Chad Kellogg: A Bittersweet Everest Climb

This certainly was an interesting expedition. I trained very hard and painstakingly prepared every detail down to the individual scoop of electrolyte powder. I’ll take you through the days of my summit attempt.

The waiting game before a big event is always mentally trying. With over three rest days on my hands, I did my best to rest and recuperate. There is always a nagging physical issue when you have been training hard. This time, my left calf was a bit strained from the sloping ice steps on the Lhotse Face. I finally got the calf to repair enough with a combination of rolling out my calf with a water bottle, Traumeel ointment, compression sleeves and diligent hydration.

Finally Wednesday May 22 arrived. To validate a record, I had a liaison officer and the head of the SPCC on hand. I wrote up a document of intent and both the liaison officer and I signed the letter. When I do set the record, the letter will go to the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation.

At 2:45 p.m., with all hands ready to see me off, I paid my traditional respects for safe travel. Offering incense, water, rice I made three circumnavigations of the team stuppa. When all was in order, I posed with my friends for some photos and reminded myself that this was going to be fun and to enjoy every step.

At 3 p.m. Nepal time I set out into the Khumbu Icefall. People were urging me to go faster and run, but I was running my own race and knew that the first 30 minutes are crucial to warm up. The rolling terrain leading into the Icefall is perfect for warming up. Leaving in the middle of the day and going into the Icefall is never advisable. However, I wanted to arrive at the summit around noon, before the afternoon weather becomes unstable.

The hot afternoon temperatures necessitated that I use the Black Diamond aluminum Neve crampons to find purchase in the two inches of slush. (I had learned this from my 2010 attempt, when my Javelin shoes did not find traction and I expended a ton of extra energy hauling myself up by hand.) Despite the warm temperatures, I navigated the serac debris, ladders and otherwise unfavorable terrain in decent time. I arrived to Camp 1 in 2 hours and 15 minutes. A bit off my desired pace, I knew I had paced myself well for the long haul. 

Continuing without pause, I headed for Camp 2 and slipped the crampons off of my running shoes after the steeper rolling terrain above Camp 1. Lighter feet translates to less fatigue and faster foot turnover and speed. I kept glancing at my watch to check my progress. I knew I was close to 30 minutes off my intended pace, but I surmised that progress would be gained at other points along the path.

I arrived at Camp 2 at 6:26 p.m. I dropped my lightweight set of Storm Tracker gloves and exchanged them for a warmer pair. I slipped into my down suit, installed eight AA batteries into my electronic foot warmers, poured my powder into my hydration bladder and filled up with water. Within 15 minutes I set out again. 

In an hour I had navigated the glacier below the Lhotse Face and gained another 1,000 feet. I reached my cache at the base of the Lhotse Face and put on my Olympus Mons and clipped on my jumar and Alti mitts. I connected my boot warmers and turned them on. My toes were a bit cold from almost five hours in running shoes up to 22,000 feet.

The almost-full moon began to shed some light on the face. I switched from a walking rhythm into an ascending rhythm on the fixed lines. I was trying to keep from sweating, but the nighttime temperatures had not dropped enough compared with my down suit. I picked the right-hand set of ropes to evade potential rockfall, but the cover of nightfall would minimize most hazards and traffic.

By 9 p.m., I had located the black duffel bag that contained the thermos and calories for the next section of the climb. Hitting my splits between Camps 3 and 4 has always been a crux for me. (Last year I vomited all of my food and water and had nothing to eat or drink for 5 hours.) I needed to arrive at Camp 4 at 12 hours elapsed time to be on record-setting pace. Quickly, I unwrapped the insulation off of the thermos and poured 2 liters into the bladder. I found the labeled ziplock bag and dumped in the Carbo Pro. I picked up some extra bars and headed up again. I knew that I was beginning to make up some of the time I’d lost below Camp 2. I was feeling good at the halfway point of the total vertical gain. A team of Sherpas passed me, lowering the body of the dead Korean climber who had attempted to climb to the summit of Everest without oxygen. The team passed by silently and I continued to climb.

Checking my elapsed time with my vertical gain, I knew things were going well. I was having an issue with phlegm every time I would drink the electrolyte mix. I found a system of drinking 10-15 “pulls” of water and then spitting out the lining of mucus. I know it’s gross to read, but I was desperately trying not to vomit. After what seemed like an eternity, I turned the corner toward the Yellow Band. I have to mention that the light of the moon over the Himalayas at night was a wonderful sight. The light reflecting off the the serac ice and the wind-scoured sections of the face was a nice distraction after 7,000 vertical feet.

As I turned the corner around midnight, I could begin to see the train of lights on the Triangle Face above Camp 4. I would shine my headlamp towards the lights and I imagined Rory, Damian, Phurba and the rest of the crew were looking back at me. Encouraged, I decided to forgo a rest break and continued at my pace of 25-40 steps. I picked my way through the sloping, crampon-scratched rock of the Yellow Band and arrived to the second section of the traverse toward the Geneva Spur.

The snake of lights had moved above me beyond the Balcony toward the summit. I had a burning sensation in my stomach and knew I’d have to stop for a bathroom break before too long. Keep going, keep breathing and keep drinking. The temperatures had now dipped close to zero. As long as I kept moving, I knew I would stay warm enough to keep using my gloves and keep the dexterity I needed on the fixed lines. I stared up the Lhotse couloir at the pair of headlamps climbing toward the summit of another majestic summit. Two beams of light winked down at me, acknowledging that we all had our sights set on something significant. 

I picked my way between the rock and snow, beginning the climb up the Geneva Spur. A couple of steeper sections and I was on top. The flat sections of rock presented the best place to stop and expel the contents of my stomach. Quickly, I made the necessary stop, careful of my harness and down suit. I have known people who have accidentally filled the hood of their suit on a bathroom break, and I was dead set not to make that gross error.

I suited back up and began the third traverse on rock toward the South Col. I had fifteen minutes to make Camp 4 before my magic split of 12 hours. Wearing my fixed crampons, I took out my Whippet pole to stabilize myself as my feet sometimes caught at odd angles on the rocks. Soon, however, I could pick out my MSR tent amongst the small town of tents that had sprung up like mushrooms in the night.

I called out to Fuchettar that it was time to go. A headlamp sprung to life inside the golden tent. It took awhile for him to get ready with oxygen bottle, down suit and summit equipment. Meanwhile, I set to work refilling my hydration bladder and getting my hydration pack back on underneath my down suit. This was the first time I had a few minutes to sit down in over 12 hours. 

By now the snake of lights had reached beyond the South Summit. Dawn would be coming soon and I wanted to make some progress. Fuchettar and I headed across the wind-scoured rocky gap that is the South Col. I reached the fixed lines that stretched up the blue, rock-hard glacial ice and began to ascend again. By 5 a.m., we had climbed into the Triangle Face. The first sign of people descending arrived to us in the form of rockfall. Fuchettar screamed as the rocks whizzed past. He was afraid with good reason. On the steep face the speed of the rocks would spell certain injury.

The group went by and the sun began to creep into the sky. However, the sun offered no warmth this high in the atmosphere. At this time, the real opposition began to show itself. Higher on the South Summit the wind began to increase in velocity. I know that the wind typically picks up at sunrise and sunset. 

In Base Camp, we had chosen May 23 because the winds were forecast to be the lowest. On the 21st, Pablo had shown me the latest forecast, the NOAA forecast predicted 15-20 mph winds on the 23rd and the Swiss forecast had predicted 35-45 mph winds. I had prayed that the NOAA forecast was the more accurate of the two.

A bit past 5 a.m., I realized that the winds on the summit ridge were well into the 40 mph range with spindrift blowing across the Balcony and high into the air off the summit ridge. I knew that, without oxygen, my appendages would not withstand the windchill. Seemingly in unison with my growing apprehension, a radio call came in from our head Sirdar Phurba. He said that the summit weather was too dangerous for me and urged us to return to Camp 4. This was the dilemma I had feared most. I was on pace! Pushing myself for over 14 hours, I was in position to set the speed record on Everest without oxygen. I had seven hours with which to climb the final 1,800 ft. to the summit. I had climbed nearly 10,000 vertical feet above Base Camp to reach an elevation of 27,225 feet.

This was my third attempt at the summit, and I would not get the window. Why was this happening? Everything was going so well up to this point. Deep inside, I knew that the only decision to make was to go back down, but I still wanted to go up. I began to climb again and Fuchettar began to voice his doubts. Another set of climbers began to descend on us, knocking more rocks down on us. It was clear that I could not ignore the signs any longer. With a heavy heart, I made my way slowly back to the South Col. I joined Felipe inside a tent and learned that he had turned back at the same point as us on his attempt with oxygen.

Soon, the radio squawked that Damian, Jefferson, Lhakpa, Rinji and Rory were on the summit. There were about 50 folks who had reached the summit with oxygen that morning, but they were over six hours ahead of me and had started at 9 p.m. on the 22nd from the South Col. I rested for an hour while Fuchettar collected a load of equipment to take back down to Camp 2. In less than an hour we began the long descent from Camp 4.

We rappelled the Geneva Spur and joined the line of Sherpas ferrying loads down the mountain. We crossed the Yellow Band and the heat of the day began to build. I began to swelter inside my down suit. Fuchettar and I took a break amongst the garbage left on the tent platforms at Camp 3. Loads of people began to pass us as we took a break. I was the lone person without an oxygen mask.

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on this year’s experience. There are many lessons to take away from the mountain this year. The fixed lines, assaults, crowds and commercialism of the mountain were the low points. The personal growth, progress and new friendships were the highs. I hoped to rest at Camp 2 for the night. Without the motivation of a successful speed ascent without oxygen, there was no longer a reason to push on toward Base Camp.

Fuchettar and I made it to the base of the Lhotse Face and I removed my down suit and stowed it inside my Seal Line dry bag. The bag had backpack straps so I could wear my extra gear comfortably back to Camp 2. On the way down, we were greeted by our cook, Gopal, offering us cups of cold orange Tang. We thanked him gratefully and put away a couple of cups of the refreshing liquid. Despite drinking eight liters of water and powder mix I was still dehydrated.

At just before 2 p.m., we made it back into Camp 2. With the exception of a break at Camp 4, I had been on the go for 23 hours and awake for more than 30 hours. I laid down on the rock bench in the kitchen tent and fell fast asleep. The rest of the summit team trickled in over the next six hours. Soon the summit team, Felipe and Phurba were all safe in Camp 2.

Rory had acquired a serious lung infection and had to remain on oxygen overnight. Rory and I shared a tent so I could monitor him in case he encountered further complications. Thankfully, he woke up a bit more rested the following morning. His oxygen saturation levels were above 77 percent and he decided that he could descend to Base Camp without oxygen. There were numerous items that I needed to take back down through the Icefall. I took the duffel bag used at Camp 3 and filled it with thermos bottles, Olympus Mons boots, two sets of crampons, a tent, hydration pack, multiple cameras, down suit, sleeping pad, full hydration pack, goggles and extra climbing equipment. All told, the duffel was about 45 pounds. Rory and I ate two eggs and a bowl of rice porridge and left Camp 2 at 7:15 a.m. By 11 a.m., we had made it through the Icefall and back to Base Camp. I have completed 70 trips through the Icefall in my three expeditions, and am grateful to have run the gauntlet without incident.

I have to admit that I’m a bit disappointed that I did not reach the summit on this expedition. The take-away point from this trip is that the only thing you can hope to control in this life is your mind. I am proud of my effort and the ability to return from this expedition healthy and happy. There will be other climbs and trips to be made because I made the right decisions. I have all my fingers, toes and appendages. I learned and progressed as an athlete and as a human being. After all, life is about living for each moment. I do not have any regrets, as each moment is a gift. Thank you for your support! I look forward to training for the next challenge and sharing the continuing adventures with you all.

I would like to thank all of the people who have made this expedition possible. It’s amazing how much support I’ve received from my family, friends and the climbing community.

Thank you Mandy for all of your love and support on this expedition. I can only express my gratitude for your infinite patience and positive insight. I will be home to you soon.

A huge thank you to Outdoor Research for providing me with funding for this expedition and the quiver of beautiful and functional clothing, headwear and handwear. A special thanks to Dan N. for believing in me! There are so many wonderful folks at OR whom I owe a special thanks to as well and will have to make in person. I’ve been working with OR for over 17 years now.

Thank you MSR Stoves for providing funding for this expedition and the Reactor Stoves that I’ve been using on many expeditions. Thank you, Jim, for helping to make this expedition possible.

Thank you to Nickerson Street Storage in Ballard for providing funding for this expedition and providing me with a storage unit while I live out of my truck. Tom, I owe you a special thanks for your generosity.

To my father and mother for making a generous donation to this climb! I love you both. Thank you for your tremendous love and kindness across a lifetime.

To all of my friends in my personal community who made individual contributions to help make this dream come true. I am coming home to relax, eat, climb and work with you again.

To my friends at Black Diamond, thank you for providing me with all of the technical climbing equipment on this and my other climbing expeditions.

To Ian at La Sportiva, thank you for providing me with some of the beautiful functional boots I’ve been using for the past decade. 

Thank you, Nick at Julbo eye wear, for the glasses and goggles that help me to view this wonderful world.

Thank you, Graham from Cilo Gear Packs. You provide alpinists with the best and lightest packs available.

Thank you, Peter and Carolyn at Feathered Friends! Your down suits, sleeping bags and gear have kept me light and warm since 1984.

Thank you, Meredith with Eating and Living Healthy. Your nutritional plan for climbing was very enlightening. 

Thank you to Tom and Tina from Explorers Web. Your continued support of my expedition posts and technical support make these posts possible.

Thank you, Krissy Moehl for providing me with the Ultra Spire running packs. You are a dynamo of concentrated energy and an inspiration for me.

Thank you, Pro Boot for custom fitting my Olympus Mon boots with the fixed crampons. Jim, you are the cream of the crop.

Thank you, Jeanne for your body work and healing hands. Structure Body Work and Massage is my go-to when I need a tune up and body repair.

Thank you to my wonderful teachers Venerable Dhammadinna and Tenzin Jesse. Bhodi Heart is such a wonderful refuge. I look forward to seeing you both and all my friends in the Sangha.

Thank you to MSR tents for providing me with a lightweight and durable home away from home. The Fury tent has worked wonderfully.

And last, but certainly not least, a big thank you to my friend and work partner Robert. We have shared over thirteen years of projects and life. Your depth of insight and wisdom is wonderful. Thank you for being such a great friend!

I hope that I haven’t forgotten to thank anyone. There are so many people who have made these adventures possible. We are all interconnected and each of us helps to make one another’s life better. 

As I was climbing for the summit, I was thinking about how many people are involved in this expedition and how thankful I am to have this opportunity.