Belfast Telegraph

The frozen corpses spurred me on to conquer Everest

By Patrice Dougan

A Northern Ireland man who reached the summit of Mount Everest last month has told of the traumatic experience of walking past the bodies of the climbers who didn’t make it off the mountain.

Geoff Chambers (46), from Richhill, made a triumphant return home after fulfilling his life-long ambition of conquering the highest peak in the world.

He also brought home some melted snow to baptise any future grandchildren.

But he said he was frequently reminded of just how dangerous the expedition could be as he came across the frozen corpses of other climbers.

The father-of-two told of how he saw seven dead bodies on the mountain — one who died two days previously, and two bodies frozen in the ice field, one up to 20 years ago.

Last month Kildare climber John Delaney (41) died on the mountain days after his wife gave birth to a baby girl.

Geoff said the trek was a daily reminder of mortality and the dangers at such altitudes.

He said the bodies were harsh reality checks, which made you “quickly stop whining”.

It was something which had also played on his wife Jenny’s mind, he said. He described her “emotional” greeting on his return to George Best Belfast City Airport. Jenny had made huge posters which proclaimed his triumph to the whole airport.

He said: “When I came out of the City Airport Jenny was there, my whole family was there, and quite a few people stopped and a crowd gathered to see who it was with the poster, and a cheer went up and there was a lot of people standing clapping.

“I can’t explain it, but it was the first time I felt that I had actually done this, because it was so surreal to stand up there (the summit) for 10 minutes and go down as fast as you can.”

The engineer said he could only spend 10 minutes at the summit because it was too cold to stay longer — temperatures were between -40C and -50C.

But he said his “euphoria moment” at the top was overshadowed by the extremely dangerous crossing to get there.

The safe, high quality rope which he had followed almost to the top suddenly changed to a “completely frayed” one which he likened to a shoelace.

“All I could think of was this rope is not good and if I don’t concentrate now I’m gone,” he said.

But Geoff said he never could have made it to the summit if it wasn’t for his family: “It would be impossible, in my case anyway, to do this without the support of family, even though they are not actually with you.”

He said thoughts of his family kept him going. When he reached the summit he kept a promise to his children Laura and Chris — to bring home snow.

He scraped snow into two 500ml containers.

“The Sherpa thought that I was going mad and trying to get something to drink. I managed to convince him because I had written the children’s names on each one.

“I promised my son and daughter that if I summited my first grandchild from each of them would be christened by water from the top of the world. So the 500ml of snow duly melted into 300ml of water and it’s in my freezer — and will stay there for a very long time, according to Laura and Chris.”

The feat gave him a touch of frostnip as he had to take his gloves off to get the snow, but he said it was worth it.

Geoff said the 72-day trek saw him lose two stones in weight.

“With the huge exertion that you put yourself through and huge pressure of what you’re doing, your body just devours your muscle,” he said. “No matter if you eat all day long you wouldn’t replace what you’re using going up the mountain.”

Background

Climbing Mount Everest is fraught with danger with almost every step. And the consequences of a wrong footing or the extreme cold weather conditions can greet trekkers as they make their way up, particularly in what is known as “the death zone”. Here, at altitudes higher than 8,000m (26,000ft), bodies of the dead lie where they fall. Some are reportedly visible from standard climbing routes.

By the end of 2009 Everest had claimed 216 lives since records began in 1922, including eight who perished during a 1996 freak storm near the summit. It became the deadliest year with 15 people losing their lives in 1996 alone. The majority of climber deaths occur during the descent from the summit.

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