Like a warrior preparing for battle, in the confines of my claustrophobic tent while breathing supplementary oxygen through my mask, as an adventure filmmaker, I prepare dozens of batteries, clean all of my lenses and mentally walk through the next 24 hours in my mind. I envision the areas of the climb where I will use my tripod, my GoPro’s, my Canon 5D and of course my DeLorme inReach. The question is: will it all work on top of the world?
I imagine the areas where I will switch my lenses and run ahead of the group to acquire the shots I’ve been dreaming of capturing for months. My mission is to climb to the top of the world, shoot a reality television series based on a team of Arabs that are trying to make history and share the journey in real-time. It’s all been pre-meditated at lower altitudes because there is always a chance that everything will go wrong, including the capacity for my brain to make rational and logical decisions. As a climber, I plan for every scenario, including failure. I mentally prepare for the most difficult day of my life, then I leave with nothing but an awareness for that pain and I focus on the incredible feat that I must undertake and the shots I want to capture along the way.
The first 5 hours of the ascent are spent climbing the triangular face to the balcony. It’s -20 to -30c, the terrain is incredibly steep with mixed rock and ice and the air is incredibly thin. I easily lead the way, racing ahead with my climbing Sherpa Pasang (my trusted assistant) and once I’ve gained enough distance on the team, I pull a fresh battery out of my warm down suit, remove my gloves, expose my hands to the cold, pull the camera up from around my neck, crank the ISO to 3200 and film as much as I can. When the lead guide comes within five feet of where I am dangling, I quickly turn around, cover the lens, expose my hands and pull out the battery and carry on racing ahead. Arduous, repetitive and hypnotic, but the adrenaline seems to make the time pass relatively quickly.
By 4:20am, we reach the balcony of Mt. Everest, a small area barely able to accommodate our small climbing team. I decide to quickly replace my oxygen bottle with one of three that my extra Sherpa has been carrying. I devour a few more energy gels, switch to my down mitts and crack 4 new chemical hand-warmers open before racing ahead of the team in anticipation of the rising sun in China. I gain a significant amount of distance during this time and slowly witness in awe as the sun rises through the clouds in China. The colours are surreal, like a beautifully painted portrait of the world’s most beautiful sunrise.
I can feel my body is slowly shutting down. The weight of my tripod, 2 cameras, all of my batteries, including my oxygen has taken its toll on me. I have been revving at 120% for the past 10 hours and I’m almost out of gas. The summit of the tallest peak on Earth is but a few hundred feet away. I realize that I am completely alone making my way towards the Hillary step. As I make my way towards the iconic obstacle I look to my left and note the 8000ft drop into the Western CWM. I can actually see camp 2 from where I am standing. I haul myself up the Hillary Step, camera around my neck, oxygen mask pumping oxygen at 4L per minute and I wait for the team to arrive.
One by one the climbers make their way towards my lens. I am completely exposed and my life is entrusted into a single safety line to brace my 8000ft potential fall into the Western CWM. After capturing the images of my climbing team I straddle the rock above the step like a horse and realize that I must get ahead of the group in order to capture the team reaching the top. I remove my oxygen mask and ask the team to wait and let me pass at 29,000ft. I carefully clip and unclip my safety line, each time exposing myself to the abyss below, over 14 times, passing every Sherpa and team member in order to get into position for the final shot. The last 35 feet end up becoming the most difficult 35 feet of my life. Breath, breath, breath, Step. Step. Step. Breath. Step. Step. Step. Step. My heart is racing and my breathing is out of control. It’s all mental at this point and the next thing I know, I’m alone on top of the world. I collapse on the absolute highest point, sit on the prayer flags, take out my camera and begin to roll.
Mohammed has just become the first Qatari man to summit Everest, Raed the first Palestinian , Raha who had summited a few days prior the first Saudi woman and youngest Arab and Masoud yet another Iranian to make it to the highest point on Earth. My hands freeze as I record their tears, their emotions and their triumph.
I spend 19 out of 20 minutes on the summit taking pictures of the guys, shooting video all the while hoping to get a moment to myself to absorb the moment and appreciate where I am once again. After all, it has been three years to the day that I reached the summit of Everest with my dear friend Dr. Sean Egan’s ashes, my mentor who died trying to become the oldest Canadian to summit Mt. Everest. Before I know it, the others are making their way down the mountain to safety. I pull out my iPhone, sync it to my Delorme InReach and tweet “Top of the world!!!!!!” to the thousands of students following along in the ePals Global community”. I then send my girlfriend Amanda a message letting her know I am safe and have succeeded in reaching the highest point on Earth. I quickly take a picture of Michael and Pasang and Michael snaps a quick one of me. After all, I have to make sure I can prove I was actually here right? And then it dawned on me. I made a promise didn’t I? The students from the ePals Global Community made me promise to dance on top of the world. So of course, the very last thing I did before heading down was this… Forgive me. 😉
The DeLorme inReach is THE piece of technology that kept me connected to those I love when I needed it the most. With that connectivity, which was previously impossible, I was able to reach all of my goals and stand on top of the world. Thanks, inReach Canada!