Everest 2009 Season Coverage
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I summited Everest on May 21, 2011 and have climbed it three other times- 2002, 2003 and 2008 each time reaching just below the Balcony at about 27,500' (8400 meters) before health, weather or my own judgment caused me to turn back. When not climbing, I cover the Everest season from my home in Colorado as I did for the 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014 Everest seasons. 2015 coverage will start in March 2015. This page is my 2009 climb coverage.

South Col Route
281 Summits

See more of the south route description with pictures
Clickhere to see the route in motion

North Ridge Route
57+ Summits

See more of the north routes description with pictures
Everest South Route Map
Everest Route North Ridge
Team with blog. See Climber List
only team locations noted
BC
C1
C2
C3
C4'
SUMMIT
Team with blog. See Climber List
only team locations noted
BC
ABC
C1
C2
C3
C4
SUMMIT
* Adventure Alternatives (2)
e
          * Extreme Summit (17)
e
           
* Adventure Consultants (6)
e
       
6/9
* Adventure Peaks (8)
e
         
8/5
* Altitude Junkies (5)
e
       
2/1
* Gabriel Filippi
e
           
* Alpine Ascents Int. (19)
e
       
11/10
* Czech Team
e
         
2/2
* Asian Trekking Eco Everest (14)
e
       
3+/14+
* Everest Columbia 2009
e
           
* Croatian Women's Team (4)
e
       
4/4
* Canadian Mad Frogs
e
           
* Dream Guides
e
       
5+
* Chinese
e
         
20
* First Ascent (10)
e
       
9/5
* Manny Pizarro
e
         
1/1
* Explore Your Planet (3)
e
       
3/5
Japanese Kanagawa University Team
e
         
2+
* Finnish Ranger Club (9)
e
       
4
* Norwegians            
4+
* High Himal
e
       
2/2
               
* Himex (Russell Brice) ()
e
       
30/28
               
* Discovery Film Crew (4)
e
       
4/4
               
* IMG (15)
e
       
7/8
               
* Indian
e
       
11+
               
* International Adventure Alternative
e
       
13
               
* Singapore Women (7)
e
       
5/5
               
* Jagged Globe (13)
e
       
10/8
               
* Lasser Alpine
e
       
2/2
               
* Mountain Link (2)
e
                         
* Mountain Madness (3)
e
       
2/1
               
* Peak Freaks (10)
e
       
4/10
               
* Summit Climb (6)
e
       
5/2
* Summit Climb
e
         
5/5
* Atumas Taiwanese
e
       
6
               
* 7 Summits (17)
e
       
21
               
* Lhotse-Everest traverse (6)
e
                         
 
Total South Summits:
281+
 
Total North Summits:
57+
e= climb ended, x=last reported location, x+ = on summit bid, -x = descending h=high point. Summit number = client/sherpa Locations are estimates derived from public websites
If you appreciate this Everest climbing season coverage, please make a donation to this Alzheimer's research non-profit organizations:
Cure Alzheimer's Fund

See the latest updates for May 1 and earlier at this link.

Climber's Polls

More Climbing Polls

2009 Climbers

partial list with Blogs

- Alec Turner
- Adrian Ballinger
- Bill Burke
- Billi Bierling
- Bruce Parker
- Bud Allen
- Chris Dovell
- Christophe Vandaele
- David Tait
- Eugene Constant
- Gilad Stern
- Ian Rogers
- Johnny & Brain Strange
- John Golden
- Lance Fox
- Mike Farris
- Michael Morales
- Nic Cunningham
- Megan Delehanty
- Robby Kojetin
- Scott Parazynski
- Tomsky Arnold
- Valerio Massimo
- Wendy Booker
- Yuri Pritzker

Picture Galleries

South Col

South Col

South Col

South Col

Lhotse Face

Lhotse Face

Lhotse Face

Camp 3

Camp 3

Western Cwm & C1

Lhotse Face

Everest from Western Cwm

Camp 1

Khumbu Icefall

Top of the IceFall

Khumbu Icefall

Khumbu Icefall

Khumbu Icefall

Everest Base Camp

Puja

Everest Base camp

Dining Tent

Trekking to Base Camp

YAK

CHildren in the Khumbu

Helicopter at BC

April 30, 2009

Everest Potpourri

Climbers are all over the mountain's south side today - literally all the way from base camp to the south col. The majority are spread out from base camp to Camp 2 heading up for their Camp 3 rotation. So they are busy climbing or resting and rightfully not fooling around with computers! So here's some random stuff that is out there - no rhyme or reason!

  • The summit route will be put in before the first client climb by five Sherpas: two from IMG, two from Himex and one from First Ascent
  • First client climbers have now spent a night at Camp 3 after a good weather day with no snow accumulation
  • Following the youth movement, 17 year-old Erica Dohring is passing every test that Dave Hahn is putting in front of her and Johnny Strange reports he is feeling great and enjoying his iPod Shuffle at altitude!
  • Tim Rippel notes the Koreans packing very old trees off Everest that were used on Everest before the day of ladders to cross the crevasses. (this is really cool!)
  • You can buy first rate quality (not fakes) climbing gear in Kathmandu at Everest Hardware
  • Ed Viesturs follows a very similar acclimatization plan to everyone else with a tag of Camp 3 then an overnight at the camp before returning to base camp and then the final summit bid.
  • Mogens Jensen of Discovery Channel's Beyond the Limits series is trying to climb from the south this year with Asian Trekking.
  • It appears many teams are now using the TopOut oxygen mask instead of the old Russian MIG fighter pilot mask provided by Poisk

More updates today if available.


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April 29, 2009

The Lhotse Face

Another good day on Everest with fewer than normal updates from the teams and individuals climbers as they are at the High Camps now. But the headline is that there are a lot of people at Camp 2 preparing to climb to Camp 3 for the night. Take a look at the table above for your favorite team. The weather is holding in spite of some talk of snow over the next few days and no serious health problems are being reported (not that they would anyway).

Climbing Everest has several parts, sections or milestones but spending the night at Camp 3 may be the most significant step other than the summit bid. At 23,500' almost every climber will spend at least one night there before making their summit attempt. This is to force the creation of red blood cells by putting the body under extreme oxygen depravation and stress. And it is not pleasant.

By now we have read many dispatches about seeing the Lhotse Face, that steep rock wall that forms the west side of Lhotse Peak. It is mostly covered in hard ice with some thin layers of snow. While some parts are avalanche prone, the winds keep it from being covered with a lot of snow. The route hugs the safer sections and meanders with a steady angle interrupted by only a few flat sections. Sherpas usually fix one line for climbers to clip into and in steep sections, they put in two - an up and a down line.

While not technically difficult to ascend, it is long and can be brutal when the winds blows, clouds cover the sun or the sun shines brightly - in other words, it is rare when climbing the Lhotse face is not brutal.

Most teams like to start early, as in sunrise, to avoid any searing heat. Funny that getting hot is a big worry on Everest. But since everyone has the same idea, the route can be very crowded with over 200 climbers on the Face at any one time.

In addition to the climbers doing their rotation to Camp 3, the Sherpas are busy carrying tents, fuel, stoves and oxygen bottles to the South Col. While a few climbers might struggle to reach Camp 3 in under 6 hours, the Sherpas regularly climb from Camp 2 to the South Col (Camp 4) and back in the same time. All the accolades they receive are all well deserved.

The other item of note is the different ways of acclimatizing on the south side. I'll discuss this later this week as we see the Himex team make their first climb above 20,100'. A few dispatches have been posted that some of their team are now at Camp 2 and doing well. Keep in mind there is no right or wrong way to climb these mountains and there have been as many techniques as teams over the years, it is just interesting to compare them.

Meanwhile, not to be forgotten, the north teams have been just as strong with establishing camp at the North Col. For the first time in many, many years, it looks like the first summits will be from the south this time around.

Random Notes:
I noticed an interesting item from a Twitter posted from Scott Parazynski with IMG. He said

Teams are outfitting the South Col camp; route to the summit expected in the next few days!

Note that he said the route to the summit should in in a few days. If this is accurate, it would be a departure from the past when the summit route is put in by the first team to summit. But this is exactly how Russell Brice managed the north in 2006/7 and he may have had some influence in getting this changed on the south. By having the route installed by a few strong Sherpas, it would speed up the first summit day when there may be over 100 climbers on the route at the same time.


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April 28, 2009

Working the Route

Another day at work on Everest today. Sherpas are doing the behind the scenes work of hauling gear ever higher up the route, cooks are keeping everyone fed, porters are bringing fresh produce to base camp from villages down valley and climbers are climbing.

With the winds now more manageable, the Western Cwm and Lhotse face are quite busy. IMG reports that 11 of their Sherpas took gear to the South Col and six clients are spending the night at Camp 3. Himex is preparing to leave tomorrow morning for their climb to Camp 3. They will take about five or six nights including a one at Camp 3.

There are very few climbers, much less teams, that do not employ Sherpas to help with loads and setting up camps however the Airborne Ranger Club of Finland is one of them. They recently did a carry up the Lhotse Face and did a nice job of capturing their experience:

After around four hours and 500m higher we arrived at the first sites for tents. Here and there you could see broken tent poles, ropes, oxygen bottles, snow pickets etc. We had arrived at the site of camp3 at the height of approximately 7100m. We continued maybe 50 meters up and noticed that the good tent sites were more or less reserved. We decided to continue up the next serac to following level area. Maybe 30m to the right we saw a small snowy area covered by a small serac. We went there and noticed the place to be otherwise good but slightly airy.

Juha took the shovel and Tomi and me the tents from our backbags and started to dig a level area for the tent. After two hours of work we had the tent up and anchored solidly with ice screws, snow pickets and snow parachutes. We threw the food, stoves and gas into the tent, had a sip of hot dexal drink (that tasted wonderful in the cold and windy wall), coughed few times and were satisfied with the result, very good! It was the time to start to descend back to camp2.

A update for the Lhotse Traverse team from www.mountain.kz This is two days old so they are making good progress:

The team ascended to 7400. They've found good places for the tents. Very strong wind. Group 2 will climb to 7400 today. Baglan and Seguey Lavrov ascended from C2 to 7000 and then descended back.

With teams going for Camp 3, expect few updates from them over the next five days. As has been noted, they enjoy almost unlimited power at base camp and the full size computers to send dispatches and email. Up high, they are reduced to battery power and small PDAs. Many climbers do not have these tools at all.
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April 27, 2009

Weather Questions

As if on cue, the weather has turned from incredibly good and talk of early summits to one of running for cover from extreme winds and worries about keeping tents in place. As I have previously mentioned the last few years have seen a nice April moving to lousy early May weather. However, 2009 is a bit different with little snow on the upper parts of Everest, more instability in the Icefall than usual and an early melt-out at base camp.

I posed some thoughts to Michael Fagin of EverestWeather.com about all this. Michael is currently providing weather information to several teams on Everest and the daily summit conditions on this page.

Michael, is there a root cause for the warm weather the climbers are seeing thus far?
I think it seems to make sense that the lack of snowfall in the region might be a big player: Less snow from the winter means that the glaciers are faster to melt out and retreat, as that happens there are more rocks exposed and the rocks absorb more sunlight than the snow so this has the impact of making it warmer than normal. Also, less snow coverage means less reflection of sunlight than would normally be the case.

So, is this climate change we hear about so often?
Global warming an issue??? Hard to say. However, the Bay of Bengal has had above average sea surface temperatures for 4 of the last 3 months, perhaps that has impacted this.

Any idea what May will look like. As we move into summer, it should get warmer, right?
Warm May, premature to be able to say anything in that regard. Although some forecast models indicate above average temperatures over the next 2 weeks time.

And finally, any thoughts on the infamous summit window at this point?
Too early to talk about that as the winds have been an issue now. Best summit window usually is from the middle to the end of May.

So it looks like the expeditions will be dealing with some warm temps and windy conditions. Everest is always windy so most climbers can deal with that. The low snowfall and warm temperatures will have them climbing more on rock than snow on the upper flanks of the mountains - not my personal favorite condition but manageable.

These are pictures of the Triangular Face I took in 2002, 2003 and 2008 from the South Col. You can see the variable snow conditions leading up to the Balcony and then to the South Summit. The route is on the right side following the gully to the lower flat spot, the Balcony. Note the true summit is not visible from the South Col. 2009 is probably looking more like 2003 (middle picture) at this point:

Everest Summit Pyramid viewed from South Col in 2002 Everest Summit Pyramid viewed from South Col in 2003 Everest Summit Pyramid viewed from South Col in 2008

I noted that Adventure Consultants issued climbing helmets for their Sherpas (and I assume climbers) for use on the upper parts of Everest. Oddly, helmets are not normally used since there is usually more snow than rock. However, last year a basketball size rock nearly missed me below the balcony (I was not wearing helmet and it would not have helped anyway) so this is a good decision by AC.

All in all, the south will look and feel more like a traditional north climb with all the exposed rocks. However, we are talking weather so anything goes.

Meanwhile today is seeing mixed activity after some teams retreated to base camp from Camp 2 with the gusty conditions and others sticking it out. Report after report noted lost tents at Camp 2. Peak Freaks discussed their hasty retreat:

Everyone is back in base camp. High winds hit Camp 2 and for fear of loosing gear and tents if our camp remained upright, the Sherpas unassembled the tents and loaded them with rocks while the climbers retreated to EBC. It looks like a storm is moving in with considerable precipitation on May 1 from what I see on my weather report. Tim sees a dark cloud moving in that direction now. What does this mean? It means that all is normal for this time of year. The fact it had been so dry and calm was not normal. Reality sets in. Just when the climbers think it's going to be a cake walk, nature reminds you whose is in charge.

But for many teams, it is business as usual. Jagged Globe is headed back up to Camp 2 with a goal of tagging Camp 3. AAI's blue team is heading towards the Lhotse Face for an acclimatization climb, IMG's Sherpas are headed toward the South Col. Another busy day on the world's highest mountain.

Random Notes:
Today I saw a small, casual mention but one of significance in the climbing world. Gavin Bate wrote that bolts will be put into the Yellow Band to secure the fixed line. This is out of the ordinary for Everest's south side but was bound to happen one day. Gavin says:

... today I am charging a rather bulky battery pack for Gary Kobler who has brought up a drill to put in some bolts on the Yellow Band. At the big team leaders meeting the other week it was agreed to do this, since that particular section is so notorious for dodgy anchors and loads of old ropes.


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April 26, 2009

Everest 2009 Weekend Update, April 26

In spite of an Icefall that never stops shifting, the 26 Everest south side teams made excellent progress this week. Almost every team spent nights in the Western Cwm at camps 1 and 2. Some touched the Lhotse Face for the first time. But the big news was the route is now in to the South Col.

The movement of the ice in the Khumbu Icefall dominated the news early in the week and now it is high winds today. Climbers spoke of delays when a serac fell near the popcorn taking out some fixed ropes and ladders. Thankfully no one was hurt. In fact there were no reports of close calls.

While some saw this as a reason to to take an extra rest day other teams simply waited for the Icefall Doctors to repair the route and they continued higher. It seems the Doctors are doing a nice job this year, probably due to adding a couple more Sherpas to their team.

The weather continued to be relatively mild at base camp with Dave Hahn noting how fast the glacier was melting around their tents. When the Jet Stream parked on the summit of Everest, Camp 2 and above experienced extremely high winds. This created issues for the Sherpas trying to set lines and establish camps. Phil Crampton of Altitude Junkies said:

At 5 PM the jet stream seemed to descend directly upon us and after an early dinner we all hunkered down for another night of frustrating tent nylon flapping. The wind that night was a strong as I have ever experienced on any hill and several times during the night our team members and Sherpas had to strengthen the anchors on our Trango’s to stop them becoming kites. Unfortunately, our old school, and I mean old, Mountain Hardwear dome did not fare so well.
In defense of MHW, the guys in the warranty department have told us that the dome had seen better days, years ago, and it should be retired. We will take up a Stronghold dome tomorrow to replace the damaged dining tent. We were not the only team to suffer tent losses. Nearly every group had a toilet tent flying high as a kite and only being held down by some thin cord. Several teams lost their kitchen and dining tents due to the strong winds so we felt that we fared well considering.

For those of us who have been in Phil's old tent - goodbye and about time :)

In spite of these winds, Sherpas began to set the line up the Lhotse Face to Camp 3. This will be the highest camp the climbers overnight at until their summit bid. And on Saturday, Sherpas from several teams combined the get the route in all the way to the South Col. A huge milestone!

But Camp 3 is the next stop for our climbers. Due to the crowds, Camp 3 has actually grown in size, scope and location over the past few years. It used to be perched on a wide (not really) somewhat flat section just below a huge ice wall high on the Lhotse Face. Today there are two Camp 3's - one at the original spot and another a few hundred feet lower. The higher camp is better since it shortens the day by at least an hour when climbers go to the South Col but it makes the climb from Camp 2 slightly shorter.

The alternative acclimatization approach taken by Himex continues with all the team members summiting the 20,100' Lobuche peak. They thought they would finally experience the Icefall last week but Brice surprised them with another trip to Lobuche. He is concerned about the dangers of the Icefall. But sooner or later they will go through the Icefall and next week seems to be their time.

Meanwhile, news from Tibet has been sparse at best but enough so that we know teams are at the Chinese Base Camp , Intermediate Camp and Advanced Base Camp. I can assume at this point that the first trips have been made to the north col at least by Sherpas to establish tents.

And a report has the Lhotse-Everest team above Camp 3 on their way to the summit of Lhotse. I never know what to believe about these guys and also never to doubt what I hear. They may be the first team to summit this year from the south in alpine style so I doubt they will leave any fixed ropes behind!

I commented on the Everest youth movement but there is also the opposite side - climbers that were born well before Tenzing and Hillary summited. The latest is Sir Ranulph Fiennes - a remarkable story of courage and perseverance for the 65 year-old cancer survivor. He wanted to keep this 3rd attempt quiet thus avoiding all the pressure of a public climb but the Telegraph.co.uk broke the story. I could write an entire page, deservedly, to him but read his story at Mount Everest: The British Story.

So, everything is looking good for our climbers. Some reports of stomach problems have been reported by almost every team. A couple of chest infections as well and there was one climber who returned to Namche to visit the Dentist plus a Korean climber was helicoptered out with circulation problems. While disturbing for all involved this is pretty normal for Everest.

Next week will probably see a lot of rest days since the customary schedule is for climbers to take at least three days after returning from camps 1 and 2 for the first time. But later in the week they will return straight to Camp 2 in preparation for a night at the very uncomfortable Camp 3. Let's hope the fact that winds are picking up are not a harbinger of things to come.

Random Notes:
Thanks to all the readers and Outside Magazine, this site has been recognized as the #1 Adventure Twitters. But more significantly, Outside noted the connection with Alzheimer's and for that, I am most grateful, humbled and appreciative.


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April 25, 2009

Camp 3 Occupied, South Col Fixed

Cheers went up in base camp today with the news of two very significant events for south side climbers - there now occupied tents at Camp 3 and the fixed line goes all the way to the south col. These events will allow teams to send climbers for their "required" night at Camp 3 for acclimatization purposes and for the Sherpas to begin stocking the Col with tents and oxygen bottles for the summit bids. This is a big deal!

A couple of weeks ago, there was some discussions about who would fix which section and the planning generated a little controversy. But now everyone is best friends (not) and in fact IMG has listed the teams that are participating on today's dispatch. Perhaps omission is the point and maybe this is a little extra drama for the Discovery Channel cameras - after all we know after two seasons of Beyond The Limit that Discovery loves a good fight! Anyway, here is the list from Eric Simonson of who's doing the work on the upper routes:

Here is Jangbu's official tally of the teams that worked on the route, and the number of sherpas they contributed to the fixing each day, over the last three days:

April 23 -- Base of Face to C3 (double ropes fixed)
IMG 2
Himex 2
AAI 2
RMI 1
AC 1
Altitude Junkies 1
Jagged Globe 1
7Summit 1
Peak Freak 1
Asian Trek 1

April 24 -- C3 to Yellow Band
IMG 2
Himex 2
AC 1
Asian Trek 1
7Summit 1

April 25 -- Yellow Band to Col
IMG 2
AAI 2
RMI 1
Jagged Globe 1
7Summit 1

Thanks to those teams for the help with the route work! In addition a number of other teams helped carry rope to Camp 2 and donated gear, rope, etc. We'll have a complete summary in the future of who helped and who were the slackers!

Seems like Eric is serious about naming the names as he promised on April 17th!

Meanwhile, the Green theme is in full swing with Asian Trekking's Eco Everest expedition. Bill Burke reports a bounty on trash:

Dawa Steven and Asian Trekking are very high on protecting the environment in the Khumbu region and cleaning up Mt. Everest.  Thus, the name of our team “Eco-Everest.”  The day before yesterday, he concocted the idea of offering the Sherpas at Base Camp 100 rupees for 1 kilo of trash ($1.25 for 2.2 pounds).  This started a rush among the Sherpas to collect trash, and, as of today, 2 tons of trash has been collected, consisting of helicopter parts, tent poles, gas canisters, oxygen cylinders, clothing and other junk.  We have dubbed this project “Cash for Trash.”  As Dawa Stevens said in jest “I’m going broke.”  Now, we have to figure out how to get this trash down the mountain.  If any of you want to volunteer as porters to help carry down 200 pound helicopter parts, please let me know.

If you are new to this thinking, please read my interview with Dawa Stevens Sherpa where he explains his thoughts. You can also download a nice report from their previous Eco expedition. Nice job guys!

You have heard a lot about Russell Brice's Himex team using Lobuche as an acclimatization peak instead of the Icefall. If you are wondering what it looks like, Chris Dovell has some very nice pictures on his blog. Nice job Chris. After two consecutive summits of the 20,100' peak, it is time for them to move over to the Western Cwm. Look for Himex to join the crowds next week with a trip direct to camps 2 and then to 3 at 23,500' in preparation for their summit bid.

There is a real youth movement on Everest this year with two - 2! - seventeen year-olds up there as Dave Hahn reports:

Erica is not the only 17-year-old on Everest this year. In fact, two “Johnnys” were both camped within 100 meters of us last night -one with Damian Benegas and one who is working with Scott Woolums. And they both appear to be doing great. But I’m pretty sure that Erica is the first 17-year-old that I walked into ABC with.

Here's to the future of climbing.

Random Notes:
Wendy Booker, one of two climbers with MS on Everest this year, celebrated her 55th birthday today at base camp. For her party, she took a shower ... hey take what you can get! Happy Birthday Wendy.


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April 24, 2009

Knowing Yourself

The last couple of days have been critical milestones for the Everest climbers with the fixed lines now set to Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face. They have been staring at the Face with every trip up the Icefall, into the Western Cwm and even on trips to nearby Pumori base camp or Kala Patar. From afar it looks steep, icy and daunting. And up close, it looks worse!

Most climbers have spent several nights at camps 1 and 2 and taken a walk to the base of the Lhotse Face. Their climbs though the Icefall have become easier, faster and perhaps more comfortable but probably not. And they know that they are not even close to the toughest days they will face.

It is interesting how climbers are in a kind of ongoing competition. Not that this is all bad since seeing how you compare with others gives you a sense of how your body is acclimatizing. For example Bill Burke courageously shares his feeling about his performance yesterday on the first trip into the Icefall:

I was disappointed at my performance in the Icefall. I moved very slowly, which is planned and is not a problem. But, I was breathing a lot harder than I prefer on high altitude climbs. It just seemed like a really hard day, and when I returned to Base Camp at 10:30 am, I was pretty tired. But, Dawa and Apa rated my performance high, stating that I was moving at a good steady pace and seemed really strong. In addition, I am pleased that I got to the Football Field in 4 hours and would have arrived in Camp 1 in 6 hours or less, which is really good for someone my age.

Will Cross, who, like Apa Sherpa, is a climbing legend, took 6 hours to reach Camp 1, and he is a lot younger and more experienced than me. As I think back to 2007, I recall feeling the same way after the first trip up the Icefall. I will now be better acclimatized for the next rotation, so the trip to Camp 1 tomorrow should be a little easier. All-in-all, I feel pretty good sitting here right now preparing this report.

Melissa Arnot with the First Ascent team speaks of her competition with herself:

This morning ended my first rotation to Camp 2, and I am finally feeling that the climbing is starting now. My preparations for this trip started so long ago, when Camp 2 was only a small glimmer in the future, and a memory from last season. Now it is fully upon us, and this season is forming its own voice each day. I am here this year with a different eye and a different attitude than what I had last year. I enjoy thinking back to my trip and all of the joys and learning that it provided me…but this year is shaping up to be quite different.

Back at base camp there are the simpler challenges. Tim Rippel of Peak Freaks gives us an inside took at cooking at altitude:

The teams personal shopper arrived today from Namche Bazaar with a basket full of fresh veggies, fruit and steaks. TIDBIT: The cooking of fresh meat, potatoes and rice at altitude is extremely slow and high in fuel consumption. At 21,000 feet water boils at 185F compared to 212F at sea level. To get around this, the use of a pressure cooker is now an essential piece of equipment on any Himalayan expedition. I wouldn't want to be the Sherpa carrying it to Camp 2, ugh!

Progress is steady on both sides. The weather is holding. All systems are green ... or is that nominal for the astronauts out there?

Random Notes:
IMG reports high winds at camps 1 and 2 that took out some other team's tents. On the north side, teams regularly use a mesh net over the tent much like a rain fly to secure it. On the south, they usually use the largest rocks the can find to keep them from blowing away in a gale The north is significantly more windy than the south especially for camps 1 and 2 nestled in the valley of the Western Cwm - still it gets pretty windy.


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April 23, 2009

Back in Business, C3 In - updated

With the Icefall route back up, teams wasted no time in moving to camps 1 and 2. IMG reports the route to Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face is now in with the standard up and down dual ropes. More on C3 tomorrow. Looks like some the the Asian Trekking Eco team is now at C2.

Teams at Camp 2 spent the day visiting other camps, taking a short walk towards the Lhotse Face and generally resting while building those important red blood cells in their bloodstream. But for some just being on an Everest climb can be an emotional experience - even for a veteran.

Gavin Bate (Adventure Alternatives), who has been on Everest four times notes his personal reaction to being back in the Western Cwm:

Surprising myself, I found myself in tears at the sight of Everest, so familiar and this time so welcoming. Many people, my own mother included, talk of my relationship with this mountain in terms of obsessive, but few can really know what this mountain means to me. As a climber I am transported back to my childhood days, reading stories of the great Everest pioneers from the romantic stories of derring-do in the Twenties through to the Seventies when astonishing individuals and teams made history here. This mountain encapsulated all my dreams of adventure, which began with a book read by torchlight under the covers.

 

On the north more teams are now at ABC including SummitClimb's north side team. Sounds like they are progressing normally and have good communication links.

So kind of quiet today with teams either climbing higher or lower. This happens from time to time. While in base camp, they have access to power and decent keyboards on their computers. Up high most use a tiny PDA and have to tap on the small screen each letter of a dispatch. This "encourages" shorter dispatches. Also at base camp they often have higher speed Bgan satellite uplinks devices while higher up they use their Thuraya or Iridium handheld satellite phones which are much slower at uploading data. Thus we see shorter dispatches with few pictures.

But all seems on schedule with climbers managing the Icefall nicely in spite of the instability. As a side note, there are always seracs collapse and ladders falling in the Icefall each year. After all it does move three feet a day! So all the movement is as "normal" as it can be on a moving glacier. More on the weather and all this hopefully over the weekend.


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April 22, 2009

Snow Day!

As a kid I loved to hear the words "snow day" - no school, sleep late, play outside and no school!! Well yesterday was a snow day for our Everest climbers. With a serious serac collapse in the Icefall, most teams took the day off.

But the funny thing is that most of them were probably not that happy. You see, at this pont they have been away from home for nearly a month and most have only made one trip through the Icefall to the High Camps. So for some it feels like they have not really been climbing. The challenge becomes more mental than physically. Boredom is a real enemy.

Phil Crampton posted:

I expected our team members to be somewhat disappointed with the very early start and the abrupt return to base camp but the excitement shown on Joe’s face declaring a “Snow Day” means that we all must enjoy our environment at base camp.

And this is what our Astronaut Scott Parazynski had to say

I keep myself busy here at base camp by spending time with my teammates (often with visits to the Everest bakery), writing dispatches for this blog, taking short hikes around “town,” reading well-worn books from the IMG “library,” and listening to my Zen Nano. Regrettably I didn’t update my music list from last season here on the mountain, so the music is getting a bit stale… I also have an occasional satphone call with family, but the difference in time zones (Nepal is 10 hours 45 minutes ahead of Houston!) make it difficult to synch up on a regular basis.

And what about those teams already up at Camp 2? Well they had a similar experience - no school, sleep late and play outside - well kind of! When you do a rotation to C2, the idea is to do some mild exercise as in a couple of hours walk perhaps to the base of the Lhotse Face and then spend the rest of the day hydrating, eating and sleeping. Sounds lazy and relaxing but actually it is quite a lot of work at 21,500'.

Of course, there are always the overachievers :) like Ed Viesturs and Peter Whittaker. Dave Hahn noted their activities at C2:

Peter and Ed Viesturs were setting out to help pioneer the route to the base of the Lhotse Face. There are usually some crevasses to be probed out, marked and avoided in this uppermost part of the Khumbu Glacier. If they are successful at getting a safe set of tracks up to the “Bergschrund” (the giant crevasse separating the live ice of the moderately angled glacier from the static ice of the steep Lhotse Face) then it will be a big help to the teams of Sherpas intent on fixing rope on the Face in the coming days.

Some people just don't know how to "rest"!

OK, so hopefully the Icefall is back up and running today and over the next few days will see more gear carried to the High Camps thus setting up the next important phase of climbing the mountain - fixing the ropes on the Lhotse Face. But that is still a couple of days away.

Meanwhile, enjoy your snow day climbers!

Thanks to a couple of readers, I have added a new link to my favorite name for a team this season: Strange on Everest - a father son team of Johnny and Brian Strange along with 7 Summits Guide, Scott Woolums. Their blog is up and running as is Scott's. Follow the links from the table above. Thanks Greg.

Also an update from the north side Everest Columbia 2009 team. They have not updated their site but thanks to reader Betty, she passed on this message translated for me about their status:

How nice it is to feel the kindess of people. For this we are deeply grateful. We find ourselves at base camp which is at 5,200 meters. Our group is feeling strong and enthusiastic. For the moment you can contact us through our web page everestcolombia.com. We have not yet updated our website, as connection to the internet from the Chinese side is a little problematic. But your messages of encouragement are the best. Thank you and until later.
Everest Colombia 2009 - Vamos todos (means: Let's Go - Everybody!)

Daniel, Oscar, Anibal, Juan y Jorge

With all the issues in the Icefall, the Himex team might be feeling a little giddy about their decision to use Lobuche as an acclimatization and training peak instead of being subjected to the Icefall. And some are but some are ready to move on. By now all the clients have made the summits of Lobuche and are back in their base camp. The next step was to climb the Icefall into the Cwm. But Mr. Brice had a different idea.

Valerio Massimo notes:

I was hoping for some rest and then to go up through the Icefall, although I feared the worst as the Icefall has had four major collapses over the past three days due to the high temperatures, with many climbers coming within a whisker of getting flattened. We all gathered in the white pod and Russell announced the plan. He said he was aware that most people did not want to go back down the valley to climb Lobuche Peak again (this time to camp higher on the summit ridge), but that the guides had unanimously decided that it was safer, and therefore the first group would leave…today.

So we leave in half an hour for ANOTHER trek down to Lobuche BC, spend tonight night there, and then tomorrow (Thursday) climb all the way from Base Camp at 4,850 meters, though the col, and up to the summit, below which the tents will be pitched, all in one push – 1,300 meters of altitude gain on difficult terrain… We then plan to wake up on Friday on the summit ridge (having spent our first night above 6,000 meters), and descend all the way back to Lobuche BC for lunch, and then make the murderous climb back to Everest Base Camp the same day. I swear this will be my last trip up and down this valley.

However, it is not the same for every member of the Himex team. David Tait, who is climbing without supplemental oxygen is on a different scheme as he reports:

... Russ outlined the plans for the next few days. He announced that the climbers would be split into 3 groups, but instead of heading up through the icefall as many had desired, they would once again visit Lobouche peak. I, on the other hand, would proceed with guide Adrian Ballinger through the icefall to Camp 2 on the 23rd.

You could sense the crowds disappointment. However Russ's decision to send them back to Lobouche was the correct one given the fact that the icefall is so dangerous. I however, have to take the bull by the horns and move higher earlier, as my acclimatization has to be quick and aggressive.

Bottom line: no matter what your strategy for climbing Everest, it is hard work.

Alzheimer's Startling Fact:
The direct and indirect costs of Alzheimer's and other dementias to Medicare, Medicaid and businesses amount to more than $148 billion each year.


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April 21, 2009

First Time Everest Climber

According to the Polls on this site, 28% of you want to climb Everest one day. For many Everest followers, you hear and read about what it takes through books, movies and websites. However there is a nice opportunity watch it unfold with one of the best Everest guides of all time Dave Hahn.

Dave is part of the First Ascent team and is guiding 17 year-old Erica Dohring. She has summits of Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua and Denali under her belt. Her dad, Ed, is at base camp with her. Watch this video to hear her story in her own words - it is fun to see such excitement about climbing!

Dave is careful to keep her pace slow and steady and to "test" her before she needs to be tested. This is what he said about their test climb up the Icefall:

As we chugged up the first ice hills and watched the light begin to hit the highest peaks, it was already gratifying to see how much stronger Erica was than during our initial forays up the glacier. This “dress rehearsal” was undertaken in the hopes of giving Erica the necessary confidence for climbing through to CI… but equally important for Seth and I was our need to watch Erica and gain our own confidence in her abilities. Before we risk our own lives in accompanying her toward her goals, we need to believe she is ready to reasonably go after them. It is a delicate balance.

But Erica was doing a lot of good balancing herself as she stepped over bottomless crevasses and kicked up ice-walls on her spikes. Not to say that she had an easy time of it, just that her difficulties seemed no different than anybody else’s in the same awkward places. In our second hour of climbing, we moved up the “popcorn” section, which is just a bunch of SUV sized ice chunks heaped against one another like… popcorn… actually.

It will be fun to watch her on this climb. Dave is one the best guides out there in general but also in terms of his writing so I am sure the entire experience will be educational for everyone. Again you can follow his dispatches at the First Ascent site. She is in the safest hands possible. Climb High, Climb Safe, Climb On - and Go Girl Go!!

Meanwhile Adventure Consultants made their first climb to Camp 1 and then on to Camp 2. IMG is sorting through 150 oxygen bottles for proper pressure. AAI is taking their usual slow and methodical pace. By the way, they have one of the best summit records for any team on the south side and are one of the most expensive .. I wonder if there is any correlation?

The Lhotse Everest traverse team is back up the mountain on the most aggressive schedule of any team. First Ascents Viesturs and Whittaker are also at C2. Altitude Junkies is working their way back up. 7 Summits, SummitClimb, Adventure Alternatives are all above BC today. Anyway, it is quite busy - just what you would expect at this time of the season. I have tried to track the teams on the progress chart above so look up your favorite teams, click on the link and read what they are saying.

On the north, there is progress as well. SummitClimb is at the Interim Camp which is between the Chinese Base Camp (CBC) and Advanced Base Camp. Adventure Peaks has also arrived at CBC plus some of the other teams.

Random Notes:
Multiple reports of another serac collapse in the Icefall, this time mid way near the popcorn area. This halted a lot of the climbing today (Tuesday 4/21). Altitude Junkies reports 150 Sherpas turned around and came back to BC while other reports have some Sherpas finding a way around but delay was the order of the day. Late reports have the route back up now. The warmish weather seems to be playing havoc with the ice this year.


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April 20, 2009

The Western Cwm: The Hot and Cold of Everest

Every climber, regardless of route on the south side will eventually end up in the Western Cwm. Once called the Valley of Silence by first climbers, this is a 2.5 mile long valley carved out by the Khumbu Glacier which starts at the base of Lhotse Peak.

This week we will read many reports of climbers experiencing the incredible extremes in the Cwm. They are not exaggerating when they say it can go from 100F to below freezing in a matter of minutes. The sun reflects off the ice and snow laden west shoulder of Everest to the north and the flanks of Nuptse to the south. When a cloud layer masks the hyper bright sun light, the true nature of climbing at 20,000' becomes apparent.

However, it is not only the heat but also the lack of wind that makes this section miserable. With a few thousand feet of solid rock walls surrounding the Cwm on three sides, there is almost no wind at the ground level. So as you walk in layers of clothing designed for snow, wind and cold protection - in the heat of the day - and the sun comes out ... well, let's just say I hope you remembered your sunscreen.

This is what Ian Rogers had to say after some time in the Cwm:

... the radiant heat soars to a searing 40c, despite the ambient temperature being closer to freezing. We retreated to our tents for the afternoon, and as the cloud rolled in the temperature plummeted. By sundown it was way below zero, and the cold and altitude made for an uncomfortable night. Dawn brought cloudy, cold and windy conditions, but as we made our descent back through the icefall the sun slowly broke through, and it proved an energy-sapping last couple of hours into Base Camp.

As if this was not bad enough, the crevasse danger is also real. I know from falling into a deep crevasse myself in 2002 and watching our guide fall in in 2003. The frequent snow squalls create thin snow bridges over these deep cracks each night. In spite of hundreds of steps over the bridges, they hold up well - until one climber is on the wrong spot at the wrong time and whoosh. So smart teams rope up or least stay clipped to the fixed line for the section just into and out of Camp 1.

On a completely different note ... you knew it had to happen - cell phone service for the south side of Everest. According to this article, service will start in mid June (well after all the climbers have left!) to "provide an alternative to Thuraya". There has been limited service for the past few years but it generally was not reliable from base camp or above. It remains to be seen if this new repeater will reach to the Western Cwm, South Col and summit, - I doubt it - so climbers will still need a satellite phone with Thuraya being the best and Iridium another option.

The Chinese provided service on the north during 2007 and 2008 for their Olympic torch relay but is was removed. Word has it they have put it back up permanently but this is not verified. Speaking of the north, SummitClimb is now at the Chinese base camp which is the lowest camp for the north ridge route.

Random Notes:
Never to be outdone, Russell Brice crashed the cricket match at Gorak Shep and announced his own altitude record match when they get to the Western Cwm.


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April 19, 2009

Everest 2009 Weekend Update, April 19

With good weather for the climbers, the Icefall became the proverbial conga line of climbers heading to the High Camps. Several teams spent nights at camps 1, 2 and a few even climbed up the Lhotse Face but no one spent the night since the camp has not been established nor have the lines fixed quite yet.

The annual meeting of expedition leaders and sirdars was held to determine who and how the upper mountain would be fixed. As usual, it was not without a little squabbling with some teams feeling like they were doing all the work. But it was all resolved and the route will be fixed on schedule allowing Sherpas to establish Camp 3. I would not be surprised to see some lines fixed to the Yellow Band this next week.

Of course everything depends on the weather. Thus far it has been excellent but this is usually the case in mid to late April. A false prediction of an impending storm created a small panic when a cyclone over the Bay of Bengal hinted at heavy snow for Everest. Climbers made last minute descents to base camp but the storm never materialized.

The predicted crowds are there. I think Dave Hahn, guiding his 17 year-old client, summarized it nicely:

We began to deal with a lot of traffic, both up and down and this was actually an important part of the test (although I definitely had not arranged with the Russians, Kazakhs, Croats, British, Koreans, Americans and assorted Sherpas to meet on these particular ladders at this particular time). Everybody stayed patient and pleasant and with some careful downclimbing we reached the lowest part of the Icefall and walked into the warm sunshine. Peter, Ed and the team already at CI had been listening out on the radios to make sure we were ok, and it was with great pride and relief that I told them to shut off and save their batteries… we were going to be fine.

A serac fell in the Icefall creating some anxiety late this week but no one was hurt and the route was rearranged. Also there was a small avalanche near Camp 1 in the Western Cwm that gave some climbers a little shower. The First Ascents team caught it on video amazingly. We hear about the dangers all the time and this is proof that it is real.

Meanwhile the north side teams are making steady progress across the Nepal/China border via the Friendship Bridge to Tingri and Nyalam. Landslides created some delays but so far so good. they should be arriving at base camp around now. will be curious of we hear from them given the uncertainty of communications in this area.

A Personal Word from Alan
I want to thank everyone who is following this site and for the kind emails. I appreciate the feedback and support. I do this coverage for two reasons. First, I simply love mountaineering - it is a passion. Having the opportunity be on Everest three times was incredible so I want to help bring my and other's experiences to famlies, friends and Everest followers.

My second reason is most personal. My mother is in the late stages of Alzheimer's Disease. She no longer remembers me, my brother or her late husband of 60 years. Her memories have vanished. This disease will take her life.

Through the Cure Alzheimer's Fund , I raise research money. Nothing goes to me personally or to support this site or my climbing and a large project is in the works - more on this a bit later. Thank you.


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April 18, 2009

The Home Team: Becky Rippel of Peak Freaks - updated

The teams are progressing according to schedule with few surprises - well except for the avalanche on the Icefall route! More on that at the end of this post. Expect to hear from the various dispatches about spending nights at camps 1 and 2 - a serious introduction to high altitude slumber! But let's take a slight detour in the coverage for a moment.

We hear a lot from the climbers and owners of the guide companies especially during the Everest season but what about the behind the scenes people who keep family members informed, manage logistics and generally run the show - the unsung heroes of expeditions?

Peak Freaks in Canada is a great example of such a team. While husband, Tim Rippel is guiding clients on Pumori, Everest and other big peaks, Becky runs the show from their headquarters in Canada. One of the reasons I wanted to interview Becky, in addition to see how she manages the stress of managing an Everest expedition from far away, was to dig deeper into their unique "green" climbing model.

I have interviewed several owners this season and asked the same question about climbing green. Dawa David Sherpa of Asian Trekking is a good example of breaking new ground and other's give it their best shot. However Peak Freaks seems to have taken it to a new level for a Western company.

Here is Becky Rippel:

Q: As the 'home team' for Peak Freaks, what role do you play?
I run the administration end of things, everything from marketing to sales, accounting, web design and maintenance and client communications.

Q: How often do you hear from family members asking about their loved one?
In the initial phase, the trek in to base camp it's pretty quiet. They have all been told that I am here for them and that no one will understand their concerns more than me if they are starting to feel a little uneasy, which will happen around summit time. They are encouraged to keep in touch so we can all climb together.

Q: Peak Freaks is ahead of so many other companies in 'green climbing". What caused you and Tim to adopt this philosophy?
I would like to think we walk the talk and don't know any other way, it's always been our way of life. We live in a beautiful tree hugging community filled with pride, excellent planet saving resources at our fingertips which are the people. They practice exceptional green concepts. It rubes off on people. "The old saying "surround yourself with winners and you will be a winner", applies in here too. We built our own off the grid house. My grandfather lived off recycling all his life. Tim has always been a garbage cop. That's a whole other story for another time.

Q: Specifically what do you different than the other teams?
The use of biodegradable human waste bags are unique to us, for use up on the mountain. Everest is the only climb in the Khumbu that teams supply "or should supply" a High Camp toilet at Camp 2. All the other mountains in the Himalayas, Pumori, Ama Dablam etc. don't have High Camp toilets and neither does Camp 3 and above on Everest. We don't climb on Ama Dablam anymore, it is out of control with human waste spattered all over the route. This is why we are making a lot of noise about it right now. We moved over to the rarely climbed Mount Pumori for a new green start. It is our intention to make noise to let everyone know we "can" keep our playground clean and encourage other climbers to join us in this. We are "not" unique in human waste management. It's mainly a big problem in the Himalayas, which to me seems very wrong. Aconcagua, you bag it, Denali- you bag it, so why not in the busiest mountain climbing scene in the world? Heck, you don't even have to carry it, we have help for that.

We buy local: This is important to us. We make money in Nepal, we should kick it back at every opportunity, we feel this should be part of the "responsible tourism" criteria. Many of the Sherpas, now that they are aging, are starting up businesses of their own. We wish to continue to contribute to those families. Some have equipment and clothing stores now that we promote to our clients, encouraging them to buy from them. All their down needs, summit suits etc. can be purchased there now. Our tents are all made in Nepal, our fresh food is local, our canned food is bought in Namche and we store all our equipment in our Sherpa homes paying them rent that off-sets their revenue in the off-season and saves us and the environment in cargo going back and forth.

The list goes on, we make it our business to get around and learn about local options. Last autumn I spent my time in Nepal when Tim was on Pumori lining up new options and gathering information from suppliers and merchants. I am also working on a project with a rural farm in Nepal to see how we can manage organic boil in the bags- made in Nepal. This by the way is the only thing we import because we don't have a local source in Nepal, yet that is !

We are selective too, with regards to taking on things like film project offers and sponsor requests. If it requires a generator we aren't interested. Last year we lived by that policy. We had two film offers, one required a generator and one said it could happen without one, we took the second one. This year we were in conversation with Tim Hortons about setting up a coffee shop. We tossed around ideas. Things like we would have to run it as drip coffee, or perk, to get around using a machine that would need to be calibrated to work at altitude and would need a generator. Then we went back and forth with paper cups or tin cups. Tin cups can be washed and reused but fuel is required to heat the water. Cups you can burn in the lodges to supplement heat, is there toxins in the paper? trees are killed for paper cups! At the end of the day, we decided to not do it at all. However the time wasted on the thought was not waste at all. Through this process I learned that Nepal is now growing coffee!!!- that was complete surprise. A plantation visit on my next trip is in order.

Q: Does this have any impact on the prices you charge?
Oh yes, absolutely. We don't have any international cargo charges for one. Our local cargo charges are minimal as well. We are owner operated and we live a simple life so we don't need to make a lot of money. We are doing what we love and there is enough to get old on.

Q: Safety is always a big issue for Everest climbers and their families. What causes the most concern for you?
I don't like the ice-fall. It is a big chunk of nature that I don't think they have any control over. You can watch it and try to work around problems, but you will never have control of it. The other would be too many people on the route at the same time. Something has to give.

Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this season?
I think we all have to keep it in perspective as to why we are here and that less is better, Tim's motto: "all we should leave behind is footprints, small footprints!!! " Keep it simple!

You can follow the Peak Freaks season on their website and read more about the green concepts in action. Thanks Becky and best of luck this year to you, Tim and your team for a safe season.

General Updates (updated):
Speaking of Peak Freaks, Tim Rippel noted this change in the Icefall conditions yesterday:

... a serac fell off the West shoulder today causing some concern. Patrick had his camera out with the big lens watching it. We had some Sherpas up there, so Tim discussed the situation by radio with them and it was determined that the route in that section needs to be pulled away from that part of the mountain should more decide to come down. The ice-fall doctors are now working on the change.

And Phil Crampton of Altitude Junkies notes the plan for fixing the upper mountain as

The plan is to place two fixed lines, an ascent and descent line up the Lhotse Face and hopefully an ascent and rappel/traverse line on the Hillary Step to avoid congestion on summit day.

Their nine person team is planning on a trip to C2 and tagging C3 this week. Adventure Consultants and AAI are also looking at their first extended trips to the High Camps. Several climbers are noting the conga line of headlamps in the Icefall as they rise before dawn - mostly these are the hard working Sherpas making a "day trip" to Camp 2 ... yes a day trip with 50 to 80 lbs of gear on their back!!

Alzheimer's Startling Fact:
In 2000, there were an estimated 411,000 new (incident) cases of Alzheimer’s disease. By 2010, that number is expected to increase to 454,000 new cases per year; by 2029, to 615,000; and by 2050, to 959,000.


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April 17, 2009

Fixing the Route

Fixing the route is a necessary part of climbing almost all the big mountains from Denali to K2 to Everest. By fixing, this means putting up climbing rope (thin 9mm nylon line) - lines that climbers clip into to stop falls on steep sections or over deep crevasses. On Everest the route is fixed from base camp to the summit - over 11,500 feet of line. But who does the work and who pays for it?

Each season the leaders from all the teams including the Sherpa Sirdar gather to discuss who will fix which section, who will provide the material (ropes, pickets, etc.) and agree on a schedule. Yesterday there was a telling post from IMG's Eric Simonson that hinted at some frustration with process on the south side. He said in part:

This afternoon we had a meeting at BC with the leaders of a number of the teams, to discuss the route and how we are going to collaborate on rope fixing and route cleaning (of old tattered ropes). Since our IMG team is ahead of most of the others, we will start working on the route to C3 and Ang Jangbu will coordinate with other teams on their contributions to the effort. Based on preliminary commitments from the leaders meeting, I note that some teams are prepared to step up with significant contributions, while others are rather pathetic. We will post a complete list on the website in the near future of which expeditions have contributed, and how much.

Peak Freaks also commented on the meeting with this:

... about 30 people there ... The meeting was successful in organizing shared ropes and more. Russell Brice is putting up a good supply from the South Col to the summit, Eric Simonson is pushing his Sherpas ahead starting tomorrow with rope up the Lhotse face and our team and others are sharing rope and Sherpa power to fix the glacier.

So what is going on? First, let's define who does what on the south side. This is different than on the north where in 2006 and 2007 Russell Brice's Himex Sherpas took full control of the route fixing and then charged each climber a bargain $100 to use the ropes. In general everyone agreed to this since Russell's team did a good job. For 2009 the ropes will be fixed by the China Tibet Mountaineering Association, CTMA, since Brice is on the south.

Over on the south it has been quite a different model. The Icefall Doctors manage the route from base camp to Camp 2 including the Icefall. They are paid through permit fees from the Nepal Ministry of Tourism's Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC). But they stop fixing the route at Camp 2 just short of the Lhotse Face.

From Camp 2 to the summit the route is fixed by a loosely organized effort of teams. Generally they work together to fix the Lhotse Face to Camp 3 and then to the South Col or Camp 4. From here one team, usually the first team to attempt a summit, carries rope, pickets and ice screws on their summit bid and sets the route as they climb. In the last few years this has been Mountain Madness and Willie Benegas plus several strong Sherpas.

The deal amongst the teams is for each one to contribute material or manpower in return for "free" use of the line. And each year, some teams contribute and others tag along for the ride. Usually the largest teams end up doing most of the work and contributing most of the material. Some think this is fair since they are using the line most of the time. However, it takes an incredible amount of work to get the ropes fixed and teams that use it without contributing are viewed negatively.

So the drama gets tight each year during this meeting. Usually someone leads the meeting, Willie Benegas did it this year, and does a quasi role call of the leaders asking what they will contribute. You can guess how this goes. Some leaders say 1,000 meters of line while another says they will manage the route from c3 to the South Col and others say nothing. The conflict is set.

The Sherpas take great pride in setting the lines and often are vying for the role. In fact this post from guide Adrian Ballinger of Himex is to this point:

Our sherpas have been quite happy with the status of the icefall and are already jonesing to begin fixing lines on the upper mountain. But for now our priority will be carrying loads and establishing ourselves well as high as C2.

Remember that everyone uses the fixed lines including the Sherpas so this is not a matter of pride but sometimes it is life and death.

As an aside, when someone claims they climbed Everest solo and unsupported in these times, it raises the question of whether they ever touched one of the fixed lines or ladders. Sometimes solo does not mean unsupported and it is rare for anyone to make that claim in modern times. Maybe on a remote mountain like Shishapangma but not on Everest.

With ropes now fixed, at least to Camp 2, more and more teams are heading there to spend a few nights. The exception is Himex which is using the trekking peak of Lobuche for their acclimatization. They intend to climb to C2 and then spend one night at C3, return to C2 for a night and back to base camp - a total of one trip and three nights above the Icefall whereas as others will do three to four trips and at least six nights - more on this strategy later.

For now, climb safe everyone!

Random Notes:
The Discovery Channel cameras are "ever present" according to an email I received. Various repots of a snowy day at BC so expect some climbers to take a rest day.


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April 16, 2009

High Camps and Avalanches

You hear the word avalanche and think the worse but around base camp and the Western Cwm they are actually quite common. In 2005 an avalanche off the Nuptse Face hit Camp 1 and destroyed several tents and almost took some climbers with it. Thankfully no one was hurt. In 2006, Camp 1 was moved farther away from the mountainside and away from the avalanche debris zone still another small fall brushed the camp. Last year, we camped very far away and never had any problems.

So it is not a huge surprise to read from Seth Waterfall this comment on the First Ascent blog:

Camp 1 is a tricky place to camp. It is sandwiched in between the steep faces of Everest’s West Ridge and the north face of Nuptse. Both sides of the valley are prone to ice and snow avalanches. The trick there is to position your camp so as to mitigate the danger from both sides of the valley. Also the climbing route from Camp 1 to Camp 2 currently avoids the big crevasses in the center of the glacier but passes directly under some avalanche paths on Nuptse.

We were discussing the relative merits of two different campsites and where the climbing route will be the safest when a large avalanche came ripping down off of the summit of Nuptse. To our shock there was a large group of people on the climbing route, directly under the avalanche. Fortunately most of the snow and ice from the avalanche landed in the ‘moat’ between the glacier and the steeper slopes of Nuptse and the folks on the route, including some Sherpas from our team were only blasted with a ‘powder cloud’ from the avalanche. Still, this was a scary event and a reminder to be ever respectful of the power of the mountains.

They actually recorded the avalanche on video - nice job! Note the scale of the mountains with the size of the avalanche spray and the tiny climbers. Puts it all in perspective!

Meanwhile the Kazakh team for the Lhotse-Everst traverse were planning on climbing to Camp 3 for a touch and the return to Camp 2 today. I assume they will go without fixed lines or put some in themselves. This team is taking their own path this year in terms of schedule!

IMG's Eric Simonson just posted this update on the cooperation amongst the teams:

This afternoon we had a meeting at BC with the leaders of a number of the teams, to discuss the route and how we are going to collaborate on rope fixing and route cleaning (of old tattered ropes). Since our IMG team is ahead of most of the others, we will start working on the route to C3 and Ang Jangbu will coordinate with other teams on their contributions to the effort. Based on preliminary commitments from the leaders meeting, I note that some teams are prepared to step up with significant contributions, while others are rather pathetic. We will post a complete list on the website in the near future of which expeditions have contributed, and how much.

There have been a lot of concerns with the crowds this year and justifiably so. However the leaders of the major and largest teams such as IMG, AAI and Himex have been discussing this for a while. This is business as usual to some degree since there is no single approach to fixing the lines above Camp 2. The Icefall Doctors only go to Camp 2 and then it is up to the rest of the teams to fix to the summit.

So it looks like the teams are on track and doing well. They are taking advantage of the stable weather. The recent pattern is for April to have great weather but then, like clockwork, it turns windy and snowy on May 1 - let's see what happens this year!

EverestWeather:
Courtesy of Michael Fagin at EverestWeather.com, a service providing real time weather forecasting to many of the major expeditions this season, the current weather conditions on the summit will be posted daily next to the Google ad below the table on this page starting today. Thanks Michael!

Alzheimer's Startling Fact:
One in eight persons aged 65 and older (13 percent) have Alzheimer’s disease.


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April 15, 2009

Everest in 3 Easy Steps

First, an update from the Mad Frogs as they are now in Tibet:

... we finally managed to cross the border!  We're currently in Nyalam, Tibet with the Czecks and a mixed internal team (2 Spanish, 1 German, 1 Equatorian, 1 Polish and 1 Italian).  Can't wait to be at base camp.  We should be there in 4 days. According to CTMA, the Japanese are in Tingri now and should be at base camp tomorrow. 

In order to make things a little spicy for the teams coming behind us trough the Nepal/Tibet border, the Friendship highway on the Nepal side was hit by a large landslide last night...  This will certainly lengthen the already too long process to get here. 

SummitClimb reports being in nearby Tingri. This is good news for these teams since they have been playing the odds for several months now. The section Alex refers to is a notorious section near the Tibet/Nepal border within Nepal. I remember landslides there in 1997! The Chinese have been working for years to rebuild and improve their side and have made good progress but it somewhat unstable during all the construction and landslides are common.

OK, now how to climb Everest in 3 easy step!

Climbing Everest can really be broken down to 3 "easy" steps - 1) acclimatize through multiple climbs culminating with a night at Camp 3. 2) Then wait for a suitable weather window back at base camp or below and 3) go for the summit over a seven day climbing marathon. And of course any successful climb concludes with a safe return home so actually there may be 4 steps.

Now that the Icefall is in, it is time to start step 1. The teams will spend the next few weeks climbing up, over and through it, all towards the never ending quest of making more red blood cells - you know those little things that carry oxygen to our muscles. Details, details!

The standard schedule at this point is to make multiple climbs into the Western Cwm. First they climb to Camp 1 and spend a night or two. Some teams return to base camp for a brief rest break others continue to Camp 2 and spend anywhere from 3 to 5 nights before returning to BC. This is what will occupy most teams over the next 10 days.

Of course there are teams that are pushing their schedule to get to Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face as soon as possible. For example the Lhotse-Everest traverse team is pushing the hardest per their posting on russianclimb.com:

Kazakh climbers are actively preparing to the first high-altitude push. The team number 1 ... are going tomorrow to C2 (6400), then April, 16 - radial push to C3 (7100), then April, 17 back to BC. Kazakhs try to be in C3 asap, because there's no big room for 60 expeditions's tents, and very steep slope.

Honestly, this is amazingly aggressive but then again, I have learned never to question or doubt these strong climbers.

Each climb through the Icefall gets faster and faster with the first one-way climb taking anywhere from 4 to 6 hours. Aerobically blessed, Ed Viesturs, completed it in 3 yesterday but he is the clear exception for a Western climber. Sherpas also make the trip in 3 hours or less from the first outing. Once climbers are acclimatized the one-way time will be reduced to less than 4 hours perhaps 3.

The Sherpas are doing the heavy lifting as is always the case on Everest. They are ferrying tents, stoves, fuel, food and sleeping bags/pads to set up the camps as well as ropes, pickets and ice screws to fix the line above Camp 2.

And they will start carrying hundreds of oxygen bottles to the High Camps soon. With over 500 climbers on the south side and most using at least 5 bottles that is over 2500 bottles of oxygen that need to carried up - and down! At 6lbs each that is 2500 pounds or a ton just for oxygen!!

The western climbers usually carry their own sleeping bag and pad, extra clothes and their mask and regulator at some point. For most climbers they never carry more than 30 pounds and usually this around 20. But remember this is all well above 20,000 feet!

This is how Mike Farris, who is trying to go as self supported as is possible on the south, described his first trip in the Icefall:

The Khumbu Icefall was first seen in the 1920s by George Mallory. It’s just a glacier that is falling over a cliff, so it fractures into many blocks, big and small, that fall over on occasion. It was considered impenetrable until the Swiss forced a route through in 1952. It has a reputation for danger, but these days the route is maintained by a special group of sherpas known as the Icefall Doctors. We each pay about $500 each for this service.

So it’s a lot of work to wind in and out and up and down. You have a rope to attach to the whole time, so unless something falls on you (which is very unlikely) it’s pretty safe. We left at 4:50am and I felt I was moving pretty good–”I’ll be there in 4 hours,” I thought. Well, I reached C1 in 5:15. The last hour was blazing hot, and I pulled my usual trick of not drinking enough.

Multiple reports are coming in noting there are fewer ladders in the Icefall than last year but the top is still steep with a labyrinth of ladders all lashed together. Also, it is quite common for it to be hot in the Icefall and in the Cwm. This is why most climbers try to be climbing no later than 5:00 AM.

Random Notes:
I have started to mark the camp location of each team. In general I will note the team and not the individual climbers unless they are climbing truly independent from their team. The legend is at the bottom of the table: e= climb ended, x=last reported location, x+ = on summit bid, h=high pont


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April 14, 2009

Icefall is In, Camp 2 Established

The Icefall Doctors completed the task of fixing the Icefall ahead of their schedule and are now working on setting the fixed line to Camp 1. The Finish Airborne Ranger Club were one of the first non Sherpas to reach Camp 1 and set up their tents before returning to base camp. The IMG Sherpas have already climbed to the top of the Western Cwm and staked out their site for Camp 2. This is excellent news for the teams at BC so we can expect to see reports of more climbers spending the night at Camp 1 or even Camp 2 over the next couple of days.

Before everyone starts to talk of "early summits" remember that this happens almost every year - good weather allows for an early Camp 1 and 2 appearance that tricks everyone into thinking we will see summit bids in early May. Then a storm moves in that shakes things up and all of a sudden the talk turns to compressed schedules and fear of crowds on the few summit days. So the moral is to take what the Hill will give you and be patient when it takes it all away!

There have been many comments on how dry Everest looks according to the Sherpas. Well Michael Fagin of EverestWeather.com told me:

There has been much discussion on the low precipitation totals for the region this past winter and the precipitation statistics concur with this. Here is the precipitation totals for regions close to Everest since January 2009 and these numbers are percent of normal: January 5%, February 5%, March 95%, April (through 4-12-09) 22%.

This means that without a significant snow event over the next month, climbers will have dry e.g. rocky conditions up high. This is manageable but can slow the climbers since climbing on rock is more difficult than on packed snow. However it is still early and we will see what the climbers say once they have a chance to see the conditions up close.

SummitClimb reports that they finally received the papers to be able to cross the border into Tibet and should reach base camp in a few days. They are traveling by land from Kathmandu.

Update:
IMG is reporting a huge group is now at C1.

Today was a big day for the IMG team -- we had 23 sherpas carry to Camp 1 and 10 members with 8 personal sherpas moved to C1 and occupied it.

Weather Update from EverestWeather:
The weather system in the Bay of Bengal has strengthened and there are indications that this might form into a stronger system and become a tropical depression. However, the upper level steering winds near Everest are from the west to northwest so this system over time should be directed away from Everest.


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April 13, 2009

Time for Work

With the casual part of an Everest climb now over, the trekkers become climbers, Base camp is a bee hive of activity. Now there are forty more teams established at BC each with their sprawling compound of tents. The rock and ice trails meander throughout the camps creating roads, cul de sacs, intersections and traffic jams - especially when a yak train comes through!

A relatively new activity many teams take part in is to practice on a temporary training course at the foot of the Icefall and a few minutes from base camp. This consists of a short rope course and ladder spanning the top of a 20 foot high serac. Not difficult relative to what they will eventually encounter but hard enough that it is a nice run though for things to come.

Some people may question why "Everest climbers" need to practice especially when it is too late to do much about problems. But actually not many people get a lot of practice walking across aluminum ladders - in crampons - at 17,500' back at home! So it is good to get a little time in before doing it for real.

Dave Hahn describes the practice for his elite team:

The route through the Khumbu is unlike any other climbing route in the world. Great technical climbers and glacier travel experts from elsewhere will not have seen anything like this before. And such is the case within our team. Practice in walking ladders with crampons and protecting ourselves by properly clipping into fixed ropes is a good thing.

When one gets to a real passage through the Icefall, one must be fast and efficient at all of this, so today we repeatedly crossed a ladder just a few feet off the ground. And then we tilted it up and crossed at forty-five degrees. Finally we tried a little vertical stretch with the ladder, all the time enabling to protect ourselves against a fall (or a collapse of the ladder) by smartly attaching ourselves to safety lines.

As expected, it was a blast to finally be walking on snow with an axe in hand. Everybody seemed a little excited to kick crampon points into ice or to pull on a rope or two. It felt like climbing.

Adventure Consultants' Ang Dorje Sherpa led his team though some basic training while still at base camp:

With the sun reflecting off Nuptse we sat in a semi circle and with the guidance of David and Ang Dorjee started to make the first of some very important decisions. We talked about the ideal glove selection, something warm enough and dexterous enough to deal with the freezing conditions. The fitting of goggles to avoid misting was a hot topic as was our clothing selection to ensure the ideal thermal regulation could be achieved across a wide spectrum of temperatures. All of this to ensure our first ice fall expedition will be as safe and energy efficient as possible.

We then cut ice axe leashes to size, crampons were fitted to boots and then checked again, camera bags fitted to backpacks and anything too heavy or deemed non essential was dispensed with.

Looks like the top of the Icefall is providing the normal difficulties for the Icefall Doctors. This section is always extremely steep and crevasse ridden. So it may be late week before anyone can get to Camp 1 in the Lower Cwm. Still on schedule for many teams.

Meanwhile other teams beside Himex are using the nearby trekking peak of Lobuche as an acclimatization climb while waiting for the Icefall to be fixed. IMG reports many on their team summited the 20,000 peak in addition to climbing to Camp 1 on Pumori. Both of these climbs are straight forward and give the body a good workout at altitude.

Over on the north, the situation is mixed. It seems the north remains a mystery for some teams and there is no clear formula to even get to the mountain. Alex with Mad Fogs just sent me this email from Kathmandu:

Hi Alan,
good news from TMA Today. After several days of waiting in KTM, we finally got our official invitation letter and permit necessary to obtain the VISA to enter Tibet. We hope to have this wrapped up tomorrow so that we can enter Tibet Tuesday late or Wednesday, and finally start doing what we came here for. This is the last formality other than actually crossing the border to be in Tibet now.

The Japanese and another team who flew to Lahsa are already on their way to BC. Looks like going trough Lahsa made it easier than from Zangmu.

Many Everest, Cho Oyu, and Shishapangma teams are getting very upset at the North situation now, as the season just goes on and the paperwork progress is extremelly slow. Some people have already started to fly back home, sick and tired of this neverending waiting.

Interesting fact, Manny Pizarro & André Rossin are back on the North again, just coming back from a beer with them. I would be totally destroyed if I was in these guys's shorts (they have been here changing plans for more than 5 weeks now!), but somehow they seem to cope with it. Gabriel Filippi and his cameraman got to KTM Today.

That's it for now. Hope the next dispatch is from Tibet.

Cheers

Alex
The Mad Frogs

But Australian Andrew Lock has had to cancel his Shishapangma attempt when he could not receive a permit from the Chinese. He had also planned on climbing Everest from Tibet without supplemental oxygen. This is extremely disappointing since Andrew has been trekking in the Khumbu to acclimatize and then planned to go to Shisha to finish his last of the 14 8000m mountains. I really feel for my friend. He said he will try again in the fall of 2009.

OK, the season has begun in earnest. Expect to hear from all the teams about their first trips up the Icefall and life in base camp this week. With all the prelims and ceremony over, it is time to get to work.

Alzheimer's Startling Fact:
Alzheimer's is the sixth-leading cause of death and recently passed diabetes.


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April 12, 2009

Everest 2009 Weekend Update, April 12

Nice progress this week by many of the teams - arrived at base camp, had their Puja and made their first climb into the Icefall - all in all nice work.

The weather has been normal for early spring in the Himalaya - clear and cold mornings followed by a buildup of clouds in the afternoon then a snow shower or two followed by a clear and cold night. However each day is longer and slightly warmer so that by the end of May the ice is melting at base camp and t-shorts and shorts are in order.

Yet, there is a concern about the lack of snow on the upper part of Everest as well as in the Icefall. We will see what the climbers have to say about this as they actually reach these sections. Climbing on rock with crampons is significantly harder than on snow. While not uncommon above the South Col, it is rare on the lower mountain.

The north side teams were handed some good news this week that their permits will be issued. Many are either in Nepal on acclimatizing treks or in transit. I know they are relieved that they can now focus their minds on the climbing and hopefully not the politics.

However, there still appears to be some delays. Alex with the Canadian Mad Fogs sent me this email:

Hi Alan, just like others, we got news that permits are currently being processed for entry into Tibet. However, according to an official fax from CTMA received on April 10th, they have required that we postpone our entry into Tibet to April 13/14 in order to be able to process all of the 200 permits for the North.

We're crossing our fingers that this won't extend once more on Monday. KTM is not our cup of tea.

OK, so 200 climbers on the north. Actually that is more than I thought there would be but I am assuming this includes Sherpas and Tibetans. With over 500 climbers on the south, we could see a record year for total summits!

One item to watch over the next couple of weeks is the unique strategy adopted by Russell Brice of acclimatizing on nearby trekking peaks and not through the standard Icefall formula. I have written a lot about this this week but we will see how it works out when the Himex team makes their first, and apparently only, trip to Camp 2 and Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face prior to their summit bid.

Once again, video dispatches have taken the day. Both professional film crews with Discovery and First Ascent (Eddie Bauer) are putting some very nice footage up with professional editing and dialog. Well done to both.

But still I appreciate the 'from the heart' dispatches posted by the individual climbers with their only motive being to share their experiences with friends and family. Some of my current favorites include David Tait, Bill Burke and Scott Parazynski. As always, click on their link on the table above to go directly to their sites.

To this point, Lori Schneider checked in over the weekend with this note

Hi Alan, This is Lori Schneider checking in, although I am not on my EmpowermentThroughAdventure.com email site.

Just wanted to let you know that all is going well on my Everest trek. We hiked to 15,500 ft today and I am acclimatizing very well. No head aches or stomach problems, like a few are experiencing. We are in the shadow of the giants here, just a few days from Base Camp. Lotse looms above us with every step. Everest pops through from time to time, but is still well in the distance.

I have found a new way to occupy my mind as I hike. Each day I put a photo in my pocket of a loved one, and think about that person for the day. Today it was Mom's picture that I carried. She passed away seven years ago. I thought about the pretty Easter dresses she would buy me as a child, along with shiny white shoes and purse, and an Easter Bonnet. It is fun to relive wonderful moments and helps to keep my mind in a happy place. Everyday I am here, I feel so fortunate to be alive.

Keep us in your prayers, and Happy Easter to each of you. Back to camp. Lori

Sounds like she is doing great!


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April 11, 2009

First Icefall Climbs

The Icefall Doctors continue fixing the Icefall right on schedule. This means that ladders span the wide canvases. Thin nylon ropes are secured with ice screws and pickets to the ice thus providing a safety line for the climbers. They have about 20 ladders up thus far.

Ed Wardell of the Discovery Channel has a nice overview of the Doctors as they went with them to film their work. They took seven hours to record this twenty minutes of film for the next series. He notes:

In the blue-white chaos 500 feet below us I can see the tiny figures of the ice doctors cresting the waves and then disappearing into the troughs. I pull out the camera from my backpack and fumble with the exposure and focus through my heavy gloves. As the doctors get closer I see through the lens they are carrying ladders across their shoulders. Now six men, each carrying two 10-foot aluminum ladders, and they're moving fast.

With these necessary measures in place, climbers are now able to begin their first climbs. Usually the first time up the Icefall is only halfway or to the first ladder just to get a feel for it. It can be somewhat intimidating with towering seracs threatening to fall over at anytime, the sound of sharp cracks as the ice moves down hill and the occasional avalanche.

The Icefall looks deceiving. To some it appears as a straightforward ice slope at a manageable angle. You simply clip into the fixed line and pick your way through the obstacles. However this becomes the first time you are really working your body above 18,000' and you feel it. This is how Scott Parazynski described his first climb:

It took 2 and a half hours to get to our high point, and a full 2 hours to return to Crampon Point ("Crampoff Point?"). I was totally exhausted coming back into camp, and after lunch I completely cratered in my tent for the rest of the afternoon! In retrospect, I didn't stop to drink and rest often enough, and as a result ended up with a mild altitude-related headache in the evening.

As I mentioned before, Himex will acclimatize on nearby Lobuche peaks and minimize their exposure to the Icefall. Team member Christophe Vandaele said:

This means we reduce the passages throughout the icefall by 4 times. The first time will now be to Camp 2 where i'll sleep one night, then upwards to Camp 3 were i'll sleep for another 2 nights, then come back down.

Meanwhile there are teams still headed to base camp including Peak Freaks, Mountain Link, Jagged Globe and others. The teams already there are starting to get used to the routine and view their tiny tent as home. Their duffels line one side and their sleeping bag the other. Perhaps a picture is in the mesh net on the roof so when they lie down they can look at it. The iPod plays their favorite song. Yes it is their home but they are so far away.

Random Notes:
The First Ascent team has a brief video describing how they film, edit and transmit their videos.


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April 10, 2009

Base Camp Filling Up

You plan for months or even years. You look at the pictures, videos and even the movies. Then you see Everest Base Camp from several miles away as you trek in but in spite of all of this you are still not quite prepared for the real thing.

Climbers are now establishing what will be their home away from home for the next six weeks - a small four by six foot tent in the middle of hundreds of tents just like theirs. The occasional large green tent or dome establishes one team from another but they all look alike.

This is how my favorite blogger, David Tait, describes the Himex BC:

The camp itself is a logistical miracle. Carved into the ever-moving moraine, the sherpas have surpassed themselves, chiseling flat base after flat base for the multitude of tents. The White-Pod, a geometric framed dome, sits on a huge wood frame, in itself a stunning feat of improvised engineering. One third of the dome is transparent PVC, the "window" facing the icefall and the sheer mountains.

Inside, all having been transported by hand, are chairs, a couple of rugs and even a TV, powered alternatively by solar and generator power. Its a true haven of relative luxury, and is a credit to both Russ and his team.

The teams will take anywhere form two to three days to rest now that they are at BC. Before they touch the Icefall they will have their Puja and then take a stroll halfway up the Icefall to the first set of ladders or even to the Popcorn. But until then it is time to rest, acclimatize to 17,500 and look at the Icefall and wonder.

Alzheimer's Startling Fact:
Every 69 seconds, someone in America develops Alzheimer’s disease. By mid-century, someone will develop Alzheimer’s every 33 seconds.


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April 9, 2009

Permits Now Issued for North Climb

Great news, finally, for the few north side teams - the border is open for climbers and climbing permits are now in the final approval process. Adventure Peaks who has been trekking in Nepal's Khumbu region said

Back at the Namaste Lodge we were greeted with the news that the Tibetan border has been open. A few phone calls were made, then a big ( and probably first serious) discussion took place. We've decided to head down and will drive to the border early next week.

And from SummitClimb's Arnold Coster:

Yesterday we finally got the got news from Lhasa that our Everest permit is approved. Now we only have to see how fast they can wrap up the paperwork.

It will take them over a week to get back to Kathmandu then to drive to BC in Tibet so a little late start by normal schedules but all in all OK. The north climbing season goes into June since there is no Icefall to maintain. On the south, the Icefall Doctors stop maintaining the ladders on May 31 effectively closing that side. The limiting factor on the north has usually been the arrival of the monsoons which is in early to mid June.


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April 9, 2009

Avoiding the Icefall

Leave it Russell Brice not to follow the herd. First Russell has established his base camp about an hour from the start of the Khumbu Icefall whereas the rest of the teams are within 20 minutes. He has done this to provide ample room for his expansive camp which include an amazing number of tents plus access to their 'training' peak. They are next the base of nearby Pumori just off the main trekking path between Lobuche village and Everest Base Camp.

But it is his strategy to get his climber's acclimatized that caught my attention. As many of you know, the standard formula used by almost every expedition for the past twenty years is to make multiple trips through the Icefall and spend ever higher nights at camps 1, 2 and ultimately Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face. This 'climb high, sleep low' approach has worked well with climbers spending at least 7 nights well above base camp and up to 23,500' before climbing to the South Col and on to the summit.

The downside to the formula is that it requires a minimum of three round trips through the Icefall and perhaps ten for the Sherpas. The Icefall is now the most dangerous section of a climb from Nepal with more deaths occurring there than anywhere on the south side of the mountain in recent years. In 2004, 1 climber died and in 2006 3 Sherpas were lost after a serac collapsed on them. However to keep this in perspective, there are literally hundreds of safe trips through the Icefall each season. I have been through it 22 times myself without incident.

However, taking no chances, Brice will use the nearby trekking peak of Lobuche at 20,300' for the primary acclimatization climbs for his clients. Of course his Sherpas will still have to established camps at the normal spots in the Western Cwm, Lhotse Face and South Col for the summit bid so this approach does not reduce their exposure as much as it does for the clients.

While the rest of the climbers head towards the Icefall, Himex will be going back down valley to Lobuche Peak. All in all this will somewhat reduce the crowds in the Icefall but not by much. And his clients will only reach the equivalent of Camp 1 which is around 19,500' at the top of the Icefall so they will still have to climb the Icefall several times. But this is a good strategy to minimize the dangers as as much as one can.

Lance Fox with Himex summarizes it this way:

We will come back to Lobuche to train on fixed ropes as well as allow our bodies to further acclimatize before we gain the upper slopes of Everest. By utilizing Lobuche we avoid too many trips through the Khumbu Icefall on the lower South Col route of Sagarmatha. Lobuche is a 6100+ meter (just over 20,000') mountain so we continue to work hard for our goal of reaching the top of the world.

The Icefall Doctors have the fixed ropes and ladders through the Football Field in the Icefall - about 2/3rds of the way. The final section is the steepest and requires the most time but they are on a good pace and should not create any delays for the climbers.

In another update from Ang Tshering Sherpa this morning he notes a slightly different approach for the Icefall based on the expected overcrowding:

This year there will be two routes in the Khumbu Icefall: one route for climbers going up the mountain and the other for those coming down. It is expected that this will avoid "traffic jams" in the notorious Khumbu ice fall. There will be seven climbing Sherpas in the "Ice Fall Doctors" team this year. I want to commend the SPCC's efforts and in recognizing the need for a stronger team during this busier-than-usual climbing season.

OK, the climbing is about to begin for real. The Icefall is a lot of fun and a spectacular site - 2000 feet of falling ice - it is simply amazing to get the opportunity to climb through it yet as in many beautiful places in nature, there is a dark side. Be safe climbers.

Random Notes:
I have started to mark the camp location of each team. In general I will note the team and not the individual climbers unless they are climbing truly independent from their team.


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April 8, 2009 - updated

Lost Luggage - Send More Yaks!

And you thought arriving at Heath row without your bags was bad. Well a couple of teams are finding that the poor weather and flight delays into Lukla have put them on one schedule and their bags on another.

First the First Ascent team thinks, thinks, they have 22 bags still in Kathmandu and then Mountain Link became so frustrated by the fixed wing flight delays that they chartered a helicopter to take them to Lukla. However, their gear stayed in Kathmandu.

An Everest expedition requires a lot of gear. IMG says they have over 20,000 pounds alone. In general each climber has two 50 pound duffle bags plus a day pack. But it is the group gear that creates the huge loads. You have base camp tents - sleeping, cooking, dining, communication, storage, toilet, and shower and then the climbing gear, ropes, anchors and more. Plus the cooking apparatus including pots, pans, dishes, tables, chairs, tablecloths, fuel.

These days the "required" items include solar panels, storage batteries, generators, laptops, DVD players and in some case, big screen televisions .. I am not kidding. So with literally hundreds of duffels, barrels, cases and boxes, determining what is in the missing 22 becomes a little bit of a challenge!

Meanwhile Damien Benegas, twin brother of Willie, who is guiding for Mountain Madness this season notes the changes in the Khumbu valley as they trek to base camp:

I have been walking this valley for about 10 years and so much has change. Now I can see every porter and sherpas talking on their cell phones, lodges are been build as fast as the local rock can be cut and chip in to rock blocks, the trails are been converted in to mini hiking freeways. Namche, is slowly becoming a small town more than a mountain village.

So the teams continue to make steady progress some, some without their bags. But somehow everything shows up, eventually, and the climbers make do until then.

Update 1
Extremely sad new today from Dhaulagiri the seventh highest peak at 26,810' that 33 year-old Polish climber Piotr Morawski died after a fall in a crevasse. This is extremely sad for any climber, their family and friends and Peter was such a young climber with so many accomplishment plus so much more ahead. My sincere condolences to his family and friends. More details via this link.

Alzheimer's Startling Fact:
Over 10 million baby boomers will develop Alzheimer's in their lifetime.


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April 7, 2009

Mt. Everest Needs Snow!

This is a strange headline. But multiple reports are coming in that Everest is in fact quite dry this year. A growing concern for the past several years has been that climate change or global warming is causing the glaciers to melt faster and less snowfall as the earth warms.

Last year Asian Trekking had an exhibit set up at base camp with pictures from decades ago and then current versions of nearby glaciers. I was simply shocked at the dramatic changes the images revealed. The glaciers had receded significantly.

This is a serious issue for all the Sherpa people as well as all Nepalese and Indians in that much of their electricity is generated through hydroelectric power. In addition there is the issue of clean drinking water, always a concern in third world countries.

Becky Rippel of Peak Freaks reports that:

Some Sherpas who live in Kunde have reached base camp and are in shock as a dry Everest stands boldly in front of them. The article that Tim recently wrote for Hemisphere- the United Airlines inflight magazine couldn't be more fitting for what is being uncovered this year. What is the future of climbing big mountains? I think the desire will always be there but the way it will be approached, will have to change to keep it safe. New routes for sure, and possibly more winter ascents.

and then from Dave Hahn with the First Ascent team as he approached the high village of Lobuche:

There was virtually no ice and no snow on the hills forming the moraine. Just as many Sherpas had already explained, the winter was strangely devoid of precipitation and we were seeing confirmation of that.

This is also an issue for the climbers. Deep snow is a double-edged sword in climbing the big Hills. While slowing things down, it provides a cushion and establishes bridges over otherwise impassable crevasses. But without that snow or as a thin layer, the snow bridges become trap doors. I know this personally after falling into a crevasse in 2002 when a snow bridge collapsed underneath me. Also, the snow helps keep towering seracs in the Khumbu Icefall from falling. So while it may be counterintuitive, deep snow is actually an asset to climbers.

To this point, once again Becky Rippel notes late last night from an email she received from Nepal that:

... no one has managed to climb Island Peak so far this spring because word has it that the crevasse which is near the summit is gapping wide-open. Normally there would be a snow bridge

Meanwhile, our intrepid south side climbers are making their way to BC or are settling into their tents that will serve as home for the next six weeks. The north teams are still in limbo given that the border is open but permits have not been issued. But at least three teams are still in transit to Nepal so it is early. However I expect them to get their permits albeit for a mid to late April entry to north BC.

Random Notes:
For an entertaining look at interacting with the Nepal Ministry of Tourism officials, read Bill Burke's latest dispatch where he explains the pressure of being put on the spot! Well done Bill!!


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April 6, 2009

Pujas at Base Camp

Many of the large teams have now arrived at base camp including IMG and Himalayan Experience (Himex). The first order of business is to have the Puja. As I have described in previous years, this is a very important ceremony that touches almost every climber.

A puja starts with a Lama from a local village who travels to base camp and performs a ceremony where he asks the mountain Gods for permission to climb and for the safety of the climbers. He also asks for forgiveness for the damage caused to the mountain from the climbers.

The ceremony starts with the Sherpas building a rock alter and a small fire of juniper branches. The climbing tools - crampons, ice axes - are placed by the alter. On top is a picture of the Dalai Lama. The Lama chants prayers from a several hundred year-old Tibetan prayer book - the pages so fragile, you hope the wind does not blow too hard.

The ceremony can last several hours with all the Sherpas, climbers and staff participating. Everyone sips chang (a potent rice wine), rice is thrown three times into the air, tsampa (flour) is used to mark your face, and finally a khata, a white scarf, now blessed by the Lama is placed around your neck along with a red string that is not to be removed until you get home. The final part of the ceremony is the raising of the prayer flags to cover the entire camp.

This is how Dave Hahn describes their puja with Lama Geshi:

Lama Geshi greeted us -basically in his living room and got right down to giving each one of us a friendly head-butt as he tied a specially blessed and knotted gold string around our necks. I felt immediately happy to watch him go through a brief prayer ceremony for us. Although I tend to be slightly cynical about such things, that is a hard attitude to maintain around Lama Geshi as he always seems to take such a genuine interest in the climbers that visit him.

The First Ascent crew has a nice video showing their puja with Lama Geshi at his home in Pangboche. They will have another puja at base camp. It is common to have several pujas before ever touching the Icefall.

Random Notes
Nine ladders are now fixed to the Popcorn in the Icefall. This is about a third of the way up. As a reminder, there are pictures from my Everest expeditions on the left side of this page that shows the trek to base camp, base camp life and more. Click on any one to visit the entire gallery. I hope you enjoy them.


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April 5, 2009

Everest 2009 Weekend Update, April 5

The luck of the draw determined who is close to base camp today and who in still in Kathmandu after the flight delays to Lukla this week. The Tenzing-Hillary airport in Lukla is ranked as one the most dangerous airports in the world due to a very short and steep runway perched on the side of a 2,000' hill. Oh and it is surrounded by 12,000' mountains on three sides. And let me mention that low clouds and fog frequently reduce the visibility to near zero after the flights have departed from Kathmandu. All in all it is a miracle anyone ever lands in Lukla!

There have been numerous accidents over the years including the tragic death of 18 trekkers in October 2008 when the Yeti Twin Otter snagged its wheels on a security fence and crashed at the airport.

So with this as background it is understandable that both pilots and passengers are quite happy to spend another night in the relative luxury of Kathmandu waiting for good weather.

But teams have made it and some are now at base camp including a large Korean team plus Altitude Junkies' leader Phil Crampton and his Sherpas and cooks. Most teams are in mid trek spending the nights in the teahouses along the way. Only the most economical (or purists) spend the nights in tents since the teahouses are quite comfortable, safe and clean. In fact that is part of the experiences of trekking the Khumbu and one I would not want to miss.

The climbers and trekkers have been rewarded this week with clear views of Ama Dablam, Katanga and Everest. Of note are the comments that the Dablam on Ama Dablam is visibly smaller after recent collapses. Meanwhile the climbers have been quite the tourists visiting the highest bakery in the world at Khumchung, near Namche Bazaar, and the Tengboche Monastery one of the only Monasteries I know of with their own website!

This next week should bring more climbers into Lukla, visitors to the bakeries and Monasteries. Plus some teams will have a Puja with Lama Geshe - more on that then. Meanwhile climbers, keep those dispatches and emails coming, we are all enjoying the journey.

Random Notes
In spite of some reports that the border with China is still closed, The Canadian Mad Frogs are planning on entering Tibet in a week or so for their north side climb along with the Czech and Columbian teams according to an email I received today. It appears the border is open at this time. Best of luck guys!


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April 4, 2009

Teams at Base Camp, Icefall Ladders Begin

Altitude Junkies' Phil Crampton and Phurba Sarki have arrived at Everest Base Camp. Phil reports

This morning the Icefall Doctors held their Puja ceremony and quickly got to the task of setting the route through the icefall. This must be much to the delight of the Korean Expedition who seem as if they are the only team in full attendance at base camp at the moment. We are expecting to see more teams arrive at base camp over the next few days. We finally have our two Mountain Hardwear domes set up as well as our kitchen, storage and communication tents erected.

This is good news that the Doctors are working on the Icefall. They are the Sherpas who carry all the ladders into the 2,000' glacier and lay them across the deep crevasses. Without these ladders, Everest would revert back to the 1920's. Last year the Doctors were delayed due to politics and created much angst amongst the climbers anxious to get started. It seems that the situation is much more rational this year.

The fog has lifted briefly from Lukla allowing some flights to resume. Adventure Consultants reports their team is now starting the trek to base camp but AAI is still stuck in Kathmandu. At least they are at the 5 Star Yak and Yeti hotel!


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April 3, 2009

More Climbers and Lukla Delays

As they say, best laid plans ... poor visibility has closed the airport at Lukla creating delays for some teams trying to start their trek to base camp. Becky Rippel who does a great job with the site of Peak Freaks reports on the weather as well as the crowds in Kathmandu:

Fog at Lukla didn't clear so the team remains in Kathmandu. They were well taken of though. Our buddy Kiran waited at the airport all morning with the truck loaded with the teams gear while they all waited in the comfort of the hotel garden for a call to say "it's a go". But by early afternoon it was apparent that it was not going to happen. All flights were cancelled to Lukla today.

Tim has also noted that Kathmandu appears to be quiet this year compared to last. The Ministry of Tourism commented that they are down 30%. I would think this may be referring to general tourism which includes sightseeing and trekking and not necessarily climbing. There are a couple of teams that normally climb via the North Side that switched over this year due to the closing of Tibet ,for the month of March, and didn't want to mess around should the Chinese change their minds and keep it closed.

Climber Wendy Booker is with Mountain Link on a two client team. Wendy has MS and is looking to complete the 7 Summits with Everest. People often ask why anyone would spend the time, money and effort to climb difficult mountains. Each person has their own reasons but I like what Wendy had to say:

Why climb mountains? Not just because she has multiple sclerosis, although her disease does motivate her. As do her children. In fact, as do ALL children. "I use mountains as metaphors for the obstacles we all encounter in life," says Wendy. "And, I want to inspire others - especially young people - not to see obstacles as mountains in their way, but more as challenges to 'climb' over and around. We all have such 'mountains' in our lives and we cannot let them stop us!"

Another climber I have added to the list is Michael Morales from Panama. He is climbing with AAI. He hopes to take the Panamanian flag to the summit.

If you know of a climber or team not on the list, please send me an email. Or just send me a note with any suggestions on how the coverage could be improved or just to say hello!

OK, it should be relatively quiet until the teams reach base camp. Look for the regular weekly recap on Sunday. meanwhile to all the climbers but especially Windy and Michael - Climb On!!

Random Notes
Climber/Journalist Billi Bierling has a quite moving entry on her blog about the street children of Kathmandu. It is absolutely worth a few minutes to read her thoughts. Well done Billi on behalf of the kids.


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April 2, 2009

Moving Towards BC

All the teams are now well on their way to base camp. One common mention is of the Everest View Hotel. This is a somewhat infamous spot which is located less than an hour's walk from Namche Bazaar. Almost everyone takes the walk for exercise and acclimatization during their rest day at Namche. The hotel has a fantastic terrace where on a clear day climbers and trekkers are rewarded with absolutely stunning views of Mt. Everest and Ama Dablam. For some trekkers this is their destination.

The hotel is run by Japanese owners and was quite popular with Japanese tourist when it opened in 1973. All was well except that guest had a tendency to die ...

The problem was that they would fly from Kathmandu to a nearby airstrip in Shyangboche. The sudden change from sea level in Japan to 4500' in Kathmandu to almost 13,000' at the hotel was too much for the body. Today they still accept guest but now they have to trek in from Lukla, 9300', to acclimatize. However at $250 a night each room is outfitted with oxygen masks! Now that's room service.

What do you think?
You may have noticed the poll to the left asking Why Do You Follow Everest Climbs? Over a third of you want to climb Everest yourself one day! There are many more polls on my polls page where you can see what other readers are thinking and a chance for you to cast your vote. Again, this is just for fun and no personal info is recorded or used.

If you want to see what British readers think, take a look at the polls on Mount Everest: The British Story where 26% of the voters would prefer to get frostbite someplace other than their fingers, toes or face ... umm, I wonder what body part they are thinking of? Seriously, this is a great site following the Brits on the Big E.

Random Notes
The Discovery Channel has started a blog (who hasn't?) similar to what they did in 2006 when it was written by Greg Childs. He did a nice job of providing first hand reports. This year it will be written by Keith Cowling who is with IMG.


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April 1, 2009

Dispatches, Blogs and Random Items

I am now looking at over 60 websites each day to distill what is happening with our Everest climbers. It is safe to say there is a lot of repetition and at the same time a lot of uniqueness to each report. Some call them blogs, others call them dispatches. I prefer the term 'dispatch' since it harkens of days gone by with the Shackleton and Mallory's of the world hand writing letters back home and sending them off with couriers hoping they actually make it in a year or so!

But times are different and so are the reports. Climbers see different things. Some see Kathmandu as a dirty, poverty ridden environment others see the spiritual nature of a beautiful and gentle people. Trekking into Namche, some feel the 2,000' climb up Namche Hill is a nice warm up for things to come while others report on being dead tired, hot and sweaty. All are valid, all are right.

One site I always enjoy reading is from David Tait. His style is clear and convincing. It is a pleasure to read his dispatches. Today he updates us on his travel from his home in the UK to his current location in the Khumbu - nice stuff.

Also, video has become much more popular. The well funded Ed Viesturs/Dave Hahn First Ascent Clothing expedition sponsored by Eddie Bauer (now that's a mouthful) is using YouTube to post short video dispatches. They are quite well done This takes a lot of effort since there is the actual filming, editing on a computer (with power) and then the upload via satellite to the home server. I have done this in prior climbs and can attest to the degree of difficulty. But as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

On a completely different note, I was curious where in the world was Willie Benegas since he is an icon on the south side of Everest. He has guided for Mountain Madness for years and has established himself as the prominent western climber to fix ropes and lead the way to the summit over the past few years. Well here is an update I received from him:

Damian is going to be running a trip via Mountain Madness Nepal with 3 climbers. You can follow us a www.patagonianbrothers.com I will guiding for Jagged Globe.

Finally, China has officially reopened the border with Nepal thus allowing foreigners to enter Tibet. I assume climbing permits for Everest, Cho Oyu and Shishapangma are now available but that is yet to be proven.

So the Sulu Khumbu region of Nepal is swarming with Sherpas, porters, climbers, trekkers, yaks and zos. The teahouses are full and the local economy is booming. Climbers are getting closer and closer to base camp each day. I wonder what they think of each night as they drift off to sleep?


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March 31, 2009

Kathmandu Teaming

Asian Trekking (AT) is reporting that many of their teams are now in Kathmandu. AT is quite different from many of the operators in that they provide logistics services for many teams where as the others run a single climb for a single team. Thus the list Ang Tshering Sherpa sent today:

Eco Everest Expedition 2009,
Atunas Taiwanese Everest Expedition 09,
Kazakhstan Lhote-Everest Expedition (Mt.Everest 9 member Team) 09,
Kazakhastan Lhote-Everest Expedition (Mt.Lhotse 14 member Team) 09,
International Adventure Alternative Everest Exp.09,
Seven Summit Club Everest Exp.09,
Indo Bangladesh Joint Makalu Exp 09,
Mt.Manaslu Exp.09 (All members and Sherpas name,nationality and designations are posted at www.asian-trekking.com Expedition News Section) etc.

Also of note is the Eco Everest expedition which this year is led by legendary Apa Sherpa. And this year he will not be alone!

Apa Sherpa, World record of 18 time Mt.Everest Summiteer arrived in Kathmandu today from USA to join the Eco Everest Expedition 2009 as Climbing Leader. In the past Apa used to come alone to climb Mt.Everest but this time his wife Yangin acompanied him to show her support for Apa's effort to climb Mt.Everest for the 19th time.

Billi Bierling blogged yesterday that the Himex team has mostly arrived and includes 28 clients from all over the world, seven “western” guides, a doctor, 30 climbing Sherpas, 10 base camp staff, two cooks and a few more. That is a total of 78+ people! To compare this with one of the smaller teams, Altitude Junkies, they have 7 climbers, 6 Sherpas and 6 base camp staff for a total of 21.

The saga of Alaskan Alec Turner continues. The good news is that he is in Kathmandu. The bad new - his Himex team already flew to Lukla! He will catch a flight on Thursday. With so many teams trying to get there, it is sometimes difficult to reschedule. Also the weather plays havoc with Yeti Airlines and the other flights resulting in some serious hurry up and wait scenarios.

Once in Kathmandu all teams must receive their permits from the Ministry of Tourism before flying to Lukla to begin the trek. But this is invisible to many since the leaders tend to be the only one who actually go to the Ministry. So the others spend time strolling the dusty streets of Thamel and enjoying a vast array of incredible food. They are meeting one another for the first time which is amazing given that many will become life long friends in a few weeks. Have fun!


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March 30, 2009

Lhotse-Everest Traverse

Well the crazy Russians are back at! Actually they are not that crazy just courageous and ambitious beyond belief when it comes to climbing. The Kazakhstan team left Almaty today for Kathmandu according to Russianclimb. They will be attempting the never before completed Lhotse to Everest traverse.

Lhotse Everest Traverse. Picture courtsey of  mountain.kzOnly the most strong climbers will go to traverse: Maxut Zhumayev, Vassily Pivtsov, Serguey Samoilv and Eugeny Shutov. Their mates will help them. The coach Ervand Iljinsky said that there're two problematic parts of the route - the descent route from Lhotse and the descent route from Everest via Yjugoslavian/American route, because there're no fresh info about them.

So basically this is climbing Lhotse, the 4th highest mountain in the world at 27,940' then taking the connecting ridge down to the South Col then up the standard route to the summit of Everest. Finally they will descend the Yugoslavian/American route (west ridge) all in one shot.

This is one of the most coveted routes in mountaineering. It has been attempted several times without success. World class climbers such as Simon Moro and Denis Urubko have attempted it as well as previous Russian teams. It was a long time dream of the late Anatoli Boukreev.

This is no ordinary team. Their coach Ervand Iljinsky is a world class mountaineer himself. I enjoyed watching another Russian team successful summit the North Face of Everest in 2004.

The Czech team will be climbing the same west ridge but starting from the north side, if they can get in!

Best of luck guys. Climb Safe, Climb High, Climb On!

Random Notes
Various European websites are reporting that the Nepal/China border will open on April 4th. If this is true, it is good news for the remaining north side teams.


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March 29, 2009

Everest 2009 Weekend Update, March 29

After weeks, months or years of planning, the Everest 2009 teams are now on their way! IMG appears to be the first major team to arrive in Kathmandu, fly to Lukla and begin the trek to base camp. The trek takes about a week in order to begin the acclimatization process.

AAI, Adventure Consultants, Himex, Altitude Junkies and others all report that they have shipped tons of gear and their teams are in transit. I even received an email from infamous Henry Todd's confirming their 2009 south side climb is underway. Also heard from Dave Hahn with Ed Viesturs that he is Kathmandu enjoying the warmth.

We are getting a few dispatches from climbers saying the weather is a bit cloudy and misty, normal for early spring in the Himalaya. But when it clears they will be rewarded with incredible views of Ama Dablam and even the tip of Everest from outside Namche Bazaar. Manny Pizarro has a nice, quick video showing the trek to Namche and other first of many pujas. Check out his site, and all the others, via the link on the table above.

Nigma Sherpa of Peak Freaks reports to his home team via sat phone

There isn't hardly any snow on Everest, it has been warmer than normal, some wind but not very strong. Ngima also says, "In the past 24 hours we are starting to get more snow now and the wind is picking up."

The north continues to be a bit of a mystery. A few teams have made a last minute switch to the south including the 7 Summits club, a regular on the north year in - year out. Some teams like the Canadian Mad Frogs are waiting a little longer than usual to see if the border opens up for their north side climb.

But it is certain that there will be few teams, maybe six compared to over 25 on the south, climbing the north side this year and as such the China Tibet Mountaineering Association, CTMA, will be fixing the ropes for these climbers. I suspect this is a turning point and we will never see private teams fixing ropes on the north. This is similar to how the Nepalese fix the ropes in the Khumbu Icefall. Not a bad model, if done well.

Over the next week expect to hear more from climbers as they arrive. April 4th seems to be a common arrival date for many people. But some may be late! Alec Turner is just having a hard time getting out of Alaska. He finally left Anchorage after a significant delay caused by the eruption of Mt. Redoubt.

Once again we are seeing that age is not a factor in attempting to climb Everest. There may be a battle for the oldest climber this year. Dawes Eddy, 66 years old is going for it with IMG. He lives near Mt. Rainier and has climbed on it 60 times with 37 summits. Meanwhile 67 year old Bill Burke posted his goodbyes on his site and says he will still go for a south to north traverse if the Chinese will allow it. And finally Bernd Wittman with Peak Freaks is trying to be the oldest Canadian to summit Everest 67.

I am always in admiration of these gentleman. They serve as a reminder that getting old doesn't mean sitting in a chair and reading War and Peace. Climb on gentlemen, climb on!


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March 26, 2009

North Side News Directly from the Teams

Now that teams are in Kathmandu, we are getting direct news from the teams themselves. I appreciate the emails guys. Bottom line is that some are on, some are off and some are still waiting. I am glad to hear directly from the Canadian Mad Frogs team which I listed previously as simply the Canadian Team on my north side list. Alex Pare kindly told me this morning:

I'm part of the Canadian Mad Frogs (the other Canadian team) Manny Pizarro told you about. We are 3 independent climbers from the Montreal area (myself, JP Roy and Marc Octeau). We are still patiently waiting for the North side to open as South is definitely NOT an option for us. We will be getting to KTM very late with respect to the mass (April 9th), which leaves us with good hopes about the North. In fact, South was never an option mostly because of the crowds. It can't be any clearer now ;-). Our plan B is the Dhaulagiri, but we still shoot at Everest North.

Another climber from Montreal, Gabriel Filippi, 2 times Everest summitter, is planned on the North side as well this spring. He will be going up for the Montreal Canadian Hockey Team Children Foundation.

From what we hear from our outfitter, Tibet will not open before April 10 or so. It's hard to validate this information with other sources.

Concerning the fixed ropes on the North side, we received this week an official announcement from CTMA (China Tibet Mountaineering Association) saying they will be the ones fixing the ropes.

Very interesting that the CTMA will be fixing north ropes - a job previously owned by Russell Brice and his Himex Sherpas. Word was that Alex Abramov and the 7 Summits Club had that job but yesterday they switched to the south.

This is a major change for Everest climbing from the north. Phil Crampton of Altitude Junkies told us a few weeks ago about his efforts with the CTMA in Lhasa to train Tibetans on mountaineering skills so now is the time to use them. Of course they had a lot of experience last year when they fixed the north for the torch relay but we really have no idea how that went. This year we might - might - get some first hand information from western climbers. As always, safe climbing to all climbers.

And just in from SummitClimb is that they are still planning on their Tibet climb:

Hi Alan, Good to hear from you, I hope you are well.
We're running an Everest Tibet expedition this spring, as well as a North Col trip during May and a Cho Oyu expedition in Apr-May. We are also running an Everest Nepal and Lhotse expedition. Thanks and please keep the questions coming. Best regards,
Stewart Wolfe

OK, there you have. The latest on the north. I really feel for these guys since I was in their shoes exactly 365 days ago. Getting on an airplane thinking you are going to one side but then having your plans totally up in the air. But you know we made the switch and had a great time.

Mountaineering is all about being flexible. Generally that means dealing with weather and mountain conditions not politics but in this modern era all things are in play. I am impressed with the flexibility shown by all these guys and their commitment to their goals. Climb On!


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March 25, 2009

Another Team Abandons the North for 2009

We knew this was coming. Asian Trekking announced they are doing a quick switch for the Seven Summits Club team via a press release:

The Seven Summits Club Mt. Everest Expedition 2009 from North is switched to South side. The advance team members including the expedition Leader Alex Abramov, Co-Leader Nikolai Cherney, Guide Max Bogatirev arrived in Kathmandu on 21 April. Most of the expedition cargoes are already ferried by helicopter to Shyangboche togather with two climbing Sherpas.

This will be the first time Seven Summits' Abramov has climbed from the south. Similar to Himalayan Experience, they have specialized on the north for years. This leaves SummitClimb, Adventure Peaks an Indian, Japanese and Czech team on the north but I expect to see at last one of them cancel or switch to the south as well.

The south will be even more crowded now - if that is possible. Climbers are already privately expressing serious concern about the crowds. Expedition leaders know this and are discussing contingency plans but we all know that once the summit window appears, all the planning in the world seems to fall on deaf ears. My best wishes to teams on both sides for a safe climb this year.

Random Notes
Everest is not the only climb being hurt by the uncertainty in Tibet. IMG has announced that they are canceling their spring Cho Oyu climb and offering a Lhotse expedition to those members instead.

Disaster on K2 aired last night (March 25 in the US). The documentary style film showed some of my climbing friends, Wilco and Ger, on K2. It was nicely done but still leaves me contemplative about the tragedy. It will air again on March 26 and 27 on the Discovery Channel.


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March 23, 2009

Climbers SPOTed in Kathmandu

We are getting report after report of tired climbers arriving Kathmandu after their long journeys from Europe, South Africa, US and other far away places. Billi Bierling, who lives in Kathmandu, commented that the weather has finally cleared somewhat and the recently polluted skies are now clear but it is still a hot and humid spring.

On Saturday, the skies opened for about one hour and we had the long-awaited downpour. This has cleared the air a bit, got rid of the dust and eased the smog! We can finally see blue skies again and breathing is no longer painful!

Kathmandu SPOTFor many of us we either love or hate technology but since you are reading this on the Internet, I assume you love it so here is a tease.

A relatively new technology combines the location services of Global Positioning System (GPS) with email to allow travelers to notify followers of their exact location. And I mean exact. A small hand sized device from SPOT sends the user's location with a simple push of a button. Actually there are three buttons. One that says you are OK and logs your location including uploading it to Google Earth. Another button sends an email to subscribers asking for help and a third one one that calls 911 which I don't think will work on Everest!

Astronaut Scott Parazynski is using SPOT (one of his sponsors) and sent out an email via his blog and Tweeter accounts with his location as +27° 43' 11.28", +85° 19' 14.16" in Kathmandu. He plans on updating his location throughout his Everest climb.

Before you think this is only for NASA Astronauts, 12 year-old Jordan Romero is using SPOT during his 7 Summits quest (as well as Twitter). Um, yes, 12 years-old. How old do I feel! :)

Climbers are using technology and the new social media like never before. Climber, guide, photographer and Director of the Bradford Washburn Museum Jake Norton posted this on his Facebook account:

I'm off again to Mount Everest, my sixth expedition to the mountain. It is an exciting time, and I am looking forward to returning to this mountain which has been such a huge part of my life over the years...

Jake will also be the photographer for the First Ascent expedition with Ed Viesturs, Melissa Arnot and Dave Hahn.

So for the next few weeks, climbers will arrive in Kathmandu, fly to Lukla then start the week long trek to base camp. Expect to see many of the climbers update the FB pages while at Internet Cafes and via email from base camp.

Random Notes
I also Tweet! You can follow me on Twitter. I am also on Facebook ;) and yes, I will be your friend. OK, now I feel like am 12 years-old!


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March 23, 2009

Meet the Climbers: Lori Schneider- MS climber for the 7 Summits

Everest is no stranger to tough people. We have had climbers without legs, one arm, blind, diabetes and other disabilities summit against all odds. These people are always inspirational. Lori Schneider, who has MS, is one of the most inspirational climbers we have seen in a while. Her physical and mental courage and strength is amazing. But also her determination to make a difference. She recently embarked on a speaking career to inspire others to overcome their obstacles - both real and imagined. Lori takes her own advice quite literally as she recently told me:

Two weeks ago I spoke to a group of 300, and was moved to tears to see them standing and applauding when I was finished. I need to get better at asking for fees, because I took out a loan for $80,000 to pay for the Everest climb and the supplemental oxygen charge.  I quit my 20 year teaching career back in 1999 when I was diagnosed, and have drained all of my savings from the sale of my house, so I decided to invest in myself.

Lori was very generous to answer a few quick questions as she is walking out the door to catch a flight to Kathmandu. Please meet Lori Schneider:

Lori Schneider Q: With only a week to go, what occupies your thoughts right now?

I am worried that I will not have time to complete all the last minute details and still have a few peaceful days to spend time with those I love.

Q: You have MS. Are you doing anything special at the extreme altitudes of Everest?

I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis ten years ago, when I awoke one morning with numbness in half of my body. I have only had symptoms a couple of times during the past ten years, so I am one of the lucky ones. I say that MS means "Mostly Strong". My goal on Everest is to keep myself as healthy as possible, so I am bringing my special energy shake powder (Living Fuel), my omega oil capsules, and a healthy dose of positive attitude.

Q: Of the 6 of the 7 summits you have completed which was the most satisfying?

Denali tested me to the limits, so in conquering it, I felt a sense of empowerment over my MS and the other mountains & obstacles in my life.

Q: Your willpower and determination are amazing. When times get tough, what keeps you going?

I have this mind game that I like to play with myself, when things get hard. First, I give my self permission to just take "one more step". In doing so, I break down the idea of the overwhelming task of what I see that lies ahead. Then I distract myself by picking a wonderful day from my past, and reliving it, one thought at a time. I try to remember the sights, smells, sounds and thoughts that I experienced that particular day, and time passes in a comforting way.

Q: Your 7 Summits quest happened kind of by accident, what will be your next goal after Everest?

Through the EmpowermentThroughAdventure.com business that I have set up, I hope to bring a group of people with MS to Kilimanjaro each year, along with guides and sherpas. I would like to help others with the disease, feel that sense of triumph over their physical bodies & illness, and in doing so, mentally know that they are strong once more.

Q: You are embarking on a public speaking career. What is your key message?

Empowering others to move beyond their labels and perceived limitations, believe in themselves, and live their dreams.

She is climbing with Alpine Ascents International and dispatches will be through their site. This will be her 7th of the seven summits. You can read more about Lori on her site. Lori - we are all pulling for you. Climb High, Climb Safe, Climb On!

Random Notes
Everest: Beyond The Limits star, Mogens Jensen is climbing again. This time with Asian Trekking instead of Himex and from the south this year.


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March 22, 2009

Letter from Ang Tshering Sherpa

Ang Tshering Sherpa is the Chairman and Founder of Asian Trekking, one of the oldest expedition companies in Nepal. He is the current President of the Nepal Mountaineering Association and perhaps the most influential Nepali in mountaineering. He sends this letter to many companies and I am honored to receive it directly.

Dear Alan,

Tashi Delek and Happy Lhosar. May this New Year bring you all great happiness!

Once again it is almost time for another Climbing Season. With only less than one month left before the Expeditions depart to the mountains, we at Asian Trekking are busy preparing for this Spring Season, as all our expedition will be in the Nepal Himalaya.

Due to the feeling of uncertainty in the North Side of the Himalaya, most of our clients, and other expeditions, have decided to climb from the Nepal side. It seems that Nepal will be very busy this expedition season.
As you may have noticed the Asian Trekking website has been updated and has a new look now. I am personally updating all the news and information. Since this is an ongoing process, I would greatly appreciate your opinions and feedback to make our website effective and informative.

This Spring season Asian Trekking will have internet access on events taking place on Mt. Everest. My son, Dawa Steven Sherpa, will be leading Eco Everest Expedition 2009. Through the News Section of the Asian trekking website, Dawa Steven and I plan to keep you updated about developments taking place during the expedition period.

Apa Sherpa, 18 times(World Record) Everest Summitter, is returning as the climbing leader of Eco Everest Expedition 2009 for his 19th summit bid on Mt. Everest.

While the overall leadership of the Eco Everest Expedition 2009 will be handled by my son Dawa Steven, Pertemba Sherpa who climbed Mt. Everest from three different routes, will be the Base Camp manager for all the Everest and Lhotse Expeditions of Asian Trekking in the Spring.

Eco Everest Expedition 2009 will once again offer cash incentives to all climbers to bring down any garbage left by previous expeditions. We will be offering Rs. 100 per kilo of garbage. As part of the established Eco Everest Model, the Eco Everest Expedition 2009 will be using Clean Mountain Cans and the Restop bags to make sure that no human waste is left on Mt. Everest by the team.

Similarly, all Asian Trekking Expeditions to other mountain will also be using the Restop bags to keep our mountains clean. Dawa Steven will be visiting the other expedition teams at Everest Base Camp to encourage them to use Restops. He is taking extra Restop bags for those who are interested to use them.

We are also pleased to announce that Asian Trekking is partly sponsoring the Imja Tsho Action Event 2009 in June this year. This Event is an initiative by the Sherwi Yondhen Tshokpa (Sherpa Students Group) supported by iDEAS, a non-profit organization established by Dawa Steven to encourage the youth and members of the mountain communities to be more active in taking care of our environment. Asian Trekking hopes that our support will make this event successful and will pave the way for more initiatives by the mountain communities. Please visit our website if you would like to participate in the event (http://www.asian-trekking.com/expedition/home/news-detail-42 ).

We recently conducted a Climbing Refresher course for 28 of our Sherpas here at our own ASTREK Climbing Wall in Kathmandu. The 10 day course has helped them to sharpen their skills and to work as a team before heading off to the high mountains. Some of the topics covered were rescue, technical climbing, rope work and knot making, anchoring, and other important safety issues.

As part of an iDEAS project, three of our Sherpas have undergone a basic filming training course. It is our hope that soon many more of our field staff will be skilled in filming for clients during treks and expeditions. We hope to add this service to our programs so that our valued clients can take their memories home with them on DVD. Of course, the intention goes beyond this: having skills to film will not only help supplement the Sherpa’s regular earning, but will also go a long way towards helping to preserve our culture and heritage. This will help focus the energy, especially of the youth, in something creative and will also open avenues for them to explore possibilities that they may not have thought about, or even imagined, in the past.

I look forward to seeing you in Nepal. If I, my family and my team can be of assistance to you in any way, please don’t hesitate to let me know.
Best Wishes,

Ang Tshering Sherpa
Founder Chairman

Of all his messages I would like to emphasize that the Eco Everest team, led by Apa Sherpa, will be bring down garbage from the high slopes of Lhotse and Everest once again as well as their use of human waste bags. I find Asian Trekking's commitment to a "green" Everest quite inspirational. Well done, well done and thank you all.


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March 21, 2009

May 14th is THE summit day

One of the most popular topics around Everest Base Camp is when will be best day for a summit bid. This can be quite complicated due to the weather, crowds and acclimatization schedules. Followers of Everest know that the jet stream sits on top of Everest for all but two weeks a year. Then it moves slightly north due to the monsoons off India thus creating a short window of low winds for summit bids.

However the Sherpas have another test, they just look for the full moon and say it is good to go. And then there are the Lamas who somehow divine and then declare a few "auspicious" days suitable for a summit.

However what is interesting about all this is that May 22st with 384 total summits since 1953 has been the most popular day for Everest summiteers according to 8000er.com's fantastic series of tables and statistics. 80% of all summits have occurred between May 11th and 25th. Recently they updated their official 2008 results:

All in all there were 422 ascents! There was a new record number on one route. The old record was in 2007, when there were 371 ascents from the North Col route, in 2008 there were 387 ascents from the South Col route.

OK, with all this as background, Astronaut (five Space Shuttle missions!) Scott Parazynski has published a schedule on his blog with May 14th as the summit day. To be fair, this is just a "notional" or preliminary schedule and who knows what day will be best but it is good see such optimism. Most teams simply say May 15-25 as a summit window and call it good. But then again, Scott is an astronaut and those guys schedule everything!

This will be Scott's second attempt on Everest with an aborted attempt last year due to a back injury. He will be climbing will IMG and posting dispatches on the OnOribit Blog. And for you Twitter fans, he will be tweeting as well. Best of luck Scott!


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March 20, 2009

North Side in Question Again

The traverse climbers of David Liano and Bill Burke have already cancelled their efforts due to the uncertainty on the north. Specifically they were concerned about adequate support on that side and the risk that the fixed lines may not be there for their descent. Now we hear that Manny Pizarro is looking to switch to the south. Finally the Czech team who was looking at climbing the Hornbein Couloir on the north face has posted this on their site:

China closed the border for the month of March - opening in April is uncertain - Just before leaving to create a replacement plan (Murphy's law in practice)

While we knew the border was closed through March, it now appears that it may extend into April. That said, Adventure Peaks is still reporting their intention is to climb on the north. Once again, the issue is that climbers need to get to base camp, fix ropes, acclimatize during the month of April and early May to be in a position to summit during the window in mid to late May.

Random Notes
It was widely reported in late February that Lori Schneider, who has MS, would be climbing Everest this year. She is climbing with Alpine Ascents International and dispatches will be through their site. This will be her 7th of the seven summits. You can read more about Lori on her site. Best of luck Lori and thanks Cindy for the pointer. I will post an interview with Lori on Monday, March 23rd.


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March 18, 2009

Update from Paul and Fiona Adler, Everest Summiteers

Many Everest followers remember Fiona and Paul quite well. They were trying to be the first Australian married couple to summit Everest in 2006. Fiona made it and Paul did not. However he returned the following year to summit in style.

They shared all their experiences with us through excellent dispatches including some innovative technology. And they have not stopped since then. Fiona started a web business for word of mouth referrals in their hometown of Melbourne and beyond. Paul continues his competitive cycling and starting a couple of businesses of his own.

With that, here are the details:

Q: You and your wife Fiona are quite famous in Australia for both having summited Everest. Do you get a lot of questions about Everest this time of year?

We do get a number of emails from people who have last minute questions and we are happy to help. Usually people want to know about a particular piece of gear we have used and if we’d recommend it or not. On our expeditions we have tried to test new equipment that might make life a little easier or safer. Recent products were an electrically heated vest, an ultra lightweight camp bed (great for sleeping on moraine) and a new type of gps (fast, very small, 45 day battery life). During the rest of the year, the most common questions are about choosing an expedition outfitter and oxygen systems. These can be a difficult decisions and we are happy to share our experiences and thoughts.

Q: You used a lot of technology to communicate back home during your climbs including a GPS tracking system connected to your blog. What kind of feedback did you get from your followers?

We had great feedback from people all over the world and this added a new dimension to our climbs as we got to share them with people whilst we were in the thick of it. Blogging regularly is a lot of work (we did a post every single day) but it’s not without reward. We’ll both never forget getting to the South Col in 2006 on our way up for our summit attempt, and receiving over 300 messages. We read them all in between melting snow, cooking food and getting organized to leave for the summit later that night. It was the best encouragement and right when we needed it most.

Yes, we had a new GPS. It was great, but I was not. It logged the GPS coordinates and this information was then uploaded to Google earth so people could see every day exactly where we had been. I started logging at Lukla and tracked our journey all the way to Everest Base Camp and then up and down winding our way through the icefall and the lower camps of Everest as we were acclimatizing. Every night I would turn the GPS off, otherwise it just logged a whole log of points in the one spot. On my summit attempt I logged up to the South Col & then turned it off while I rested before the summit push. In my haste before we left the South Col, I forgot to turn it on. So I bought the thing to the summit, but it wasn’t logging. Still kicking myself for my stupidity!

Q: Both of you are entrepreneurs but also run some interesting side business like myeverest.com and Fonerecharge.com. First tell us about myeverest.com.

This is a free website we run as a hobby for people to do expedition blogs. It’s similar to other blogging web sites, but it’s different in that you can update it with a pda (ipaq) and satellite phone without needing to have a computer. A pda works much better on expeditions than a computer, which are very heavy, use too much battery power and their hard drives fail in the low pressure at altitude. I help people buy the equipment they need cheaply on ebay and get it setup, or else I have a few sets of equipment people can hire for a small fee (sat phone, pda, solar panel, spare batteries etc).

Q: And Fonerecharge.com?

FoneRecharge lets Thuraya customers recharge their Thuraya prepaid satellite phone account online or by calling a toll free number directly from the phone. We developed the service for Thuraya after experiencing difficulties trying to recharge our prepaid Thuraya SIM cards whilst on expeditions. We wanted something that is low cost, immediate, supported 24x7, doesn’t need a computer and lets you recharge even if you have no credit left in your phone. So we put a proposal to Thuraya, they agreed to work with us and then we developed it and continue to support it today. We think that this service can help people on expeditions especially in emergencies. (Registration at FoneRecharge is required before use.)

Q: Where do you see real-time blogging going for adventure travel?

I hope that people continue to blog during their adventures and share them with the rest of us. For those blogging it can add a whole new dimension to what can otherwise be a solitary journey and for those of us at home it lets us share the experience and can provide invaluable help if you later follow in their footsteps. I’d like to think that blogging from remote locations will get more simple and immediate in the future. It would be great to be able to do away entirely with a computer/pda and blog directly from the phone in an instant.

Q: Any new adventure plans for you two?

We had a baby a year ago and have another on the way, so that’s keeping us busy on the home front. I would like to go back to Nepal or Tibet later this year, but no specific plans as yet.

By the way, two of my 2008 Everest partners used the MyEverest site for their dispatches - Scott Kress and Angus Murray. Take a visit to see how they did (hint they both made it!).

OK, now we see what an ambitious and energetic couple does AFTER climbing Mt. Everest. Congratulations on your new family, businesses and accomplishments. I am sure we will hear more from them.

Random Notes
Climbers have started arriving in Kathmandu. Andrew Lock just said he arrived and was headed up to trek the Khumbu for pre-acclimatization before heading over to Shishapangma. Adventure Consultants report that their Sherpa team are at base camp building the dining tent and campsites.


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March 16, 2009

No 2009 Traverse Attempts

In previously posted interviews with David Liano and Bill Burke, both climbers told us about their plans to attempt a traverse of Mount Everest starting from the south side in 2009. David was going for the double where he would then return back to the south. However, it now appears that neither will be going for the attempt. Both shared their updated plans with me. First David:

I want to give myself the best chance of completing the double traverse and even if there are no climbing restrictions, I need to be sure there will be fixed ropes coming down from the north side. With Russell in Nepal, I’m guessing Alex Abramov will do it ...

Also, I consider it is essential to work with only one company on both sides and Asian Trekking is not doing a North side expedition. I don’t make a living out of climbing, I have no sponsors and thankfully no pressure to go this year. On 2008, I had to rethink the expedition and ended up summiting Everest and Lhotse. This year I’m thinking GI and GII.

And from Bill

I will be posting an update on my website in a week or so announcing that I do not plan to traverse this year because of the situation with permits on the North side. If this changes, and it is not too late, I may reinstate the traverse plans.

I know this is somewhat disappointing for both climbers but not the end of the world. It does however cause me to wonder about the other team's plans to climb from the north. Remember that last year we were told the north was effectively closed only days before our arrival so still anything can happen.


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March 16, 2009

The History of Mt. Everest

Hmm, maybe I should change this title to something more specific. So much has been written about Everest ranging from geology to the folklore of the Sherpa people to the current day to day expedition details that you would think it as all been said. In fact a simple search on Google for Mount Everest returns almost 4 million hits. Of course a search for American Idol yields 47 million but that is beside the point.

One place to go to get a nice perspective of Everest's climbing history is Mount Everest: The British Story. Colin Wallace runs the site from his home in the Westcountry of the UK. Colin has a specific interest in the British climbers and reports on their climbs each season. So if you have a British passport, no matter where you live, contact him so he can include you on his British 2009 Dispatch page.

But no matter what your nationality, visit his site and especially the 1924 v 2007 page where he has some fascinating pictures and facts of how the climbing has changed over 83 years. Also he lists the names and dates of all 206 British summiteers plus some interesting historical facts by year. All in all a very nice job Colin!


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March 13, 2009

Climber Mini Interview - Megan Delehanty - Packed and Ready

What if it was you that was about to leave to climb Mt. Everest? What would you be thinking? Would you be relaxed, excited, confident, scared? Well with the clock ticking down to takeoff time for Himex climber Megan Delehanty, she was generous with her time to answer a couple of quick questions.

This will be Megan's second trip to Everest. She reached the Second Step on the north side in 2007. She was prepared to return last year but delayed until now. So this is one climber who epitomizes: ready, ready, ready, set, set and now - finally - GO!

You can follow Megan through her blog. Megan supports Room to Read, an organization that promotes education for children by building schools and libraries in developing countries. Climb High, Climb Safe, Climb On Megan!

Megan DelehantyQ: With only a couple of weeks to go, what occupies your thoughts right now?

My checklist of things to do before I leave - packing; training; dinners with family and friends; getting Betsy Ross, our new puppy, ready for my 2 month absence (or vice versa); work; filing my taxes. What's going to happen to the economy while I'm gone? Who's going to win American Idol?

Once I board the flight to Kathmandu, I will have just one thing on my mind... and I'll sleep better.


Q: You have been to the Second Step on the north so you know what you are getting into ;) Any late night dreams about summit night?

I hope that I am once again in a position to attempt the summit and that we will have good weather. If so, everything that follows will depend on how well I prepared.


Q: What is the most common question you are getting these days?

Do you feel as prepared as you did in 2007? This is funny to me because I had just 2 months notice when I was asked if I wanted to join the 2007 expedition. I hope I am better prepared!


Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this year?

Being part of an Everest expedition is an amazing experience, as you know, despite the increasing number of climbers on the mountain. Hopefully the teams on the south side this year will work together to alleviate the dangers and bottlenecks that crowds can create. By everything I've read, I believe it will be a great season and I'm in no mood to hear otherwise (Manny!! :) ).

Team Updates
I added a link to the north Czech team however, understandably, the site is not in English. As mentioned yesterday via Many Pizarro, this may be the largest north team with 20 members. Looks like UK based Adventure Peaks is also running a north climb so there will be Brits on the north this year after all. Also added a link to Ed Viesturs site where I believe he will be posting dispatches. He is on the Eddie Bauer sponsored team publicizing their new clothing line. Dave Han is also on that team.

Random Notes
Adventure Consultants have updated their website with a nice fresh new look. Well done !


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March 11, 2009

Update from Kathmandu: 5 teams on the north
There are a few teams trying to climb from the north this year and Manny Pizarro leads one of them. I contacted him directly in Kathmandu and he reports that the north will be open on April 1:

Alan, Thanks for your email.  Yes we are still trying to climb from the North. We are in Katmandu right now and we are finding out as much info as possible.  Today we got news that the Dalai Lama asked all his supporters to not demonstrate violently.  Very few demonstration were seen here in Nepal on the 50th.

Word is from TMA that the North will open on April 1st but that is yet to be seen.  An Indian Team, us, another Canadian team and 20 climbers from the Czech Republic.  All in all I think there is only 5 teams waiting for the North which will be interesting to see who will fix ropes.

We are planning on 3 man alpine ascent not using fixed ropes as we think with the lack of manpower the North will not be fixed until late May. We are considering the South but finances may prevent us from doing it there.

The truth is the South is beginning to smell like 1996????? I hope not. Manny, Team Leader

His reference to 1996 is for the crowds. We already know this will be a record year for climbers on the south and team leaders like Eric Simonson, Russell Brice and Phil Crampton are anticipating this and are looking at extra fixed lines and coordinating summit attempts.

Manny's team is climbing for a great cause in the Lung Association of Quebec. Please take a look at their site. Let's hope that all goes well on both sides for all the climbers and staff.


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March 11, 2009

Interview with Phil Crampton - Altitude Junkies
There are many companies that guide on Everest. Some are huge and some are small. But one thing they all have in common is that one person who had a vision, made it happen.

Many emails I receive ask me who I suggest as a guide. My approach is to focus on the experience they are looking for and not necessarily the company. The big names provide great experiences but sometimes the teams will be quite large and you interact with the front office and not your specific guide or leader. This is not bad, just different than what the small companies like Altitude Junkies provides.

I met Phil Crampton while planning Everest 2008. He was scheduled to provide our logistics for our north side climb. But at the last minute as we switched to the south, Phil's expertise and contacts became invaluable as he made all the changes thus enabling our team to climb from the south.

Over the next few months, I got to know him very well and found a competent climber, leader and organizer with amazing contacts throughout Tibet and Nepal. Also a man of integrity and humor. Phil is the sole owner of Altitude Junkies. While he is a one man show, this is what he does for a living and he does it well.

Phil CramptonQ: Altitude Junkies is a relatively new company but you have years of experience in running expeditions. What caused you to start your own company

A: I led several expeditions to both Cho Oyu and Shishapangma at the start of the decade under the Altitude Junkies banner. This was the start of the company but I put the Junkies on hold for a few years as I was working with the Tibet Guide School and Dan Mazur graciously allowed me to continue training the students while I was working for his expeditions. I also worked for Mountain Madness as Christine Boskoff (before her untimely death), Nima Tsering and I had discussed Mountain Madness helping train the students on their Tibet expeditions in the future. The present boss at Madness, Mark Gunlogson, has also been a big supporter of the Tibetan Sherpas. The reason for starting the Junkies was that I wanted to offer good value expeditions for the budget conscious climber without risking safety and reducing the quality of services.


Q: You work closely with the China Tibet Mountaineering Association (CTMA). Can you tell us about the climbing school in Lhasa and your role?

A: The school was established by my good friend Nima Tsering, the CTMA and the Ozark gear company in 1999. Students aged 16 and above are selected from the villages and towns near to Cho Oyu, Shishapangma and Everest as well as Lhasa. They receive room and board and a three-year education in climbing techniques, reading, writing, etc. The revenues from western expeditions that hire the Tibetan Sherpas from the schools expedition company, Himalaya Expedition, finance the operational budget of the school. Another close friend, Jon Otto and I both taught mountaineering techniques to the students and I also taught safe hygienic food preparation, cooking western style dishes and English reading and vocabulary. Although living in Lhasa for months at a time does have some drawbacks.


Q: It has become more complicated to plan for north side climbs over the past couple of years. When do you think we will see it return to a more predictable environment?

A: It was a shame that the Chinese closed down the mountain from the north side last year as the impact was felt hardest by the Nepal Sherpas who go to work in Tibet each spring. The Tibetan Sherpas were all hired for the Olympic torch carry but the local Tibetan kitchen boys also went without valuable work that pays them their annual salary. The rule imposed on teams having only two different nationalities plus Nepalese staff was introduced by the CTMA, I believe as a way to combat the Wild West lawlessness, as one journalist once described, that the north side had become. The CTMA may impose this rule in the future and that will see a dramatic reduction in the fixed departure expeditions with several nationalities of climbers. The companies that focus on specific nationalities where their respective offices are based will prosper and the mountains will be less crowded. After all the important anniversaries in Tibet have passed we may see more teams being admitted in 2010 and onwards.
Q: Phil, you run a great base camp. What do you think is most important in making it comfortable thus setting up climbers for successful attempts?


A: Team compatibility is an important factor. If there was a climber who wanted to climb Everest, solo, not use fixed ropes, climb without oxygen and naked, they would not be on a Junkies expedition. We aim to help real people reach the summit in the safest possible way. Everest is a long expedition and we try to make base camp as comfortable as possible for the days when climbers need to rest and decompress. Individual spacious base camp sleeping tents without interior mold are nice as well as a clean kitchen and dining room; must haves are solar electricity and the removal of all garbage, including human waste. I have a running joke with Russell Brice that I am trying to catch up with him and match his base camp services. I am still working on this though.


Q: You summited from the south last year for the first time. How did it compare for you given you have summited from the north several times?

A. My north side team last year wanted to go south after the announcement that Tibet was closed and we had a great time. All the climbers I know who have climbed both sides have different opinions on which side is easier. It’s a completely different climb. The south sees early morning trips through the icefall and several acclimatization carries. The north has more time at advanced base camp but later starts, and less acclimatization carries until the summit push.


Q: You keep your teams to 8 climbers when some companies have 20 or more. Why so small?

A: Our expeditions do not advertise the lowest price to encourage larger teams. I think a team of eight with one expedition leader/manager and a 1:1 Sherpa to climber ratio works for most of my climbers. It gives us a good amount of staff on hand if a problem arises up high and we do not have to schedule climbers to go and sleep at the respective campsites, as our tents are never over crowded. I do respect the guided companies such as Mountain Madness with a 3:1 guide to client ratio and International Mountain Guides with one expedition manager and 24 climbers. They both have great records and each of their climber’s has their own personal needs and styles for climbing Everest.


Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this season?

A: 2008 was a very safe year although the north side was closed. Lets hope we can repeat this for 2009. I am expecting we will see the same cooperation between all the teams on the south side as we had in 2008, this making things a little bit easier for all the climbers and Sherpas.

Phil is taking 8 climbers to the south side again this spring. You can follow his progress on his site. As always Phil, Climb High, Climb Safe, Climb On!


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March 9, 2009

Interview with Eric Simonson - International Mountain Group (IMG)
There are only a few companies that run with the scale of IMG. They do trips to all 7 Summits, plus countless other mountains around the globe. Eric Simonson and his partners have established themselves as one of, if not the most dominate player on Everest's Nepal side by running large teams safely year in year out. In fact they often find themselves in the midst of rescuing other team's members due to their extensive on-mountain resources and a healthy unselfish attitude.

My first interaction with Eric was a kind of rescue. I had signed up for Cho Oyu with another company. However at the last minute they canceled and asked Eric to take us on. Eric made a few calls and within days I found myself in Kathmandu linked up with a Japanese team and on my way to Cho Oyu base camp.

This sense of adventure dominates Eric. In 1999, I found myself once again working with him to try to get my employer to sponsor his effort to find George Mallory's body on Everest. We never got to work on that together but he did find Mallory's body, something of a needle in a haystack event for mountaineering.

Eric has taken a slightly different tact to guiding Everest. He accepts rather large teams of competent climbers then matches each climber with a personal Sherpa for summit night. His base camp facilities have all the frills but he manages costs carefully and charges about 25% less than some of his competitors.

So what is his secret to safety, success and thoughts on the crowds these days? Read on!

Eric SimonsonQ: IMG has become the dominant large company for Everest south side climbs. What is the secret to your success?

There are several excellent companies doing trips each year on the South side, and each is slightly different in terms of what they offer and their general philosophy. The challenge is to cut through the hyperbole and really understand the differences. I’ll take some of the credit for IMG’s success, because I know how hard I have worked over the years to organize these trips, but this is has really been a team effort.

It is really a challenging business which requires skills ranging from mountain guiding to customer service to accounting and no one person can do it all. The good news is that we have a great IMG team back in Ashford, WA at our office, and my partners Phil, Geo, Paul and wife Erin have all been a big help too. On the operational side, our IMG guides and leaders like Tucker, Merle, Hamill and my longtime partners Jangbu and Pasang in Nepal and their Sherpa team make a big difference. We have some really good people working for us and we all try to do the best job we can.


Q: Many of your clients select the 'non-guided' option at a significant savings. What climbing experience do you want to see from these climbers?

Our non-guided members will climb with a top notch Sherpa, and this relationship is for them more like climbing with a good climbing partner than with a western guide. We want climbers that can function well in this kind of relationship, so that means they need to be well dialed in on their gear and climbing techniques. This is excellent for some people, while others prefer a western guide, which we can also provide if they want. We generally expect our climbers to have been to climbs like Denali and Aconcagua, and performed well on these trips. We really like it when they have been to Cho Oyu, which remains the best Everest preparation, in my opinion.


Q: There has been a lot of work recently to introduce 'green' climbing techniques on Everest. How is IMG approaching this issue?

It would be hypocritical to say that much of anything about climbing Everest is “green”. On the other hand, we try to do what we can, on several different levels. The garbage deposits charged now by SPCC have been instrumental in getting teams to take care of the garbage—now we have to send all burnable items to Namche to be incinerated, bottles and cans go to KTM for recycle, and O2 bottles have to be re-exported from Nepal before we can get the garbage deposit back. At Base Camp we pay the money to have the latrines emptied and the waste goes down to Gorak Shep to be buried.

We are very careful to bring all our O2 bottles down, though this is more of a business decision (the cylinders are valuable and can be refilled). The problem of discarded bottles is old news, the mountain is really quite clean now (btw, I have several hundred old oxygen bottles in my basement that I bought from Sherpas who carried them down from the South Col, maybe someday I will get around to putting them on Ebay!). At Camp 2 we have been working hard the last few years to get other teams to join us in building latrines and having people crap in toilet bags, that can be crevassed. In the old days we used to have to ship a lot more food and gear to Nepal, but now a days a lot more is available in Kathmandu, so that is less shipping that is required.

For power at BC we normally rely on solar and only run the generator when the weather is bad and there is no sun. I have a wind generator that worked great at Rongbuk (windy) but not so well at Khumbu EBC (more sheltered). Back at IMG headquarters in Ashford we do a lot of things like carpooling and we converted all our vans (to shuttle climbers up to Mt Rainier) to run on propane.

Bottom line, though, is that we have still have a huge carbon footprint. Making down suits out of hemp is not the solution. We have looked at ideas like buying carbon credits, but have not done anything yet in this regard, but I think this might be one way to go, especially if they were bundled into the cost of the trip, since this is certainly a cost in the big picture. I personally own a 30 acre woodlot that I planted with 12,000 doug fir trees, so that helps!


Q: Your safety record is outstanding on Everest. What do you attribute this to?

I worry. A lot. We are always trying to formulate contingencies and “what if” scenarios. We’ll take good luck when we get it, but just hoping for good luck is not a strategy—we need to create good luck. For example, we don’t take climbers on our trips that have not been to altitude before and demonstrated the technical skills they need. Second, we really work with our climbers, both guided and non-guided, to prepare them for getting up high and we set high expectations for their performance on the mountain. If people are going to get a summit shot, they need to demonstrate their ability to perform. If somebody is not getting the job done, we will turn them around and send them down. Third, we plan for contingencies, for example holding extra Sherpas at the Col with extra oxygen in position to go up and assist if someone has a problem up high.

Q: The Discovery Channel will be sending two cameramen along with your team this year. How will they film the team on summit night?

My understanding is that they will shoot with small HD cameras and also utilize the microwave helmet cams that they had on the North side in 2007.


Q: You have 24 team members for 2009. With few teams on the north, the south will be quite crowded. How do you manage the crowds on summit night?

Getting the route well fixed really makes a big difference. Last year we had both up and down ropes in a number of places, so this really helped with the traffic jams a lot. Second, we never all go as one big team -- I would expect that we will do three or four summit bids for our group, on separate days. Some people want to go fast and get up early. Others want to hang back and let some other groups get up first. We try to let people choose what makes the most sense for themselves.


Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this season?
I am fond of saying that Everest is the world’s greatest stage, and that every year a new group of actors come to perform. Some will give good performances, some not so good, but I admire anyone who is willing to come and try, whether they do well or not. Personally, it took me three tries to get to the summit and in retrospect that just made it all that much better for when I finally made it. Whether people make the top, or try and fail, the main thing is that they do it with integrity.

IMG has 24 climbers for the 2009 spring climb. This includes two camera people from Tigress/Discovery. It will be interesting to see how the series is done from the south with dramatic footage of the Ice Fall, Western Cwm, Lhotse Face, South Col, Hillary Step and more. However knowing Eric, who knows what they might film! You can follow this years climb on the IMG Blog.

Thanks Eric for the interview. Climb High, Climb Safe, Climb On!


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March 8, 2009

Two Weeks to go!

As we enter March, the Everest 2009 season is starting to take shape. It has been a lot of fun interviewing climbers, operators, guides and service providers over the past couple of months. And there will be more with some interesting views coming up this week. This is what we have learned thus far:

  • few if any teams will climb from the north
  • climbers planning on the north have already switched to the south
  • the south will see a record number of climbers
  • teams are already thinking about how to minimize traffic jams on the upper mountain
  • extra Sherpas (Icefall doctors) have been added to fix ropes
  • Tigress Productions/Discovery Channel will film two teams on the south side
  • investments are being made to improve the technical skills (medical, climbing, rescue) of Sherpas
  • more individual climbers than ever are prepared to blog during their climbs to their personal websites
  • Viagra does not help acclimatization!

All of this goes to the point that in spite of last year's difficulties, climbing Everest has never been more popular. Almost every operator has filled all their spots. And some have 25 or more climbers on their teams. The causalities thus far are mostly the Tibetan staff given the little activity that is taking place on the north side of Everest. They will have little to no business for the second year in a row. I wonder how their services will survive through this drought of business and what it will be like when the north side returns to normalcy.

Kathmandu seems ready for the tourist season with record number of trekkers and climbers arriving over the next few weeks. The changes in government appears not to have hurt this important money generator for this poor country. Flights are nearly sold out so if climbers have not made reservations by now, they may have some difficulty finding seats.

Many climbers are leaving their home country around March 25th - only two weeks from now. Their training is over, their reservations made, their bags are getting packed. This is when it begins to sink in to themselves and their families: They are going to climb Mt. Everest!

Climb High, Climb Safe, Climb On - everyone.


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March 6, 2009

Meet the Climbers: Andrew Lock - the last 8000m plus Everest-solo
He is probably the most successful and least know climber in the world. This low key Australian is a man of generosity and lacks all pretense. I know this for a fact after spending almost 5 weeks with him on Shishapangma in 2007. Without going into the gory details, he added value to our team in ways no one ever expected.

Andrew started climbing big mountains with Everest in 1991. True to his character he abandoned this climb to give aid to a fellow climber. However he returned two years later and once again gave up his summit to give aid. Not deterred, Andrew finally summited Everest not once but twice in 2000 and again in 2004. AND he has summited 13 of the 14 highest peaks on earth.

With Shishapangma eluding him a frustrating two times, he is retuning in the spring of 2009. But in addition he wants to go back to Everest and go for a solo, no O's climb for the Tibet side. So what drives this ambitious Australian? Read on to find out:

Andrew LockQ: Given you have been to Shisha twice before, what will you do different this time to attain the true summit?

I’ve previously been to Shisha in the post monsoon and found the conditions for the traverse to dangerous. I’m hoping that in the pre monsoon the mountain will be a little cleaner. I’m also planning to do a variation of the normal route to avoid both the summit ridge and the nasty traverse from Camp 3. I’ll try to traverse lower.

Q: You are adding a solo, no supplemental oxygen Everest climb after Shisha from the Tibet side. Why solo?

Because nobody wants to go with me!! Not too many people are keen to do two 8000ers in one expedition, particularly if Everest is the second one. I’ll be going to Everest fully acclimatised after Shisha but it’ll be right at the end of the season, which means I’ll have to hit the mountain running, literally. If all goes well, I plan to do it from the north side as I’ll already be in Tibet and I’ll just go fully alpine style and try to climb it in one push from basecamp. No guarantees of success but I like the idea of a challenge where the outcome isn’t certain and I’ve already summited Everest twice in the traditional way.

Q: There have been rumors that the Tibet side of Everest was closed for cleaning in 2009. How did you get a permit?

Actually, I’m not sure what’s going to happen this season. Tibet is currently closed but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will open. If not, then I’ll just go to Everest south side and try the solo oxygenless ascent on that side but it will be a lot more crowded.

Q: Your goal is to climb all the 14 8000m mountains. Can you tell us a little about your motivation for this project?

I just climb for the love of it. I set myself the goal of climbing Everest after I saw a slide show in the ‘80s, so I learnt to rock climb, then alpine climb and gradually climbed higher and higher peaks until I was ready for the 8000ers. Everest was my 7th 8000 metre summit, so after that I just thought I keep on climbing them. There isn’t any pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for me when (if) I finish them; I just love climbing them.

Q: Of the 13 you have summited, which has been the most challenging and the most satisfying and why?

That’s a hard one because all the 8000ers have been challenging and very rewarding. If I had to choose it’d be Annapurna I think. My first attempt in 2005 ended in tragedy when we were hit by an avalanche. My 2007 ascent was terrifying but I climbed with a fantastic team (Ivan Vallejo and Fernando Gonzalez – the rest gave up) and we pushed through very technical climbing on the German ridge and serious avalanche danger to finally crack the summit. It was the first Australian ascent but more importantly it was incredibly enriching to succeed in the face of so much adversity.

Q: You summited K2 in 1993. Any thoughts on the disaster of 2008?

I don’t really know enough about it to make an informed comment. But it’s a tough hill and needs to be treated with respect. It isn’t a place for punters (novices).

Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this year?

Climbing the 8000ers is an immensely dangerous and challenging activity and I’ve a lost a lot of friends over the years. If you are thinking of hitting an 8000er, build up some good experience on challenging, lower altitude, peaks for a few years first. You’ll have a better time on the 8000er when you do try it and you’ve a better chance to come back from it.

If you want to follow my progress on the next expedition, you can log onto my website www.andrew-lock.com and hit the despatches button for regular live updates from the hill.

Andrew you know we will be pulling for you on Shisha and Everest will be the bonus. Climb High, Climb Safe, Climb On!


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March 5, 2009

Interview with Russell Brice - Himalayan Experience
Ten years ago Russell Brice was running the logistics for Richard Branson's balloon trips. But he was also climbing the big mountains of the world including a successful climb of the Pinnacles on Everest's Northeast Ridge in 1988. Today he owns Himalayan Experience and is probably best know for his Everest expeditions highlighted on the Discovery Channel's series - Everest Beyond the Limit.

UK based Tigress Productions actually films the series. The Discovery Channel distribute it in the U.S. and Sky in the U.K. Ed Wardell is the overall producer/ director and will be with Russell again in 2009. Also on the team are Mark Whetu, cameraman with 5 summits; Ken Sauls, cameraman 3 times at summit and Kirsty Mitchell, microwave technician according to team member Eugene Constant.

I first met Russell on Cho Oyu in1998. He was a personable yet quiet man who exudes confidence. For 2009 he takes his team from their comfort position of being the dominate north side team to climbing the Nepal side. Uncertainty with permits created by the Chinese have made almost all the spring teams shift south.

I asked Russell if he would do an interview for my site and in his characteristic brevity simply replied "You know I really hate doing these things, but as you have half of my people talking to you already I had best say something!!!" And with that here is my interview with Russell Brice:

Russell BriceQ: Himex has become the dominate large company for Everest north side climbs. How do you feel about climbing from the south this year?
Firstly, I am very sad that I cannot continue to help my Tibetan friends who we have been working with on various projects over the years. Actually I am quite excited to go back to the South side again, I was first there in 1981 on a two man West Ridge attempt, and I visited last year. I have spent a lot of time in the Khumbu and am pleased to be back in the home land of my Sherpa’s. I am interested to look at slightly different logistics than many of the other teams, and to use our past experience to its best avail.

Q: Your Sherpas are the best in the business and fix the ropes on the north. How will that work this year on the south?
As you know the SPCC are responsible for fixing the rope through the ice fall. Recently I met with them and suggested that as it appears that the South side will be more busy this year that the SPCC should provide more staff to work in the ice fall and that they should put a double route in various places, they agreed to do this. The Sherpa’s are the people traveling through the ice fall the most, (in order to support Western climbers) so we should try to make this route as safe and fast for them.

For fixed rope higher on the mountain this has normally been done by various teams after discussions at BC. This method is like what used to happen on the North side, but we learnt over the years that this was not very efficient or cost effective. It is not for me to change how things are done on the South side, so I suspect that we will discuss at BC.

Q: There has been a lot of work recently to introduce 'green' climbing techniques on Everest. How is Himex approaching this issue?
We have been removing our rubbish and human waste for many years and using solar for all of our lighting and communications. We will be doing the same on the South side. All climbers have an impact on mountains and should be looking after the environment as much as they can. Part of this is by having enough Sherpa support to enable teams to remove all their camps and rubbish to where it can be dealt with efficiently. Being green is pretty trendy, we should be just doing this automatically.

However, please note that I still need to use generators for support for the film team, I cannot keep up with their power requirements by solar.

Q: You have never lost a climber on Everest. What do you do differently from the others?
There is always the chance to lose members, guides or Sherpa’s on Everest. We are no different than other teams, but I do put a lot of effort into safety, safety, safety. Probably attention to detail and good communications, but also we have very experienced guides and Sherpa’s who make up a very strong team.

Q: How will you approach managing the climb given there is no central location like the North Col for the south?
Of course the North Col was a very convenient place to be located on summit day. I suspect that I will be with the receiving equipment that Tigress Productions will have for the helmet cams, that way I can see what conditions are like on summit day.

Q: The Discovery Channel will be sending cameramen along with your team again this year. Anything different given it is from the south?
We have never worked for Discovery Channel, we actually provide the logistics to Tigress Productions who produce a film about some of our climbers who then sell this to Discovery. Yes there are several logistical issues that have had to be addressed in order to make this all work from the South side. That is interesting to me, but boring for most climbers.

Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this season?
I just hope that we and all the other people on the mountain all have a safe and successful season.

By the way, I know several of your clients this year - Billi, Eugene, David Tait. I think you have an incredible group and sincerely wish you all the best.
Yes I think we have quite a strong team, but the proof is in the climbing.

Cheers Russ

Russell is one of the more controversial figures in guided climbing. Sometimes the criticism feels valid other times off base. Those who know him often become supporters for life. No matter what you think, you cannot argue with his track record of safety and success. Thanks Russell for sharing your thoughts with us and best of luck for a safe 2009 season.


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March 3, 2009

Discovery Channel to Film IMG
IMG has posted on their website that they have reached an agreement with the Discovery Channel to film their south side 2009 spring expedition. It is not clear if Russell Brice's Himalayan Experience team is out. IMG has a reported 24 total climbers on their team for Everest, Lhotse, High Camps climbs, etc. so Discovery will have a wide range of characters to select from. Here is the quote from IMG:

Our 2009 IMG Everest team just got a few new members. IMG Himalayan Director Eric Simonson, and a film team featuring IMG on Discovery Channel's popular Everest TV series, will join the great group of climbers and trekkers already on board for IMG's 2009 Everest expedition.

UPDATE:
It appears that Discovery will send two small film teams: one for Himex and one for IMG.


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March 3, 2009

Diamox, Gingko or Viagra? An Interview with Dr. Hargrove of the IFAM
Dr. Jenny Hargrove was looking for a change when I met her on our climb of Tibet's Shishapangma in 2007. After the climb she made a huge life change from being an ER Physician at the Stanford University Medical Center to working with the legendary Dr. Peter Hackett at his Institute in Telluride Colorado.

When you think about high altitude medicine the name Dr. Peter Hackett comes immediately to mind. His resume reads like a who's who of mountaineering locations and adventures. Among many responsibilities, he served from 1982-1996 as the Medical Director for the Denali National Park Mountaineering Rangers. Today he heads The Institute For Altitude Medicine (IFAM).

Now Dr. Jen and Dr. Hackett collaborate on researching the effects of altitude related illness, provide clinical care, consultation and education for health care providers and the public through their Telluride clinic. If you want to know anything about altitude related issues, take a look at their publication page or contact them.

I wanted to ask about altitude and the effect on climbers with Everest just around the corner. Here is my interview with Dr. Jenny Hargrove:

Drs Hargrove and HackettQ: You moved from Palo Alto to join Dr. Peter Hacket in Telluride at the IFAM. How is the change of location going?

The change is quite marvelous, really. Telluride is nestled in a little box canyon in the San Juans of southwestern Colorado and Telluride, being one of the higher ski resorts in North America is a great location to do altitude related research. Dr. Hackett opened the Institute for Altitude Medicine in 2007 and I joined him late that year. IFAM is a nonprofit organization dedicated to education, clinical consultation, and altitude related research. Our website is a wealth of information for those interested in better educating themselves on how to prevent altitude illness, what to look for in terms of signs of altitude sickness, and what they or their provider can do to prevent and treat it. www.altitudemedicine.org

Q: Climbers always ask what they can do to prevent AMS, HAPE and HACE. How do answer that?

Alan, nothing beats slow acclimatization and optimizing your health during exposure to altitude. General recommendations for ascent are as follows;
for altitudes greater than 3000m (10,000ft) jumps of (300-500m or 1000-1500ft) are recommended. For gains in altitude greater than 1000m (3000ft) spending an additional night at altitude will improve acclimatization. These are ball park recommendations good for most people. Some people need to go slower than this, others may be able to go faster. For those with prior history of severe AMS, HAPE, or HACE or for planned ascents faster than the recommendation, Diamox is recommended to speed up acclimatization and prevent symptoms. Avoiding heavy exertion the first day at a new altitude, avoiding alcohol, benzos, and narcotics are some of the other standard precautions. Respiratory infections can also predispose someone to altitude sickness so watch that hygiene!

Q: Natural herb products like Ginkgo Biloba are becoming a popular alternative to Diamox. Does it work to help climbers acclimatize faster?

There is some evidence that Ginkgo Biloba does work to prevent altitude sickness when started at 100mg twice a day 3-5 days prior to ascent. Some evidence does not support Ginkgo. The challenge is that researchers do not yet know the 'active ingredient' that may be beneficial in Ginkgo. There are so many different over the counter preparations of Ginkgo it is very likely that the dosage of the unknown active ingredient varies from preparation to preparation thus leading to the variable results in literature. Some people prefer to take this as an alternative to prescription medication which is fine as long as they know that results may be variable and less reliable.

Q: Diamox has a bad rap as a 'drug' for some climbers but I know you think it has excellent benefits. Can you tell us why?

Diamox has for uncertain reasons gotten a bad rap especially in parts of Europe. It is the most studied, tried, and true of all altitude medications out there and it is invaluable for those predisposed to altitude related issues. The bad rap likely partially comes from the label it gets as a 'performance enhancing drug'. In all reality Diamox just speeds up your acclimatization. It is a mild diuretic and makes you pee off base which in turn makes your blood slightly acidic. Your lungs compensate by breathing faster to get rid of CO2 (a blood acid) to balance the pH. The result is you get respiratory stimulation or simply breath faster and take on more oxygen. This is the same exact pathway your body utilizes to help you acclimatize. Some people have an inappropriately slow breathing response to lower oxygen levels and Diamox may be especially beneficial for these people. In addition, Diamox likely reduces the amount of CSF (cerebral spinal fluid production in the brain) thus creating slightly lower brain volumes (good thing altitude) and in animal studies it blunted the elevated pulmonary artery pressure response (high blood pressure in the lungs) that occurs at altitude and makes some especially prone to HAPE. Also, there is a giant myth out there that you will get rebound symptoms if you discontinue Diamox at altitude. This is not true.

Q: I hear of more climbers taking Viagra or Cialis to acclimatize faster. Other than the side effects, do they really make climbers happier at altitude and do they work for women?

The 'hearsay' that Cialis or Viagra will speed up your acclimatization is false. Viagra and Cialis are phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors and act to dialate the blood vessels in the penis AND the lungs. Cialis has been shown to prevent the high blood pressure response in the lungs and prevent HAPE in HAPE susceptible individuals. While this is very useful for HAPE prevention neither have been show to prevent AMS or HACE. Contrary to popular opinion Viagra will enhance exercise performance in certain individuals at altitude NOT in everyone. The responders likely have a condition such as preexisting pulmonary hypertension (elevated blood pressure in the lungs) or may be found to have exercise or exaggerated hypoxia induced pulmonary hypertension at altitude. These individuals likely represent the responder group. Viagra can be very beneficial for these individuals. Again, not everyone will respond to enhanced exercise performance by taking Viagra and those that take it sometimes experience headaches which may confound the picture at altitude. Although most testing has been done on men, Viagra will likely work on women with the same issues at altitude and Viagra has already been approved by the FDA (called Revatio) to treat pulmonary hypertension in both men and women. Cialis will likely work to prevent HAPE in women, too.

Q: We climbed on Shishapangma in 2007 together. Any plans to climb another 8000m mountain one day.

Alan, we had a great time on Shishapangma in 2007. I definitely plan to try another 8000m peak one day and would love to give Shisha another go, hopefully with better conditions this time!! What's next on your list??

Q: The Institute is supported by donations. How is it going and how can we help?

How wonderful of you to ask. The Institute for Altitude Medicine is supported by donations, a few small grants, and very limited amount of clinical income. As you know research does not really pay. We are hoping to provide valuable information for climbers, trekkers, and those who live at altitude on many altitude related topics. These times are tough for a nonprofit organization and on behalf of the Institute for Altitude Medicine and Dr. Peter Hackett and myself we are open to any donation no matter how large or small. Our website www.altitudemedicine.org has a paypal link for those interested. There is also a wealth of information on the website. Dr. Hackett and myself are happy to do specific email or phone consults for any climber or person with concerns about traveling to altitude. Don't hesitate to contact us!!

Ok, there you have it - all you wanted to know about altitude but was afraid to ask. Visit the IFAM site to learn more. It is probably the best resource on the web on this subject. Thanks Jen!


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March 2, 2009

Ed Viesturs is still busy after all those summits
Some people just don't know when to stop (as if I should say this!). Eddy is busy these days with a new line of technical clothing from the Mall King - Eddie Bauer. They have teamed with Ed, guide Dave Hahn and RMI Co-owner, Peter Whittaker to launch a new line of clothing named First Ascent. Of course Ed does has a nice history of helping other people get rich. He was instrumental in helping Mountain Hardwear launch in the 1990's.

But that 's not all. Ed is also guiding on Everest this season. Along with Hahn, they are guiding a team to launch the new brand. From Viestur's site:

The First Ascent Guide Team is led by Peter Whittaker, son of acclaimed mountaineer Lou Whittaker and nephew of Jim Whittaker, who wore Eddie Bauer gear on his historic first American ascent of Everest. Also part of the team is Ed Viesturs, the only American to summit all fourteen 8000-meter peaks without bottled oxygen, and Dave Hahn, who has summited Everest ten times, more than any non-Sherpa. Joining Peter, Ed, and Dave are three accomplished guides from Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. (RMI), the largest guide company in the U.S.: Melissa Arnot, Seth Waterfall, and Chad Peele. Lou and Jim Whittaker have acted as advisors to the team.

According to an article in Outside Blog, the team will include a 17 year-old girl aspiring to be the youngest American to summit Everest. Hahn will guide her. And Melissa Arnot will climb without supplemental O's trying to be the first American woman to summit without extra O's.

All this is sponsored by Eddie Bauer who is trying to revive their brand. Where do I get in on this deal?


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March 1, 2009

Meet the Climbers: Alec Turner: Alaskan 7 Summitter starting with Everest
Alec's love of mountains was shaped early in his life as he tells me "in the late 50's my dad's good friends, pioneered a route up the south east ridge traverse over to the west buttress and routes on Deborah, Hess and Hays. In 1997 a close friend was the first to snowboard off the north side of Denali. As you know us Alaskans are half crazy so that has been a driving force for me. I can remember slide shows of their climbs in the early 70's I thought it was the coolest thing."

So with the seed planted, he has set his sights on climbing the 7 Summits and starting with Everest! In 2007 and 2008, he has attempted Denali first but weather has stopped him so now he is off to Nepal with Himex.

Alec TurnerQ: Your dad is an avid outdoors man in Alaska. What does he think about your Everest attempt ?
I think my dad is one of my biggest supporters. He knows my abilities better than most. When I told him about this climb, he asked if I remembered when he took me and my sisters to see the film “The Man Who Skied Mt. Everest “ in 1975 and how excited I got. Seeing that film is what started this whole thing.

Q: You wanted to climb from the north in 2008 but your expedition was cancelled. How do you feel about climbing the south this spring?
I am excited to climb from the south, but bummed that I’m not climbing the north side. Hopefully, the south won’t have too much traffic in the ice falls, on the cornice traverse and on the Hillary step. Those three areas are prone to traffic jams. A traffic jam in Alaska is two cars at the stop sign.

I am also concerned about the Khumbu cough. I have had to educate myself about this. I live in Fairbanks, Alaska, a place that at times humans should not live in. The air is super dry and so cold it will take your breath away. It’s dark five months of the year. I hope my outdoor training will prepare me for the challenges on Everest.

Q: What do you think will be the largest challenge for you on the Everest climb?
Is it a physical or mental challenge? I think this whole expedition will be a challenge from the time I leave Alaska. For one reason, I have spent 38 years living in the Last Frontier and have only traveled in the United States. Climbing with such a large group will be a challenge in itself. As far as the climb, I think the cornice traverse is the most intimidating part of the whole route. The Lhotse face will also have its own challenge. Who doesn’t think 3000 vertical feet of ice and snow is not a challenge? I think one of the biggest challenges will be the time away from my one year old baby, Jade.

Q: Your goal is to climb all seven summits. Why start with Everest since Denali is in your back yard?
If I summit Everest, it will be the first of the seven. I have looked at Denali for 38 years. It is so big. In the view from Fairbanks, it sits all alone with only Foraker to the side. I have climbed Denali twice, in 2007 and 2008. I did not summit. In 2007, we got stuck at 14,200 feet for 13 days while waiting out the weather. In 2008, we got our High Camp situated and took a rest day. The next morning, when we tried to start the stoves, three of the four stoves failed. That was just the start of our problems. One of the team members could not feel his fingers and the other showed signs of pulmonary edema. On top of that, the weather forecast was not in our favor. We had only one choice and it was to descend to 14,200 feet. We spent 10 days waiting out the weather before we ran out of food.

Q: I have interviewed some of your Himex teammates about their feelings of being a movie star with Discovery filming your team, any thoughts?
It would be nice to be in the show, but I don’t look at it as making me a movie star. I just want to represent Alaska and the way we live in the Last Frontier.

Q: You are a small business owner. Any concerns with leaving the business for two months?
I have been working toward this for three years and I hope all of the training I have given my employees will pay off. I will keep in touch with the office every few days to answer any technical questions. Business is still strong in Alaska. We have not been hit too hard with the economic downturn.

Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this year?
My best advice is to follow your dreams, whether it’s to become a doctor, a mountaineer or a house painter. And let’s hope that the climbing season is good for all.

This former Alaskan winter crab fisherman has experience in tough environments so you can bet he will get to the top. You can follow Alec on his site. He will be joined by his wife Amanda on the trek to base camp. By the way, the picture of Alec is him proposing to Amanda via satellite phone from the 17K camp on Denali!! You can read her thoughts on her blog. Best of luck Alec with the first of seven! Climb High, Climb Safe, Climb On!


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February 25, 2009

Meet the Climbers: Billi Bierling: Journalist/Climber
OK, your job is to live in Kathmandu, interview climbers who claim to have summited one of the big Hills, maintain an electronic database of those summits and work with a legend. Sound like fun? Well that is the life of Billi Bierling.

Born in the German ski village of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Billi has lived and worked in London and Switzerland. She has worked for the United Nations and CBS's 60 Minutes television program. A journalist by education and profession, in 2004 she wrote a letter to the Grand Dame of Himalayan climbing, Miss Elizabeth Hawley volunteering to help her interview mountaineering teams about their expeditions. I think this is filed under "be careful what you ask for" since Miss Hawley accepted her offer and Billi moved to Kathmandu in 2004 as one of Miss Hawley's assistants.

Today Billi writes for several mountaineering publications, compiles political reports for German radio and leads expeditions to the Nepal trekking peaks. Her climbing CV includes Aconcagua, Lhakpa Ri, Mera and Island Peaks and more.

Even though Billi is busy preparing for her climb, she took some time to talk with me about living in Kathmandu, the Himalayan Database and more. Please enjoy:

Billi Bierling by Richard BullQ: You have lived in Kathmandu since 2004. There have been many changes since then. What is it like to live there and any advice for climbers coming this spring?
Correct, I have lived in Kathmandu since October 2004 but I have been climbing and trekking in the Himalaya since 1998. My then partner and I came here every year to climb the high passes and the trekking peaks of the Everest region. In 2001 we attempted Baruntse and even though we did not reach the summit it kind of paved the way for me in Nepal, as it was on this occasion that I met my future employer, Miss Elizabeth Hawley. But more about that later.

Anyway, living in Nepal is pretty different from going there on holiday as you are constantly faced with the little challenges this country poses for you. Kathmandu's residents have to deal with power cuts of up to 16 hours per day (I am currently writing this in the dark), fuel shortages, and during 2004 and 2005 we had to deal with curfews and political upheaval. And of course, as a cyclist (my bike is my one and only mean of transport in Kathmandu ... everything else would drive me mad) you are faced with potholes so big you could disappear in it completely, no streetlights and mad traffic! This all makes Kathmandu sound pretty tough, however, it is a great place to live and if I did not love Nepal and, much more important, its people, I would have left a long time ago.

I have also seen quite a few political changes and as you will probably know the Maoists, who had been fighting to topple the government and abolish the king from 1996 to 2006, have formed the new government, which has been in power since April last year. However, despite all these major changes in parliament and the fact that the king has been removed, very little has changed on the ground. There is a huge lack of good infrastructure, things are not really working properly and the government keeps on making promises they cannot keep. However, even though Nepal was never really dangerous for tourists during the Maoist insurgency it has now certainly become more attractive for tourists again, with as many as 10,000 trekkers going through the Sagarmatha National Park (Everest Region) last October.

So, my advice for climbers and trekkers coming this spring is: Just take Nepal the way it is and don't expect things to work like at home; just take in the amazing beauty of the country, its kind and friendly people and its high mountains! Just remember Nepal's slogan: Don't try and change Nepal - let Nepal change you!

Q: You have been working with Miss Hawley since 2004 but this is your first trip to Everest. Why now and any pressure ;) to summit from Miss Hawley?
Hmm - that is an interesting question. First of all there was NO pressure whatsoever from Miss Hawley, and even though having been on Everest myself will probably help me do the interviews with the mountaineers in the future, I think Miss Hawley would have preferred if I had stayed in Kathmandu to help her interview the teams. However, as I probably wont be leaving for the mountain before 10th April I will have the chance to meet most Everest teams arriving in Kathmandu.

So, why am I climbing it this year then. Well, it is a question I have asked myself many times and it sort of just happened really. I have been mountaineering in the Himalaya since 1998 and even though I did not manage to summit Cho Oyu (I reached Camp 2 at 7,100m) in 2005, I am quite strong at altitude. I lead expeditions to 6,000 and 7,000m peaks and I just love being out in the mountains. And with meeting so many Everest expeditions, I suppose it was just a matter of time to find out that I wanted to give it a try myself. There is actually no particular reason why I am going this year and I suppose at one point you have to make a decision of WHEN to go. And as I am feeling quite strong and fit at the moment (I have just led an expedition to Aconcagua in Argentina) I think there is no time as good as now.

However, as it is still not sure whether China will admit expeditions to Tibet this year the South side could be quite crowded this season. I am going with Himex (Russell Brice), who normally runs his expeditions from the north side, however, he is going to the Nepal side this year as the uncertainty about the Tibetan side is just not feasible for such a big expedition.

Q: The Himalayan Database is the Bible of Himalayan summits. Can you tell us a little about it and how to get it?
The Himalayan Database is a GREAT accumulation of Miss Hawley's archives. And I am not just saying it because I work for her. It is a great source of information for everyone who is interested in Himalayan climbing and has great search functions. If someone wants to find out about a certain route it is also a very valuable source of information as it has detailed route descriptions. It was published in 2004 but it can be updated on the internet twice a year - about six months after the respect climbing season!

Billli BierlingQ: Determining if someone really summited must be challenging at times. How do you approach this question for the database?
Well, I don't think I have quite accomplished Miss Hawley's authority and interview techniques but I believe that most mountaineers are pretty honest about their summit successes. Over the years I have met many climbers and expedition leaders and I have hardly had any doubts about their tales. However, if I do get the feeling that someone is not telling the truth I ask for pictures or turn to other people to find out whether they saw that particular person on the summit on that particular day (or near the summit). That is the beauty about our work. We speak to so many people and get so much detail about their climbs that it is often quite easy to find out if someone is not telling the truth. But as I said it hardly ever happens and normally these people will get found out.

Q: As we have discussed before, it is difficult to get accurate information during Everest climbs. What improvements would you suggest?
That is a tough question. I think first and foremost it is important to take some of the information that appears on the internet with a pinch of salt. With instant internet access and almost every climber writing their blog about their expedition, news travels fast - sometimes too fast. The problem on a big mountain like Everest is that there is lots of gossip and a lot of uncertainty about what is really happening higher up on the mountain.

Before the internet arrived rumours hardly made it out of base camp as the only mean of communication used to be a satellite phone, however, nowadays news gets put on the internet very quickly and other websites accumulating expedition news often just take the information without checking the facts. So it happens that wives or husbands find out via the internet that their loved ones went missing; and sometimes it is not even true as someone heard a rumour somewhere and put it on their blog. So, I think we have to be very careful what to believe as it is very difficult to be sure what is true and what's not.

As a journalist I would love to see that information will only get published once the people involved are interviewed directly. Only first hand information should go out on the net. So, I am not sure whether I can suggest any improvement other than trying to get the quality of the news right rather than the instancy.

Q: You are going with Russell Brice's Himex - who usually climbs from the north. Did you want to climb from the south or the north?
I am actually quite happy that Russell is going to the south side this year as I have a lot of affection for Nepal and its people, and the fact that I live in Kathmandu makes it in a way more obvious for me that I should climb it from the south. However, as I had made the decision to go with Russell I would have been prepared to go to the north side but I was actually really pleased when he announced that Himex would tackle the summit from the Nepal side this year!

Despite the high number of tourists in the Khumbu I absolutely love this region and I am already looking forward to walking to BC, hanging out in Namche and seeing friends. I think one of the major disadvantages on the Tibetan side of Mount Everest is the fact that you miss out on the trek, which in my opinion is the best preparation for the climb and is a great introduction to the country and its people. So, I am very happy that I will be going to the south side and I cannot wait to get on that plane to Lukla!

As you can see, Billi epitomizes the climbing spirit. Her zest for her job, her home and her mountains come through in a sincere way. I wish her the best on her Everest climb. Please visit her excellent site. Also take a look at the Himalayan Database. Billi - Climb High, Climb Safe, Climb On!


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February 25, 2009

Teams Changing Plans
With the uncertainty around climbing Everest from Tibet this spring, teams are now changing to the Nepal side. The Airborne Ranger Club of Finland has recently made this switch saying on their website:

Early last summer there were already and again rumors that China is probably closing Everest on Tibet side this spring. Those rumors aren't disappeared and avoiding any further risk to cancel or postpone the expedition we have decided to move to Nepal's side. The change of plans was stretched until this but we have been doing serious preparations for this and everything is supposed to be ready.

It appears the Chinese will close access to Tibet for only the month of March but if there is violence similar to 2008 then the restrictions may last longer. Given the need to finalize expedition plans, switching to a more predictable south makes good sense. However look for amazing crowds this year. IMG alone has 24 climbers, Himex with 20 and on and on.


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February 23, 2009

Meet the Climbers: Bud Allen- Stunt Pilot/Climber
This is another segment in a series of interviews with 2009 Everest climbers. I will report on them throughout the season so let's get to know each one up close and personal!

He fly's stunt planes and and lives only 200' above sea level yet he has climbed six of the 7 Summits and is on his way to Mt. Everest. After a year long delay, Bud Allen is excited about his opportunity to complete a life long dream. I love his attitude and have enjoyed getting to know Bud over the past year. Here is his story.

Bud AllenQ: I believe you recently turned 50. How does it feel to be the youngster given you are climbing with 67 years-young Bill Burke?
I climbed with Bill on Aconcagua. He reminds me of a bull dozer. Not in any hurry but not easily stopped either. It seems that older and older people are attempting Everest. This is a new phenomena. By the time Hillary was in his mid 30"s he was done with high altitude climbing. Now unless you are a professional guide or have family money the financial and time obligations eliminate a lot of younger climbers. But don't let anyone fool you, it is harder now than ten years ago.

Q: You wanted to climb in 2008 but cancelled at the last minute due to all the uncertainty. How did you used this 'extra' year to prepare?
I would say on balance that I wasted it. I think that you have to have a pretty good base built and then you rev up the training the last couple of months. What I find interesting though is a statistic I read somewhere that elite athletes lose a significant amount of their conditioning within weeks of stopping training. When you consider that on Everest, after the travel, hike in and acclimatization time it is probably three weeks before you ever set foot on the mountain proper I wonder how much has been lost.

Q: This will be your second attempt after turning back in 2006 due to a pulmonary infection. What did you take away from that experience?
I was amazed by who on our team made it and who didn't. I'm convinced that a good percentage of success on Everest is 1) staying healthy, 2) good weather 3) luck and 4) the right parents.

Q: Your goal is to climb all the 7 Summits and Everest is your last climb of the 7. Can you tell us a little about your motivation and how you think you will feel summit or not in June of 2009 about the goal?
If I feel that I have climbed as high as I can go (see #4 above) then I will be fine with it. In '06 I didn't even get as high as I had been on other mountains. For me this is really about closing the circle. I have come this far and it seems a shame not to try and finish. It sure isn't for the notoriety. I constantly have people tell me they thought I had already climbed it.

Q: You fly a Pitts S2A biplane which is an aerobatic plane. As a pilot, how do you think that complements your passion for mountaineering?
Although most people probably wouldn't believe it I am a very risk adverse person. My wife will tell you I put on a seat belt to drive the trash to the end of the driveway. I'm not interested in being scared. I pride myself on flying with care and precision. My hope when this climb is over I can say, like Amundsen did when asked about going to the south pole "it was uneventful".

Q: You live in Columbus, Georgia, elevation 300 feet. Any advice on training for other climbers living near sea level?
That is a challenge for some of the lower peaks like Denali and Kilimanjaro. Team members from Colorado have a definite advantage for the first week or so but on a high mountain like Everest where base camp is almost 18,000 I think it evens itself out. What I do think is a bigger issue is that people who live in the mountains and in cold climates adapt better to the dry cold air than people who live in the humid south. I have researched this and there is a lot of data on how cold affects lung performance but very little on how or if people adapt to that. I have learned to use a buff or face mask religiously even when it isn't that cold just to maintain moisture as much as possible.

Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this year?
I am curious to see what the economic climate and the Chinese problems are going to do to the south side. I have real concerns about over crowding and the dangers it can cause if we have a compressed summit window this year.

Bud's website is under development but take a visit to learn more about him and his climbs. Best of luck Bud - Climb High, Climb Safe, Climb On!


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February 19, 2009

Tibet Closed Indefinitely to Foreigners
The UK Telegraph has published a story quoting tourism companies in Tibet saying that Tibet has been closed to foreigners for an undefined period. The closure coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama's exile of March 10. With Everest north teams scheduled to arrive in less than six weeks, it appears their schedule will be impacted by this new policy. At this point only a few teams were scheduled to climb from the north and two climbers were planning to traverse from south to north. I hope their plans remain intact.


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February 17, 2009

Everest Weather
Michael Fagin of EverestWeather.com looks forward to each spring from his Pacific Northwest office. This is when he starts one of the most challenging jobs in weather forecasting: predicting when the infamous summit window will appear for climbers heading to the top of the earth.

Michael provides weather services for climbers all around the world including the Himalayas, Alps, Denali Caucasus, Karakorum and Andes. He will be providing daily summit conditions each day during the climbing season for this site. I interviewed Michael last year. This year, I wanted to explore some of the weather advances and history including the 1996 disaster.

EverestWeather.comQ: You have been doing this a number of years, what are some of the recent advances in techniques or tools used in forecasting Everest weather.
Forecast models are doing better in the short term, one to 3 days out but still struggle beyond that. Also in the mountainous terrain of Everest the forecast models struggle with precipitation totals and this is mainly due to the lack of observation stations there, in fact there are none.

Q: You do forecasting for Rainier and Denali in addition to Everest. Can you compare these three mountains in terms of how easy or difficult it is to present an accurate forecast to climbers? And which on is the most difficult to forecast? Each of these mountains presents their own unique challenges and I will list them. For Everest the biggest challenge is precipitation amounts and wind variation during the day. When there is not a jet stream over Everest the winds can vary from 50 knots in the afternoon to almost calm in the morning at times. For Denali the challenge is high winds and precipitation since there is the constant battle of the dry and cold air mass from the north and east and the moisture from the Gulf of Alaska coming in. Rainier probably offers the best chance to have accurate forecast and this is given the fact that there are many weather stations set up in and around Rainier. The biggest challenge to Rainier is when there is a marine layer is how high it is and when it will burn off

Q: You supplied Ed Vestures his weather information during his 8000m quest. Did Ed always take your advice?
I’m not sure that he always took my advice but I know when a brief weather window opened up for Ed’s last climb of Annapurna he did make his successful summit bid based on when I told him the weather was improving. The important aspect to remember on a weather forecast that this is just one piece of information that is used in the decision process of making a summit bid or not. There are many  aspects to consider like: if your group is physically ready, is the route safe-- avalanche, have supplies been set up at higher camp, and what does the sky look like weather-wise, nothing replaces real time weather information

Q: The famous 1996 Everest storm that claimed 12 lives is said to have come up from the lower valley and rose onto Everest. Was there anyway to forecast that event?
Several years ago I did look at some archived forecast maps for the day of the day storm on May 10, 1996, and forecast maps for several days before the storm. This was a typical strong storm pattern that can occur at Everest. There was a deep upper low pressure that was moving in from the north and west and this brought moderate precipitation and strong winds. Estimated winds of over 100 knots. If I’m not mistaken after this tragedy that the Imax team, who was at a lower camp,  decided to hire the first weather forecast for Everest and I believe they used a European firm for the forecast


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Weather Lab

Measuring Pollution at Attitude
In 2008 the world's highest weather station was installed on the South Col by Italian researchers. It connects via a repeater on Kala Patar back to their main research laboratory located near Lobuche several miles away from Everest Base Camp. I toured the facility last year and it was filed with computers, measuring equipment and scientists hunched over in down parkas.

Their primary mission is to measure and study pollution at the highest elevations on earth but they also have a good look at the weather even though last year, when asked for a forecast, they referred us to a real weatherman!

You can see a live cam from the laboratory as well as review real time data they collect.

Random Notes
Three Sherpa brothers: Pemba Dorje Sherpa Nima Gyalzen and Phurba Tenzing want to spend 24 hours in a tent on the summit of Everest this spring to pray for peace in Nepal and for the world. Pemba is the current record holder for the fastest climb from base camp to the summit of eight hours and ten minutes in 2004.

Who is the oldest man to summit Everest? Well 76 year-old Nepali Min Bahadur Sherchan claimed that record when he summited in 2008 but Japanese Yuichiro Miura (the man who skied down Everest) has now been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records to be the oldest summitter at age 75. It seems that Mr. Sherchan did not have the records to prove his age.


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February 15, 2009

Everest Base Camp
This may be most famous base camp in the world. Each year on both side of Everest literally hundreds of people live for almost two months. This year the Nepal side will be extra crowded with teams that postponed their 2008 climbs until now. Himalayan Experience is a great example.

The Russell Brice team has been the KIng of the North for years. However with all the uncertainty on that side he decided to take his huge 28 climber team to the south side for 2009. Megan Delehanty reports on her website that not only is the team huge but also they will not camp with the other teams.

Everest Base Camp is located at the base of the Khumbu Glacier and the Icefall. The teams that have been climbing from Nepal for years have their favorite spots and send Sherpas to stake out their claim weeks in advance. In 2008 IMG even built a three-foot high rock wall around their camp. I was never sure if it was to keep their climbers in or to keep everyone else out!

Seriously, there is a lot of traffic coming through base camp. Not only do you have the climbers but porters are making daily trips to ferry gear and food in then the waste out. Trekkers by the hundreds make the trip to visit base camp after a Kala Patar summit. So it can be quite crowded and there is a lot of foot traffic. Oh, and I didn't even mention the yak traffic!

So with all this as background Russell's team will be a full hour away from crampon point! This is where climbers put on their crampons as they start climbing the Icefall. In 2008, my camp was about 10 minutes away and I was quite thankful we had a great location given how tired we were coming out of the Icefall after a sortie' to the High Camps.

Brice will camp near the trail to Pumori. This is a nice area with awesome views of the Icefall and plenty of clean water. Plus it is on solid ground and not a melting glacier so it will be more like what he is used to on the north. Also it will be much quieter than the main camp with all the traffic and generators driving lights, computers, DVDs and the other comforts of life. So a great choice but another hour after returning from Camp 2 adds to a very long day.


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February 12, 2009

Early Observations
This is an exciting time for all the Everest teams. They have been training for months or years and are on their peaking schedules right now. Many are finalizing their gear, thinking about socks, underwear and boots. Some are exchanging emails with teammates and all are having some interesting nighttime dreams!

Only a few climbers are mentioning climbs on the Tibetan side of Everest and long time north side expert Russell Brice's Himalayan Experience team has committed to climbing from Nepal. A few climbers are finishing plans to traverse Everest starting from Nepal so it seems there will be climbers on the north side in 2009.

A few commercial expeditions continue to accept applications to climb from the north. I have confirmed with Dan Mazur of SummitClimb that

We are going and just getting out permit now. We had a great expedition to Tibet in October 2008 for www.ChoOyuClimb.com with 13 members and 5 sherpas on the summit, so the Tibetans kindly invited us to come back for this spring's Everest season.

However, other operators are saying that the situation is still fluid and final decisions and permits have not been made or issued. One climber who said he was climbing from the north has now switched to the south. Remember that in 2008, I thought I was climbing from Tibet until 2 days before I left the US!

The Chinese continue to say Everest's north side needs "cleaning". While I am not sure I fully understand what they mean, if it is to remove used oxygen canisters and trash then this is an excellent environmental act. The north side has lagged quite a bit from the south with respect to removing trash over the years. So if it is for trash removal, I applaud the Chinese. A scenario may develop where the mountain is closed for a few weeks then made available to more climbers. I just hope the timing is sufficient to allow for safe acclimatization unlike the proposed 2008 schedule.

Many of the long time commercial operators are reporting they only have a few opening for their climbs so expect to see another crowded year on Everest. They are suggesting locking in flights now since they can already be booked in February for April flights. I think we will easily see a record 400 plus summits on the south side assuming the weather is good.

An interesting trend I am seeing is for climbers to climb through the Icefall to Camp 2 or maybe Camp 3 without making a summit attempt. Some guides offer this as an option and it makes sense for climbers who want to get to know what an Everest climb is like without the full permit expense of an 8,000 meter climb. This can reduce the costs by thousands of dollars. However, it still requires extensive logistics and training to be safe.

Random Notes
Superstar Sherpa, Lakpa Rita Sherpa, will be going for the 7 Summits making him the first Sherpa to tick this achievement. Lakpa lives in Washington State and guides for Alpine Ascents International. He is currently on Kilimanjaro, his final climb of the seven. Congratulations Lakpa!


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February 10, 2009

Andrew Lock - solo Everest Climb from Tibet
Australia's premier 8000 meter climber, Andrew Lock has climbed 13 of the 14 8000m mountains. This spring he is retuning to Shishapangma in Tibet for his third try to reach the true summit. After this climb he will move over to climb Everest from Tibet - solo and without supplemental oxygen.

I was with Andrew in 2006 on his last Shishapangma attempt and can tell you he is not only an incredibly strong man but one of the true gentlemen I have ever met. I hope to post an in depth interview with him soon. You can read all about Andrew at his site. All the best, Andrew.


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February 9, 2009

Everest South Col RouteAnimated Route Map
Sometimes you hear about zigzagging up and down Everest to acclimatize. But it can get confusing so I created a short Quicktime movie that shows exactly how it goes. This shows a typical schedule but some teams and climbers skip Camp 1 and others are now skipping Camp 3 as an acclimatization night. In any event, most teams follow this schedule so just click on the map and watch.

Elevations and times between camps

  • base camp: 17,500'/5334m
  • C1: 19,500'/5943m - 4-6 hours
  • C2: 21,000'/6400m - 2-3 hours
  • C3:23,500'/7162m - 3-6 hours
  • Yellow Band - 3 hours
  • Geneva Spur - 2 hours
  • South Col: 26,300'/8016m - 1 hour or less
  • Balcony: 4 - 5 hours
  • South Summit : 28500' - 8690m - 1 to 2 hours
  • Hillary Step - 1 hour or less
  • Summit: 29,035' / 8850m - 1 hour or less
  • Return to South Col: 6 -7 hours
  • Return to C2: 3 hours
  • Return to base camp: 4 hours

Typical US Schedule

  • March 27 - Leave US
  • March 29 - Arrive Kathmandu, Nepal
  • March 30,31 - Kathmandu
  • April 1 - Fly to Lukla(9200'/2804m)
  • April 2-10 - Trek to base camp (17,500'/5334m)
  • April 11-13 - Setup BC
  • Apr 14 - 29 May - Climbing Period:
    • C1 (19,500'/5943m)
    • C2 (21,000'/6400m)
    • C3 (23,500'/7162m)
    • South Col (26,300'/8016m)
    • Summit (29,035'/8850m)
  • May 30 - Disassemble BC
  • May 31 - Trek to Lukla
  • June 1 - Fly to Kathmandu
  • June 2,3,4 - Weather days or Kathmandu
  • June 5 - Depart for US

Random Notes
A few sites are mentioning north side expedition so we can expect to see activity this season. I will comment more as I confirm these rumors but not until I confirm them.


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February 3, 2009

Meet the Climbers: Bill Burke - the south to north traverse
This is another segment in a series of interviews with 2009 Everest climbers. I will report on them throughout the season so let's get to know each one up close and personal!

We are getting to know Bill well. The 67 years-young climber has only Everest remaining for the 7 summits (he actually has 7 including Kosciuszko and Carstensz's) and has attempted Everest twice. He made it to the South Summit in 2007 and returned in 2008 before HAPE forced him to cancel his summit bid for that year. So with a continued strong spirit, he will not only return in 2009 but, just to make it interesting for him, his goal is to summit from the south side and end on the north - the traverse.

Bill will be climbing with Asian Trekking and his Sherpa is Mingma Sherpa who was also going to be his Sherpa in 2008 before Bill left. Bill is also sponsoring Mingma for a trip the the United States after the expedition.

So what drives this ambitious man and what are his thoughts on the traverse. Please enjoy a few minutes with Bill Burke:

Bill BurkeQ: This will be your third attempt at the Big Hill. What keeps bringing you back?
What brings me back is my love of the Himalayas, the warm reception I receive from the people of Nepal and the desire to realize my dream. My two previous trips were 100% successful, even though I did not reach the summit. In 2007, I reached the South Summit (28,750 feet) and had a great time with a wonderful team of fellow climbers. In 2008, I returned to Nepal with two of my daughters. When my trip was cut short by illness, we turned our trip into an outreach program, visiting an orphanage and distributing much needed goods and medicine to the precious children of the orphanage and their angel caretakers. We plan to do the same thing this year.

Q: You turned back at the South Summit in 2007. What lessons did you learn from that experience?
I learned a lot, which will serve me well this year. First, in 2007, I climbed to within 100 meters of the summit, so I know the route and what to expect on the climb this year. In 2007, it was all a mystery, which created a level of tension and stress. This year, I can climb more relaxed and comfortable. Second, in 2007, I did not take a rest day at the South Col. (Camp IV). That was a big mistake. At my age (65 in 2007), I needed to recover from the push to Camp IV (26,000 feet) from Camp III (23,000 feet). I am confident I would have made the summit in 2007 if I had taken that rest day since I was feeling really good and had plenty of oxygen. I realize there is a dispute in the mountaineering community about whether a rest day at Camp IV is a good idea, but, in the end, it is a highly personalized decision, and I made the wrong call.

Third, in 2007, I had a problem with my personal sherpa, who refused to help me carry any of my gear above Camp IV. This resulted in my having no water from Camp IV to the South Summit, and I was severely dehydrated when I made my decision to turn around. That won't happen this year. Fourth, and most important, I learned to listen to my body and make wise decisions in difficult circumstances. I made the decision to turn around on my own, as I was pretty much by myself on the Southeast Ridge of the Summit Triangle. I was not willing to allow myself to succumb to summit fever and push on, putting myself and others on the mountain in jeopardy. I am more proud of that decision than my other accomplishments on the mountain that year. That decision also allowed me to score huge points at home and garner the trust of my family for these return trips.

Q: At age 67, you have incredible energy, stamina and determination. Where does this come from?
I have always been described as an adventurer, willing to try just about anything, as long as it is legal. This keeps me young in spirit. When I look at people my age, I wonder what it will be like when I get that old. Plus, now that I am retired, what else am I going to do? Mountaineering is not my only hobby. I have 14 wonderful grandchildren, who keep me pretty busy. This includes my 8-year old disabled grandson, Oliver, who is my Training Partner and my hero. See my website: eightsummits.com. In September and October of 2008, I took a 37-day, 6,279 mile solo motorcycle trip to Banff Park, Canada on my Harley Davidson Road King Classic. I visited 3 Canadian provinces, 10 states and 7 national parks. My trip diary and some photos are posted on my website.

Q: In 2009 you will attempting the rare south-north traverse. Is your preparation any different given this grueling objective?
My training regime is pretty much the same, except I have doubled down on trips to the health club for 2-1/2 hour workouts every day. I have been training pretty steadily since 2006 when I climbed Kosciuszko in Australia and the Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia. I think the triangle of success for alpine climbing is physical preparation, mental preparation and technique, so physical training is not the only thing I concentrate on.

Q: In 2008, you had to leave from BC with pulmonary edema. However your insurance covered all your expenses. Can you talk a little about that positive experience?
The pulmonary edema started with a very nasty flu bug that I picked up in Kathmandu, or possibly on the flight to Kathmandu. I was struck hard at Namche Bazaar and was flat on my back for 2-days. I can't recall ever being that sick. Instead of taking a week to fully recover, I started moving again, and the flu morphed into pulmonary edema. So there's another lesson: try to stay clear of areas that spawn illness, and, if you get sick, take the time to recover. Fortunately, I had purchased trip insurance for $300 and added the $5 adventure upgrade. The insurance company paid all of my trekking fees, the helicopter charge and even the satellite telephone rental charge. Since I did not purchase the $5 medical upgrade, I had to submit my medical bills to my primary carrier since the trip insurance coverage was secondary. All of my trip expenses (nearly $30,000) were paid by insurance, except for the air fare and hotel charges. I notice this year the insurance company has put a limit of $20,000 on the trip cancellation coverage, probably because of my claim. Sorry folks.

Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this year?
Follow your dreams, whatever they might be, and wherever they lead you. Believe in yourself, and don't listen to the naysayers. If you fail, pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes and march right back into battle. Have compassion for those less fortunate, and do something to make a positive difference in a life.

Bill's teammate, David Liaño, will be attempting the double traverse so it looks like Asian Trekking will have their hands full in 2009! See my interview with David below.

Bill will be filing expedition reports from the mountain on his website: eightsummits.com.  If you subscribe to the website, you will receive e-mail notices when reports are posted. His dispatches have been very interesting in previous years and I am sure he will do a repeat performance.

I can relate to multiple attempts on Everest and will be pulling hard for Bill. All my best Bill. Climb High, Climb Safe and Climb On!


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February 1, 2009

Turning Everest Green - an Interview with Dawa Steven Sherpa of Asian Trekking
What if people camped in your backyard, left all kinds of waste - including human - all over the place and simply walked away without a second thought? Well in some ways that is what is happening to the Khumbu and Mt. Everest. And one man is trying to make dramatic changes before this pristine place is destroyed.

Dawa Steven Sherpa, Managing Director of Asian Trekking, is the son of legendary Ang Tshering Sherpa, the Chairman of Asian Trekking and the President of Nepal Mountaineering Association. Dawa Steven at 23 years old, is driving hard to protect his country and the land he loves. He is an experienced mountaineer with two summits of Mt. Everest completed. He holds an honors degree from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, Dawa Steven's father is Nepali and his mother is Belgian and he speaks five languages.

Dawa Steven, a Buddhist by religion, feels that businesses should not just run for a profit, but benefit everyone. Under his initiative, Asian Trekking supports cultural programs in the Himalayan villages, organizes sports competitions and promotes eco-friendly practices, such as the use of solar and wind power for expeditions’ electricity needs.

Dawa Steven is also an active campaigner in fighting climate change in the Himalayas. His Eco Everest Expedition 2008 was a prototype for green climbing with successful experiments in managing human waste, solar cooking and conservation techniques. They removed 67 empty oxygen canisters from the higher slopes of Everest's Nepal side. Also a very impressive 2,127 pounds - a ton!!!- of garbage from base camp plus another 661 pounds from camps 1,2 and 3.

I had the honor of interviewing Dawa Steven for my site and was quite touched by his passion and thoughtfulness on the subject of protecting the environment.

Dawa Steven SherpaQ: You and your Father, Ang Tshering Sherpa have operated on Everest for a long time with your company Asian Trekking. How the climbing community changed in your view?
In the past the majority of climbing expedition would be national endeavours and organized through association like alpine clubs. Opportunities to join would be limited for most climbers. In recent time, numerous commercial expeditions have made climbing expedition possible for ambitious individuals. It's great that the mountains are becoming accessible to more mountain enthusiasts which greatly contributes to the economic circumstances of local communities. However, the increased opportunities to climbing these huge mountains successfully can increase the likelyhood that climbers underestimate the risks on the mountain.

Q: Each year sees more climbers and trekkers in the Khumbu and on Everest. Do you think that limits may be required one day to protect the environment?
This is a very heated question. Mont blanc and other popular mountains in the Alps see the same number of climbers on a busy day than Mt. Everest sees in a whole year. I don't think we should not seek to restrict the number of climbers but rather to encourage climbers not all to climb at the same time. My father and I believe that the solution to this problem on Mt. Everest is a financial one. Since royalties are so expensive (US$10,000 per person) and a substantial investment for most climbers, they choose to attempt the mountain in the Spring Season, when there is the highest likely hood of reaching the summit.

In July 2008, the government of Nepal reduced its fees by 50% in the autumn season and to 25% in the winter season. My father, who has been lobbying for this change for many years, and I believe that this will reduce the stress on the mountain by giving climbers a more acceptable margin of risk compared to the investment. Another way to reduce the stress on Mt. Everest is to encourage climbers to use other routes rather than just popular South Col route and the Northeast ridge. Royalties are now also cheaper for these routes.

Similarly, the main trekking route to Everest Base Camp is very busy but there are many side valleys in the Khumbu that see few trekkers. These valleys have some of the best views and the still retain the feel of trekking in the wilderness. We just need to raise people awareness that these areas are equally beautiful and rewarding as the classic Everest Base Camp route.

Q: Everest expeditions pay a trash deposit today. What else do think should be required to protect Mt. Everest?
The trash deposit has been extremely effective in recent years to ensure that our mountains remain clean. However, in exceptional cases irresponsible expedition organisors do still use crevasses to dump their garbage. Until now, the government liason officers (Nepal Side) have not been trained nor allowed to go higher than base camp but since spring 2008, the government has selected, trained and granted climbing Sherpas Liaison officer status. These new batch of Liaison officers will be instrumental in making sure that our mountains are being treated with respect and the expeditions are fulfilling their commitment to acting responsibly.

We also need to address the situation of human waste on Mt. Everest. Until I organized Eco Everest Expedition 2008, no one had really made any effort to bring down the human waste off the mountain. This all went into crevasses and swallowed up by the ice. However, people are starting to learn that this is easily addressed and many other expedition have shown interest in incorporating human waste management in their own expeditions.

Q: What kind of support are you receiving from the major commercial expedition companies for your ideas on making Everest cleaner through 'green' waste management and cooking techniques?
I have had a huge amount of interest and encouragement from commercial expedition companies. I have spoken to many of them who are very keen to incorporate my ideas. After all, it takes very little effort, cost things and is even more cost effective than relying on kerosene and Gas.

Q: In my three Everest climbs, the trash and human waste from base camp is always removed. Where does it go?
The human waste at base camp is taken to a large pit in a side valley near Gorkshep village. According to Tendi Sherpa, who manages the pits for the Sagaramatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC), the pits are safe to dig up every three years to reuse again.

The garbage is carried down to the SPCC office in Namche Bazaar where it is weighed and sorted. The biodegradable and "burnable" are handed over to the SPCC who dispose of it there. The non-biodegradable is brought back down to Kathmandu and handed over to the municipality office. The garbage deposit is only refunded after fulfilling this procedure and getting the necessary clearance from the SPCC, Municipality office and finally the government Liaison Officer.

Q: You have been testing a small compact bucket (aka Clean Mountain Can) and Restop bags for human waste, similar to what is required on Denali. Do you think it will be required soon?
I hope so. There has been a huge amount of interest in these products. We have requested our top government official to implement this in a policy and so far, they have been very receptive to our recommendations. However, I believe that to be truly successful, the demand has to come from the paying climbers. They should overlook paying a few extra dollars and demand that the human waste management bags are provided by their expedition organisors.

Q: How can climbers who are interested in the environment, climate change and keeping pristine areas like Nepal clean do to help?
Well, as a climber you are already a unique and daring person. People respect your efforts and bravery; most people already look up to you; You should be an exemplary role model. Behave the way that you would want others to behave. You should educate and inform those people who are seen to be doing wrong, in most cases it's unknowingly.

Keep visiting places like Nepal. Mountain regions in the developing world are some of the poorest places on earth, due to their difficult terrain, lack of natural resources and access to markets. Tourism is the one of the few product that they can offer in abundance. It is estimated that every Tourist that visits Nepal engages 9 nepalis in employment. Your money goes farther than you think. When people can afford not to worry about how to feed and clothe their families, they can also afford to be more caring toward their environment. For most, Survival is a priority today.

Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this season?
Encourage others to talk about the problems that they see on the mountain. Encourage them to not only see the problem but also think of possible solutions. Get in touch with me if you think I can help in any way.

I'll be making the rounds at base camp this year with information about my findings from last year and also be inviting interested people to come see my set up at Eco Everest Expedition 2009. I will also be bringing a load of extra Restops to sell at base camp for anyone who wants to use them. Get them to get in touch with me.

You can download his full report of the 2008 Eco Everest expedition here. It contains very interesting information about green climbing, cooking and waste techniques with recommendations for future expeditions.

I want to thank Dawa Steven for his efforts and encourage all climbers around the world to carefully consider his recommendations. After all if we climbers don't take care of our own backyard, who will?


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January 29, 2009

Meet the Climbers: Tomsky Arnold- climbing the 7 Summits
This is another segment in a series of interviews with 2009 Everest climbers. I will report on them throughout the season so let's get to know each one up close and personal!

Tomsky is an ambitious man and a popular climber in Germany. With four of the seven summits completed (Elbrus, Vinson, Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua), he will be climbing Everest with Laserer-Alpin from Austria lead by Walter Laserer.

Tomasky ArnoldQ: You are climbing the 7 Summits. How is that going and what has been the most difficult thus far?
Until now it is going well, but I take my time. I always have to put money aside for the next expedition. The most difficult thus far was Mount Vinson, because we had to spend four days in a hurricane at Camp 2. We had to go back all the way down to the base camp and wait for better weather conditions to give this thing a second try which was successful.

Q: Can you tell us what it is about mountain climbing that brings you to Everest?
I like the high altitude mountaineering and have a lot of fun at expeditions. Furthermore I like the expedition life – I enjoy it to the full. To climb the Seven Summits is a dream, to stand atop of Everest is a dream too. Not only to dream this dreams but also to realize them – that’s my biggest dream.
 
Q: What is it about Everest that attracts you to spend the time, money and effort?
The Everest is a mountain, that fascinates me from childhood on. I read a lot about Everest, did watch pictures and videos. But I never thought, that I actually go there one day and try to climb it. Walter Laserer, a very experienced mountain guide and expedition leader from Austria, asked me six month ago, if I want to attend to his expedition this season and if I could film, photograph and put this material afterwards to the internet via satellite phone and laptop straight from the camp. I answered yes I can.
 
Q: What do you anticipate to be the biggest challenge on Everest?
The biggest challenge will be the Khumbu Icefall and the Hillary Step for me. I also have respect for the steep Lhotse Face. And there is the long summit day too. But I am good prepared and simply let it come up to me. If I cannot reach the summit for me the world is not going down. Then I can try it one day for another time.
 
Q: Did you want to climb from the south or the north?
We will climb Everest from the south taking the classic route of the first ascenders. I never thought, that I could ever be able to afford the south side, because it is more expensive than the north side. But at me the south side is more fascinating than the north side. The Khumbu Icefall, the Lhotesface and the Hillary step is just much more fascinating for me than the 2nd step.
 
Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this year?
Keep well and fit, take care at your climbs, turn over one more time before it is to late. Try to realize your dreams.

Tomsky will be posting dispatches on his site. Success Tomsky! Climb High, Climb Safe, Climb On!

Random Notes
The Chinese have reportedly issue a climbing permit for Everest to a large Indian team. If true this will be the first official report that a team has received permission to climb Everest from the Tibet side in the Spring of 2009.


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January 27, 2009

Everest ERMeet Everest+ER's Dr. Luanne Freer

Back in 2003, Luanne Freer had an idea - provide medical support to the Everest climbing community by putting a clinic at base camp. She would charge the western climbers and trekkers but not the Sherpas, porters or anyone else in serious need. The clinic soon became a project of the Himalayan Rescue Association and the Nepal Rescue Association. It survives on donations from individuals and companies plus volunteer physicians staff the clinic each season.

In the "old" days - pre-2005, every serious expedition had their own expedition doctor as part of the team as well as fully stocked medicine kits. But the level of care varied greatly from team to team and often poorly staffed teams would look to the generosity of others to help with their medical problems. Finally, some expedition staff were unfamiliar with the unique problems of high-altitude physiology. Obviously this model cried out for change.

With Everest+ER (formally called base camp MD) now established, teams can now pay a one time fee for unlimited medical support from the clinic physicians. And the best part is that their Sherpas and staff get free health care. Today almost every team takes advantage of this excellent service.

2008 was a busy season. I estimated there were 500 permanent residents in base camp and the clinic interacted with almost everyone of us! Courtesy of the Everest+ER website, they treated:

  • 300 patients treated
  • 1 death high on the mountain
  • 3 HAPE cases
  • 10 cases of AMS
  • 7 cases of frostbite
  • Khumbu cough: infinite!!
  • 2 base camp helicopter evacuations stretcher evacuation
  • 6 carry downs to lower villages for helicopter evacuation

With her seventh season upon her, she talks about how things have changed, her relationship with the Sherpas, some new ideas and what it takes to keep the hospital running.

Q: You have operated Everest+ER since 2003. Is the climbing community on Everest different than in 2003?
Luanne FreerI guess the first thing that comes to mind is that it's different because the community that seemed so strange to me back in 2003 now feels like family. You build solid intense friendships with people living on a glacier, watching them go through what climbers go through - physically, mentally, emotionally. I have more than a few kids, not mine but kinda mine - children of patients I've kept close to, sons of Lakpa, our logistics manager since 2003 - I've watched him go from boy to man to husband and father in the past 7 years and am part of his extended family now. In 2003 the whole scene was new to me, unknown, an exceptional challenge learning on the fly how to keep an operation going while not letting myself get down in the dumps when our equipment blew up, our electronics caught fire. But saving that first life - a porter dying of HACE - that was powerful stuff watching our efforts turn him from comatose and near death to walking home to his family ... makes all the difficulties more than worth it. Then there's the environment - yes, daunting, yes powerful, but the mountain, Sagarmatha, feels like home (in a cold, painful but familiar way?)

But I digress - all of the above is how the climbing community is different to ME. The answer to your question is yes, I think, from my perspective the climbing community is more collaborative than ever as the years go by. Every year the expedition leaders come together and jointly agree how to band together to achieve the common goal - roping to the summit, keeping the route as safe as possible. It seems the only stories that make the press are the bad ones, the ones that tell stories of selfish greedy obsessed climbers stepping over fallen comrades in their lust to get to the top. I see, instead, as the years go by, amazing examples of complete strangers pulling together as a community. It's heartwarming, really. But that isn't going to sell any papers?

Q: You treat a wide range of medical issue ranging from HAPE and HACE to broken bones to simple cuts. What are the major issues in dealing with these problems while at 17,600' on a moving glacier?
I think you said it all. Keeping equipment running in those temperatures, at those altitudes is not only difficult but expensive. I get a donation of a very valuable heart monitor and 2 years later I'm knocking on the door again, asking for another. "What happened to the one we gave you 2 years ago?" they say. (Uh, nothing is resilient in that hostile environment. Well, maybe Apa Sherpa ...) The medicine is actually not that difficult if we can keep our medications from freezing and our power juiced to run the equipment. The climbers are so focused and so motivated that we rarely have trouble getting them to follow good advice - we're all in this together - when they get healthy and achieve their personal goals, we doctors feel like we're standing on the summit with them - we feel like we're a small part of their reaching their dream

Q: In addition to climbers and trekkers, the clinic provides medical support to many local Nepalese, Sherpas and Porters. Other than climbing issues, what are the biggest medical issues these people face once the climbers
leave?

Where do I begin? The whole mission of this clinic is about giving back to the Sherpa people. Yes, taking care of everyone who lives or visits base camp, but using the donations of the relatively wealthy foreign climbers to subsidize care for the Sherpa. They (the Sherpa people) have begun to get lots of mention for their accomplishments, but street cred only goes so far. When the climbers leave, they still have to face 50% national unemployment rates, they still have to feed their kids and send them to school. In the developed world we take for granted basic immunizations for our children, education past the age of 12, a doctor or nurse in town if we become ill. These are all luxuries in most of rural Nepal. It is so tragic to see folks with nowhere to turn suffering from preventable or treatable illnesses. And the occupational health risks? Oy! Imagine making your living carrying loads heavier than your body then loading that weight on a tump line on your forehead; doing it day after day after grueling day. 30 year old men look old and weathered - you ought to see X-rays of their spines ... life for these people is hard. Pain is a way of life.

Q: In January 2009, (now) you are helping to teaching Sherpas technical rescue skills at the Khumbu Climbing School. Can you tell us a little about this program?
I'd love to!

The facts:
1) There is no technical rescue service in the Himalaya. If you're climbing and you fall ill or injured, you're at the mercy of your teammates or kind hearted strangers (usually guides with their own clients to care for) to provide the manpower, equipment, expertise to get you through dangerous terrain. Most of the time, the only people with the kind of physical stamina to actually conduct a rescue at extreme altitude are the Sherpa, yet few of them have any rescue training. I have watched them put their own lives in harms way in order to haul a climber down the mountain. I watch them coming down the icefall and have all my fingers and toes crossed, saying prayers as I watch them cross the ladders, unclipped, with seracs falling nearby, putting enormous loads on ropes not designed for those forces. It can be a horror show.

2) I do not want to stand by another season watching unsafe rescues taking place. We have several rescues every year on Everest alone, the numbers of climbers on the mountain are rising - it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know there are going to be more and more calamities every season. It's time to address it, it's not going to go away.

3) Brainstorm - what if we give Sherpa climbers the technical rescue training to allow them to not only keep the patients safely cared for, packaged, lines rigged with reliable equipment, but keep THEMSELVES safe. Give them jobs. Create a technical rescue team for the Himalaya that can respond to mountaineering disasters throughout the region, properly trained in everything from mountaineering first aid to helicopter and avalanche safety to technical rigging and rescue techniques? Equip them, pay them salaries, watch them shine like the elite athletes that they are? Watch them advance themselves from high altitude porters to knowledgeable skilled rescuers?

My idea for Everest is to have a 4 member team some day. Funded by permit fees or maybe as the icefall doctors are by fees paid by each permitted team. Perhaps 2 rescuers at base camp, 2 staged higher at Camp 2, rotating weekly. In the early season they could safely rope the upper mountain with the help of sirdars from climbing teams. In the event of a rescue, we'd have close radio comms between the Sherpa rescuers and the clinic docs, we'd have equipment and medical supplies staged high on the mountain. Rescue manpower would still need to be provided by the injured/ill climbers teammates, but our Sherpa rescue team would provide first aid, safely package the patient and safely rig and direct the extrication.

It could be a win-win: patients get good care, safe rescues, faster descents. Guides can safely stay with their clients. Lives saved. Sherpas start to take on more of the lead, they have jobs, they feed their families.

The climbing community needs to get behind this to make it happen though, and I believe they will. I've talked with the heads of most of the big recurring expedition companies on the south side and they are almost unanimously supportive. We don't have funding yet, but we've got momentum. Luckily, Conrad Anker and Jenni Lowe-Anker at the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation needed no convincing and committed resources, in partnership with US based RIgging for Rescue, at our yearly Khumbu Climbing School to make the training available to 7 lucky Sherpa climbers. We're building the buzz. I hope the money follows. Regardless, there will be a cadre of technical rescuers on EVerest this spring. If they are in the vicinity of a rescue, they will be able to scan the scene, check the rigging - they can at a minimum be safety police this season. We hope it will grow.

Q: The clinic is primarily supported thorough donations of funds, supplies and equipment. What do you need for the 2009 season that would dramatically improve your level of service?
We need lots of things, but top of the wish list is a new tent. Our existing tent has been incredibly durable and useful, but it's been beaten by the cold and gale force winds for 5 years now. If there are any tent manufacturers out there reading this, we would love to talk to you! Soon! And anyone who wants to make a donation to help us purchase a tent, we'd love your support - click on www.active.com/donate/base camp

Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this season?

Follow us online, where we hope to update our progress on the mountain in what sounds like may be the busiest year to date on Everest; we expect record numbers of climbers as the Tibet approach is closed in 2009. Stay hydrated, climb high sleep low - you know, the usual stuff ...

NAMASTE!

As I was working with Luanne on this interview we remembered our first meeting in 2003. I was going to the clinic just to say hello and tripped on a rock outside their tent! With a cut knee and a sheepish look on my face, Luanne treated my cut. Today she remembers that event as follows: "Believe it or not, I DO remember meeting you now and remember thinking at the time that it was ironic that you THINK the injuries will be more likely to occur up high, but it's the little rocks in base camp that end up tripping people up!"

Well it just goes to show that there is a Doctor when you need them - even on Everest! Thanks Luanne for all you and the other Docs do for the climbers and the Nepalese.

Now, readers, can anyone help get her that new tent?


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January 27, 2009

Meet the Climbers: David Liano - Double Traverse
This is another segment in a series of interviews with 2009 Everest climbers. I will report on them throughout the season so let's get to know each one up close and personal!

David has summited Everest twice: 2005 and 2008 but now he is returning in 2009 to try something no one has ever accomplished - a double traverse from south to north to south. David Tait, interviewed on January 20, 2009 attempted a double starting from the north but stopped after completing the north - south leg (see the interview below for details) so a double is something only the most competent, strong and courageous even attempt.

At 26, he was the youngest Latin American to climb all 7 summits and continues to find a great passion in mountaineering. For his 2008 summit he joined Dawa Steven Sherpa on the Eco Everest climb and has a unique perspective on what it takes to climb in an environmental friendly style.

Q: On your 2008 Everest summit you spread the ashes of the Highpointer Club founder, Jack "Guru Jakk" Longacre on the summit. What was that like?
David Liaño This was unplanned. Stuart Smith spread Jack’s ashes on Lhotse and before going home, he asked me if I could do the same if I summited Everest and of course I said yes. I knew about the Highpointers and about Jack and I felt it would be very appropriate that a small part of him would remain on the world’s highest mountain.

Q  You summited Everest and Lhotse in 2008 only 5 days apart. How tough was that?
The original plan was to wait 3 or 4 days at EBC between summits. That would provide some rest days and wait for what hopefully be a new weather window. Summit day on Lhotse was beautiful. We summited around 8:30am on May 21st and were lucky enough to climb down all the way to Camp 2 before sunset. The first thing I did when I settled into my tent was to check the weather forecast for the next few days. It showed increasing wind speeds and lower temperatures after the 27th of May which was not good for our May 29th goal for reaching Everest summit. Our plan was changed to a May 26th summit which was windy but manageable. In the end, the hardest part of climbing two 8,000m peaks 5 days apart is being motivated to go back up the mountain after the first summit. Your body is telling you to go home and enjoy the comforts of civilization but you have to ignore the blisters and the fatigue and remind yourself that you have only reached 50% of your goals.

Q: The 2008 Everest summit was part of the Eco Everest Expedition. What are your thoughts on "green climbing"?
I believe as climbers we are not consistent in what we do at home and what we do while climbing. We recycle, buy fuel efficient cars and use biodegradable products, but when we travel around the world to climb we completely forget about being eco friendly. Thousands of people go trekking or climbing in the Khumbu but most of them don’t give a second thought to what happens to plastic bottles after they drink their Cokes. Eco Everest, as proposed by Dawa Steven Sherpa, gave us the chance to bring down more trash (almost a ton) than what we brought up with us, including human waste. Also, we demonstrated solar energy is a practical way to cook and boil water. All this with a marginal effort. So if we do it at home, why shouldn’t we preserve the mountain environment we love so much? Fortunately, there is a new lodge being built in Periche where they are using crushed plastic bottles for insulation and parabolic solar heaters are popping up all over the Khumbu.

Q: In 2009 you will attempting the never accomplished  double traverse south-north-south traverse.  What is the biggest challenge you are anticipating?
In my opinion, there are two major challenges to complete a Double Traverse (DT) on Everest. The first is political. I planned to try a DT in 2008 but the Chinese government closed down their side of the mountain. I had to adapt the climb to do something that would prepare me for the physical and mental effort required for the DT and that’s why I ended up climbing Lhotse and Everest.  I think that, with the Olympics behind us, the Chinese will open up the mountain to climbers. The second challenge is the same one I mentioned above for Lhotse-Everest. If the first traverse is successful, it will be very hard to stay motivated and go back up the mountain safely for a second traverse.

Q: You were born in Mexico and at 26 years old were the youngest Latin American to complete the 7 Summits. How do your friends and family feel about such a mountaineering accomplishments?
I have always tried to share my experiences with the people that made it possible and to give them the credit they deserve.  In the case of family and friends, most of them will never climb a big mountain and in some way they live the adventure as their own through the dispatches and photos we send. They feel they are part of the expedition and when we succeed, they are part of it too. I had the chance to climb Carstensz Pyramid, the last mountain I climbed from the 7 Summits, with my father. Sharing that with him was really special.

Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this year?
As Alan Arnette says: Climb high, climb safe, climb on!

David will be climbing with Asian Trekking and posting dispatches in spanish on his site. And yes, David - please Climb High, Climb Safe and Climb On .. and best of luck on the double!


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January 26, 2009

Meet the Climbers: Eugène Constant - climbing for Alzheimer's
This is another segment in a series of interviews with 2009 Everest climbers. I will report on them throughout the season so let's get to know each one up close and personal!

I first met Eugène in July 2007 when he sent me an email that started "My name is Eugene Constant. I am a French reader of your website." He went on to propose to meet on the summit of Everest - me from the south and he from the north to celebrate together and join forces in raising awareness and research funds for Alzheimer's disease. I immediately liked this 41 year old Frenchman!

However due to circumstances beyond both our control he did not climb in 2008 and I did not make the summit on my 2008 climb. But the dreams lives on with his return in 2009 as a member of Russell Brice's' Himex team.

As you will read, Eugène is an accomplished mountaineer with a CV filed with extensive climbing background in the French Alps. He has summited nearly all the peaks of the Massif des Ecrins, multiple traverses and the very difficult Tenailles de Mont Brison. But he has also seen his share of difficult mental challenges with the death of partners.

Yet his love of mountains, mountaineering and challenges in his own life bring him face to face with Everest:

Q: Can you tell us what it is about mountain climbing that brings you to Everest?
Eugene ConstantDuring my childhood, I spent all holidays in the Alps. For me who lived in Lille near Belgium, the flat land as Jacques Brel sang, it was fabulous. I learned to appreciate walking in the mountains and enjoyed meet wildlife. I started at 11 my first alpine ascent with Neige Cordier Peak (3613m) with a kind guide Christian Chancel who unfortunately fell to his death just few days later on Matterhorn. I can remember that I was impressed by french climbers. I read the famous Herzog's book : Annapurna First 8000. I followed the first ascent of Everest by french climbers in 1978. They had a live interview from the summit on french radio ! Then, I was influenced by the new generation Christophe Profit, Jean Marc Boivin in the 80's. So with my teammate Luc, we went each time we can in the Alps to climb all mountains we met. But Luc was found dead in 1992 on Montagne Les Agneaux. He tried in solo a climb we aborted few years ago due to bad weather. This drama pushed me out the mountains during 10 years and I focused on my family, my wife and my three children, and my work on financial markets. But the virus came back and each summer, I went to Chamonix. In 2007, I had the chance to share some climbs with Christophe Profit, one of my teenage hero. 

Q: What is it about Everest that attracts you to spend the time, money and effort? 
As passionate, I read a lot of books on mountaineering history. I was impressed by the first english expeditions on Everest during the 20's. I was stunned by the discovery of Mallory's body in 1999.  With the Internet, it was each easy to follow Everest Expeditions, yours Alan  in particular. So, in 2007 I decided to go on Everest in 2008 for my 40 anniversary and live in real this adventure. So I contacted Russell Brice from Himalayan Experience and met him in Chamonix. Russell Brice because his expeditions on north side were the most impressive in term of organisation. I had a good feeling with this man, our meeting strengthened my choice even if his price was not the cheapest ! I am sure he's not the kind of guy who is badly hurt by some articles. He makes business but he really loves his sherpas and was really sorry for them with last year cancellation.

Q: What are your thoughts on climbing from the south rather than your original plan of north?
I did want to go on north side and see what Mallory and Irvine had to climb and if they had a possibility to make the summit or not. Last year, when some bad news came from Tibet as my Himex teammates I decided not to switch on south side and wait for 2009. It was very difficult to give up after all efforts. At this moment, I had a bad feeling with south side, in particular with objectives dangers as Ice Fall and Avalanches from west shoulder or Lhotse Face. This fall, when Russell Brice asked us to choice between north side with its politic hazards and south side, we all decided to go by nepalese side. We didn't want to live again a cancellation. So I prepared myself to another adventure. To trek in Khumbu Valley and discover the land of sherpas will be great. I will have also an opportunity to climb the Lobuche Peak with my mother, it will be a perfect climb for acclimatization. I feel today very excited by the south side and its perfect landscapes. Perhaps, life will give me an other opportunity to go on north side later.

Q: How do feel about the Discovery Channel filming you? Will it be a distraction?
First, I want to thank Discovery Channel for the first two seasons of Everest Beyond the Limit because my wife could see what I will try to do on Everest and she also could appreciate the quality of Himex work. The seriousness of Russell's leadership and the sherpa's impressive job make her confident and even she scares for me, she 's sure I am in a good hands. I don't think it will be a distraction. Russell was very clear with us, it will not have impact on expedition's decisions and the film crew has to adapt to the expedition not the opposite. But Russell has no responsibilities on what be filmed or edited. Be sure Discovery will make some emphasis as David Tait said his 2007 dispatches. But the third season will have a lot of new things to film: Trek trough the Khumbu, the Ice Fall, the south col and others new secret releases ... I think it will be great to have some records from the ascent whatever the screenplay.

Q: I feel a strong connection with your Alzheimer's fund raising. Why did you chose this as your cause?
 When I decided to go on Everest in 2007, I realized that I could change a selfish project in a charitable action. In France, the fight against the Alzheimer's disease was the "National Cause". So I contacted France Alzheimer who helps families and patients. It's one of the bad sides of Alzheimer's. It's very difficult to cope with this illness each day. I have no real worry in my life so I realize that I have to act for people who need help. France Alzheimer welcomes my ask and help me in my communications. With my website, I call my readers to make donation for it. I also put a link for US people to donate at Cure Alzheimer's Fund. With my mother, we are a rope party of climbers, we want to symbolize the essential link between generation to fight Alzheimer's disease.

Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this year?
It should be a strange feeling to think at 8000 meters that many people all around the world follow your ascent. Internet will give us plenty of opportunities to communicate. Perhaps, nations will have a better understanding with each other. I will be very happy to exchange my experience with everybody who wants, so feel free to post on our blog ! At last, even we are facing hard time, it's a the best moment to be united, so please don't hesitate to donate ! Thank you for the patients and theirs families.

Thank you, Alan !

Eugène, we will follow you closely. My best wish for a safe summit and return my friend. Climb High, Climb Safe Climb On!


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January 25, 2009

Everest 2009 "Fully Booked"
Business is good for the major expedition companies as reported by Reuters. The article which focus on the high-end of the adventure industry quotes both AAI and IMG as having a good outlook for 2009.

Seattle-based Alpine Ascents International will take seven to 12 climbers on $65,000 expeditions up Everest this year, the same as in previous years, said program director Gordon Janow. But Janow said he expected to see a decline in less-demanding and less-expensive expeditions.

Eric Simonson of International Mountain Guides, which offers Everest trips from $43,000 to $70,000, also said his company, based in Ashford, Washington, would be fully booked this year for Everest packages. 

Simonson goes on to acknowledge that it is the "normal" person who goes on his climbs, not the rich and famous -

"There is a misconception that the people who do these trips are super-wealthy and can write a check without thinking about it," he said. "They are professionals, engineers -- normal people who aspire to goals."

Whoever they are all the best for 2009!


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January 24, 2009

Everest Sherpas Receive Specialized Training
We all know that the Sherpas are the unsung heroes on Everest. They tirelessly fix ropes, carry tents and oxygen bottles to unimaginable altitudes. They assist sick climbers and generally make the mountain run smooth. But what kind of training do they receive to do their job?

Some Sherpas get the opportunity to go to mountaineering school. My Sherpa on Everest in 2008, Lam Babu with High Altitude Dreams, attend several courses in Chamonix France. Others get it though on the job training. But right now, January 2009, Asian Trekking in conjunction with Everest+ER are conducting a training class. From Asian Trekking:

Asian Trekking has started the first Climbing Refresher Course for its High Altitude Climbing Sherpas. There are 16 student in the first batch. Many of the Sherpas have come down from their homes in the Khumbu start the training. The training is being held at our very own ASTREK Climbing Wall, located on premises in Thamel. As well as for developing the skills of our own staff, the climbing wall is open to the public and hopes to promote the sport of climbing in Nepal. Some of the main topics that are being taught are rope handling and knot making, climbing techniques, mountain safety, self rescue, glacier rescue technique, high altitude medical and first aid knowledge.

I love the fact that they are helping to improve the skills of the Sherpa climbing community. While many have good skills, some are lacking or are never given the opportunity to lead. Also, with the local companies such as High Altitude Dreams (HAD) and Asian Trekking taking on more leadership roles and not depending on western guides there is a strong need for improved skills in all aspects of high-altitude mountaineering such as fixing rope, rescue skills and basic medical skills. Kudos to Asian Trekking for taking the lead on this one!


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January 23, 2009

Permit Fees for Everest
Sometimes permit fees can be confusing so courtesy of Asian Trekking, here is a simple table for Everest's Nepal normal route, the South East Ridge. I have also provided a PDF download with the current fees for all the mountains in Nepal again courtesy of Asian Trekking. As you can see it is of financial benefit to go with a group rather alone on in a small team. This is the basis for assembling teams of climbers by expedition operators.

These prices were published on July 16, 2008 and are subject to change so contact an expedition operator to get the current prices. Note the the Spring fees are for the primary climbing season including April and May.

Number of Climbers
Spring
Autumn
Winter
One
$25,000
$12,500
$6,250
Two
$40,000
$20,000
$10,000
Three
$48,000
$24,000
$12,000
Four
$56,000
$28,000
$14,000
Five
$60,000
$30,000
$15,000
Six
$66,000
$33,000
$16,500
Seven
$70,000
$35,000
$17,500
       
Each additional up to 15
$10,000
$ 5,000
$ 2,500

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January 22, 2009

So that is why I can't breath up there!
Ok, most Everest followers know that there is only 34% of the available oxygen at 8000m than there is at sea level. Also that a 2006 medical climbing team (Cauldwell Extreme Everest) measured the lowest human oxygen saturation on record. However now there is news that these are not the only problems - it's the ozone!

Everest climbers carrying portable ozone monitors in 2005, 2006 and 2008 took readings between 6,400 (C2) and 7,500m (C3). Studies of readings found ozone levels that were not safe for humans. A normally safe level for 8 hours is about 75 ppb as defined by the EPA. But on Everest they hit 100 in 2006 and 120 in 2008 - when I was there! Scientists have theory for these high levels:

When faster-than-average portions of the jet stream blast past the mountain, stratospheric air can spill over Everest in episodes lasting a couple of days, Moore notes. In 2006, during a similar event, another team of climbers measured ozone levels around 100 ppb.

The big problem is that the exposure is not for just a few hours but can be days given the time it takes to climb Everest. Also anyone with Asthma might be more sensitive to increased levels of ozone. Anybody have an ozone mask?


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January 20, 2009

Meet the Climbers: David Tait - No O's
This is the first in a series of interviews with 2009 Everest climbers. I will report on them throughout the season so let's get to know each one up close and personal!

David Tait is one ambitious Brit! A two time Everest summitter, he and Sherpa Phurba Tashi did a North Col - South Col Traverse in 2007. His first summit was from the North Col in 2005. His Traverse was to be a double - north-south-north but he stopped short as he explains below. David climbs with Himex as he will again in 2009. This year he will make a no O's attempt from the Nepal side.

David's climbing is not a selfish pursuit of glory but for his charity - NSPCC - to stop child abuse. This is intently personal for David and an incredibly worthy cause. Please take a moment to read about the NSPCC - it will hit your heart, and consider making a donation no matter how small. This is why David climbs.

Here is my January 2009 interview with David Tait:

Q: Can you summarize your key takeaways from your ambitious Double Traverse attempt in 2007?
David TaitWithout sounding too cringe worthy I think the principle lesson from the whole adventure was one of humility. I had originally conceived of the "double-traverse" concept, not as a true mountaineering landmark, but more as a high-profile vehicle for my charity fundraising. As time went by however, I began to convince myself, little by little, that "being the first" was all that mattered. It was during the dark hours high on the mountain that I realised, after witnessing Phurba Tashi's superhuman ability that I had almost missed the "point". As I have written before, I had almost manoeuvred myself into a position whereby I would soon ask this man to move aside and let me take the crown. Luckily, common sense [or conscience] prevailed. Deciding to forgo the return traverse was not a difficult decision after that. Secondly, the sheer scale and adventure of what we both did, alone and without rope, still excites me - I miss the escape.

Q: What is it about Everest that keeps bringing you back?
I was asked this exact question a few days ago. I have to say that standing on the top of the mountain is only one part of the attraction. Yes, if I summit without O's then it will be more than usually fulfilling, but I have to say that simply being in the region, wandering Kathmandu, absorbing the other cultures, experiencing both the fun and hardship of BC, and making lifelong friends appeals just as much. The truth is when I'm home in London, I long to be there, and when I'm there, I long to be in London. I simply love the place!

Q: What is the attraction of a South Side attempt given you have already climbed it down from the summit?
To be honest I'd much prefer to be on the Tibetan or North side. I prefer visiting China, its less crowded and it's now simply familiar. However, the Chinese authorities are still intent of ring-fencing Tibet from the rest of the world whilst they attempt to reengineer the culture to something more "acceptable", so the South side will have to do. As you say, I did descend the South side, but as yet haven't ascended it, so if I manage to to summit without O's this year I will have "ticked all the boxes".

Q: How do feel about the Discovery Channel filming you again? Will it be a distraction?
I understand that the Discovery personnel will be people I met and climbed with back in 2007. They are a great bunch of people and I enjoyed their company then and I'm sure will do again. The advantage of having them along is that their presence acts as a natural [positive] distraction. As you know, boredom is a fact of life at BC, and having a project working alongside you is interesting and fun. The only disadvantage is that you have to be a little careful of what you say and do, and not be lulled into saying something you might live to regret. I enjoyed working with them in 2007, and I felt their representation of life on the mountain was both entertaining and fair. It goes without saying that my fundraising efforts are massively enhanced by their interest.

Q: How is the fund raising going for the NSPCC?
Well, its getting harder and harder to wring cash out of people. That's not just because of the recent plunge in world growth, but also because I've now asked a number of consecutive times. I think people are a little bored of me! However, as any contribution they make goes directly to the charity and doesn't benefit me in any way [I'm entirely self-funded], the fact it's me asking again shouldn't make any difference. The bottom line is that I always try and stress that ANY contribution, big or small is worthwhile and very welcome. I hope people will appreciate this fact. It would be lovely if some big corporate sponsor suddenly appeared and paid for me to carry their logo, colours or project to the summit in front of the cameras - I keep wishing.

Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this year?
Well I only have one root-canalled tooth left in my head now, having had three teeth extracted last April in Kathmandu, so I'm praying that I don't suffer any further tooth pain. All I hope for is a decent shot at the summit, without O's. Then it's golf! [or so I've promised my wife!]. Fingers crossed.

He will be doing regular updates on his website davidtait.com during the climb. Best of luck with the NCPCC and your climb David. Climb Safe, Climb High, Climb On!


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January 19, 2009

Double Black Diamond on Everest's North side!
A 28 member team of the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) is training to attempt to ski down Everest on the China side. Eight will actually get the job. Apparently they have received permission from China after being denied last year due to the Olympic torch summit. This will be attempt number 18 according to an unnamed European climber. It is not clear what route or face they will attempt. According to a report by the IndianExpress.com:

Interestingly, while China has agreed to let the ITBP team ski down Everest, it has denied permission to them to carry their own communication equipment, citing security reasons. Sources believe that since the ITBP’s communication equipment is encrypted, the Chinese authorities would have had no way to monitor it, and hence the denial of permission. The ITBP contingent will now use satellite phones for communication.

Best of luck to these guys!


top January 18, 2009

How Much Does it Cost to Climb Mt. Everest?
This is one of the most common Google searches that lead people to my site. So here is my annual update on list prices posted on some companies' websites. Remember that these are list and sometimes significant discounts can be negotiated but not always. I tired to 'normalize' the prices by adding flights, oxygen, full support at all camps and a 1:1 Sherpa/Client ratio for summit night if the companies' base price does not include it. This can be quite confusing so if you want to know more I have extensive details on my Guide and Questions for Guides pages.

COMPANY
COUNTRY
SOUTH
NORTH
2009 LEADER/NOTES
Adventure Consultants NZ $65,000 N/A  
Alpine Ascents International US $65,000 N/A  
Mountain Guides US $65,000 N/A 1:2 Sherpa support
Mountain Madness US $65,000 N/A Willie Benegas - Leader
RMI US $65,000 N/A  
Dream Guides UK $60,000 N/A Kenton Cool - Leader
Jagged Globe UK $54,000 N/A Adele Pennington - Leader
Top Out Mask, 7 bottles O2
Mountain Professionals US $45,000 N/A Ryan Waters
High Altitude Dreams NP $45,000 N/A No Western Leader
Himalayan Experience FR $43,440 N/A Russell Brice - Leader
7 Summits NL $44,571 $31,586  
Reach Summit UK $43,500 N/A Alan Hinkes - Leader
International Mountain Guides US $42,950 N/A Mark Tucker - Leader
$70K for a personal guide
Project Himalaya NP $37,500 $27,500 Jamie McGuinness - Leader
Altitude Junkies UK $35,000 N/A Phil Crampton - Leader
Peak Freaks CA $35,000 N/A Tim Rippel - Leader
Top Out Masks
SummitClimb US $32,700 $27,700 Sam Mansikka - Leader
Asian Trekking NP $26,000(est.) $21,757 No Western Leader

The prices have not changed that much over the past few years with the exception that the local Nepalese companies have increased their prices to match the mid-range western companies. The largest western companies have now standardized on the 1996 era price of $65,000 for a South Col climb. A few years ago it was common to see prices in the low $50Ks. Finally climbing from Tibet is still less expensive than from Nepal primarily due to permit fees. However this may change since a strong rumor is that the Chinese will soon increase their fees to close the gap with Nepal.

Random Notes
Green is in! Many expeditions are starting use "blue bags" similar to what is used on Aconcagua or Denali to capture human waste high up on Everest. It has always been captured at base camp via big barrels but not at the higher camps. This is an excellent change to protect this sensitive environment and also to keep the drinking water clean. Peak Freaks and Asian Trekking are leading the way.


top January 16, 2009

Discovery Channel to Film Russell Brice's 2009 Team
Eugene Constant a member of Russell Brice's 2009 Himalayan Experience (Himex) team has announced on his blog that the Discovery Channel will film this year's expedition on the Nepal or South side of Everest. This is of great interest to the fans of the previous series Everest: Beyond the Limits. Discovery followed Brice's teams in 2006 and 2007 with great success. Eugene states:

Our expedition is coming. All members are training hard and collect the gear. Russell Brice has recently announced that a documentary would surely be achieved this year by Tigress Productions for Discovery Channel.

The filming will be a bit different since there is no clear view of the summit on the Nepal side like there is from the North Col on the Tibet side. So while we will not see Brice spotting the climbers through a telescope as they make their way to the summit, we will probably see some amazing shots of the Khumbu Icefall, Lhotse Face, South Col, Balcony, South Summit and Hillary Step through Sherpa Cams, all in HD!

Eugene is climbing to raise money for Alzheimer's Disease and I wish him the best on this adventure.

David Tait to Return to Everest
Also of interest is the return of David Tait, the climber who attempted the Double Traverse in 2007. In 2009 he will go for the summit from south without supplemental oxygen. In 2007 he wanted to climb from north base camp to the summit then down to south base camp and retrace his steps back to the north base camp. However he made the traverse from north to south but ended his attempt there. From his 2007 dispatch:

However, during the later part of the endless painful descent I realised two things. Firstly, I was not going to be able, in all seriousness to motivate both mind and body to turn around and do it all again, at least not in the time-scale allowed. There might be some supermen in this world, but I discovered that I am frankly not one of them. The men who are however, are people like Phurba Tashi, and his band of awesome cohorts, who day-in day-out climb, stock, rope and carry loads up and down Everest without the slightest hint of complaint - in fact they appear to accept it as a priviledge. The have an almost alien mindset, and a work-ethic, no-one in Britain can even imagine.

David is a generous man who is raising money and awareness of child abuse. He has written an extensive multi part story about his childhood and his 2007 Everest climb that you can find on his site at www.davidtait.com. A nice interview with David is on the well done Mount Everest: The British Story website. Best of luck David!


top January 13, 2009

North Side Open for Business in 2009?
Some interesting news is starting to emerge this week about climbing from Tibet this spring. First, as I noted yesterday, Bill Burke will be attempting a traverse from the Nepal south side to the Tibet north side supported by Asian Trekking, a Nepalese company. Obviously this means climbers will be allowed on the north side.

Next, Project Himalaya (Jamie McGuinness) is advertising on his site spots available for independent climbers on the north side. But he cautions:

Primarily we are providing professional support for a number of self-guided teams, and also have a small team of climbers with Jamie. If Tibet opens Chomolungma with restrictions we can handle, then we will climb from the north. If it is closed/too complicated, we go south side.

Jamie is as well connected in Tibet as they come so he may know something that is not public yet. Of note, he charges a full $10,000 less for his north side expedition than for his south side which is at a reasonable rate of $37,500. The expedition companies of 7 Summits and Summit Climb are also offering north side climbs as of this date but the God Father of the north, Russell Brice, has moved his team to the south, as reported by some of his clients.

Of course all this could change dramatically since it only January. Remember that we only understood the full impact on the schedules in late April in 2008. Stay tuned!


top January 12, 2009

South to North Traverse Attempt
It looks like just climbing Everest is not enough of a challenge for some climbers! My friend, Bill Burke, has announced on his website that he will attempt a south to north traverse. I have followed Bill and exchanged a lot of emails with him over the past couple of years. He is an incredibly disciplined man who sets high bar for the rest of us - you see Bill is now in his late 60s! He made it to the South summit in 2007 and I missed him at base camp in 2008 when HAPE forced him to cancel his summit bid for that year.

I have decided to ratchet up the challenge a bit for my third attempt to climb Mt. Everest by completing a traverse of the mountain, ascending the South side in Nepal and descending the North side in Tibet. As far as I know, this has never been completed by anyone my age (67 in March). And, if I kiss the summit, I will be the oldest American to reach the summit of Mt. Everest.

The traverse is a complicated, dangerous and risky endeavor that requires significant logistics, permits and support to do it safely. I believe he is going with Asian Trekking.

Bill, all my positive energy is going towards you on this ambitious goal.

Oldest US Female Everest Summitter?

Another announcement from the climbing community is from Nancy Norris as she attempts to become the oldest US Female at age 66 to summit Mt. Everest this spring. She has competed 5 of the 7 Summits and her goal is to bring attention to obesity - from her website:

The recognition I will gain in reaching this goal will not be used for my own glory, but instead to convey the message of the importance of adults and children alike getting healthy and being able to enjoy life and live it to the fullest. I want to inspire the world to fitness. My goal is to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. With this accomplishment I will have the added distinction of being the 'oldest person in the world' to do so. I not only climb for myself but more importantly to bring attention to the fact that American adults and children are among the most unhealthy in the world, and that we need to make changes "today" to take responsibility for our health.

According to the Center for Disease Control, approximately 65% of U.S. adults are overweight or obese and 16% of our children between the ages of 6 and 19 are overweight. Obesity among adults has doubled since 1980, while overweight among adolescents has tripled. approximately 300,000 U.S. deaths per year are currently associated with being overweight or obese. The total direct and indirect costs attributed to overweight and obesity amounted to $117 billion in 2000. Only 3% of all Americans eat a healthy diet and less than one third of Americans exercise on a regular basis.

I believe she will be climbing with IMG. All the best Nancy!

Sad Note
Sadly the youngest Briton to summit Everest, Rob Gauntlett, died this past week along with his climbing partner, James Atkinson, apparently in a fall on the Tacul Peak in the French Alps. Rob and James were both just 21 years old. He was 19 when he summited Everest in 2007. My condolences to his family and friends.


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January 5, 2009
With the new year now upon us, Everest climbers are going into the home stretch for their training. Most climbers will leave in late April -about 10 weeks from now - for Kathmandu. It should be a big season on the south with many of the largest commercial operators almost or already sold out. I am expecting over 400 summits on that side. But it is still unclear what will actually happen on the north as per the previous postings. I have spoken with several climbers and they are excited about their south side climbs.

Random Notes
There is an unconfirmed report that the Discovery Channel may film an expedition on the south in 2009.


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November 23, 2008

Looks bad for climbing in Tibet in 2009. Teams that are regulars on the north side of Everest like Project Himalaya, Altitude Junkies and Himalayan Experience are now saying they have or are considering moving to the south for 2009. As previously reported,the Chinese have announced that they will limit or restrict teams due to "cleaning the mountain" of all the trash from previous expeditions. Recently posted on Himex's site:

"Due to the uncertainty of access to Tibet during the 2009 season, we have decided to transfer our expedition to the Nepal side of the mountain."

By the way, his climb is already full! If Russell can't make it a go in Tibet, then it will be tough for everyone else. This will mean another year of crowded conditions on the South.

Tibet.cn posted this back in June but now it feels more real:

The Tibet Autonomous Regional Environmental Protection Agency plans to cooperate with the Tibet Mountaineering School in the first half of 2009 to to conduct a comprehensive clean-up of Everest, according to Zhang Yongze, Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Environmental Protection Agency.

All the garbage has been left behind by hikers and tourists. He explained that emerging tourism and mountaineering sports are having a negative impact on Everest's environment. It is necessary to tighten management, such as limit the number of mountain climbers and regulate legal business activities. Meanwhile, global warming is affecting the glaciers near Everest. Rongbuk Glacier, the largest Glacier inside of Everest's protected region, has shrunk by more than 150 meters over the past 10 years.

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