After over 20 years of inactivity, the West Ridge of Everest is going to be crowded in 2012. While the climbers battle the elements of the very harsh West Ridge, back at the sponsors’ headquarters, the marketing people will be battling a high tech publicity war spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hopes they will sell more gear, magazines and attract more viewers.
There will be two major efforts with four sponsored teams climbing this year with virtually identical goals. Both will have West Ridge and Southeast Ridge teams climbing simultaneously, all staffed with world-class climbers.
Everest West Ridge
There are 19 named routes on Everest with 97% of the activity happening on the South Col (Southeast Ridge) or North Col (Northeast Ridge) routes. In recent years, there are 300 to 500 summits via those routes annually.
The West Ridge of Everest is the highly visible ridge forming the north side of the Western Cwm and also very prominent when viewed from the Tibet side. According this excellent article on ExWeb, there have been about 17 summits using either the West Ridge Direct (10), from the Western Cwm (5) or from Tibet (2). There have been 11 deaths, including 6 French climbers from an avalanche in 1974. It was last climbed in 1989 and attempted by 21 teams over the years.
For background on the West Ridge route, Croatian mountaineer, Stipe Božić’s documented his 1979 climb on this link. It is a great story with some amazing photos.
First used in 1963, 2013 marks the 50 year anniversary of the first ascent via the West Ridge by the American Mount Everest Expedition (AMEE) who was sponsored in part by National Geographic and climbers using Eddie Bauer clothing. This is the basis for the broad interest in climbing the West Ridge for publicity throughout 2013. Look for a similar fever for the 100 year anniversary of Mallory & Irvine North side climb in 2024!
National Geographic: A nod to history
National Geographic and The North Face announced their plans for a West Ridge climb lead by none other than Conrad Anker. It was in 2007 when we last heard about Conrad and Everest as he was filming, “The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest”. There Anker re-enacted Mallory’s (assumed) unaided climb of the 2nd Step on the north side of Everest and then Anker went on to summit.
This time his objective is to climb the difficult West Ridge, alpine style which means carrying all the gear as you climb. This is the purest, and most difficult, style of high altitude climbing. Cory Richards will be his partner and film the entire climb. They will be climbing without supplemental oxygen. There will no doubt be a NatGeo film out of this.
A second team will climb the Southeast Ridge in standard expedition style with Sherpas, and stocked camps. They hope to meet the West Ridge team on the summit as nearly happened in 1963. Joining the expedition will be researchers from the Mayo Clinic and geologists from Montana State University.
Eddie Bauer/First Ascent: A father’s footsteps
As I previously reported, a team from Eddie Bauer/First Ascent will also be taking this route in their re-enactment of the 1963 feat where on the expedition Jim Whittaker became the first American to summit, then a second team of Willi Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein, climbing the West Ridge, met up with a team from the South Col route, descending together thus making the first West Ridge summit and first traverse of Everest and the highest overnight bivy at the time.
In their announcement, they mentioned two different climbs, on different routes. First will be a standard South Col effort with Dave Hahn, Leif Whittaker and Melissa Arnot. Then the climb of the West Ridge by Jake Norton, Brent Bishop, Charley Mace and David Morton. Brent’s father, Barry Bishop was on the 1963 American Mount Everest Expedition and summited via the Southeast Ridge route.
Technology and PR
Both of these expeditions have invested quite a bit in covering their climbs. NatGeo has a nice website and, as you would expect, many excellent pictures of previous expeditions. Another interesting section is on gear, with a focus on TNF, that has been used over the years.
The NatGeo West Ridge climb will be the basis of a 2013 for a feature in National Geographic magazine. In addition to coverage on their website, they have an iPad app.
For their part, Eddie Bauer’s website featuring the First Ascent gear, has been an excellent production over the years standing out in the 2009 Everest season with outstanding videos and well written dispatches, especially from Dave Hahn who always does a great job. Serac Adventure Films has been an important partner in their coverage. This video by Michael Brown is an excellent look at what it takes to cover an expedition
And another from Jake Norton
Finally, this is an impressive group of world-class climbers taking part in these four climbs. Many of these climbers have multiple Everest summits plus first ascents on remote peaks from Greenland to Antarctica. Dave Hahn: 13 times Everest; Conrad Anker: captain of The North Face Athletes; Cory Richards: first winter ascent of Pakistan’s Gasherbrum II; Jake Norton:3 times Everest, 20+ Himalayan expeditions; Kris Erickson: multiple ski descents from the world’s highest; Dave Morton:six times Everest.
While there is a natural competition amongst this level of athletes, my bet is there will be more trash talking back at headquarters Of note, Hahn, Anker and Norton were part of the Eric Simonson organized team that found George Mallory’s body in 1999.
OK, so there you have two of the money climbs for 2012. Regardless of the purpose, it will be a joy to watch these ambitious efforts on this difficult route. All my best for a safe climb to all.
Tim Ripple of Peak Freaks reports that Nepal’s Ministry of Tourism will not allow non-Everest climbers to stay at base camp. Tim goes on to say:
This means no more trekkers, no more family and friends of climbers, sponsors, journalists, filmmakers or any support workers for that matter unless they are on the climbing permit. To be on the climbing permit it will cost them $10,000.00USD each on top of the regular costs just to get there at around $2700.00USD and other related expenses.
If this policy holds, it will devastate many professional plans as well the dreams of hundreds of trekkers who join climbers to spend a couple of nights at Everest Base Camp. Let’s hope this policy does not take force.
Update : March 21, 2012
Eric Simonson notified me today that the “no overnight visitor rule at EBC” has been rescinded for the current season.
Memories are Everything