Chad Kellogg, the 38-year-old Seattle-based climber attempting to break the speed ascent record on Mount Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen, stopped by Expedition Hanesbrands’ site at Base Camp last evening to check in on the progress of his buddies Jamie Clarke and Scott Simper. Clarke and Simper summited this morning at 8:40 a.m. (check out climbwithus.com), but Kellogg’s summit window--May 23rd--is still a week out. A look at Kellogg’s current state of mind before undertaking one of the most difficult challenges in mountaineering:
You seem well prepared. You’ve done quite a few speed ascents, haven’t you?
I’ve been doing speed ascents since 1998. I set the speed record on Mount Rainier in 1998 then did a speed ascent on Ama Dablam. Then I set the speed record on Mount McKinley in 2003 and won the Khan Tengri speed challenge in Kazakhstan in 2003. Then I reset the speed record again on Mount Rainier in 2004, which has since been broken.
How quickly do you want to summit Mount Everest?
I’d like to do it round-trip it in under 30 hours, breaking the current record of 36 hours round-trip without oxygen set by Marc Batard, a Frenchman, in 1990.
How fast and light are you going?
I don’t have any support, I don’t have Sherpas. I don’t have porters above base camp, so I’m carrying all my gear and establishing my camps on my own under my own power. I’m asking for volunteers, which is starkly different from a lot of the other speed ascents done by the Sherpas with oxygen. I’m trying to do it in the purest way possible.
How heavy will your pack be?
Haha. Pack? I have an ultra-running pack. I’ll wear it underneath my jackets and against my body so that the hose doesn’t freeze. My pack shouldn’t weight more than 12 pounds. I’ll just take a bunch of bars and gels and I have stuff staged at Camp II. I have a cook there so he’ll be able to give me a small meal of dal bhat. At Camp III I have foot warmers, mittens, a down suit, two thermos bottles and some more bars, then at Camp IV I have two thermos bottles, so my pack will be heaviest from Camp III to Camp IV.
What will you be wearing?
I’ll be wearing a down suit, 8,000 meter boots (I bolted titanium crampons to the bottom so I could get rid of more hardwear). I’ll have goggles and I’ll have both mittens and gloves in case I lose a glove. I’ll have a harness and that’s really about it. I plan on wearing three sets of footwear. I’ll start off with javelin shoes to Camp II, then I’ve been thinking about wearing a pair of secondary boots to Camp III, then having my 8,000-meter boots from Camp III to the summit.
Does anybody have a stopwatch? How will this become an official record?
I’ll have third-party verification and I’ll have my stopwatch. I’ll have another person with me at the starting point that will synchronize with my watch, then I have a head cam, so I’ll be recording my climb as I go. I also have a GPS unit called a Spot, which will track my progress via satellite and GPS location for the first 24 hours. That should get me up to the summit and part of the way back down.
Mount Everest is less about technical climbing and more about high-altitude physiology and mental stamina. How are you preparing for those two elements?
I have a meditation practice and I’ve been training for two years for this climb. I was prepared to come here last year and got in a backcountry skiing accident three weeks before. I fell off a 20-foot cliff and broke my arm in 12 places, broke my nose, broke my thumb, pushed my teeth through my lip and then had to walk for five hours down to my truck. I eventually got help, was flown to the Harbor View Hospital, and they put me back together. The good news is that I’m in better shape this year.
What about the physiological aspect?
It’s going to be higher than I’ve ever been before. I’ve been to 8,000 meters on Broad Peak and I just went to 8,000 meters last week and that went pretty well. The last 9,000 meters to the summit is probably going to be more mental than physical because I’m going to be tired. It’s 11,500 vertical from Base Camp to the summit. If I can make it to the summit in an 18-hour range I would be very pleased.
Your summit window is a popular date. How will you avoid the crowds?
I have to survey the other 37 expeditions to find out who's going when. My strategy is to be the sweeper behind everybody, so I think most people will be leaving around midnight or 10 p.m. for the summit and I’ll be leaving at like 3 a.m. If there are traffic jams and backups, hopefully they will be solved by the time I come up behind these teams. They’ll be on the summit or descending and then I can get to the summit, verify my time, take my summit photos and descend quickly and get out of the death zone.
Are you afraid of anything?
I have concerns. The descent from the summit will be a particularly dangerous period, that’s where everybody seems to die and so I’m planning on taking dexamethasone ahead of time so that my brain swelling and pulmonary edema will be at bay. That way I’ll have functioning cognitive ability high on the mountain because descending the ropes carefully with full presence of mind is important, so I don’t miss a clip and fall into Tibet. When it gets dark, when I’ve been going for more than 24 hours it will be interesting descending the Lhotse face in the dark and descending through the Khumbu Icefall in the dark. As a tentative solution I’ll have a buddy descend with me so I don’t do anything stupid.
How will you feel after you summit?
I expect it to take me six weeks to fully recover. My immune system will be tapped to the core. I’ll be crossing the line between death and life for sure. I don’t expect to die, but I know that’s the price of entry. It’s a big undertaking, but I truly believe that it is possible and I’m going to do it and I’m not going to have any problems. It will be extremely taxing and I’m probably not going to walk out of base camp toward Lukla for a few days--although there is the Everest marathon.