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May 122013
New 2013 Descent on Hillary Step

New 2013 Descent on Hillary Step

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.

The Altitude Junkies and Adventure Peaks teams are at ABC on the north monitoring the winds and prepared to launch at any moment. Paul from the Adventure Peaks team had this to say:

Well the winds continue to blow and the team are doing their 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 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 .
I have been watching Dave Hahn, RMI, climb Everest for over a decade. He is consistently one of the last teams, if not person to summit almost every year. Once again, Dave puts his thoughts out there:

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.

New 2013 Descent on Hillary Step

New 2013 Descent on Hillary Step. Courtesy of IMG

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.

Alan holding a picture of Ida Arnette on the summit of Mt. Elbrus

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.

Please Donate for Alzheimers Today

Happy Mother’s day to all the world’s mom and wishes for your climbers.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything



  15 Responses to “Everest 2013: Weekend Update May 12”

  1. Alan,as always another factual and interesting report. I have been following your blog for a few years now, as an armchair mountaineer and sometime Altitude Trekker. I feel privileged to have been to EBC twice in recent years. Your enthusiasm shows through your reporting.
    Sadly my father has been diagnosed with Alzheimers recently. I have joined the UK Alzheimers Society and contribute occasionally to their site.
    With your permission, I would like to copy your description of 2008 summit day on that blog. Very moving.
    Climb On Alan,
    Regards from the UK.

  2. Sanawar Everest Team Latest Update:

    The weather seems to be holding. Some teams have already set off for the summit. We will be leaving tomorrow i.e. night of 16/17th.
    The plan is to spend two nights at camp 2, followed by one night at camp 3. The next evening we depart from camp 4 and hope to summit early on the 21st.
    We have received another sat phone from Mr Anudan Singh, father of Prithvi jb Singh (PS). Many thanks as this will enable us to send a regular update.

  3. Members of the Sanawar (school) Everest Team from India which are attempting to climb the peak via South Col: GURIBADAT SINGH,FATEH SINGH BRAR,PRITHVI SINGH CHAHAL

    Trying to break the record of Arjun Vajpayee,the youngest Indian to have climbed Everest.
    Vying for two more records:The world’s youngest team and the only school in the world to send climbers to Everest.
    Will update their latest position and plans.

  4. Hi Alan

    You are doing a very good job.Even i don’t have words to define it.

    Alan i want to know that what is the progress of those mountaineers who were attempting to summit the Everest from different route.

  5. Hi Alan

    You are doing a very good job.Even i don’t have words to define it.

    Alan i want to know that what is the progress of those mountaineers who were attempting summit the Everest from different route.

  6. What a great cause you are supporting. I hope every reader takes a moment to donate. Thank you for your work Alan.

  7. A very emotional and as always informative blog. I thank you Alan. Happy Mothers Day to all in the US, may your mother RIP Sir. And as we begin a very important week at Everest, may I wish everyone the best,hope everyone achieves their best,be it summit or otherwise and most importantly,I pray and wish them safe return 🙂

  8. Hi Alan,

    How long is the rappel on the standard Hillary step route? You mentioned the long rappel on the alternative descent before a climb back up, and I was wondering how that differed from the standard descent path. Also, if you would not mind for us armchair fans, can you describe the ascent and descent on the hillary step. I have obviously heard of it before, but I am still not quite clear on its layout. Whenever I hear about it, I envision as set of winding steps, but I know it must be more technical than that.

    • Hi Meredith,
      The rap down the Hillary Step is about 30 to 40 feet but at a manageable angle of perhaps 40 to 50 degrees. My impression is the new descent is much steeper but I don’t have the exact angle.

      The difficulty of climbing the Hillary Step often has to do with how much snow in on it. In 2011 when I did it, it was a “normal” year and there was snow on the step but also a lot of exposed rock. Crampons on rock is tough. Basically it is an angeled slab of rock that would be ‘easy’ at 5,000′ but is a challenge at 29,000 with limited vison due to oxygen masks, goggles, etc.

      This is what I wrote in my 2011 Trip report you can download the complete PDF at:

      “A short rock climb followed and for a moment I thought it was the Hillary Step, but soon came upon this famous feature. Named after Sir Edmond Hillary, it is a 40ʼ high rock feature that creates massive bottlenecks and traffic jams if the route is crowded. There were fixed ropes set by the Sherpa team on May 5th plus a few old lines. I clipped into the newest lines and attached my jumar. The jumar was key because it will automatically lock sharp teeth into the rope if I slip preventing me from falling too far. There was snow on the Step but a lot of exposed rock. I had watched Kami climb it so I had a general idea of foot placement but again my visibility was blocked by the goggles and mask. So I gingerly placed my right foot onto a small rock outcropping and then my left in a classic stem move. I pushed up with my legs and pulled on the ropes with the jumar. I repeated this move a few times and soon stood at the top of the Hillary Step. I was pleased that it went so smoothly.

      Yet another surprise was waiting at the top of the Step, a large rock boulder blocked the route on to the summit. A vertical rock wall was on the right and several thousand feet of clear air to the left. Kami and Karma Rita waited for me and made sure I was clipped in as I straddled the rock and scooted over it. My breathing increased. I still could not see the summit but followed Kami as he lead the route. I was expecting a nice easy path to the top but found more small bumps on uneven snow.”

  9. A delightful and profound blog on America’s Mother’s Day. Alan works hard to raise large amounts of money for the cause. Help if you can, every little helps Cheers Kate

  10. The depression in the Bay of Bengal is lashing out here in our small island nation. However, we out here in Sri Lanka have seen worse weather before. With the monsoons coming up we are expecting a rather a wet SW monsoon period with high winds. therefore, I feel that Everest will see some good weather windows this year – and do really hope so. Well done to the first summits and all the very best for the ones who are yet to summit.