Twilley blames Englett's "summit fever" for the final difficult ascent, up what Twilley deems the wrong route. Englett blames Twilley's poor memory and changes in the mountain. Meanwhile, as the weather worsened, Kim argued they shouldn't do anything on wet rocks, because someone would surely fall. The team was, in Englett's words, "tempting fate daily." In addition food was running low, and several members of the group, having brought very little foul-weather gear, were suffering in the cold. Kim recalls noticing increasing signs of hypothermia in Twilley, in particular. A second camp, established at the base of the scree slope leading to the summit, became a small base in itself, as each day scouts tried to find the route or waited out wet weather. "We named it the Donner Camp," Kim says, with only a trace of humor. "We figured we might have to start eating each other."
Twilley ultimately made a 30-hour solo trip down the mountain to warm up and to resupply the team with a packful of food. When he returned to the Donner Camp, the rest of the team had gone to examine the route to the summit that Englett had forged. When the team returned from the summit at 2 a.m., the decision was made to take advantage of the fresh food and a break in the weather to grab the rope and make a charge for the top. But fatigue was setting in, and errors in planning and logistics were taking their toll.
Among the equipment Twilley had carried from base camp was a satellite phone, rented by Siron, a 46-year-old defense worker who planned to phone his friends and family from the summit. But no manual came with the phone, and no one on the team could get the thing to work. What was operable was the emergency rescue beacon--left behind at base camp. There would be no margin for error.
Earlier, while the team had still been scrambling over snowfields and rain-slick, mossy boulders in search of the route up, Kim had remarked that if the weather didn't improve, they might have to start back without doing the rappel. "As long as we've seen a great place like this and no one gets hurt, we can call it a success," he argued. Over the next few days other team members had picked up this mantra, even as Englett and Twilley kept pushing for the summit and the rappel--albeit in more frequent disagreement as to how to go about it.
On July 20, amid a heavy snowstorm, the team finally reached the summit. Over the next day, during short breaks in the storm, they began to rig the rope so that it would be ready the moment the weather cleared. Everyone was cold. Englett and Twilley argued at length about the best method and spot for rigging. Before the team dropped the big rope into place, Englett descended a 300-foot section in an attempt to find the friction padding that had been left in place after the 1982 rappel. Fog swirled in and a layer of frost coated his gear and skin. He ascended without finding the pad. It was to be the only taste any of the team would know of the face of Mount Thor. Hungry, wet and exhausted, most were ready to derig and head down.
Twilley urged waiting another 24 hours. If the weather cleared, they could all rappel into base camp for a hot meal and resupply, spend a day climbing and rappelling, and still have a full week to catch their Aug. 2 flight out. According to Twilley's version of events, the group agreed to wait, but changed its opinion sometime that night, while he lay shivering in his tent. When he stepped out in the early morning, he says, the rope had already been derigged and was being loaded into the last of the rope packs. Englett and Kim, however, insist that the group offered Twilley the chance to rappel before the rig was dismantled, but that he declined. "He had his chance," says Kim. Twilley was livid that the expedition was being ended. "If you do this, and the weather clears," he told the others, "I will never forgive you."
Shortly after the team left the summit, the sun emerged. The descent to Pang proceeded without incident. Most of the men who suffered through that trek in July only to look down in vain from the top of Mount Thor want to return to try again, and plans for a 2006 expedition are in the works.
Who will lead it remains uncertain.