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Climbing the World to End Alzheimer's
Jun 032010
 

By recent standards, view Everest 2010 was a safe and successful year. There were about 513 summits with 4 reported deaths, search all on the north, and several injuries and rescues. The total Everest summits broke the total 5,000 (about 3500 are multiple summits by Sherpas and guides) level since the first in 1953. This year’s story line for climbers and their families was the weather, however it was all Jordan Romero and Apa Sherpa for the rest of the world.

For the first time in several years, the north operated in an almost normal manner. Teams dealt with a few border restrictions early but arrived at base camp and immediately began their acclimatization rotations. On the north, a team run by the Chinese Tibetan Mountaineering Association (CTMA) responsible for fixing the ropes to the summit were held up by strong winds and cold temps thus created delays for teams trying to tag the high camps.

On the South, the ropes were in early and the weather seemed drastically different from the North, at least in April. A multi-expedition group of 9 Sherpas took the line all the way to the summit on May 5 thus opening the gate. A few climbers followed the Sherpas a day later and made the first summits of the season before Mother Nature changed the play book.

Similar to previous years, the south side’s greatest danger remained the Khumbu Icefall. No collapsing seracs from Everest’s West Shoulder like last year, but dangerous nonetheless. There were several incidents of climbers and Sherpas falling through soft snow bridges and even broken bones from falling ice seracs necessitating rescues. As the season progressed and temperature became warmer, teams ventured into the Icefall in the dark and cold of the early morning hours hoping the moving ice was more solid.

The Weather Windows

The weather. Ah, Everest weather. With the forecasts available to teams, this season was filled with debate, calculated gambles and indecision. In other words, normal.

The weather pattern followed the expected flow as the Everest region moved from winter to summer: a good April, followed by a transitional May.  The April winds and snow were a bit stronger than in previous years, however teams pushed through to reach the high camps and many were prepared for their summit bids by early May. They reed down valley for R&R and to eat and breath as much as possible.

However for the first two weeks of May, the winds picked back up and the threat of typhoon Laila off India fueled the anxiety. A similar scenario in 2009 hit Everest after the last summits and trapped teams at base camps for over a week. Leaders became concerned that the harsh weather would hit in the middle of their pushes.

There were two windows identified by forecasters: May 16-17 and May 22-26. The first was deemed too short for most teams but others worried about crowds if they waited for the second and longer one.

In what might have been considered an act of courage, several teams set out on May 16th looking to squeeze a summit, and back, into a two day window of acceptable winds and minimal snow. And they were right. Over 50 climbers made the summit in this window but there were reports of frostbite in the declining conditions.

The next window was shaping up to be a record day with climbers chomping to get their crack at the top of the world. However typhoon Laila was lurking in India playing with forecasts and climber’s minds. The bet was it would veer off to the east thus avoiding a direct hit to Everest. It was the correct bet but the chance of heavy snow now appeared in the forecast.

With time running out, almost every team on both sides moved higher on the mountain. The weekend of May 21-23rd was awesome. More than 300 climbers made the top in great conditions. But those who waited late in the window began to feel the effects of an early monsoon and a low pressure system north of Everest. Once again, extreme winds combined with heavy snow almost shut down the Hill for the season. Duncan Chessell, an Everest veteran, called his summit day of May 25th, the worst conditions he had ever encountered by a factor of ten. Two north climbers died in this period.

Huge Efforts, Mysteries and Firsts

With every Everest season it is about individuals and teams all doing interesting and mind-boggling feats.

A huge effort to clean Everest on the Nepalese side was driven by a team of 20 Sherpas called Everest Extreme. They removed several bodies from the mountain but left the familiar ones of Rob Hall and Scott Fischer. They also brought down almost 900 pounds of garbage. In a new effort to eliminate garbage from the start, climbers were encouraged to use the ‘blue bag’ for their solid waste and return it to base camp for the first time on Everest’s south side. No such effort exists on the north.

Climber Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner summited without supplemental oxygen this year to knock off her 13th 8000m summit. Other non-O’s summits were completed by Silvio Mondinelli, Abele Blanc, Marco Camandona, Michele Enzio and Laval St. Germain. Also without O’s was Austrian mountain guide Wilfried Studer who summited on May 23rd – together with his wife Sylvia and their daughter Claudia. Simone Moro and Melissa Arnot wanted to go sans O’s but switched at the last minute.

Jamie Clark, sponsored by Hanesbrands, tested a new material based on a compound called Aerogel. It is incredibly thin and is warmer than down. Previously used by Everest climbers in socks, this was the first time to demonstrate it in full clothing at altitude. He wore it as high as camp 3, but I was under the impression they would replace the “puffy” suits with their SuperSuit all the way to the summit. In any event, Jamie seemed just fine at C3 so apparently it worked. Jamie posted multiple videos and voice dispatches showing his never give up style and penchant for the dramatics. He kept us informed and entertained.

The mystery of the 1924 Mallory & Irvine expedition came into focus with several expeditions looking for their lost camera which might prove if they summited 29 years ahead of Tenzing and Hillary. Jochen Hemmleb lead a team from Austria and tried to stay under the radar. Late in the season, Australian Duncan Chessell told the world he was also looking and had a good idea where it was. However, the late season heavy snows stalled their search, according to what they said. However, this is a cat and mouse game not only for the camera but also by the searchers. If the camera or Sandy Irvine’s body was found, no one is talking; yet.

Another headline important to some, was the chase for firsts. Over the years, these efforts have taken a life of their own and some feel replacing the pursuit of the challenge; the essence of mountaineering. Those in the chase, and their leaders, defend record efforts as thoughtful, calculated and informed. I understand and acknowledge the national or personal pride, and will defer to those record setters to make their announcements.

The Teams

It was good season for the largest commercial teams, especially on the south. Adventure Consultants, Alpine Ascents, Himex, IMG, Jagged Globe, Mountain Trip, Peak Freaks all have the formula down to a science. Collectively they put around 150 people on the top of the world with many enjoying 100% success and no deaths.

The north teams saw mixed results. Adventure Peaks saw only 4 of their 19 members summit and Summit Climb only 6 of 20. 7 Summits Club had 7 of 12. However, South African team Adventure Dynamics had 100% success with 8 summits and Chessell Adventures saw 8 on top out of their 10.

Inspiration

There were many valiant efforts again this season. While much of the attention was focused on the youngest, oldest, first or most, it was the regular climbers I would like to highlight.

Once again, the dispatches from individual climbers revealed the realities of Everest. Bill Fischer wrote of his joys and struggles on the north side in a rare and candid style. Leif Whittaker, climbing in the huge legacy of his father, Jim, the first American to summit Everest in 1963; brought us into his climb with beautifully written dispatches.

Cindy Abbott who has the incurable disease, Wegener’s granulomatosis, made it to the top of the world at age 51. Pat Hollingworth climbing with a new company, Himalayan Ascent, summited on a tough day with only his Sherpas and no other support. Ben Stuckley who postponed an attempt in 2008 choosing to be home with his wife for their first born declared victory on the summit on May 25th.

Matt Snooks and David Liano, both came down with health problems on the north, they made a quick trip to Kathmandu and in an unbelievable demonstration of determination, returned to the fight. Matt summited from the north and David from the south. Elia Saikaly created a stir in Canada with thousands of children climbing Everest with him from his website and amazing video production. Well done Elia!

And there are the stories of climbers who made the gut wrenching decision to turn around. Wendy Booker, a climber with MS, made it to camp 2 before she felt that it was enough. Robert Hill with IBD stopped at the South Summit and celebrated his victory. TA Loeffler, on her second try, finally was forced to yield to a continuing illness that stole her energy and drive. She made it to C3.

To fully appreciate what climbing Everest entails, two summit day blogs from this season are must reads. First from Geordie Stewart’s and his north climb. It is painful in it’s honesty and result. The second is from a south climb and Patrick Hollingworth. Well written and descriptive to a fault. Well done to both of these climbers and thank you for bringing us along.

And there are literally hundreds more stories like these.

Death and Rescues

Everest, even in a relatively mild year, showed her dark side with multiple deaths and scores of injuries. Most were not and will not be reported to keep the guides’ reputations clean and the climber’s judgment untainted. However, it is clear the early and late summit pushes resulted in many cases of serious frostbite and rescues. The details were mostly revealed on individual climber’s websites and downplayed, if mentioned at all, on their teams sites.

I would encourage more transparency because I believe each incident is a learning experience and that potential members should have access to the history of a guide service, including the incidents. How else can you make a well-informed decision as to who to spend tens of thousands of dollars with and to trust with your life?

With this in mind, props to Bonita Norris who discussed openly her rescue as she was descending. She hit her head in a fall and was literally drug to the South Col. Her guide, Kenton Cool, made a casual mention of this on his site.

A hat tip to guide Phil Crampton of Altitude Junkies who described in detail the dramatic rescue of his member Mike Herbert. Without a doubt, he saved Mike’s live according to other climbers who were there by his side over those days. Mike was evacuated from C2 via helicopter.

Helicopter flights seemed to be the norm from the south Base Camp bringing sharp criticism from the Doctors at EverestEr that they were overused and could contribute to a false sense of security and encourage risks.

And the deaths. There were 4 on the north and one on Lhotse. Summit Climb saw two members die. First was Danish climber Tom Jorgenson who was listed as a North Col climber on the team roster. He died in a Tibetan village after descending with HACE.

The second Summit Climb member, Peter Kinloch, died high on the north side after his summit. It was reported that he became blind and totally incapacitated and the rescue team had to leave him as their own lives became at risk. This brought to mind the previous events of Lincoln Hall and David Sharp. Jorgenson’s death and Kinloch details were revealed through other sources and had a slight mention on the Summit Climb website though reports said the team was devastated.

Another tragedy struck Everest on April 28 when László Várkonyii, a well known Hungarian climber was killed by an avalanche off the North Col. He was swept into a crevasse. In spite of a valiant search, his body was not recovered.

According to climbers in the area the avalanche force pushed young Jordan Romero into his father, Paul, cutting his face so severely it required six stitches. This was not reported except on Bill Fischer’s site.

Finally, Japanese climber Hiroshi a member of the Rolwaling Excursion team died at C3 on the north. And Russian climber, Sergei Duganov, died on Lhotse. All the deaths except for Jorgenson were on the descent after a summit.

The Media Darlings

A summary of Everest 2010 would not be complete without further comment on the two media stars: Apa and Jordan.

Apa Sherpa is of course is a legend with his 20th summit. He now lives in the U.S. He once climbed, as many Sherpa do, to support his family; however today he climbs to raise awareness of climate change and for his foundation. Apa sent a strong message this season that Everest is melting and future expeditions will see more rock than snow on the upper flanks similar to the wind swept Northeast ridge on the Tibet side.

Please remember that many Sherpas now have 10, 12, 16; even 19 summits, like Chewang Nima Sherpa, each and are the in the business. It goes without saying, but needs to be shouted loudly, that without these strong men (and women in the Nepalese villages), Everest would be unattainable for almost all the current generation of climbers.

At the other end of media coverage was 13 year-old Jordan Romero. His effort was inspirational and polarizing. I have devoted an entire post to his climb and it is currently the most commented on post from this season. My conclusion is that Jordan is not your typical 8th grader, his family is not the standard 9 to 5 profile and their result, while a risk I would not take nor ever recommend, was compelling. Jordan and his family have a unique opportunity to be a positive influence on an entire generation and I wish them the .

Thank You and Congratulations

Another Everest spring is over. Most of the climbers are in Kathmandu or already back home. The Nepal Ministry of Tourism now awards a medal in addition to a summit certificate. I bet the summiters wore their medal on the flight home! They deserved to.

I want to thank all the climbers, leaders and home teams that kept us all updated throughout the season. You do not have to share your deepest thoughts or your joys of climbing with the world; yet you do. Not everyone can climb Everest. Many followers are unable to leave a chair. What you do is to give us all a gift. The gift of climbing, the gift of sharing, the gift of honesty and inspiration.

You know, I often hear that Everest is over rated. It cannot be that hard. Over 5000 people have summited, even a 13 year-old. For those who believe this, I invite you to speak with someone who has climbed Everest, better yet someone who did not make it. Or sadly, the families of those who died trying.

Climbing is a sport of passion. A test of wills. A contest of sorts between the mountain and the climber. So no matter your results, climber, you have my, and many others, utmost respect and admiration. Well done, well done.

Climb On!
Alan

Note: My sincere thanks to everyone who donated to the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund this year. 100% goes to research, none to me. I will continue my efforts to raise awareness and money to find a cure for this disease that took my mother and two aunts as well as impacts over 25 million families around the world. Thank you from all I am.

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