Descending in a Super Storm

Dear Family & Friends:

As I huddled in my tent with my Sherpas on May 24, the snow fell and the wind howled outside. I was sure Camp 3 was going to be my high point for 2014. At 9:30 pm, the Chinese team and my two Indian teammates decided to make a move up in the bad weather. Gayluk asked me what I wanted to do. I told him “let’s move up.  We can always turn around if the weather doesn’t break in our favor.” So, we pulled on our gear and exited the tent into the darkness of the night.

This turned out to be a good decision as the weather was not particularly good, but was tolerable. In fact, for about an hour on the Northeast Ridge, we had sun and clear skies, and the views were absolutely stunning. The clouds moved in and out during the entire ascent, and we encountered high winds and intermittent snowfall. When we reached the summit around 9:45 am on May 25, we were back in the clouds and there was no view. However, just about 30 minutes before we reached the summit, my Indian teammates summitted in perfect weather. Debu filmed from the summit, and his 360-degree video is spectacular. You will see it in my movie, which I will post in a few days.

What we didn’t know was that a weather front was headed directly our way. The storm was supposed to be moving away from Everest, but it made an unexpected and hard left turn and slammed into the mountain after we had descended to Camp 3. The following morning (May 26), we were in a maelstrom of wind, snow and ice. This super storm lasted 3 full days without once letting up. We had to move down the mountain in knee-deep snow and gale force winds.

The move from Camp 2 to Camp 1 on the North Col was particularly harrowing because we were in white-out conditions, which left us with zero visibility. Our tight little group of 3 was huddled together clipped into the fix line leading down to Camp 1. The wind was now hurricane force and was blowing ice and snow crosswise, making it difficult to stay upright. We could not see where we were going, but the fixed line gave us comfort that we would not walk off the face of the mountain.

We spent the night on the North Col in tents that were battered and beaten. But, after the experience of the day before, I felt like I was staying at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hawaii. The next morning (May 27), the storm had not abated, and we had no choice but to move down the steep and dangerous North Col headwall. The deep snow on the route down made it impossible to find footholds and created a serious risk of avalanche. All the while, we were hammered by heavy snow and wind. It took us several hours, but we made it down safely to Advance Base Camp and spent the night at ABC. The tents at ABC were almost buried in snow.

The next morning (May 28), it continued to snow hard, and we left ABC for Chinese Base Camp. Everything was white from ABC to well below CBC. Mingma, our Sirdar, told me he has never seen this much snow at CBC in ten years of leading expeditions on the North side of Everest.

Here are some photos of our descent from Camp 3 to CBC.


Camp 3
line 4
Moving down from Camp 3
C3 down 2
Moving down from Camp 3
C3 down
Moving down from Camp 3
Camp 2
C1 22
The North Col (Camp 1)
The North Col (Camp 1)
tent at C2
Battered tent at the North Col


The North Col (Camp 1)
Safely down from the North Col
Advance Base Camp
ABC 323
Advance Base Camp
Advance Base Camp
ABC 333
Advance Base Camp
Moving to Chinese Base Camp on the Miracle Highway
Chinese Base Camp
Packing at CBC to head home






9 thoughts on “Descending in a Super Storm

  1. Boy Bill. The Lord was definitely walking with you. I’m so happy you submitted but pray that is your final trek up Everest. Congratulations on a job well done.

  2. Both of your successful summits were accompanied with extremely powerful storms and snowfall. One can’t ignore the coincidence. Glad you got down safe and have this incredible accomplishment on your resume.

  3. Bill

    How many nights did you spend at camp 3. In your previous post it sounded like you were there for 3 nights. If so did you remain on oxygen the who time?

    Just curious…


  4. Bill, The smiles of joy and relief after descending the North Col Headwall sum up a harrowing journey down the mountain, but you were still in the midst of a snow and ice storm–an extreme exploit. Your pictures have us all transfixed and riveted!!


  5. My computer crashed about the time you were on the way dn. I missed your home coming (dang it) . 23 lbs lost, drink a milk shake every day. I had to do that once, but now it’s Vodka & ginger ale, makes me happy.
    So glad you are home safe & sound, say hi to Mrs.


  6. Uncle Bill, it is so clear we’re related. The Burke blood is thick with adventure and a love for the outdoors. I experienced an equally harrowing experience as yours about two weeks ago, so I can really relate to your super storm experience. I took my kids and some of their friends to a local ropes course, anxious to solidify my Awesome Mother of the Year award by schooling them on the zip line. Unfortunately, things changed when I reached the starting platform and looked at the menacing “Firefly” course (for ages 5-6) that awaited me. I held up a line of Girl Scouts by sitting down and yelling for the attendant to come get me down after the very first obstacle, a cargo net (with sides and handles); I looked down about 8 feet to the ground and decided no sane person should be in open air at that height. Like many Everest climbers, I used my best judgment and turned around.

    I am thrilled you summited this year. Maybe next year, I’ll get to the second obstacle on the Firefly.

    Love, Meredith

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