Our guide Scott woke us up at 7.30 and I refused to tuck my head out of the sleeping bag, as if I was in denial and by hiding my head the whole experience would go away. I was very nervous about Summit Day, not sure if I would be able to make it to the top. My head was still thumping slightly and my stomach was turning with the thought of what lay ahead. Mark, my fellow climber, was also anxious which was surprising considering how experienced he was. If he was apprehensive with all his years of mountaineering, then it was probably best that I was ignorant of what lay ahead.
The weather forecast was not as good as yesterday and anything higher than 50 km/h winds at the summit and we would have to wait another day. The estimated wind speed at the summit was 40-60 km/h. With the weather likely to change for the better or worse, it was worth climbing and hoping that in the six hours it took to climb up, the wind could be blowing off to attempt the summit. It was certainly better than sitting around for another day kicking our heels and getting cold.
We set off from high camp at 9.30 up a 25° glacier that took over an hour to climb. As soon as we topped that slope and turned the corner, the wind hit us straight in the face, the bitter wind that reminded me of some of my worst days walking to the magnetic North Pole. In addition the continuous critical effort the altitude had given us, began to take its toll on me. My Achilles were straining, my heart was racing, my lungs were bursting, but worst of all my head was thumping, which scared me that I was progressing towards acute mountain sickness. I had read about high altitude cerebral edema. It is a dangerous thing and I was scared.
Mark, who has been climbing all over the world since he was 18, maintained that mountaineering at altitude was not about fitness, but about mental attitude. As long as you were determined, you could summit. I felt I was incapable of making the summit, the physical effort was so great and each step we took, I hoped would be our last. But I also knew that each step I took, I could take one more. And as long as I could take one more, I would never give up. So I just focused on making the next steps. I didn’t doubt my termination, but I doubted my body.
JP my companion and trusted friend during the Arctic trek compared the continuous minor adjustments and relieving pain to spinning plates. Each plate needs a bit of attention to keep it going, but you rapidly need to move to the next plate to prevent it from falling, and so it was with the climb. Each ache needed quick adjustments, but the mind can not focus on only one plate, as there are so many things that need to be kept on top of. Thanks to my experience at the North Pole, I was better prepared with equipment and clothing. But with less things to worry about I started to focus on the few painful plates instead of skipping from one item to the next.
I spent the first hour repeating duas that my father had taught me before the North Pole. Repeating these in my head would occupy my mind until my body overcame the pain barrier. And then once I was through on the other side, I would listen to my iPod. The psychological benefit of climbing in a small group was that every time my spirit dropped, I looked over at Mark or Scott seeing them being exactly the same, carrying on with the thought, that if they can do it so can I. But for each step I was secretly hoping that one of them were sneaking a break.
We stopped briefly for a break and while I adjusted my clothing Scott relieved his pee muscle and Mark did some personal admin. All of a sudden, the safety rope linking us all together, suddenly dragged me moderately down the hill. Mark had dropped one of his mittens and knowing how unfortunate it was, ran immediately after the glove. Loosing our big down mittens would be a big obstacle and then we would have to turn back. It was a desperate situation overriding anything else. I was being dragged downhill after Mark and in return I dragged Scott downhill, who was still trying to pee in a controlled manner!! Luckily Mark managed to retrieve his glove.
Four hours after we started the wind was still marginal as to whether it was prudent to descend and our faces stung from the wind, so Scott asked us if we wanted to turn back and try again the next day. I don’t think there was any hesitation from Mark or I as we both wanted to continue. There was no way I wanted to suffer that climb again tomorrow and I would rather continue in harsh winds than start again.