Mt. Everest 2006 Season Coverage
Himalaya - Nepal
29,035 feet 8,850 m
|I summited Everest on May 21, 2011 and have climbed it three other times- 2002, 2003 and 2008 each time reaching just below the Balcony at about 27,500' (8400 meters) before health, weather or my own judgment caused me to turn back. When not climbing, I cover the Everest season from my home in Colorado as I did for the 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014 Everest seasons. 2015 coverage will start in March 2015. This page is my 2006 climb coverage.|
North Ridge RouteRead more descriptions of the north route with pictures
|Teams with Blogs||Teams with Blogs|
|* Adventure Consultants
* Alpine Ascents International
* International Mountain Guides
* Jagged Globe - South
* Peak Freaks
* Paul and Fiona Adler
* Mountain Link
* Will Cross
|* Himalayan Experience (HimEx)
* DCXP/Project Himalaya/Everest2 2006
* Summit Climb - North
* Everest West Ridge 2006 - British
* Everest Peace Project
* Blair Falahey
* Tomas Olsson - Skiing
* Northern Ireland - British
* Adventure Peaks
* Sight on Everest
* Ken Stalter
* Legs on Everest
* Rob & James - Young Brits
Western Cwm & C1
Everest Base Camp
Trekking to BC
May 27, 2006 - The Ups and Downs of Everest - a season wrap-up
After two consecutive attempts to climb Everest in 2002 and 2003, this makes my third straight year to stay involved by reporting on the spring climbing season from my home. After five years of Everest, I must admit that as I write this summary, my emotions are mixed.
The season started with controversy as the political unrest in Katmandu delayed many expeditions and created uncertainty that gear and climbers would arrive on time. However it all got sorted as seasoned leaders guided their teams through the bureaucracy, small arms fire and chaos that comes with a country in turmoil. But by early April base camp on both sides were established and teams got settled in. However there was a huge surprise for this season! The weather was spectacular and teams on the north took advantage of it by aggressively fixing the ropes to the summit (and beyond!).
However, an early omen occurred with the highly unusual death of a Sherpa on the north. He died from HAPE upon returning from higher altitude. The north side was rocked by this unexpected tragedy. Only 12 days later, climbers on the south and many around the world, were in a state of disbelief when three Sherpas were killed in the Khumbu Icefall. A serac collapsed while Sherpas were carrying loads to C1 killing three and injuring several others. In spite of desperate attempts to save their lives, the tons of ice did not allow that opportunity. A day of mourning was declared on April 22.
But climbers being climbers regrouped and refocused on their goals. Teams began going to the North Col and camps 1 and 2 on the south as they worked hard to acclimatize their bodies to the thin air. With the exception of a few windy days, the weather continued to hold and HimEx surprised everyone when 5 Sherpas made the earliest summit in years - April 30th. Meanwhile, similar to last year, the teams on the south took their time, perhaps due to the Icefall tragedy.
While "team" is often used in describing Everest climbing activity, the individuals are often what we remember most. And the names started to become familiar: Paul and Fi, Tomas, Thomas Webber, Mark Inglis, Rob and James, Ken Stalter, Blair and more. Their poignant dispatches brought us into their lives, their hopes and their dreams as they worked toward their goal of a summit. Many had special situations: blindness, amputee, youngest, oldest and some were just regular folks climbing a mountain. But each had a story and told it well. Collectively we all sat a little closer to our monitors as we read their dispatches each day.
The first "western" summits occurred on May 11 with Dave Watson and John Bagnuilo making the summit from the north. Many teams now followed and the rush was on. Rob and James became the youngest Britons to summit on May 17.
But a disturbing incident occurred that forecasted the next several weeks - Tomas Olsson disappeared after he and his teammates summited. They called from the summit telling about a difficult climb in sketchy weather and were starting their dream to ski down from the north. He and Tormod Granheim skied hundreds of meters until they came upon a steep rock cliff. They set a rappel and sadly Tomas died when it failed. His body was found at the bottom of the mountain a few days later.
The British Army attempted to climb the unclimbed West Ridge and was doing it in style. Their world-class website provided a multimedia smorgasbord of maps, videos, audio and reports as they executed their plan with military precision. I felt like I was in the war room with their language, specificity and discipline. It was in that spirit that the conditions were declared too dangerous and they called the whole thing off!
Another interesting story was that of Lance Trumbull and his Everest Peace Project. Lance had worked for several years to bring climbers of different nationalities and religions together for an Everest climb. On May 18, ten summited and brought a welcome message of cooperation and peace from the summit.
Climbers on the south finally reached the South Col and soon were standing on the summit. Leveraging the work of other teams fixing lines to the Col, Jagged Globe worked hard to set lines to the summit and claimed the first south summits of the season on May 17. Meanwhile Paul and Fi stayed the course and fought a variety of illnesses as they worked their way up and down the Hill. They set May 23rd as their summit day based on the weather forecasts and how they were feeling.
But deaths seemed to capture everyone's attention. A climber on the Lhotse Face who's death is still somewhat of a mystery. Three north climbers on separate days died during their descents. But it was the death of David Sharp that caught the world's attention. Media reported that "40 climbers passed the dying man huddled under a rock on their way to summit without providing aid." People were outraged and pundits weighed in on the risks of Everest and the responsibilities of climbers to one another. Even Sir Ed spoke up condemning the climbers and Everest expeditions in general.
But as with every mountaineering death I have ever followed, the initial reports proved very wrong. Climbers did stop and try to help Sharp. Two Sherpas gave up their oxygen and administered drugs to try to save him. They desperately tried to get him to his feet but all this was for not and he passed away.
I hope his death was not in vain for it did bring a new perspective to the differences between climbing on the north and the south. Perhaps the industry that benefits from all the paying climbers will take notice that they need to make some significant changes to how they run north side expeditions.
In the midst of this media frenzy, an Australian couple made some news of their own. Fi made the summit on May 23 (as predicted) but her husband Paul turned around at the south summit due to oxygen issues. Their website was flooded with comments of support, questions and praise. Paul tried again only 24 hours later but he was spent. Paul and Fi captured our imagination and inspired us all with their dedication and courage. It was a bit of good news in an otherwise sad season.
And the sadness continued. The south teams completed their summit bids with excellent success. Many of the majors put almost all their clients on top and returned safely - several had monster expeditions of 20 climbers. On the north a few teams remained including the DCXP/Project Himalaya and the 7 Summits team for Sight on Everest with Thomas Webber. They waited out another round of poor weather and made their bids. Tragedy again - Webber died as he climbed higher and within 12 hours another climber, Lincoln Hall was reported dead. That made 12 dead this season - the most since the 1996 disaster - and all in perfect weather.
But never discount the human spirit. The final teams making their bids found Hall alive! Dan Mazur found him alive and stayed with him until help arrived. The 7 Summits team along with Jamie McGuinness, DCXP, mobilized a rescue and within a few hours 12 Sherpas were at 8700m. They brought him back down, including over the technical and dangerous Steps. Soon Hall, suffering from HAPE, was at the North Col and the next day to ABC. With the return to thicker air, drugs, rest, hydration he is reported as doing well in spite of severe frostbite. Amazing!
So, that is it. I don't think there are any more teams going for the summit on either side. I don’t have the final count but 2006 saw hundreds of summits of both sides. No new routes were opened. What started as a dangerous season with guns and politics turned more dangerous with altitude and illness. Death took precedent over summits. Climbers plotted their climbs with care and some with appropriate conservatism. The well established, long term stable operators on both sides did not see death of their clients. The independent climbers took the toll.
Mountaineering is a dangerous sport. It attracts people are fiercely independent and sometimes too stubborn for their own well being. But climbers are attracted to summits like bugs are to light. I am not sure what we learned in 2006 or even if there are lessons for the observers from climbing Everest. It is a sport like many others that people enter voluntary and understand the risks. If anything, it is clear that steps could be taken on the north to improve the safety for all climbers - guided, solo or independent. But should those steps be taken?
I for one say yes. Climbing deaths are always sad and devastating to the families. In some ways the sport has become accustomed to them. Some of the most famous names in the sport are of the ones who died doing what they love: Hall, Fischer, Boukreev, Lowe, Lafaille. Some of these died trying to save others. Some worked to promote safety for their sport. Some were just climbers.
2006 has the opportunity to be a wake-up all for the industry the way 1996 was. In spite of a tremendous increase in guided expeditions the next ten years, fatalities went down.
How will the industry respond this time?
May 26, 2006 - "Dead" Climber found Alive!I guess when things hit the absolute bottom, there is only one way to go. Lincoln Hall is now at the North Col after being rescued by a combined efforts of the remaining expeditions on the north side. It appears that Hall, similar to 1996 survivor Beck Weathers, was given up for dead but survived the night against all odds. More on this later today but thankfully this climber has a chance of surviving.
May 25, 2006 - 12 Dead: What is going on with Everest?
What a season. Yes, there were over 200 summits on both sides but 12 people are dead - 8 on the north - not a successful season in my mind. As the details are revealed Everest was an embarrassment this year to mountaineering and reduced the expeditions on the north to selfish amateurs. Harsh? Unfair? Judgmental? You be the judge.
EverestMax has a scathing first person report on their summit bid with comments such as " ... He clearly had HAPE and if left to his own devices was going to die on the mountain. He had no colleagues with him and his Sherpas had abandoned him. I too tried to encourage him to climb the 10m up to the North Col – he couldn't." and another comment "...Eventually I had to clip him into my harness and pull him up to the North Col. His tent was too far away so I just put him in nearest empty tent. Meanwhile Dom had tried to mobilise help from the 7 Summits team - they refused to help despite being a large organisation."
Media around the world have reported on the death of solo climber David Sharp and comments such as "We came across a chap sheltering under a rock, who was perhaps hours from death. That was probably only 21/2 hours into the climb. ... Trouble is, at 8500 metres it's extremely difficult to keep yourself alive - let alone keep anyone else alive."
The media has focused on "40 climbers passing by without providing aid". Actually that is not true. Sherpas tried to give Sharp oxygen but all he wanted do was "sleep" - a sure sign that death was near - especially at 8000m. Sadly I have helped bury climbers above 7000m and often there was nothing anyone could have done to save the person. But our world likes to point fingers and find the villains.
I commented on the deaths a few days ago but I have been thinking a lot about this since then, especially the huge difference between the north and south sides. Please let me think out loud for a moment.
First - safety net: The south side has a long history of major commercial operators who use the same Sherpas, camps and routes year after year. Yes, this is similar on the north but the operators on the south have established an informal network committed to helping one another in an emergency - no questions asked. The network was demonstrated again this year with the rescue of injured Sherpas and climbers in the icefall. This network includes IMG, AAI, Adventure Consultants and others. The south also has a group medical clinic that provides assistance to anyone.
Second - costs: The permit costs charged by the Nepalese discourage price-sensitive climbers from climbing on the south. The low Chinese permit charges have encouraged the lowest cost operators to focus on the north thus attracting, sometimes, climbers who need more guiding help but do not get it. Seven of the eleven deaths this year were climbers who were not on major commercial expeditions.
Third - discipline: The Ministry of Tourism in Nepal manages Everest with a tight first - financially, ecology and safety. For all the jokes, the Liaison Officers do pay attention and report problems. Operators with poor records can be banned. Followers of Everest know the names. Such discipline is sketchy on the north side.
Fourth -competition: The south has several majors who compete for the business year after year and most climbers always ask about their safety record. On the north, there is one dominate commercial operator who has such power that they fix ropes and dictate schedules. Their record is perfect for clients and they serve as a model for other operators. But the north needs more large scale commercial operators to bring order to the chaos.
Fifth and finally, the climbers themselves: They bring a lot of the problems. While it is seductive to be the first to do this and that; mountaineering is not an X-Games event. It is dangerous, deadly and real. I am afraid that all the commercialism has made Everest seem like a Colorado 14er, Aconcagua or a nice climb in the Alps.
While I personally think Hillary has taken his argument too far in that "... it is just ridiculous having 15 or 20 or 30 expeditions all attempting the mountain at the same time." He does have a fair point in comparing his time to now "...We would have definitely abandoned the ambition to reach the summit in order to get the other person to safety." But should another team have to do that?
Mountaineering is a sport of intense independence. It is a sport where the participant can find oneself completely alone, without food, water and shelter in mind numbing cold and flesh-freezing winds. The mountain does not care. It is really a test of the climber, not the Hill. Should a climber who has never climbed Everest be allowed to climb Everest? A silly question? Well in so many words, that seems to be the feeling of many in the industry. But that robs people of their dreams - the heart and soul of alpine mountaineering.
Sadly many operators will take anyone on an expedition if they have money. There are four tiers of operators: 1) established commercial companies with long histories and stable ownership, 2) budget operators who run safe, no-frills operations, 3) local ground agents who provide basic logistics and Sherpas for the lowest cost and finally, 4) the upstart operators without a track record. The point is you can die on any of these but some have a better record than others.
I am actually very disappointed about this year and for the sport I love. I am disappointed that the largest mountaineering websites just repost dispatches and rarely comment or offer solutions on what is happening. I am disappointed that the large commercial operators continue to post rosy statements about their team’s success and ignore the cancer in their industry. I am disappointed that climbers continue to put their lives at risk based on the lowest cost operators. I am disappointed that climbers die when it could have been prevented.
Climbing is a wonderful sport that delivers challenges and rewards rarely found in this day. It should not be the domain of the "professionals" nor the wealthy. But governments, operators and climbers should dedicated themselves to running safe climbs with proper safety nets, qualified staff, sufficient resources and a moral compass.
I wrote an editorial called "When Good Guides Turn Bad” a few years ago that was focused on the problems with guides and how they treated clients. While I do believe the quality of the guides has improved, the industry continues to have serious and deadly issues. Everest 2006 - North has shown that there is still a long way to go. And it is up to the operators to solve it. They have the power, the knowledge and vested interest to make it happen.
Now will they? Until then it will remain "climber beware".
May 25, 2006 - Broad Peak and K2 - Alan's next adventure
I know from my emails, polls and surveys that you love mountaineering so please let me share with you my next adventure that starts next week: a climb of Broad Peak and K2 in Pakistan. You might have read on this site about this climb. I have spent the past year working with Dave Hancock of Field Touring to pull together an international team. We meet in Islamabad in early June and after 14 days of flying, driving and walking our team of 28, including 6 trekkers, will arrive at our base camp for Broad Peak.
The plan is to take our time on this 26,401' Hill. There are 3 or 4 camps depending on conditions. It should take anywhere from 10 to 20 climbing days depending on the weather. The route up the West Ridge is straightforward with few extremely difficult sections. Broad Peak is more about altitude than anything else. That said, the risk of avalanches and crevasses are real. There is a false summit a few hundred feet below the true summit, my primary goal, which is another half mile across the summit ridge. There have been about 275 summits but 18 deaths. This compares with over 2500 summits on Everest and 300 deaths. So statistically, Broad is a little safer.
About half the team will depart after Broad leaving 14 of us to attempt K2. We will move base camp a mile up the glacier and prepare for K2. The theory is that we will be very well acclimatized after Broad thus can make a swift climb of K2. That is the theory! I have researched this Hill and spoken with a lot of people including some with K2 experience. They all agree it is the hardest mountain they ever attempted and most say they would never go back. There are four camps that follow the Abruzzi Ridge. Two famous sections are Houses Chimney between C1 and C2 and the Black Pyramid above C3. The Chimney is a steep 150' rock climb at 20,000' and the Pyramid is about 1200' of very steep rock and ice. My primary goal is C2 with C3 if I feel great. The team is well balanced with a lot of experienced climbers. Eleven have been to Everest, there are a combined 20 summits of 8000m mountains amongst the 22 climbers. And two climbers have been to K2 before. Finally we have three women on the team, two who will attempt K2.
Some of you have been to Everest with me via this website. I have been working on improving my dispatch system and now have the ability to post text, pictures, audio and video immediately and directly from the mountain. This has taken as much time as my training! But all this is based on my satellite phone functioning properly. In any event, I hope it makes following the expedition more enjoyable. There is an automatic notification system available if you visit the site where you enter your email and then you will receive an email every time a new dispatch is posted. As always I will write honestly about what I am feeling and try to bring you a little bit of mountaineering in Pakistan. Click here to register for notifications and see the dispatch page.
I always enjoyed the people and children in Nepal and am eager to see the Pakistani kids. There has been so much said about that part of the world that one of my goals is to see for myself what the people are like. I truly believe most people are good and decent and only want the best for themselves and their families. I will try to capture that element of the human spirit through pictures and my writing. They have been through a lot in the past year with a devastating earthquake that killed 75,000 people and left 3.5 million homeless. Everyone on the team is donating money to earthquake relief.
OK, so that is the background and plan. I will be honest, I am very nervous about this climb. First, it is another climb above 8000m (26,000'). My last time there was less than ideal :) I have taken a very different approach to my preparations this time including gaining weight assuming I will loose 20 pounds or more, also I have not put the endless miles running, like I did for Everest. My knees just won't take it anymore. I have pushed hard on my training climbs including a nice climb up Pikes Peak with my great friend and Colorado climbing partner Patrick. My pack was always loaded and I have stressed my body over and over every weekend this year. I still put in some running and weights but tried to pace myself. I am continuing my training up until I leave.
Thanks for reading this and I hope you follow the climb. More on Everest soon as well as my thoughts on the controversy on David Sharp death and the amazing difference between the north and south sides this year.
May 24, 2006 - South Summits, Two examples of Courage
Some of the final teams on the south side successfully summited last night including the second part of the huge Adventure Consultants expedition - the Canadian team. Also the South African team, Turkish and remaining IMG climbers made the summit. Base camp MD reports that base camp is looking like a ghost town with the vast majority of teams now headed home. A few teams remain on the north so keep watching! Also, I will be sharing some details about my upcoming climb to Broad Peak and K2 starting next week plus a summary of this year's Everest Spring season.
While every climber who summits or tries to summit is unique in my mind, there is the occasional person who catches my attention. Yes, I am impressed by the record climbers: youngest, oldest, fastest, disadvantaged, first to summit and on and on. Congratulations to all and this season had a lot of these cases. But it is the regular person, just trying to do something special for themselves. Not trying to make a statement nor serve as a symbol. While the record climbers sometimes do good for many, the ones who are quiet sometimes makes a louder statement.
Paul and Fi Adler are a case study here. While not exactly "quiet" considering their website; Paul did something that even the professionals rarely attempt. By now most readers know the story. Paul and Fi, married couple from Australia, worked for the past year to get their bodies in shape to climb Everest on the south side. They were on a logistics permit with IMG, hired their own Sherpas and did not rely on the IMG western guides. They arrived in base camp early and began the acclimatization process. But Paul caught a throat infection delaying their climbs. Fi also showed some signs of catching the infection running around base camp. They both showed wisdom and patience by taking their time to get well and not pushing their bodies.
Soon they got out of sync with the other climbers but made the trip to C1 and back, then C2 and up the Lhotse Face, the weather delayed them before another trip through the icefall and to C3 - the final test before a summit bid. After a few days in BC and watching team after team summit, they identified a weather window and targeted May 23rd as their summit day. The world began to follow their story. They even received a letter from the PM of Australia wishing them luck!
The evening of May 22, Fi, Paul, Da Sona, Mingma Ongel started their climb about around 9:30. Everything was going fine up to the South Summit, 28700'. Both climbers were tired but Paul had oxygen issues and made the decision to return to the South Col while Fi and Mingma continued. As FI reported in her excellent summit night dispatch "... the only option being for him to go down. What a heart-breaker. Of all the scenarios we'd thought might happen, this was certainly not one of them. He urged me to go on saying "you've got it in the bag!". Which was anything but how I felt at the time." Fi went on to summit in good style and return to C4 in great time. Her strength to continue her dream, to push on without her partner, to stand on top of the world - and return safely - she lived the word courage.
She met Paul in their tent.
I remember retuning to my tent in 2002 and 2003 after turning back just below the Balcony. I sat alone in the dark shivering from the cold. My Sherpa offered hot tea which I gladly took but he went off to bed - as he should have. My thoughts ran the range but the primary emotion was pure exhaustion. I feel asleep only to wake up to the sunrise and thereafter to my teammates returning. As I downclimbed both years, the enormity of what I had tried set in as did the total and complete fatigue in every part of my body.
I do not know what Paul and Fi said that night or the following morning but Paul made the decision to try again - 24 hours after his initial bid. Paul started out but turned back just below the Balcony. But that is not the point. He did not give up. He continued to put everything he had into reaching his goal. He pushed his body - and mind - to the limit. He refused to accept ... He showed a unique courage. He is a mountaineer, a climber.
Paul and Fi were not the first, not the fastest, not the youngest or oldest. In fact that were not the bravest to climb Mount Everest. They are regular people, living regular lives and doing courageous acts. An inspiration.
May 23, 2006 - British Army halts summit attempt, More North this week and South Right Now!!
According to their website, the Army has stopped all attempts to the summit from the West ridge due to dangerous snow conditions "... I have taken the difficult decision not to go for a second attempt. Knowing what I know, I am not prepared to risk any of the lives in my team. As climbers, we accept that there is always an element of risk but our Army training, judgment and decision making mitigate that risk."
Both Sight on Everest, Harry Kikstra/Thomas Weber and team plus Project Himalaya/DCXP are at C2 on the North. They are looking at a bid in a couple of days.
IMG reports that 3 climbers and 3 Sherpas are on their way on the south right now. This includes Paul Adler.
May 23, 2006 - Paul to try again!
In the "never give up department", Paul Adler is going back up for another try at the summit. He had oxygen problems last night as he and Fi made their bid - Fi made it. She has written an excellent summit night report on their site - well worth a read. This is the advantage of going with a large expedition such as IMG. They have the spare resources (oxygen, sherpas, food, etc) to support a second attempt. If Paul and Fi had gone with a local ground agent only, another attempt, while not impossible, would have been unlikely. So another long night for those us following him! Climb safe!
May 23, 2006 - Looking at the deaths on Everest this year
This has been a deadly year on both sides of Everest. Perhaps the most deaths since the infamous 1996 spring season. So what was going on this year that made it so sad for 10 climbers? First a summary.
Early in the season, a HimEx Sherpa, Tuk Bahadur, died of HAPE on the north side after fixing rope up high. 3 Sherpas, Ang Phinjo Sherpa, Lhakkpa Tseri Sherpa and Dawa Temba Sherpa, died in the Khumbu Icefall when ice collapsed around them. Tomas Olsson died from a fall on the north died after a rappel anchor tore loose. Vitor Negrete died after his north summit. He had summited without using supplemental oxygen. David Sharp disappeared on the north side during his summit bid. Jacques-Hughes Letrange died on his descent after a north summit. Igor Plyushkin died also on the descent on the north. While not on Everest, Pavel Kalny died near the Yellow Band while attempting Lhotse. Details are sketchy.
Climbing deaths are always difficult to discuss and my condolences goes out to all the family and friends. It happens every year and some years, like 2006, are worse than others. However Everest has become safer in the past 15 years. AdventureStats has the best facts I have seen and they report that as of 2003, there have been about 2,000 summits since 1922 with 179 deaths or a 9.3% fatality rate. Since 1990, it had dropped to 4.4%. As bad as this sounds, Annapurna is a much more deadly mountain with a summit to death ratio of 2:1 deaths for every summit (109:55).
It seems that each tragedy is unique. Sometimes it is the weather or altitude issues and sometimes a fall. Rare, but sometimes there is equipment failure. Sadly, like with pilots in most airplane accidents, sometime the climber is at fault. High altitude mountaineering is not only a physical sport but also a mental one and judgment is the most critical item. The most common mistakes have to do with climbers not recognizing what is happening to their bodies as a result of the altitude. Study after study have measured that cognitive skills become impaired, reasoning suffers and sometimes climbers make bad decisions. Not abiding by their turn-around time or pushing too hard, too fast to reach the summit. Not taking care of their bodies and staying hydrated. There are many reasons.
The only common theme to seven of this year's deaths (other than with the Sherpas and Igor) was that they were not on large commercial expeditions. This is noteworthy for the fact that commercial expeditions, which cost more, tend to run very conservatively and with a large amount of Sherpa support. They typically employ very experienced guides who have the skills to recognize when a climber is not acclimatization properly or having real problems. The climbers who use ground agents, which cost less, and hire their own Sherpas run a slightly bigger risk in that while the Sherpas are incredible, they sometimes will not be as forceful as a western guide in stopping a climber in trouble.
With all the crowds you hear about, why don't other climbers help those in need? In an interview this past week, 2006 climbers note "...Wayne Alexander, of Christchurch, told The Telegraph newspaper in Britain: "We came across a chap sheltering under a rock, who was perhaps hours from death. That was probably only 21/2 hours into the climb. ... Told that it had been suggested that Inglis' party should have stopped their ascent and rescued the man, Inglis replied: "Absolutely, that's a very fair comment. Trouble is, at 8500 metres it's extremely difficult to keep yourself alive - let alone keep anyone else alive." That said, other climbers have famously given up their summits to help climbers in need.
What can be done to prevent these deaths? It is critical that all climbers on these high mountains understand the risks they are taking and not depend on the support from other team members, Sherpas, sat phones or helicopters. But for the climbers, never climb alone and climb in the company of someone stronger than you such as a Sherpa or more experienced climber. Check on one another often and honestly. Stay aware of yourself and what is happening to you - especially at altitude. Take care of yourself by drinking, eating and resting properly. Get the best weather forecast you can, check it often and study the history of the mountain. Know the trends and what might be unusual. Don't take chances like leaving too late for the summit or ignoring your turn-around time. Rope up in crevasse areas, speed through dangerous areas of tumbled ice. Listen to your inner voice and those with more experience.
But even with all these precautions, climbing is dangerous. The sport often takes the best in spite of all their strength and experience. That is the contract every climber signs with the mountain. It is the deal they make with their families. And it is part of the adventure of mountaineering.
May 22, 2006 - Fi Adler, Will Cross and others summit, Paul wisely turns back- Update 3
Fi summited around 7:55AM May 23rd. Paul turned back, wisely due to oxygen problems. Fantastic job! well Done. Now they need to get down. Conditions were ideal and they made excellent time. I am so happy for both of them. they worked for the past year for this chance and they did it. I don't give a damn about the summit (but I am thrilled for Fi), I am just so happy that they both put themselves out there, did their best and will get down safely. Well done, well done!!
They followed Will Cross, who on his 3rd attempt proved diabetes is not the debilitating disease it once was - with proper care. Also Dave Hahn's team made the summit at 4:20AM according to Paula Stout, former Everest BC Manager.
They are at the South Summit in good time. If there are no problems, they should make it!
Mary has reported that both Paul and have made the Balcony. They left the South Col around 9:00PM and she reported them at the Balcony around3:00Am (all local times). They are doing well and the weather is good according to another report from Eric Simonson at IMG. There are several climbers going up so the trail should be well established. If all the climbers continue on the current schedule look for summits starting around 8:00AM Everest time on Tuesday, May 23rd. The return trip typically takes about 6 hours so they should be back in at the South Col in mid afternoon, maybe 3:00PM.
May 22, 2006 - Paul and Fi head up, Weekend summits
I hope you have been following the Australian married couple Paul and Fi Adler. Well as I write this they are making their summit bid. They arrived at the South Col in good condition Monday afternoon (local time). I am sending them positive energy, please pitch in - for all the climbers can use some! I am glad to see that there are other climbers who will be also on their bid including some of the other members of IMG. Also there is Will Cross and the Dave Hahn led team still on the south side who will go in a day or so perhaps.
A few of the many summits to note, Rhys Jones has become the youngest Briton to master the 7 Summits. His father, Alan, wrote me "Rhys has claimed the british record as the youngest to climb Mt MacKinley and we believe the youngest person to summit Vinson. The previous British 7 Summit record was Jake Meyer aged 21yr and the World record holder Dannielle Fisher also aged twenty yr but older than Rhys. Rhys completed his final summit with Jagged Globe mountain leader Kenton Cool and were the first team to summit Everest from the South this year." I find it amazing that these records now come down to time of birth!
An excellent summit report is from the Everest 2006 team on their Blog. Well worth a read a it provides some details of the north route not normally discussed. Well done guys!
The season is not over with DXCP/Project Himalaya now looking at a summit on Thursday, May 25. And of course the British Army is still on the West Ridge. They cancelled their attempt when they discovered dangerous snow conditions that most likely would result in avalanches along their route. No word on when they will try again. Stay tuned since this will be a first and make for some exciting reading and viewing of pictures and videos on their site - the best one this year.
May 20 -2006 - Teams moving up on the South and West Ridge
Mountain LInk is reporting a summit bid right now, Saturday night Everest time. Jeff Justman, JJ, reports that ".. Tap just called from Camp 4. He along with Heidi, Mike, Garrett and our five Superstar Sherpas have just left the south col for the summit of Mount Everest! " It is interesting that some teams have continued to climb and others have returned to lower camps. This is not all that unusual since the best teams with experienced climbers and Sherpas often listen to their inner voice as well as the Everest weather forecast emailed from Seattle or Sweden. None of the methods are right or wrong and in fact the most successful teams (defined as returns home safely and in one piece) use all available information to be make the best decisions. In any event, best of luck to Tap Richards and team.
The British Army is moving towards the summit right now as well. Their site show an ETA in 9 hours!
Lance has posted another excellent video of his Everest Peace Project team on the north summit. Worth a look for sure.
I just saw where Joost has posted that Tomas' body has been found. This is a tragic end to a brave adventure. My thoughts are with his family and friends
May 20 , 2006 - Update on the South Side
Thanks to a former BC manager on a 2005 expedition, there is some updated news to report. First several teams that were thought to have attempted a summit last night have retreated back to C2 or even BC based on some high winds and forecasts. WIll Cross is now at C2 and is now looking at a Tuesday AM summit. He is reported to be sounding strong. Dave Hahn also took his team down. The 23rd now looks to be the day for the south.
May 20, 2006 - Who's left?
Last night saw more south summits with AAI (13) on top and IMG putting more of their team on the summit (13 thus far) with more to come from them. Brenda Walsh and Danuru Sherpa on the IMG team made the round trip from South Col to Summit and back in 8 hours- an amazing time for a westerner!
On the south a few teams are positioned to go for it at almost any moment including Paul and Fi and the team from Mountain LInk. Mountain LInk did post a report that several of their team were returning from C3 including "Chris and JJ" I assume this is Chris Balsinger, the only client and financier for this team. He was going for his last of the 7 summits so it appears he will not make it. A shame but somehow I bet he is OK with it.
Will Cross, also on the south, has kept a low profile this year on his third attempt. The diabetic is reported to be at the South Col so should be going to the summit tonight - weather permitting.
Two large teams are left on the north. Both make comments on the dangers on the north. Harry Kikstra's sight on Everest team of 24 reports they will go for the summit the morning of the 21st "... so far we count 10 or 11 dead climbers for 2006, while many people have not even started their summit bid. Too many take Everest not seriously and notable is that quite a few fatalities are from low-cost, budget expeditions, without proper sherpa support. It makes us think a lot ..."
Project Himalaya/DXCP is at ABC "...Many groups have been going earlier this year and there have been a much high incident of accidents so far. We are hopeing to find a little later, warmer, less windy and safer window to summit in. Its a hard game waiting though. We did get a lot better forecast for next week that we will be watching. From here in ABC we are 4 days away from the summit once we leave."
On the north it must look like a Yak sale with hundreds of yaks hauling barrels of gear and waste down the mountain and valley. Remember that all human waste is now carried out of the large base camps in an effort maintain the mountain. This is true on both sides. HimEx notes the exit in the last newsletter of the season.
With the mountain starting to get quiet a few thoughts of those left. The north side still has over 50 climbers it appears working towards the summit. On the south, it is far less In fact maybe less than 20 including Paul and Fi. This is a good new, bad news scenario. The good news is the route is well established with strong steps kicked in at the most difficult spots. The line is obviously fixed. But there has been a lot of stress on those lines and anchors so climbers must give an extra tug and visually inspect suspect anchors. There will not be crowds clogging up the route at the difficult sections but there will not be extra climbers and Sherpas available to help in an emergency. So the last waves must be very committed as well as prepared to be more self sufficient that the early or teams in the middle.
My best all to of them.
This has been one of the most deadly years on Everest in a decade. I will take a look at those deaths and explore what went wrong and what to consider about future Everest expeditions next week. Also a preview of my own adventure to Broad Peak and K2 starting next month.
May 19, 2006 - High Winds stop progress
After a spurt of summits this week, high winds have hammered teams on both sides. Adventure Consultants reports one of their best summit performances in years with 12 climbers on the summit. It appears that having "The Guy" there made a huge positive difference! Cotter summited as well -a rarity these days for one of the major's owners to climb. Congratulations Guy. Everest Peace Project culminated a 4 year effort to get multiple nationalities on the summit at the same time - 10 made it!. Congratulations Lance and team - well done!
Ken Stalter and some of the SummitClimb team reported "The winds were very high and it was not safe to go higher." Two members did make however.
Himalayan Project/DXCP have hunkered down at ABC on the north. They are looking 3 days before another attempt.
I am not sure where the MountainLink team stands after their comments on Wednesday "We have enough spare oxygen and spare food that in case we don't get to go on the 20th, we can go on the 21st. We have pretty much committed that that's our window. We're heading for a summit then on the 20th or the 21st. If it goes beyond that, we're done and we'll back out." AAI are stopped their climb and have returned to the South Col. An excellent decision.
More later today.
May 18, 2006 - South Summits and the world's longest climb
A big night last night with the Nepal MOT reporting 42 total summits from the south side. IMG reported 11 climbers (including 6 Sherpas) made the summit from the south side last night. Adventure Consultants and AAI are moving to the South Col today and will most likely do their bid tonight. AAI comments on how "hot" it is up there! Mountain Link is also on the Col and notes "...There are over 100 climbers anticipating a summit attempt during the next 4 days, so we should have a well established route by the time we go for the top!" Once again in spite of planning to not have crowds, there are crowds!!
On the north, Blair Falahey made it! Of note from the EverestMax team " ... Pauline Sanderson became the first person to complete the longest climb on earth from the dead sea to the summit of Everest." Well done!! But there are still many climbers trying to get to the summit including Ken Stalter and some of the SummitClimb team who are reported to be at C3. DCXP/Himalayan Experience is at ABC. Everest Peace Project goes for the summit tonight.
Tomas Olsson Missing
It is a sad day for most of the mountaineering community and for those who follow Everest climbs. After a successful summit Tomas Olsson disappeared during a rappel in a dangerous area of the Norton Couloir on the north side. He and his partner, Tormod Granheim, successfully summited and started their dream to ski down Everest. Tomas fell when an anchor came lose and he has not been located yet - almost 24 hours after the fall. The story is now well covered on several sites. It is hard to understand this accident from many angles but there are many positives. A young man who is an obvious expert in his sport living his life large and full. Family and friends providing strong support for his lifestyle. Courage to attempt the most severe challenges. I followed his writings on his blog over the past year as he trained in France for this adventure. He is full of optimism and energy.
As far as I know from other reports the search continues.
May 17, 2006 - Summit reports
Lots of summits last night: Rob and James made it and became the youngest Brits to summit Everest. They summited along with several other climbers with Adventure Peaks. The first summits of the season for the south happened with Jagged Globe with 6 on top. They reported a late summit due to deep snow. It had been snowing on and off all week. Also a Korean team and Swiss climber, Benedikt Arnold, and Sherpas made the South.
The "official" report for south side summits come from the Nepal Ministry of Tourism and is posted quickly on their site. Every Nepal expedition (and Chinese) have a Government employee called a Liaison Officer (LO) who spends much of the expedition at base camp. It is the LO's responsibility see that rules are followed and to report any accidents, etc. but also to watch over the official summit report. Of course they are solely dependent on what the Sherpas and climbers say since they never actually climb!
On the north, there were multiple summits as well (the summit is not so big, I wonder if they took turns getting their photos?). The Everest2006 team put 6 on top and Adventure Peaks put 7 in total. As for our ski team, there were actually four skiers: Tomas Olsson (Sweden), Tormod Granheim (Norway), Olof Sundström and Martin Letzter. All summited and skied down on two separate routes - black diamond, I believe :)
On yet another sad note, British climber David Sharp's death was confirmed on the north side. It is unclear how and when it happened.
May 16, 2006 (second posting) - A Southern Push
It may seem that all the action has been on the north this year and to some extent it has. No climber has summited from the south or west yet and it seems like everyday we read about another team making it to the North Col and then to the summit. Well that is about to change. IMG notes that ropes are fixed above the South Col to the Balcony, the bottom of the ridge leading to the South Summit. Jagged Globe is at the South Col today and reports that they are gong for the summit tonight so they could be the first summits of the season on the south and ahead of the crowd.The three major commercial expeditions of International Mountain Guides (IMG), Alpine Ascents (AAI) and Adventure Consultants (AC) are all between C1 and the South Col preparing for summit bids Thursday or Friday. Mountain Link is also at C2. This has the potential of being a traffic jam!
But all three of these teams are lead by professional and have some of the most seasoned Sherpas in Nepal. Well before it gets to this point in the expedition, the team leaders sit down and discussing summit strategy to try to avoid having everyone clogging up the Hill on the same dark night. Yet in spite of this teamwork, it seems to happen like that every year. Reports come in of 50 climbers moving up between the Balcony and the South Summit. Tales of climbers getting frostbite waiting for a slow or hurt climber to clear out of the way. But somehow it all works.
I am especially excited for Paul and Fi Adler. By now you know this impressive young couple from Australia by their excellent dispatches and pictures. They are on the IMG permit but with their own Sherpas. They have been cooking all their own high altitude food and making their own decisions about acclimatization schedules. We have watched Paul suffer through a chest infection and now a sore throat while we have listened to Fi be interviewed by the ABC. They have unselfishly shared their pains, joys and excitement almost everyday for the past six weeks. Well, now they are off to the summit of Mt. Everest. They have trained for over a year for this week and by my estimate are ready. It will be tough for sure. But they are strong, smart and have wonderful attitudes. Their Sherpas are experienced and by now have created a lifetime bond with one another. But you know - for me - the summit for them has become the icing on the cake. I am so impressed with their smiles, optimism and courage that they have already benefited from the Everest experience. That said - go get that summit!
Meanwhile over on the north more teams are moving up to go for their summits in a few days. Everest Peace Project has moved to Camp 2 at 7600m. Lance published another nice video following the skyline from the North Col to C2 and showing some climbers off in the distance. Project Himalaya/DCXP have split into two teams with one moving to the North Col today and the other to follow in a day or so. They are targeting a summit bid next week. The Sight on Everest Team with Thomas Weber, the blind climber attempting the north side summit, are down at Taschi a small town at 4200m. They have suffered through several health challenges and are resting up for probable end of the month attempt.
Rob and James climbing with Adventure Peaks are trying to be the youngest Brits to summit. They are reported at the top camp at 8300m so should be going for the summit bid now. The EVERESTMAX team has an interesting set of satistics on their members showing weight, heart rate and other functions. I have not written too much about them but their mission is " ... expedition aims to be the first team to complete the ascent from the shores of the Dead Sea to the summit of Everest." They are now on their summit bid.
Now that HimEx has completed their mission (mission accomplished?) and they fixed the ropes to the summit and beyond, I wonder of they are going to leave them there or take them down since there is still a lot of traffic on the north. The deal was that each climber would pay HimEx $100 to use the lines but earlier reports noted that Brice was having a hard time collecting his money.
The Army continues to march on "The Summit Team has now left base camp and is making its way towards Camp 1 as planned. It will then continue up through the successive camps until it reaches the lower slopes of the Summiot Pyramid. If all goes well, the team hopes to be standing on the summit at the weekend."
Check your favorite site a lot over the next day or two since there will be a lot of activity!
May 16, 2006 - Rubber Chickens, Climbing up, Skiing Down!!
Last year it was the rubber chicken carried up to the summit that made me smile. This year it is Tomas Olsson skiing down from the summit on the north side. He actually did it!
HimEx put another 15 on the summit yesterday after their 12 on Sunday. That broke down to 10 clients, 2 western guides and 15 Sherpas . But their most famous member, and an incredible feat, was the summit of double amputee Mark Inglis.
Several other teams are now in a position for north side summits with Adventure Peaks and EverestMax at the top camp.
The south teams continue to make great progress with IMG, AAI and AC will go over the next couple of days. Paul and Fi have started their move.
This is one of the most "interesting" moments of an expedition - the days and hours just before the summit bid. You feel every emotion in the book: excitement, fear, joy, sadness, and more. During the climb to the top camp you cover familiar ground - and it feels easier yet harder. You know this is the last time you will climb UP to the camp - the next time you may go right by on your way down. The top camps are new. For the vast majority of climbers they have not been there before. But if you had, then the feelings are very strong. You know this may be the last time you attempt the summit - ever.
Lying in the tent you close your eyes but check your watch every five minutes. You are horribly tired yet cannot got to sleep. Most likely you are one of three people in a two-person tent. You can hear every breath and feel every movement. But you don't care. You are going to climb Mount Everest.
Congratulations to all the summiteers thus far and safe climbing to the rest.
May 14, 2006 - More North Summits, Soon on the South
With the weather playing with the climbers, some teams hit the window while others continue to wait. There seems to be very short windows of perhaps a day or two that allow well positioned teams to summit but those down mountain to simply watch and wait. Of course the gamble is that by going to the highest camp assumes a window will appear, and when it does not, climbers spend more time in the "death zone" than they need to. Above roughly 26,000' or 8,000m the body dies. It is impossible to eat enough food to counter this slow death since the body cannot process the food not to mention almost all climbers simply do not feel like eating. And of course there is less available oxygen for the body to consume. All in all not a place for humans to hang out!
So in this context, HimEx, using their experience and weather forecast, played the game and won with reports of four summits on the north side early Sunday morning with the next summit wave predicted for Monday morning. The first clients to summit for a commercial expedition this season. Their latest dispatch notes "perfect weather". Meanwhile in a dispatch dated Sunday the 14th 2:00PM Everest time, Project Himalaya reports from ABC on the north "... Today the mountain is enveloped in cloud with a lot of high winds. Lots of teams are rallying for attempts in what seems to be another short window starting right now. We are not quite in position to try ..." The difference in weather observations is probably related to the time of day as well as their locations on the Hill. But suffice it to say, the conditions are "variable".
To summarize the situation on the north, HimEx has summited safely one team and is going for round two probably right now. Several other teams are at the North Col and will climb to the High Camps for summit bids later this week, probably Thursday or Friday. This includes Everest Peace Project (EPP), Rob and James, Blair and Tomas - who will ski down. Finally Adventure Peaks, Project Himalaya and others are at Chinese base camp and will probably leave for the North Col soon.
An interesting audio dispatch is from the Everest Peace Project, a multi-national team attempting the summit on the north. The team takes turns making some brief comments before they leave for the North Col and hopefully a summit attempt this week. Worth a listen.
Let's see what is happening on the south side. Progress has been a little slower than on the north this year, similar to last year when weather was a strong inhibitor to fixing lines to the South Col. But this year, it seems that teams are taking their time and have not pushed as hard - a good thing in my view! By setting aggressive schedules, the brunt of the work falls on the Sherpas to carry loads, fix ropes and break trail often with short turn around times preventing sufficient rest breaks- even for the strong Sherpas.
IMG is at C2 today thus a summit bid mid week- weather permitting. Adventure Consultants are at C1 on their way to an end of the week summit bid. AAI leaves for their bid tomorrow, Monday.
In anticipation of teams climbing to the South Col this week, let's take a look at the climb above C3 and onto the South Col. As I have said before the terrain starts out fairly steep from C3. Most climbers are on supplemental oxygen and leave their tents after sunrise. It can be extremely cold before the sun moves over Lhotse and if the winds are the least bit strong, it is miserable. But as soon as the sun hits, and there are no clouds, then it can become horribly hot. Many climbers are in their full down suits trying to minimize the weight in their packs.
After about an hour they approach the Yellow Band,a strip of limestone that cuts through the Himalayas in this area. They leave snow and climb on smooth rocks at a 30 to 45 degree angle. This is only for about 100 - 300 feet depending on the route but it takes concentration. A jam usually occurs in this area if several teams are going for the summit on the same day. Once clear of the Band, it flattens out until the bottom of the ridge defining the South Col. This is actually on the Geneva Spur. Climbers are a little weary at this point more from the altitude than anything else so when they see 150' of 60 degree rock, ice and snow, it causes a long pause. But it is actually easier than it looks. From all the traffic, there are decent steps but also the uneven rock allows for good foot placement.
Topping the ridge, climbers follow a rocky "path" worn by other climbers and soon step on the South Col proper - an area the size of a football field with ten or twenty or thirty tents huddled together on the west end. But most climber notice the tents second - after they see the actual Triangular Face of Mount Everest for the first time. All the pictures, all the movies, all the stories do not prepare you for this sight ... and tonight they are going to climb!
May 13, 2006 - Wind, Delays and more Summits
What a difference a few days make! Climbers on both sides knew they were experiencing a great stretch of great weather but all good things must come to an end - apparently.
The film crew on the HimEx team have been allowed to break their oath of secrecy and reveal that high winds have delayed their attempt until today, Saturday, or maybe Sunday. This excerpt was dated today, May 13 "... the teams made it to Camp 2 and 3 respectively, but had to spend 2 nights at these camps as the winds were higher in the morning than expected. Today they headed up to camps 3 and 4, ready for the first summit attempt tonight." They also report on a wealth of cameras, microwave links, video monitors and more space age technology that will be used to record their summit bid. Remember that Mark Inglis, the double amputee, is on this team. Take a read of the Tigress Productions Blog for more on all this excitement on the north side.
The Tigress report also noted something interesting about the HimEx Sherpas fixing the ropes on the north "... fix ropes all the way to the summit (they reached there on 30th April, which Russ thinks is a record – and for good measure fixed another 100 meters down the south side, so anyone coming up there will get a surprise)." Well, the Korean team must have either known this or been surprised as they summited from the North on Thursday and then descended on the south side. The "traverse" is unusual but not unheard of. Last year Piers Buck attempted the same feat except from the south but was thwarted by the worst weather in decades. In any event, congratulations to Mr. Park and team on their summit!
Over on the south the IMG team is positioned at C2 and, weather permitting, should go for the summit on Tuesday or Wednesday. Mountain LInk is back from their holiday in Katmandu and are looking at the Friday the 19th for a summit day as is the Adventure Consultants team. It looks Fi and Paul may be going for the summit next weekend.
Scott Woolums (Project Himalaya) just posted a nice video of climbing on the north side from the North Col to Camp 2 at 25,000'. Very nicely done!
The British Army's West Ridge Team executing with - well, um, what do you call it? - military precision - is set for the summit "...With fine weather on its side and all the teams set in place, the EWR 2006 expedition is now 24 hours ahead of schedule. Support Team A is currently forging ahead, breaking the trail, clearing ropes of snow and dropping off essential gear. They are closely followed by Andy Nelson's team whose job it is ..."
An update on the climber who died near the yellow band this week, he was Lhotse climber Pavel Kaney. Details are still unclear on exactly what happened. My sincere condolences to his friends and family.
May 11,2006 - Summit Fever and some North Side Summits
The excitement is building for summits this weekend as teams anticipate continued good weather. But Tomas from Ski Everest writes "... people in base camp are getting frustrated, some even give up and leave to go home. But most people stay and I have a feeling there will be a massive summit attempt within days." He goes on to note the need for coordination ..."Most of the big group are getting tactical since they don't want to head up at the same day as everyone else risking crowds that could mean traffic jams in the technical and exposed passages (like the second step) high up, and maybe even trying to avoid having to take part in potential rescue actions of other climbers and thereby risking there own lifes." I hope Tomas can ski around all those climbers when he skis from the summit! Check out his ski pictures on Tomas' site.
In the midst of all this buzz, however, AP reports that several climbers including Dave Watson and John Bagnulo summited today on the north side - the first non-Sherpas of the season. Watson was to have climbed the yet unclimbed Fantasy ridge but aborted the route due to dangerous conditions. There has been some speculation (amongst thousand of other ideas!!) that the Fantasy ridge might have been used by Mallory and Irvine in 1924.
My, my what a change from a few years ago! Then the buzz was all about crowds on the Hillary Step on the south side and the "congo" line up from the South Col. But with many teams now focusing on the north the same congestion concerns have emerged. Remember that it is less expensive to climb on the north due to lower permit fees charged by the Chinese versus the Nepalese.Also the north side does not the infamous Khumbu Icefall but it has the notorious "steps" that are technically more difficult than the upper route on the south So in other words - pick your poison!
But not every team is anxious to jump in. Project Himalaya notes "... A lot of people are moving up for early summit pushes. It should be very interesting what happens ... We are going to be a little more conservative and look towards a bit later in May. It may be a very good thing to let a bunch of teams summit and then the rest of the season will be a lot less crowded. There really are a lot of teams on the North side this year." Wise words!
I commented on the south side teams retreating to lower levels, including Katmandu, to rest before their summit bids. Well the same thing happens on the north in spite of the lack of permanent villages nearby. From the Everest 2006 team site "...short walk down to the base camp village to have a coke and a change of scenery. This village has to be seen to be believed! It is made up of a number of temporary huts with yak dung burning stoves in the middle to heat the space. Local villagers come up here to live for the season and try to eek out a living by selling drinks and fossils from Everest." The picture on the right is one I took in 1997 of a Grandmother with her grandchild in their tent at a nomad camp near Tingri, Tibet.
And another travel log is from Ken Stalter on his longer trip via jeep "Although this involved some traveling it is much less boring than base camp. Everyone is hopeful to get back up for a quick summit but we have to be patient. Jangmu is an ugly place but our room is clean and able to get a warm shower yesterday for $3 per night."
A non-Everest note is the tragic report of seven deaths and four missing on Elbrus, one of the 7 Summits and highest is Europe. Details are unclear but they experience temperatures of -50C. It is easy to think that alpine mountaineering is simple and anyone can do it with all the publicity, technology and stories we read .. but the evidence challenges that view.
Also, yesterday was the 10 year anniversary of the 1996 disaster on Everest that took the lives of multiple climbers and world-class guides. One of the rescuers that year, David Breashears, is making a movie about the tragedy which should be in theaters in 2007.
May 10, 2006 - Death on the Lhotse Face
Paul and Fi Adler reported on their site the news of a Czechoslovakian climber who died on the Lhotse Face. As Paul writes "...found in the snow on the face below the Yellow Band. He was barely alive and had severe frostbite after spending the night out in the open. He was found by Sherpas heading up to the South Col. They had him on oxygen pretty soon, and moved him over to the fixed line. They were joined by a doctor from the Chilean team. They then attempted to get him down to the tents at Camp 3, but by the time they got him there he was pronounced dead by the doctor." My condolences to the family and friends of this climber.
This is always sad news and questions start up as to how a climber on the primary route could possibly be left alone overnight. Further, this fuels the discussion about exactly how crowded is Everest south side aka the "Yak Route". Let's explore this is a little detail.
The area above the Yellow Band flattens out before a short, but steep climb over the Geneva Spur to the South Col. This "flat" area is a maybe a quarter mile long and on the west side rises steeply to the summit of Lhotse and on the east side drops sharply several thousand feet to the Western Cwm. The "trail" is usually packed by all the traffic and yesterday it was surely trodden given the lack of snow over the past week plus the traffic from the hundreds of Sherpas establishing Camp 4 on the South Col. There are fixed lines along the entire route and the only confusion is near the Geneva Spur where there are a lot of old lines so it is important to clip into the new one and not the old, weak lines.
Climbers going to the North Col usually leave about 8:00 in the morning from C3 to give the sun time to warm the area. The normal pacing of climbers soon strings everyone out with some climbers way ahead and some way behind, including those who might have left later from C3. On my 2003 climb, I drifted to the back of the line and soon found myself climbing with only one or two other people. I remember feeling like they were watching me and I know I was watching them since I did not want to be alone in this area. However, if I had slipped - caught my crampon on the line and fallen down the Face or blacked out and slipped a few hundred feet, they would never had noticed if they were ahead of me.
The details of most deaths on Everest are never known or revealed but there are many causes - some within the climber's control and most out of their control. In any event, another sad moment for everyone.
May 9, 2006 - Summits scheduled for May 13
With a good weather window now predicted for the upcoming week, teams are "scheduling" a summit for this Saturday - May 13. On the north, HimEx is looking at 2 teams attempting the summit on Saturday then Sunday. Mark Inglis, the double amputee, will be part of the Sunday team along with his camera crew. To see a picture of his prosthetic leg, click here. I am very impressed by this person.
Over on the south, base camp must be deserted with several teams now lower in the Khumbu for a few days of "recovery" before their summit bids. AAI is in Deboche, Adventure Consultants is in Pheriche. But the winner is this high altitude limbo contest is Mountain Link who returned to Katmandu!!! The theory of this deep descent is that your body will never really recover and rejuvenate at the 17,500 base camp altitude. So by spending a few nights at a lower altitude, say 15,000' your body will regenerate itself, start to heal cuts and bruises with increased blood flow and, of course, generate massive amounts of red blood cells which are the key to bringing oxygen to muscles. This approach is a variation of climb high, sleep low - the fundamental theory behind acclimatization.
The other item this demonstrates is the difference between a standard commercial expedition where climbers pay upwards of $45,000 and a pure custom expedition with a rich Texas oilman who paid $400,000! See this article for the details.
The route has been in on the north for about two weeks now and on the south it is up to the South Col. Fi Adler reports on the Sherpa traffic as she and Paull returned from a successful night at C3 "... On the climb down we met over a hundred Sherpas on their way up. As of yesterday, the lines to Camp 4 (The South Col) are now fixed so all the teams are now doing massive load carries to C4 - setting up camps and getting their stocks of oxygen cylinders in place. IMG alone moved 40 oxygen cylinders to Camp 4 today. This made the climb down a little cumbersome at times - every time you meet another climber, one of you has to unclip from the rope and reclip on the other side of the climber." With their current schedule, we can expect to see them going for the summit around the night of May 16 or 17 - weather and health depending.
On the very difficult West Ridge route, the British Army has reached the ridge itself and established their camp. Once again, if you have not visited their website, take a look - it is absolutely one of the best ever for covering an Everest expedition. Also, the writing is not bad either as shown here by climber Shaun Phillips "..All your romantic thoughts about climbing big mountains go out the window when you are stuck on a 50/60 degree slope trying to haul 40lbs plus of equipment up in near white out conditions, minus 20s and howling winds. Your only thoughts are how many more steps you have to do before you can stop for a rest..."
May 8, 2006
Lot's of progress to report on both sides as climbers take advantage of good weather. Note this good summary from the Project Himalayan team "...This morning the summit was clear and the sun was as strong as we’ve seen it. By 8:30 one of our Sherpas, Tarke, was sighted at 8,200 meters, just 100 meters shy of our highest camp on the mountain, in the ongoing effort to get our oxygen into place for our summit bid. In the meantime, we’re witnessing a remarkably early summit window and many climbers have been working hard to get into position for an early attempt to reach the top. " Just about says it all!
Most of the dispatches from the north tell of climbers reaching 7300m and spending nights at the North Col or even higher camps. Teams are plotting their summit bids as shown by Scott on Everest in his recent dispatch "...Once we receive news of the weather window, we'll try and make the following moves ..... Day 1:move to ABC 6,300m, Day 2:rest ABC, Day 3:move to North Col 7,050m (Camp 1), Day 4:move to Camp 2 at 7,800m, Day 5:move to Camp 3 at 8,300m, Day 6:summit attempt 8,848m... "
Many of the dispatches comment on health since that is a key factor after 5 weeks on the Hill. Blair Falahey has the most discouraging comments I read "...Unfortunately I have had the runs,so did not get much sleep.I have also got an acid feeling in my chest which meant that I could not eat or drink much at all.A Mars bar and a little water was all I felt like." He does go on to say he is ABC resting and will go for the summit soon.
The Everest Peace Project has released another nice video. These guys are in strong competition with Sight on Everest team for best video production. Actually, take a few minutes to watch and turn your sound up!
And over on the south, the route is almost to the North Col according to IMG. With AAI already spending a night at C3, they appear to be in the best spot for the first summits followed by the main IMG team then AC. Once you spend a night at C3, you normally return to BC, rest a few days and then go back up - about an 8 day turn around before the actual summit bid.
A few days ago, base camp MD reported on a case of frostbite. This is a serious condition to be sure. This picture was of a friend of a friend who was on the north side in 2003 and he took his glove off for only a few moments to assist in a rescue and - well the picture tells the story. The issue is that our bodies are remarkable in protecting our organs (heart, lung, kidneys, etc.) at the expense of our extremities (fingers, toes, nose, etc.). So when a harsh situation like sub zero temperatures is combined with strong winds, the fingers and toes are usually the first to go - even if the exposure is for a brief moment. This is why it is so important to learn how to manipulate carabineers and ropes with gloves and mitts on and avoid taking them off - even for a moment.
May 5, 2006 - The Lhotse Face
The past few days have challenged climbers on both sides with high winds but many on the north have spent a night or two at the North Col including Rob and James, the youngest Brit team who spent two nights at the North Col and climbed to 7300m. They are now back at ABC for some rest before returning for their summit bid!
On the south, C3 is the goal. AAI and some members from IMG and AC have spent a night at C3 and the other south side teams are on their way. Camp 3 is a difficult place. It is literally carved out of steep hard ice. It has been noted in several dispatches that you must use your crampons at all times - even when moving between tents since the angles are steep and the footing is so slippery. This is not the time be casual. More on C3 later but first the climbers have to get there and here is an overview of what they will face:
Climbing the Lhotse Face is a big challenge after the Khumbu Ice Fall on the way to the summit. There are many ropes attached to the face with ice screws and anchors. Each rope is about 200' long so climbers must unclip their carabineers and jumars at each junction. This is a two step process so that the climber is always attached to the fixed line by at least one device. It is very normal for a long line of climbers to be going up and another long line coming down - usually Sherpas returning from carrying loads to the higher camps. So, in the middle of the Himalayas, you have a traffic jam!
More on these challenges but it still looks good for climbers on both sides with the route already in on the north and progress on the south. Even though it has not been widely reported, I assume Sherpas are fixing line above C3 and are well on their way to the South Col.
May 3, 2006 - Under par at base camp!
One of my favorite sayings is "life is like an NBA basketball game, all the action happens in the last 2 minutes of the game." Well the recent dispatches may have me modifying my saying to include mountaineering. Teams continue to move up and down the Hill on both sides. Thankfully there is little negative news to note as the teams execute their acclimatization schedules. The weather has turned a little ugly with high winds reported on the south side causing the AAI team to retreat to BC early in the Icefall.
You may wonder what climbers do when they have an unscheduled rest day at base camp. Over the past few years, our creative and talented explorers have put on concerts with the musical instruments they brought, played the world's highest football (soccer) match and this year had the 1st annual Khumbu Klassic Golf Tournament - compete with color commentary. For a laugh, visit the video on the Mountain Link site.
On a couple of more serious notes, Mark Inglis is attempting to be the first double amputee to summit Everest. He is on the north side and had a "slight" mishap a few days ago - he broke his leg! Normally this would be an utter tragedy resulting in a massive rescue effort or worse. But in Mark's case, a new leg was sent up! He notes on his site "...just below half way down while arm-rapping (sort of sliding down the rope) one of the fixed line anchors pulled out of the ice/snow meaning a brief acceleration for me (some of it upside down, very interesting), I managed to arrest the slide only to find that the beautiful carbon leg on the right was now in two pieces! We all have radios so I ordered up a new leg from Wayne and Bob..." Amazing!
Finally, base camp MD has a nice summary of the teamwork that occurs when a climber needs help. It makes for some interesting reading as well as emphasizing how the teams on Everest pull together in a crisis. Luanne discusses the climber injured in the Icefall and, apparently, suffered a concussion "...we were notified that an injured climber was confused, vomiting and complaining of severe headache after being struck by a falling object mid-way through the icefall..." The Icefall continues to earn it's reputation as the most dangerous feature on the south side.
I have been through the Icefall more than 10 times and never wore a helmet but this year I see some pictures of climbers who have them on. Paul and Fi stand out in my mind. Helmets are not normally on the gear list but that may change for future expeditions.
So the climbing continues: on the north, teams have spent several nights at the North Col and are climbing higher. Teams on the south are at C2 and trying to spend a night a C3.
May 2, 2006 - First Summits!
HimEx reported today that 5 of their Sherpas summited on the north side after fixing ropes to the highest point. I would have to go back a research it but an April 30 summit has to be the earliest in many years. This is quite a contrast with last year which saw the first north summit on May 21 and had the latest first summit on the south in more than 40 years! Once again it shows the extreme strength of the Sherpas. Note that no climbers or western guides made the summit - it was an all Sherpa team.
While it is an incredible accomplishment for these strong Sherpas (three from tibet and three from Nepal) it would be a huge mistake to take their accomplishment as proof that Everest has become a simple "walk-up" and anyone can arrive at BC and 30 days later stand on top of the world. Per the HimEx statement, these five Sherpas have 27 summits of Everest between them with Phurba Tashi leading the team at 10 summits. They know the route, know the mountain, work as a tight team and had perfect weather conditions. In other words - a perfect day!
Well done guys, well done!
May 1, 2006 - Business as Usual on Everest
Well it is May 1 and most teams have been at it for the past 30 days. But for them it feels like 300 and thoughts are of the summit these days. If things (health, weather, route preparation) then the traditional mid-May summits are on schedule.
Teams on both sides and the West Ridge continue to make steady progress these days. Thankfully, there have been no further accidents and the weather appears to be behaving itself. The dispatches report business as usual with the normal comments about altitude, acclimatization issues and, of course, toilet habits! It is amazing that we humans seem to become fascinated with the lowest common denominator. But then again, if you have ever woken up to the sound of howling winds in sub-zero temperatures in a thin nylon tent at 23,000' and really, really, really had to go - well ...
Lets see where the teams are. First over on the north. Most teams have made it the North Col and some are spending the night at Camp 1. Bob Killip on the HimEx team notes "...We head up to the Nth Col again but this time sleeping for a couple of nights and then climbing up to 7500 metres to stay or at least tag Camp 2." As previously reported, the HimEx team has fixed the ropes to 8300m.
Scott Woolums has posted a nice video of their trip through Tibet to the base camp on the north. It shows the poverty and undeveloped aspects of this region as well as the pristine nature of the Steps of Tibet. It is hard to understand that the area you see in the video is around 16,000'. There is also a nice view of Cho Oyu. This is the route every team takes coming from Nepal to climb Everest (north), Cho Oyu or Shishapangma. It is well worth a look.
On the south, teams are all over the Hill with the route now fixed to Camp 3, 23500'. Jagged Globe, Adventure Consultants and IMG (including Paul and Fi) are all back in BC after a successful trip to C2 and a short sortie up the Lhotse Face. Mountain Link is at C2 for the first time. AAI continues to lead all the teams by being back at C2 once again with the goal of spending the night at C3 for the first time.
This week I will detail the Lhotse Face and what it really takes to get to camp3. It represents some of the most difficult climbing the teams will face on the south side.
April 27, 2006 - Progress on both side and a look back at a fall in a crevasse
Teams are finally making excellent progress against their acclimatization schedules. The weather continues to be good on the Hill allowing some serious work to take place.The fixed rope is set to 8300m on the north and Sherpas are starting to establish C3, 7700m, on the south. Adventure Consultants, IMG, AAI and others are either at C2 or back from C2 and now in BC for a little rest. Over on the north, equally good progress with several teams having made it to the North Col and some now moving to spend the night at C1.
Ladders are most often associated with the Khumbu Icefall on the south side but Scott on Everest with Adventure Peaks notes over on the north "...The top of the route currently has a couple of gapping crevasses, one spanned by three long ladders strapped together at around 7,000m.".
With teams now moving freely across the Western Cwm, I thought I would describe it is a little detail as well as share one of the most terrifying climbing experiences of my life - a fall in a crevasse. First the Cwm:
It is about 2.5 miles from Camp 1 to Camp 2 with an altitude gain of 1,500'. So it is not far and not that high but ... it is hot, very hot. The sun reflects off the walls of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse snow covered slopes making the temperature rise above 100F degrees. Yes, it can get that hot. Then it can be brutally cold if the cloud moves in, the wind picks up and it starts snowing. Out comes the Gortex layers and goggles. Smart teams are roped in groups of three or four so that if someone does fall in a crevasse, they can be easily rescued. Finally, if this is the first time in the Cwm, it is an awe-inspiring experience that opens up all your senses.
On my first Everest climb in 2002, we were moving from C1 to C2 for our second set of nights at ABC (or C2 on the south side). We had made good time through the Icefall and stopped at C1 for a food and water break. Snow started to fall had soon there was a whiteout. This is not unusual in the Icefall and Rob, Harldur and I roped up in addition to being clipped into the fixed line. It still amazes me that teams do not rope together when crossing crevasse prone areas you find in the Cwm or on Denali. Anyway we were half an hour above C1 when it happened. Here is the excerpt from my dispatch in 2002:
April 25, 2006 - British Videos and an early South Summit Bid?
The British West Ridge team continues to make good progress. Their web site is well worth a visit. They have an impressive collection of pictures, diaries and videos. If you are an Everest or high altitude climbing fan, take a few minutes to watch their videos on training, clothing, winds and more. Educational and interesting.
Over on the north side, teams are now at camp1 - 21,000' and spending the night. They expect to get higher over the next few days. Ken Staler reports on the weather "...During today’s call the sun was shining and there was “almost no wind” at ABC, but Ken says it is cold.It was 6 degrees F. in my tent earlier this morning."
The MountainLInk team had an interesting posting today - a potential summit bid? "... Today is a rest day, and tomorrow the group will move to Camp 1, then Camp 2 the following day. We plan to spend 4 or 5 days between Camp 1 and Camp 2, and if the weather is good possibly make an attempt at the summit. " If they pull this off it would be a unique schedule on Everest in that they have not spent nights at camps 1,2 and 3 and return to base camp before attempting the summit. While this is not unheard of, it is extremely rare these days.
There are several teams now at Camp 2 on the south side. For an audio dispatch, take a listen to JJ -Jeff Justman on his climb to C1 and some comments on the Sherpas deaths.
April 24, 2006 - Ropes fixed above C1 on North and Camp 1 overview on the South
After what seems like ages, the real climbing has started on both sides. Himalayan Experience reports their Sherpas have fixed the rope above Camp 1 and climbed to 8300m and their team has made a round trip (not overnight) to the North Col. IMG and Paul and Fi are at Camp 1 without problems as is Adventure Consultants. Alpine Ascents International (AAI) is already to Camp 2 and reports lots of traffic between C1 and C2 as Sherpas ferry tents, food, fuel, oxygen bottles and other gear higher up the Hill.
For many climbers this is the first "taste" of Everest. While you still cannot actually see Everest until you go another quarter mile up the Western Cwm, you do have a spectacular view of Pumori and other 7000m hills. I have already described climbing the Icefall so here is a description of the last steps to Camp 1.
Once you top the 'Fall there is a large flat expanse of snow. It looks easy but you are tired. Normally climbers take a rest and take some food and water before they continue. You cannot see the actually camp site nor tents from here but you leave anticipating a quick walk. Is always a surprise how meandering the route is since you soon discover that the area is filled with crevasses. This is the end of the Western Cwm and the initial section of the Icefall just before the glacier drops over a steep rock fall to create Khumbu Icefall. Of course all this is hidden by hundreds of feet of ice so all you see is snow, ice and deep cracks.
April 23, 2006 - Climber Health and starting to climb again
Jagged Globe has an excellent detailed description of returning from C1 to BC in the deep snow conditions of the last few days. Their posting strikes me with a fair amount of ill words between some climbing leaders as well as a good depiction of what it is like up there. Of note was an avalanche near C1 that dusted their tents. They have a nice picture as does a "guest blogger" on Paul and Fi's site. You may recall that last year, an avalanche wiped out C1 so I am a little surprised this year's location remains vulnerable. That said there are not a lot of choices in that area.
The Adventure Peaks and the Everest Peace Project recent dispatches reads like a hospital report! Seriously, it gives a great overview of the small and big health issues the climbers face. Here is one excerpt "...suffered from lack of acclimatization and were unable to eat so returned to base camp on Friday 21st April after their condition had not improved.." And another "...She shaved her legs the other day – she proudly told everyone, for if she didn’t - she was going to be able to put it in dreadlocks soon! " Now that is TMI!
Another interesting item this season are the late arrivals: Mountain Madness, Sight on Everest and Everest 2006 (Scott Woolums) are still trying to get to base camp! Now this could be a problem for the south side climbers since the IceFall Doctors stop maintaining the routes in the IceFall at the end of May and also their climbing permits expire but it seems there is no deadline on the north for the permits.
Climbing teams are climbing again with Adventure Consultants leaving for a rotation in C1 and C2 Sunday and IMG leaves en-mass Monday. Climb Safe!
April 22, 2006 - Eyewitness report of the deaths in the Icefall
Today is a day of mourning at base camp of Everest's south side. The deaths of Ang Phinjo Sherpa, Lhakkpa Tseri Sherpa and Dawa Temba Sherpa have shaken everyone to their core according to the few dispatches released today. The climbing community is small, close and global. I received an email from Paula Stout who was the base camp Manager for the 2005 Everest Climbing for a Cure Expedition and worked closely with Apa Sherpa’s Asian Trekking team. She had received a phone call from Lhakpa Nuru “Gelek” Sherpa (Thame) after she tried to find out if Apa was involved in the accident. He was quite involved and here is what Lhakpa told Paula:
April 21, 2006 - Deaths in the Icefall (updated -2)
Three Sherpas were killed in the Icefall early Friday morning. Apparently some of the huge free standing ice "fins" collapsed. IMG posted this announcement: "IMG expedition leader Mark Tucker reports that a big collapse in the icefall today has claimed the lives of three Sherpas, including one from the IMG team. The accident occurred partway up the icefall shortly after dawn when several large towers of ice toppled over."
I took these pictures of similar fins in 2002. The track, unavoidably, went right by it and we always picked up our pace regardless of how tired we were. I only know one name at this point, Ang Phimjo Sherpa (Phortse). My sincere condolences go out to the families and friends of these courageous Sherpas.
If you have had the opportunity climb in Nepal, you probably have Sherpa friends. It is not unusual for climbers to sponsor Sherpas to visit their home counties, help put their children through higher education or contribute to pressing medical needs. These relationships are lifetime and not taken for granted by either side. So when we hear of a fallen Sherpa our thoughts immediately go to our friends in Nepal and their families.
I want to also comment on the impact this has on the climbers. It is amazing how fast you grow close to the Sherpas - and your other teammates. As I have said before, the Sherpas, cooks and porters smile easily, are always willing to give you help, will go out of their way to make you comfortable and never say a negative word. This is not to say that are not human and have bad days like all of us, but they have such a caring and gentle nature that you may never know when that bad day occurs!
The mood at base camp is quite somber right now. For a good feel, please read what Fi Adler has written in her dispatch. Climbers tend to become more introspective than normal and speak in quieter tones. They often look up at the Icefall with a new sense of respect - and - fear. The dangers are now more real than ever and the risk they are taking are measurable in terms of human life.
Yet they will go on. That is why they are climbers. They understood the risks and know the dangers. They will take a few extra precautions but they will get up early one morning, strap on the crampons, zip up the jumper and climb. That is who they are.
With the tragedy in the Icefall, I expect little to no movement over the day or so as the Icefall Doctors rebuild the route in the collapsed area. There is other news of team movement but I think it can wait for now.
The Nepal Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation issued an official release with the names of the Sherpas who died in the icefall on Friday April 21: "Ang Phinjo Sherpa, aged 50, of Khunjung VDC ward # 9 Phortse, Solu Khumbu Nepal, Lhakkpa Tseri Sherpa of Mende, Dawa Temba Sherpa of Thamo are presumed dead."
Saturday has been declared an official day of mourning and there will be no climbing.
April 20, 2006 - Cold and snowy, Hot and clear
All dressed up with nowhere to go! That describes the climbers on Everest these days. After a few days of heavy snow, the routes are not consolidated (packed) and the fixed lines are buried. Not to mention the increased danger of avalanches. So the best course of action is to sit tight and let the sun do it's job. The strongest Sherpas will break trail and dig out the lines leaving the climbers to take the day off.
High altitude mountaineering is a sport of extreme ... patience. It requires great bursts of sustained energy followed by long periods of mind-numbing boredom. Kind of like taking a taxi ride in New York. Anyway, the climbers use the time to wash clothes, email, sleep, eat, repack gear, sharpen crampons, sleep, eat, review routes and - oh did I mention - eat and sleep?
And now for some weather reports dated April 20th, Everest time:
Ken Stalter from the north "...More snow today in CBC. We were lucky to come down before the snow started as it was a 12 mile walk. We had good luck at ABC and got up to the North Col. Weather was very cold, below zero at night and high of 15-20 during day. Strong gusty winds."
And Fi Adler on the south "...we hardly received any new snow today and much of the day was warm allowing some of the recent snowfalls to melt and consolidate. In fact, for a while it was pretty hot with some of the team members stripping down to only shorts and T-shirts."
April 19, 2006 - Snow!
Will 2006 be a repeat of 2005? Last year the weather was so bad that climbers had the latest first summit in decades on the south. This year has been completely different with excellent days allowing the IceFall Doctors to do their work. All that changed on Monday with waist deep snow falling on both sides of Everest. Climbers are stuck where they are. Teams are stalled in base camp and at C1 on the South. The North side seemed to be spared but there is weather all over Everest.
Paul Adler reports "... We have nine people stuck up at Camp 1, but they are doing fine. Scott Wollums and Project HImalaya is stuck in Lukla. Already one of the last teams to go for BC on the south the comments "... Down in Lukla now waiting for flights out. The weather is absolutely terrible. Yesterday morning we woke to 6 inches or more of snow in Namche." And Jagged Globe gave these details "...One other American team, the Polish crew, and two Korean teams round out the count up there at C1 at the moment and after a last ditch effort by Jagged Globe and the Polish team to dig up ropes again this past hour, they’ve again called off efforts and turned back to Camp 1 for a third night. "
Even the British Army has retreated as they climb the West Ridge "...After the climbers made good progress over the weekend towards the location where Camp 3 will be set up, the weather has closed in again. A night and day of heavy snowfall, with no prospect of improvement at least until tomorrow, has forced the Team to retreat to Tilman's camp for yet another period of waiting."
Meanwhile, Thomas Olsson - SKi Everest 2006 - took advantage of the time to do some, well, skiing! They visited nearby Shuguang Feng, 6622m, and "... Then came the hellish descent. If you have any idea of the term kinetic energy, you will have no problem understanding the nature of our concerns, negotiating our way through the scree-slope."
With so many teams climbing the IceFall yesterday and today for the first time, I thought I would reprint my description of climbing the 'Fall I posted last year.
So what is it like to actually climb the Khumbu Icefall?
April 17, 2006 - Racing to C2, North Col visits
The teams have made good progress on both sides over the past few days. Let's start with the north.
Ken Stalter reports a visit to the north col at 23,000 yesterday. He comments "...It was a great plenty just to go up and back in one day ... It's cold and windy at this altitude. We are going back to base camp to recover for the next five days."
On the south, Mark Tucker of IMG reports that their Sherpas have established C2, well at least they have a tent there. He comments on the race to get there"... Apparently several other teams also sent their Sherpas up today, and everyone was lined up above Camp 1 when the last ladder was dropped into place by the "Icefall doctors" (the Sherpas that build the Icefall route). The race was on! We had Danuru, our speedster, in position to claim prime real estate at Camp 2 for our big Weatherport tents that we will be erecting there."
You may think it is strange to "race" up the mountain but there are a couple of factors in play. First, the Sherpas are naturally competitive. In a good natured sense they compete with one another to see who can get camps established first, it is an honor to fix the ropes high up and of course to summit! But also, there is a practical side to all this. In spite of what seems like a huge area in the Western CWM, the area for C1 and C2 are quite limited due to avalanche and crevasse dangers. So the best spots are few and the first team there gets their choice. That said, year after year, the same teams seem to get the same spots. Sometimes they want to be close to the start of the track, other times away from the crowds.
I spoke of schedules last time and it appears the south teams are adopting the following: 2 nights at C1, 3 nights at C2 and back to BC for some rest. This is the standard schedule to allow their bodies to adjust as gradually as possible without taking too much time at altitude. We can expect to see some problems however with individuals not adjusting as well as others, lung infections, and the realization of what they are doing. While C1 and C2 are situated in the relatively flat Western CWM, it is still a harsh environment at 21,000 - cold, hot and windy!!
Finally, an update from Paul and Fi. If you have been following their dispatches you know that Paul has been fighting a sore throat and a lung infection. Well now it has spread to Fi. They are both being treated by Dr. Luanner Freer of the Everest Base Camp Medical Clinic. The basic issue with these problems is a combination of the cold air, exposure to lots of people, reduced immune systems due to the altitude, lack of sleep and a thousand other little things. It seems this happens every year and sometimes spreads through the base camps in spite of the best precautions.
In addition to feeling lousy, physically, you battle the mind games. You know you only have until late May to climb the Hill and everyday that passes without time high up to acclimatization makes your chances of summiting smaller. That said, year in, year out teams spend anywhere from 5 to 10 days killing time after their acclimatization schedule has been completed waiting for a good weather window on the summit. The best course of action is exactly what Paul and Fi are doing: get plenty of rest, stay warm, and maintain good spirits. I am sure a message of support will do them good. You can contact them via their website.
April 13, 2006 - Progress: Boarders and Routes
The Sight on Everest and Everest Peace Project teams have now crossed the boarder and are finally on their way to the north side base camp. It has been difficult for them to get out of Katmandu.
Just like last year, progress is faster on the north side. Ken Slater reports that his team may go for the North Col, 23000', in the next few days. This is equivalent to C3 on the south. Himalayan Experience's Sherpas are fixing rope for all teams on the north this year trying to prevent the confusion and controversy that occurred in 2005. It is actually a real bargain. They charge the other teams only $100 per climber for his Sherpas to fix and maintain the route. Incredible deal if you think about it, especially for the independent climbers.
Another climber has caught my attention. Mark Inglis of New Zealand is a double amputee and is climbing on the north. He has 8000m experience with a summit of Cho Oyu in 2004. HIs dispatches are very poignant as he attempts to stand on top of the world. His site is Legs on Everest.
Over on the south, the route (ladders and rope) in the Icefall is now established per Paul Adler's dispatch today but not yet across the Western Cwm to C2. He and Fi are debating their plan of whether to go to C1 and back BC or on to C2. This is always up for debate but the "normal" schedule is to climb to the top of the Icefall and return to BC. Then climb to C1, walk a bit into the Western Cwm and return to C1/BC. Next is a foray to C1 and to C2 for a few nights. If everyone feels good, perhaps a trip to C3 on the Lhotse Face. But all this is dependent on weather and health. It is still way too early to have a firm schedule. However, the first trips up the Icefall in 2005 were on April 14 and April 13 in 2002, so they are right on schedule.
It is interesting how all the expeditions arrive at different times often as much as a week or ten days apart but seem to start their climbs about the same time. IMG has been at BC since April 3rd yet Adventure Consultants just arrived a couple days ago. Now it looks like they will both be in the Icefall at the same time. The benefit of arriving early is you get a chance to acclimatize better, get your mind focused on the task at hand as well as work out any bugs you caught on the trek in. On the other hand, every day at these altitudes takes a toll on the body. My preference would be to arrive in BC and have about 4 days to recoup then tackle the Icefall. In any event, the hard work is about to begin. Climb On!
April 12, 2006 - base camps established but some sad news
The base camps are well established on both sides now. But not all is well on the Hill and the area. Himalayan Experience reported in a lengthy dispatch, their first of the season, that a Sherpa died of HAPE after fixing ropes up to the North Col. Also, there are numerous reports of increasing violence and unrest in Katmandu that are preventing climbers from reaching their base camps. So another rough start to the spring season on Everest. This is similar to last year but without the weather problems when several climbers died early in the season. It is encouraging that Himalayan Experience is already fixing line so high (7000m) on the north side.
On the South, the time is being spent with teams establishing their camps and then returning back down valley, sometimes as low as Periche. They spend a night or two seeing off their trekking friends or just trying to stay fit before returning to BC. Most teams have had their Pujua at this point. Adventure Consultants, Mountain Madness are in BC as is Jagged Globe and AAI who made their first climb in the icefall today. Paul and Fi, independent climbers but using IMG's logistics, report the Icefall Doctor's should have the ladders in by today so look for the early south climbers to start moving to Camp 1 tomorrow.
For something a little different than the "normal" north and south side climbs, pay close attention to the British Army's West Ridge climb. The have a nice website full of video, pictures, etc and their reports are quite human thus far! They report fixing line to the 6400m level thus far. From their site their mission is "The Main Team’s ascent of Everest is seen as unfinished Army business. The team includes soldiers and officers from both the British and Territorial Armies. They are attempting to be the first British team to ascend Everest by one of its toughest and most dangerous routes: The West Ridge. Following in the steps of previously unsuccessful Army expeditions, 21 of the Army’s finest mountaineers will be using siege tactics."
A little more on the fallen Sherpa, Tuk Bahadur Thapa Masar. The male Sherpas (yes, there are female Sherpas - Sherpanis) who work on Everest are the breadwinners for their families. They often depend on the expedition work to make a good living in a country with an average income of less than US$300 a year per family. When a Sherpa dies, it puts their family is a tremendously difficult situation. The only good news about a situation like this one is the personal integrity of men like Russell Brice. As the owner of Himalayan Experience, he has employed the same Sherpas, cooks, porters and other local staff for his Himalayan climbs for years. They are as much of his family as his own blood relatives. When something like this happens it hits everyone very hard. Brice will take care of all his obligations to Masar's family and probably much, much more. This is part of what drive such tremendous loyalty between the Operators and the Sherpas. I know that Guy Cotter and Eric Simonson approach their teams the same way.
April 8, 2006 - Marching, Marching to Omaha!
We are finally getting enough teams on both sides to start getting some good dispatches. Himalayan Experience is in Lhasa. They tend to be kind of secretive about what they do since they are the big gorilla on the north but I assume they have another monster team this year. Last year they had about 30 climbers! Thomas Olson has a great picture he took as he headed towards the north side of Everest - the huge plume is a stark reminder of what lies ahead- take a look! It seems the trek to the north side is "interesting" this year with Rob and James witnessing some small arms fire between Maoists and Blair Falahey tells a story of an altercation with the Chinese Police "...i was then forced to stand there as a 18 yr old overweigh chinese policeman screamed at me for a few minutes" - for taking pictures! Blair is at Zhangmu, a bleak "town" on the board with Neal. It is curious that the big, modern white building you see from the Nepalese side is the only one of it's kind in the entire town since the rest are shanties on mud streets just like in Nepal. I guess "keeping up appearances" is important everywhere!
Back on the south side, more teams are trekking through the Khumbu on their way to BC. The Jagged Globe team is about half-way there with a stop at the Thyangboche Monastery as is Adventure Consultants and AAI. The Mountain Link team is also making good progress. They stopped in Pengboche for a ceremony with Lama Geishe. Paula and Fi did the same as do seemingly hundreds of climbers each year in the Khumbu. I have had two pujas with Lama Geishe. That is the Lama on the left, click for a video.
Before you think this is some kind of ruse, let me tell you a little about the Lama. He is a large man - not physically but in spirit. You feel in awe when he enters a room. His simile is huge and his eyes are clear. He looks you straight in the eye as if he is looking into your soul. As he shakes your hand, you feel it. Not as in strength but as in spirits touching. He laughs easily and puts his arm around your shoulder with confidence and affection. His ceremonies or pujas take about an hour. You sit on a blanket covered bench while the Lama sits at the end of the room. This is his personal home which is ordinary for Sherpas, teahouse owners, farmers and ... Lamas. No pretense here.
His wife and daughter serve hot tea along with small cookies. Lama Geishe makes small talk and proudly shows pictures of climbers he has blessed on his wall behind him. There are few windows in the room so the sun does not come in. It is cold so he wears a thick crimson robe and perhaps another blanket. The climbers are comfortable in their down coats. Once he feels like he knows you he starts the ceremony by chanting prayers while swinging a brass container with smoking incense . He rings a brass cymbal and pours holy water into a container. Soon he takes a pinch of rice and throws into the air. After a while he asks for each climber's name. He repeats your name in a heavy accent while looking you in the eye. He writes something on a card and gives it to you along with a red string which he ties around your neck. He asks for you to open the card on the summit. Sometimes he prays for your safety, other times it is for the mountain Gods to be pleased, and sometimes it is for the mundane and ordinary such as keeping the mountain clean.
Actually it does not matter what he prays for, you feel his presence knowing that you experienced something special and that he will be thinking about all the climbers throughout the remainder of the season.
The IMG team is all settled in base camp and their trekkers have left. Will Cross has arrived in BC. Paul and Fi took their first steps on ladders. And it seems that the icefall doctors will take a few more days to get the route in to C1. So expect it to be kind of quiet until Tuesday of next week as the teams all arrive and get settled in at base camp on both sides. Then they will start moving higher.
April 7, 2005 - First Pujas
The following year and on Ama Dablam and Cho Oyu it was the same and yet different. It was during the Puja that it became clear to me that climbing in Nepal was special in many way but the most was the spiritual aspect and the influence of the Sherpas, Lamas and all the Nepalese people. It was a feeling and a lesson I have never forgotten.
April 3, 2006 - updated
The vast majority of the teams are now on their way to the base camps on the north and south sides. Dispatches are starting come in on a regular basis. I must admit that the ones written by the climbers and not the organizers are the best. My favorites thus far: Paul and Fi Adler, Lance Trumbull, Blair Falahey and Ken Stalter. The commercial guide's dispatches are excellent for progress, coordination, weather, etc. but they often lack the emotion and wonderment that comes from individual climbers. Mountain LInk has gone crazy with their video camera! The latest is one of them eating steak in Katmandu. Let's hope we don't see the full experience.
Trekking by the numbers
The IMG dispatch has a nice picture of the tote board for the number of trekkers in the Solu-Khumbu region of Everest since 1998. It ranges from a low of 13,786 in post 911 2002 to a high of 25,291 in 2000. This does not include climbers which could add as much as 1000 more per year.
Remember the Fallen Climbers
Every climber on the south side will pass a very sacred place. It is a series of memorials to climbers who have died on Everest. But it mostly for the fallen Sherpas. I hope you will read in all the dispatches about the contribution the Sherpas make to every climber on Everest, regardless of whether they were hired by them or not. The Sherpas are the unsung heroes year in, year out. The tireless carry loads, fix ropes, pitch tents, carry oxygen bottles and more. But it is also what is not seen that makes them so special. Every year a few western climbers will have their lives saved by the Sherpas - and not the ones on their team. The Sherpas watch over all the climbers and are the first to send the word of a climber in trouble. While it is a serious mistake to believe you can assume a Sherpa will bail you out if you are in serious trouble, it is common for them to do just that. Sadly it is also common for them never to get any recognition and sometimes not even a thank-you.
The memorial below Lobuje is a stark reminder to the price they pay. A series of rock alters represent the fallen. It is a clear reminder of the dangers ahead. Fi Adler noted in her dispatch this week "... A couple of hours from our destination, we passed through a memorial spot with tombstones and manny stones to commemorate those climbers and sherpas that have died on Everest. A beautiful, peaceful place, but a very somber moment that was not lost on all, especially the climbers."
Well said Fi.
Pod Climber is broadcasting Podcasts from Mountain Link this year.
March 30, 2006
Speeds, Feeds and Satellite Phones
Based on some early dispatches, this year on Everest may be the most technology rich experience ever. There are the normal written updates with some nice pictures but video, audio and maps seem to be in vogue. There are several systems used by the climbers ranging from homemade ones to solid commercial systems. ExplorersWeb.com has improved their Contact3 Expedition System and it is probably the most used by the larger commercial guide companies. Their website shows a cost of $3200 for a complete system consisting of a digital camera, PDA, satellite phone and their custom software. Other expeditions are using their own creations as demonstrated by Paul and Fi.
A couple of early standouts, technology wise, include Mountain LInk's video of driving the wild streets of Katmandu and Lance Trumbull's Everest Peace Project and his video plus audio posting. Maps also seem to be the "in" thing this year. The Contact3 expedition software provided this feature last year but it has improved. With Google Earth, some sites are using it to show precisely where the climbers are. An excellent example is on EveryTrail.net.
But while all this makes it pleasing to the eye, I always appreciate the willingness of the climbers to open their hearts and minds to all of us watching. It is the courage to write about their fears, failings, dreams and successes that capture my imagination each year.
Trekking the Khumbu
As a trekker, you can be completely and totally overwhelmed. For many people this is their first visit to Nepal and the Himalayas. The scenery is stunning. Every turn of the trail brings a new view that is better than the one before. You chat away with excitement and wonderment. Even the Yak poop on the trail is exciting! But you also look at the climbers in a different way than you did back home or at the hotel in Katmandu. You begin to understand what they are trying to do and your respect grows. Deep inside every trekker, they wonder if they could do it. Some come back and try - like I did.
Third Times a Charm
Will Cross has started his dispatches on his site. I will be pulling for Will for a number of reasons. First is his goal to be the first climber with diabetes to trek to both poles plus compete the 7 Summits. I saw him on a documentary filmed by Ben Webster of their 2004 Everest attempt and he seems like a nice guy. But mostly I am pulling for him since this is his third attempt! Some people may call him foolhardy or a peak bagger or worse. But I call him focused, determined and courageous. He knows what he knows after his other two attempts. He knows how much it hurts, how his body cries to go down, how his mind plays games. He knows all this and he goes back. Climb on Will!
More teams in transit
The pilgrimage continues to Nepal and Tibet with teams from AAI, IMG, 7summits, the British West Ridge, Tomas Olsson and more on their way. Paul and Fi Adler have been quiet prolific with their excellent dispatches thus far. It is fun to read about their interaction with the kids on the trek out from Lukla, the regular Saturday market in Namche and of course their first view of Mount Everest. This last mention is of note since it is often the first full view climbers get as they head towards base camp. There is one small opportunity to see Everest from the trail below Namche but you have know precisely where to look between the trees. I missed it on my first three trips there. But it is the first view of their goal that causes everyone to be quiet for a moment.
I like what Fi wrote in her dispatch "...It was kind of strange to actually see it in the flesh. From here it looks massive, but with relatively gentle slopes when compared to some of the smaller mountains that have extremely steep sides. Everest almost looks peaceful - but with that cloud plume indicating high winds, I know that it would be anything but peaceful up there today."
The base camp Medical Clinic team has also arrived in Nepal and will be providing medial care once again this year. They started this in 2003 and proved an excellent service not only to the climbers but to all the Sherpas, porters and other team members that occupy the glacier for two months.
I spoke with Jeff Justman (JJ) as he was in LA. JJ is one of the lead guides for Mountain Link. He said he drove a rented van from Bend Oregon to Los Angles with 25 duffels of gear. He was about to get on the Thai flight to
Did we forget something?
Packing for a big climb like Everest is mind boggling. I remember as a kid going on family vacations where my dad would struggle to get everything in the trunk of our Chevrolet Impala. Even though it was only four of us traveling by car to such "remote" places a Destin, Florida or Houston, Texas; we fretted over forgetting something. Traveling to Nepal or Tibet makes my memories pale in comparison of how to replace your climbing boots that fit perfectly or that favorite pair of gloves or down jacket. Yes, it is amazing what you can buy in Katmandu or Lhasa but fakes abound and the quality is often not the same. But most importantly is knowing what you have and know that the proper gear may save your life.
A disturbing news item from from Nepal News reports that Maoist abducted two polish climbers near Lukla. This is significant in that the Maoists normally leave Westerners alone and when any activity has happened it was further west. That said, in 2003 a climbing team was asked for "donations" as they headed towards Makalu which is about 14 miles east of Everest as the crow flies. Let's hope this is an isolated incident and they will be released unharmed soon.
A long season ahead
Remember that we are extremely early in the climbing season and only a few teams have made it Katmandu much less base camp. The normal summit date is between May 15 and May 30 - over six weeks from now. So settle in and enjoy the preambles as our explores head to the top of the world!
March 22, 2006
A quick posting to pass on a report from Paul and Fi Adler of Australia. They arrived in Katmandu and post on their site that all is clam in Katmandu. I was a little worried about the state of the city with the recent Maoist activity and street blockades but it seems that, as usual, economics trumps politics - at least during the climbing season in Nepal.
March 20, 2006
All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go...
The training is over, the goodbyes are being said and of course, the duffels are packed. Most expeditions try to arrive in Nepal or Tibet around the 1st of April with a target summit date of May 15th - 30th. Several teams arrive this week including Paul and Fi Adler, MountainLink, British West Ridge. Blair Falahey is already there. 7summits arrives in Katmandu on April 10th and on and on.
The last week before leaving is a time of mixed emotions. Excitement rules the atmosphere but apprehensiveness in the underlying emotion. Not for the climbers but for those left behind. Most people think it is tough on the climbers but the reality is that the ones left behind now have nothing to do for the next two months but wait by the phone, check the email a hundred times a day and otherwise try to find a new answer to the ever-present question of "How do you do it?"
The farewell parties were held. Everyone drank a little too much and the tears flowed proudly as mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, children of all ages and special friends gathered to wish their intrepid explores all the best, God's speed, safe climbing and a thousand other expressions of love and support. Yes, it is tough but remember that they are going after a dream and that is the best wish of all.
Unique climbers this season
It seems that my expedition list is never complete so I invite any team that would like a mention to contact me. This is exactly what happened with SightonEverest.com when Milan Collin contacted me. Milan signs his name as "Climbing Cameraman/Producer/Filmmaker." The team website has some nice profiles of the principles hoping to get Thomas Weber to the top from the north side. Here is what they are all about according to the email from MIlan:
Another interesting story is that of Australian Christopher Harris. He is barely 15 years old and will attempt to be the youngest non-Sherpa to summit. He is also with the 7summits team. Chris and his father, Richard, are trying to make Chris the youngest person to climb the 7 summits and he has 4 at this point. You may recall that last year Danielle Fischer, 20, achieved that goal with her Everest summit. Temba Tsheri Sherpa is the youngest Sherpa to have climbed Everest, at age 16, in 2001. The Nepalese Government set a minimum age of 16 to climb Everest from Nepal after Temba's summit so Chris will go from the north side.
March 16, 2006
Five time Everest summitter, Lakpa Sherpa is providing the logistics and Sherpa support through her company, Sunny Mountain Guides, for a North Side expedition this year. The will climb the so-called Fantasy Ridge - an unclimbed route on the North. Her website has some nice pictures of the route. Oh, by the way, Lakpa has summited Everest more times than any other woman in the world.
March 10, 2006
Activity is starting to pick up with climbers beginning their travels to Nepal and Tibet. Climbing is such a small world. I 2003 I received an email from Blair Falahey asking me where he could buy a cheap down suit for his Everest expedition. We exchanged some messages and in his style of no capital letters he wrote about his Cho Oyu experience:
The picture on the right is of a friend of a fellow Everest climber who suffered extreme frostbite on his North Side climb in 2003. It happened when he removed his gloves to assist a climber near death.
Blair did go to Everest in 2005 but did not make the summit, something I can relate to! He climbed with the team where the tragic accident occurred that claimed the life of Mike O'Brien. With strong and commitment, Blair returns to Everest in 2006. He is going to trek for about 3 weeks before meeting up with his team and organizer in Katmandu on April 5th. He is keeping a Blog on his Everest North Ridge route. Based on his early writings, it should be entertaining!
On the other end of the spectrum is a private expedition run by Mountain Link of Bend Oregon with only 1 client. As reported in the Bend Bulletin, Chris Balsiger a 52 year-old Texas client funded his private trip for $400,000. He will have five guides plus Sherpas. This is the final summit of his 7 Summit quest and is quoted "...this will be my last climb - win, lose or draw. This is it for me." One of his guides is Jeff Justman, JJ, who will be our leader on the Broad Peak-K2 expedition starting on June 2 in Islamabad. JJ summited Everest in 2005.
To no one's surprise there are significantly more expeditions on the north side than the traditional south. There are several reasons for this. First is Money: the Chinese Mountaineering Agency charges much less than the $70,000 permit from Nepal. Second is violence: with all the violence from the Maoists in Nepal, even the most courageous climber is having second thoughts when there is an alternative. Third is bragging rights: as absurd as it sounds, climbing Everest from the south is perceived, incorrectly, as as easy feat that anyone can do. The north side has the edge in the danger public relations war. And finally is organization. While the south side has always had large expeditions, they were usually under 10 clients. Organizers such as Himalayan Experience's Russell Brice and 7Summitts' Abramov and Kikstra are putting together monster teams. Last year Brice had 30 climbers and this year Abramov/Kikstra's have 20 already. With all this power on the hill it allows smaller teams to off the fixed lines and routes. However, this drafting creates serious ill-will and negativity on the mountain. It will be interesting to see how it plays out this year.
The expeditions list continues to grow. I am very happy to see the site of Paul and Fiona Adler. I "met" Paul through this site during my coverage of previous Everest climbs. This young Australian couple have been training for couple for years now and did a great job of chronically their 2004 climb of Khan Tengri. It will be fun following their south side climb and I am counting on some excellent dispatches and pictures! Another individual to follow in Ken Stalter. He has entitled his expedition "Climbing to Cure Childhood Leukemia" or CCCL. Ken lost his daughter to this disease in 1991. He attempted Everest in 2004 but weather kept them from the summit. I wish him the best on this try.
Everest in January? Well not actually climbing but the preparations are in full swing. Of note is the a much delayed Everest Peace Project run by Lance Trumbull. This team has members from Palestine, Israel, North America, India and South Africa. From their site "...celebrate our diversity and our differences, these events will focus on our commonality." Adventure Consultants looks to have a full team this year with only one spot open. Guy Cotter will be the "leader" on their expedition. I know from past experience that when Guy is there, things run much better so look for great things from this team. I also note that they are pre-announcing a price increase to $60K for their 2007 expedition. Finally a very ambitious Everest event is coming from Tomas Olsson, a 29 year old Swede who will "...stand on the summit of Everest, take a deep breath in the thin air and point the skis toward Tibet and ski down the north face of Everest." Wow, Let's hope he fairs better than Yuichiro Miura's 1975 effort down the Lhotse face. He will be posting his progress on a new climbing site EveryTrail.net
December 2005 - The Real Stuffing
With the holidays around most of the world, Everest climbers are probably thinking about training, high winds, the Khumbu Ice Fall and standing on top of the world around May 21, 2006. The very early list of expeditions is a little shorter than in the previous years but I am sure there will be the normal 300 to 500 people on the North side and the South side once they all arrive in early April.
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