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Team Hahn Member Makes a Tough Call
Posted on May 20, 2009

Everest Dispatch #71
May 20, 2009

By Dave Hahn

My team laughed its way through a 3:30 a.m. breakfast and hit the trail promptly at 4 a.m. We trudged along by headlight with the glacier snapping and popping away, signaling again that we were among the first of the day to challenge the Khumbu Icefall. Traffic was sparse since most climbers are higher on the mountain now and going higher still. We represent the tail end of those bound for the summit.

I was pleased that my team was moving well … little talking was required as we switched off our headlights and clawed our way up and down the little ice walls that have now become familiar on the approach to the Khumbu. Subtly at first, and then a bit more obviously as we came into our first rest break, Erica’s pace began to falter, and things didn’t seem quite so easy any-longer. This was perplexing at first, since conditions were perfect, the terrain was relatively easy, and Erica’s health was excellent.

As planned at this point of the climb, where the Icefall steepens and the avalanche hazard to a group increases, I asked Seth, Melissa, and Kent, along with Ang Kaji, to go slowly ahead. We’d stay in contact by radio. Erica and I finished our rest and moved upward, but by then, it had become clear that Erica was losing confidence in her ability to climb the mountain. Such moods come and go for climbers, and I hoped this one would go soon. We determined to climb on up through the “Popcorn” section of the glacier and to reevaluate our situation at the Icefall’s midpoint.

Through the Corn, I was happy to see that Erica’s strength and skills were intact … but clearly she had the weight of the world on her shoulders with some heavy decision-making going on. Her million dark thoughts were spawning a hundred or so in my own (less nimble) mind. I stifled the urge to “argue” Erica into an Everest summit attempt as we walked. I wouldn’t do such a thing for an adult … I certainly couldn’t begin anything of the sort for a 17-year-old. Everest is too dangerous a game. I’ve seen too many people die here … people who were rock-solid in their determination to climb the mountain while knowing full well the risks they took on.

An individual’s motivation for such a thing must come from within … not from their guide. I’d let Erica wrestle her own (very legitimate) demons. But that meant that I needed to take my own mind off of her demons for a bit, and so I climbed along with one eye on my client and one eye on the sun’s first rays igniting the surrounding peaks. Seth, Melissa, Kent, and Ang Kaji had prudently waited for us at the mid-point to check on our progress, and to make sure we negotiated the latest collapsed bridge on the way into the “Football Field.” At first we just rested, ate, and drank … the typical break. But then we came to the bigger stuff, and Erica and I made the decision to descend.

The mountain just seemed too big all of the sudden, the way they sometimes do. Erica decided she wanted more years, more mountains, and more miles before next taking on Everest’s summit, and I certainly couldn’t begrudge her any of those things. I barely scratched my way up the mountain for a first time at 32 years. I could not have done it at 17. We sent the others on up to CII, and Erica and I worked our way carefully down to safety.

As we down-climbed, both our moods brightened … much as my ego would have inflated with another great summit guiding triumph, I was plenty satisfied that six weeks of good, safe climbing was instead followed by a smart and mature decision. We listened to my radio as yesterday’s summit team made ready to leave the South Col on their descent to basecamp. All sounded well with them and we looked forward to seeing them down low. Our own team made their way on up to ABC.

Back in camp, I tried to rest away the bleary feeling that comes with 3 a.m. starts, and I set about making new plans for my gang’s summit bid. Latest forecasts show that a storm may encroach on our 24th of May attempt … so we may just can the proposed rest day at ABC on the 21st and move up for an earlier bid on the 23rd. I still hope to be of use to my teammates. I want Kent to get his camera rolling on the most spectacular vistas I’ve ever witnessed. I want Seth and Melissa to tag the top and I suppose now that my priorities have shifted and that Erica is safe in basecamp … I want to touch the top again myself. And so I’ll move to CII on the 21st, and CIV on the South Col on the 22nd (they’ll move to CIII tomorrow and then the Col on the 22nd, so we’ll all be there together for an attempt on the night of the 22nd).

At least that is the plan. We shall see how my legs work. We shall see how the weather flows, and how the luck breaks. Stay tuned.

Author: - Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

  1. Michael

    Erica, glad you are back safe! We’ve enjoyed following your Expedition.

  2. GregC

    Erica, when you know; you know. As they say, discretion is the better part of valor. I admire you for making a choice that others at their own peril would not.

  3. Wibster

    Erica, great job

  4. suemh

    Congratulations Erica on being brave enough to make the call. Never look back, only forward.

  5. DD

    Erica, millions of us admire your guts to climb and the strenght to know when not to!
    You are an inspiration to all.
    Dave,Seth, Melissa, Kent and Ang Kaji we all wish you
    the Best of Luck and even better weather!

  6. AhealyDSnine

    Erica, You made if farther than I ever will. I admire your courage to know when it is not right and the bravery to follow through.

  7. Ray Cheatham

    Great post Dave. You truly are a professional. Go for 11! Erica will touch the top in the coming years I am sure. At seventeen she has accomplished more than 99.9% of the world will ever do.

    Erica, I am sure that Dave has told you this but you did good…real good. You climbed higher than you ever have before and that in itself is a great accomplishment. And you have shown maturity beyond your years in recognizing your limits and making that tough decision. Most do not know when to say, “Okay it is time to stop and turn around. Let’s try this again some other time.” Thanks for allowing us to participate in this adventure with you. I look forward to reading about your future summits. You have a very bright future.

  8. EricasDad

    Thanks to everyone for your words of encouragement and support. Erica really did a great job- all the more amazing given her youth, and the relative inexperience that comes with youth. I will save these comments for her to read; I’m sure she will appreciate them.

  9. jdmd47

    I admire your courage and wisdom. Glad you are safe.

  10. T-Dawg

    Great job Erica! You can still hold your head up high in my book. I don’t know too many 17 year olds that can say “I attempted to climb the highest peak in the world.” You have made it up to CIII and back safely. That takes guts!! You made the right choice and when you have the best guides in the business tell you that you made a good call, feel good about it. You’ll be at the top soon enough, plenty of time.
    Good luck and good climbing Dave!

  11. D_Stege

    Erica, We are proud of you. Your effort and time was well worth it. Remember its not the destination….. its the journey. And it sounds like you have had a superb journey. You will never forget this experience and we look forward to hearing more about your trip. Now hustle back to Arizona, kid. Your parents miss you.

    Dave S

  12. GB

    Erica – You’ll be back. Mountains have a way of grabbing hold of your imagination and getting under your skin…to climb again…and again…and again. Thanks for sharing your journey, and just think – it’s only just begun.

    Dave – What a guide.

  13. travisbosworth

    Like Ed says “getting to the top is optional, getting home is mandatory!” Congratulations on having the wisdom to know when to say when. Erica you have already climbed higher and experienced more than most of the rest of us ever will and I get the feeling this is just the beginning for you. Thanks for letting us follow along on your adventure.

  14. climbabout

    Congratulations to both Erica and Dave. This story represents all that is right about mountaineering. Unfortunately, the majority of the non climbing public view us as an ego driven, reckless lot, when in fact the majority of us are prudent, cautious, and well prepared, unwilling to take unneccessary risks and ready to turn back when things don’t feel right. Decisions like this don’t make for good drama or headlines, but they are right in every respect. Erica, you have earned the respect of those of us following your adventure and I wish you well on future climbs. Dave, your handling of this shows why you are so highly repected by fellow guides and clients.
    Tim Jones

  15. ginger64

    Erica, your Great Grandmother Foo Foo and I (Aunt Ginger) are so very proud of you and your accomplishments. I know that this is not the end only the beginning and that when the time is right you will step “on top of the world”. Congratulations on a job well done. We love you and miss you. Stay safe! RMI/Eddie Bauer team good luck and thanks so much for looking after my niece.

  16. ksmith

    No Regrets! Return home safely knowing how much you achieved. With the maturity you’ve shown I have no doubt you will return to Everest. There may even be a day when you will be having the same conversation with a young person your guiding up the mountain. Your an inspiration to us all.

  17. bgallagher

    Erica, you are a true hero to us all and you have taken on so many monumentous challenges in you life we can be nothing but proud of your courage. It takes a very good and alert person to know when your just not ready for such a large challenge. No one has asked this of you, you asked it of yourself and that is the sign of a hero. Everest will always be in Nepal and you will have your chance again to top the highest mountain in the world…just take it on when you think you are ready. Many people before you thought they were ready and have not returned…you will return to us….and try again. Our prayers will be answered when you are safe again.

    God’s speed

  18. bgallagher

    Dave, you are a very empathetic individual. You saw Erica’s potential and her desire to conquer Mount Everest…and you took on the challenge to help a 17 year old woman reach for the top. You are another hero which we can all be proud, for without your efforts Erica may never have climbed so high and so far. Bring yourselves back to us, so that we can marvel at both of your couragous acts. Mount Everest can go no where, but you can come back and seek her top another day, on your own terms. Do not cower in your disapointments, but revel in you accomplishments. Dave your bravery and dedication towards Erica’s dream’s is nothing less than heroic, you are a true professional.
    God’s speed!

  19. Uncle DanO

    Erica, Tracy, Patrick, Erin and I have all been following your trip and want to let you know we are all very proud of you. We cannot pretend to understand the range of emotions that you have endured, and believe it must have weighed on you quite heavily to know what others might think of your decision. You have let nobody down, including, (and especially) yourself. If the time isn’t right, it isn’t right. You have demonstrated a level of character and maturity beyond your years, and I’m positive the entire team, as well as all of us back home, have great respect for what you have accomplished. How many 17-year olds can say they have made it Camp III and back? Now that you have a better understanding of the whole program, you will know what to expect next time. There’s no doubt you will return to touch the top of that mountain. We love you, please return safely and help the rest of the team do the same.

  20. molly white

    Hi Dave, It is great to be able to follow your trip.
    Best of luck on your ascent. I will be following it daily safely from my desk. Best of luck to you.

  21. taosskier


    Not sure which impresses me more: your ability to step back and let Erica work her way to a decision or Erica’s being mature and wise enough to reach what must have been a tough and disappointing decision. Good luck and Godspeed on your summit attempt. I look forward to photos and details next winter somewhere between 9200’ and 11800’.

  22. petekaplan

    Greetings Erika,
    it’s not too late to give it another try. I’m sure there’s another team that would appreciate having you join them. Good luck!

  23. doverpro

    We mortals are proud of your extreme effort and I would like to recognize you for your guts to try as long as you did. Way to go and keep knocking on the door it will eventually open.

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