Every failure is an opportunity to learn something. And I like learning vicariously whenever possible. Eric Arnold from the Netherlands died Friday night near the south col, I believe, and I think I walked right past him and talked to him.
You see, you all have been roped to me in precarious situations or at least mildly precarious situations, my life and my safety in your hands. I'm a pretty independent person by nature. I can be bull headed and stubborn and go march off and try to solo The Nose on El Capitan or something ridiculous. I don't like to show when I have a problem, at least I will down play it (because I'm always complaining about some ailment). Point being, sometimes I feel like a rope and a partner is a weakness.
Friday night about 8:30 pm as we started our hike out of the south col, before we made it to the fixed rope, maybe 200 meters out of camp, there were two headlamps, two people, off to the left, off the route and one moving and one not moving. As we neared them I noticed something reflective on the trail at 26,000 feet, perhaps their backpacks. As we got closer I saw it was the "Millet" written on the shins of two One Sport Everest boots. As we were even closer I finally saw it was a man sitting in the snow.
I think I said, "Are you okay?"
He said, I think I remember, in very good English, "Yes, I must have dozed off."
I don't remember all the details of our 90 second conversation, but he was with Seven Summits. He stood up and was very coherent and resumed walking downhill to look for his tents. I thought he was older, 50s but I can't be sure, he had an oxygen mask on his face.
In parting I remember saying, "Hury up before your oxygen runs out." And just like that we were 10+ meters apart going our separate ways.
As a note, I yelled to the two headlamps 40 meters off the trail if they needed help, and they didn't respond even though I thought I could hear they were talking. Probably just someone on a bathroom break.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about 8000 meter mountains the last few months. Some people say you are totally on your own up there, a guide can't save you if you have a problem. Some say baloney to that. Having been there now, I say baloney, I tried to pull my friend Anish up a rocky part just below the Hillary Step. I had energy at 8800 meters to pull someone up. Yes, I was on I think 2.5 L/min oxygen at the time, but point being, if someone needs help, it is entirely possible to help them at high altitude. Problem is, no one says he or she need help. I offered help half a dozen times in the past week on the mountain, but no one wanted any.
That's why partners are awesome, when you know me well enough to know when to push on and when to retreat because of the look on my face. It's a two way street, I'll turn around for you too. The man I passed, the man I woke up, he was alone. I don't know if he was the man that died, but napping 200 nearly flat meters out of camp, descending at 8:30 PM, and from Seven Summits...
Thank you partners for putting up with me! Thank you for helping me fulfill my wild fantasies. Thank you for sacrificing sleep, vacation and your own health in cold and windy places. Sure I will continue to solo things, like I want to do Nolan's 14 over July 4th weekend, but for serious places, like Mt. Everest, I only want to go if I can go with a trusted partner. This may sound absurd, but I am healthy and alive today so I can say it while Eric can't, I love you man.