‘I knew we were in trouble’: Mount Everest tragedy, ‘incredible heroism’ shared by B.C. climber

No one will ever understand how difficult [it] actually is unless you’re here.”

Those are the words of a Victoria, B.C. climber after his harrowing ascent of Mount Everest, an expedition that cost him a dear friend and very nearly several others.

Chris Dare, a dentist with the Canadian Forces and mountaineer, has been on a nine-year mission to complete the “seven summits,” a challenge that involves ascending the highest mountain on each of Earth’s seven continents.

Dare after returning safely to Camp Three after a successful, but harrowing ascent. “I look actually better than I feel here, but trust me, I’m completed exhausted and I’m covered in ice,” he said.

Everest was the last push, part of a charity drive for the Summits of Hope, raising money for BC Children’s Hospital.

After nearly two months of preparation at altitude, where he became close friends with another climbing group, the 360 expedition, the seven climbers and their sherpas made the ascent on Thursday.

But after a banner year for clear weather in 2018, mother nature wasn’t so kind this year. Dare said there was just a one-day weather window to make the climb, forcing hundreds of mountaineers onto the peak’s north side at once.

“What it did was they created horrendous queues and line-ups towards that summit which put a lot of people in danger including myself, my friends, my colleagues,” Dare said.

Anticipating trouble, Dare and his sherpa Nuru left early, but not early enough — finding themselves stuck at the back of a line-up of climbers in the “death zone” at the summit push, transforming a six hour climb in low-oxygen conditions into a nearly 12-hour ascent.

Climbers lined up at the narrow first step of the final push to the Everest summit before dawn.

“When I hit that summit 11-and-a-half hours later, I was already pretty exhausted and I knew we were in trouble because that weather window of one day — you need the weather window to get down, and we got to the summit and the winds are picking up,”  he said.

Dare and Nuru spent less than 10 minutes at the peak, and weren’t able to take a photo with the Summits of Hope flag before heading down, where they got caught in 60 km/h winds and temperatures below -50 C.

The lineups that delayed the ascent caused worse problems on the way down, with bottlenecks at a series of narrow steps where climbers can only traverse single-file, creating hours-long waits.

“It’s props to my incredible sherpa Nuru that I was able to get back,” he said.

“I honestly thought I was going to die up there. I could barely move. Every step a struggle for hours and is dangerous. I mean you’re on ledges 20 centimetres wide, and you make one false step and you’re going to fall,” he said.

Climbers lined up at the narrow second step of the final push to the Everest summit.

Not everyone on the mountain was as lucky as Dare. In fact, 11 climbers died on Mt. Everest this year, the highest number since 2015.

Kevin Hynes, one of the members of the 360 expedition, died in his tent after ascending just 200 metres from the high-altitude camp. Others on the crew came close.

One of my friends ran out of oxygen at 8,600 metres. His sherpa gave him the last bit of oxygen in his own tank. They both ran out. They were paralyzed,” he said.

Other climbers couldn’t or wouldn’t help, he said, and it was only the appearance of a “miracle sherpa” with an extra bottle of oxygen that got them down.

Another climber in the group made it to the summit but ran out of oxygen on the way down, he said.

“Her sherpa actually had to leave her for her dead because he himself was in trouble and decided that it was best for him to go down to Camp Three and try to seek help,” said Dare.

“Her hands are frozen in, like, claw positions, cannot move. When her sherpa got back to Camp Three, the 360 Expedition team leader found out, he heroically went up there with our last bottle of oxygen available and he found her and ran out of oxygen himself and dragged her down all the way down to camp … rappelling down a number of dangerous dangerous pitches.

“I mean just stories of incredible heroism here, [it] could have resulted in even more fatalities on my own team.”

Having ascended Everest and become just the 23rd Canadian to ever climb the seven summits, Dare said he’s “retired” from 8,000-metre mountains.

“It feels so bittersweet because I lost a really good friend on that mountain, Kevin, because of this this terrible, terrible day,” he said.

“How can I really celebrate something I’ve worked so hard for when I lost a really good friend that I really bonded with over the last two months?”

Irish climber Kevin Hynes who died on Everest. Dare said he realized he wasn\’t feeling well 200 metres after leaving Camp Three, and returned to a lower altitude camp where he died in his tent.

Dare said he wants people to know the real danger and difficulty involved in tackling a peak like Everest, which he says takes more skill and preparation than people realize, and is on “a whole ‘nother level.”

And he said it may be time to better regulate climbers on the deadly peak.

China hands out 150 permits per year to climbers and requires a climbing history to prove preparedness.

“That’s not the case on the Nepal side as far as I know, and they issued about 400 permits which is, I think, very irresponsible,” he said.

“I am all about encouraging people to reach for their dreams … But it really needs to be done in a responsible way so that it can be done safely for that person as well as all the people around them.”

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