October 20, 2006 Kit DesLauriers: Ski Like Your Life Depends Upon It
Climbing the knife-edge ridge from the South Summit to Hillary Step
The morning of October 19th was windy and miserable. I was feeling the cumulative exhaustion of a long summit day and a brutal 2nd sleepless night at 8000m. Ang Namgay blew us all away by poking his head in our tent around 6:30am with bottles of hot water and a smile. The wind gusting in with his unzipping of the tents actually blew us away just as much, but it woke us up to the reality of having to get down from 26,000ft. Everything was frosted over or frozen solid. It was a harsh reality, but it was time to deal.
We were unable to speak between the tents due to wind so out came the radios and we started to make a plan. When I called Dave and Jimmy, he joked that Jimmy and him were ready to go in ten minutes. I called bullshit and thankfully I was right.
With a frozen GU and a cup of tea for breakfast, we packed up slowly and headed out into the wind and cold. Rob, Jimmy and I crawled out of our tents at about 9:00am. Dave Hahn gracefully helped us with our ski gear. We were again wearing our complete summit gear of Himalayan Down Suits, oxygen masks, goggles, harnesses, etc. The Sherpas, Bryce Brown, and Dave Hahn all wished us good luck as they headed back down on foot via the climbing route to CIII and then CII.
We three skiers “dropped in” on the Lhotse Face around 9:15am. We had always planned to ski the Lhotse Face, but having climbed to the summit of Everest the day before, we knew that what lay ahead was going to be difficult. Skiing the Lhotse Face was a large part of what we came here for. We had scoped the route out over the past 6 weeks, but Mother Nature and Chomolungma had changed the conditions on us quite a bit. The snow was now largely gone and left behind was 5,000 vertical feet of 45 to 50 degree mostly shimmering blue and white ice. Rob, Jimmy and I picked our way down by linking up patches of acceptable snow among the other shiny options.
It was some of the most serious skiing I’ve ever done in my life. I couldn’t even penetrate my ice axe more than an inch into most of the Lhotse Face. I knew it was serious when I looked over at Jimmy and asked “Are you shooting?” and he simply replied, “No.”
I developed a mantra during the descent that came to me from somewhere unknown… before each turn I would say to myself “like your life depends upon it” and then make a turn. “Like your life depends upon it”, turn. All the while we kept tabs on each other knowing that if anyone made a single mistake, they would be unrecognizable at the bottom of the Lhotse Face. Blowing an edge was not an option. We were like three climbers free soloing at a high level side by side, but in reality we were just three friends from Jackson Hole, Wyoming doing what we love to do. The trust among us was palpable. When we finally crossed over the bergshrund after 2 hours, we screamed with joy and adrenaline. We all agreed that it was the most serious ski descent of our lives.
After cruising into Camp II, we had a quick lunch and continued on to Base Camp via a combo of skis and crampons through a growing snowstorm accurately predicted by Lama Geshe. Wally Berg and the base camp team greeted us with a bottle of champagne as we arrived at home away from home.