News Sentinel Article

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Many thanks to reporter Kylie Hubbard for this one!

Knoxville resident climbs Mount Everest, completes daring rescue

On May 23, Knoxville resident John Quillen sat on top of the world. But the climb to Mount Everest wasn’t typical. John Quillen, Knoxville


On May 23, Knoxville resident John Quillen sat on top of the world. But the climb to the summit of Mount Everest wasn’t typical.

Quillen, a drug and alcohol counselor, arrived in Nepal in early April and hiked for 10 days to reach base camp. From there, Quillen met Neal Kushwaha of Ottawa, Canada, and spent a month participating in acclimatization — climbing between camps one, two and three to get used to the changes in altitude.

On May 18, the pair, along with their Sherpa companions, started their push up the mountain and by May 20 found themselves in good standing between camp one and two, and were taking a rest when the unthinkable happened.

An oxygen bottle fell from a higher point in the mountain and struck at least two people, including the head of a Sherpa. The Sherpas are a Himalayan people whose members often serve as porters on mountain-climbing expeditions.

“The ugliest part about it is that several people walked by this guy and did not help him, in both directions up and down,” Quillen said.

Kushwaha and Quillen knew that they couldn’t be bystanders, so they moved into action.

“That could have been us and we actually said that to each other. Like that could be you, that could be me, that could be one of our Sherpas, that could have been us,” Kushwaha said. “And (also) some people walking right by us but we had to go do something.”

The duo along with their Sherpas moved the man hit in the head to a safer location before Quillen moved to help a different man who was struck on the leg, ripping his body suit.

Meanwhile, Kushwaha and his Sherpa tended to the head of the injured Sherpa, as blood continue to come from his wound.

More: Local author David Brill recounts first-hand experience with Great Smoky Mountains rescue personnel

More: How ‘American Ninja Warrior’ has changed Knoxville native Grant McCartney’s life

“Neal (Kushwaha) and his Sherpa had to get on the radio and beg what they call the HRA (Himalayan Rescue Association) to dispatch somebody to come up because he’s a Sherpa and he doesn’t have any insurance,” Quillen said. “Western climbers have insurance. We really had to beg some people to come up.”

To make a safe area for a helicopter rescue, Kushwaha and his Sherpa moved the man several feet down the mountain, losing a lot of ground that had already been climbed.

Once the injured were secured, Quillen and Kushwaha along with their Sherpas moved quickly to camp three, but were physically and emotionally exhausted.

“That’s where good fortune I think favors our attempts to help him. It put us into camp three probably late at night around 9:30, 10 (p.m.), which is way too late to be going up the most dangerous part of the climb, the Lhotse Face, which pushed our whole summit schedule ahead several hours,” Quillen said.

This advancement in schedule allowed the duo to take their time to camp four, commonly referred to as “The Death Zone.” They arrived late on May 21 to stay their first night in the the Death Zone, where they experienced rough weather but a clearing the next morning.

“Most people barely survive up there and we were cruising around just re-energized, ready for our summit push, and I can only account for that in divine terms,” Quillen said. “You look at any account of Everest and … it’s a survival game and we were definitely thriving right before our summit push.”

At 7 p.m., the team started their summit push and arrived early the next morning to a nearly empty mountain. Quillen spent a total of 45 minutes on the summit and Kushwaha spent 35, when most get about enough time for a picture.

“It was sunny, it was clear, it wasn’t windy and if it was, it was only at the summit, which is normal. Hardly anybody there and when they did come, it wasn’t anything spectacular,” Kushwaha said. “As magical as it gets, we could probably come to Everest ten more years in a row, and never have that experience again. That’s how crazy it is.”

The two spent two more nights in the Death Zone before heading back to camp two on May 25 and base camp on May 26.

“It was a blessing from God in my mind, no doubt about it. And kind of a nod to the time we took to spend on somebody else,” Quillen said. “That’s the only way I can conceivably see it.”

The Summit Video-Everest 2018

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This is the money shot. You will rarely see a summit video without hordes of climbers. This is a result of my slower pace. I arrived at 10 am, May 23, 2018.  Most climbers had cleared by 8 am. Enjoy.

A touch of Frostbite

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It comes with the territory for me. Everyone knows I had a bit in 2011 following my summit of Muztah Ata. So predisposition to the mountaineers disease is a recurring possibility. As I descended from Everest’s summit last week, my toes on the right foot developed a familiar throbbing. Getting off Sagarmatha was a priority on multiple levels.


“Rocking” From Everest Summit

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(Sorry for the pic of a pic, I need a new wifi camera}

I’m still floating on air since my 24 hours above 8000 meters to the summit of Mt. Everest four days ago. It seems like yesterday. I realize that it will take a while to assimilate the events. One thing that has not been revealed was our role in the rescue of a seriously injured Sherpa at the beginning of our summit push which altered the entire schedule to our advantage.

On May 21, our full team headed up to camp 3 on our summit push and started up the bergschrund on the base of the Lhotse face. Immediately an oxygen bottle comes tumbling down the 45 degree slopes and careens over our helmeted heads. Sherpa eschew helmet use for one primary reason. It prohibits use of the endemic forehead strap that connects them to occasional 100 lb loads.  This day, it would almost prove fatal for one heavily laden porter.

Subsequent to the oxygen bottle near miss, I, along with my Sherpa, Ang Dawa and Neil Kushwaha along with his Sherpa, Sange paused to re evaluate the safety of the route given the recent spate of projectiles.  Within two minutes a large rock dislodged from ascending teams on what was becoming a typically blistering day in the Western Cwm of Everest.

The dull thud unmistakably suggested that someone had received the business end of this one. A fully suited Sherpa came dragging towards me. Down was leaking from a profuse gash in his suit. Aside from the obvious injury to an expensive down garment, this high altitude dude appeared uninjured.  He pointed at the hockey stick gulley and indicated there was another victim.

Neil, Dawa and Sange rushed to the scene as ascending climbers ignored the splattered blood and crumpled form in a pool at the base of Lhotse. A sizeable rock, which had clipped the first Sherpa nailed this poor porter. Neil and our Sherpa essentially carried this considerably bloodied chap to a safer point off the fixed line.

Blood was everywhere. We immediately found a pair of his socks to apply pressure to his skull. It was the one thing Icould recall from my last first aid class years ago. This Sherpa was in trouble and was in shock. He couldn’t remember his name. We gave him water and immediately got on the radio. It was Neal, Sange and Dawa who reached Kaji, our Sirdar at Basecamp. From there, Kaji was able to get in touch with the HRA who dispatched a helicopter. The helicopter made a high altitude rescue above camp 2 and this Sherpa was airlifted to Kathmandu. My Sherpa and Neil walked many extra feet to ensure this guy would live to climb again.

The resulting delay caused us to depart from the South Col one day late. In my next post, I will explain how this made all the difference. Right now we are on hold in Namche Bazaar as flights from Lukla are on weather hold. Thanks for following, I will post more photos soon.


No news is good news

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It seems like this trip has been one long waiting game. I don’t have any “news” per se, but Summit Climb posted that John and team were headed up to camp 3 yesterday which puts them right on their anticipated schedule. They should be waking up in about 2 or 3 hours and heading up to camp 4 tonight. If the weather continues to remain fair, we’re looking at a summit push starting tomorrow evening.

So since I can’t give you a very interesting John update, do we have any Sandra Bullock or “Hope Floats” fans? I was visiting a farm in Smithville, TX last week and realized I was 2 miles from “Birdee’s” house. I’m not 100% sure I’ve seen the  movie but I did swing by anyway.IMG_20180515_120248507_HDR

And this is what my house currently looks like. The pup and I leave Florida for good on Thursday and we are so excited to be closer to John so we can be together on weekends. Longstreet can barely contain his excitement.


Thanks for keeping up with John’s progress. I may update again, but most likely I’ll leave it to John when he gets back to basecamp. Hopefully the internet will be good enough for him to give a thorough report.


We depart tonight at 3 am

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I swore that I wouldn’t fool with internet here but my cellular texts weren’t getting out and I wanted to keep everyone abreast. We flew in from Namche two days ago and have been readying for our push. Today we double checked our oxygen system, repacked necessary climbing gear and solidified our olans. (We have no real leadership here, no one has heard from our expedition leader in weeks. He is apparently at camp 2, where we head directly from base camp tonight) .Fortunately, we are all self sufficient climbers with very competent Sherpa.

I have implored our Sirdar, Kaji, to relay daily updates via the summit climb news website. I do have faith in him because you folks deserve to know that things are progressing as expected.

Your comments are out of this world, thanks to you who have taken time to post, and thanks Myers for the updated weather. Right now, our expected summit day, the 22 isn’t looking great. But that’s a ways off and it will change. Laurel will let you know what she knows.

I leave you with a photo of an avalanche coming off Nuptse this morning. That’s my tent in the foreground, totally safe, of course. They are a frequent occurrence here on Mt. Everest as Spring and Summer collide.


Namche Hold-Groundhog Days Leaving on May 15

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Update- summit is open, we leave tomorrow.

Let me begin by wishing my Mom and all other Moms out there a Happy Mother’s Day. For us here in Namche @ 12000 feet it has been reminiscent of the movie “Groundhog Day”. Each morning brings hope of a return to Basecamp but weather and lack of rope progress keeps us grounded. No teams have reached Everest summit or camp 4 due to unusually high winds and cold. But we are as comfortable as can be expected in this terraced village full of coffee shops, bakeries and local restaurants.

I have frequented so many aforementioned establishments that my phone picks up emails and text alerts simply by remaining in my pocket as we pass through town and all the Wi-Fi hits. It’s like one big repeater system. Similarly, local merchants have gotten to know us by name and have taken time betting on our summit dates in accordance with the hourly changing weather forecast.

For me it has been an exercise in patience and mental calm. A week in the high Himalaya is a boon for any adventurer. Dealing with the vagaries of uncertainty is just a “need to manage” risk in this game. I pretend that this is a vacation within a vacation and events flow quite smoothly when we ignore the impending tasks.

One acquaintance we have made is Sibusiso Vilane from Africa. He is quite famous and also waiting here in Namche. Today I asked him about his audience with the Queen of England. That was quite a story, then we had lunch. I just got word that the ropes are now fixed and the route is open so progress is occurring.

We have a helicopter on retainer so day after tomorrow I suspect we will depart then. When we leave, Laurel will be manning, she will hate the use of that word, the comms. Check here and her personal Twitter feed @theLaureldunn.

IlI drop a line before hand. Thanks for your comments, I read each one. So grateful to hear from long lost friends, friends, colleagues and strangers.



Recap of our time up high

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We are now in Namche allowing our bodies to heal and recover from our week up at camps 1,2 and 3 on Everest. A surreal thickness of air and greenery engulfs four of our Everest team that hiked 15 miles down from Basecamp and hitched a ride on a helicopter the remaining distance to Namche Bazaar. I reflect on the preceeding events as if they are far removed. We just heard that the same storm which hit us here last night wrecked havoc on base camp and we are still gathering information about the extent of the damage to our camp and friends.

In the early morning hour of 3 am, Saturday, April 28, 8 Everest and four Camp 3 climbers departed to thread our way through the notorious Khumbu icefall. In darkness we attached ascenders to rope, crampons to boots and packs to cold backs.   My head was filled with images of danger, falling seracs,tumbling ice blocks and bottomless crevasses.

The reality was fortunately much less dramatic. They say the Icefall route is one of the safest in years. Yes, we did ladder crossings, crevasse crossings and the like. I remember the first time I placed my steel crampons on the aluminum rung of a ladder spanning a bottomless crack. There were two sections of ladder and I gripped the rope tighter than a tourniquet. Dawa steadied me like an anchor.

It took 6 hours to ascend through what Conrad Anker called the “Ballroom of Death”.  The sun rose to illuminate giant ice walls that signifihe the top of our Khumbu experience. Camp 1 was still hours away. My breathing was labored beyond comprehension and the sun was beating me into the snow. Our team was similarly puffing through this section. By now it was blazing hot and I doubted my ability to reach that speck of yellow far above.

Eight hours was my final time to camp 1. We rested there for two nights in the sweltering Western cwm. The morning Dawa and I blazed out our first hazard was a huge icewall with multiple ladders lashed together.  Then there was a 3 ladder crossing over a yawning crevasse. And to think I had relegated that scene to the icefall prematurely.  The cwm is an oven on a cloudy day. This morning saw a few passing vapors.

Very far in the distance, I spotted tents across a minimally rising expanse. Dawa assured me it was HOURS away, and I believed him. My Sherpa brother doesn’t lie. It is at this point my body temps rise to unbearable. I’ve not been this hot ever. Four hours it took to coax me into camp 2 at 21000 feet.

That night was incredibly cold, single digits freezing. My toes numbed and the darkness was a battle to warm digits. My tentmate, Richard suffered as well. It snowed most afternoons at 2 on until dark. We had 10 people at camp 2 and the Sherpa did well to cook meals at this altitude. One of our team remained at camp 1 on oxygen.

We rested before attempting to reach camp 3. A couple in our group, including ny new tentmate, tried to ascend to camp 3. Three turned around due to extreme cold and exhaustion. The two who reached 24,000 feet took 10 hours and looked like refried hell when they came dragging back. It was a harbinger of the following day.

Again, it was freezing cold that afternoon, night and morning as we booted up for our biggest day. 8 am saw four climbers with numb toes depart for camp 3. Two hours was when we hit the bergschrund which signified the beginning of the fixed ropes on the Lhotse face. Imagine 45 degree slopes with ropes hanging from ice screws to which we attach an ascending device, safety biner and start “jugging” skyward.

Pitch after pitch of coordinated jug and kicking into blue ice was unrelenting for hours upon hours. Add to this the misery of the afternoon snow storm. I had stripped down to underclothes and ditched my shell jacket. This did little for the freezing wind and snow now sticky on my sweaty garment. The precipitous ground afforded little opportunity to modify wardrobe. Dawa Sherpa led over ice lip and ice lip. No margin for error existed here. We were three hours on the Lhotse face.

As the wind increased we gained what I hoped was the final wall into camp 3. However, Dawa wished to push on another hundred feet into our tent compound he had so carefully helped chip out days before. I flung myself into a shelter from this storm, but only long enough to don mittens as my hands immediately went to numb. Reclothed, we began our descent into or out of bad weather, it mattered not. We had barely enough time to beat the retreating sun. Here is NeilsN video of our team at camp 3.

I lost count of the number of rappels back down the Lhotse face we racked. I’m guessing near six or 7 full rappels and five arm raps. The ice was firm and polished, unforgiving lest anyone miss a rig. Dawa ensured that didn’t occur on his watch. With great relief and little sun we reached the bergschrund and cold booted down the glacier.

10 hours was our day on the Lhotse face. Every light on my dashboard was blinking when we rolled back in to camp 2.  Soup was waiting for

me and I could barely stomach any of it. I drank what little water I could and passed out for the night.   We left for Basecamp the following morning. That was another 5 hours including time back through the ice fall.

We spent Seven days above 20 thousand feet and completed our acclimatization for Everest. I had likely lost 15 pounds and it showed. Our team was bedraggled, malnourished and exhausted.

Michael, Neil, Tom and myself grabbed our packs after a daysd rest and walked 15 miles down to Pheriche. The following morning we hitched a ride on a helicopter to Namche where we currently remain. I can’t post pictures due to the unstable internet. I have a bit of stomach bug, along wit Neil but have time to sort this out here in lower elevation.

We are safe, rested and recovering and hope to return to ebc in a few days. Thanks for following.


Acclimatization Rotations

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IMG-20180505-WA0001(The team this morning at EBC. Keep Ciera, the girl on the far right , front row in your thoughts as she developed a heart condition and was airlifted out this morning. She says being at the Nepalese hospital is more scary than being on Everest, but she’s resting and is scheduled to see a cardiologist tomorrow.)

John spent the past week acclimatizing up high in preparation for his summit bid. He and much of his team worked their way up Everest to spend nights at camps 1, 2, and 3 and touched at 24,000 ft (Everest is 29,029 ft for those of us that should know but keep forgetting and have to re-google every few days). I’d add my own commentary, but John is in Basecamp now and hopes to hike down lower to a town that may have WiFi in the morning, so I’m hopeful he’ll be able to provide more accurate info and pictures. I’ll just leave you with a picture of our super cute doggo wearing his brand new tie. He got it last night and is pretty excited.