Just a few hundred metres from the summit of Mt Everest, with dwindling oxygen and the possibility of climbing down in the dark, would you keep going? After six years of training, this was the decision before John Taske.
It turned out to be one of the deadliest Everest expeditions, but when John Taske received the initial call from the expedition leader Rob Hall that there was space available on his team, he didn’t blink an eye. He had spent the last six years doing nothing but climbing, and now it sounded like the Everest summit was finally within his reach.
The group met in Katmandu, travelled to Khumbu to begin the track to Base Camp. It was a 10 day hike which gave them the opportunity to get to know each other. “By the time we got to the Base Camp, we were a team,” John Taske tells Insight.
Once team members were all acclimatised, they kicked off for the summit shortly after midnight. But the expedition quickly encountered delays. The route was crowded with other climbers and the pace of John’s group was slow. An additional hold up at 8350 meters broke the camel’s back: they discovered sherpas and the guides had not set fixed ropes which meant valuable time had to be spent fixing the problem.
By the time John made it to the south summit, 198 metres from the Everest summit, he had lost 3.5 hours. He calculated by the time he’d reach the top, it would be 3pm. There was a problem. The team’s plan required them to turn around if they didn’t see themselves summiting by 2pm. Staying the course would mean he would have to accept the escalating risks.
“If you left the summit at the latest by 2pm, you would get to South Col by 6pm. So it was getting dark. Coming back down I would have run out of O2 and you also don’t want to come down at night," says Taske. "I knew more people died coming down.”
John had a big decision in front of him. Would he push his limits for the summit, or cut his losses and turn around? | Insight: High Stakes - Catch up online now: