This is the story of the beginning of a long and meaningful friendship and an expedition you will never forget.
In 2007 Gavin Bate, founder of Adventure Alternative was preparing for his third climb to Mount Everest, on the North side. His plan was to traverse the highest mountain of the world, at 8848m, from Tibet to Nepal by himself with no oxygen or any camps. Having previously climbed on the south side without oxygen using only one tent at Camp 2 and achieving a non-stop ascent from there to just short of the summit where he encountered a long queue which forced him to turn back, the plan for 2007 was a non-stop climb from base camp to summit and down to base camp in Nepal in about 60 hours.
His old friend Ang Chhongba Sherpa, now chairman of Moving Mountains Nepal, and his wife Lakhpa both urged Gavin to go with their close relative Pasang Tendi Sherpa, who had already made several climbs of Everest. Having once before climbed the north side without bottled oxygen in 2002 with a friend who dislocated his kneecap at 8750 metres which resulted in a long and difficult for both of them during which they both nearly perished, Gavin agreed to take Pasang along as an ‘insurance policy’ in case anything went wrong. Pasang would carry oxygen to use just in case.
In March 2007, Gavin flew to Kathmandu to meet Pasang and to prepare for the risky adventure. Climbing without bottled oxygen is only attempted by about 5% of climbers and the fatality rate is one in three. To climb without using any camps was pushing the boundaries of known knowledge of high altitude performance and ability. Pasang and Gavin got along with each other immediately! After the preparation was finished in Kathmandu, they made their way to the mountains.
Before heading to Everest, Gavin and Pasang took a group to climb Cho Oyu, “The Turquoise Goddess”, which at 8201 m the sixth highest mountain on earth. They planned to acclimatise on this mountain before heading to the top of the world. The group did not make it to the top. The last part of the ascent is very steep and the serac barrier was hard ice; some of the climbers were not feeling ready for such a climb and the group decided to turn around. Gavin and Pasang then, together with one cook and one kitchen boy, made their way to the advanced Everest Base Camp on the Rongbuk Glacier at around 4600 metres, where the real adventure was about to begin. For weeks they acclimatised on the fearsome north face, climbing high in the rarefied atmosphere to prepare for the main ascent.
The final day to leave base camp for the top of Mount Everest finally arrived! Gavin climbed without oxygen; Pasang, who was behind Gavin, ascended with oxygen. They climbed through Camp 1 on the north col at 7000 metres, Camp 2 at the top of the huge snow ramp at 7500 metres, and Camp 3 high on the face at 8300 metres. They had climbed through the day and now it was getting dark again. The route to the top along the northeast ridge and up the First and Second Steps would be done at night, with a summit at dawn and the rest of the next day to descend into Nepal.
Destiny worked her way though and somewhere on the northeast ridge Gavin was struck by a pulmonary oedema. Without properly acknowledging it, they maintained their progression on the mountain towards the Second Step. Past 8650 m, Gavin eventually stopped. He began to aspirate on the liquid that had built up in his lungs which was coming out during violent coughing fits that left him clinging to the rock with a lot of air beneath his feet. It was a perilous moment.
Suddenly out of the swirling mists Pasang appeared with the lifesaving rucksack of oxygen bottles. He quickly covered Gavin’s face with an oxygen mask. “Time to go home” he said. Thus began a long and arduous descent which took every ounce of energy out of Gavin and pushed Pasang to his own limits of endurance. With the oedema threatening to overcome his every breath, the point of mind over matter had been reached but it was the encouragement and presence of Pasang that kept the word impossible out of Gavin’s mind. They had to survive and come down together.
The whole expedition took them around 60 days. Both of them were happy when they were reunited with their families and thankful that they got home safely.
After five expeditions to climb Mount Everest, three times without bottled oxygen and by both the north and south sides, and every time getting to within 100 metres of the summit, Gavin finally reached the top on May 20th 2011. His summit partner that day was Pasang Tendi Sherpa.
If you would like to learn more about Gavin Bate's and Adventure Alternative's involvement, please visit their website.