Summit and Survival

The weather forecast on May 5th was good for the subsequent days and it was decided to do a summit attempt on the 9th, departing the 6th for C2 (~6200 m). In the morning of the 6th, indeed, most of the climbers went up. Suresh did not join as he did not feel well prepared and Jason woke up with pink foam on his mouth, the ultimate sign of pulmonary edema, and was transported down. As the weather was good and we had climbed the route a few times, we arrived at C2 in less than 6 hours. The next morning we got up early and climbed to C3 (~6900 m). The weather was much better than the previous time and we could now clearly see the enormous crevasses. We arrived at C3 in just over 6 hours. On May 8th, we left C3 early to climb to C4 (~7350 m). Arien and I arrive early and try to rest. There are two groups formed, a slower group that will depart at 18 h and a faster group that will depart at 20 h. Shortly after 20 h, Arien and I indeed leave and we steadily climb up in the dark. Around mid-night, unfortunately, I am hit by a piece of ice, size of a dice, exactly in my left eye. I lose my contact lens and, worse, the eye is completely blind (according to the ophthalmologist later in the hospital it was “temporary blindness, due to a haemorrhagic retina caused by a blunt trauma”).

Photo Pemba took about an hour after the ice hit my eye

With only one functioning eye, you cannot see depth which slowed me and Pemba down a bit, but we could more or less keep up to speed with the rest of the group. Just before 10 AM on May 9th we summitted, making Arien and myself  the very first Dutchmen ever summitting Kangchenjunga.

Summit !

The weather had deteriorated and basically, after making a few photos, we went down again. Around 8400 m, there is a rather steep and difficult part, and Pemba suggested we would make a rappel rather than climb down. So we did and when I had gone down, something went wrong which made me lose my equilibrium and tumble down about 30 m. My helmet got total-loss (i.e. it served its function) and I got bruised all over from hitting the rocks. When I slightly disoriented looked up when I stopped falling, I saw a small rock, about the size of a small soccer-ball, bouncing towards me and it smashed me right in the left half of my face. I was bleeding like a pig and slightly dizzy for a while. Pemba and Lakpa rushed towards me and tried to get me up again.  At an altitude of 8400 m you have to help yourself as helicopters cannot fly above ~6500 m. Pemba and Lakpa tried to to persuade me to climb down, but I hurt so much that I didn’t. They removed my crampons and started lowering me down, first through a couloir than across a traverse and then again down through another couloir. Not only was I getting freezing cold by being dragged through the snow, it was also very uncomfortable being tossed over the rocks and it went very slow. As I realised that at this speed we would never reach a safe altitude before I’d be undercooled, I asked Pemba to put my crampons on and let me climb down myself. Thus happened and extremely slowly since my right eye stopped functioning as well, rendering me effectively into a blind person, we descended to C4 where we arrived mid-night. The next morning we continued our descent to C3. During daytime I luckily could see a bit which made it easier to climb down. Around 15 h we reached C3 and I had hoped that a helicopter withy a long-line could pick me up there. Unfortunately, no heli’s with a long line were available and we needed to go further down to C2. We left at 16 h and another night we went down in which I could not see. With closed eyes and one hand on Lakpa’s shoulder we slowly climbed down. I have no clear recollection, as I was in between dreaming and hallucinations. By times I could not get any further, but Lakpa let me sleep in the snow every now and then. Towards 23 h we finally reached C2. Around 6 h the next morning, Pemba told me that a helicopter had left from Lukla to pick me up. Indeed around 7:30 h a helicopter appeared (with Simone Moro, the famous Italian climber from Bergamo as pilot) came to pick me up. In between the helicopter and me and Pemba was an enormous crevasse, which I hardly saw, but Pemba carefully took me to the helicopter which then flew to KBC and subsequently to Ramche. Arien and Lisanne flew then with me to Kathmandu where Wongmu and an ambulance were waiting to bring me to a hospital.

Safely down in Ramche
Photo Wongmu took in the ambulance at Kathmandu Airport

In the hospital, they cleaned the wounds and checked me and subsequently sent me to another hospital with opthalmological expertise where my eyes were thoroughly checked. In addition, they did some surgery to remove debris and dirt from underneath my skin and in a second round of surgery they stitched my brow, eyelid etc. together again. After 6 hours I was sent back to the other hospital. They looked very well after me and I got all kinds of medicine by an intravenous line. The second day I was again sent to the specialist hospital for more checks and controls. My eye sight increases daily and after 4 days I was dismissed from the hospital and went to a local hotel.