The interview took place in Kathmandu, Nepal, right after the climbing ended. Kenton and Ben were just reporting their trip to journalist and mountaineer Billi Bierling, who is the head of the chronicle “Himalayan Database”, and I was there to ask Kenton a few questions.
I wanted to share with you my experience, so here is how the interview went.
What was your experience this year on Everest?
K.C.: That was great. I loved it. After a slight disappointment last year when I didn’t manage to reach the summit, it was really beautiful to go back there. I simply loved it, also because I returned with some friends, Ben, Victoria, and Mark.
How was the weather?
K.C.: The weather was simply fantastic, all the way through. Of course, there was a small hiccup on the way, between camp 3 and 4, when we were caught in a storm and we had to spend an extra day in South Col… But, generally the weather was great besides this episode. The weather on summit day was amazing.
Fantastic! After 13 summits, what do you still learn about Everest?
K.C.: What happened between camp 3 and 4… I really never experienced high winds and snow like this on Everest. The weather forecast was slightly inaccurate. So, instead of 5 km/h winds, it was probably 60 to 70 km/h. Almost every team turned around between 3 and 4, but we persevered and then we had to withstand howling winds overnight at camp 4.
Is there something you learned about yourself, still?
K.C.: I was really keen on pushing forward. We were already committed and we’ve been going for 3 hours plus, between leaving camp 3 and then the expectation to reach camp 4. But, I think what I learned this year was, it is actually ridiculous… All my other years I was simply blessed with pretty damn good weather and this was the first time, high on the mountain, I was facing a storm like this. And it was quite humbling. This was pretty crappy weather and I was out there thinking if this was the right thing to do.
After your regulators failed, how’s the experience? Is it frightening? How did you feel about that?
K.C.: We had a total of 4 regulators that failed, one the night before. I thought I made a mistaking by putting it onto the bottle. Regulators need to be opened when you’re putting them on the bottle. And I really thought that I made a mistake.
Retrospectively, it wasn’t, it was one of the new regulators that failed. When the first one failed, I thought, what was that? Then I said, okay, that’s a new one on me, but that’s fine, we’ve got spares. And then another one failed. Then another one failed… I was all like, Jesus, what’s going on here? And they failed quite catastrophically. I ended up giving Ben my regulator and I continued without oxygen. It was pretty frightening, Ben was quite freaked out by it, and it was understandable to be so. He was very nervous, and I thought that we swapped all the new regulators with old ones, but we hadn’t. We had one left and it blew up at the Hillary Step. And then we made it… Now this may sound odd… but it made it quite exciting, as it adds an extra element to the climb. But it was an extra element we all could have done without.
You don’t need much for things to go wrong at 8000 m, as you probably know. And when the last one went out on the Hillary Step, you’re only 1800 – 1900 meters away from the summit, but it still feels scary because there were 4 of us with only 3 regulators. So there is only a 3 oxygen delivery system and I’ve gone without and it failed.
How much time did you spend on the summit?
K.C.: Apparently, over an hour. But it felt like only 5 minutes. I’ve probably been pushing about 3 hours without oxygen, so…
So you came back to camp 4 to grab some oxygen?
K.C.: No, I got a regulator on the summit. It’s not what you know, is who you know. I got a regulator on the summit, but I had no mask. But then I got a mask at the South summit on the way down.
Last question. What would you like to share with climbers, people who want to climb or people who have climbed and want to climb again?
K.C.: Is it about climbing in general or about climb Everest?
K.C.: Climb Everest… Well, I’ve climbed it 13 times now, since 2004. Every time it essentially defined my life. Sherpas friends, guide friends, Kathmandu friends, people like yourself, etc… People I’ve met through my passion for climbing Everest. It is a unique experience, there are both good and bad. But I truly believe that the good outweigh the bad and I do honestly think that it is a true mountaineering adventure.
It’s not mountaineering in the true sense of the word, as you and I may know from the Alps, but it is a unique mountain adventure and if anybody has even a small amount of desire to climb the mountain, I would say to indulge your passion. Indulge your adventure and do it because you’re not going to regret it.
Thank you so much.
K.C.: It’s been a pleasure.