“What a week! What an expedition! It’s been an amazing experience which has left me with memories I’ll never forget and friendships which I’m sure will last. Ultimately I’ve learned that I can keep on going when things seem impossible, which is partly why I go climbing in the first place,” Manning wrote in his first blog entry since reaching the summit on 19 May, Cayman time.
Manning, 39, has so far raised money about US$78,000 for the Cayman Islands Cancer Society and will continue to raise funds for the charity in the coming weeks. He carried the names of 56 cancer patients from Cayman with him on his climb and planted the Cayman Islands flag at the summit of Everest.
Campbell law firm partner Manning, with teammates Nacer Ibnabdeljalil and Guy Munnoch, and Sherpas Dawa Gelji, Tashi and Karma reached the top of the mountain at about 7.30pm Cayman time on Sunday, 19 May – 6.15am Monday morning Nepal time.
It took them 10 hours to reach the summit from the South Col camp and five hours to descend back to the camp.
He was climbing with an expedition company called Jagged Globe. In all, 24 climbers with Jagged Globe reached the summit on 19 and 20 May. He and his team left a day after seven climbers and eight Sherpas from the outfit tackled and reached the summit.
In his blog, Manning explained that several bouts of diarrhoea had left him weak and shaken and had kept him from leaving with the other team the day before and he admitted he had considered failing to reach the summit.
“When we left for Camp 3 (7,200 metres) at 5am on Friday I was still in a bad state. On the trail up to the base of the Lhotse face, I initially kept up with the group, but dropped off the back after an hour. I was shocked as thoughts of quitting entered my mind for the first time,” he wrote.
He managed to get to Camp 3, where he stayed overnight, and then to Camp 4 the following day, but admits “it was a real struggle”.
When he was offered a chance to have an extra day’s rest before tackling the summit, he took it.
“I agonised over my decision for the next few hours. On the one hand, I was keen to go up with the rest of the guys and while the weather was definitely good. On the other hand, 24 hours rest should do me good, albeit that we were in the “death zone”, not an ideal place to recuperate!
“With departure time approaching, I was feeling no better and took the decision to delay for a day, conscious that the weather forecast was equally good for tomorrow, and that tonight was likely to be very busy based on the number of people moving up the fixed lines with us earlier that day from Camp 3 to Camp 4,” he said.
He set off for the summit with his fellow climbers and their Sherpa support team around 7.15pm, dressed in high-altitude gear. That gear included a set of battery powered heated insoles in my boots “which would later prove to be a mistake”.
Due to the steepness of the terrain there are only two places to stop on the route – the Balcony at 8,400 metres and the South Summit at 8,750 metres. Their first stop was the Balcony, which usually takes about five hours to reach from the South Col.
The other two climbers on his team were ahead of him and he was separated from them by several other climbers on the line, but was accompanied by Sherpa Karma.
“It is difficult to imagine just how hard it is to climb at this altitude unless you have experienced it first hand. To give you an idea, I would take just two to three steps and then be bent over hyperventilating for six to eight breaths. I would then start again, interrupted every five minutes or so by a racking bout of high altitude coughing. Now imagine repeating that process for over 10 hours, in temperatures of -20c to -30c, without any food or water (it’s generally too cold and/or dangerous to try to stop to eat or drink), and carrying 20-25lbs on your back, before having to descend difficult and dangerous ground for a further five hours or so. It’s not fun!”, he wrote.
He admits that at this point, he was convinced that he could not reach the summit. “I passed the time by mentally drafting a blog explaining why I had failed,” he said.
He had been stuck behind a long line of other climbers, but nonetheless managed to reach the Balcony in under the estimated five hours.
A few hours later into the climb, he reached the South Summit, again ahead of schedule. “We changed oxygen bottles again, and as the first light of dawn showed the way up the summit ridge and the Hillary Step, I was suddenly absolutely convinced that I would reach the top,” said Manning.
The Hillary Step was next and he and Karma had to wait about half an hour before the climbers ahead of them climbed the step. At the top of the step, he ran into Ibnabdeljalil and Munnoch on their way down.
“I had thought that the summit was very close to the Step, but the summit ridge seemed to go on and on. Eventually though, we turned a corner and there were the prayer flags marking the summit! One final slog and we were up on top at about 6am.
“I had thought I might be very emotional, but the main feelings were relief and exhaustion (and mainly exhaustion)! I unfurled my Cayman flag, and Karma and I spent about 30 minutes taking photographs and soaking it all in. The views were simply stunning and as I poked my head over the summit I could see two climbers approaching from Tibet,” he wrote.
The climb proved to be exhausting and painful, as Manning’s feet began to hurt badly. He discovered later he had frostbite after one of the heated insoles had turned itself off in his pocket and the cable on the other had become detached, so they provided no heat, just taking up space in his boots and restricting blood flow in his feet.
“Karma came into his own on the descent. Although he’s only half my size, he’s as strong as an ox and he clipped into my harness so that he could hold me if I slipped,” wrote Manning.
The descent became the “longest five hours of my life”, Manning said.
On the way down, he came across a disturbing sight. “The main incident which sticks in my mind is passing a corpse just above the South Col. The man was lying on his front just off the route, one foot hooked over the other ankle and arms outstretched as though he had fallen. He was still wearing all his climbing clothes and boots, although the back of his jacket was mostly missing, revealing a back bleached white by the sun and wind. I had never seen a corpse before, and the sight of him lying just half a mile from camp was both sad and macabre,” he wrote.
That was not the only death on the mountain. That same morning, a South Korean climber who had reached the summit without oxygen and descended to the South Col was found dead in his tent by his Sherpa, wrote Manning.
“[Sherpa] Pasang also told us that after we had gone to sleep he had been called up to the Balcony to help with a rescue. Despite having already been to the summit and back with me, Karma joined him. A phenomenal effort. A Bangladeshi and a Nepali climber, both double amputees with no arms, had managed to reach the summit but collapsed from exhaustion on the descent.
“Their Sherpas had done so much work to get them up that they, too, were exhausted and could not get them back down. By the time Pasang and Karma reached the Balcony, the Bangladeshi was already dead, but at least they were able to get the Nepali climber back down to the Col. We also heard news that a further climber had died nearby in the Lhotse High Camp after a desperate attempt to rescue him by helicopter had failed. A sad day,” he said.
Due to his frostbite, Manning required a helicopter evacuation from the mountain. This involved descending from South Col to a helipad at Camp 2. A painful climb down ensued, but just as they reached the helipad and the helicopter approached, clouds rolled in making it impossible for the helicopter to land, so Manning had to spend one more night on the mountain.
Hopeful that the helicopter would arrive at first light, Manning woke around 6.30am, only to hear that the helicopter was grounded by bad weather down the valley.
“The Sherpas packed up camp, leaving me and Pasang alone. As they left, Pasang grabbed the last bag of coffee, which I thought was strange until he wandered on to the glacier and marked out a large H with coffee,” wrote Manning.
Four hours later, the helicopter arrived and transported Manning to base camp. “On landing, I stepped into a scrum of people. The medics were there with a TV crew and I was surrounded by people and doctors all wanting to talk to me and inspect my feet. After the solitude of the glacier, it was all a bit much,” he said.
A series of “crazy helicopter rides” ensued, before Manning finally made it to Kathmandu airport and was taken by ambulance to the frostbite clinic.
“Most of my toes should make a full recovery, but it’s too early to say whether I may lose parts of my big toes,” he wrote.
Manning arrived back in Grand Cayman on Sunday night, 26 May.
This is the fifth of seven summits Manning plans to climb. He has already climbed the 19,340 foot Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa; the 16,067 foot Vinson in Antarctica; Russia’s 18,510-foot Elbrus in Europe; and the 22,830 foot Aconcagua in Argentina, South America. And now he can added the 29,002-foot-high Mount Everest.
To find out how to donate to Manning’s charity drive for the Cayman Islands Cancer Society, visit sevensummits.ky