By LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
MOUNT EVEREST — The quest to summit Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world at 29,035 feet, is now complete by former Army infielder Harold Earls and his climbing team.
The 4-person USX team climbed to the top of Mount Everest on May 24, but not without a near deadly catastrophe and Earls suffering frostbit on his toes which were bloody from walking down the hill after the summit.
Summit 7:40 a.m. Everest Time: 2nd Lt. Harold Earls, USX co-founder and president, an active-duty basic infantry officer assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
Summit 7:40 a.m. Everest Time: Elyse Ping Medvigy, an active-duty field artillery officer currently assigned to the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado.
Summit 8:45 a.m. Everest Time: Retired Staff Sgt. Chad Jukes, who lost his right leg while serving as the lead gun truck commander on a supply convoy in northern Iraq.
Summit 8:45 a.m. Everest Time: Award-winning filmmaker, Dr. Dave Ohlson who is also a climber, photographer, drone pilot and recent medical graduate.
The weather conditions were brutal, causing Team USX to split with their respective Sherpas and tents, which is why they did not summit together as a group.
At the time of this report, Team USX members werecoming down mountain. Ping Medvigy and Earls were at advanced base camp. Jukes and Ohlson were still making their way down from camp 3 or 2.
Details Of Summit From Harold Earls
Weather conditions were harsh for Team USX’s summit push, -20 degrees, severe wind gusts of 65 mph and the outer part of their suits and goggles had icicles hanging on them.
Earls reports his toes got frostbit and were bloody from walking down the hill after the summit.
He says it snowed all night, then right when they crested the snow pyramid, a near 600 foot vertical snow field about 30-40 min from summit, the sun started to break through and Earls reported an incredible view of the sun rising from the summit.
The gusts of wind made the summit not very enjoyable. Earls reported staying on the summit for only five minutes with Ping Medvigy.
Ohlson got a stomach bug on the way up and was the last of Team USX to summit. The climb was difficult for him, and Earls advised him to be smart. Ohlson said he would and later that morning made the summit.
During high gusts of wind, Earls’ goggles were blown off his face. His Sherpa, An Doja, shared his goggles with Earls.
“At one point, he started to become snow blind. He couldn’t see anything, and we were on a cliff alone. I was scared for sure,” said Earls.
“The gusts of wind would blow snow drift at incredible speeds and sting your face and make you go blind. I ended up opening my down suit and allowing him to stick his face in my chest to get warm.”
At one point An Doja actually fell off a steep ridge. The fall would have been more than 7,000 feet. Earls immediately dropped to a knee to grip the rope, the same rope they were both on.
“Praise God the rope caught after about a 10 foot fall, and he fell in steep snow,” said Earls.
Team USX was part of a rescue as well while they were on the North Col at camp 1. A climber broke his leg, and they had to drag him several hundred meters. Then Ohlson used his medical expertise to take care of him. This climber survived in part to Team USX’s help and support.
Earls reported seeing several dead bodies along the way from camp 3 to Mount Everest’s summit.
Earls said that he and Ping Medvigy came all the way down from the summit to advanced base camp. It was a very aggressive descent and not very common. Reports of a jet stream moving in tomorrow will make climbing down dangerous.
While it has been the thrill of a lifetime so far, it also can be one of the most dangerous quests in the world.
More than 200 people have died trying to climb Mount Everest over the years including four the week prior to their successful summit.
UPDATE: May 14-20
After resting on May 14 and 15, Team USX departed on May 16 to advanced base camp and arrived on May 17. On May 18, after comparing various weather reports to determine best summit opportunity, the team made a decision to wait two days at advanced base camp before making final summit push.
Team USX had planned to depart the morning of May 20 to ascend the North Col again for final summit push, but by press time of this media update, departure was delayed.
May 7-13, 2016
On May 8, they ascended to advanced base camp through Crampon Point and up the ropes to the North Col where they slept at camp 1 (23,000 feet). The climb took the team about seven hours and was difficult. During the ascent up the North Col, several of the team’s ascenders (hardware used to climb the rope) failed to catch because of the ice that was caked on the rope.
This forced Team USX to really focus on each step with the crampon to make sure there were no slips. Also, at the bottleneck point up the North Col, Team USX was caught for 25 minutes waiting for other climbers to descend before they could climb again.
This standstill was a problem because it was during a snowstorm and the outside temperature was decreasing significantly along with the core temperature of the climbers. Team USX had to be aware of their extremities to avoid frostbite.
Team USX arrived at camp 1 late on May 8, and visited in the two-man tents with their tent mates. The Sherpas came tent-to-tent and served hot drinks. The team says the Sherpas are some of the hardest working and kindest people they have ever met. Team USX did not make it up to camp 2 that night, as weather conditions were not suitable for climbing. There was too much fresh snow on the mountain.
On May 9, Team USX made it to camp 2 (24,750 feet) and then descended back to advanced base camp. The weather has made the climb this week a little more difficult and has delayed the summit push because of snowfall. The team said the weather changes quickly and dramatically.
For example, during the climb to the North Col., the weather was warm and windless, where people were climbing in long sleeve shirts, applying sunscreen and sweating. Several hours later, climbers were bundled up in down jackets to protect themselves from the snow and wind while using hand warmers to keep extremities warm.
On May 10, Team USX returned to base camp where they stayed for the remainder of the week to rest and wait for weather to clear before making their final approach to summit Mount Everest. Today (May 13), Team USX is acclimatized and ready for their summit bid; resting in a local Tibetan village, Tashi Zom (below base camp). They are sleeping in beds for the first time in several weeks, eating excellent food and are in high spirits.
“The North Col head wall is a 1,000 feet, plus, vertical ice wall with dangerous crevasses, steep pitches and dangerous séracs,” said Earls.
“Climbing towards the North Col is where weather really started to play a factor for us. It started off incredibly hot. The UV rays are four times hotter than at the beach due to the ice reflection and proximity to the sun and outer atmosphere.
“We were climbing in long sleeve shirts at the time, then we hit some delays from a group of climbers coming down the mountain. They were taking a long time to come down, and unbeknownst to us at the time, one of those climbers was in bad shape and died the following day from his climb on the North Col. Waiting for this group to pass, the weather shifted and a small storm came in.
“Winds were blowing snow sideways, spindrift was sliding down the icy slope, hitting us in the face and the cold was crippling. At that moment, we were at the steepest and most dangerous part of the climb. Chad’s beard at this point was covered in snow and my lips chattered together whenever I tried to talk to my Sherpa, An Dojay.
“The temperatures dropped and made for a frigid final push to the top of the North Col. We were fortunate to be close to the top or it could have presented some real dangers to our team.”
During the early stages of the weeks-long expedition, the team faced 100 mph winds and bone chilling conditions.
The team was delayed one week entering Tibet from China, and they have experienced Wi-Fi connection issues. But they are still on track to summit Mount Everest on time.
“Our team is strong and healthy. The journey to this point has been quite the stressful adventure. We landed in Kathmandu to find China delaying entry into Tibet until April 15 — a week later than planned.
“Once we were finally on a flight to Tibet, our flight was diverted to Chengdu, China due to weather. With all the ups and downs, we eventually made it to Base Camp.”
The following week, the danger of climbing Mount Everest was hammered home once again.
At 11 a.m. on May 1, the snow-storm at advanced base camp continued to create poor visibility with predictions of additional heavy snow and increased chances of frostbite and avalanches.
For safety reasons, Team USX (Elyse Ping Medvigy, Harold Earls, Chad Jukes and Dave Ohlson) were advised by their climbing leader (Summit Climb) to abort the North Col climb and descend back to base camp where they would stay until their Sherpa (who is stationed at advanced base camp) calls them to return for a safe climb.
Earls was the first to return to base camp around 7:30 p.m. With the rest of the team nowhere in sight by 10 p.m., Tommy Ferguson decided to hike back toward the mouth of the trail in search of them.
As Ferguson approached, he spotted headlamps and could hear Medvigy to his back calling out for Jukes and Ohlson.
With Ohlson approximately 20 minutes away from base camp, the team sought help from a group of Russian climbers who have a doctor climbing on their team.
Although the Russian doctor did not speak English, an Irish climber on the Russian team was able to translate enough to assist and provide Team USX with some oxygen for Ohlson.
Team USX found Ohlson aware and coherent, put him on oxygen and then made it back to base camp around midnight.
Ohlson said he was not feeling good at advanced base camp as the team had climbed faster than usual during the ascent, and against his own advice, and he pushed through it.
Ohlson was also carrying a much heavier pack then the rest of the team (nearly 75 pounds of camera and computer equipment), of which at one point Jukes carried for him along with his own 15-pound back down the mountain.
Overnight, Ohlson gave himself an ultrasound and noticed he had some liquid in his lungs, most likely some form of pulmonary edema.
The next day (May 2), Ohlson took some medications and descended to a lower level with Jukes who came along to keep him company.
The two stayed in the town below base camp for a couple of days so Ohlson could fully recover.
Ohlson reported on May 5, right before departing to interim base camp, that he and Jukes had some big meals, some good rest and that he now felt fully recovered and ready to climb back up to interim base camp.
Team USX was not delayed by Ohlson’s recovery time as they were instructed to stay at base camp May 2-4 to rest, recover and wait out the snowstorm before resuming the climb to the summit.
During the team’s time at base camp, on the morning of May 3, Jukes received startling news about the suicide of his climbing buddy, a Marine veteran, Dan Sidles who also suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Sidles was featured along with Jukes in a documentary film called “High Ground,” which followed a team of 11 wounded veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan wars during their climb of Mount Lobuche.
A primary focus of the film was on the veterans individual struggles with PTSD.
Jukes was crushed by the news of Sidles’ death and spent much of the day reflecting on Sidles’ life.
He and Team USX have asked for prayer, comfort and peace for the Sidles family.
The startling story of Sidles underscores the mission of Team USX to raise more awareness on the issue of soldier and veteran suicide and PTSD.
Team USX plans to honor Sidles’ life during the Mount Everest climb.
Genesis Of Idea
Earls, who was a senior at the U.S. Military Academy last spring and a member of the baseball team, came up with the wild idea of summiting Mount Everest in November of 2014.
Up to that point, Earls said he never climbed a mountain in his life. All he had ever done up to that point was backpack with his dad.
Ironically, Earls hates the cold being from Cumming, Ga.
“But that is probably why I was so drawn to climb Everest because of this incredible challenge,” said Earls.
He also felt it would be a golden opportunity to shine a spotlight on PTSD which has impacted the lives of many U.S. soldiers.
PTSD is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it.
Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
For the past five years, more U.S. soldiers have died from suicide than enemy attacks in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Other Climb Highlights
Team USX officially began their climb April 25, arriving at interim base camp on April 26 and advanced base camp on April 27.
At interim base camp, it was very windy and the kitchen tent had to be rebuilt a couple of times.
Once they arrived to advanced base camp, they set up and then spent most of April 28 relaxing and trying to stay warm.
This day of rest was necessary for them to acclimate, and the team adjusted to the altitude well. On April 29, they practiced ice climbing to prepare for a climb to the North Col (23,000 feet).
Tommy Ferguson, Team USX base camp manager, climbed with the team to advanced base camp to help carry and transport heavy camera equipment.
The weather has been excruciatingly cold with 100-mile winds during their climbs.
However, Earls said they are more protected from the wind now that they are at advanced base camp.
He also reports that everyone is in good health and spirits and excited to continue the climb. Earls described the climb so far as amazing.
They have been climbing through glaciers that look like shark teeth, with the view of Mount Everest.
They have met many other climbers from around the world along the way.
In fact, the team’s filmmaker, Dave Ohlson, was able to put his medical degree to use by helping a Russian climber with an emergency operation. There are no medical teams available on Mount Everest to assist the climbers.
The climbing team includes:
- Second Lt. Harold Earls.
- First Lt. Elyse Ping Medvigy (Afghanistan vet who has conquered Denali as well as Mount Kilimanjaro and multiple peaks across Africa and the Americas).
- Staff Sgt. Chad Jukes (ret.) He lost his right leg in 2006 when an improvised explosive device exploded while in a supply convoy in northern Iraq. He utilizes an artificial metal leg and is another accomplished climber who has scaled Nepal’s Lobuche (20,075 feet). If he reaches the top of Everest, he will be the first combat-wounded U.S. veteran to accomplish this feat.
- Dave Ohlson, award-winning documentary filmmaker. Ohlson is a filmmaker, climber, photographer and drone pilot. He is best known for his feature documentary K2 Siren of the Himalayas.
The ground support team features Command Sergeant Major Todd Burnett, Capt. Matt Hickey, first Lieutenant Connor Love, and Tommy Ferguson.
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