David Tait Interview taken in 2008
David Tait has reached the summit of Mount Everest twice, the 4th June 2005 and the 15th May 2007. His first time was via the North Col – North East Ridge and his second trip David did the North Col – South Col Traverse, being the first person to do this. He is hoping to go back to Mount Everest this coming spring in 2009.
In 2007 you completed the North Col – South Col Traverse. What made you decide to do this route?
My previous summit in 2005 was achieved from the North, and I returned with Russell Brice and Himex once again in 2007. Russ is a North-side specialist, and it was an easy decision to hook up again. So, in effect the decision to traverse North- South was almost accidental. I was in the market for a climb that would potentially “grab headlines’ if it was achieved, so that I would be able to publicize my charity – the primary reason why I climb. Discovering at the end of the traverse that I had become the first Brit was a pleasant and unexpected surprise even though I didn’t continue and attempt the second consecutive, return traverse.
How did you find the ascent of the Second Step in 2007 from your first time in 2005?
The only noticeable differences between the two years were firstly crowding and secondly the confusion of old rope. In 2005, my summit was very late in the season [in early June,] and for that reason there simply were not many people left on the mountain. As a consequence I had not a moments delay before climbing the second step. This contrasted vividly to 2007, where owing to the now infamous traffic jams of slow moving climbers, I had to stand and wait in line for over 45 minutes before starting up. The temperatures were similar so it wasn’t a problem in the end.
The second difference was that in 2007, Phurba Tashi, my climbing partner and Russ’s Sirdar had, on the 30th April already summitted whilst fixing rope, and cleaned up the confusion and tangle of old rope that festooned the second step. In doing so, they orientated the two ladders so that ascending and descending was much easier and faster. If they hadn’t done this our wait would have been even longer.
Can you remember how long it took you from the base of the First Step to the base of the Second Step, and from the top of the Second Step to the base of the Third Step?
To be perfectly honest I can’t. I don’t think I looked at my watch during the ascents, preferring to keep trying to catch a glimpse of the forthcoming dawn. I do vividly remember being terribly frustrated by how slow we had to proceed at times owing to many almost stationary climbers. I think Phurba and I could have managed the journey from C4 to the summit in a little over 4.5 hours if we hadn’t been impeded – in the end we took closer to 6.5.
Once you got to the summit from the North East Ridge did you have any second thoughts about descending the South side?
No, not at all. In fact it felt very natural. Perhaps I didn’t appreciate the dangers, but it wasn’t too intimidating. The only concern was the lack of rope. However, we edged our way along the ridge and eventually got down. Ironically, any doubts I had about continuing surfaced at C4 prior to the push. Phurba Tashi had demonstrated himself to be far superior to me in almost every way – physically, mentally and morally, and I realized [somewhat late] that I would eventually have to ask this most special of men, to simply “move aside” and let me summit first on our second and return traverse. There was no way I could ever beat him in a straight “race’, so this awkward moment was an eventual certainty. As the reality of this dawned on me, I started to doubt the merit of what I was trying to achieve ie: “ be the first to double traverse”, as it would be nothing less than fraudulent. Couple this with the fact that I was climbing in support an anti-abuse and anti-bullying charity, the irony was obvious. So, when I descended the South side I knew that I would be making a serious error to return. It was an easy decision to stop.
You are going back to Mount Everest for a third time this spring (2009). Why do you feel the need to go back, isn’t standing on the summit twice, enough?
The reasons I’m returning are quite complex. Firstly, I hope to summit without oxygen – which is the personal challenge. Secondly, I want to continue contributing towards the charity. Thirdly, I simply enjoy being away, in another world that’s as close to “adventure’ as there is nowadays. So, it’s not just about standing on the summit to me. I just love the place.
Which was the hardest and why, ascending the Second Step or descending the Hillary Step?
Without doubt the hardest was descending the Hillary Step. We tried to make use of the existing old rope, but concluded that it was all too frail to trust. So we belayed ourselves down using the rope we both carried. It was slow work, but it was made difficult because somehow my oxygen turned off. As I descended I “bounced” a few times off the rock walls, and we concluded that had been the cause. I remember getting to the bottom and my lungs were on fire. I couldn’t understand quite why I felt too dreadful. We checked my system and my o2 was in the OFF position.
Did standing on the summit the second time feel as good as the first time you were there?
No, not even with the benefit of time and hindsight. In 2007 during the “double traverse”, I was in effect only 25% of the way through when I summitted the first time. I remember talking to Russ on the radio, and then snatching a few photos before trudging off into the unknown with Phurba. I remember not fully reflecting on the fact that I had summitted until was in my tent the following night at ABC South side. My summit in 2005 [the first] was, by contrast, a wonderful moment. Again, I have to qualify it by saying more so in hindsight than at the time. I stayed on the summit for 15-20 minutes, grabbed photos, called my wife and kids on the Sat phone before hauling myself to my feet and trudging back to ABC by nightfall – which had been my goal. I remember thinking “at last! Now I can go home”, more than “Hooray, I’ve made it”. However, the following weeks and months were “dreamy”, as the reality of the situation slowly sunk in. Probably the best 6 months of my life to date.
What do your family and friends think about you going back to Everest for a third time?
Well my friends provide responses as varied as “nutter” to “I’m jealous”. There seems to be no accounting for just how people react. Most, I would say, regard me as odd to willfully risk my life, but I don’t see it that way at all. These people in my opinion simply don’t know what living is and seem content to simply exist. They regard “living” as having a beating heart, but to me it’s so much more. My wife must be one of the most understanding women alive – or so I’m told by other suffering husbands! She has always backed me, and knows that my character demands the challenge. Neither of us likes being away from each other, but we certainly make up for it the rest of the time. My elder kids, Hannah 20, and Oliver 17, don’t seem to realize I’ve even left the country, but my two younger boys, Seth 10 and Ethan 5 appear to really struggle. I’m very aware of this and it tugs on the heart-strings while away. I know they don’t want me to go, but deep down inside I think they understand why I want to do it.
Have you read any mountaineering books, if so which book is your favorite?
I haven’t read many. Just the obvious “Touching the void”, “The Beckoning Silence”, “No Shortcuts to the Top”, and my favorite and first ever read “Death Zone” by Matt Dickinson.
Do you think that George Mallory and Andrew Irvine climbed the Second Step?
Given ample time and favorable conditions anyone can climb the second step However, it’s always struck me that it’s just as possible to traverse across the face beneath the step [in daylight] if you so chose. I don’t know what time they were at this point, but with the elements on their side – yes, if they chose to.
If you would like to find out more about David then please pay a visit to his website at www.davidtait.com