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The Longest Shadow - Part 2

The Longest Shadow - Part 2

Joe Winch
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The longest shadow is a three-part series.

Joe Winch is a Royal Marines Commando who turned to the mountains to reduce the impact of his PTSD, a condition which followed multiple combat tours in Afghanistan. Read Part 1 of his incredible Everest story here, or continue below with Part 2.

Finally setting off from Base Camp at 02:00 on the 17th May, we began climbing in relatively mild conditions under a near full moon, moving from 5,400 meters across the Khumbu Glacier. We ascended the Ice Fall, and then traversed the length of the Western Cwm – surely one of the natural wonders of the world and a place full of mountaineering history.

Located at 6,400 meters, teetering on the edge of the glacier and perilously close to a row of overhanging seracs, Camp Two is not a restful place. Yet, so far at least, the weather had been kind and arriving at 11:00 we had made good progress.
We rested on the 18th and set off for Camp Three at 08:00 on the 19th. Although another pleasant day with little wind, the climb from Camp Two to Three leads straight up the Lhotse Face – a 1,500-meter wall of steep sheer blue ice. For nearly four hours we kicked our crampons into solid ice before heaving ourselves up on the fixed lines to achieve another few feet of precious ascent. Despite being well acclimatised, here on the Lhotse Face the air was desperately thin and even the most subtle of moves left us gasping, slowing us to a crawl.

Camp Three was very precariously cut out of the ice wall at 7,300 meters – barely a third of the way up the Face. But here we were at least rewarded with the most spectacular views of the Western Cwm, Nuptse, Everest, and the Himalaya far below us to the West. This was also the highest we would go without supplemental oxygen. From this point on we would be climbing with oxygen bottles and masks, which was a great relief.
Waking at 04:00 on the 20th began one of the longest days of my life. We melted snow, drank, and ate for two hours before setting off in down suits, oxygen masks, and carrying our packs. As we climbed, the route ahead became increasingly clear – up the rest of the Face to the South Col, beyond to the Balcony, and finally to the North Summit of Everest. With the objective in sight, and after a night on oxygen, my strength and confidence grew exponentially. This was my best day on the mountain. I was moving efficiently, easily passing traffic with my teammate Tom, and enjoying the views, which grew more spectacular with every step.
Eventually Tom and I traversed the top of the Lhotse Face to the Yellow Band and Geneva Spur, where we temporarily left the ice and found firmer footing on rock as we entered the South Col and Camp Four. The South Col is a desperately bleak area between the mighty peaks of Lhotse and Everest. Bleak because the wind tears through it, punishing anything and anyone that dares to stay there, and – at almost 8,000 meters – life cannot be sustained here for more than a few days without supplemental oxygen, of which we had only a limited supply.
We climbed into Camp Four at 13:00 and immediately set about eating and drinking. We were in hurry, not only because we were on borrowed time at 8,000 meters, but also because within a few hours we were crawling back out of our tents, hauling on our gear, and beginning our final ascent. Yet being far colder and windier than normal this was no ordinary summit day. But as competent mountaineers, familiar with each other, extreme cold, and altitude, we took a calculated risk, deliberately choosing a more challenging summit day to avoid the very significant risk of crowding, which proved catastrophic for so many climbers this season. We left the South Col at 19:00 as the sun set, the wind picked up, and the temperature plummeted; the risk of the weather deteriorating further and leaving us dangerously exposed at the forefront of my mind.
When we reached the Balcony at 8,400 meters it was bitterly cold, but the wind had eased, and with a full moon overhead the views across the Himalaya, even in the middle of night, were spectacular. Our team now found itself almost completely alone on the mountain, and as we pushed off the Balcony we broke down into pairs to move more efficiently over the more challenging ground ahead. I was climbing up front with my teammate Scott. The route suddenly and dramatically changed as we picked up a long and very exposed snow-covered ridge that represented the border between Chinese Tibet and Nepal, and which led us – eventually – all the way to the South Summit at 8,700 meters.

PtSD - The road to recovery

Aid and support are available to sufferers. Click below to learn more.

WHAT can be done to help?

Social support

Finding support from others can be a major factor in helping people overcome the negative effects of a traumatic event and PTSD. Having someone that you trust and to whom you can talk to can be helpful for working through stressful situations or for emotional validation. 

Get exercise

Many PTSD victims find exercise to be therapeutic, particularly because it connects you to the present. The all-body co-ordination and mental focus required by climbing makes it an excellent choice of exercise. Exercise has been proven to help with stress.

Become aware of your triggers

Be on the lookout for potential triggers and learn how to manage them. Increase your awareness to the first signs of anger, flashback or anxiety so that you can re-orient yourself back to the present before your emotions overwhelm you.

Engage in activities

People suffering from PTSD are often full of self-loathing and feel undeserving of positive experiences. Rebuilding a sense of self is an important part of the recovery process. Engaging in meditation, doing volunteer work helps rebuild your self-worth.

Refrain from excess drinking and drugs

People processing trauma have a tendency to self-medicate, but this is often destructive.


Effective in helping people to cope with the disruptive symptoms of PTSD is adopting a pet that is especially trained to recognize and prevent — or interrupt — the onset of such symptoms. Research published last year indicated that spending as little as 1 week with a specially trained dog improved PTSD symptoms by 82 percent.

Find safe ways to blow off steam

Pound on a punching bag, lift some weights, go for a hard run, sing along to loud music, or find a secluded place to scream at the top of your lungs.

Support your body with a healthy diet

Omega-3s play a vital role in emotional health so incorporate foods such as fatty fish, flaxseed, and walnuts into your diet. Limit processed and fried food, sugars, and refined carbs which can exacerbate mood swings and energy fluctuations.

Get plenty of sleep

Sleep deprivation exacerbates anger, irritability, and moodiness. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep each night. Develop a relaxing bedtime ritual ( calming music, a hot shower, dark and quiet bedroom).

Where can I go for help?

Local Doctors -

Always seek help from your local GP, in the first instance. They can give advise about the best courses of treatment. This may include medication, support groups and a variety of psychological therapies.

65 Degrees North -

65 Degrees North seeks to help in the rehabilitation of wounded, injured or sick current or ex-servicemen and women by offering the opportunity to participate in challenging adventure. By changing the perception of physical and mental disability through the ‘Spirit of Adventure’, they aim to inspire and motivate others to overcome, achieve and succeed.

Rock2Recovery -

Rock2Recovery’s mission is to save and change the lives of those in our Armed Forces, our veteran community and their families who are affected by stress. Their approach is to inspire, coach and motivate towards a more positive future.

The Royal Marines Charity -

The Royal Marines Charity exists to help the entire Royal Marines family, and are strong believers in “Once a Marine, always a Marine”. They offer a range of services to both serving and veterans.

Combat Stress -

Combat Stress offer a range of treatment services in the community, at their specialist centres, on the phone and online, and develop a personalised programme for each veteran's individual needs. Combat Stress provides a residential treatment for veterans with trauma-related mental health problems.

Mind -

Mind provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. Their motto is to never give up until everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets the support and respect they need.

On the way to the South Summit though I started to have serious problems with my oxygen flow. My feet became painfully cold, and the wind – which had started to relent – increased dramatically driving down the temperature. Then, Scott’s headtorch broke – which was a serious problem as Scott has only one eye and without a headtorch his depth perception and ability to move safely became especially precarious. We had also been climbing for nearly twenty-four hours, we hadn’t slept or eaten properly in three days, and our oxygen flow was now inconsistent.

Joe's story continues in Part 3 - The Summit. Coming soon.

"Hypoxia, exhaustion, and frost bite are amongst the greatest risks at extreme altitude. They can quickly and easily combine to fatally compromise judgement and decision-making abilities. Scott and I slowed our ascent, shared our remaining headtorch, and really focussed on looking out for each other, whilst I also furiously worked on warming my feet and my oxygen flow. At the infamous Hillary Step, we were moving really efficiently as a pair. The months of hard work and training together paid off."

Read part 3 now

65 Degrees North

This article has not been produced in official association with any charity, however 65 Degrees North compliment and enhance clinical treatment and recovery through offering spectacular life-changing adventures for people suffering with PTSDWithout them Joe's recovery wouldn’t be where it is now. If you want to learn more or would like to give support, please click the relevant button below.

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