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Valerie Parkinson was the first British woman to climb, without supplementary oxygen, the world’s eighth highest mountain.
Valerie is the long-standing Asia Base Manager and Trek Leader for Exodus. Here is her story.
Getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory
This is the mantra used by Ed Viesturs and was what came to mind on 19th May as I reached the South Summit of Everest (8751m) just below the Hillary Step and 97m from the top.
I turned back here as I had very little oxygen left and very cold feet (which when I got back to the South Col that night found out were badly frostbitten).
Now back in the UK, I can reflect on the whole amazing experience, which for me was the dream of a lifetime. There were so many highlights it’s difficult to list them all but here are some.
Everest Base Camp
Climbing through the awesome Ice Fall is dangerous and frightening but at the same time, it is incredibly beautiful. Always shifting and cracking it seems to be alive and the torrent of ribbed and fluted blue ice spills right down to Base Camp.
There is a section called ‘popcorn’ and that is what it is like – massive chunks of ice the size of a house piled on top of one another at crazy angles.
I was proud that I could balance on the ladders across the deep icy crevasses and in fact, the wobbly ladders became the least of my worries when I looked around at the huge blocks of ice just waiting to crack and tumble into a void!
In contrast, the Western Cwm feels calm and serene. At Camp 2 we camped below the imposing and very steep Lhotse Face.
Walking in the baking hot sun in the Western Cwm I could enjoy the magnificence of the mountain auditorium I was in, surrounded by Nuptse, Lhotse and Everest.
I have a wonderful memory of waking up on my 50th birthday to a brilliant blue sky and icy wonderland at Camp 2. Climbing the steep, icy Lhotse Face to Camp 3 is a challenge, as is camping at 7150m on a small platform carved out of ice right in the middle of an ice face.
I will always remember the view out of one tent door across to Nuptse and out of the other straight down more than 5000ft! Climbing the steep, rocky Yellow Band (the rock actually is yellow) and the Geneva Spur was hard as it is so high but worth it to finally arrive at the South Col, one of the highest and most desolate places on earth at 7950m.
Everest rears up behind camp and below me. all I could see were huge mountains and I even saw the curvature of the earth.
Summit day was hard, incredibly hard – climbing in a line of other climbers by torchlight, lost in the silence of my own thoughts.
I remember getting to the Balcony and looking thousands of feet down to the Rongbuk Glacier in Tibeton one side and thousands of feet down to Camp 2 in Nepal on the other.
The sun eventually rose and the sky turned incredible shades of orange and red. Reaching the South Summit was both exciting and a relief as finally after 10 hours I could sit down for a rest.
Makalu rose out of the clouds and I was actually above the great bulk of Nuptse. One of my best memories of summit day was four of us sitting and having a 20-minute conversation on an extremely narrow ledge below the Hillary Step with a 10,000 ft drop both in front and behind and the most amazing views over the earth.
The Everest Team
All these memories and many more were just part of the whole Everest experience for me. As well as all this I will remember our team of sherpas.
The cook and his team at Base Camp and Camp 2 did an amazing job of making one of the most inhospitable places on earth comfortable. Without the climbing sherpa,s most climbers would get nowhere.
Tarkay, my climbing sherpa was always there if I needed a hand – incredibly strong and loyal and I have the utmost respect for them – they are the real heroes of Everest.”
Back at the South Col, Valerie discovered that she had frostbite on all five toes of her left foot, compounded by snow blindness, which led to an agonizing night up in the ‘Death Zone’.
On 21st May, she was fit enough to descend to Base Camp, where she was evacuated, initially on a horse (which slipped on the ice just beyond Base Camp) and then by helicopter down to the humid heat of Kathmandu and to the hospital, and from there back home to the UK.
Congratulations, Valerie, on a superb effort. We’re all very proud of you.
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