Mike Davey Interview taken in 2018
British climber Mike Davey first attempted to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 2005 but failed to do so due to the death of a team member. He went back in 2007 and successfully stood on the summit on the 24th May but not without problems.
Apart from Mount Everest, what other mountains have you climbed?
I climbed for about 8 years before my first attempt on Everest in 2005. I started with Kilimanjaro in 1998. I then moved onto the Alps over the next few years: Mont Blanc (twice), Matterhorn, Monte Rosa, Lyskamm, Briethorn, Castor, Pollux and about 20 other 4000m peaks. In tandem with this I did some rock climbing courses at Plas Y Brennin in North Wales and an Ice Climbing course in Scotland with Jagged Globe. I prepared for higher altitude by attempting some of the other 7 summits including a success on Elbrus and bad weather failures on Denali and Aconcagua. My real test piece before Everest was my successful climb of Cho Oyu (8,210m, world’s 6th highest mountain). This is an essential step before anyone attempts Everest. You need to know how you react at extreme altitude.
Your first attempt to climb Mount Everest in 2005 ended with a team mate losing his life high up on the mountain. How high up did you get and what made you turn around?
We turned around at 8,300m which was where my friend Rob Milne collapsed and died. Rob’s death took a lot of time and after a discussion with our expedition leader back at Base Camp I agreed to turn around. The rest of the team continued as far the feature at 8,600m known as the Balcony but then met very high winds so turned around as well.
Was it easy or hard to make the decision to go back to Everest 2 years later?
I knew very quickly I would have to return to complete the climb. Luckily my then girlfriend Jane (now wife) was wonderfully supportive. When I phoned her from Base Camp to tell her Rob had died she immediately said that she would support me if I wanted to try again. These dangerous climbs are very hard for partners and this was the kindest act I have ever experienced and I will always be grateful for this act of sympathy, understanding and extreme selflessness. That element of the story was completed in 2007 when I proposed to Jane by satellite phone from the summit of Everest. (She said yes!)
Due to work commitments I did not return to Everest in 2006. This was probably just as well as after a very long and tough season in 2005 I needed a break from it
How would you describe climbing through the Khumbu Icefall?
The Khumbu Ice Fall is one of the most amazing and beautiful places on Earth as well as being the most objectively dangerous part of the climb. You are surrounded by nature’s art work sculptured in ice and on a huge scale. Like the whole time on the mountain you constantly have to remind yourself to take in the immense beauty all around you. You are generally exhausted and feeling a little ill so it is easy not to take it in. On my two attempts on the mountain I have travelled through the ice fall 24 times. Each time it is different as it changes so much week to week. The ladders are terrifying at first but you soon find yourself skipping across them very confidently. Of course it is also a very dangerous place. I was lucky to never experience any problems in the Ice Fall. I have a large canvas print of one my ice fall photos on the wall of my office. I look at it every day and remind myself how lucky I am to have been to somewhere so special.
In 2007, at Camp 1 you became severely ill with symptoms of Cerebral Oedema. At that time did you think that your second attempt was all over?
It was a very disturbing evening and caused a real kafuffle that evening in Base Camp and on the mountain. Eventually my friends Rob Casserley and Mike Allsop went up toward Camp 2 to meet one of our sherpas who was bringing down a canister of oxygen. As soon as I put the Os on I felt better. The next morning my friend and summit Sherpa Padawa came up to camp 1 to take me down while everyone else went up to camp 2. At Base Camp my expedition leader Henry Todd had called in some favours and arranged for me to have a medical examination at a medical research expedition that was on the mountain in 2007. In the end I had an expert examination that exceeded anything I would have got at the local hospital in England and was declared good to climb. However, everyone agreed if it happened again I was going home. I had come close to losing dream once and for all.
What was the weather conditions like at Camp 4 (South Col)?
Things got quite threatening on the night we were due to leave for the summit. The wind was quite strong which of course with freezing temperatures means a serious windchill. It was marginal but Henry decided it was safe to climb. Fairly quickly the wind dropped and we had a pretty good, if very cold (probably minus 30-35 C), summit day. Henry had read the conditions perfectly as you would expert from such an experienced leader.
On your summit day you suffered from severe frost bite on your feet (where you eventually lost a big toe). Was there at any point you thought about giving up and turning around?
My feet got cold quickly and I soon lost all feeling in the front of my right foot. I was constantly moaning to my sherpa Padawa about my feet. Between the balcony and the South Summit he got tired of my moaning and held out the radio and said ‘speak to Henry’. I knew if I touched that radio Henry would order me down the mountain and my summit would be gone, possibly forever. At that moment the last two members of my team Mike Allsop and Pat Hickey came past me. Both were going well and I realised that if I turned around I would be the only one on the team not to reach the summit. I could not face this so accepting the risk to my feet I said ‘Let’s go’ to Padawa and fell in behind Pat’s Sherpa, determined to follow right behind him.
Once on the summit you proposed to your partner Jane. Was she surprised and did she say yes?
It was not a long planned proposal. . I had decided earlier in the expedition that I would propose to Jane. As I got nearer the summit and realised I was going to achieve my dream it felt right that I should make a grand gesture to Jane who had given me more support than I could ever have reasonably expected so a proposal from the summit seemed perfect. She was very surprised and of course said yes. She was frankly more concerned with hearing I had finally made it and was also worried about me getting down safely. But she loves that she had such a special proposal and that makes me very happy. Despite hypoxia I had a great idea above 8000m!
How did you find ascending and descending the Hillary Step?
I found the whole ridge from the South Summit to the Summit utterly wonderful climbing. It was incredibly exposed but breathtakingly beautiful with Nepal to your left, Tibet to your right and the Himalayan chain in front and behind you. The Hilary step was great. It was such an honour to think here I was on this the most famous climbing feature in the world. It is not technically demanding if you put aside you are exhausted and hypoxic. At sea level it would be a doddle.
This season (2018) one Everest expedition company is offering a large tent with a proper bed (like we have at home) and carpet for its paying climbers. Do you think this is a great idea or a bit over the top?
To be honest why not – if you can afford it! It does not make climbing Everest any easier. I had a nice tent to myself, a very comfortable sleeping matt and a -40 sleeping bag. But I still slept in my clothes for two months and felt ill most of the time. A Ritz Charlton at Base Camp would be nice in some respects but would not make much difference to your chances of getting to the top. Altitude is the same whatever bed you are in.
On the summit you took your oxygen mask off. Did this have any effect on you?
I must have had my mask off for about 20 minutes. I did not notice any major effect.
Do you have a favourite mountaineering book that you have read?
Yes. I recommend ‘Everest’ by Walt Unsworth. It is an utterly brilliant history of climbing on the mountain and essential for any Everest hopeful or armchair climber.
Have you been on any other adventures since climbing Mount Everest?
Not really. Since Everest in 2007 I have been on two short climbs of Mount Kenya – first unsuccessful the second successful. It is a beautiful trip ending an exciting 5 hour face rock climb and some Ice Climbing on the very summit, all coming after a rather rapid and brutal walk in to the trekking peak. Apart from that I think I may be retired. I still have unfinished business on Aconcagua and Denali but we shall see. I am getting old!
Do you think that George Mallory and Andrew Irvine climbed the Second Step?
It is a long time since I read all the books so I cannot recall where the experts thought they got to. However, I think it unlikely they made the summit which is a shame as it would have been nice if a couple of Englishman had climbed Everest first instead of a Kiwi. Most of its history is English after all.