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Our Carrie Climbs Everest

Heading up to Camp 3.jpg

On Top of The World

Inverkip Scout Leader Carrie Gibson was enjoying a well-deserved holiday in Nepal climbing the 21,825ft Mera Peak when she first came up with the idea of climbing Everest. That was in 2004 when she joined Scottish Scouts’ Seven Summits team. Since then Carrie’ preparation has been tough and relentless.

The Seven Summits project was set up in 1991 to be a series of international mountaineering expeditions for Scottish Venture Scouts and Leaders, taking up the challenge of climbing the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. The team had already completed Mount Elbus (Europe), Mt McKinley (North America), Acongagua (South America), Kilimanjaro (Africa) and Mount Cook (Australasia). Everest was reserved for Scouting’s Centenary Year in 2007.

Training

Before that time, Carrie was already an experienced hillwalker and climber, having climbed many hills in Scotland, and Europe. She was a qualified winter mountain leader, and had faced many of Scotland’s famous mountain blizzards as well as raising Troop funds by climbing the 3 highest peaks in Scotland, England and Wales in under 20hours one day in 2002. She had also showed her adventurous streak by joining the Tall Ship ‘The Malcolm Miller’ for a training voyage before returning to crew the vessel again on a later voyage, and has raised even more funds for the troop by jumping out of 2 aeroplanes with a parachute on her back.

Carrie got straight down to her training regime, running and training in the gym every night when she got home from her job as a project manager at James Watt College.

Most weekends were spent on the hills – usually in Scotland or the Lake District, but she arranged more extreme treks as training, first of all returning to Nepal on an expedition to summit Island Peak and Lobuche Peak – both over 19,000ft. She then took on Aconcagua in Argentina, one of the Seven Summits that the Scout team had already climbed. Most recently she had a third training expedition in Kyrgyzstan, climbing Chapeyev (20,000ft) and had her first serious low oxygen exposure on Khan-tengri at 23,000ft.

In between working on her fitness, Carrie was fundraising. Climbing Everest doesn’t come cheap and she had to come up with £25,000. A large proportion of the cash is needed for specialist kit and she also had to find £2,000 for oxygen.

The Expedition

Carrie, 35, and 9 fellow Scottish Scout mountaineers, left the UK on 1 April 2007 for a trip that was to last until 27th May. They spent a couple of days in Kathmandu, before 8 of the party separated off to climb some of Nepals other peaks. This left Carrie and Keith Armour, a Scout Leader from Edinburgh to join up with a Guiding company – Adventure Peaks – and a party of 12 hopeful Everest summiteers including themselves. This new party travelled by road to out of Nepal and into Chinese Tibet and to Everest Base Camp – arriving there on the 9th April. Around 300 other people were camped at Base Camp – including a party from the Discovery Channel filming a documentary, and the Chinese Olympic Team who are training to take the Olympic Torch to the summit of Everest in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. The route up Everest from Tibet would take them up the North Ridge. Other teams – including a team of English Scouts would leave from a different Base Camp in Nepal itself to go via the South route.

Climbing Everest isn’t something you tackle all at once. You need weeks to allow your body to acclimatise to the thin air. For the first week, the party rested at Base Camp to allow their bodies to adjust some. After that, they began small explorative climbs up to higher the camps and back down to Base Camp. With each climb, they would go a camp higher (Advanced Base Camp, North Col, Camp 2), often staying overnight. During this time the part suffered symptoms such as dizziness, sickness, diarrhoea, fainting, face swelling, weakness until 35 days after arriving at Base Camp they could consider themselves reasonably acclimatised. Such was the level of heat (the sun can be intense) on one day Carrie took 5 hours to climb only 200m.

Although there was a team of 12 climbers and their leader, the party overall numbered over 25 and several yaks as well. This included porters, medics, caterers etc. The porters are used to carry the vast amount of equipment and food required to the higher camps. The most well known of the party are the Sherpa’s themselves. These are the native mountain guides who are born with the name ‘Sherpa’. They are assigned to individual summiteers or small groups of them and accompany them at all times whether they reach the top or turn back down. Carrie’s Sherpa ‘Lakpha Sherpa’ is photographed on the summit.

After acclimatising, the party then had to wait for a clear weather window. All eyes turned to the weather forecasters. From base camp it takes five days to get to the summit, so the forecast needs to be accurate and fairly long range. They had planned 2 weeks to wait for a weather window Everest’s seasonal weather would close in again. Luckily they had a good forecast almost immediately and they climbed out of Base Camp for the last time on the 11th May.

The party progressed up passed the North Col and on up to camp 3 on the 14th where they slept. By this time 3 of their number had turned back due to illness and exhaustion. They now switched on to oxygen and another day took them to the last camp 4. By this time Keith Armour had suffered a blackout and had turned back. They slept there for a short while wearing their oxygen masks before starting for the summit during the night.

The party arrived at the summit at different times – each escorted by their Sherpas. Carrie and Dan were first to summit at 6:23am Nepal time – 8 hours after leaving camp 4, the others arrived over the following 4 hours by which time Carrie and Dan were well on their way back down to Camp 2. They had spent 10minutes at the summit. They arrived at that camp 2 over 13 hours later where they had a well deserved sleep.

The next morning, before leaving Camp 2, Carrie collapsed of dehydration as she lifted her rucksack for the day’s descent. Her rucksack slid away and fell over a cliff. She rested for a while with oxygen under the aid of her Sherpa team. They took stock as they realised that 3 people had died on the ridge that night – including people from tents near their own. Carrie herself was physically shaken by a passer-by as she was recovering. The American stranger apologised and told her he had wanted to check if she was still alive. He was glad that she was.

Carrie was recently made a Fellow of the prestigious Winston Churchill Fellowship. She beat off stiff competition from hundreds of hopefuls looking for support to carry out projects abroad.

At the Opening Reception of the Greenock District Scout Centenary Exhibition, Scottish Chief Scout Commissioner, Mrs Eleanor Lyall MBE, presented Carrie with the Silver Acorn. An Award which is given for ‘specially distinquished service’. It is an additional tribute that this Award was given ‘out of season’ and with less than the length of service normally required for consideration for this Award.

Click on the image below and view some more photographs

The Treacherous

2nd step, courtesy of Big Green Everest

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