On May 20, 2011 Blair and his team summited the 8,586 meter giant known as Kanchenjunga, successfully completing the hardest climb Blair has ever attempted. He wrote us a brief note from base camp, but promised to send more details about the climb when he returned home from his travels. The anxiously awaited email just landed in our inbox, and we couldn’t wait to pass the story of Blair’s incredible summit along to you!
From Blair Falahey:
(In the beginning)
For me, the hardest part about summit day is getting my rhythm down and settling in to a comfortable pace, one that I can hold and maintain for the 10-15 hours it will take to get to the summit, immediately followed by another 5-6 hours back down. It’s like running a marathon; you have to pace yourself.
We’re about one hour into the climb when it starts to get cold … really cold. Sherpa Dawa and I are all alone. There is no one behind us, and for what seems like miles above us we can see the headlamps of a dozen or so climbers flickering like diamonds in the darkness.
As we move up the mountain we slowly draw closer and closer to the climbers ahead … As the temperature continues to drop I become more worried about keeping my toes from freezing. It’s a constant battle, and every time I stop to catch my breath I have to bash my right boot into the snow and wiggle my toes, trying get some life back into those numb little stumps.
The climb from Camp 4 starts off relatively easy, but as we enter the snow gully it becomes increasingly steeper. The first part of the gully climb is fixed with ropes, but halfway up the gully the rope ends, and climbers must free climb to the end of it.
It’s a scary place — to catch a crampon or lose your balance here would mean a long fall (more than1km) and certain death. It’s around this time that the morning’s exertions catch up with me and I start to feel tired. The constant effort to keep the toes of my right foot warm is physically draining. Dawa and I sit down on a rock to take a break … I finally get a chance to look back at where we have just come from, and I am lost for words at what I see. The valleys below are covered in low-level clouds. The moon is full and the sky crystal clear. One mountain stands defiant above all the others, poking through the clouds below. It is a truly majestic sight … It is during moments like these that I understand why I climb.
(Summit, summit, summit!)
Finally, I see the ledge that leads to the summit plateau.
It’s one last step and a scramble across the rocks before I am on snow again. This last exertion leaves me out of breath, and I am hunched over trying to get it back. When I recover I look up and see it – the flat walk to the summit, a mere 30m away.
A couple of my team members have already reached the top, and it finally hits me. I am actually going to do this. This is really going to happen. I walk the last section and scream, “Summit!”
So many emotions hit me. We have just climbed the world’s third highest mountain, the toughest of them all. It’s just past 8:30 a.m., which means it took us more than 12 hours to get to the summit. Everest only took me eight hours … that gives you an indication of just how hard my night had been.
The weather is incredible. The clouds cover the valleys below, but everything else towers above in clear blue skies — you can see Everest, Makalu and Lhotse, the world’s first, fourth and fifth highest mountains. There is a little wind, but nothing major. I have on my balaclava and lightweight line gloves as I take photos.
I pull out my satellite phone, which I have carried all the way to the summit. First I call my dad. I always try to call him from the summit, weather permitting. He picks up the phone and I yell into it: “Summit, summit, summit!” He is just as happy as I am, sharing in the excitement and pride of my achievement.
Throughout the expedition I had been in correspondence with a fourth grade teacher and his students from my old school. The kids had been sending me emails with all kinds of questions about my expedition, and I had promised that, should I summit, I would call the class from the top of the mountain. The teacher picks up the phone. I tell him I have done it; I am on the summit of the world’s third highest mountain. He holds up the phone for the kids to say hi, and despite all of the wind and noise I can still hear the 20 or so kids yelling and screaming excitedly. It is now that I feel immensely proud of my achievement, and it is hearing those little voices that makes all of the pain and suffering worthwhile. It was a moment in my life that I will never forget.
What an incredible accomplishment, Blair — again, congratulations on a mountain well climbed!