At 2am on 17 May I hugged Rich, Joe, Brendan, Scott and Tom goodbye, wished them all the best of luck, and shouted ‘go have an adventure!’ as I watched them disappear into the darkness heading towards the treacherous Khumbu Icefall for the final time… then my tears fell.
Armed with our BGAN Explorer 710 terminal I headed back to my tent where I crawled into my frozen sleeping bag and managed to drift back off to sleep, safe in the knowledge that the guys could contact me at any time via the IsatPhone 2 satellite phone.
It was going to be the longest few days of my life, but I had been preparing mentally for this moment for quite some time. I had already been through enough projects with 65 Degrees North to know the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with each expedition. Now it was time for me to focus; to stay calm, be strong, and reassure the family, friends and supporters anxiously waiting for news about the team.
Months of hard work, training, planning and preparation had gone into this project and it had been a joy to see so many of our sponsors and supporters at the launch event in March, hosted by Inmarsat. During this event Global Government Account Manager Barry Cox decided I should have a compact, high-speed BGAN 710 to use at Base Camp, along with the BGAN Explorer 510, IsatHub iSavi and IsatPhone Inmarsat were already supplying. Having my very own BGAN at Base Camp meant not only that I would be able to update social media and the website in real time and keep on top of admin, emails and requests for team interviews but, even more importantly for me, I would have constant contact with the team as they progressed up the mountain.
The ability to communicate was invaluable and had a positive impact on mental health and welfare by reducing stress and anxiety, not only for the individual team members, but for their loved ones. As news around the world began to focus on the negative stories surrounding Everest, we were able to focus on the positives.
Throughout the two-month expedition the team regularly phoned home, or posted on their personal social media, to reassure family and friends. They received morale-boosting phone calls, participated in radio interviews, and on several occasions advice was sought from our UK-based team doctor for various medical issues.
Prolonged bad weather, Cyclone Fani, high winds and heavy snow had reduced the clear weather window which seemed to be getting further and further away. This was the one thing the team could not control, however being able to receive the most up-to-date and reliable forecasts undoubtedly played a huge part in the success of their summit bid. A decision was made to go for the summit push based on a detailed forecast, and it paid off!
Not only did the team safely and successfully reach the summit, but they almost had the mountain to themselves as the majority of other climbers waited at Base Camp for a later window. Arriving at the ‘top of the world’ at sunrise, Joe, Scott, Tom and Brendan were able to enjoy the spectacular clear views for as long as the windchill temperatures of -55°C would allow!
Hearing the news that the team had reached the summit was an incredibly emotional moment. All the months of hard work and training, the 10-day trek in to Base Camp, the acclimatisation and rotation days, and the weeks spent together on the mountain dreaming of this moment had all been worth it. The guys had achieved their goal – a goal that so many sponsors and supporters had believed in and helped make happen. It was a moment that I will remember forever and should have been one of pure elation, but it was also tinged with sadness. For safety reasons Rich had turned around below the summit. Hearing his voice was heart-breaking – he was so relieved and proud that his team had made it, but I also knew how much he would have wanted to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them on that summit.
Now I just needed them all back with me safe and sound where I could see them – but the next satellite call I received informed me that Scott was being rescued by helicopter from Camp 2! He was taken straight to hospital in Kathmandu to be treated for frostbite.
Images of Scott’s feet soon followed with permission to post them on Facebook, much to the delight, and disgust, of our followers! I am pleased to report that he is making a full recovery, with no loss of toes or lasting damage.
Since returning home I have been asked many times if I enjoyed the experience. I am not sure if the word ‘enjoyed’ could ever be used to describe my time on Everest!
Living in a little yellow tent for 40 days and 40 nights in extreme conditions was quite testing at times, but it was also the most incredible demonstration of 65 Degrees North’s mission statement, ‘rehabilitation through adventure’, with the most determined team of guys who motivate and inspire me every day. I feel so privileged that we were able to share the journey thanks to Inmarsat, proving that there is life beyond injury.
About the author
Leesa Harrison has been Media Officer for 65 Degrees North since 2014. She has accompanied 65DN teams on numerous training exercises to photograph and record their experiences and went on her first expedition in 2016, to Kilimanjaro.
For Everest, she supported the summit team from base camp throughout the two-month expedition.