After 41 days fighting to top Everest, Denis bows out in the dead zone
FREEMOUNT CLIMBER DENIS O’BRIEN WISELY CALLS IT A DAY IN THE ‘DEATH ZONE’
THE long-held dream of Freemount mountaineer Denis O’Brien to scale Mount Everest was thwarted when he was forced to abandon his attempt after 40 days on the slopes of the great Himalayan mountains in Nepal.
Denis left home on April 4 to fulfil his invitation to join the international team organised by the mountaineering company, Ascent Himalayas.
On arrival in Kathmandu he joined up with the other members of the climbing party, which numbered 13 and consisted of three Nepalese ladies, four Norweigans, two Canadians, two Mexicans, one English and one Irish (Denis). When all their gear was sorted and tent partners decided (Denis was partnered with a Mexican climber) they set out to climb the Narunjun peak, which is 5,080 metres, followed by scaling the Island Peak, at 6,189 metres, where they slept for two nights to acclimatise to the conditions before walking to base camp at 5,350 metres.
Their rest days were spent ice training, where they learned to scale the ice obstacles they would encounter on the Khumbu ice flow, which is on the route of the first leg of their climb after base camp. The Khumbu ice flow is a giant floating iceberg that moves one metre per day and is notorious for the many climbers who have lost their lives there.
The first part of their climb after base camp was of eight hours duration, where they spent the night following their 6,100 metres climb in sub zero temperatures. On the next day they returned to base camp again where they rested for two days.
However, rest days also meant a four hour hike to keep up their fitness in readiness to tackle what’s termed the first rotation, which helps the climbers to adjust to the altitude and the cold, before progressing on to camp two at 6,400m, and on to camp three at 7,000m. Having reached camp three they just turn around and return to camp two to rest again..
Then, however, the weather took a turn for the worse with high winds preventing any climbing, but they still had to keep active to keep their bodies supple and fit for the days ahead.
When the winds calmed down they set out for the Khumbu ice flow for the third time, then on to camp one and then followed a ten-hour continuous climb to camp two. Here, Denis lost his tent mate, for his Mexican friend had to be evacuated off the mountain due to illness, leaving the Freemount man on his own in the tent.
This was a turning point in the climb for Denis for it is essential to have a tent partner, to assist each other and to encourage and give each other moral support in camp, and physically on the slopes. “It can be very difficult when you don’t have company in the tent to discuss tactics for the next day’s climb and to share the experiences you encounter along the way. The night is very long on your own and after being away for so long the longing for home is overpowering,” said Denis.
After 41 gruelling days on the mountains there was only two-and-a-half days left to summit Everest and fulfil his dream. But the weather again deteriorated, with high winds and biting cold. The guides advised the climbers that they were about to enter the death zone, and from there on up the mountain there would be no hope of rescue if anything happened to any one of them – they would not be coming down the mountain as no helicopter could fly due to lack of visibility.
So, they had a momentous decision to make – go on or to turn back. Denis wisely chose the latter, as did another climber, and they and their sherpas headed out on the 10-hour trek down the mountain to Kathmandu.
Denis says he would love to make another attempt to scale Everest but he would need a sponsor to finance the climb as it is very expensive. “I got huge support from people, from my employer Liam O’Connor and the staff at Charleville Refrigeration, and everybody who sponsored me and I thank them most sincerely,” he said.
“There was tremendous interest locally in my venture and I thank all my neighbours for their good wishes, especially to Adrian McAuliffe, who kept me going with his messages from home.
“To my wife, Peggy, and daughters Tracey, Elaine and Claire for their love and support; they were constantly in my thoughts while I was on the expedition.
“My only regret is that I did not summit, but there may be another day.”
For Denis, the dream lives on.
Denis with Mount Everest in the background. Insets: Denis’s team making their way up from camp to camp on Mt Everest.