We saw the first summits of the 2013 Everest season on Friday with the Sherpas fixing the line to the summit. The UK’s David Tait plus Himex Sherpa Lhakpa Nuru were close behind allowing David to nab his 5th summit.
On their heels was David Liano, climbing with logistics from Asian Trekking, who summited at 8:05AM Saturday morning, May 11 with Sherpa Samden Bhote. They left the South Col at 11:15PM Friday night and were the only climbers to summit Saturday from the South. David is now in route to the North side and told me he is looking at his second summit bid on May 19th.
Yesterday afternoon, the winds picked back up. Today, there are multiple teams staged at various camps on both sides waiting for the next window expected mid week. But a few are pushing it and going for the summit tonight or tomorrow.
The Big Picture
We are now in the last phase of climbing Everest, unless you include coming home. As almost everyone quotes Ed Viesturs to concerned friends and family as they leave for Everest:
Reaching the summit is optional. Getting down is mandatory.
The weather people are watching a tropical depression in the Bay of Bengal. It has already impacted weather at Base Camp with a few inches of new snow. The IMG team canceled their move to Camp 2 due to the conditions.
Overall, these weather events cause the jet stream to move north and off the summit of Everest allowing for calmer winds and summit opportunities. However if the cyclone moves too far north it can bring rain, snow and winds of it’s own.
Russell Brice, Himex, became famous on the series Everest Beyond the Limits for pouring over weather maps had this to say:
As forecast by Meteotest, we are on the edge of a storm from the Bay of Bengal, so Saturday afternoon is punctuated by thunder, lightning and snow showers, but of course we are all safe and comfortable within the round walls of the White Pod.
The large Indian team from Pune climbing with Giripremi made these comments:
Indian Meteorological department predicted good weather for climbing Everest in next week. Recent cyclonic conditions in the Bay of Bengal have pushed the jet stream winds prevailing on the summit of the mountain towards north. This will lower the wind speeds on the summit making it favorable condition for attempting the mountain. Based on this forecast the team has planned the movement up the mountain.
Well the winds continue to blow and the team are doing their best to keep busy until our preparations are in place and weather is right for our summit attempt.
Against the Odds?
The team from Himalayan Ascents has been pushing the envelope all season being the first through the Icefall and to most of the Camps. So it is not a big surprise that today, Sunday, they are at the South Col. However, they seem to one of the only teams willing to bet against the weather. This is their last report from the Col:
It’s just a matter of waiting a few more hours now. The Everest party of Warren, Jangbu, Margaret, Angkaji, Dendi, Peter, Mingma and Nima arrived into Camp 4 ~7925m at the South Col about 3.30pm. All team members are feeling strong and healthy. They will rest a few more hours, drink water and will try to stomach some food before moving for the summit push. The Everest group will depart around 8pm. There’s another independent group at Camp 4 going for the summit tonight as well. The Lhotse team are aiming to depart at 1am. The plan is to bring all climbers back to Camp 2 tomorrow 13th after the summit. This is weather dependent, which at the moment is not too bad. The winds are easing and the sky is clear. Go team!!!
I wish them all the best and hope for a safe journey.
The Mental Game
Climbers are getting their minds wrapped around the summit. Daniel Branham, with Berg Adventures said this as they look to summit between May 16-18th :
I wanted to write a great dispatch today on the “why’s”. Why do this? Why risk life and limb? Why sacrifice time and treasure? Honestly, this is the subject of a book, not a blog. I know that there are as many answers as there are climbers, and most climbers probably have a multitude of reasons. I could tell you my reasons and maybe one day I will. They have changed over time, but I am at peace with them. I would invite you all to start climbing the mountains in your lives that are as real as the one we are on now. And if somebody asks you why are you striving and struggling against the norm, you will know the difficulty in answering this question. When asked the question, why climb Everest, George Mallory famously said “because it is there”. I think we climb because, WE ARE HERE, and it is just what we do. It is how we find our best.
Everything seems a little different now with the news that climbers made the top yesterday… And indeed, a few more went there today if the radio grapevine is correct. The mountain is not impossible. But we do hope those most recent summit climbers got down fast, since by late afternoon we’ve experienced a thunderstorm and a few inches of quick new snow. And that roar is back… The one that sounds like Niagara Falls as a ribbon of the jet stream does battle with the parts of these mountains that dare to stand out and in the way.
We are all watching weather and weather forecasts now and there is plenty of interest in the calendar. Many climbers are still down-valley taking a vacation, but they are starting to trickle back by helicopter and by foot with summit dates in mind. Some are packing bags and heading up in the next day or two.
We are biding our time. Waiting out the cough. Hiking and exploring and playing games in camp. We’ll have to pick summit departure days soon enough, but for now it just isn’t right for our team. We get a little anxious to know that the route is open, but we also know that it wouldn’t be a bad thing to let a few hundred other climbers have their way with it first. Things get a little warmer with each passing day in May and we hold out hope that calmer days materialize. And we cross our fingers that cyclone O1B -spinning menacingly down in the Bay of Bengal- fizzles out and finds a place to go that doesn’t interfere with climbers… or with humanity in general.
New Hillary Step Route
The Hilary Step has been a notorious bottleneck anytime the route is crowded. There are pictures of climbers lined up waiting their turn to climb up the Step or to rappell down. Waiting in the cold and wind, they used up precious oxygen.
In a few previous season, there have been two ropes used, an up and a down line, but they were close together and not all that effective. For 2013, the Sherpas have put in anchors for an entirely new route exclusively for people descending from the summit.
Eric Simonson, IMG, explained it to me this way:
The rappel from the new anchors is quite steep and lands people on a slab, below and climber’s left of Hillary Step ) and they then have to climb/traverse back up to the main trail below the step.
Putting in these anchors is a huge change for South climbers. But it took the incredible strong work of the Sherpas to make it happen. They carried a battery powered rock drill, some weigh around 5 pounds (there are smaller models) and drill holes in the rock to attach small metal anchors directly to the rock.
Another team was supposed to deliver the rope for this section but according to Himex, they missed the hand-off, but in any event a rope will be strung from the anchors in this section allowing climbers to bypass the normal up climb area on their descent.
While an improvement, it will be interesting to see how many people take this route and not continue to use the current one. Rappelling down 20 or 40 feet at 28,750 feet/8760 meters after climbing for 8 to 10 hours will be tough. They cannot afford any mistakes as the exposure on that side is tremendous – a drop of several thousand feet down the SW Face. Once they rap down they still have to make a short climb back up to the normal route per my understanding.
Stay tuned for how it turns out.
As I have mentioned a couple of times this season, I cover Everest primarily to bring awareness to crisis of Alzheimer’s Disease. For mother’s day, I wrote this article for UsAgainstAlzheimer’s:
May is a special month for me: Everest and Mother’s Day. The connection is significant.
I summited Everest in May and Mother’s Day, well, it is Mother’s Day.
Ida Arnette, my mom, was the memory keeper for her extended family. With my mom’s eight brothers and sisters, there was a lot to track.
Mom did it all while raising two sons, working full time and still finding time to cook amazing holiday dinners and an out-of-this world pecan pie.
So the day my mom looked up from her steaming coffee cup and said with a look I will never forget, “Now, who are you again?” was a day, a moment, I will never forget.
Alzheimer’s took my mom’s life and changed mine forever.
As I learned about the disease, I became frustrated, angry and eventually motivated to do something about it — if not for my mom, then for future generations.
I pledged to literally and figuratively scream from the mountain tops that Alzheimer’s is a disease that must be stopped, that caregivers must receive more support, and that the general public must gain a deeper understanding of the impact of Alzheimer’s.
With that mission, I went on to accomplish something few people have even attempted: I climbed the highest peak on each of the 7 continents in under a year in an effort to raise awareness about this terrible disease.
Almost two years ago this month, in pursuit of that goal, I sent my message of hope, need and urgency from the summit of Mt. Everest.
My voice cracked as I dedicated that summit to my mom, my two aunts and the millions of individuals with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers around the world. I reached 30 million people with my campaign and raised significant funds for research.
But it is not enough.
Today, we are making progress with key understandings of the disease brought about through research. Even though the path is rough, the private sector is not giving up.
But it is not enough.
It will take an unprecedented partnership between private and public resources to slow Alzheimer’s and to find a cure. It will take even more work to solve the growing crisis facing caregivers.
Please join me in sending a message to our leaders through USAgainstAlzheimer’s. Let’s tell them that now is the time to act, and that they must take the steps needed to fund Alzheimer’s research at the levels laid out in President Obama’s budget, to fulfill the promise of the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease.
Happy Mother’s day to all the world’s mom and best wishes for your climbers.
Memories are Everything