Now you can imagine, if you don’t have deep WHY for climbing this mountain, what kind of torture would it be to debate every day “Is it worth it?”

You have to want to climb because you are truly passionate about mountains. Passion can help make those pains just part of the journey; Passion can help make those suffering just the norm of an expedition life; Passion can help you focus on experiencing the mountain instead of worrying about the outcome.

But Everest is more than just a mountain.

You have to want to climb this mountain beyond just your love for climbing. You need an even deeper why.

Only with a deep why, can you willingly give up the comfort of home and love of family in exchange for two months of suffering;

Only with a deep why, can you courageously make each step despite the fear;

Only with a deep why, can you keep moving forward even when all the odds are against you.

For me, I started this journey because I believed that an ordinary person can climb Everest and achieve extraordinary goals.

I’m on this mountain not only for my own dream, but also for those ordinary people, who believed that because they hadn’t achieved anything outstanding yet, they never would. I wanted to do my best to show everyone what’s possible for them.

For each of us, our why is unique to ourselves and to each situation. It can change over time. The deeper you can answer the why, the more motivation you will get when facing a big challenge.

How does this lesson apply to today?

Passion is more than something we need when we pursue big goals.

It’s the foundation for our happiness in everyday life, especially in times of big challenges.

The deeper you can answer the why, the more motivation you will get.

When you are doing things you are passionate about, you feel ever more energetic every day, your heart is filled with joy, and you appreciate all the possibilities life presents.

When you are living with a deep why, you find it easier to stay focused on a daily basis, you see setbacks as normal steps on your journey, you see obstacles as opportunities for growth.

When you are living every day with passion rooted in deep why, the world is so beautiful, your life is so fulfilling, you light up the world around you.

When you are thriving, every dream is possible!


Read previous lesson: EVEREST LESSONS: HOW  

Everest Lessons: HOW

This famous quote from Nietzsche is the absolute foundation if you want to be successful in any hard endeavoring.

To avoid making it an abstract philosophical discussion, let me share with you the “how” one has to bear on Mount Everest, the “how” that caused one-third of climbers to quit before the summit push … not for just a few days or weeks, but every day for 2 months!

First, the pain of breathing the thin air. If you have ever been to Denver, the mile-high city, or have hiked on Mount Rainier, you may have a sense of what I am talking about. And Everest basecamp is more than 3 miles above sea level, or 3000 feet higher than the summit of Mount Rainier. Can you imagine how much thinner is the air up there? And you live there for almost two months? The pain of constant coughs and headache, of clearing your nose of bloody secretions every few minutes. This is what you experience every day and night when you remain healthy.

On top of that comes the almost unavoidable sickness. Your immune system is seriously weakened at high altitudes. Two months is long enough to allow even the healthiest person to catch some bugs at one point or another, and the severity is magnified 100 times at high altitudes. A simple cold can develop into fatal pulmonary edema or cerebral edema overnight.

Halfway through the expedition, I had a serious lung infection and was sent down the mountain to a village for 5 days. I was lucky to be able to make a full recovery just in time.

Then, exhaustion. Every climbing day is long, you’re more tired than you’ve ever been in your life, but the altitude and the uncomfortable camping conditions make it hard to sleep, and your own cough constantly interrupts your rest.

Next, Do you know the temperature on glaciers can swing between freezing cold and torching 100F within just a few minutes? How do you possibly dress properly? How awful is it to suffer terrible sunburn and frostbite at the same time! And both cold and heat drain your energy.

And of course, the fear of being caught in an avalanche is with you all the time.

Then there’s the psychological pressure. You constantly see other climbers who are stronger, faster. No matter how confident you are on day one, you begin to question if you are good enough. And not to say if you happen to be one of the weakest and the slowest ones.

And, everyone climbs on their own schedule. While you are trying to focus your mind on your summit push, others might be celebrating and packing up to go.

Even if you can endure all the suffering for two months, a monster avalanche could destroy the climbing route and end the climbing season prematurely; or the storm never relents and you don’t ever get a weather window to attempt the summit.

Why would you bother to climb this mountain when the odds are so against you?

And then you know what, it only takes a couple of days to fly back to your safe warm home; in just a couple of days, you can be in the arms of your loved ones. That option is always on your mind. Every single day, it makes you ask yourself “Should I stay or should I go?”

Now you can imagine, if you don’t have a deep WHY for climbing this mountain, what kind of torture would it be to debate every day “Is it worth it?”

Continue Reading

What does it take to climb Everest?


Everest Summit – summary written on May 27, 2010


It has been a few days since the summit, but I’m still trying to digest the fact that I just climbed Everest. Was it hard?

It depends. If you have read the previous blog “Why Everest is hard” and after two months of suffering through pain, you are still healthy/strong, determined, and positive, then maybe Everest is not that hard for you.

When I set the goal to climb Everest a few years ago, I saw it as a goal reachable by anyone. After training hard, I have finally achieved my goal! Now it feels surreal that I have just climbed Everest!

So, what does it takes to climb Everest? My thoughts…

  • Positive Attitude
  • High Pain Tolerance
  • Strong will/desire
  • Fitness/strength

You should be well above average in all four, and be in the top 10% in at least two categories. When my life slows down, I shall start writing more about Everest and will also post more pictures! So stay tuned…



Everest Summit – summary written on May 27, 2010

Since the summit day (May 24th), we have been on the move every day— descending from Camp 4 (C4) to Camp 2 (C2), then C2 to Everest Base Camp (EBC). Then packing and moving out of EBC, and now I’m on my way hiking out of Khumbu Valley.  While busy walking or climbing every day, I have kept on thinking again and again of what happened during the past few days, but didn’t have much time to sit down writing. This is by no means a detailed report; rather, I just want to give everyone a general idea of what our summit day on Everest was like.

Thunder in the heavens

First of all, it’s very important to clarify the actual condition of the summit day, or more accurately, the summit night. The weather forecast was “less wind, but higher probability of precipitation.” There’s no way to know how much “higher” probability and how much precipitation. So we had to go with our guts and hope for the best. The snow and wind started in the afternoon and soon became blowing snow, heavy storm conditions by the time we were ready to ascend.

Camp 2 radioed down, “Hey, we are snowing at Camp 2 here. How are the conditions down there?” Justin humorously responded, “Yah, we see snow coming up from the ground here.”

We started the summit push around 8pm on May 23rd despite the blowing snow and limited visibility. Alpine Ascents also stuck to original summit plan, as we did, in the hopes of conditions improving later. But Rainier Mountaineering (RMI) postponed their summit push to the next day. I started out by fully covering my face with the combination of goggles, balaclava, buff, and oxygen mask.

Slowly, my goggles started to fog up, but I dared not take them off because I have heard several stories of frozen corneas on summit day, and that would be the end of it all! The few times I briefly removed my goggles to clean them, the wind and snow would blind me instantly. I could feel it was very cold out there, but I was keeping myself very warm with a good climbing rhythm until we hit Balcony.

For a short period, there was even thunder and lightning around us. I was a little concerned, but obviously, there was nowhere to escape to and there were not many objects higher than us. Since lightning strikes on Everest are rare and the thunderstorm did not look like a severe one, our guide decided we would continue.

Balcony – a brief panic

My first scary moment came at Balcony (8,400 m, 27,600 ft), where we would change to a new oxygen bottle. I had been climbing at a good pace and did a good job keeping myself warm. After taking me off from my current bottle, my Sherpa Da Tenji found my new bottle leaking. This is considered to be the textbook reason for accidents on Everest! Any problems with an oxygen bottle not only would cost the summit, but more importantly, could easily cost a life.

While he was busy fixing it, I started to get cold fast. There was blowing snow all around us, blinding from all directions. No matter how I turned, it was impossible to find a safe place to drink or eat. As this dragged on for several minutes, too long in my mind, I started to find myself struggling for air, maybe out of panic. It felt like a long time, though I think it might just be psychological, but it was scary! During those long minutes, my mind kept imagining the worst.

Things that could go wrong…

While we were fumbling around with the bottle, many climbers have passed us and moved on. When I finally got going again, I soon found myself joined at the end of a line of climbers that were going nowhere. A veritable traffic jam on Everest! Another classic situation for accidents! I couldn’t see what was going on ahead. It was dark and visibility was low; I could not make out was around us, left or right. It looked like a narrow ridge, which would be very dangerous trying to get around other people. I was wondering if to the right side of us was China.

My guide, Justin, came up from behind and jumped on the snowbank in order to bypass the line to see what was going on ahead. After quite a while, Justin returned with one of our team members and told the team to “move slowly, wait for the sun! Hopefully the weather will improve!” (Later I learned the implication of that instruction was that Justin was planning to turn the whole team back at South Summit if the weather did not improve by the time we reached there. Looking back, we were lucky that the line moved so slow! Otherwise, my summit would have been called off!)

The line started to move but still at a snail’s pace. I don’t know how long I spent standing still, it felt like hours. My body didn’t heat up much yet, and now my feet and hands were starting to feel frozen. The traffic jam could also waste oxygen, a limited amount in each bottle. We would have to give up on the summit if we wasted too much time going nowhere. I have felt pretty confident about my physical condition before the summit push, but I have no control of all these kinds of unknown situations. I told myself, I love rock climbing and I want to continue to climb after this, so I can’t lose one toe or one finger! I kept on dancing on my feet and wiggling all toes and fingers.

When I finally came close to the spot, it was a rock spur on the South Summit that had slowed down progress (there were also some slow or tired climbers causing the slowdown earlier, but that has been

solved by Justin). It was a long series of imposing rock steps that was very challenging for big boots and crampons. Also, if you stepped to the east into waist-deep snow, you could run into a serious avalanche hazard. As a rock climber, I’m really embarrassed at my clumsy move to struggle through the difficult spots. At that moment, I didn’t know the name of the section. I was wondering if this was Hillary Step, and how many steps did he take? If it was not, how was I going to handle any steps even more difficult than this?

Floating in the clouds 

By the time I was near the top of the rock spur, I could see sun rising through the clouds. Yes, “some clouds,” but they were everywhere. We were completely wrapped in thick clouds! It was a relief to see the sun! I know I don’t need to worry about frostbite anymore. Wind had also calmed down and the South Summit was just ahead of me!

When I stepped onto the South Summit, my Sherpa Da Tenji checked my bottle. I was a little bit nervous. Was my bottle leaking? Did I waste too much air while standing in line? “Ok, you have enough left to go to summit.” What a relief! Then he pointed forward at the col below the south summit, “That’s the Hillary step.” Oh, those rock spurs I just struggled over were nothing?

Hillary step was a little bit awkward, but at least it was only a few steps! After that, just some snow slopes. Life is much easier from there on! Not too long, through the heavy fog/cloud, I saw piles of people hugging around at the end of the summit ridge.

The feeling of standing on top of the world is a little bit strange because we can’t see anything other than the little pole wrapped by numerous prayer flags. Nevertheless, everyone was very happy to finally stand at this spot even though we couldn’t take a panorama photograph of the world. Anyway, half of my seven summits had the same view (clouds), so I was almost getting used to it. (So, this explains the lack of photos I could share with you all. I guess I need to come back again one day to make up for those photos!)

After taking enough pictures (how many can you take in heavy clouds?), I know the more serious job is to descend safely. More accidents happened on descent in mountaineering, especially we have those ice/snow covered rock steps all over the mountain here. More challenging for Everest, descending to C4 does not mean that we have finished.

With each day working at full capacity to climb or descend, each day gets more challenging. From C4 to C2 was a relentless steep downhill. Then, after you felt like your leg muscles have been depleted, you needed to stay alert to navigate through the icefall. Only when you returned to EBC could you relax. The last descent through the icefall was what concerned me even more than the summit. It is like a stream of mini- summits that you have to focus your energy and work so hard on when you are already at the end of your rope



Waiting time was taxing. You are not sure how long the waiting time will be and how to plan your schedule. You worry if the summit window will come before Monsoon arrives. You worry if the icefall will still be safe to pass when we finish the climb. You are worried about getting weaker while waiting (don’t forget our base camp here is as high as high camp on most high mountains on other continents, if not higher than its summit). You worry about getting sick from any random factors, you worry about getting injured…

Now it finally is time to go up, and you can stop worrying about a lot of things that kept you awake. Yet, you know how reliable the weather forecast is for more than a week away in the city, not to mention on a mountain like Everest! One day, the forecast was “confident” about a summit window in mid May; the next day, it said the “forecast model is jumping around.” Everest is a big mountain, and the summit push takes

  • You just can’t wait until you see a clear forecast to start going up, or you would risk missing that precious window. It’s a hard gambling game here!

Thinking of Ed Viester’s “No Shortcut to Summit.” It’s so true on Everest! Every step is so hard! No shortcut! I’m little nervous, so many things to finish, and I need to pack and rest!

Like a soldier training for war, I have gotten bored waiting for the big time. Now all of a sudden, we are moving and I am scrambling around and barely have time to finish off the list of to-dos. While waiting, we worried about getting weaker by sitting around, so we tried to do some exercise every day.

Now time to move, we worry about not resting enough, and realize that we have been so spoiled for so many days— sleeping till daybreak every day, no torture moving in midnight frigid temperature or baked under brutal sunshine at midday. Time to get used to not sleeping well in the night; time to get used to planning every visit to toilet, day or night; time to get used to going to sleep in the clothes that you would wake and walk in; time to nervously calculate when sun will cast its brutal heat on the glacier slope… More this time, need to learn to calculate how many hours I have left on that bottle of oxygen…



May 4 – 8, 2010

My second rotation

May 4: EBC – C1 (6000m) May 5: C1 – C2 (6500m)

May 6: C2 – C3 (7200m), personal altitude record! May 7: C3 – C2 (6500m)

May 8: C2 – EBC (5300m)

This rotation is much more challenging than the first one but I’m feeling stronger and enjoyed it much more. Good health makes a big difference! Not only does it make me stronger and more energetic, but more importantly, it makes me focus on acclimatization instead of fighting the painful cough.

Though I was still very tired when I arrived at camp 1 and camp 2, I was not as exhausted as I had felt in the last rotation. My appetite was good during the whole rotation, and I often ate no less than the biggest guy on the team. Kitchen staff often took me being full as the indicator that everyone else had enough food. I realized how fast I could lose weight at high altitude and I know I can’t afford to keep losing muscle mass at such a rapid rate. Otherwise, I would have no strength left climbing the summit. So I kept on feeding myself protein-based food as much as I could throughout the day.

I slept well and I was surprised that at my personal best elevation— camp 3 (7200m, 24000ft), I was still able to eat and sleep relatively normally (compared to the lower camps). Until people started mentioning it, I totally forgot about panic breathing during sleep— feeling suffocated while sleeping and panicking while trying to catch your breath. Although, I had the bad habit of burying myself completely inside my sleeping bag at night…no wonder there didn’t seem to be enough air inside my sleeping bag!

Five days in a row, we got up in the middle of the night to start climbing before the sun heats up the glacier to an unbearable 100F by mid-morning. Though we finish our climb early in the day, that doesn’t mean you can go back to sleep for the rest of the day. Inside the tent, it’s too boiling to sleep during the day. You have to wait until the late afternoon, when the sun goes behind the mountain, which makes you instantly need to crawl back into your warm sleeping bag! Every day is a hard day, and the hardest day was the day when we climbed on Lhotse face, moving from camp 2 to camp 3.


Lhotse Face

 Ideally, I would have liked to rest a day in camp 2 before tackling the demanding climb at Lhotse Face. But the weather forecast was predicting high winds moving in after tomorrow (May 6). We had to climb it tomorrow or we might have to give up. Another question was, what to wear to the climb on Lhotse Face? It will be very cold in the night, requiring us to be fully equipped in our summit suits. But once the sun comes up, you have to strip down to your T-shirt.

It’s a steep slope, which means there isn’t a safe spot to take off or put on a summit suit. It’s a long climb, and entirely under the hot sun. Every one of us decided to climb in our summit suit, and planned to strip it off at the top and tie it around our waist once the sun came up.

The night was warmer than I expected. Once I started walking, I immediately had to unzip my suit, just to cool down! The slope is steep all the way, and there are several long sections of hard ice bulges that make it a very demanding climb. To be safe, we kept the jumar on the fixed rope all the way.

Once we started climbing on the steep slope, I faced another dilemma. If I covered my face with buff or balaclava, I protected myself from Khumbu cough or sunburn, but I couldn’t get enough air to breathe when the climb demanded it. Air or comfort? A hard choice!

Luckily, the sun was not too cruel today. There was some cloud cover, which significantly reduced the sun’s heat. There’s actually two campsites. A lower camp 3 and a higher camp 3. Unfortunately, the IMG site is the furthest spot on the highest spot at the higher camp! While you’re on a steep slope, you can see very far. But looks can be deceiving! Anything that looks close is actually hours away! From lower camp 3, it’s an hour’s climb to get to the higher camp using a fixed line branching out to the right from the main climbing route.

And yes, you need a fixed line to go to the campsite! The whole campsite rests on a steep slope. There’s not much “flat” ground. Each tent platform has been dug with hard work! There’s not much room between tents even to the edge of the platform. So I had to be very careful in moving between tents! We don’t want to risk damaging our tents with crampons, so the advice is to take an ice axe if you want to walk to the “toilet” just in case you miss a step.

On the way down, I was really looking forward to being back at home, my sweet tent home in EBC, and the feeling I looked forward to most was touching my face with the warm wet towel that would be served at dinner or breakfast time. That’s the only time I clean my face with something other than the freezing cold baby wipe! Our Sherpa guides are also looking forward to being back at home too, but their real home. The moment we touched down at EBC, most of them took off immediately to spend a few days with their family in Portse (most of our climbing Sherpas came from Portse, a village between Namche and Pheriche). Only then did I realize that I have been on the road for more than 50 days already. Time flies by so fast! Yet, the game is still far from over!


Apr 29, 2010, 1:30pm

 It’s only a few hours since I sent away Tasia, sitting in the sun room writing. Kuran, the lodge service boy, came up: “Your friend is here.” I walked into the dining room and was shocked to see Jeff, one of my teammates, sitting there! “I’m going home.” Everyone had a tough time at camp 2. Other than going through the same physical pain, Jeff is also torn emotionally. With a sweet wife and two lovely kids at home, Jeff decided it’s more than he can bear. It felt like a joke to me that I’m just sitting here in Pheriche sending away one teammate after another. It’s sad to see another teammate leaving.

In a sense, the serious climb hasn’t even started yet (we haven’t even touched Lhotse face yet), but we (and every team) have been quickly losing climbers for various reasons. Some have said that going through Khumbu icefall is the ultimate Russian Roulette game for mountaineers. But here we see a different Russian Roulette game before we even start climbing. Everest has been so trivialized by various movies, but here I intimately feel it’s a survivor’s game on a daily basis. Everest tests us from all dimensions. We often say, “one step at a time.” Here, each step is hard. There’s a voice trying to tell you “quit” at each step. We need to be resilient in many dimensions, but it’s also a balance between many forces. Some of them you can’t fight against.




Why is Everest so hard?

There are many challenges other than the simple high altitude AMS threat:

  1. Physical Challenge: The approach to Everest is long, and the technique required is more complicated than other hiking mountains— climbing through Khumbu icefall, climbing Lhotse face, and climbing Hilary step at extreme high altitude are all very
  2. Physical Pain: There are so many health hazards along the way; every day you need to not only bear the pain of breathing the thin air and any possible AMS symptoms such as headache, but also fight against the pain of cough, nose stuffed with bloody secretions all the time (we constantly need to clean it, every few minutes, then it’s stuffed again in another minute), throat irritated by dry air all the time. Your immune system is weakened, so any little sickness at sea level is magnified 100 times at altitude. It’s painful to fight health problems at
  3. Tiredness: Each climbing day is long, and you are tired from climbing; the altitude and the uncomfortable camping conditions make it hard to sleep, and your own cough would interrupt rest. Tired and unable to sleep!
  4. Demanding schedule: Every climbing day is equivalent to a summit day on other mountains. Every climbing day is alpine start (get up in middle of night and start in dark). You have to make so many mini-summit days during the whole climb, it’s
  5. Uncomfortable climbing climate: The temperature on glaciers alternates between freezing cold and furnace-hot You can never dress perfectly. It’s painful to be tortured by bone-chilling wind one second, then cooked inside a 100F furnace the next second.
  6. Fear: The unknown risk from icefall or avalanche is there all the time, you just don’t know when it happens. The fearful feeling deters and weakens a lot of people. Not to mention Lhotse face and other hurdles high up on the
  7. Psychological pressure: Not just “what happens if I fail” kind of pressure from yourself or others, which most climbers have learned to deal with after having climbed so many mountains. Here, this is a very demanding mountain. You see other climbers stronger than you, faster than you, and the peer pressure from competition can make you doubt your own capability or potential, make you worry about yourself. Here everyone climbs on their own schedule: some choose to rest more days, and some choose to skip certain camps, so we will all end our summit on different dates. How do you feel when you are trying to focus on your summit push while others are celebrating and packing up to go?
  8. Option to quit: The approach to the mountain is long, and every step is hard. But it’s not so hard to quit! You can leave on a helicopter in a day, you can hike out in two or three days. You can be back in a nice hotel in KTM or your hometown in just a matter of days. Why suffer from the sickness, pain, fear, cold, risk of AMS and avalanche? You see people around you keep on leaving, and some are actually stronger than you. Should I suffer or should I go? Why should I suffer? The easiness to quit may contribute to more
  9. Emotional lure of home: Cozy home, warm family, loved ones are missing you. The expedition is so long. It has been a month already, yet we haven’t even started on Lhotse face yet! Summit is still weeks away and you never know the condition this It’s a torture to be torn emotionally.
  10. Every step is so hard: There are so many forces against you. You may arrive here with gear missing/forgotten or damaged in transportation. You easily fall sick. Nothing is comfortable here. You don’t sleep well, not enough nutritious food to compensate your big energy expense every Weather is never perfect. You feel you’re not trained enough, you never feel good/strong enough. It’s important to steer negative thoughts away; don’t be overly fixed on cause/condition or the so-called “sense.”

It’s important to focus on positive thinking. Yes, there are many forces against you. You need to be resilient! Climbing Everest is 90% mental. True, there are certain forces you can fight against, but don’t give up too easily! Make your best effort, consider all possible alternatives, think thoroughly of your decision. It’s a balance of all forces!



Dear all,

We just finished the rotation up to camp 2 (6500m), and spent two nights there. The trip through Khumbu icefall is safe, the acclimatization went well. My cough got very bad at camp 2 and kept me from sleeping in the night. We came down to EBC two days ago. Doctor made me take strong antibiotics, and I decided to descend to Pheriche (4200m) to speed up my recovery. I got here yesterday, and had a good night’s sleep last night. My cough has already quieted down a lot. Hopefully I will fully recover in a couple of days and go back to EBC in the next few days.

Thank you with warm thoughts, Lei


Apr 27 – 30, 2010


Sitting here in the Himalaya Lodge dining room. Light music in the background, quiet and warm, despite cold and wind outside. Fog is rising in the valley, most of sky covered by clouds. I just sit here, enjoy my ginger tea, and just finished Sherpa stew, re-reading the description of the trekking route I have been through, trying to figure out the plan once I recover from the bad cough— hope the strong dose of antibiotics will do its magic. No worry of putting on an all-weather/all-temperature outfit to travel between tents or rush to pee in a bottle to save the 5-minute hike to the toilet.

Life is luxurious for me for the next few days. Just rest, eat, drink. My normal appetite is back, and I can order whatever I eat, according to my taste, not the general American group taste, and not limited by the stock in the high mountains. Food won’t get cold before I finish it. Instead, I can slowly savor it while reading or writing without worrying about it getting cold. It’s warm and windless inside here, with music in the background.

This won’t be forever. Hope I will get over the bad cough and get back to EBC soon. It’s windy outside. What’s the weather in EBC like? What are my teammates doing? Are they practicing using oxygen bottles? Oh, it’s lunch time. They are just exchanging stories in the dining tent. It’s interesting to have this peaceful time all alone here on such a trip, sitting here with only my own mind to feel.

Almost forgot this is in Nepal. Tourists from all over the world come and go, except the lodge owner and the diligent service boys. The stock in the bar is amazing. Maybe that’s why I almost forgot this is in the Khumbu valley…


It’s snowing so hard outside, like Xmas. Inside, dry flowers and long candles decorate each dining table, just like Xmas. Some people drink beer; one party is celebrating a birthday with a cake. A fireplace in the center of the dining room keeps the room so warm and cozy that the window is all covered with steam. No need to know if it’s cold or windy outside. Walking down the hallway to my room, there’s even lights along the ceiling every few yards. No need to worry about forgotten headlights, no need to worry if the trail is slippery because of the snow. Open the door to my room, it’s cold. But at least there’s a switch to turn on the light, and the toilet is down the hallway, also with a light inside. It’s five-star hotel life compared to that in EBC, but I need to go back soon.

What’s happening on the mountain?

While it is snowing here, weather is not great on Everest. The consortium of all teams just had a meeting and each team is contributing a few Sherpa to fix the route between camp 3 and camp 4, but it is going slow because of the weather.

Route between camp 2 and camp 3 (Lhotse face) is slowly kicking in. The first few teams (one with strong competitive mentality is eager to climb early before the route gets into better shape) on that route would have to kick the step much harder. It’s the steep face of hard ice!

IMG is still digging (literally! It’s hard ice slope!) camp platform for camp 3. Camp 2 to camp 3 is not only a hard climbing route, but also a hard camping site.


Apr 23

My cough is clearly picking up at the same time while my appetite is subdued at 6000m, though I’m happy that I don’t have any altitude symptoms— not even a headache. From what I’m hearing from everyone, this is normal for Khumbu Cough, the cough triggered by the cold dry air at altitude. Woken up by cough many times last night, I decided take more rest today— I only went for a short walk near the camp.

Looking from a distance, the setting of camp 1 is one of the most beautiful places. The rock wall of Everest rises above it so close! Can’t believe it’s only less than 3000m from here, yet it’s still weeks away for us to reach! Far away, Pumori, Lingtren, and Khumbutse paint a beautiful background to the west, while Lhotse faces straight to the east.

Apr 24: Camp 1 to Camp 2, 6500m


The route to camp 2 appears to be very straightforward on that giant gentle snow slope, but it’s still a lot of zigzagging across the maze of crevasse. At one point, the top of the ladder barely touched the lip of the crevasse. It’s a game of gamble before the lip melts away one of the days. But sometimes you just have to take the chance and move on.

The most agonizing part is from the time you see the campsite of camp 2 to the point you finally arrive at your campsite. It’s still hours of uphill trip, and exhausting! I was surprised that camp 2 is almost as big as

EBC in a sense. Because this is ABC, the Advanced Base Camp, every team built a permanent (for the season) campsite here including sleeping tents, standing cooking, dining tents, and toilet tents.

IMG camp site is high up on the hill, yet you are not sure where. So you must keep climbing over one false summit after another; you can’t let yourself relax the moment you step into the general campsite. You have to keep on putting in extra effort to make another step up the hill till you really reach your own campsite.

This would be the highest point I would have slept at to date. AMS symptoms normally start after you wake up from your first nap. Under the advice of our guide, I spent the afternoon sat around chatting and drinking, being active to avoid AMS. I’m happy that I’m mostly headache-free at 6500m. But nothing is easy here. To walk up and down the small hill between tents is already a big challenge! First, it’s a “big” decision to put on the big boots and put on all the layers of clothes, especially when it’s windy and cold outside; second, it takes several deep breaths before you finally summon enough strength to crawl out the little hole of the tent on the creepy hill— then every step up and down the hill at 6500m is not trivial!

Yet, we haven’t started the hard part of the climb yet— Lhotse face! This is not an easy mountain, and every step is an achievement in itself. It’s not only just huffing and puffing to fight against the thin air, it’s also fighting against your own pain, from cough, from wind, from heat, and from your own doubt. Every step is a hard physical effort, but also an extremely hard mental effort! Everyone is tired reaching this point. You may not be the strongest one on the team, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. You have to keep faith in yourself all the time despite the external hardship and internal weakness. Fight against the physical weakness with your mental strength.

I was hungry at dinner, but we were only allocated one small slice of SPAM per person other than some spaghetti. It’s not easy to bring up enough nutritious food this high.


Apr 25: Camp 2 Rest

The first half of last night I practiced sleeping with my full suit on inside my sleeping bag, since that will be how we sleep once we move up Lhotse wall. It was so uncomfortable that I could not fall asleep. But the second half of the night, after I threw away the full suit, was only slightly better. My cough kept interrupting my sleep, and while not coughing, the extreme dry air irritated my throat. It can’t be quenched by a cough drop or hot drink. I probably got no more than a couple hours’ poor sleep in the end.

Apr 26: Camp 2 to EBC

The second night at camp 2 was one of the longest and the most torturing nights I have had in the mountains. Despite my effort to control my cough with medicine, every few minutes, my violent cough would throw my body into the air; oftentimes I had to cough till I nearly threw up to find a little relief. I don’t have any AMS headache, but each shake from cough causes a lot of pain to my head. In the short peaceful minutes between bouts of cough, the unbearable dry air irritates my throat to the level that I would rather bear the painful freezing night to get up to drink hot water. But neither hot water nor cough drop could provide even a short moment’s temporary relief. I was painfully aware of every minute passing by and never looked forward to the daylight break so much!

The first time I saw the mucus come out from my cough, I was horrified. I never expected such a thing to come out of a live human! It was so dense, like a piece of dead meat! The greenish color made it appear to come from an alien’s body. I had no idea if this is what people call Khumbu cough?

I guess the whole campsite heard my all-night cough. When we finally got up to pack up to head down the mountain, guide Greg asked me if I was sick. I still didn’t understand the difference between cough and sick, and replied “just cough.” Everyone is coughing. Until we started walking down the hill, I hadn’t realized how much I have been weakened by the two days at camp 2 or by my violent cough. When trying to get up the first fixed line, I was shocked to realize that I can’t trust my hand belay without a jumar anymore. I also felt loss of muscle strength in my legs too! I was feeling quite weak by the time we walked into camp 1. My body wanted to spend more time resting here, but I understand we’d better get down the icefall early in the morning, and getting lower will help my health/strength.

Walking up the hill to leave camp 1 was hard. Though it’s 500m below camp 2 already, I still haven’t found much benefit of the altitude drop yet. When further lowering into the icefall, I gained some strength back in climbing the fixed rope up and down the icebergs on hand belay. But my cough is not getting much better. I would burst into violent coughs almost after gaining each little hill. I could only do short, shallow, frequent breaths instead of well-rhythmic deep breaths, or I would end up coughing and stopping to gasp for air. After spending nights at 6500m, I should have flown up hills at lower altitude. I was sad to find that was not the case for me. Lower altitude didn’t relieve my violent coughing pattern. Shortly into the icefall, I also completely lost my voice.

After we finally reached EBC, I went straight to HRA. It took no guess for the doctor to tell me that it was not Khumbu cough that I’m having. Good news is that it’s not HAPE or Pneumonia neither, which I feared. It’s that remnant cold virus I had before I gained super power, when high altitude weakened the immune system. He gave me some strong antibiotics and suggested that I may benefit from further lower altitude. So after discussing with IMG guides, I decided to descend to Pheriche (4200m) the next morning.