Return from Everest

Field Hockey Coach Anne Parmenter returned recently from climbing Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, as co-leader of the Connecticut Everest Expedition. Along with fellow climber Michael Kodas, a journalist with the Hartford Courant, Parmenter has presented slide shows of the trip both at Trinity and in other venues. She wishes to extend her heartfelt thanks to Athletic Director Rick Hazelton and former Dean of Faculty Miller Brown for making the trip possible as well everyone at Trinity for their support. The following is an excerpt from her account of the experience:

While sitting at the door of the British tent at 25,500 feet, I drank my hot chocolate attempting to hydrate and gain enough energy to make the final push. Our tents were another 800 meters, and two hours, further. It was at this time that the Sherpa suggested we turn back and head back down the mountain. This decision to turn around has haunted me for the last 7 months.

Our team had decided to make a summit push in a small window of weather in early May. Michael and his wife, Caroline, both Hartford Courant reporters, and I had gone to base camp a week earlier to recover from the various respiratory ailments we were all now suffering from. High attitude mountaineering ravages your body, with cold dry air burning your throat and inviting infection all the time. Despite the fact that our bodies were more acclimatized, the trip from base camp (BC) to advanced base camp (ABC) was still a grueling 13 miles—rising from 17,000 to 23,000 feet in elevation. This trip would take two days, with a rest stop at interim camp. Both of our previous trips to interim camp turned into epics. Mike and Caroline had been left without a tent during a snow storm on the first trip; my group arrived as night fell, leaving no time to cook dinner. So the thought of venturing back did not excite us. Again we relied on the kindness of a British expedition who helped feed and shelter us before our departure the next day to ABC.

I had a sneaking suspicion that once we rejoined the team at ABC they would be ready to begin the summit push. I told Mike we should rest as much as possible once we arrived because I didn’t think the team would wait for us another day. That indeed was the news that greeted us. I was very anxious about how my body was going to handle the demanding climbing schedule over the next four days. In order for Mike and I to summit we would have to go from BC (17,000 ft.) to the summit (29,035 ft.) in six days. I was extremely concerned. The team meeting that night was the first since Bill [a team member] had left weeks earlier. George [a team member] said we had an early weather window and should go for it. Some other teams were doing the same thing; others were waiting—convinced that this was not a big enough window of stable weather. The team would leave in the morning after breakfast. Each climber ascended at his or her own pace, usually having someone from the group within eye distance. It was during this trip up the North Col that I met a Bulgarian named Kristoph who shared some of his Bulgarian honey and tea with me. Kristoph would later die returning from the summit attempting the mountain without oxygen.

We reached the North Col with no problems and immediately started the long process of melting snow to get enough water to cook dinner with. We slept little, anticipating the days that lay ahead. I woke at 5 a.m. and again started the stove to begin melting snow. By 7 a.m. we had enough hot water for our breakfast and the day. We started up the long snow slope that connected us to camp II and the tents above. The wind was blowing ferociously across the slope, so everyone had their 8000 meter suits on with their hoods up. There was a slow procession of people hiking up the fixed ropes stretching the entire route. We finally crested the snow slope at 1:30 p.m. It was extremely windy; clouds were whipping across the snow hard enough that I saw people crawling on their hands and knees to move across the snow to the rocks.

It was here that I crawled inside one of the British expedition tents to try to get a second wind. Mike was already at the tent waiting for me; I could see one of the other members of our expedition crawling through the rocks just above the tents trying to get out of the wind. While drinking my hot chocolate, our Sherpa came down to the tent and told us that we still had 800 meters to go and that it would take us at least 2 hours. We had all agreed on a turn-around time of 4 p.m. If we did not arrive by that time it would be too late.

With very little discussion, Mike and I turned around and started down. The clouds were now completely engulfing the slope. I honestly can’t remember what I was thinking—the whole thing seemed to happen so quickly. What had taken 6 hours to climb took 1 ½ hours to get down. We drank tea when we got back to the tents and looked up into the swirling clouds and wondered about our teammates. The Sherpa told us another group member was also coming down; we waited, but our teammate never came. The conditions being so bad, we expected to see people coming down the next morning. Mike and I saw our Sherpa after breakfast as they headed back up the mountain to join the rest of the team.

Although 4 of our team summited 2 days later, 6 people also died while attempting the mountain. The weather had indeed closed in, keeping many expeditions hostage in their tents for almost 3 days before they could retreat to the safety of ABC.

Access Parmenter’s Everest photos here.


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