Shortly after we started back up we were held up behind four of the folks that had just passed us. Unfortunately one of the four had just gone blind. They had trouble with a regulator and went without supplemental oxygen for about fifteen minutes. The result probably from hypoxia caused the blindness. We waited about twenty minutes while they call their team doctor. Finally they decided to turn around to help the blind person down. They hung on above the fixed line while we passed them. At this point it is about 8,000 feet steeply down the South face to camp two on the left and more than 8,000 feet down the East face on the left. This was definitely not a good location to pass anyone. It is unfortunate how your luck can change and in sight of your goal. The pat on the back probably did little to help them, but it was a least a way to express some feelings.
After traversing the ridge to the base of the Hillary Step I began to think we had a chance to reach the summit. Latter in the day, back at the South Col the Sherpa’s told me that they thought we would make it after reaching the Balcony so quickly.
The Hillary Step was not a lot harder than several of the rock steps lower on the mountain. I will say that leading it without fixed line would have been the toughest part of the climb, but now with all the old and new fixed lines your main concern is to not get tangled up while trying to climb with crampons on sloping rocks. Above the step you come back out on an ascending snow ridge headed to the summit. I think at this point I told Kame that I thought we would make it. I still felt strong and was keeping up well with Pemba and Mingmar. I was particularly proud of how strong Pemba was on his first summit of Everest. Especially having broke trail in fresh snow all the way up to the South Summit.
We continued to plod our way up the summit ridge. At this point we looked to our left and could see the shadow of Everest cast far out to the West. Sunrise had just started out over the cloud covered plains of Tibet. Finally we could see four folks on the summit and knew that we only had a short distance to go. It had been such a long journey to this point. There has been so much support from family, friends and especially my wife Terri. She has put up with all these crazy trips over the years that I know are harder for her than me.