The final summit numbers will take some time to determine but there were well over 600 summits on both sides and sadly nine deaths.
For many climbers, they accomplished a life long dream, returned safely home to a family who have started to breath again. With an unparalleled lifetime experience, for some their lives were changed forever.
As the season began, 2013 was shaping up to have something for everyone with the usual number of people attempting records for their country, nationality, disability, speed or routes.
One competition that attracted a lot of attention was between 80 year-old Japanese, Yuichiro Miura and Nepalese Min Bahadur Sherchan at age 81. They would compete for the oldest male to summit. Mr. Sherchan held the current record, summiting in 2008 at age 76.
Another big objective for several climbers was to summit both Everest and Lhotse, back to back. Mexican climber, David Liano stated his goal to summit Everest from each side. Also, the always seen but rarely climbed Nuptse, was attracting a lot of attention with an all women team attempting the peak.
Finally, the climbing community was excited about three small teams of world-class professional climbers attempting to put up new routes, the first in over a decade.
For all the critics, Everest still attracted significant interest and the lure to professional climbers seemed irresistible.
Lessons From 2012
The season started as all Everest seasons do with Sherpas making the trip to Everest Base Camp in March to stake out a spot at the base of the Khumbu Icefall. They started building rock walls for cooking tents and carving out platforms for sleeping tents.
Meanwhile climbers from all around the world finished their training and made last minute gear purchases as they arrived in Kathmandu in late March. With the low snow year and extreme rock fall danger from 2012 topping everyone’s worry list; it was good news when the Sherpas reported that Everest looked ‘normal’.
Even after a highly publicized previous year with ten deaths and Himex pulling out mid season, Everest remained popular with over 1,000 people living at the Base Camps on both sides. The South side had 29 teams with 315 permits issued for Western climbers. All told, over 600 people would attempt Everest from Nepal in 2013.
On the North, it looked to be a quiet season with only ten teams having permits for 100 Westerners. Adding in the Tibetans and Sherpas, about 200 climbers would attempt the North side of Everest.
Knowing it was crowded, the south commercial guides and lead climbing Sherpas met several times to discuss how to avoid a repeat of long waits of 2012 at the Hillary Step and on the Lhotse Face. They planned on dual lines where possible and a new descent route on the Hillary Step. They agreed to share summit plans to avoid a huge crush of climbers that exacerbated the congestion.
But most of all they hoped for a long summit window allowing the hundreds of climbers to make their attempt in an orderly manner.
The normal weather pattern looked to be in play with a good April, followed by poor early May then the traditional weather window starting around May 15th. The sweet spot for Everest summits is between May 13th and May 22nd with 70% of the summits historically occurring during this period.
The Icefall Doctors got an early start to fixing the ropes in hopes of allowing climbers to begin their rotations quickly and spread out the summit bids. All was going well until April 7 when Mingmar Sherpa fell to his death in a crevasse in the Western Cwm. This was the first death for 2013.
With the season underway, the weather did not play by the rules and the second half of April was cold and snowy delaying the Sherpa teams from fixing the lines to the summit on both sides.
But the progress was sufficient so that by May 1st many climbers had spent several nights at Camp 2 on the South and the North Col on the North.
However, the weather delays had created uncertainty as the Sherpas tried to fix the line up the Lhotse Face. First it was dry, then a huge snowfall stopped everyone; then the winds came. The Sherpas became frustrated as climbers piled up at Camp 2 waiting to take their rotation to Camp 3, the ticket to the summit.
On April 26, the world’s attention once again focused on Everest for all the wrong reasons. A heated exchange of words high on the Lhotse Face started what was to be an unnecessary chain of events for all involved.
Professional climbers, Simone Moro, Ueli Steck and their photographer Jon Griffin decided to climb the Lhotse Face the same day the Sherpas were fixing the rope.
The Sherpas, fixing the rope, saw them and asked them to stop climbing. The professionals refused and harsh words were exchanged. Reliable reports told of promises to continue the argument back at Camp 2. Once there, the Sherpas, insistent on an apology feeling extremely disrespected, called out the professional climbers. Rocks were thrown at their tent.
Western guides stepped in to calm the situation but inflamed it with their own actions. Soon, a large crowd gathered as the professionals were subjected to verbal abuse, rocks thrown at them and death threats from a small fraction of the large crowd.
Once again, the Western guides tried to stop the brawl this time successfully, but fearing for their lives, the professionals hurried back down the Icefall to Base Camp.
The professional climbers, deeply shaken by the conflict and wanting to get their story out, issued professional press releases explaining their side of the fight. The Sherpas, true to their nature and lacking the resources of large sponsors, had no public reaction and continued working. But the damage was done.
Professional guides weighed in claiming to represent the Sherpas’ viewpoint describing how the pros insulted and disrespected the Sherpas by climbing the same route that they were fixing. While acknowledging they were well within their rights, it was framed as a situation of just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
The professional climbers repeated their claim that they did nothing to provoke the Sherpas.
Update: In mid August 2013, Tashi Sherpa, 30, spoke with reporter Deepak Adhikari explaining what really happened from the Sherpa’s viewpoint. Tashi was on the rope fixing team and at Camp 2. This is the first time we have heard the Sherpas’ version of the incident.
The storyline remains the same as what the professionals reported but Tashi claims the professional climber’s started the fight by kicking ice on them, assaulted them verbally and physically on the Lhotse Face. The fight at Camp 2 spun out of control when a Western guide “assaulted” a Sherpa. Tashi goes on to say there has been years of resentment between the Sherpas and the “whites” but this incident was personal with Moro. Click here for the story
Sides were taken across the globe with liberties taken to explain the conflict based on decades of abuse, egos out of control, and freedom of alpinists. The incident was reported as the obvious culmination of a long term situation but could have been a one time incident based on a brewing dislike of a combative personality.
If the situation had not spun so seriously out of control, it would have been apt for a scene in a poor climbing movie. The violence was inexcusable and I hope the principles are held accountable. There was no justification for disrespect or violence for any reason.
A peace agreement was signed at Base Camp with all parties agreeing to not speak of it again. Immediately after the meeting, they went to their publicists and computers to arrange more opinion pieces and interviews.
Moro, Steck and Griffins left Base Camp, ending what was to be an attempt at a new route on Everest. Moro was content to continue flying his high altitude helicopter on rescue and tourist missions and Steck returned back to Switzerland apparently suffering the most from the conflict.
The only winners were the press who once again loved to report on Everest difficulties. The loser was the mountaineering community’s already tenuous reputation.
Meanwhile, climbers continued their rotations with most teams finished by May 10.
A strong Sherpa crew finished the route to the summit on May 10 from the South and the same day, but a few hours earlier, on the North.
Following in tow with the Sherpas was David Tait. Feeling strong, he choose to separate from his Himex team to be the first Westerner to summit in 2013. The race was on.
In what might have been the most significant climbing achievement of the 2013 season, Mexico’s David Liano summited the next day, May 11, then quickly descended to travel to the North side only to summit again on May 19. This double summit has never been done. The Chinese are currently not issuing permits to traverse the mountain.
All eyes now turned to the infamous weather window when the summits winds are under 30mph/48kph. The rope team had taken advantage of a small window to set the lines, but a few more teams climbed after them.
While there were summits, some stopped short due to high winds and heavy clouds. Summits were hard earned during this early period. Unreported injuries were suffered by the eager climbers.
A Devastating Loss to the Climbing World
With the end of the Moro/Steck effort plus a false start due to lack of funding for the Gleb Sokolov and Alexander Kirikov North side climb, the new route climbs were not going well. But it turned worse.
On May 15, Russian Alexi Bolotov fell to his death as he was rappelling from a small shoulder off Nuptse.
Bolotov and his partner Denis Urubko had left Base Camp at 2:00AM. They climbed through the Khumbu Icefall and began climbing one of Nuptse’s rock walls via an easy couloir at angle of 45 degrees. As the sun rose on the Western Cwm, they began a traverse across a ledge where they found some old rope. Using this old line, they began a rappel on a steep 60 foot wall.
Bolotov tied in and put stress on the old rope, as it shifted it brushed against the sharp rock edges and broke sending Bolotov free falling 1000 feet. Urubko quickly down climbed with a first aid kit only find his partner dead.
A few days later a helicopter picked up his body to return him home to Russia.
The news spread quickly as the 50 year-old Bolotov was well liked and very well respected. Climbers not only on Everest but on other Himalayan mountains were devastated by the news.
With this tragedy, the final attempt to set a new route on Everest on 2013 was stopped.
Waiting for the Window
With the first summits complete, the vast majority of teams were content to wait a few more days. But a few teams pushed the envelope and made attempts at, what was in hindsight, the beginning of the long window.
On May 16th, they left the South Col in high winds expecting them to ease, but the winds kept coming and frozen fog moved on top of Everest creating rime ice. Climbers were coated with ice particles that penetrated their down suits.
Most choose to stay in the tents, a few made a brave attempt but turned back near the Balcony. Amazingly, there were summits reported that same night as they refused to stop and pushed through. They reported the winds miraculously calmed as they approached the summit that night.
On the North, the conditions were similar with high winds, brutal cold that kept teams at the lower camps. Several efforts to go higher were stopped for fear of frostbite, or worse. Those who did summit did so at high risk.
For the teams that waited just another couple of days, they were rewarded with weather as good as it gets on Everest. From May 17 to May 25, over 500 people, over half being Sherpas with multiple summits, summited just from the South side. Almost every night there were summits. Wave after wave. On May 19, 150 people summited, the most for this season on one night.
The summits were overall orderly thanks to commercial teams coordinating their pushes, the good weather and perhaps, a bit more knowledge of what could go wrong kept people more cautious thus safe. However, there were four deaths during this period, two on each side, including two climbers not using oxygen and on the descent.
While there were some reports of waits up to half an hour at the usual bottle necks, most climbers never commented on waiting at all. In fact, several reported breezing right through. There were little comments on the second rope installed at the Hillary Step.
I continue to be amazed at the broad media and specialized climbing media that publish reports of long lines with 3 to 4 hour waits for 2013 while using reports from the unique situation of 2012 as evidence of perennial crowds.
Records and Notables
For all those attempting to set records, many were successful. I shy away from mentioning records because often the claims are made by the individual themselves. It takes a long time to validate the claim. But a few seem to be clear to report.
Kenton Cool competed his climb of Nuptse, Everest and Lhotse in one push from Base Camp – the first ever. Climbing with Kenton was Dorje Gylgen who summited Everest and Lhotse.
David Liano got his double summits on May 11 and May 19.
The climbers wanting to nab both Everest and Lhotse were quite successful adding 7 to the exclusive list of twelve to accomplish this double. There were many summits on Lhotse by itself, perhaps over 50 and one death. It has become a popular alternative to Everest with a reputation of technical difficulty but a shorter overall summit experience.
Dave Hahn got his 15th summit, a record for non Sherpas, and Phurba Tashi tied Apa Sherpa’s record for most summits with his 21st.
80 year-old Japanese, Yuichiro Miura set a new age record summiting along side his son but and Nepalese Min Bahadur Sherchan did not summit.
It was great year for female climbers. The all women’s Nuptse team had 100% success with three summits. Ellen Miller with her Nuptse summit, has now competed climbing Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse on different years.
There were multiple first for women from different countries: Lithuania’s Edita Nichols, Raha Moharrak from Saudi Arabia, Pakistiani Samina Baig, and Paulina Aulestia Enriquez from Ecuador.
As usual, there were not many who attempted to summit without using supplemental oxygen. A few who wanted to make the attempt, ended up using it anyway. But it was reported that Ecuadorian Santiago Quintero summited without the extra O’s as did Oswaldo Freire, Esteban Mena and Rafael Caceres.
Not be left out, a team of six students aged 16 from Sanawar India also summited.
It was a good year for commercial expeditions once again. They follow a proven formula that combines plenty of oxygen, strong Sherpas support, and good decision making for when to attempt the summit. That said, in the end each individual person climbs the mountain themselves.
The mountain environment of Everest continues to change in many ways.
The use of high altitude specialized helicopters have significantly impacted the mountain. Climbers regularly fly in and out of Base Camp where in the past, it was a multi-day trek. Rescues are common as is body retrieval. One Lhotse climber quipped that Base Camp was like camping at an airport.
The use of cell phones took on a new level this year with regular updates to blogs and using 3G services from a special spot on the Khumbu Glacier. One climber conducted a live interview from the summit using a cell phone and a satellite modem. Others posted YouTube videos.
Some climbers stayed home to acclimatize in specialized altitude tents in hopes of avoiding getting sick on the trek in and to minimize time away from work. More teams bragged about their food from sushi to Australian steaks to flying in European chefs.
The economic impact of Everest to Nepal is huge, millions of dollars. It is a big business for western guides. Everest is attractive to large gear companies with their professional climbers. People complain about crowds but love the money. Upon every death, there is the usual litany of critics saying something must be done about it.
Now there is talk to make Everest ‘safer’ by putting a ladder on the Hillary Step so climbers who do not have the skills to climb quickly can go faster. There is talk of doubling the fees to reduce the crowds. See my thoughts on these bad ideas here.
But there is no talk of improving the quality of the guides, or requiring the climbers to come to Everest ready to climb the world’s highest peak. You have to be certified to scuba dive, or qualify for elite events such as the Boston Marathon or the Kona Ironman competition but not to climb the highest mountain on Earth.
To be clear, I don’t support regulations or ladders. But when threatened with new rules, aids or limits, I suggest climbers taking responsibility for their own safety with proper experience and preparation.
Yes, Everest has changed since the first summit 60 years ago. But in some ways it is still the same as when the early pioneers chopped steps, and carried their own gear as they made their way to the summit.
Everest, while with less snow than 60 years ago, still had a lot snow and ice. It is still cold and windy. But the route remains basically the same to the top. The weather forecasting is better but still sometimes a mystery. The early climbers suffered from frostbite just as some do today.
Mallory and Irvine used supplemental oxygen, so did Hillary and Tenzing who only spent 15 minutes on the summit, just like many today. The early expeditions used hundreds of porters and Sherpas. They prided themselves on fine food, table and chairs – all the comforts they could haul overland. They communicated using wireless radios.
What has not changed is that feeling each person gets standing on the summit. It is their moment, private, humbled and unique. No matter your first or 15th or 21st; it stands alone in your personal journey of life. It is a moment of honor.
So when asked if you climbed Everest, look that person in the eyes, and proudly say – Yes I am an Everest summiter.
With the season now over, I want to thank everyone who has followed along, those who made thoughtful comments, sent me emails but especially to those who made a donation to Alzheimer’s causes.
Please remember that I am just one guy who loves climbing. With 30 serious climbing expeditions including four Everest trips under my belt and a summit in 2011, this site tries to share those experiences, demystify Everest each year and bring awareness to Alzheimer’s Disease.
My mom died from this disease a few years ago as did two of my aunts. It was a heartbreaking experience that I never want anyone to go through thus my ask for donations to non-profits where 100% goes to them, and nothing to me. If you are interested in hosting a fund raiser of having me speak at an event, please visit this link.
Memories are Everything