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May 112017
 
full moon above the Khumbu icefall. courtesy of Ben Jones

Big, positive news from Everest, the ropes were fixed to the summit from the Tibet side on 11 May 2017 around 4:30 pm. Meanwhile, the Nepal side climbers are settling in for a bit of a wait with those ropes not expected to be fixed until 17 May.

Cooperation on the North Side

The ropes on the north side have been managed by a team of Tibetan and Chinese climbers based out of Lhasa. For years, there was a climbing school in Lhasa that trained climbers on rope fixing and climbing techniques. A similar function is performed in Nepal today by the Khumbu Climbing Center.

For years, Russell Brice, Himex team, lead the rope fixing effort on the north. After 2008, when the Chinese effectively closed the north side in order to avoid any anti-Tibet protests while they took the Olympic torch to the summit, Brice moved to the Nepal side and the CTMA took over.

This has been going fairly well, albeit with some teams complaining that the ropes were installed later than desired in some years.

This season, 2017, brought some uncertainty when the rope fixers got the route set to Camp 3 at 8300 meters, then stopped work. I have asked sources directly on that side for the reason and they seemed as mystified as anyone for the work stoppage. In any event, the teams gathered to get the job completed.

On the South, the Icefall Doctors have responsibility to fix the route from EBC to Camp 2, then Sherpas from multiple teams come together to take the route to the summit. The Icefall Doctors are paid thru permit fees, but the commercial Sherpas are paid a bonus and the material cost is funded thru additional money from the climbers, often included in the price of their expedition.

Anyway, on the north this year, each climber at base camp was asked to pony up $135 to pay for this effort from 8300 meters to the summit. Usually the largest team takes ownership of fixing the ropes since they have the most support staff. In 2017, the Chinese team with something like 45 support staff and Transcend with around 25 Sherpas were the likely candidates.

The Chinese team said they would get the ropes and anchors to 8300 meters but couldn’t go higher and still support their members. So the Transcend team stepped up to finish the job. A technicality here, actually the Sherpas are termed as working for Arun Trekking, a Kathmandu based guide company, but Transcend, an Indian company with an office in Kathmandu, has the climbing permit. Thus we are seeing that both companies are proudly taking credit for getting the ropes to the summit.

Is anyone still reading this?  🙂

If you want to read even more, guide Zeb Blais has an excellent blog on the subject plus other activity on the north side.

Certainly the climbers on the Tibet side are thrilled that the road is open and now they can finalize their plans to summit.

Same Mountain, Different Weather

So what is up with the ropes getting to the top from Tibet but the Nepal side is locked down with high winds and deep snow. Isn’t it the same huge rock? Well yes and no – the key word here is huge.

I thought I would ask a world-class meteorologists this question and get a factual answer.

Chris Tomer is a meteorologist in Denver Colorado and provides weather forecasting for climbers all around the world in addition to being a climber himself and forecasting for the huge recreational community in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. He is currently providing weather forecasting for climbers on Everest this season thru his company Tomer Weather Solutions.

This is Chris’ take on the tale of two mountains:

… it looks like the higher pressure readings are on the North Side. And we’re talking true mountain meteorology here. If that’s the case you’ll have a pressure gradient at the Lhotse Face and a dominate North Wind off the Lhotse Face/Everest/Lhotse massif that acts like a wall pushing the clouds and precip south or at least blocking it from flowing over that physical barrier. Tends to keep the North side cleaner right now.

I do see where the absolute flow of moisture is heavier on the Nepal side and that fits with the idea that the higher pressure readings are on the Tibet side. So, what does this all mean? For the time being the North side is more stable. The north wind is holding the moisture on the Nepal side.

So this explains why the north has been pretty nice, including an excellent day today to summit, but Chris suggests a change is in the air:

However, climbers will still run into the same bitter cold higher on the mountain and unless they are climbing to the summit in the next two days their fate will be the same as the Nepal side with the jet stream returning in a few days.

Light summit wind the next couple and some light snow for the Nepal side. Then jet moves back over summit and influences both Nepal side and Tibet side equally.

So the window remains open for climbers ready to get to the summit. I won’t be surprised to see a slew of north summits before this window closes.

North Updates

This from Tony Mills with Adventure Peaks:

The plan is definitely to go for a summit on the 16th but the window is very very slim, the weather isn’t behaving to well at the moment. If we don’t take this opportunity we may have to wait for at least another week, so we will be threading that needle to a certain extent. We can sit at abc for a day or two if it doesn’t work out we come back to bc. Other teams are on the move tomorrow as well so the 16th has some credibility, we’ll see!! Hopefully we can just get this done now!

Brooks Entwistle, who arrived at EBC only last week, 2 May, after “pre-acclimatizing” at home made this post:

Today our @alpenglowexpeditions team was resting, but that wasn’t true for everyone on Mount Everest. The first team of the season reached the top, fixing lines to the #summit! The next couple days are our final acclimatization climbs before we’re ready to summit. Then it’s all about the weather

High profile German climber, Ralf Dujmovits , is attempting to get Everest without supplemental Os made this update: click to see his Instragram photo

Yesterday I came back from another acclimatization loop on the Tibetan side of Mt. Everest. I spent one night in CII (7,700 m) where I had a relative good night – beside some slight disturbance from my stomach which told me at 3 a.m. to leave the tent in less than 20 seconds…. In this picture – taken by a Tibetan Highporter of a Chinese expedition- you see me zig-zagging up the snowridge leading from the North Col to CII. In the background you see Pumori (7,161 m), Cho Oyu (8,188 m) and Gyachung Kang (just below 8.000 m, from left to right). It was a beautiful, almost windstill day – until I reached the camp side where snowfall and some wind started. I’m here to undertake my 8th and definitely last attempt to climb Everest without supplemental oxygen. Everest is the only of the 14 8000m peaks on which I used oxigene during the summit climb (early October 1992). Since then I tried six more times to reach the summit without supplemental oxygen. Each time something went wrong or circumstances were not good enough. . . . .

Near Summit on South

This season is turning out to be disappointing for some climbers. David Tait and Kenton Cool with his member Rob Owen, were part of the Himex team hoping to shadow the Sherpas fixing the rope to the summit over this past weekend. It was a true roller coaster of events and emotions.

David posted a detailed description but this is the money quote:

What happened over the next 2 hours can only be described as desperate pleading. Kenton and I repeatedly pleaded with Russ to be allowed to continue, even to the extent that we, ourselves fix the rope. All we needed was a little Sherpa help – just a couple of guys. Russ had the full picture of course. He on the one hand had Kenton and I pleading like desperate children, but he knew, from his interaction with Phurba, his chief Sherpa quite how desperate conditions were on the Col. He also knew the logistical situation – how much oxygen was left after the previous days labours etc. He also knew that the Sherpas were to a man coming lower – they couldn’t work in such conditions. All this felt surreal to Kenton and I sitting in two tents and zero wind.

Climbers on either side facing a delay for any reason should read this thought from David and let it sink in, especially if this is their first time on Everest:

After 5 successful climbs of Everest in 12 years and 12 long months of my life spent in our around Everest BC for the Nspcc, I had tried to do something a little different. I had tried to condense the expedition into something I personally could more easily cope with. The physical element was within me/us. Indeed we stood on the cusp, only to be thwarted by a plethora of circumstance.

I could, as I have done so painfully in the past, simply sit and wait for a second, much later May window. Indeed I waited 10 excruciating weeks in 2005 – but that was for my first summit – I would have waited forever.

David Tait has left Everest Base Camp for home.

Nice Timing!

For the Benegas Brothers (Willie and Damian) team, their timing seems pretty good:

Team 1 of Mac Reagan and John are up on the Lhotse face today, touching what will be their highest point ever before our summit push in a week to ten days, they’re climbing strong and have remained healthy, seriously a massive achievement this year! A perfectly timed final rotation as we expect heavy snowfall from tomorrow afternoon through next week. During which time we’ll be hunkered down back at BC with our amazing RV heater! We’re lucky enough to have this great new machine this year, solar power, great shower, projector, movies, and a chill area as well as dining room! Truly our best BC set up ever.

Team 2 Giselle and Alberto will rotate after the storm, also fine for a second summit window, patience and keeping moving is all part of the game here! Meanwhile we have been playing in BC with them, enjoying some fun ladder practice, sunny mornings, birdsong, and views of some impressive (safe) serac fall from the Lo La Pass after recent snow.

Never say Never!

For teams on the Nepal side, they are being told the ropes won’t be to the summit until 16/17 May. I can tell you from personal experience how tough this news is. For some, a general depression has set in on that side.

In 2011, I was given 4 hours notice to leave for my summit push. We went to bed with a weather forecast that said bad weather for another week, then an updated model was used that said there was a tiny window in 3 days from then so off we went. I summited 3 days later.  Never say never on Everest!!

Holiday Down Valley

Many teams will go down valley to spend their time in the relatively oxygen rich environment but there is a big risk to that.

Ricky Munday, one of my favorite posters this season, posted on Facebook his thoughts on interacting with trekkers on the north side:

We arrived back at basecamp yesterday after a couple of relaxing days in Shelkar. We had been joined a couple of weeks ago by some ‘trekkers’ who were heading to ABC or the North Col. From my rather selfish and focused perspective, this had felt like something of an unwelcome intrusion, and created a potential infection risk for the climbing team.

For whatever reason, almost every trekker became unwell, and sharing a mess tent became a somewhat unpleasant experience – we knew that some trekkers had uncontrollable diarrhoea and had soiled their sleeping bags and tents – and yet we would share meals with them 3 times a day. It was a relief to escape to Shelkar for a couple of days. Yesterday, when we arrived back in BC, all the trekkers had returned from ABC and so rather than eat lunch in the mess tent, I chose to hunker down in my tent with some dehydrated noodles.

This is a common story amongst climbers on all expedition style mountains. Once you spend a few weeks with your teammates, everyone mostly has the same bugs. So when new people are introduced from late arrivals to trekkers or during visits to tea houses, the same “de-bug” process starts all over. For this reason many climbers will stick out any delay in the relatively immune confines of their base camp.

Fewer Climbers

I predicted a record year this year for summits on Everest but it is looking more and more to be just another big year on the Big Hill. The record was set in 2013 with 658 total summits from both sides. In 2016, 641 climbers made the summit from both sides.

Everest North Summits. source: Himalayan Database

Everest North Summits. source: Himalayan Database

North

There are fewer people on the north than I anticipated. Even though there are two teams that total over 125 climbers (foreigners and support), some teams have pretty low numbers. So, the north is not proving as popular an alternative to the south as I thought.

Perhaps the news that China is severely limiting climbing in the Autumn influenced some people about the stability of climbing in China. Then some teams that tried to climb other peaks in Tibet were refused entry because they had Pakistani stamps in their passports.

In any event, the north, with a reported 306 total humans is not a record but still high for that side.

However, no one is complaining of standing in queues while acclimatizing.

 

 

 

South

Everest South Summits. source: Himalayan Database

Everest South Summits. source: Himalayan Database

On the south side, a record number of permits were issued at 376, including 70 that used permit extensions from previous years,  but there has been anywhere between 20-30% attrition from foreigners on that side. With a 1:1 ratio of support, many Sherpas will not summit even though some may stay to get their summit in order to enhance their resume.

The flu bug that is rampant through the Khumbu has hit many climbers and entire teams this year creating another boon season for the helicopter business.  And with these recent weather delays on the Nepal side, some climbers will run out of time, as in the David Tait case, or simply run out of patience.

All this means that the south side will see significantly fewer climbers when the weather allows for summit pushes, maybe now in the 500’s  down from the 800’s.

Like on the north, no one is complaining of standing in queues while acclimatizing.

If you study both charts carefully, you will see the increase in total climbers on both side is coming for increased support staff. My view this is due to more inexperienced climbers and that operators are recognizing they need at least a 1:1 ratio if not higher.

 

 

 

Jornet Runs Cho Oyu

Kilian Jornet planning a speed run up the north side of Everest *thinks* he summited Cho Oyu as training for his Everest attempt. He is now back to Everest.

The Yellow Band was more technical than expected with some thin ice and mix climbing. Around 8.000m, it started to snow heavily, and I continued from the last rocky section to the summit plateau. I continued climbing without any visibility towards what I thought would be the summit. The summit of Cho Oyu is not a shaped one, so at some point I reached something that would be the summit. Honestly, I am not sure that this was the summit as I could only see my feet, but I was at some point around. Very happy with that! It was 3PM.

Cho Oyu’s summit is on a large somewhat flat plateau and somewhat elusive in bad conditions. Elizabeth Hawley was legendary in her interrogation of Cho Oyu climbers as to whether they made the true summit.

Annapurna Summit

Romano Benet and Nives Meroi summit Annapurna completing all 14 of the 8000 meter peaks without supplemental oxygen. A significant feat. Of the 35 people who have summited all 14, only  17 have done so without Os. source

Happy Birthday Buddha

May 10 was Buddha’s birthday, an auspicious day and a public holiday in Nepal. Many Sherpas on the south side had hoped to summit that day. With the full moon, Ben Jones posted this nice shot:

full moon above the Khumbu icefall. courtesy of Ben Jones

A bright full moon above the Khumbu icefall with some cold fog rolling into Basecamp last night. Fun taking a few night shots with @kephoto courtesy of Ben Jones

Climb On!
Alan
Memories are Everything

  10 Responses to “Everest 2017: First Summits!!”

  1.  

    From what I read, there were no south summits in 2014 unless taking a helicopter all the way to Camp II counts.

  2.  

    Thanks Alan, awesome post. I feel for those guys on the south side having to wait it out . I read in The Himalayan Times that nine Sherpas from the north side were on the summit at 4:30 pm.

    Can that be accurate? I thought 2:00 pm was the absolute last time to safely leave.

    Your thoughts? Thanks in advance!

    •  

      Sure. The first line of my post shows 4:30 pm as their summit time as well.

      Remember there is no one monitoring when climbers go up or down, only tradition.

      The “cutoff” is really designed for slow, commercial climbers who are going too slow and reach the summit out of energy and will have trouble descending.

      Almost everyone climbs to the summit in the dark, so – if skilled – one can downclimb in the dark … and these Sherpas are certainly skilled!!

      These days, most commercial guides try to get their members headed down no later than 10 or 11 am as it takes 4-6 hours to get back to a safe high camp and it’s good for them to down by dark.

      Hope this helps.

      •  

        Thank you very much for your informative and comprehensive reply. My bad for missing the time at the beginning of the post.

        I look forward with anticipation to your next dispatch.

  3.  

    Thanks for the comprehensive report Alan, and thanks to Chris Tomer for the shared weather knowledge. We here in the south side Base Camp will keep waiting…

  4.  

    Great post Alan, much appreciated. Take care of your leg. 🙂

  5.  

    Thanks, Alan. Another great post 🙂