How to ruin a brand new down suit
Answer: Try climbing Everest by the North Ridge
One of my abiding memories of my descent from Camp 3 on 20 May, the day after we summited Everest, was of a cloud of feathers flying in front of me whenever there was a gust of wind. The reason was this rather large hole in the back of my brand new down suit, along with a similar one on the left leg.
Down suits are designed for extreme cold, and extremely cold places generally have lots of snow. Not so the North Ridge of Everest, which is not only very steep, but gets slammed by the jetstream wind on most days of the year. This means that not a lot of snow sticks, and the route is mostly a rock scramble rather than a snow plod as it is on the south side.
During my 18 hour summit day, I was more concerned with getting down safely than with elegant climbing. This meant lots of sliding down rocks on my backside; not treatment the fabric of the down suit is best suited for. I wasn’t alone - most of us got rips somewhere depending on our climbing style. But at least we got down.
The suit will need to be repaired in two ways: not only will the holes need stitching, but the down which was lost will need replacing to maintain the loft and warmth of the suit. This will be a chance for me to see what Mountain Hardwear’s customer service department is like.
Nobody ever tells you about the number of goose feathers flying all over the north side of Everest.