Last week Jon Gupta completed the Everest / Lhotse double.
Here he reflects on the build-up, the climbs and more…
“After weeks and months of preparation, training and climbing, we arrived into a reasonably calm South Col at 7950m on 10th May. There was no time to waste. The next few hours would be critical to our success and revolved mostly around 3 things: drinking, eating, and sleeping. Tea, rehydration salts and Berocca were all consumed, along with noodle soup and a main of mash potato, cheese and cut up pepperoni!
“We left the col at 22:40 the same day and began our final push to the summit. Almost everyone else had already left and a thin line a sparkling head torches highlighted the first section of the route up the steep face towards The Balcony. The sky was crystal clear, and the stars were out in force. A perfect night.
“Time slowly passed as we made our way up towards The Balcony, our first major landmark. The route is mainly steep snow slopes interspersed with loose rocky bands. We arrived after 4.5 hours and took a moment to eat and drink a little, change oxygen cylinders and take a pee.
“From here the route changes character and is far more enjoyable. Turning onto the southwest ridge it narrows and curves gently upwards toward the South Summit. Sticking to the crest of the ridge each step feels like direct progress towards the summit of the highest point on earth. A few short rocky bands intersperse the steep snow crest and soon, just below the South Summit, the sunrise begins.
“Feeling incredibly small on the side of Everest I was aware of only a few familiar sounds – my heavy breathing, the crisp crunch of crampons biting into the hard snow and the jangle of karabiners and jumars on the fixed lines. It’s a very simple and stripped back situation, with everyone around subscribing to the same aims in that moment.
“A short time later we find ourselves climbing along the sensational summit ridge, just 30 minutes from the top. A number of technical rocky steps including the legendary Hilary Step provide some interest before the final gentle snow slopes leads to the very top of the world.
Those final steps are always magical because, the first time in your journey, you know for sure that you will make it to the summit. A life changing moment.
“The high double is a relatively new thing and provides the perfect double act to Everest. After returning to the South Col for the night we departed after sunrise the following morning at 06:00am. It was cold at 7950m on that morning. Retracing our steps out of camp back across the Geneva Spur and around to the Lhotse face, we cached our unnecessary kit and equipment and kicked a hard left up towards Lhotse.
“We climbed as directly as possible, aiming for a thin sliver of snow that runs directly to the summit called the Lhotse Couloir. A plum line.
It was another perfect morning as we danced quietly (and slowly!) amongst the world’s highest mountains. Lhotse is the 4th highest mountain in the world. Unlike the previous day, when there were was probably around 80 climbers (Sherpas included) in total on the Everest, on this day, there were only 8 of us on the entire mountain: myself, Becks (my client), two friends – Tim and Kenton – and our 4 collective Sherpas. Incredible.
“We followed the couloir up and up for about 300m, past the point where it narrows to just a couple of meters and through to the upper section. As I gazed up, I could not help but to think in disbelief that this was skied a few years ago. The weather was changing a little and wind twisted its way down the couloir, blasting spindrift in our faces.
“We topped out at 13:00 into snowy mixed weather but it didn’t make any difference and I wouldn’t change a thing. The 4 of us hugged on the summit of Lhotse and it felt incredible. The views were all but gone but our smiles and sense of achievement were unimpaired. Another 8000m summit just to ourselves. I watched Becks, Lhakpa and Cheten descend the initial 50m or so back into the couloir and stole a few moments to myself again on the summit.
“That afternoon we descended all the way to Camp 2. Not without its challenges and difficulties, the descent took some time, but we arrived into familiar territory at 19:45 feeling exhausted but entirely content. We had done it, and done it well.
LHAKPA & CHETAN SHERPA + the Madison Sherpa team
“Quite simply none of what I described above would be possible without the relentless, behind the scenes, hard work of the Sherpas and Nepali climbers. My client and I owe a huge amount of thanks and gratitude to both the whole Madison team (who’s logistics I was using), but specifically Lhakpa Sherpa and Cheten Sherpa for standing by our sides the whole way on our summit push.”
“I’ve worked with both of these Pangboche Sherpa legends many times. Lhakpa and I guided Everest together via the North side in 2017 and have stood atop of Ama Dablam together many times with clients. He is the pinnacle of selflessness, the embodiment of patience and kindness, and an inspiration to all those around him. I look forward to working with him for many years to come.
“The news reports all sorts of things, including the situation here in Nepal, which isn’t fantastic. Sadly, since the start of the expedition nearly 2 months ago, the covid situation in this part of the world has evolved and changed dramatically, for the worst. There have been some Covid cases at Base Camp I believe, none in the Madison camp as far as I am aware, and everyone I met took it quite seriously and strictly applied the necessary preventive protocols (including masking, testing and isolating where necessary). If you have covid specific comments, concerns or questions about this trip then please feel free to message me directly. I’m more than happy to chat about it.”
“The question I get asked more than anything…and yes, of course there is a next! Our plan is to hopefully be in Pakistan for the summer climbing season for K2 and Broad Peak. However, there may even be something quite exciting in the pipeline before then… so watch this space.”