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Those of you following my website despatches and e-newsletters would be aware that I recently returned to Mount Everest to attempt a solo, 'oxygenless' ascent of the North Ridge of that mountain.
It was a tough challenge, given the large amount of equipment, including ropes, tents, stoves, food etc. that I needed to carry up the mountain for all my camps.
In addition, climbing without auxiliary oxygen made it all the more difficult, as one’s body struggles just to stay alive, let alone carry heavy loads for weeks on end, in the rarefied atmosphere of the ‘death zone’.
Nonetheless I made good progress over the five weeks I was one the mountain. I succeeded in getting all those camps placed and stocked ready for the summit push, whilst ensuring I was fully acclimatised for the final summit bid.
However, on the day that I made a dash for summit, things didn’t go quite according to plan.
As I climbed through the night at an altitude of about 8500 metres, I felt a number of symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS): double vision, nausea, even hallucinations. These symptoms are quite common at such extreme altitude but to ignore them can be fatal.
I sat on a rock for about 10 minutes and self-diagnosed. Finally I came to the decision that to continue climbing would probably result in the AMS getting worse; it could incapacitate me, possibly even fatally.
Climbing on my own, I had to be completely self-sufficient, and fully responsible for my own safety. The only sensible decision therefore was to descend to lower, safer altitude - even though I was just 300 metres from the summit of the world’s highest mountain.
So that was what I did.
In fact, just to be certain that I would not become a liability to other climbers, I descended the entire mountain that day.
A lot of people have said to me that I must have been disappointed by the outcome. But I am not. I’d set myself a tough worthwhile challenge, (Everest, solo, without oxygen) whose outcome could never be guaranteed. However I undertook it with the overarching goal of managing the risks responsibly. When the risks became too great to justify, I was happy to retreat. I gave it my best shot but it just didn’t work out. You can’t do more than that.
So what’s next?
Well, let me say this. You don’t have to climb 8000 metre mountains to be a Scout. In fact, after 25 expeditions to 8000 metre mountains over the last 21 years, I have decided to retire from climbing 8000 and focus on more local, low altitude, adventures.
The snow season is upon us again and I’ll be heading out on the cross country skis every possible weekend. In a couple of weeks I’m going 4 wheel driving with my old Rover mates, and in summer I’ll go to Tassie for some wilderness bushwalking. And I want to go fishing and surfing and caving and mountain biking and…Australia must be the greatest outdoor playground in the world!
In fact many of the skills I relied on for all those years in the high mountains, I first developed in the Australian outdoors. So I can’t wait to get out there again and take on some great Australian outdoor challenges and report back to you on how they went!
But most of all, I hope to see all of you, Scouts and Leaders, out there too.
Be prepared…for new Adventure.
Andrew Lock OAM