ESSAY: Great Things Can Be Done Dave Hahn - Basecamp Sun, March 25, 2001 10:00PM
I have had five summit days on Mount Everest since 1991. I turned around at 28,000 feet on two of those attempts when the weather got lousy. I turned around at 29,028 feet on three of those days when, coincidentally, the weather also got lousy. I've guided the summit of Cho Oyu (the sixth highest mountain in the world) twice. I've led Himalayan expeditions, guided on them, been employed as a cameraman and correspondent on them.
I've been sick and uncomfortable and cold and angry and stressed and weak in the Himalayas. I've also been lucky and successful and strong and elated and overwhelmed with good feeling toward my partners and the world in general during Himalayan expeditions.
Having been a participant in the 1999 Everest Expedition that searched for some sign of the 1924 British Expedition, I've known wild success. We found the remains of George Mallory at 27,000 feet on the North Face. When I say "We" I mean it fully... one man first sighted the body, five of us searched for it, the team was very capably led, it was very capably supported by experienced and strong Sherpas, it was thoroughly documented by a well-backed camera crew, it was carried by strong yaks driven by tough Tibetan men, it was funded by solid sponsorship in the outdoor industry, it was aided by hardworking historians... the list is long.
I am reminded of what a great team effort that was now when two years later, I find myself camped in the same gravel at the end of the same glacier looking at the same mountain... once again trying to go up and turn the climbing world on it's ear by finding real answers to the big hypothetical questions everybody seems to have regarding when and how Everest was first topped by men.
We, once again, have a great team. This one is, by far, the strongest one I've been a part of, in terms of experience on 8000 meter peaks... a relevant detail when a search above 8000 meters is the goal. Eric Simonson has one of the more remarkable memories I've been around, he keeps track of nearly every mistake he and others have ever made in the high mountains and he learns from them. For him to take what he learned in '99 and add it to what he has learned in the intervening expeditions he has been involved with is of great significance and benefit to this team.
It is obvious to me that Tap Richards and Jake Norton have honed their skills and strengths in the intervening two years, both now are engaged in leading Himalayan climbs, both have been high a few more times in tough circumstances. Andy Politz is two years older and wiser and like every other time I've run into him after the passage of time, I stare at his arms and shoulders and wonder if they've actually gotten bigger and stronger again. Jochen Hemmleb has yet to let me down in my never-ending game of "stump the historian" If I go ask him now, out of the blue, just what shape of water bottle Noel Odell carried in 1924, I expect he'll have the right answer.
Lee Meyers has had another trip or two under his belt as well, and has seen just how strong climbers can grind to a halt with and without good medical advice... we'll use him plenty. We've brought in two climbers who weren't on the '99 team, Brent Okita and John Race, but to call them "new" members is somewhat ridiculous. Brent and I started guiding together 16 years ago and shared a room for probably 12 years during which time we pushed each other to all sorts of weird accomplishments in the hills. I watched through a telescope as Brent tore up the summit pyramid of Everest in 1991 on his first Himalayan expedition. John Race and I shared guiding on Rainier, McKinley, Xixipangma, Everest and Antarctica before he committed to this crazy expedition.
Crazy because, despite the successes of the 1999 trip, we seemed to have become the target of some peculiar criticisms as we geared up for another trip. There are, as usual, those who want to try to define mountaineering and mountaineers. There are those who worry about whether our search expeditions threaten their own carefully guarded positions as climber-celebrities. There are those who can't seem to grasp why we would want to mess with the success of our 1999 trip. There are those who question whether our 1999 trip was a success... it goes on and on... if you listen.
If, on the other hand, you are where you want to be, at the foot of Mount Everest with exciting prospects for discovery and adventure and climbing ahead of you for the next two months, you may just be able to tune out all the external voices and concentrate on what is real. Particularly if you are still driven, as I am, to know more of what became of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine. Particularly if you are enjoying, as I am, a return to strength in high places..
I wasn't happy at all to have been at my weakest, afflicted by Celiac Disease, during that '99 success. Particularly if you are with a good strong team that knows how to laugh, knows how to work, and knows the value of loyalty to each other. Great things can be done... great friendships furthered... great challenges pursued.