Book Extract: Mind Over Mountain – High Time, Or Staying On The Front Foot

August 17, 2022


Robby Kojetin lives in Johannesburg, South Africa and is a high-altitude adventurer. Since an accident in 2006, which resulted in him breaking both of his ankles, he has gone on to become one of only a handful of people to have stood on top of the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest. He has also climbed Kilimanjaro nine times, completed the Ironman triathlon, and scaled five of the Seven Summits. This extract from his book Mind Over Mountain is available now.


The path leading out of Camp 3 leads up the remainder of the Lhotse Wall and veers off to the left to the Yellow Band; a slip-and-slide of glass-like rock and ice. Crossing this famous section of rock was tricky. My rigid limbs made balancing incredibly hard and at times I found myself on my hands and knees. A fall here could put an abrupt end to my expedition as well as anyone I may bowl over on the way down. I was the only climber not getting impatient with the slow pace. With my right foot being upslope and the Lhotse Wall disappearing nearly 2 000 metres down to my left, it wasn’t long before I was almost stone last in the queue. Climbers would move past me on the lines as I had to stop often to try to ‘jiggle’ some movement into my wooden club foot. A technique that had proved successful in the past but now fruitless with each attempt. Where the ice meets the ochre striations of the granite belt, I looked up to see a group of three or four Sherpa from our team along with Adrian Ballinger crowded around a large battery-powered drill. They were placing an expansion bolt which would act as a sturdy anchor for the fixed lines.

The smoothness of the rock lacks the cracks and crevasses that usually provide adequate placements making this section of the traverse dangerously unprotected. I passed the gathering of labourers and an argument flared up in my head. Firstly, I was irritated that I was barely vertical while they were operating power tools, which someone had the strength to carry four thousand vertical metres above Base Camp (my maths was about as sturdy as my legs at that stage). I was so jealous of their strength. The second voice started questioning the ethical impact of drilling into hallowed ground and what the purists would have to say about this abomination that is modern day climbing. A third voice weighed in immediately, promoting the safety of the climbers and the value of human life. But the argument fizzled as fast as it had begun. My levels of physical and mental exhaustion put all arguments to bed as I sighed an unceremonious “Ah, f**k it.”

After the Yellow Band, the mountain reveals the rest of the curved slope heading leftward up to the Geneva Spur, a small ridge hiding Camp 4 and the South Col from view. I managed to stumble another two hundred metres past the Yellow Band until I eventually collapsed to my knees. Tears came easily, a sour mixture of pain, frustration and embarrassment. I looked up the slender couloir leading to Lhotse’s summit, a thin strip of ice at 45 degrees. “What a sh**ty place to die” I said out loud. I turned over to sit on the hard mountainside and dug my crampons in to avoid a slide back down the Cwm.

And then the monologue began. Is this it Rob? Is this the obstacle that is going to turn you around? You made it this far, but now you’re f**ked. “You can’t climb Everest on your hands and knees” I uttered in a New Zealander accent, mimicking Russell’s conversation with Tim Medvetz from the first season of the Discovery Channel documentary – Everest: Beyond the Limit. “Is this the obstacle you choose to end your one shot at Everest?” I asked again my voice quaking like a nervous child. I unshouldered my bag, my oxygen set still in place on my face despite it only delivering two litres of oxygen per minute. In my bag was a packet of the tablets which only three years prior was intended to spell the end of me.

Unscrewing the lid of my pink Nalgene bottle, I swigged a mouthful of the icy water, sending the first four tablets to work and leaving an aftertaste of bitterness and whatever was left in the pot when we had melted water the night before. I closed my eyes for a moment but the feeling of slipping out my seat and out of control overwhelmed me.

The entire time I sat there, I kept pumping my right foot up and down, as if on an imaginary accelerator pedal in the hopes of regaining some movement in what was now being called ‘this f**king foot.’

After ten minutes or so I scrambled to my feet and attempted to carry on. Within a few steps I found myself on my knees, my rigid boots digging into my shins. I looked at the rope, a bright red thread leading the way to Camp 4 on the South Col and my new goal. With my right hand I slid the ascender device a foot or so forward and crawled two steps forward on my knees. Again I slid the ascender and crawled another two steps forward. Despite the thick padding of my down suit, the hard ice was digging into my knees and it felt as if it would split the skin each time I moved forward. I found myself in what, to this day, is one of the most awe-inspiring and magnificent places I have ever been, with a panoramic view that stretches for literally hundreds of kilometres in every direction – too sore to give a f**k.

Going nowhere. Once more I dug out the bankie stashed in the lid of my backpack and down the hatch went the next four tablets. After later researching the drug on the Internet, it is more than apparent that I put myself in grave danger of kidney malfunction, especially in that state of severe dehydration but in all honesty, had I known the risk I faced, I would still have done it. This was not the obstacle that was going to send me home.