The second week of May 2017 finally brought summits on Mount Everest. The ropes were set to the summit on the north side and then 18 people summited, including Lhakpa Sherpa with her 8th summit, a record for female climbers.
Update: a small team of Sherpas may try to fix the ropes to the summit on the Nepal side Monday 15 May during tiny weather window. But most teams continue to look at 21 May as main summit opportunity, some could try a quick run before.
2017 is looking to be one of those years on Everest that is very difficult to navigate. North teams have experienced a mix of weather from great to harsh, while on the south, is has been difficult almost from day one.
The forecast calls for a window of a couple of good days but then it shuts down as quickly as it opened leaving climbers stuck in high camps uncertain of their next move.
For a few teams, they brave this uncertainty and succeed. But the gamble is huge. Long time Everest pros are content to sit back and see what happens, not risking their staff or members with unnecessary risks.
But the waiting is taking a huge toll, especially on the south side for some, others take it in stride.
A flu bug seems to be ravaging the Khumbu valley and has an impact on climbers. EverestER has seen more patients thus far than in the entire 2016 season – and over half are Nepalese. Some teams already have a 30% attrition from health and personal reasons exacerbated by the delays.
This next week shows the usual tiny weather windows and teams are positioning themselves to be ready if and when they materialize. This first wave on both sides could be record setting with such pent up demand.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had with American climber and guide Dave Hahn earlier this year. Dave was famous for being one of the last to summit year in year out. He set the non-Sherpa record for summits at 13.
AA: Over the years you were often one of the last parties to summit Everest. Was this by design to avoid the crowds or just the way things worked out?
DH: It was by design, for several reasons. While it is far more convenient for guides and guide companies to get Everest wrapped up in early May, the mountain can be a lot tougher for “normal” folks when it is bitterly cold, the route isn’t well-established and there are too many people going high all at once. So I was often waiting for better -easier- conditions and for the crowd to thin out. That strategy wasn’t always working anymore… the spring season was getting so busy that the crowd was no-longer thinning out.
With that, let’s review where we are and what to expect.
With a bit of a mystery, the Chinese Mountaineering Association rope fixers on the north side stopped at 8300 meters, Camp 3, and said the commercial operators needed to take over. After a confab at base camp, nine Arun Trekking Sherpas working for the Indian team of Transcend Adventures finished the job and the route was opened to the summit on 11 May 2017.
The Sherpa rope fixing team included: Lhakpa Nuru Sherpa, Lhakpa Gyalgen Sherpa, Sanduk Dorjee Tamang, Tenzing Chhotar Sherpa, Karma Gyaljen Sherpa, Mingma Nuru Sherpa, Fura Tshering Sherpa, Lakpa Sherpa and Pasang Chhiri Sherpa.
1st Team Summits
Close on their heels was the first of two sub teams of the Indian company Transcend Adventures. Six teenage climbers summited along with ten Sherpas on 13 May, marking the first non-Sherpa summits of the season. These climbers deserve all the admiration of any Everest summiter for a climb well done. Great job team.
On the same day, Lhakpa Sherpa at 44 set a female record for most Everest summits with her 8th time to stand on the top of the world.
Climb Up, Climb Down
On the south side, a tiny weather window was seized to take the ropes from the Balcony to the summit, but usual for this year on the Nepal side, the winds returned along with cold and the rope fixing team never even left the South Col, returned to Base Camp to regroup.
Several stronger than usual climbers had positioned themselves as high as Camp 3 ready to shadow the Sherpas and claiming the first summits for foreigners on the south side in 2017. But as the Sherpas were forced down, the climbers had no choice but to follow.
Watch and Wait
On a roller coaster of emotions, for some, teams now sit at base camp wondering when their time will come. The south is clearly more in flux in 2017 than the north.
On the north long time Everest north side climbers like 7 Summits Club’s Alex Abramov has already moved his team to the high camps anticipating something on 18 May. But the huge Chinese team of over 80 people are content to watch from base camp … for now.
On the south, team after team fled base camp for the thick air lower down in the Khumbu. Now most have returned to EBC to stand watch.
How Late is Late?
Wth patience thinning, some climbers are simply giving up, acquiescing to the unpredictability of Everest and the physical and mental demands of living at 17,300 feet. But that may be a mistake. I looked back at some Everest history and found my own post in 2005 saying:
The summits on May 21, 2005 were the latest first summit day in 45 years of climbing Mt. Everest. Norgay and Hillary did it on May 29, the earliest was April 4 in 1984.
But the frustration is real. Climbers, families and watchers keep asking what’s going on with the weather this year? Long time operators like Eric Simonson of IMG simply says:
I reminded the guides of my Everest trip in 1997 when we waited at EBC for 17 days after the C3 rotations before we had a good weather window to go for the summit. Hopefully it does not take that long this year!
Those on the south are envious of those on the north who are threading tiny weather windows and reaching the top.
Last week I asked a Colorado meteorologist what’s going on over there? Chris Tomer through his company Tomer Weather Solutions is providing forecasts for Everest climbers said it’s all about high pressure and blocking moisture:
… 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.
Given that Chris makes predictions for a living (and has a thick skin), he suggest another tiny window on 15 May then look at 20-22 for a bit longer window.
Rush, Wait or Leave?
So what will the teams do? This year is when operators earn their money.
They must calm member’s nerves, make go/no go decisions and be willing to end up as a hero or a goat – the life of guides!
Perhaps the biggest decision for those on the south to make is when to go that minimizes the risk of getting stuck in long lines.
As I’ve discussed a lot this season, if there are only a few suitable summit days, you have hundreds of people squeezing into a small window – and risks of standing in line at the usual spots increases.
Frostbite, running out of oxygen, fatigue are all candidates for a climber’s demise.
But if you wait too long, then maybe the next window does not materialize and thus far, it has proven difficult to make a prediction that was 100% correct.
Given all this, the attrition has been fairly large on the south side – perhaps over 30%. As disappointing as it is to leave Everest without an attempt, it is good news for those left behind as the crowds are now back to a normal busy year and not a record year.
But the Mountain Trip team showed confidence with this post from Jacob Smith:
Two thumbs up! Making a list and checking it twice. We’re back at Everest base camp and going over every last detail before heading back up the mountain. The team is in great shape and excited to start our summit bid. Just waiting for the weather…
Yannick Graziani has had enough and left for the summit today:
I was tired of waiting for CB and losing my acclimatization. I left at 15:30 and arrived at C2 at 9:00 pm. I went up alone, I curd the last two hours. Tomorrow I climb to C3. There may be a niche on the 16th for the summit. Then after the C3 I will climb to the South Pass with my little tent and we will see. If it can not go up, it will make another pass to 8 000 and it’s good for my acclimatization. The advertised temperature is very low at -30 on the final part. But it is okay. I have great appetite. Well I’ll put a bottle of hot water on my feet and sleep. Ciao friends.
On the north, it seems things are a bit clearer – if you take the previous few weeks as a marker. They are assuming the windows will emerge over the next few days and another will develop after 20 May. So they are proceeding with confidence.
2017 really has become a tale of two mountains and a test of motivation to summit the world’s highest mountain.
Lhotse – It’s still there!
The often forgotten about neighbor of Everest, Lhotse – the world’s fourth highest peak, has 100 permits issued. I was contacted by some of them expressing anger that the ropes were not set to the summit. But now it seems everyone is calming a bit with a dedicated effort of two independent climbers and two Sherpas are working on the route.
No Money, No Climbing
The climber without a permit on the Nepal side apparently was fined $22,000 and faces jail time if he cannot pay the fine. He was last reported to be traveling back to Kathmandu.
Mixed Results on the 800ers
As we watch Everest, there are teams on other 8000 meter mountains and similar to Everest, there are mixed results and difficult weather conditions.
Romano Benet and Nives Meroi summited Annapurna completing all 14 of the 8000 meter peaks without supplemental oxygen.
There were reports of summits on Makalu and celebration on Facebook, but others say the climbers, lacking fixed rope to the summit, suggest they only reached the fore summit. However, Mingma Sherpa of Dreamers Destination posted he stood on the summit and declared on Facebook:
We reached Makalu fore summit at 9:03am on 11th May and I reached main summit at 10:18am. My partner Tashi and Jingxue(Chinese) reached at 10:48am after I put the final rope. Rope was not fix to main summit and we had to use our own 60m+20m main rope which we almost left at camp3 after some people told it was fixed till Summit. Makalu wasn’t easy mountain as I used to hear. I felt like it’s completely nonsense to say Makalu is one of easy Peak among 8000m.
UPDATE: Mingma posted more summit photos on his Facebook page
Laszlo Pinter tells me the Manaslu team gave up after reaching Camp 2 in difficult conditions:
I just got a very short message from the Hungarian climber Peter Wetzl, who was aiming to climb and ski Manaslu. It looks like they all called it quits. Only four guys started a summit bid, but as far as I know they did not make it higher than Camp 2. This has to be confirmed though, but I haven’t got further response yet.
The Sherpani team on Kangchenjunga is moving higher hoping to summit soon and there were summits on Dhaulagiri and more teams will hopefully also summit this season. No recent updates from Simone Moro on his multi-peak ridge climb on Kang.
Best of luck to all and I wish them a positive experience regardless of the result.
Memories are Everything
This Weeks Posts:
Why this coverage?
I like to use these weekend updates to remind my readers that I am just one guy who loves climbing. With 35 serious climbing expeditions including four Everest trips under my belt and a summit in 2011, I use my site to share those experiences, demystify Everest each year and bring awareness to Alzheimer’s Disease. My mom died from this disease in 2009 as have four 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.