Welcome to the kick-off for my Everest 2017 coverage! I have already posted a few articles on 2017 but let me officially welcome you.
This will be my 16th season of all-things Everest: 10 times providing coverage, another 4 seasons of actually climbing on Everest and two years attempting Lhotse.
I did similar coverage for the 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons. I summited Everest on May 21, 2011 and have attempted Everest three other times – 2002, 2003, 2008 and Lhotse in 2015 and 2016.
If you are one of my 2 million regular readers, hello again, if you are new, welcome!
My goal is to provide insight and analysis of what is going on up there with no favorites or agendas. I use sources directly from the mountain, public information and my own experiences to write my posts.
Usually I post once a day as the season gets started in early April and ramp up to almost hourly coverage during the intense summit pushes in mid to late May. I spend several hours a day to create these updates. You can sign up for (and cancel) notifications on the lower right sidebar or check the site frequently.
Why do I do this? Well, one word: Alzheimer’s. I lost my mom, Ida, and four aunts to this disease and it changed my life forever. You can read more at this link. I hope that you enjoy my coverage and make a donation to any of my selected non-profit partners as a tangible thank you. I never benefit financially from your donations. Just click on this button that is always on the top right sidebar.
Everest: Years of Turmoil, Records and Summit Celebrations
Those who follow Everest closely never know what to expect each season. Some years, there is bad weather, then there are natural disasters like earthquakes and avalanches, other years the drama is manmade with men behaving like boys. Of course there are years that everything seems to go right resulting in record summits. One thing you can always assume is that there will always be deaths on Everest.
Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and review the past few years:
2010: A Safe and Successful Year
By historic standards, Everest 2010 was a safe and successful year. There were about 537 summits (347 from the south) with 3 reported deaths, all on the north, and several injuries and rescues. The total Everest summits broke the 5,000 level since the first summit in 1953.
The storyline for climbers and their families was the weather, however it was all Jordan Romero and Apa Sherpa for the rest of the world who became the youngest to summit and broke the record for most summits respectively.
For the first time in several years, the north operated in an almost normal manner. Teams dealt with a few border restrictions early but arrived at base camp and immediately began their acclimatization rotations. On the South, the ropes were in early and the weather seemed drastically different from the North, at least in April. Read my season recap here.
2011: Alan Finally Summits and a Normal Year
Please forgive my narrow scope for this year but after three previous attempts, I summited Everest on May 21, 2011 from the Nepal side Kami Sherpa of International Mountain Guides. This was part of The 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer’s: Memories are Everything® campaign. It was very humbling standing on the summit after all my attempts but more gratifying was the reaction to my Alzheimer’s awareness and fundraising efforts. Thank you everyone who participated.
I approached this climb quite differently from previous attempts including preparation, training, guide service and more. The season was fairly normal with good weather and manageable crowds and no natural disasters.
The Himalayan database states there were 535 combined summits from both sides 58% summit to climbers at base camp. There were 4 deaths. Read more about my summit at this link.
2012: Himex Cancels Expedition, Narrow Window Increases Crowding
Perhaps the most dramatic year since 1996. A lack of snow combined with high winds created dangerous rockfall on the Lhotse Face causing many injuries primarily to Sherpas before the route was moved to a safer passage to Camp 3. However, these dangers plus the deaths of three Sherpas early in April from multiple causes, caused the Sherpas from Himex to lose confidence. Russell Brice, arguably the most famous of the Everest commercial operators, cancelled his entire Himalaya spring season (Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse) taking over 100 people off the mountain. It was an unprecedented decision.
The other teams continued fighting difficult weather on both sides of Everest and with only four days of suitable weather for summit pushes endured the famous crowds at the normal bottlenecks of the 2nd Step, and the Hillary Step. Totally unrelated to the crowds, weather or rockfall, 6 more climbers died primarily from poor decision making or altitude related illnesses generating sensational headlines around the world and calls for regulation on Everest. The Himalayan database states there were 551 combined summits from both sides and 10 deaths. Read my season recap here.
2013: A Normal Year and a Petty Fight on the Lhotse Face
Everest 2013 was a good year for most climbers but a difficult one for the professionals. Overall it could be termed a normal year with little drama with one large exception. There were an estimated 658 summits in the spring of 2013, 539 on the south and 119 on the north. 8 confirmed deaths. This was the most summits in the history of Everest including to 2016.
2013 brought the inexcusable behavior of both Sherpas and professional climbers arguing and fighting about who had the right to climb on the Lhotse Face while the fixed ropes were being set for the commercial teams. This incident, in my opinion, accelerated the creation of Sherpa owned guide services that are beginning to dominate Everest.
For many climbers, they accomplished a lifelong 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. Read my season recap here.
2014: 19 Deaths and Nepal Side Closed
The Everest 2014 season was full of tragedy with 19 deaths from an ice serac release off the West Shoulder of Everest onto the Khumbu Icefall. Shameful exploitation and thin coverage of the real story by the general media created unnecessary drama where the focus should have been on the victims and their families.
In my season summary, I look at what happened, the reasons for effectively closing Everest from Nepal, the roles played by all parties and some ideas on a credible path forward. The summary is not a sound bite, it is long, complicated and will take time to digest. Just like anything with Everest it will evoke emotions and reactions. My hope is for badly needed changes on Everest. A mountain I value and whose climbers I admire – past, present and future.
There were 121 summits from the North and 4 from the South. There were 19 deaths on the South. Read my season recap here.
2015: 18 Deaths, an Earthquake and NO Summits
Another tragic season but this time due to an earthquake, not climbing events. 19 people were killed at Everest Base camp from an avalanche off the Pumori -Lingtren Ridge then the Chinese closed the North fearing aftershocks. Nepal continued to promote climbing but no team wanted to risk going back through the Icefall. For the first time since 1974, there were no spring summits on Everest from any route, any camp by any means. I was at Camp 2 in the Western Cwm attempting Lhotse when the earthquake struck. Read my season recap here.
2016: Back to Normal but Inexperience Reigns
Everest 2016 was a success by many measures. Climbers achieved life long dreams and a country got a break. It was a ‘normal’ season with 640 summits but sadly there were five deaths plus one on Lhotse. However in stark contrast to the previous four years on Everest, 2016 lacked large scale tragedy or extreme drama.
The emerging trend of low cost expeditions continued and many (not all) of the deaths had the marking of inexperience, insufficient support and low prices this year. While I cannot verify all the statements made in this report of three Indian climbers who lost their lives in 2016, the article, An Avoidable Tragedy, is illustrative of the risks and well worth a read. Read my season recap here.
So what will 2017 bring? These are my thoughts. Look for record summits where many, many people accomplish their lifelong dreams but also look for disorganization on both sides due to new operators and inexperienced climbers.
With many small Nepali based operators continue to compete on price, there could be more inexperienced climbers than ever. This means disorganization, slow teams, crowds, frostbite and chaos.
And with some helicopter companies working with independent film crews offering free rescue flights in exchange for a TV appearance, a serious false sense of security is emerging, especially with inexperienced climbers and poorly staffed guides. The entire Everest helicopter industry needs urgent review. Potentially there could be more deaths than the average 5 per year since 2000.
With last year’s huge numbers on the Nepal side, some operators are moving to Tibet. While this side has been traditionally uncrowded, the features of the 1st and especially the 2nd Steps on the summit push are already notorious for traffic jams and crowds. Add in another hundred climbers and you have the same scenario as you fear on the Hillary Step.
As always, the key to dealing with the crowds is to get out early and climb fast.
Stepping back, I believe 2017 could be a record summit year for several reasons. Long time Western operators are reporting close to capacity teams. I am hearing from many individuals about climbing with small Nepali operators and the middle class of India is showing interest in Everest like never before. The traditional markets of North and South America, South Pacific, Western Europe and Russia are as strong as ever plus many are wanting to use their permit extensions issued by China and Nepal due to avalanches and earthquakes in 2013 and 2014 before they expire saving them thousands of dollars.
In the autumn of 2016 summits, Manaslu saw record summits and there was high traffic on Cho Oyu. These peaks are often used as the final peak before going to Everest. Also, after the tragic seasons of 2014 and 2015, 2016 was a relatively safe season thus giving many people the false confidence that 2017 will also be safe.
Finally, the Chinese are telling Nepal operators that they will limit the number of foreign (non-Chinese) climbers in Tibet in the autumn of 2017 because of “a large meeting held in Tibet at that time.” This may encourage some climbers to jump on the Everest train rather than wait. They are saying no more than 50 on Cho Oyu and none for the other peaks including Shishapangma and Everest. Check with your operator BEFORE sending any money and get cancellation insurance if you do.
I hope I am wrong on the chaos but the crowds look certain. Operators will have to work together like they never have to have a safe and orderly season plus there must be over 10 days of suitable summit weather to spread out the climbers.
Cost to Climb Everest
As I covered in my annual “How much does it cost to climb Mount Everest” post, look for prices to be higher overall but still deals to be found attracting experienced climbers.
The headline for 2017 is that all expedition prices crept higher but climbing from China saw a huge 22% increase. The permits for a medium size team of four or more climbers increased from $7,000/climber to $9,950/climber or 34%.
The price range for a standard supported climb ranges from $28,000 to $85,000. A fully custom climb will run over $115,000 and those extreme risk takers can skimp by for well under $20,000.
Guided climbs on Everest is like any competitive marketplace driven by supply and demand and the demand is huge! As I’ve noted for years now, more and more Everest climbers are coming from India and China adding to the historic demand from the Americas, Europe and Southeast Asia. Meeting that demand are many Nepal based guides. China is making huge moves to capitalize on the tourist demands from their own country which will add to the crowding. With this year’s permit increase they are paving the way to reduce the price difference with Nepal.
Bottom line: Look for Everest to become more crowded and more expensive over the next five years.
The Grand Dame of all Everest statistics, Ms. Elizabeth Hawley reports on the Himalayan Database that there have been 7,646 summits of Everest through June 2016 on all routes by 4,469 different people. 1,015 people, mostly Sherpa, have summited multiple times totaling 3,861 times (included in the 7,646 total summits). The Nepal side is more popular with 4,863 summits compared to 2,783 summits from the Tibet side. 197 climbers summited without supplemental oxygen, about 2.5%. 14 climbers have traversed from one side to the other. About 60% of all expeditions put at least one member on the summit.
282 people (168 westerners and 114 Sherpas) have died on Everest from 1924 to June 2016. Of the deaths, 109 died attempting to summit without using supplemental oxygen. 70 climbers died on the descent from the summit. The Nepalese side has seen 4,863 summits with 176 deaths through June 2016 or 3.7%. The Tibet side has seen 2,783 summits with 106 deaths through June 2016. or 3.8%. Most bodies are still on the mountain but China has removed many bodies from sight. The top cause of death was from a fall, avalanche, exposure and altitude sickness. 640 people summited in spring 2016 from both sides and there were 5 Everest deaths.
From 1923 to 1999: 170 people died on Everest with 1,169 summits or 14.5%. But the deaths drastically declined from 2000 to 2015 with 5,832 summits and 112 deaths or 1.9%.However, two years skewed the deaths rates with 17 in 2014 and 14 in 2015. The reduction in deaths is primarily due to better gear, weather forecasting and more people climbing with commercial operations.
Annapurna remains the most deadly 8000 meter mountain with one death for every three summits (71:255) or 28% thru 2016.
I use the Himalayan Database as my primary source of Everest summit statics. If you are climbing in 2017, they are asking you to fill in an electronic web-based survey. This replaces the time consuming process of visiting each team in their hotel before the climb. Please use this link to complete the survey.
I have begun to create my annual team location table and tracking climber’s blogs (see sidebar). If you have a team not listed, please let me know and I will add them if I can track them. If you prefer not to be mentioned, please contact me.
I will post a few background articles and interviews between now and early April when the teams arrive at the base camps. If you would like to see anything special this year, post a comment or drop me an email.
Here’s to a safe season for everyone on the Big Hill.
Memories are Everything