National Geographic : 1954 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine are down and can slant over to the relative safety of the Southeast Ridge. We look at each other, and with a kind of sigh shrug off the weight of fear that has sat on our shoulders all this long day. The worst is over; we are nearly down. Picking up the reserve cylinders left by Charles and Tom, we trek down to our dismal little campsite; already the wind has ripped the tent half away. It is 2 p.m. Tenzing heats up some more lemonade on the paraffin stove, while I change our oxygen sets onto the last bottles and cut the flow rates down to two liters a minute. We sip our drinks, looking rather dazedly down at the South Col where a couple of dots that may be Lowe and Noyce move out now from the camp. On our feet again, we load up our air mat tresses and sleeping bags and stumble off, numb with exhaustion, to the top of the cou loir. Here we get a rude surprise: the wind has wiped out all the steps we cut the day before, leaving only a smooth, frozen slope beneath us. With a grunt of disgust, I start chipping a new flight, 200 feet down the gully, pausing only when a particularly vicious gust tries to tear me loose from the mountain and forces me to dig my ax in fast and hang onto it, shielding my face from the pelting snow. Once at the couloir's foot, it's only a long, rough tramp down to the South Col. Before we get there, a lone figure stumps up to meet us-George Lowe, carrying hot soup and emergency oxygen. I grin weakly at old George and say: "Well, we knocked the blighter off!" It is rather pleasant to see his face light up. We have climbed a good bit together, George and I, and it does me good to have some decent news for him after all he and the others have been through to put our team in position. But both Tenzing and I are too fagged to chatter much about our experiences. We totter down to the camp. My oxygen gives out before we get there; it doesn't seem to matter much any more. We crawl into the tents and collapse on our sleeping bags with a sigh of sheer delight. Excitement Prevents Sleep Yet we sleep very little that night. The wind, the bitter cold, the delayed-action burst of excitement within us keep us awake, keyed up, reliving the best and the worst passages of the long assault. By morning we are quite weak, though by no means truly exhausted. We pack up. It takes us longer than it should; Everest, right up to the end, is making us pay for the liberties we have taken with its heights. Trudging up the 200-foot slope above the South Col, we begin the grueling traverse across the Lhotse Face. Tenzing and I have treated ourselves to the luxury of oxygen on the way down. We don't need it terribly; but we figure that perhaps we've earned it. Even so, we have to move slowly. As we clamber down the ice steps to Camp VII, which we have assumed is deserted, we're startled by a loud, cheerful shout. It's Charles Wylie and his Sherpas, boiling out of the tents to greet us and press hot drinks into our numbed hands. Charles's voice has a curious effect on me: it seems so unnaturally strong and vital and fresh after our days of deterioration up above that I feel suddenly very relaxed and confident, as though sure at last that everything is going to come out all right. Our news has an equally pleasant effect on the Sherpas. They crowd around and shake our hands, saluting Tenzing-one of their own-with a new and even more affec tionate respect. I hear the phrase popping up here and there: "Everest khatm ho gya, Sahib! Everest has had it!" For the Whole Team: Victory Camp VII, however, is no hotel, and we are eager to get off the mountain. Pressing down the Lhotse Glacier, past Camps VI and V, we break out into the upper cwm itself and push along the snowy route toward Camp IV. As we get within sight of it, we see little figures emerging and making their way up the track toward us. We make no signal until they are about 50 yards away. Then old George jerks his thumb up and waves his ax in the direction of the summit. Instantly, with a whoop, the advanc ing group breaks into a run. Weak as they are, they rush the remaining yards and fling themselves upon us. John Hunt, too tired to do much more than smile, puts his arm around me and lets his head fall on my chest. It is a strange and moving moment. I am so weary myself that it is as if I were standing some distance away and watching all this hap pen to another person. All I know is a great gladness that we can bring back to John the victory he did so much to achieve.