Richard Harris recalls the last days of the Everest Expedition
I had just sat down and swallowed a mouth full of water when Lincoln came up the last slope at crampon point; he seemed rather distressed, and short of breath. He quickly explained that Christopher was having trouble breathing. He was about 150m in altitude below me at around 6,500m. My heart started to pound as I took in what Lincoln had just said.
I shouldered my pack whilst trying to negotiate the icy slope that met the rocky trail below. Lincoln led the way and even though we were both wearing rigid boots we managed to sort of run. That was until I twisted my ankle, and was reduced to a slower pace. When I reached Christopher I was coughing profusely from the after effects of Bronchitis and had trouble even asking him if he was ok.
After he explained what had happened and that he now felt he could walk back down to Advanced Base Camp (ABC) we set off. My ankle was now extremely painful, so Lincoln went ahead with Christopher whilst I slowly limped back to camp. On arrival at ABC the expedition doctor examined Christopher and after putting Christopher on oxygen told me that his blood pressure was only eighty over forty, and that this was extremely low. Half an hour passed before Christopher was allowed off the supplementary oxygen. He came into the mess tent and sat down beside me, I sat there nursing my swollen left foot. He didn’t say a word, and neither did I for several minutes as we contemplated the reality of our situation.
I had no choice but to accept my bid for the summit was over. My decision was easy, but deciding whether Christopher should climb or not was a dilemma. There was after all a chance that this breathing problem was just a one off and that he could still make the summit. But could I risk letting him go higher, knowing that a repeat of today could possibly be fatal?
Turning back on a mountain because the weather is bad is hard enough but having to tell Christopher he wasn’t going to get another chance seemed impossible. Despite what I had to do I loved him too much to loose him to a mountain. There was no easy way to tell him, so as he talked over plans for tomorrow with Lincoln I stopped him in the middle of his sentence. As I said I don’t think that’s going to be possible. He immediately knew what I meant and as I watched the emotion build in this normally tough as nails boy, a tear came to my eye as I realised that I had just permanently destroyed his dream of becoming the youngest person to ever climb Mt Everest.
Christopher recalls his final days on Mt Everest
I sat there stunned; my Dad had just told me that I could not attempt the summit tomorrow and that we would be going back down to Base Camp. I tried not to show how upset I was as I sat amongst more than a handful of men who had been to the summit. How could he do this? I’d been waiting for this chance since I first decided I wanted to be a mountaineer at the age of eight. This isn’t fair; I feel fine now. Although it was scary when I couldn’t breathe I still want to try and go up to the north Col tomorrow and hopefully attempt the summit a few days after that.
I couldn’t stay in the mess tent any longer and went back to my tent where at least no body else could say “Sorry Chris, you’re not going to get another chance.” I tried hard to get to sleep but it was hopeless; I just felt terrible. The night felt endless. And when the sun did finally find its way to my tent I didn’t feel like getting up, so I didn’t.
At nine thirty my Dad came to my tent, I thought just to see how I was, but no he had come to give me the best news I think I had heard since Dick Smith phoned me to tell me he would pay for an expedition to Everest. Apparently Dad had lay awake all night like me and in the morning after a lengthy discussion with Lincoln had decided I should get one more chance at my dream. What a feeling this was, I started to repack my gear straight away. The only bad thing about me getting a chance was that my Dad wouldn’t, I would be going up with just Lincoln and our four Sherpa’s.
After an emotional farewell with my Dad I walked out of ABC thinking I’m going to make it to the summit for the both of us. I was feeling good until about half an hour from camp. Just like yesterday I started to have difficulty breathing, I couldn’t believe it was happening again. I had no choice but to retreat to ABC. The doctor put me on oxygen straight away and I began to feel much better with my breathing returning to normal and my blood pressure returned to normal. This was it; my attempt at summiting Mt Everest was over.
It felt different to yesterday, I’d been upset but today it some how felt okay to turn around and go down. When I got back to camp my Dad looked shocked to see me but also relieved. He didn’t need to reassure me that I could try again another year as we both knew that’s what I will do.