James Clarke Masthead
May 7 2012 at 10:57

Expeditions to climb Everest this year are oversubscribed. – report.

Damn! For R400 000 I could have joined an expedition and had my own Sherpa. Not that I hadn’t already climbed Everest. I seem to remember doing it in ’94. Or was it ’96? It was that year when simply everybody was climbing it.

I remember reaching the summit. Oh, the noise! And the people!

I hadn’t really planned to climb. I was actually on my way back from our local hardware store with a collapsible aluminium ladder to fix my gutters and just got swept along by the crowd.

Afterwards I found it difficult to understand why people climb Everest – apart from the fact that it’s there.

There’s absolutely nothing to do when one is up there.

Once into the snowline the crowd had thinned, so I plodded on, following a line of people.

Accommodation was a problem. Base Camp looked like a pop concert was taking place – Woodstock or something.

So I pressed on to Camp 1.

Same thing, except there was more nosebleed at that level and much more panting and you couldn’t see who was addressing you because their breath created a cumulonimbus cloud.

I pitched my tent next to a nice couple from Port Shepstone – Ernest and Molly Pemberton, with their dog Popsy. They said they’d never climbed Everest before, but they’d done Mount-aux-Sources from the Witsieshoek car park.

At Base Camp, they’d bumped into their neighbours who’d already summited with a bunch of noisy Japanese schoolchildren. “They complained about the queues,” said Molly.

“So I told them – if you can’t stand queues you shouldn’t be on Everest!”

During the night, a 120km/h wind brought the temperature down to -42ºC. A bit like Clarens in June.

“Nippy, hey?” I quipped, trying to raise people’s spirits.

Ernest Pemberton laughed so hard that the cold contracted his teeth fillings, which shrank and fell out. Obviously he had to turn back as the queue at the dentist’s tent was halfway round the glacier. Molly said she’d press on with the dog.

Many climbers got frostbite and next day I saw several discarded fingers.

That’s one of the problems on Everest: the route up the South Col is littered with fingers and noses dating from 1924 as well as discarded oxygen bottles and chocolate wrappers. You’d think people would pick up after themselves.

Mind you, if your fingers fall off, how do you pick up them up?

Near the summit, the crowd thinned even more, but of course the space available begins to narrow till eventually it comes to a point. That’s another problem with Everest – one constantly has to say: “Excuse me.” And then as I neared the summit the Indian bloody army team came clomping down, followed by some Frenchmen who can be very pushy – rather like the Russian climbers who are rowdy with it.

There were Swiss, Czechs, Irish, Britons… There was a Chinese railway engineer using a theodolite. There was even a chap from Mtubatuba.

I got to the summit thanks to a Sherpa who said I could hang on to his belt with six Japanese ladies.

Jislaaik! You should have seen the crowd! I shouted “Sawubona!” to the guy from Mtubatuba and asked him: “Likuphi ithoyilethe?

He shrugged and said: “I’m a stranger here myself.”

At the summit, seized by an inspiration, I uncollapsed my collapsible aluminium step ladder and sat on top of it. The throng fell silent. Many turned green with envy.

They were standing at 8 848m, but no man on this Earth has climbed higher than me – 8 850!

Contact Stoep: E-mail: jcl@onwe.co.za; Website: www.jamesclarke.co.za;

Blog: http://stoeptalk.wordpress.com


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