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 Corkman - - FRONT PAGE - Michael MCGRATH

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.

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