Mt. Everest gave her hell, but Kirstie Ennis survived The Death Zone

Phil Briggs
May 21, 2019 - 12:37 pm

For anyone following the journey of Marine Corps veteran Kirstie Ennis, her quest to climb Mt Everest was both thrilling and anxiety-inducing.

As an accomplished mountaineer (she’s already topped a few of the Seven Summits, including Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Carstensz Pyramid, and Mt. Aconcagua) Ennis was ready for this journey.

Left line! ♥️ “Camp one is pretty lonely especially with Rob down low, and Christopher running back up to camp two grabbing some forgotten gear. It’s been calm minus the random straggler of a Sherpa stopping to throw his bag down for a break, and giving me a wave through my tent door. I have enjoyed the peace and quiet, for sure, with my time being occupied by reading and writing — and random crunches so I don’t feel like a toad. However, it’s eerie to sit here alone as I write this and it be silent with the exception of falling rocks and the occasional avalanche. Looking out the tent door, there’s no black specks amongst the sea of white. There’s no other flies in this bowl of milk.” • My Everest Blog May 5-8 is live. Link in bio!

A post shared by Kirstie Ennis (@kirstie_ennis) on

Her blog and Instagram posts gave us incredible views as the above-the-knee amputee mountaineer made her way from base camp, through ice fields and on to the higher camps where only the most accomplished climbers and experienced sherpas dare to climb.

Summit Rotation Days 1-3 Blog is Live! Kirstie is so excited to share this part of the journey with you. There’s some insanely high highs... and incredibly low lows. But what matters the most is the team is safe and healthy. ♥️ Link In Bio. PC: @robgowler

A post shared by The Kirstie Ennis Foundation (@thekirstieennisfoundation) on

Ennis gave a brilliantly detailed account of her trek to the summit on her Kirstie Ennis Foundation blog, "I’m not sure why I had in my head that the move from camp three to camp four would be one of the easier ones for me, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Whoever’s genius idea it is to make the move in a summit suit can also go to Hell. The sun baked me inside of the down comforter I was wearing. I was already moving slower due to my pack and the lack of oxygen, and then we decided to layer me up like the damn Michelin Man. Perfect.

We made it from base camp through the ice fall to camp one and on to camp two. April 25-28th blog is the best yet. Link in bio. #leftlegless #Everest #IceFallAction -- @robgowler

A post shared by The Kirstie Ennis Foundation (@thekirstieennisfoundation) on

Follow Marine Veteran Kirstie Ennis, climbing Everest

But as she and her team settled into Camp IV the attempt became even more dangerous.  With an elevation of 8000m (26,000 ft) it’s known as “The Death Zone,” because of the combined dangers of low oxygen and the disorienting effect at that altitude. 

Jerome Ryan

Ennis and her team pushed ahead from Camp IV, but her teammate started to experience a life threating problem with an oxygen mask. Ennis wrote in her blog, “Sange quickly opened my pack, swapped out my half-empty bottle for a new one, and cinched everything back up. Christopher and Rob both voiced that Rob was running a bit low, but no one batted an eyelash. Repeatedly the boys mentioned needing to swap bottles, but apparently, we were in the Oxygen Crisis of 2019 and the locals weren’t willing to share. My blood boiled — again, where is the concern for client success and safety? I was thankful they were worried about me, but what about my team?”

They pushed further toward the summit and Ennis described “the sharp blues and reds that pierced the sky,” as the sun rose.  But the beauty of the moment would not last long.

“There was no room to use my forearm crutches and the soft snow was guaranteed to trip me up. I fumbled my way over the ridge,” Ennis explained. “What would normally take someone thirty minutes took me twice as long. Every inch of my body was filled with terror. With no room for a mistake, I tried to drown out the noise and the distraction of death. To add to my fear, my leg kept breaking suction — the last thing I needed was to lose my leg and not have a way to get down.”

While all of these events were happening, their footprint on Twitter and Instagram was in a holding a pattern.  For days all we saw was the blue icon on a map of Mt Everest that showed they were within a few hundred feet of the top of Mt Everest.  And to make tensions even worse, during that time news came out of Irish climber, Seamus Lawless, who had fallen to his death.

Turns out that as they got closer to the top it became clear that time was not on their side either.  With limited oxygen, Ennis described a final heart-wrenching moment, “Sange said, 'You need to make a decision. We can continue to the summit, but it will take a long time to get up and down and they don’t have enough oxygen.' We went back and forth briefly discussing options, but I wasn’t going anywhere without Rob and Christopher. I looked at Sange absolutely gutted, and said, “Let’s go down.”

Looking sunburned and exhausted Ennis appeared in a video on Instagram, the video’s caption said it all, “I gave Everest Hell, and she gave it right back. More details to come soon, but time and oxygen wasn’t in our favor. We spun at 8684 m. (28,490 ft). Tough call being so close to the top, but it wasn’t worth anyone’s injury or death. God bless the ten lives lost this season in the Himalayas already. Thank you guys for all of the love and support. Everest round two coming soon."

I gave Everest Hell, and she gave it right back. More details to come soon, but time and oxygen wasn’t in our favor. We spun at 8684 m. (28,490 ft). Tough call being so close to the top, but it wasn’t worth anyone’s injury or death. God bless the ten lives lost this season in the Himalayas already. Thank you guys for all of the love and support. Everest round two coming soon... -- . And to all the naysayers and those who said an above knee amputee wouldn’t make it past camp 2 (6400 m) — I got your camp 2, the next two camps, and another +2200 meters in my back pocket. --

A post shared by Kirstie Ennis (@kirstie_ennis) on



Ennis added, "And to all the naysayers and those who said an above knee amputee wouldn’t make it past camp 2 (6400 m), I got your camp 2, the next two camps, and another +2200 meters in my back pocket”

Thought the Everest summit may still be her ultimate goal, for all of us closer to sea level her accomplishment is still a pure inspiration.  

Read her full blog and the incredible stories of her Everest quest click here.

And to support The Kirstie Ennis Foundation click here