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It was a terrible ordeal, that climb. Our sunglasses filled with snow every few minutes. Was it worth it? How far can a man drive himself before going under? We almost reached a point of desperation when two Sherpas suddenly appeared to help us. They had made the tricky and exposed traverse to our side, and now they could relieve us of our loads. As soon as we reached Camp 3, Ang Dawa took off our reindeer boots and started to massage our feet. At first they seemed utterly lifeless and white, but the long and vigorous massage gradually restored their circulation.
We tented down with Adam that night. He seemed all right, though weak. He had been up here for five days alone. Despite sleeping pills, we slept very little.
The next day the storm seemed to gather strength, and waves of flying snow threatened to crush the flimsy shelter. We thought of those above us and prayed the storm would not sweep them down. At dawn the snowdrift, solid as ice, had reached the very top of our tent. I could not shake it off. Ang Dawa got out and started shoveling. In the heavy wind and snow it must have been hell for him.
Then, without warning, we ran out of butane gas. That was it. There could be no question of going higher without gas to prepare the hot liquids which are essential for survival at this height.
We started our melancholy trip down, leaving two emergency oxygen bottles at the camp for Hugo, Jean-Jacques and Michel to use, if necessary, on their way down. Adam behaved strangely, like a sleepwalker. On the steep ice face, the snowstorm doubled the danger. We had to drive our axes in and hold on for life. Sometimes the gusts of wind were so fierce that they almost tore us off the ridge altogether. Poor Ang Dawa carried my big movie tripod, a heavy and awkward load.
We reached Camp 2 at last at 1 p.m. It was the end of our try for the summit. After weeks of incessant effort, we knew now we would not get another chance.
Two days later, on the 22nd of May, two exhausted Sherpas stumbled into our camp shortly before dark. Throughout all the storms of the past days and nights they had shared a tent on Camp 5 with Hugo, Jean-Jacques and Michel. Now their food had almost run out, and the Sherpas were sent back down to wait with us at the camp. Incredibly enough, the three sahibs still hoped to make a try for the summit.
On the 24th, long after dark, around 8:30 p.m., I was lying in my tent, ready to go to sleep, when I heard voices. I woke up Georg, and we looked out. Hugo, Michel and Jean-Jacques were coming toward us. "How did it go?" we cried. Hugo answered: "O.K., we made it." "Terrific!" we exclaimed. "Who?"
Hugo hesitated. "Michel et moi," he said.
Bit by bit they told us their story. Jean-Jacques, poor fellow, had lost his ice ax. One of the Sherpas had taken it down with him. It was too risky to climb without one, so, almost at the goal, he had to stay behind. But Hugo and Michel had made the summit all the way from Camp 5 at 24,400 feet. And they had made it at 6:30 in the evening! A climb of 2,575 vertical feet to the summit and back to Camp 6 in one day at an altitude of nearly 27,000 feet! It was a stupendous achievement, perhaps one of the most remarkable in mountaineering history.