Everest 2014: Climbing from Tibet

everest_route_north_big-300x225As almost all the teams wind down their efforts on the South side of Everest, try over 100 climbers are in full season on the North.

There are at least 10 teams on the Tibet side ranging from two people to the largest team, 7 Summits Club with 19 climbers. This also makes them the largest team on Everest for 2014.


Climbing on the North side is a bit different from the south in many ways. When you a permit it includes not only the right to climb the mountain but also transportation and lodging from either Lhasa or Zhangmu  on the border with Nepal.

A driver takes responsibility for you hired by the China-Tibet Mountaineering Association (CTMA) and looks after you until you get to Chinese Base Camp at the literal end of the road near the base of Everest. While this may seem nice and organized, it is all about control. The CTMA controls the climbing and Beijing controls the CTMA.

A curious development for 2014 is that the Chinese government out of Beijing suddenly began refusing Americans entry visas for climbing. This stopped several Everest climbers plus some on other Tibetan 8000m expeditions like Shishapangma. No clear reason was given. This also eliminated any possibility of Americans moving from the South to the North when the South side issues effectively closed the mountain.


The ropes on the North side are now set by a team of Tibetans who have been trained at the climbing school in Lhasa and are under the supervision of the CTMA. Most teams also use Tibetans to support their climb. There is a high price to bring Nepali Sherpa over to Tibet, as in several thousands of dollars on top of their individual salaries, food, gear, etc. thus financially encouraging teams to use Tibetans instead of Nepali Sherpa climbers.

All this said, there are still teams with Sherpas climbing today on the North side. Several of them had relatives and close friends killed on the April 18th serac release but have chosen to continue climbing.

The normal climb schedule on the North is similar to the South with a series of acclimatization rotations over a few weeks, then wait for the weather window and go for the summit. The schedule is somewhat paced by the progress of the rope fixing team.

The North is measurably colder, windier and dustier than on the South. Often there is less snow making the climbing more difficult with crampons on narrow and steep rock surfaces. There is no objective danger exactly like the Khumbu Icefall with the West Shoulder of Everest but in 1922, 7 Sherpa were killed at the North Col from an avalanche.

Historically it has been less expensive to climb from the North, but that is no longer the case as it is similar in price to the South. However, this has attracted budget climbers who did not want to use supplemental oxygen thus there have been a fair number of deaths of climbing in this style over the years on the North.

The south side (Nepal) remains more popular with 4416 summits while the north (Tibet) has 2455 summits. Overall 264 people (161 westerners and 103 Sherpas) have died on Everest from 1924 to 2013, 156 on the Nepal side and 108 from Tibet. Of course, Reinhold Messner used the North side for his 1980 true, and only true solo, unsupported, no supplemental oxygen ascent of Everest.


Currently, it appears almost everyone is at Advanced Base Camp looking to spend a night or take a day climb to the North Col. I will track and report on their progress through the end of the season.

Usually teams on the North have not updated blogs, used social media to the same extent as on the South so it has been hard to track them. But 72 year-old Bill Burke has returned and is doing a nice job of keeping us updated. He is with Asian Trekking. Also, 7 Summits Club always posts great pictures and keeps us informed as does SummitClimb. Another group is the first Everest climbers from Malta.

Robert Smith, Adventure Peaks made this post:

Yesterday the team climbed to the North Col of Everest at 7050 metres in good style. Despite trying weather conditions, with strong gusting winds and blowing spindrift, everyone made it to our objective for Rotation 1 on the mountain. Seb went a stage further carrying an overnight pack up the fixed lines, and spent the night on the North Col, as part of his acclimitisation to climb Everest without oxygen. He is currently on his way down and we will re-group here before descending further.

Today we are heading back down the trail to Base Camp, an easier day but still 6-8 hours walking. Everyone is looking forward to the relative comfort of Base Camp with a lower altitude. The North Col was a new high point for everyone in the group, at 7000m higher than any mountains on any other continent.

We are all looking forward to a rest period before our next rotation, and meeting the other Adventure Peaks team who are coming here to climb Lapka Ri.

South Update

It seems there are at least three teams still at the base camp on the south side: Chinese, Russian and an American science team attempting Lhotse. It is very unclear if the Icefall Doctors are still there even though the Ministry said they should stay and help anyone who wants to climb.

John All with the science team posted on Facebook:

For now, we wait. We are creating alliances between people who cannot afford to sacrifice the ten’s of thousands of dollars it took to get here – Soldiers for the Summit, a Russian team, a Chinese team – and perhaps as part of a consortium, the ACSP will be allowed to climb and gather the data that will help us better understand glacier dynamics and hopefully avert future tragedy.  The dreadful loss on the mountain has become a tool for petty politics and so for now, all we can do is wait.

Many, many, many reports are emerging detailing the events since April 18th. They are all saying the same thing that the primary reason for the closure was threats of violence against the Icefall Doctors and Sherpas by a small faction of independent ‘sherpa’ support climbers looking to use the deaths of 16 Sherpa as a way to force improved pay from the Nepal Government.

This is a partial list of recent updates from guides or individuals with their own perspectives on what happened:

The politics and cultures are very complicated as there are support climbers from different ethnic origins on Everest and not all sherpa people as we have come to refer to anyone supporting climbers on Everest.

Over the weekend, multiple teams banded together to hire helicopters to take Sherpa into the Western Cwm to either remove or store supplies previously carried there. This marked a major shift in Everest history as the Nepal Ministry had never allowed helicopters to be used in this way other than for rescues.

All the thousands of pounds of gear at Camp 2 – tents, stoves, fuel – has been locked down under mesh coverings at hoping it will be still be there a year from now after a winter of heavy snow and hurricane force winds. The Ministry has never allowed gear to be stored in the Cwm before.

This may be a hint of one of the impacts on Everest for 2015. Operators are already excited about using helicopters to stock the upper camps and eliminate rotations through the Icefall for their Sherpas.

However, this does not mean that climbers would be ferried above the Icefall, in fact, I’m hearing that the trend is to still require foreigners, members, westerns – whatever terminology you want to use – and the accompanying Sherpas to still climb from Everest Base Camp higher.


A counter-intuitive perspective is that all the efforts to make Everest safer through using aids like helicopters, or the current cry from the purists in climbing magazines and forums to go back to the 1920’s will result in hurting the Sherpa economy through less climbers, less work and less money for Nepal. I fully support making Everest less of a center-stage attraction and more of a climber’s mountain but there has to be a way where the Sherpa are not the losers.

I climbed with Lam Babu in 2008 and he had this to say about 2014:

But sherpas, who are often the sole breadwinners for their extended families, face a more desperate problem, with many left struggling to make ends meet. “All of us came here to climb and earn. To choose not to climb is a critical decision for us,” Lam Babu Sherpa told AFP as his expedition prepared to leave Everest base camp. “A cancelled season will be hardest on us.”

Best wishes for the North side climbers this year.

Climb On!
Memories are everything

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41 thoughts on “Everest 2014: Climbing from Tibet

  1. Hi Alan,

    Lots of interesting comments. Sumit Joshi is a colleague and friend of mine and, as when he gave me his personal take on last years events at C2, I found his views enlightening and compassionate. I can find a level of balance on his words.
    There is a point that I would make that I do not find anywhere else (though I have been travelling and may have missed it). Everest or Sagamatha ‘Goddess Mother’ is an actual God for the Sherpa people. It may be that such an event is seen by them a message that we in the west do not readily see and the Sherpa does not feel a need to communicate.
    There are no winners; everyone has lost, some their dreams, others fathers and friends. A dream can be re-ignited; we must never stop dreaming.
    I should have been with a team on the North side now for my third climb on that side. It has been postponed for political reasons so I read with interest about the statistics for ascent and deaths. It reads as much riskier to climb on the North side if you simply look at the statistics. However we have to remember that climbing on the North side began so much earlier when less was known and using equipment that we would now deem primitive. There were no weather forecasts that we enjoy today using satellite imagery. Also of course as pointed out while the permit there was so much cheaper it attracted the ‘budget climber’ who may well be inclined to climb without oxygen. This makes a huge difference to the survival statistic.

    1. Ted,

      I agree wholeheartedly with your comments and, from a personal perspective, found that reaching the summit via the Northeast Ridge was much more difficult than via the South approach.

    2. Namaste! Ted,
      yes, Sagarmatha-Chomolungma, is a goddess, one of the “Five sisters of long life”: Jomo Miyo Lang Sangma. But there are holier mountains to the Sherpa people: Khumbi La and Gauri-Shankar. It is forbidden to climb Khumbi La but, on the other hand, Gauri-Shankar can be climbed – as you know. Kangchenjunga is also very holy, but can be climbed. All this has to do with what can be gained in material terms. It is unthinkable, in mountaineering ecological economy, to NOT allow climbing on a 7200m or 8000m peak; whereas a rocky hill (Khumbi La), well…
      I will publish a book on that topic, the “Holy Mountains of nepal” this summer (Vajra Books, Kathmandu).

  2. Hi Alan, I was wondering if you knew about the Discovery Channel program that will be airing on Sunday night, about the Avalanche?

  3. I am a high school teacher in Oregon that teaches Into Thin Air by Krakauer. I use a lot of supplemental tools with this novel so that students can understand the different aspects of climbing Everest. Your website is very helpful in this task. I use your images, your blogs, your videos and your links to help students “see” what is happening in the story. With the current disaster and the effects (along with Eurocopter’s landing on Everest), we have talked about the changing times and what that means for climbing. I can always rely on your website for the climber’s perspective. Thank you so very much!

  4. Alan, just heard from someone there’s been an accident at ana dablam,, have you heard anything?

      1. Link awaiting moderation. Here is the info:
        Two Russian climbers died of altitude sickness in course of climbing Mt. Amadablam.

        According to Badri Bikram Thapa, Sub-Inspector at the District Police Office, Solukhumbu, one of them died on Tuesday evening while the other died early this morning at the high camp of the Mt. Amadablam.

        Pavel Ivamsth (passport no. 715396641) and Igolkin Victov (passport no. 715396641) were on mountaineering expedition from Osho World Adventure Company.

        The body of one climber has been brought to Lukla while another is yet to be brought, it is stated.

  5. Thank you for your extensive coverage as this tragedy continues to unfold. It’s such a multifaceted story, and you’ve done well covering all angles. Looking forward to seeing the Discovery special this weekend as well. Best of luck with your K2 training for such a noble cause!

  6. Hello Alan,

    I appreciate a lot here back in France following your reports and informations throughout the climbing season on Everest and in the himalayas.

    This year, a NGO that I actively support called NORLHA and based in the swiss Alps, has a little team climbing North Everest (Sophie Lavaud / Kobler) to give us visibility and help raising funds via crowdfunding platform (https://www.moboo.ch/project/show/ascension-solidaire—–expedition-providence-everest-2014–/).

    I hope you can give news regularely about their progress and relay my message as to extend our echo and help us in collecting funds for NORLHA, wich purpose is to provide development assistance through various projects in Tibetan areas of China, in Bhutan and in Nepal, in cooperation with local partners.

  7. Alan what is your take on the use of the ladder on the second step? Could that portion be climbed without it? Has anyone ever made it up without it (aside from the speculation on way or another on mallory getting up without it)? As a none climber, I have a hard time understanding how it is not cheating a bit.

    It was suggested by author wade davis in “into the silence” that the only way mallory could have got up over the second step was if a phenomenon occured where snow piled up in that area creating a ramp allowing him to merely walk up. I cannot remeber what year that build up was said to have occured hence leading to the authors speculation about the possibility mallory summited. Have you ever heard of this phenomenon?

    1. Meredith, this question has generated significant discussion, arguments, fights over the years, not to mention books and movies. Bottom line is no one knows if or how Mallory and/or Irvine climbed the 2nd Step in 1924 so it is all speculation.

      The 2nd Step was climbed without the ladder during the first summit of Everest from the North by Nawang Gombu (Tibetan) and Chinese Chu Yin-Hau and Wang Fu-zhou who is said to have climbed it in his sock feet to get traction. Also it was rumored he stood on the shoulders of his teammates as is speculated for Mallory. But like I said, the 2nd Step is the topic of much controversy.

      The ladder was installed by the Chinese in 1975.

      In 1985, Spanish Oscar Cadiach climbed it unaided as did Theo Fritsche in 2001 it is reported. Conrad Anker climbed the 2nd Step without aid in 2007 just to see if it could be done. They removed the ladder, he climbed it and they put it back.

      Is it cheating to have the ladder? That’s up to each person to determine for themselves but without it Everest North would see a tiny number of summits each year, if any.

      This is a great video about Anker’s attempt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8djBxFm5BRg

      1. Alan,

        Cheating to use the ladder on the Second Step? Just as much as using ladders on the Khumbu Icefall to cross crevasses or climb seracs!

  8. Any particular reason why the link to the Sumit Joshi (Himalayan Ascents) blog post was removed from your article above, Alan? It presents a distinct, Nepali perspective on recent events, rather different from the “Western” guides/members you link to.

      1. I found the HA blog very informative, but if the link still won’t work try a cut and paste of the address into your browser as it is still on their website. http://himalayanascent.com/live-blog.html

        (Alan, if the link still times out can you maybe remove enough letters from the address so it can be seen but won’t show itself as a live link. Remove this bit from this post I guess, Cheers, C.)

  9. Alan

    I have a question about the north side, the route to the North Col. is always the same from East Rongbuk, has anyon ever climbed to the North Col from the otherside, from the base of the North Face? What is that terrain like?

    1. There have been many,many climbs on the north side of Everest via many different routes. It is steep, and rocky as compared to the Southeast Ridge.

  10. Hi Alan – Wouldn’t helicoptering create a different cause for avalanches, from their loud noise and the reverberations from rapidly spinning blades?

    1. I am not Alan (this is obvious) but thought I would comment. As I understand it, noises can not cause avalanches but anything that might disturb the snow or ice can do so. I must state that I only believe this from copious reading and discussion on the issues with “avalanche people”. There are however very real other dangers from helicopters travelling to the Western cwm and I wonder how much gear will be transported as weight on board adds to the dangers.

      1. I would think the contribution to global warming would be a big issue. Global warming causes a problem and we solve it by throwing oil at it? Great plan.

        1. I agree Bob. I understand why helicopters are being suggested but it seems like madness to me. Either the mountain can be climbed or not. Why not do the Monty Python thing and install a lift to the summit while you are doing it. Just joking but the main point is a serious one.

  11. Roald These days there are very few if any climbers on anything other than Southeast Ridge and Northeast Ridge. A team attempted the West Ridge a few years ago.

  12. Oke Alan Arnette. I didn’t no that. I am curious about the other routes, because often these two routes are in the news

  13. I had not heard about the US China visa thing: when was this started? Do you have any idea if this is a one-time thing (political issues), or if this will stay in effect for 2015? How about tourist visas? Thanks!

  14. Mauricio, clarification: it would include the accompanying Sherpas. There would still be fixed ropes, ladders in the Icefall, just reduce the number of carries for the Sherpas to establish high camps.

  15. Doesn’t make any sense to require climbers to use the icefall while Sherpas are ferried to Camp 1. Who will guide the climbers through the icefall?

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