Since I've been home and sharing my story about climbing Mt. Everest, one of the most frequent questions I get is about how long I was climbing. This seems like it should be a pretty straightforward answer but it's not, so I thought I would explain it more in a post.
After a couple days of travel just to get to Nepal, we spent several days visiting the Nepal Hemophilia Society. Patrick James Lynch and the rest of the Believe Limited film crew, as well as my wife Jessica and friend Laurie Kelley, visited the hemophilia treatment center, the society offices and several homes of individuals living with hemophilia in the country. This was an incredibly powerful experience and I could go into an entire blog post just about that…and hopefully someday will.
After that incredible experience, we met up with the rest of the climbing team and got ready to head to the mountain. The first, and surprisingly one of the most dangerous aspects of this whole trip was the flight from Kathmandu to the village of Lukla. Tenzing-Hillary Airport is known as one of the most dangerous airports in the world and once you've landed there you know why! The runway is carved into the side of a mountain, is incredibly short and angled uphill to help planes slow down before the stone wall at the end of the runway! I posted a video below of a plane landing there and trust me, this doesn't do it justice!
Everest Basecamp is still 33 miles and 8,200 vertical feet away! The trek is incredible. We traversed some amazing suspension bridges over raging rivers, marveled at the size and scale of the Himalayas and enjoyed the culture of the Sherpa people. The trek took 9 days total with a couple of rest days in the middle to adjust to the altitude we gained. We stayed in ‘tea houses' which are like little motels and some of the teahouses even had showers which was a fantastic bonus!
After those spectacular 9 days, we arrived at our home for the next 6 weeks Everest Basecamp! Basecamp is an amazing site to behold! Tents stretch for over a mile along the rock covered glacier with huge mountains towering almost all the way around us. Jess and Laurie stayed at basecamp for three days and got to experience the Puja ceremony before they headed back down to Kathmandu and eventually home. That was a tough day but Tashi, our head Sherpa, told me, "Don't be sad, you will see her again very soon". I learned very quickly that Tashi was a very smart man.
After the Puja, which is a ceremony performed at basecamp that asks for safe passage up the mountain, our team was ready to climb and this is where it gets a little complicated to talk about how many days we were climbing. When you climb Mt. Everest you utilize a technique called ‘rotations'. Doing rotations is a way for your body to start adjusting to the extreme elevations on the mountain without having to stay at those high elevations for an extended period of time. For example, a few days after our Puja ceremony we set out for our first rotation up the mountain. On our first rotation, we climbed through the Khumbu Icefall to Camp 1 and spent the night there. This was our first trip through the icefall and our first big day of climbing. It was hard! The next day we took a pretty casual walk towards Camp 2 to get to higher elevations and then slept back at Camp 1. On the third day of the rotation, we went all the way back down to basecamp.
This process does a few things to help. First, by climbing to a higher elevation and sleeping lower, it tricks your body into adapting to that higher elevation without actually being up there which is cool. Second, basecamp is a much more comfortable spot to rest on Everest. Existing at the higher elevations on Everest doesn't really allow your body to recover and it's crucial to feel healthy before heading for the summit.
After our first rotation up the mountain, we rested for several days at basecamp. We ate tons, did short hikes throughout basecamp and up some trails around camp to keep active and get ready for rotation two. Our second rotation started out exactly like our first. We headed up through the icefall to Camp 1, which felt much better than our first journey up. This was a great sign that my body was adjusting to the elevation. We slept again at Camp 1 before heading to Camp 2 the next day. We had a rest day at Camp 2 before we climbed to Camp 3 the following day. Instead of spending the night at Camp 3, which is extremely taxing, we descended back to Camp 2 to sleep again. The last day of our rotation was spent dropping all the way back down to basecamp.
Once we completed our second rotation our bodies were in the right place to head for the summit. The only challenge was the weather and the fixed lines near the summit.
As many of you know, there are a series of ropes attached to the ice and rock of the mountain that climbers clip into throughout the climb. The amazing Sherpa teams on the mountain put all of the ropes in place which is an incredible feat. Once we completed our second rotation, we had to wait for the ropes from Camp 4 to the summit to be set up, but the weather didn't cooperate. We ended up waiting a total of 16 days at basecamp for those ropes to be fixed and then a weather window that my guide Ryan felt was good enough for our summit bid. Those 16 days were some of the hardest of the climb. I was so anxious about the summit push and also desperately missing home. I just wanted my chance but waiting for the right time is essential. We hiked around basecamp a lot during those days. We played hundreds of games of cards and Yahtzee which got boring after a while but we ended up getting our shot.
The summit push encompassed seven total days. We bypassed Camp 1 and went straight to Camp 2 on our first day. It took us the same amount of time to get to Camp 2 on this trip as it took us to get to Camp 1 the first time! We had another rest day at Camp 2 which was filled with prep for the final push. Next, we headed for Camp 3 and spent the night on the side of the Lhotse Face. We had access to oxygen that night which was fantastic because just sitting up to quickly could take your breath away. The next destination was Camp 4, the highest camp on Everest at 26,000ft. We climbed that entire day with oxygen which was fantastic!
I pulled into Camp 4 in the mid-afternoon and crawled into my tent. The plan was to leave Camp 4 around 11 pm the same night so I didn't even take my down suit off. I just laid down and tried to rest as best as I could. I wore my oxygen mask the entire evening, only taking it off to drink some water and eat a little food. Finding the motivation to get out of the tent at 10:30 pm was difficult but I was ready for my chance. Heading to the summit took a grueling 11 hours and another 7 to descend back to Camp 4. I was so excited to crawl into my sleeping bag after that day and sleep until the next morning when we descended all the way down to Camp 2. Another night of sleeping at Camp 2 and one more long day back to basecamp ended our summit push.
The last two days at basecamp were spent recovering from that insane climb and packing all of our gear for our trip back home. It was a bittersweet moment. We had called basecamp and the mountain our home for 47 days and I had so many unforgettable experiences there. We also had to say goodbye to much of the amazing support team we had including the cooks and the climbing Sherpas. It was hard to say goodbye to them and tell them how much they helped me along the journey. I couldn't have done it without them.
So that was a long explanation but to make the answer simple, we spent 47 days at basecamp and on the mountain but only 15 days of that was actually climbing Everest. It sounds crazy saying that but I felt we were incredibly well prepared and picked the best weather window possible for climbing. Those 47 days, plus the rest of my time in Nepal will go down as one of the greatest adventures of my life!