As we get closer to the Everest season, climbers are in full prep mode and also the operators. Phil Crampton owner of Altitude Junkies took a few minutes to talk about his expectations for the north side of Everest this season.
Phil is a bit unique because he ran climbs on the north for years before switching to the south as it became more difficult to run a reliable operation from Tibet.
Now he is satisfied that side is stable enough and with the demand from his clients, he is back for 2012.
If you don’t know Phil, he is quite well-known in the Himalayan mountaineering circles; being what I call a “boutique” operator.
Phil started in the industry by leading several expeditions to both Cho Oyu and Shishapangma at the start of the decade under the Altitude Junkies banner. He also served as a guide and logistics manager for Mountain Madness. But it is his work with the China Tibetan Mountaineering Association’s (CTMA) climbing school in Lhasa that he is proud of where he helped train Tibetans as serious high-altitude mountaineers.
Today he runs his own guiding business full time.
Q: What has been the reaction from your clients on switching from the south to the north for 2012?
A. I had always been an Everest climber on the northern Tibetan side of the mountain until the infamous 2008 spring season when the mountain was closed for the Chinese Olympic Torch relay. I was fortunate enough to switch our expedition last minute to the south side and my climbers graciously accepted the price increase allowing us to have another successful Everest expedition. We were always going to head back to Tibet but we became comfortable with the south side of the mountain with its beautiful trek to base camp, warmer temperatures at base camp and slightly easier climbing route.
We also wanted to give it some time and see how the following years expeditions fared with sudden closures of Tibet and restrictions on permits by the authorities who regulate the mountain and the autonomous region of Tibet. All of the climbers on this spring’s expedition preferred and requested we climb on the north side in 2012. We have a few climbers who have already climbed on the south side with the Junkies and they are now hoping to add the north side to their high altitude resume.
Q: How is the planning progressing for your Everest North expedition this year?
A. I can actually spend more time at home this winter in Woodstock, New York, as I don’t have to arrive in Kathmandu early March to start sending cargo to Lukla and then onto base camp. Woodstock is a great little funky town in the heart of the Catskill Mountains. It’s not widely publicized but we have some great ice climbing and cross country skiing, although there is not too much of either this winter due to the mild conditions we have been experiencing.
The beauty of an Everest expedition in Tibet is that all the supplies will cross over the border the same day the team members do and then the majority of Sherpas will go directly to base camp to establish our compound. We limit our expeditions to eight climbers and I am pleased to say that we have a full team once again this spring. We like to think that we offer one of the best base camp set ups of any of the commercial operators and we have been adding to our already comprehensive base camp set up. I am just hoping that we have enough juice to keep our Wii powered up during the wait for the final summit window. We all need our dose of Guitar Hero before a summit push.
Q: Any concerns with the Chinese closing entry into Tibet until the end of March?
A. There has been talk of this by some of the operators in Kathmandu but we think that if they do, they will open up the mountain first or second week of April. They have closed Tibet during Losar in the past and going on this article it looks as if they will do so again this year. We have purposely made our expedition cross the border on April 10th to allow for any delays in re-opening the border to foreign travelers.
I remember they closed Tibet last summer and this really hurt a lot of the Nepalese operators who run Mount Kalish trips. Unfortunately the sporadic opening and closing of the border will continue but I am optimistic that it will hopefully get better. I am looking forward to pumping some money into the local economy with the hiring of some Tibetans to help fetch water and clean pots and pans at base camp.
Q: Who will fix the rope this year and when are you hoping it will be ready to the summit?
A. The Tibetan guides from the Tibet Mountaineering Guide School in Lhasa, who are often mistakenly called Tibetan Sherpas, will fix the ropes as they did the past couple of seasons. They were criticized by several teams for the delay in fixing the ropes in 2011 but to my understanding, the weather was a huge factor in the delay.
In the early 2000′s the summit was often reached via the north side way in advance of the south side. In 2006 and 2007 the Sherpas from Himalayan Experience who fixed the ropes did so in late April. I am hoping that we are able to summit between the 15th and 25th of May. Saying that, I have had team members reach the summit as early as the 10th and as late as the 30th on the Tibet side so anything could happen.
Q: Any idea of how many expeditions will be on the north this year?
A. I haven’t really heard of too many teams heading to Tibet but I know the south side will be crazy busy as usual. It’s a reverse of things from the past when the north side was much busier because of the cheaper permits and the ease of driving to base camp. With the new price increase imposed by the Chinese Tibet Mountaineering Association, I am expecting more people will now choose to go to the south side as the permit cost combined with the Sherpa entrance fee for Everest in Tibet is now the same as the permit price for Everest in Nepal.
I am looking forward to a quieter mountain as the crowds on the south side in 2011 were not much fun at all. Saying that, the south side has a lot of cooperation between the commercial expeditions and when there is a problem, they all pitch in and help out. The doctors from the Himalayan Rescue Association are awesome and this is a feature I will definitely miss on the Tibet side of the hill.
Q: Any more thoughts for us as you finalize your north side plans?
A. I am very happy to be heading back to Tibet after a five year hiatus. I have spent a lot of time in Tibet with sixteen expeditions to Cho Oyu, Shishapangma and Everest as well as many years based in Lhasa as a resident teacher at the Tibet Guide School. It’s going to be good to see many of my former students who will be fixing the ropes, all grown up and most of them now with families. We have a large contingent of British climbers on this year’s expedition so driving to base camp will allow us to have an adequately stocked bar although I will be requesting a couple of extra CTMA trucks just to make sure our Brits happy hour needs are taken care of.
So Phil is expecting a good season with minimal political drama. However, the season does not start until climbers are at Base Camp which is only about eight weeks away thus leaving a lot of time for surprises
Thanks Phil for your time and safe climbing this season. You can follow Phil here and directly from his site.