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The going was steep but good and firm. After some hours, with few pauses to rest our weighty 40-pound loads, we began, one by one, to run out of oxygen. But with an excitement that no weariness can dull, we strove step by step to gain all the height we could.
At nearly 27,000 feet we reached a ledge of broken rock where it was decided to put the final two-man tent. We began scraping a space from the 45� snow slope and after two hours had cleared an area large enough for most of the tent; the rest hung over the abyss below.
With fervent handshakes, wishing us good luck, Evans, Mather and the Sherpas left. Joe and I were alone—to decide who would sleep on the outside position. We tossed. I lost.
The two of us dined on lemonade, tea with lots of sugar, asparagus soup, a tin of lambs' tongues with mashed potatoes and finally a mug of chocolate. Then we crawled into our sleeping bags to wait for the morning. Both of us wore our windproof, eider-down clothing to fight off the sub-zero cold. We even kept on our special padded high-altitude boots lest, like Hillary's on Everest, they might freeze hard. As we lay side by side, roped to a nearby spike of rock, little bits of snow skittered down the slope above and pelted our tent. I wondered what might happen if a really big lump or stone hit us. Finally I dozed off into a restless sleep.
The morning of May 25 dawned brilliant and calm. Soon after 8 o'clock Joe and I started up the narrow Gangway, each carrying about 24 pounds, almost all of it oxygen.
Earlier, through binoculars, we had seen that the West Ridge itself was extremely broken and difficult, so our plan was to turn off to the right and climb across the face. Unfortunately, we made a miscalculation, turning off too early, and lost an hour and a half of precious time and oxygen.
To make up time we backtracked and pushed on without rest. The slope underfoot was steep and unsteady, too dangerous for both of us to move safely together. One would have to take a secure stance, braced against the slope, and pay out rope to safeguard the other.
By 2 o'clock we were out of the Gangway and at the West Ridge above its most difficult section. We stopped for a quick snack of lemonade, toffees and mint cakes. This was our first real rest since starting six hours earlier.
I was tiring. Our oxygen tanks only had enough for a couple more hours.
"We must turn back by 3:00 or we may have to spend the night up here," I shouted to Joe.