Andy Kirkpatrick – Everest and Sucking on the barrel

Friday 25th May 2012

For some reason I keep getting journalists – print, radio and TV – ringing me up and wanting my opinion on Everest – a mountain I’ve never climbed on a continent I’ve never visited. I’d like to believe this is due to my position as a world class sounding board for the opinions of climbers, but really I put it down to a healthy google ranking and a website with my email address at the top.

Never the less:

Every time someone dies my mobile rings.

Every time there’s another stunt my email pings.

Every time someone find a pair of Malloy’s old underpants I’m asked what this means for world mountaineering.

My stock answer is to point out that I’m a climber and that Everest isn’t a climb, but a walk. This usually gets the person at the other end a bit confused and flustered as they check their notes. “Yes” I usually continue “If you have to step over a dead body half way up then it’s classed as walk. On real climbs the bodies fall to the bottom”.

“What do you think about the recent deaths” they continue, ignoring what I’ve just said, their pen at the ready thinking that one more quote and they can file their copy.

“Oh dying is great – it’s what it’s all about” I tell them “it makes it all so much better when you don’t”. I explain the fact that every single summiteer will stress how ‘undead’ they are on their return (as well as in their book/website/TV doc voiceover), weighing their achievement by the number of ‘proper dead’ there where. Sure they’ll speak to the BBC via sat phone and say what a tragedy it is, but deep down they love it – it makes it real – gives it that edge, like sucking on the barrel of loaded gun. If you summit in a year when no ones dies then you’re forced to go back to 1996 and tell how eight people died in one day just to prove how ‘undead’ and hardcore you are.

I’m told the figures for deaths on Everest are 1 in 10, which sounds bad until you consider the ratio between big fuck off scary mountain and clueless out of their depth tourist, and I expect if you dropped this bunch into Mosside the numbers would come out the same (if nothing more than the fact that walking around Manchester in a big yellow North Face down suit would lead to certain death via mugging). Death and the risk of it is the stock in trade of many modern adventurers (just read my book Psychovertical – I’m nearly ‘properdead’ in every chapter!), be it rowing the oceans (very safe actually), skiing to the Poles (also very safe actually), or running across deserts (dito). Throughout all these things there is that Discovery channel voice booming along about how hardcore it is by pointing out how X people have died doing it. Well lots of people have died driving along the M1 but they don’t right books about it (although the queue aren’t as big as Everest). Of course no one wants to die – just give the impression they could (most atlantic rowers have a support boat – the last few high profile polar trips had 4×4’s following them). But then mountains are callous and don’t care about your back story or dreams – or even how good you are. On everest the safety net that keeps your from the dead has very large holes, and the higher you get the bigger they become.

These days when people get in touch my blunt answer to most questions about Everest thought is ‘I don’t give a fuck about Everest’ and really no right minded person should either. Who really cares about the trash up there (have you ever been to India or Nepal where a rubbish dump is called ‘the other side of you’re garden wall’!). Who’s bothered about the fixed ropes, pegs and bolts apart from those who see them and have to trust them? You can’t rape a mountain you idiot, only an idea, and when that idea is simply “X is higher than Y” then who cares. What about exploiting the porters and the sherpas? Again have you even been to a developing country and seen what lengths people will go to make a living? Most of the hand wringing by ‘proper’ climbers is all tied up with jealousy and the envy of opportunity, and everyone knows that deep down they’d suck the devils cock to climb it.

So if you’re a lazy journo who’s come across this bit of writing while doing your research then please don’t get in touch (although I’m happy for you to cut and paste whatever you like).

World’s 10 Most Dangerous Mountains

Tuesday 30th August 2011
Mount Everest from Kalapatthar.

Image via Wikipedia

#7. EVEREST (29,029 ft.), border between Nepal and China
With its marquee status, it would be easy to assume that this is the deadliest mountain of them all. But pound for pound, Everest claims a fairly small percentage of climbers (9%), considering the number that attempt it every year…

I guess I was lucky to have only broken my ankles!

Everest a year on

Wednesday 4th May 2011
Almost a year since I left, I was chatting to my guide Johnny Davison online when he said the following…
“I was bummed when you left Nabs”
“You were such great value on the trip, and a lot of positive energy – we missed you on the mountain mate”

Sherpa Chhewang Nima missing after avalanche

Monday 25th October 2010

A Nepalese Sherpa who is famous in mountaineering circles for climbing Mount Everest 19 times has gone missing on another Himalayan peak.

Chhewang Nima was struck by an avalanche near the summit of Mount Baruntse, his climbing agency said.

He was fixing ropes at an elevation of 7,045 metres (23,114 feet) while guiding a private expedition trying to reach the 7,129 metre peak.

A helicopter will join the search for him on Monday if high winds die down.

The other climbers searched for Mr Nima after the accident on Saturday but were unable to find him.

A helicopter has been sent to the team’s base camp but was unable to take off on Sunday because of strong winds.

Jiban Ghimire, of the Sherpa Shangri-la Treks and Expedition – the firm which organised the expedition – said Mr Nima was on the north slope of the mountain fixing the ropes when he was knocked over and down the north-east slope by the avalanche.

No-one else was caught in the avalanche, said Mr Ghimire.

Mr Ghimire said it was possible that because of Mr Nima’s skills and experience he may still be alive.

“He’s a good climber, he knows how to survive,” he told the BBC.

Mr Ghimire said the climber had worked for the expedition company for 10 years.

Mr Nima, 43, is a highly-experienced climber who has made many ascents in the Himalayas. He is one short of tying the record for the most summits of Everest: 20, held by fellow Nepalese climber Appa Sherpa.

The Ritz

Friday 10th September 2010
The London Ritz, seen from across Piccadilly, ...

Image via Wikipedia

On the way to Poland for the wedding, I was serendipitously reunited with my tent mate from Mount Lobuche. The last time I saw her was at 6,200m before I had my accident and was flown out. Shari lives in Australia but was in the UK very briefly and we managed to meet up at Green Park tube. I expected we would go for lunch at the nearest sandwich bar, but she suggested the Ritz Hotel.

My immediate thought was to tell her that was a crazy idea, but then I abated, as I realised I had never been inside myself so why not? I knew it was going to be expensive and snooty, but it was worth it for the experience and what better company than one of the genuinely warm people I met on Everest.

As expected, as soon as I walked in we were surrounded by doormen and concierges asking if sir had a tie and did we have a reservation. Apparently it was full for lunch, but we were allowed to sit in the bar and order bar food.

To be honest, the whole experience reminded me of several gaudy tasteless 7 star hotels in the Middle East, with all the gold and gilt edged furnishings, and numerous hotel staff attending to every need. But it was good to have gone, and we had a great catch up of Everest stories, and a 20 pound sandwich, before we both had to head off.

JP’s Wedding

Saturday 8th May 2010

There are very few silver linings, that I have discovered so far, to my accident on Everest. Within hours of my fall, in the helicopter during the evacuation, I began wondering what I was going to do with myself…and I remembered that JP was getting married to Sarah on the 8th May.

It may seem daft, but it was the one bright ray in a very cloudy (metaphorically) day. JP and I had talked about Sarah often during the North Pole trek, and of the wedding, although I knew that I would not be able to attend because of my Everest expedition. We had loosely arranged for me to call the best man during the speeches and talk to them from Everest. I knew within seconds of my fall, that Everest was over for this season, but being able to go to this wedding was a great consolation.

I think that anyone that doesnt have a freind like JP is very unfortunate because we all need someone like him. He is very “under the radar” and to be honest, if I hadn’t walked to the pole with him, we would probably just be acquaintances, but it was my fortune that I did walk with him, and consequently, we are very close.

And so it was that with two very painful ankles, Maria and I were able to attend.

Day 30 Part II Falcon Oilfield Services Everest Expedition

Sunday 25th April 2010

Part II

I was in excruciating pain…so much pain, I couldn’t even scream. I was disorientated and couldn’t work out the source of the pain. I tried to sit up but trying to use my legs brought waves of pain crashing through my body, and I also realised that what I thought was up was down. I had fallen down and tumbled about 5 metres, where the safety line had caught on an ice anchor and brought me to a stop. But I was hanging upside down which was why I was disorientated. Gravity was now trying to force my rucksack over my shoulders, and the waist belt was cutting into my diaphragm which was why I couldn’t breathe let alone scream.

Just as I was comfortably making my way to base camp, the ice under my left foot had given way. My ankle had collapsed under the weight of my body, and my safety line had spun my body. I had tried to steady myself by stepping onto my right leg, but with all my weight thrown onto my right ankle, and my body still spinning, my right leg very quickly gave way, throwing my body down the slope.

I couldn’t tell if my ankles were broken or just sprained and I wasn’t about to undo my boots to check as they acted as natural splints. Doing a quick body check, I knew that I had no head, neck or spinal injury, but the safety harness around my waist was causing about half the pain I was in. The leg loops were askew and had managed to trap certain parts of me underneath the webbing. Supporting my whole body weight, with organs designed for reproduction, was causing the overload in pain messages and why I initially couldn’t narrow down the source of pain.

Nabs getting rescued by Phurba Tashi and French climbers

Two French climbers who were above me on the ropes were able to assist me very quickly, and I was able to radio for help soon after. According to my tent mate, I sounded so calm, she thought I was saying I had left something at the summit! I may have sounded calm, but I certainly didn’t feel it. I knew I had taken a bad fall, and not only would I need rescuing, but much more depressingly…this would be the end of my attempt on Everest this year. Just the thought of having to do the past month again, to get to the point where I was ready to climb Everest again, was enough to make me cry, but I had little time to worry about that as getting to safety was now the priority.

My recovery was going to be a problem. If I was able to stand or hop, with assistance, I would be down to high camp by the afternoon, and a possible helicopter evacuation. If I was unable to help in my rescue, then they would need to stretcher me out, which would take 6 Sherpas and another 2 days…

Initially we tried to have 2 Sherpa either side of me, and to hop down the hill. My left leg was able to bear weight, although my right was too tender for any movement. Progress was so slow and painful that after 15 minutes we had only moved 10 meters and I was begging for an alternative. I suggested I was strapped into a sleeping mat, and lowered/tried to slide down to crampon point, where the ice and snow gave way to rock.

By now, it was clear that I was unable to help my rescuers, and I would have to be stretchered out. We were still far too high for a helicopter pick up , and the terrain was unsuitable for an attempted landing anyway. And that is when Phurba Tashi stepped in. As mentioned before, Phurba Tashi is the Sirdar, or head Sherpa, and has 16 ascents of Everest, the third highest by an individual, and is immensely respected by everyone. He met us at crampon point, and realising how long all the alternatives would take, constructed a “rope bucket”, and essentially used that to piggy back me all the way down to high camp.

Nabs getting rescued from the mountain

Once at moraine camp, the team decided that a helicopter rescue from Lobuje base camp would be easier and that I had to be carried across the difficult terrain of huge boulders. Pemba, who has become famous for carrying the 110kg generator from Lukla to base camp, took over from Phurba Tashi. “Compared to the generator, Nabil is pretty light,” a smiling Pemba said.

While all this was happening on Lobuje East, Russell and his team at Everest base camp were coordinating a helicopter rescue, which seemed rather difficult as the weather had closed in and the winds had picked up at noon. Russell was in constant contact with the pilot, and together they were convinced that they could pull this off, which became increasingly necessary with me being in more and more pain, despite the cocktail of painkillers.

Evacuated by helicopter

Unbelievably, within 12 hours of falling at over 5,500 m, I was in a hospital getting X-rays and medical attention, a fitting testament to the efforts of the Himex team! I am so grateful to Phurba, Pemba, Adrian and Russell for doing such a great job in getting me out, but lying here in hospital, my thoughts are constantly on the unfinished business I have hanging over me, like a grey cloud on the slopes of the Himalayas…