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Cover Story

The Everest Chronicles

Elita Karim
Photo Courtesy: Musa Ibrahim

Musa Ibrahim summiting the Everest.

When Musa Ibrahim decided to begin his descent, he was already exhausted to the point of collapsing. The ascent had taken up all his strength, both mental and physical, not to mention the vertical ice walls he had to climb, the time when his oxygen tank failed him and when a huge storm blew away 12 tents in front of his eyes at one of the camps. Still, it was the descent that he was worried about. Using up the last bit of strength that he had, he started to descend after summiting the Everest, and came across four dead bodies, strewn in the snow. Wasn't there just one body while climbing up the last slope? Ibrahim asked himself. Just as he was pondering on that devastating discovery, he found a ridge where he automatically lay down, gasping for breath and trying desperately to muster some strength, to get up. The Sherpas who were with him were trying their best to keep him moving. “Lying down on the ridge is very dangerous!” they cried to Ibrahim. “You have to keep on moving!” Ibrahim however, was worn out and could not make himself move. He feared that this was probably the end. At least he had conquered the Everest. And that too, he was the first one from Bangladesh to do so!

On May 23, 2010, Musa Ibrahim was the first Bangladeshi to reach the Everest. “It was around 5:55 am in Bangladesh,” remembers Ibrahim. The sun was just coming up and it was like a new beginning in his life. “While we were climbing up from the side of Tibet, there were other climbers who were reaching the Everest from the other side that is from Nepal,” he says. “That was truly overwhelming climbers from different countries and points in the world coming together for one purpose.”

Ibrahim's Everest journey had actually begun in 2007, when the North Alpine Club Bangladesh had decided to embark on Mission Everest 2010. “We had initially decided to send a team of six people, which had come down to four,” says Ibrahim. “There were a lot of finances involved and it was getting very difficult to manage the funds. Eventually, we came down to just one person who would represent the club and the country.” Amongst all the other members, Ibrahim was the most experienced and fit, which is why he was selected to climb and hopefully summit the Everest. Several corporate houses, organisations and the daily Prothom Alo covered one fourth of the finances required for the expedition. "The rest I had borrowed from my older sister, Noor Ayesha" says Ibrahim.

On April 8, 2010, Ibrahim reached Kathmandu. “The first thing that I did was finish up my shopping,” says Ibrahim. He bought his gear, boots and everything else he would require for the expedition. The next day, he, along with two Sherpas, one Sardar and the team of climbers that he was assigned to, began his journey towards Naylam in Tibet, located at a height of 12,000 feet. “Naylam is not like Nepal at all,” he says. “There is a village there where people carry on with their daily activities regularly. But there is no vegetation and the oxygen level seems very low. That was when my headache started. I tried to ignore it first, but it got worse with time.” In fact, this headache had followed Ibrahim around for days and at one point had become the cause of his physical and psychological weakness.

After staying at Naylam for two days, the group began to move towards Tingri, located at a height of 14,000 feet. The atmosphere there was very similar to Naylam. One of the thumb rules that climbers had to follow all throughout the expedition was the regular drinking of water. “In fact what is said is that the higher you go, the more water you must drink,” says Ibrahim. “For instance, at the height of 2,000 metres, we are expected to drink at least 2 litres of water. At 5,000 metres, we would have to drink at least 5 litres and so on. The rule also requires one to drink the water as quickly as possible.”

Finally, Ibrahim and his team had reached the base camp on April 14, 2010. At 17,500 feet, Ibrahim thought of his family and friends celebrating the first day of the Bengali New Year in Bangladesh. Coincidentally, Nepal too was celebrating the first day of the Nepalese calendar on 14 April as well. “I was quite surprised with the way they pronounced the names of their months,” says Ibrahim. “They are identical to the way we pronounce the names of our Bengali months!”

Musa Ibrahim. Photo: Zahedul I khan

The base camp is where the actual journey starts for all climbers of the Everest. It has ready facilities for climbers starting from sleeping to dining areas. “We could actually see the top of the Everest from the base camp,” says Ibrahim. “It was around a 100 km away from where we were standing. It felt like we were very close to the Everest and could probably reach the point in no time at all!”

Ibrahim and his team stayed there for four days. “We should have stayed there longer for more rest and nutrition,” says Ibrahim. “But I wanted to move faster and so we started climbing towards the mid-base camp after the fourth day at the base camp.”

On April 18, 2010, Ibrahim reached the mid-base camp where he and the Sherpas stayed for just one day. The very next day, they climbed for 10 hours and reached the advanced base camp. “The climb was along the Rongbuk glaciers,” remembers Ibrahim. At 6,450 meters, Ibrahim's headache got worse. Out of the six nights that the team was there at the advanced base camp, the first few nights were the most excruciating. “I could not sleep,” he says. “My headache was getting worse, I did not have the urge to eat and my body was getting weaker. I was getting anxious since I would not be able to climb with so little strength. I had to stay strong and focused.” A shift of focus or the slightest slip could easily result in death, while climbing the Everest, says Ibrahim.

While Ibrahim was at the advanced base camp, he spent around eight hours climbing towards the North Col, which would eventually become camp 1 for the team. “To reach the North Col, I had to pass an ice wall,” he says. “It took me a long time to climb it. It had three crevices and at one point I got a little scared.”

Hiking on a frozen river.

While he was moving towards the North Col, his Sherpas were busy setting up camp 1 at North Col, situated at 7,100 metres. A Sherpa is a guide who helps the climbers through the region while moving towards the Everest. Born and brought up in the mountain regions, Sherpas climb very fast and can deal with high altitudes where there is less oxygen, better than people from the 'flat-land'.

Ibrahim was not very happy with his performance so far. “I felt that I was getting slower and everyone else was moving faster than I was. I was also losing a lot of energy, which was not safe for climbing further.” The Sherpas shared his feelings and asked him to move back to the base camp. “I was disappointed, but the Sherpas were right,” says Ibrahim. “I made my way towards the base camp for some more rest, nutrition and of course, oxygen.”

After a few days, Ibrahim and his Sherpas started from the base camp once again. This time Ibrahim moved faster and performed better than the first time. It took him exactly half the time to reach the advanced base camp. However, once again, the Sherpas made Ibrahim move back to the base camp, since according to them he needed to be stronger. Naturally, Musa Ibrahim was getting frustrated but he realised that the Sherpas wanted him to make it to the top and knew what was best for him at that moment.

Finally, when the team made for the advanced base camp for the third time, they got stuck in a bad storm as soon as they reached the area. “The storm was so bad that it blew away a few tents at the blink of an eye!” says Ibrahim. “The four of us had to hold on to our tent from the inside so that it would stay.”

Every day the storm would start from 10 am in the morning and get worse by evening. “I was getting frustrated,” says Ibrahim. “Meanwhile, I was asked to visit the North Col, walk around and not just sit around the area. We were basically stuck there because of the storm and could not move.”

Ibrahim's reception at the Rum Doodle restaurant in Nepal.

Ibrahim explains that yet another thumb rule that mountaineers follow is the concept of acclimatisation. It refers to climbing at a particular height and then moving back to a lower height once it is time to relax and go to sleep. “I would climb the North Col at the height of 7,100 metres and then come back to the advanced base camp and sleep at night,” says Ibrahim. “This makes a climber used to the different heights and altitudes while climbing.”

At one point, in between the storm, the Sherpas decided to go back to the base camp. “The Sardar and I were left at the advanced camp,” says Ibrahim. Meanwhile, news of the death of a fellow climber reached Ibrahim. “He belonged to another team,” says Ibrhaim. Another Bangladeshi climber, Muhith, who had started the expedition around the same time as Ibrahim was also a part of the particular team. “I got a little anxious and asked if Muhith was okay. My Sardar let me know that he was.”

Climbing the slope on way to the North Col.

However, all the bad news and the negative vibes around him were de-motivating him. On May 14, when he noticed a group of Chinese climbers making their way from the advanced base camp towards their destination, Ibrahim and his Sardar decided to move with them. They called the Sherpas on their walkie-talkies and asked them to come. Once the Sherpas reached the advanced base camp, they were furious! “The storm was still very strong and I was not ready to move just as yet, according to the Sherpas,” explains Ibrahim. “This is mainly why they were angry.” The Sherpas assured Ibrahim that the whole team was working towards Ibrahim's success. At the same time, they needed him to be safe and not lose energy.

Finally on May 16, 2010, the team made its way towards camp 1. “At all the camps, we had to make our own food,” says Ibrahim. “We used to collect snow from a clean area, boil it for tea and have dry food like biscuits and chocolates for meals. The regular water intake, however, was moving on regularly.”

On May 19, 2010, the team began its final ascent. They had to start using their oxygen tanks and wear special gear for the climb.

During the whole journey from camp 1 to camp3, the team had come across a lot more of the bad storm and were even stuck at one of the camps. At one point, while climbing a rocky mountain, Ibrahim's oxygen tank regulator got stuck to one of the sharp edges and was torn. The 30 seconds that it took the Sherpas to fix the regulator of the tank, Ibrahim felt that he was going to die.

It was finally time to climb the final slope, after which Ibrahim would reach the top of the world, the Sherpas told Ibrahim. It would be dawn in a few more hours and the mountains were pitch black. However, Ibrahim was recharged and was filled with confidence when he heard about the last slope. He was very close to fulfilling his dream. He checked his torch and other gear and started the climb. "When I reached the last slope, I found a line of climbers, climbing slowly in the dark with their torches," says Ibrahim. "It was like watching a constellation of the stars in the night sky."

The advanced base camp.

Ibrhaim reached his goal the way he had planned, but almost died a second time when he decided to quit on the ridge during his descent. “Thankfully, an Australian and a Scottish climbers were descending back as well,” says Ibrahim. “They saw me lying down the ridge and helped me. They fixed my oxygen tank, fed me some dry food and gave me water. That was when I revived back and continued with my descent.”

Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, news had spread like wild fire and everyone was awaiting Ibrahim's return. His family and friends had gone to Nepal to receive him.

From the top of the world and back to the 'flat-lands', for Musa Ibrahim, it was a slow descent and a dangerous one as well. However, once Ibrahim reached the base camp on May 25, 2010, he had become the first official Bangladeshi to reach the Mount Everest. "It is a feeling I cannot explain," says Ibrahim. "This achievement has marked my country on the world map. This is all that matters for me right now."


As per the tradition, Ibrahim signs his name in the record book (left) and amidst the names of all the other climbers who had reached the Everest in the past (right).



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