The story of a Victoria man who survived a harrowing ascent up Mt. Everest has gone viral on social media for its detailed recounting of heroism, tragedy, and survival.
Earlier this week, island resident Chris Dare posted a Facebook update describing his dangerous journey up the nearly world’s tallest mountain. Dare had spent the last 6 weeks preparing for a summit climb alongside a group of climbers, the 360 Expedition Team. The 360 consisted of five clients, one expedition guide, and a sherpa for each member.
Out of the six members of the expedition team, Rolfe (leader/guide), Kevin, Kam, Jamie, Arthur, and Sheena, one would not survive.
“I am a firm believer that what defines you as a person is what you do when you’re at your absolute lowest,” says Dare in his Facebook post. “I can tell you first hand that the personal strength and courage from numerous people that day saved at the very least two lives.”
“We still lost one of our beloved members of the 360 expedition team that day; however, it could have been a lot worse.”
On the morning of summit day, poor forecasted weather left only a small window for hopeful climbers to reach the top of the mountain.
Normally, Dare says, climbers leave Everest’s Camp 3 at midnight to summit the mountain in the early morning before returning to camp in the afternoon.
To help avoid the rush, Dare and his sherpa Nuru decided to ascend earlier than usual, though they were not alone in this idea. While Dare and Nuru left two hours before midnight, they found that many teams began their ascent 6 – 7 hours early.
Shortly after the hike began, one expedition team member, Kevin, decided to turn around rather than fighting through his fatigue and risking running out of oxygen.
Several hundred metres later, team member Jamie, decided that his fatigue and oxygen supply were too low to reach the top and decided to turn back as well, a decision that likely saved his life.
“I have incredible respect for Jamie as he had so much pressure on him back on home for a successful summit and he overcame ‘summit fever’, despite being so close,” said Dare.
Had Jamie continued on and found himself in need of help, the dangerous conditions of the journey likely would have prevented him from receiving aid.
A few hours later, roughly half-way through the journey, expedition guide Rolfe had to return to Camp 3 after suffering an injury.
With the threat of blizzardy weather looming, the remaining two members of the team and Dare continued up the mountain as quickly as they could. However, long queues started to build up at three vertical single-file climbs along the trail, adding hours to the climbers’ predicted travel times.
“The ascent from Camp 3 to summit was the most dangerous and terrifying movement I have ever experienced,” says Dare. “The north side is extremely exposed to the elements with much of the route consisting of a ledge 20 cm wide with sheer drops of hundreds of meters down.”
“Yes, there is fixed rope, but all that means is you’re standing on a balance beam and if you fall, you drop about 20 meters before the rope catches, then you slam your body/head against the rock below the ledge.”
According to Dare, hours before the team made their ascent at least two people had died on this stretch of mountain, in spite of the rope.
Despite the long lines, Dare, Arthur, Nuru, and Arthur’s guide reached the summit of Mt. Everest, but well behind schedule. Team member Kam was also making her way up the mountain, though she was still hiking at the time.
“At the summit the winds were already starting to pick up, so Nuru and I left within 10 minutes, sacrificing the ‘perfect summit photo’ for safety,” says Dare.
“It was already too late though and we were getting hammered by the winds and cold all the way down.”
Arthur, meanwhile, had decided to stay at the peak a little longer.
“We all thought they were definitely going to die…”
Eventually, Dare and Nuru made it back to Camp 3, exhausted and frostbitten. Their original plan was to return earlier and press on to a lower elevation camp, but the pair was too drained to continue.
“When I arrived back in Camp 3 I was in such a daze, instead of sorting myself out, I ended up sitting exposed outside my tent in the snow and wind hunched over,” said Dare.
He would have remained outside in the subzero temperatures if not for Jamie – one of the team members who had returned to camp near the beginning of the hike – who spotted him and brought him inside his tent.
“Personally, I truly believe I was in danger of dying up there. I barely made it back, but a combination of Nuru’s encouragement, thinking about friends and family at home and my repeating the words ‘I’m not dying here today’, I stumbled back into Camp 3.”
As the day went on, Dare began to fear for Arthur and Kam, the two 360 Expedition Team members still on the mountain who had yet to return. .
Moreover, as day turned into night, Dare, Nuru, and Jamie began to run out of oxygen. At this elevation, air is thin and climbers must rely oxygen cylinders to breathe.
Unfortunately, Jamie’s oxygen cylinder had run empty while Dare had donated his extra oxygen cylinders to those who needed it more at the time.
Relying on a single cylinder of oxygen, the trio split their remaining cylinder throughout the night. Eventually, Nuru began refusing to use the cylinder despite Dare and Jamie’s insistence so that the two other climbers could have more breathable air for themselves.
“…Nuru shivered in the corner, insisting he wasn’t developing more frostbite,” said Dare. “He was lying to us to try to keep us safe.”
Meanwhile, concern for Arthur and Kam continued to grow, as neither had returned.
“We all thought they were definitely going to die, but there was nothing we could do as we were virtually paralyzed ourselves.”
What happened to the rest of the team
Despite multiple close calls, Arthur and his Sherpa, Pemba, survived the journey back to Camp 3.
At 8,600 metres in the air, both Arthur and Pemba, ran out of oxygen. Desperate, the pair began asking anyone they came across for spare oxygen, but other climbers either ignored them or were unable to help.
Miraculously, a random sherpa stumbled across the pair and decided to help. He directed Pemba to his own cache of oxygen and stayed with Arthur until Pemba returned. The pair were then able to make it back to Camp 3, exhausted but alive.
“We’d definitely like to know who this miracle sherpa is, so we can all thank him,” says Dare.
Meanwhile, 360 Expedition Team member Kam had the slowest ascent out of the group, and perhaps the most perilous trip back to camp.
After a 13 hour summit hike, Kam and her sherpa became increasingly weak on their trek back. Still far from Camp 3, Kam ran out of oxygen and her sherpa, too weak to help both himself and her, decided to use his very limited oxygen and strength to push on to camp.
As he stumbled into Camp 3 he signaled to the 360’s expedition leader, Rolfe, where Kam had been left.
Rolfe, who was injured earlier in the day and was forced to return to camp, had coincidentally come into possession of one of the oxygen cylinders that Dare had donated earlier in the day.
Upon hearing that Kam was stranded somewhere up the mountain, he launched his own one man-search party for the abandoned climber, using what limited oxygen was left in Dare’s donated cylinder.
Meanwhile, alone in freezing conditions, Kam stumbled upon another dying climber and began to use their headlamps to signal for help.
Eventually, someone responded to the lights that she was shining – it turned out to be none other than Rolfe.
By the time Rolfe had found Kam, he was nearly out of oxygen and Kam’s fingers were completely frozen through, making her unable to grip ropes. Desperate, Rolfe decided to attach her to himself and rappelled/abseiled down 3 pitches to drag them both back to Camp 3.
“Kam would have surely died, if Rolfe didn’t find and rescue her,” said Dare. “Rolfe is a true hero.”
The last member of the 360 Expedition Team, Kevin, sadly did not survive the journey.
After moving only 200 metres out from Camp 3, Kevin knew he wasn’t feeling well and descended lower down the mountain to Camp 1.
Though things did not seem unusual at the time, he would later pass away that night.
“Kevin was an amazing, hardworking Irishman that I feel privileged to have met and spend so much time with,” said Dare. “He always kept his mountaineering achievements under the radar and treated everyone with such kindness, it burns your heart.”
Chris Dare and the other members of 360 Expedition Team are still on Mt. Everest, and promise to send more updates soon.
“This is just my account and I’m not here to argue with armchair analysts about what should have been done and why things went wrong,” said Dare.
“I just want to make everyone know what happened.”