Everest 2013: Weekend Update April 21

YakThe third week of April is traditionally when Everest climbers get serious and this year was no exception. This weekend teams are at Camps 1 and 2 on the South and Advanced Base Camp on the North.

The rope fixing is going well. I’m not sure where the term “fixing” came from but it simply means attaching a thin nylon rope to the mountain side. It is used to mark the route but more critically for climbers to attach themselves and stop a fall either on a steep hillside like the Lhotse Face or into a crevasse. The rope is sometimes called the safety line and is strung from the lower camps to the summit on both sides.

This has been a quiet week with low drama, just what everyone likes. The early teams made rotations to the high camps while the later arriving teams settled into Base Camp, practiced some basic climbing techniques before heading higher. Still other teams just arrived as they are on different schedules or climbing Lhotse which takes less time than Everest.

The word of the conditions on the upper mountain remained somewhat mixed. Some mention dry conditions others snow packed. On Saturday, a big snowstorm moved in halting some teams as they planned to go to Camp 2 but reversed direction while others stayed in Base Camp to wait out this storm.

There were two events that captured everyone’s attention this week. An avalanche off Everest’s West Shoulder onto the Western Cwm and a shift in the Khumbu Icefall taking out several ladders. In both cases, there were no injures. Events like these are somewhat common each year, still dangerous, but not too much should be read from them for the overall conditions.

The Big Picture

An Everest climb is divided into thirds: trek to Base Camp, acclimatization rotations and summit push, and perhaps a fourth- the return home. We are now in the early part of the acclimatization rotations. As I mentioned earlier this week, most teams like to have their climbers acclimatized as much as possible by May 1 due to the uncertainty of the weather.

I created the following chart from data on research showing the sweet spot for Everest summits is between May 13th and  May 22nd with 70% of the summits historically occurring during this period. This is due to low winds and light snowfall on the summit as the jet stream moves away from Everest for a short time. We will hear a lot about the jet stream over the next month.

 Everest Summits by Day The Sherpas will most likely have the lines fixed to the summit well before this period. In 2005 the first summits were the latest in 40 years occurring on May 21. But the following year, the Sherpas took the line to the summit on May 2; so anything can happen.

Based on updates reports from the Ministry of Tourism, there are slightly fewer teams on Everest this year:

  • 2013: South team numbers revised to 29 teams, 315 foreigners granted permits
  • 2012: South had 30 teams, 335 foreigners granted permits
  • 2013: North has 10 teams and about 100 foreigners granted permits

Climber Updates and Competition

The climbers are pretty active posting updates. David Liano, attempting to summit from both sides in a single season is leaving for his Camp 2 rotation tomorrow.

Melissa Arnot is “complaining” that Base Camp is too comfortable 🙂 Her blog is quite a good read and well worth visiting as she attempts to summit Everest for the 5th time, a record for women.

Everest Basecamp is absurdly comfortable though. Sometimes when I’m here I feel spoiled and embarrassed by all the comforts; I have my own big dining tent, I have a cook who makes me three meals a day, I have a thick pad to sleep on and a pillow in my tent. I have friends surrounding the camp, everywhere from two to twenty minutes away. I’m not alone here and basecamp has a very certain social buzz.

Manoj Vora climbing with Mountain Trip posted this update late Saturday night Nepal time:

We left as planned at 2:30 am to go to camp 1. Sherpas ahead of us reported very bad traveling conditions. So, after 4 1/2 hours of climbing in the icefall, we all returned to Basecamp. Total time on our feet 7 hours. There are some shake ups happening in our team. It is with great regret that I state that if my time between camps does not improve than for my own safety and survival I may choose to abort this climb and return home in one piece. I will keep you posted.

  Chris Jensen Burke has a nice post along with some excellent pictures of her rotation to Camp 2:

Our team moved through the Icefall quite easily, with most of the people in the Icefall being Sherpas, they were generally faster than us so it was a nice ascent.  Moving through the Icefall is very physical: it requires a good amount of agility as you are weaving through buckled seracs, ice, tip toeing across ice platforms, climbing up and down ladders, and walking across wobbly ladders.  You are also bending down kazillion times over many hours to pick up / put down and clip into / out of safety ropes.  All with a good sized pack on your back.  Physically, I find going up the Icefall easier than the down part.

And David Tait, post another vivid description as he made a swift carry all the way to Camp 2.

Yesterday, for the first time in my climbing career I felt intimidated but the sheer malevolent, destructive potential of this gigantic ice cathedral through which I was walking. One tiny shift in its bearing would see me crushed to liquid in microseconds. I focused, tearing my eyes from the threatening deep blue and trudged on in concert with the dawn’s early light.

The professional climbers attempting new routes got ahead of everyone, as expected, and have already climbed the Lhotse Face and made progress climbing towards the West Ridge. They made the climb from Base Camp to Camp 2 in four hours.

 Ueli Steck posted

“Tomorow April 22. we go up again. Second rotation to get climatized. We will try to stay at least one Night at Westshoulder 7500m.”

 Many climbers will post their times for climbing through the Icefall. David Tait mentioned 5.5 hours to Camp 2 and Ueli Steck said they made the same climb in four hours while Chris said she took 20% off her first time showing her improving acclimatization.

It is easy to let climbing Everest become a competition. The talk at Camps revolves around times, pulse rate, oxygen saturation, appetites, sleep, bathroom habits – you name it. While comparing performance can be a good way of seeing how you are doing, it can weigh on minds and cause people to push themselves, not always in good ways.

For most people, climbing mountains is fun, not a competition.

Looking Ahead

We can expect to see a lot of climbing this next week. Almost without exception every climber will spend nights well above their respective Base Camps to drive their acclimatization as hard as humanly possible. The Sherpas will continue to stock those camps with food, fuel and other gear. They will also begin to stage the oxygen bottles higher.

The rope fixing should progress with lines going up the Lhotse Face and perhaps to the Northeast Ridge on the North side. This will be critical as it will provide insight into the true conditions of the upper mountain.

This week will also mark when many climbers have been gone from home for a month – a long time – they are half way through the journey.


I like to use these weekend updates to remind my readers that I am just one guy who loves climbing. With 30 serious climbing expeditions including four Everest trips under my belt and a summit in 2011, this site tries to share those experiences, demystify Everest each year and bring awareness to Alzheimer’s Disease. My mom died from this disease a few years ago as did two of my aunts. It was a heartbreaking experience that I never want anyone to go through thus my ask for donations to non-profits where 100% goes to them, and nothing to me.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

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3 thoughts on “Everest 2013: Weekend Update April 21

  1. Hi Alan, do the Sherpas install fixed lines all the way to the summit, or only up to Camp 3? If they install up to the summit, then I guess it’s a Sherpa that summits first each year?
    Love your blog!

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