In the spring of 2012 myself and a group of North Face athletes spent two months in the Khumbu Valley climbing Mt. Everest. It had been a dream of mine to ski this peak but conditions were such that it wasn't possible. Instead, my climbing partner, Kris Erickson and I decided to link up Mt. Everest with it's nearby neighbor, Lhotse in a 24 hour push. Waiting for the right weather window this season was a long and arduous process. Finally, towards the end of May, we saw the weather window coming.
Climber Hilaree O’Neill ascending to Camp 2
We had about a week at base camp to prepare for our final push. On the first night of that week, as I was walking back to my tent in the dark over the loose rocks of the glacial moraine, I severely sprained my left ankle, tearing two ligaments and thinking I'd just crushed my chances for climbing Everest and Lhotse. For the next five days, I followed a crazy rigorous routine of icing and wrapping and rehabing my ankle but, due to the swelling, I knew my circulation would be compromised and I was afraid I would have a much greater risk of frostbite. That was when another member of our team, Sam Elias, stepped in. He had two sets of Hotronics with him, one for his ski boots and one for his climbing boots. Since we were definitely not skiing, he fitted his extra pair to my 8000 meter boots. Without a doubt, this saved my entire climb.
My ankle healed enough in the five days at base camp to make an attempt at the climb. Our Everest summit day was way colder that what we had expected based on our weather forecast- with the wind chill, the summit was a blistering 50 below zero. I kept the Hotronics battery inside the gaitor of my boot and kept it at a low enough level that my toes were cold but not freezing. It took us 12 hours to make the round trip to the summit and back to Camp 4 and I rarely had to tinker with the heaters except to turn them down on descent. The following night was the true test, however. I was worried the batteries wouldn't last for our second push to Lhotse. While our second climb took a lot less time (ie no crowds) and was a lot warmer than the previous day on Everest, I still used the Hotronics the entire time, for a total of another 6 hrs. I was floored that one set of batteries could last so long at high altitude in some of the coldest temperatures I've ever climbed.
Climber Emily Harrington (in front) and Hilaree O’Neill almost to Camp 1
I went from being a skeptic to a total believer. I am certain that without the Hotronics I would not have been able to make the climb on Everest or Lhotse because of frozen feet. Alas, thanks to Hotronics for making such an amazing product and helping me realize a dream.
Climber Hilaree O’Neill in the Khumbu Icefall at sunrise