dex (used in this case as an anti sickness drug) - for this reason we thought it best to wait at the north col for an extra day to be sure it  wasn't altitude and it wasn't going to get worse. this had set us back yet another day. so we left for the 7750m camp on the 18th may. the route to 7750m wasn't technically demanding however every step we took was a new height record. when we got to approx 7500m we came over a rise on the ridge and climbed straight into gale force winds. most expeditions that had been climbing up the steady snow bank at the same time as us that day stopped there at 7500m fearing the wind would continue to worsen. we however carried on climbing off the snow bank onto rock. it was only a grade 2 - 3 scramble but at that altitude it certainly felt much harder. we arrived at our camp in the late afternoon, after passing many tents wishing that they could be ours. things were going well. we were tired but 'good to go' as the yanks say. next day we set off for 8300m - right into the death zone. mentally this was supposed to be a big day, but I think for most of us the summit was now the big day and this was just a stepping stone. the weather was terrible, strong winds, spindrift and snow battered us all day. it took us much longer to get to 8300 than expected - knowing that every minute it took us to reach 8300m was 1 less minutes rest before setting of for the summit at midnight the same day. when we finally reached 8250m Pemba Gylsing met us on route, he joked that we were to slow to reach the 8300m and would not be going for the summit that night and we should head back to 7750m and rest! no one really said anything - i guess everyone's thoughts were focussed on whether to listen to Pemba's advice or tell him to piss off. anyway turns out he was joking (so he says) although I personally believe that he meant it at first. when we finally got in the tent at 8300m we were all totally exhausted physically but mentally we were feeling good. one foot in front of the other for 12 - 18 hours was all that lay between us and the summit of Everest... we rested in the tent until midnight. none of really slept but just lay still contemplating the next few hours.

below are some personal accounts of what happened that night after leaving the tent for the summit.

Andy's Story: This is just another Everest story. It started on Sunday 16th May; we had done all our acclimatisation walks/climbs, gone low to allow body regeneration and repair and were back with vengeance for the summit. We climbed up to the north col in glorious sunshine, it looked like the satellite phone text forecasts we had received had been right, the weather was good. Then a big problem, Ian started throwing up for England - not good over 4 miles up! A desperate radio call to Doc John Mislow left Ian eating a cocktail of drugs, sat up bolt up right in the tent and on oxygen. It worked although the next morning Ian judged himself to weak to climb higher so an extra day was spent recovering at the col, it was no problem. We moved higher to 7700mts to a perfect camp site complete with snow field for drinking, Ian still felt rough but was positive about his recovery. We moved up again this time into the death zone 8300 - there are only 5 mountains higher in the world and we were camping! It took us ages but after settling on top of our sleeping bags in full climbing gear, harness, boots the lot, we rested and drank all the tang (squash) we could, each of us John Briggs, Ian Prentice, Garth Miller and myself all thinking about the biggest day of our lives, now only hours away. The plan was simple get up at 11pm and be out the tents by 12pm, climb up to the top of the north east ridge, traverse it, climb the three "steps" (Technical rock obstacles) safely, complete the Mushroom traverse, then the last snow ridge (not in that order) and then bask in the glory of the highest place on planet earth..... 12:25pm: Not bad as anybody who knows us knows we’re always late, we’re out of the tent, there's a snake of maybe 40 lights ahead of us already, after an hour of extreme effort, climbing with no style at all an emotional Ian comes to me "I can't go on" the sickness had got the better of him. "I've got to go back", ever since Mont Blanc several years ago we said we would never split up on a mountain, but now what? I did what all hard Everest climbers would do, started crying, 2 years of planning training and sacrifice was over, 500 vertical meters from the top of the world. I rang my girlfriend for advice she didn't answer... then of course my other brother Stuart, after 30 seconds of fact filling the answer came, go back it’s only a mountain this is life or death for Ian. I looked at Ian he knew straight away "no way, I’m going down with Loda” (Our Tibetan porter with promise who we were taking to the summit). For five minutes we cried and talked about the implications of this decision, on I went, myself, John Briggs, Garth Miller and Pemba Galsing (Nepalese Sherpa extraordinaire). I don't remember much of the climb but it was physically hard as just living is at that altitude. I gained the ridge with just enough light from my head lamp to see I was on a cornice standing in china hanging over Nepal over 5 miles up.... time to switch on or I won’t ever see this stuff in the light on the way back. “Where's John?” I asked Pemba, John catch us up he very fast came the answer, no he's only got a Tikka (small L.E.D head lamp), in my self pity I had climbed the whole route without even looking around for my mates, how bad am I first my own brother now this dam. In the distance I saw a small glow thank god it must be John, I shouted, it was, 10 minutes later John fell in a heap next to us, what no way! John was always the mountain goat of the group how could this be? I fed him a High 5 energy gel, his lips were blue and his eyes looked sunk as he explained he was using more and more energy to climb until he couldn't go on, after ten minutes of heavy breathing repaying his oxygen debt he heard piiiiiissssssstt, his hose from his regulator had dislodged - he was getting no oxygen! This had caused him to breath heavier and heavier as the cold air hit the back of his throat which had triggered a massive asthma attack as well, only his fitness had kept him alive I'm ok now lets go, what about Garth?

Garth had had problems with his oxygen set for days, it transpires as he was climbing the mask kept fouling his view. Whilst climbing this isn't good, causing him on one tricky bit to abseil back down and rip the mask off, on the next go, same thing, this time he hyperventilated causing a build up of carbon dioxide in the mask -  the out come, pure terror as he couldn't breathe.... the sense of self preservation prevailed he turned back. The party now of three, myself, John and Pemba headed for the first step. John turned to Pemba "am I going to slow?" yes came the answer, “I thought so I going back” (John replied), we all looked at each other, now what? I looked at John the oxygen thing had hit him hard take Pemba and get going, "no way you take him he knows the way to the summit" I knew that should have been the end of our summit bid, but how hard can the last few hundred meters be? A reluctant John and Pemba turned and disappeared. The North face now seemed like the angry side of the highest mountain in the world. I knew what to do, get my head down and summit as early as possible; this would give me the best chance of getting back in the morning typically the best weather for the last few days. It was only once on top did I realize I had just climbed the first step then in the distance I saw the second recognizable from miles away as an 80 feet obstacle to the summit, given as the reason for early summit failures I had special gloves, studied accounts of people who had climbed it, this to me was the last challenge if I could climb this on my own in the dark the summit would rightfully be mine. I could stand tall and tell the story with pride, off I went then a problem this traversing was actually quite difficult. A few times I found myself hanging on by my finger tips and crampon points with only a few feet of light - the drop might be 10 feet it might be 5000 feet! A lone climber, Italian (I think) once appeared and learnt from one such foray by choosing a different route my appeals for help went a hypoxic long way. I slowed down at last the second step, once at the bottom I decided to stash one of my 3ltr oxygen bottles - this would reduce the weight I had to climb with, the only problem was I didn't have any rope so I made a whole in the "cliff" and placed the bottle with every intension of retrieving it on the way back...To my surprise I heard voices behind me, an American couple (I think). By the time I had sorted my rucksack out (it’s tricky hanging on ropes with big gloves on if you drop it that's it!!!) they had disappeared up, my turn then the second step. I looked at the ropes carefully; the black and white one looked good. I hooked on my Jumar and 40 seconds later I was standing on a snow rock ledge looking at a ladder. I had been told of people who fell whilst trying to get from the ladder to the shelf to the right and how it’s 2 moves to get off it. I collected the black and white rope again and rung after rung up I went. Now at the very top I was holding a sort of rope extension, I stuck my foot out onto a 4inch lug hold and was standing on top of the second step, was that it, no way. As I rounded the corner there it was in the morning twilight the summit of Mount Everest. I now realized I had no idea where to go just because you can see the top it doesn't mean you can get there. I sat down with exhaustion. As my eyes grew accustomed to the growing light I could see a couple about 100mts in front of me great they know the way I thought. They climbed the third step slowly I could see the ropes blowing in the wind from just behind them, this wasn't good with no rope or climbing partner how was I going to "stick" to the snow slope? I'm not sure if they made it to the top, I retreated to some rocks for shelter and to rest then I remembered there was some South Africans I knew Chris, Mike and Aundray going for the summit I could wait for them. A lot of time elapsed I'm not sure how much because altitude is like that, in the distance I saw some head lights was it them? I walked back no small feat when I knew it would be back up hill to the summit. It wasn't them it was a Japanese group, an uncomfortable silence immediately took hold, there's only one reason a lone bloke 150 mtrs below the summit of Everest would approach and that's for help. I sat next to them, then I remembered I had been given a radio by Pemba as we parted. I got it out the batteries were frozen along with all my water, my camera, even my spare hat and gloves were rock hard! I started the conversation “can I use your radio....” “No what's wrong with yours?”, “batteries”, “we have spare.”  I looked at the group with full face masks and goggles it was going to be hard to infiltrate after all it could kill them, with new batteries in hand I thanked them and headed back towards the summit. I radioed Ian "I'm at the base of the summit pyramid! I can almost touch the top" I think I thought he would be pleased.... he wasn't. I can’t remember the conversation but it involved the kind of talk you would expect between two brothers one about to be blown form Everest to his death. Dan Mazur was in a Sherpa tent and overheard the conversation and added his twenty years of experience "come down it’s not worth it" Once again I retreated to some rocks and rang my girlfriend. Again I can't remember the conversation but she’s told me since I was crying (again s#*t) going on about how it was so close.... I think its called summit fever. Back at the second step, abseil, I know how to do this it just seems not quite right. Down the first pitch, I think I'll just rest here a bit and sleep.... maybe I should be getting back. It took another life time to decide to use the rope I was always going to use! Down I went straight past my oxygen bottle! There was no way I was going to climb back up for it fine or no fine! Now this traverse stuff, better rest first sleep...move again its getting pretty cold then, Andy we must go low. Pemba had climbed back on a one man rescue mission. In the two hours I had traveled only 150-200 mts and was in a pretty bad way. Having now not drunk for 6 hours, used countless calories and my nose had blocked depriving me of oxygen through my nasal canula, things weren't looking good. It used to be said you had a better chance of being rescued from the moon than the top of Everest this was now being tested! You can’t rescue people in the same way on Everest as on other mountains, no stretchers, no helicopters, you have to talk them into rescuing themselves only they can abseil and walk and climb. I fell in the tent at 8300mts. I have vague memories of Very MANLY tears being shed before being dragged down out of the death zone to 7700mts. This act of pure heroism by Pemba Galsing almost certainly saved my life. No other climber could’ve got there that fast and help with the rope and foot work with that dedication, knowing if I fell there was a good chance 24 crampon points would come crashing down on him, although I did notice I wasn't allowed my ice axe again! The journey down to ABC was very slow with me having to stop very, very frequently to rest, with the highlight being when I fell in a crevasse by the north col! I was roped luckily so just an inconvenience. It’s amazing how much trouble tired eyes and legs get you into in a place where on the day I nearly summated Mount Everest 14 people claimed to but 4 died trying to get down, a Japanese person and a Korean were just two of them.....I could of course claim to have summated; after all there are many disputed summit claims. My route description to other summiteers is complete except the lat 50-100mts of snow - not the hardest thing to make up. It was snowing so even if my camera hadn't frozen blank pictures prove little. I do feel very lucky to have climbed high on Everest and lived to tell the tale; this story is of course only part of the bigger story involving other dead climbers and other things which my family just isn’t ready for yet. Thank you for reading, Andrew Prentice.

Jon's Story: So what happened? Well we set off on summit day at about half 12 in the morning from the 8300M Hi-camp. Pemba was in the lead and somewhat concerned about the weather, the previous two days had been blue skies but today wasn't looking so promising. This may explain his uncompromising pace. After what was probably about an hour I found out from Andy that Ian had decided to turn around as he doubted that he could make the whole journey. This was a huge decision considering all it had taken to get to this point, so I went a short way down the trail to talk to Ian. After a brief exchange he had obviously made his mind up so we said our goodbyes.

In the darkness with only my LED head torch I don't think Pemba had realised that I had gone back.  I set off again following what were now distant flickers of light. On my own with out our guide progress was more difficult so I tried to up my pace, I was thinking about my spare oxygen bottle for the return trip which was in Pembas Pack.

On one rocky scramble I seemed to find myself slowing up, but I thought 'maybe it was just be the track steepening' ? A few minutes later, nope I'm definitely getting slower. Ok if I can just get to the summit ridge then I'll be fine, it levels off for a good bit and I can take it a bit easier then. A few minutes further on I was slowing even more. I started looking at the next rocky section on the trail which with my ebbing strength was not looking too promising. I started to realise, I am not going to make the summit at this rate. Come to that I don't know if I'm even going to make the ridge, and where are those reassuring lights that I'd been following? I hope I'm still on the right path. Ok now I'm getting scared of being alone in the dark and with it there was panic starting to rise. Something is wrong. Maybe my oxygen flow isn't high enough? I  broke the ice from my jacket zip and checked, 4 ltrs a minute, plenty. What about the pulse dose meter itself. (We'd been supplied new units with a manufacturing defect which meant that oxygen flow could be partially or fully restricted. Our units were faulty when we opened and checked them but we'd been fairly confident of our repair in base camp). There was no way I could open the unit up here.

At this moment there must of been a lull in the wind as I heard a dull
hissing sound. Snakes? unlikely, I turned around to see the end of my oxygen hose hanging in mid air. I flapped my arms around my back and finally managed to get a hold of it with my huge gloves. Not good, and reattaching it wasn't going to be easy. With each others help we'd taken an hour and a half to get kitted up before we set off. On queue, a half frozen grinning face burst into my small light radius. If I'd had the energy I have jumped at 'The Shining' Extra. The Sherpa from nowhere quickly understood the problem with my blue lipped self and promptly reattached the hose. With the Oxygen back on I began slowly returning to the land of the living. 15 mins later, and recovered enough to care about not being left behind, I set off again. Another half an hour and I'd made the summit ridge. No sight of my group, Pemba Andy and Garth. At least I was confident of the route now I was on the ridge. My oxygen starved paranoia was now in full retreat. The next live encounter was a young women who was sat babbling manically to two very  concerned looking Sherpas. The only direction they'd be taking her was down. There was two of them so if she cooperated she stood a good chance of getting back.

Further on I rounded a large boulder to find only Pemba and Andy. Apparently Garth had turned back as well, but in the darkness we'd missed each other on the way past. Having finally caught up with them I became aware of how slowly I was now going. I'd only caught up because  they had stopped for me.  It only took another ten minutes or so to realise I was now suffering an asthma attack and going far to slow to make the return trip. I'd had no signs of it at all until then, in fact quite the opposite. The clean mountain air had as usual kept my breathing perfect. The oxygen free steep sprint in the freezing air has obviously taken it's toll.

I'd seen and read a lot about 'Summit fever'. People who were consumed by a  Kamikaze approach to the climb, who heedless of their own safety and that of others, couldn't bring themselves to turn around. I wondered myself if in the thin atmosphere I might succumb to the same tunnel vision. I'm glad to say there was never a moments doubt and I needed no prompting from anyone else. Pemba simply agreed with my decision. Very disappointingly with less
than a few  hundred vertical meters to go down it was, and that was that.

The difficult part now was that we had one guide and two climbers going in opposite directions. After a debate that went round in circles a few times the decision was made that Pemba would support me back to the tent. No one was very comfortable with any of the options but the choice was made.

The walk back to the tent was painfully slow, but finally I arrived. Ian and Garth were pretty surprised to see me. I wasn't too interested in explaining why I'd returned so soon I just wanted my medication. Fortunately some of the High altitude medication that we had with us was also perfect for my asthma. Within half an hour of my double dose injection I was feeling greatly improved and able to think about other events unfolding on the mountain. We were unable to get in contact with Andy who was alone on the summit ridge. Now safely in the tent I was feeling a bit guilty that our guide hadn't gone with Andy.

A couple of  hours later the radio burst into life Andy was at the Summit pyramid less than a hundred meters from the top but unsure whether to continue. He was afraid that the wind was too strong and he may get blown off the top. There was a three way conversation including Dan at base camp about what best to do next. Everyone was trying to keep their cool and be rational  but the strain was very obvious in the voices. Eventually Andy said that he was going to discuss the situation with some Japanese climbers who were in the same dilemma. We then waited for confirmation on his decision, and waited. I think I'm right in saying that it was over an hour before Andy got back to us and much to our relief was on his way back. He'd waited at the base of the summit for a while hoping that the weather might change until he'd found himself nodding off to sleep. Eventually he'd had to start coming down but was extremely tired now. Pemba was listening to the conversation and agreed that he should go up and meet Andy on the way down, to give him any assistance he could. We listened intently for any radio
calls. After another couple of long hours we got the word that Pemba had found Andy (half asleep we heard later) and they were making their back. Pemba in his concern had covered what had taken Andy 8 hours, in only an hour and a half. Pemba Gelsing was from a family of Sherpas who were a cut above the rest, which is no small compliment. His brother was attempting the record from Base camp to the summit on the south side, at the same time as we were on the North.

Andy finally made it back to the high camp to what was a heartfelt reunion. Pemba then gave us the news that with all the snow that had fallen in the past 12 hours we were now in an Avalanche risk area and we needed to set off for the lower camp, we had an hour to rest. Garth had already set off for a lower camp as his oxygen was running low and he hadn't enough for another night at this altitude. Ian and myself were tired but nothing compared to Andy who was shattered. We set off again for the long walk down. The snow was now literally up to the thigh and in places drifting deeper. Any time that I felt tired I just took a look at Andy who was just shuffling along and just collapsing in the snow when it all got too much. When we did stop the surrounding Himalayas were dramatic enough to distract us from our fatigue. Ian took some more photos on the way down, the cameras seemed to be working I just hoped the film wouldn't be affected with the cold.  Andy measured it at minus 19 C in the tent at base camp, higher up on the mountain in the wind who knows? Hopefully all the photos would turn out.

The trip down had one last slip when Ian looked back to see Andy dangling off one of the safety lines above a crevasse he'd tried to fall in. Ian immediately tried to sprint back and help him out, but at this altitude and in the state we were in he stopped short and  started being sick with the sudden exertion. Once recovered enough he made a slower rescue. Where are your friends when you need them? well I'd gone ahead to make some tea and was enjoying a brew at the time. When we did make it back to base camp we
were all fantasizing about a week on a beach in Majorca.

Looking back now, a great experience and one I'd love to try again with the same team. If I had to give one piece of advice to anyone going on the trip it would be to take your own personal Sherpa. It really makes the trip much safer in so many ways and coming back is what it's all about. Talk to you soon and take care, Jon

With thanks to: Prentice Furniture, The Westons, Force Ten, Boiler care, Boreal, T & F Electronics, Comar Fluid and Power, Brookleigh Lanscapes, RAB, Wayfarer, M & M Clothing, J T Duncomb Builders, Hinckley Insurance, Industrial Manufacturing Services, Barry Hawkins Narrowboats, DMM, Esporta Warwickshire, Midland Sheet Metal


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