Text and photo by Dave Hahn, a guide for RMI Expeditions and First Ascent. In May 2010 Hahn reached the summit of Mount Everest for the 12th time, the most of any a non-Sherpa climber. This time, he is leading a Bill McGahan and his 16-year-old daughter, Sara, on a bid for the summit. Follow the team's Everest expedition in dispatches here.
Sara McGahan, Linden Mallory, and myself set out from base camp just after 5 a.m. on a final mission through the Khumbu Icefall. It was meant to be our summit bid. When we reached the first series of ladders over crevasses, we took a break. Linden and I were pleased that we'd reached this point relatively quickly, but it was clear that Sara's mind was not entirely on the day's climbing. She spoke up to say that she wasn't entirely sure she wanted to go through with the planned weeklong summit push. We suggested retreating to base camp in order to reassess, and Sara agreed that would be the best course of action.
During the morning at base, Sara bravely grappled with a heavy choice. She wasn't alone, of course, having the counsel of her dad there in person and her mom on the phone. But ultimately, the choice was hers to make. In some ways, despite the danger and brutally hard physical work of a summit push, choosing to go on would have been the easier option. Sara made the more difficult choice. She ended her bid to get up Mount Everest at age 16—and she did it with a smile. Bill and Sara discussed things a bit and made clear that they didn't want that decision to end the greater expedition … even though they are the expedition's principal members.
After a few more talks, it was decided that Bill and Sara would leave base camp by helicopter in the morning, bound for home, while Linden and I—along with Kaji, Tchherring and Dawa—would continue to work toward the summit. Linden and I intend to lighten our packs and to tighten our itinerary some in order to fit in the "weather window" we believe will materialize in a few days. We won't carry nearly as much emergency gear, now that we aren't guiding, but we still want to be responsible Everest citizens … able to help ourselves and our teammates out of a jam and perhaps even to be of use to others in peril.
But definitely as we begin this new venture, the packs will be lighter and the pace will be faster. Linden and I will go all the way to Camp II tomorrow, we'll rest a day and recheck the forecasts, and then we'll aim to hop directly up to Camp IV and set out for the summit that same night.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
There is still the usual amount of mystery in it for us. We don't actually know what the weather will do (our forecasts are good, but the mountain doesn't much care about such things). We don't actually know what our bodies will do. Linden Mallory is a strong and experienced climber and guide, but he will be venturing nearly a vertical mile beyond familiar heights. I've been up top a few times and should enjoy all the benefits of muscle memory and brimming self-confidence, except … my 20-year span of venturing to 28,000 and 29,000 feet has been anything but smooth, easy, or predictable. But I want to see that high up world again. I want Linden to see it as well.
I would have loved for Bill and Sara to see the sunrise from up there near the top of the world. And despite the pride I take in knowing they both came to mature and sensible decisions, I do feel a slight letdown in knowing that "guiding" this time around did not result in standing on top with my clients. On the other hand, my climbers are happy and healthy and excited about seeing their family and their home. They both climbed safely up and down dangerous slopes for weeks on end, reaching ridiculous heights. And they saw a number of spectacular sunrises, sunsets, moonrises and moonsets through gargantuan mountain passes.
Sara may write in the coming days about her decision. Perhaps it will become clear then as to just how completely we've failed (for now) in our bid to turn her into just another self-absorbed, egotistical, mountain-obsessed, risk-addicted climber.