It appears the Everest 2016 season is over with the base camps on the Nepal and Tibet side becoming ghost towns. I will post a full summary of the entire 2016 season along with my thoughts on the season next week, but wanted to make sure I included a brief coverage of the summits from the north as the south usually gets all the attention.
I estimate (and its a wild guess) that about 135 people summited from Tibet this year, compared to over 400 from Nepal. Getting accurate numbers and stories from that side of the mountain is difficult, thus the limited coverage. And some people shun all publicity while others make it a media event.
Climbing from the Tibet side has always been less popular than from Nepal. Thru last year, the Nepal side had 4,421 summits compared to 2,580 summits from the Tibet side. And looking at deaths historically, the Nepalese side has seen 176 deaths through August 2015 or 3.98% while the Tibet side has 106 deaths through August 2015. or 4.1%.
The North side seems to usually attract more attempts not using supplemental oxygen. But this year there were 20, almost evenly split between the two. Part of the North attraction to the no Os crew is that there are less crowds on the north and being delayed could mean frostbite or death.
There are many reasons for fewer climbers on the North but it is primarily driven by more commercial expeditions climbing from Nepal because the government is more predictable, and the Sherpas are closer to their home villages and prefer to climb in their country.
But the North side has so much history – Mallory & Irvine in 1924 and if they summited or not? Many consider it be more of a challenge and primitive, raw and rough … thus requiring more skills as you climb with crampons on steep rock.
And then there is the weather – cold and windy and windy and windy. Many who do not summit point to the weather as the main reason. And we saw it this year as well.
There were a handful of commercial expeditions in Tibet this season – many of the regulars each season: Adventure Peaks, Alpenglow, Asian Trekking, 7 Summits Club, Kobler & Partner, Satori Expeditions, SummitClimb and many smaller independent teams with logistics support from Nepal and Chinese companies.
The ropes are fixed not by commercial expeditions but by the Chinese Tibet Mountaineering Association (CTMA). Prior to 2008, they were set by Himalayan Experience, but that year, frustrated by difficulties in dealing with the Chinese government, Russell Brice switched his operations to the Nepal side.
This year was quite normal for the past eight years with delays in getting the ropes to the summit. Weather was blamed, remember cold and windy. Some teams voiced their concerns publicly especially after multiple summits from Nepal increased the pressure to get on with it.
Dutch climber Peter Boogaard noted on his blog:
The skies are bright, no clouds, no wind but…. no fixed ropes beyond 8300 m. For whatever obscure reasons the CMA (Chinese Mountaineering Association), which is responsible for fixing the ropes doesn’t proceed. On the Nepalese side everything is ready and the first summit attempts are underway. There are all kind of rumours why the Chinese delay but basically nobody knows.
But long time north side operator, and leader of 7 Summits Club, Alexander Abramov posted a few days later that everything was right on schedule:
usually we climbed Everest from 20 to 25 May … There is nothing strange happens – it happens every year. Chinese (Tibetan) climbers are going to go to complete the processing of the route, the expedition is expected in full combat readiness
The acclimatization schedule on the North seems shorter than on the South, and many would say safer by avoiding the Khumbu Icefall. While the base camps are about the same altitude ~17,000 feet, the higher camps, are well, higher. By spending time at the higher camps, fewer rotations are generally required.
This table shows the camps but the numbering system makes it confusing and have changed over the decades, so focus on the altitudes and not the numbering system. Also, the exact elevation of the camps vary.
(only on North 1st rotation)
|20,300′ – 6187m
(Advanced Base Camp)
(Advanced Base Camp)
The season progressed normally, similar to the south with climbers making the sorte’ to the North Col and some climbing higher to tag Camp 3 at 7500 meters. Those climbing without supplemental oxygen pressed higher and stayed longer to give themselves the and safest chance.
Leaving from the high camp on the Tibet side at 8300 meters va 7995m at the South Col, the summit night is shorter than on the Nepal side, a huge benefit given the usual colder and windier conditions.
Finally, the weather window appeared, albeit not the , and teams began to position themselves for their summit pushes. But some were impatient …
In spite of the line not being fixed to the summit, a small team from 7 Summits Club tried and turned back on May 11, the same day the ropes were fixed to the summit on the Nepal side.
Our impulse to move sharply upward was stopped by snow and the lack of a fixed ropes. But this, in some sense, the audit showed the willingness of absolutely all the participants for the assault at any moment.
Information from the Chinese changed about when they will finish fixing ropes to the summit. So there are many reasons to be fidgety. We are encouraged by the fact that no one in our team use it. Everyone understands that patience– it is a part of successful expedition.
Pushing the acceptable weather conditions, the first summit occurred on the morning of 19 May, when USMC Ssgt. Charlie Linville become the first combat wounded veteran to summit Mount Everest along with Tim Medvetz of the Heroes Project. They were supported by Climbalaya Treks and Expeditions.
Another veteran, Chad Jukes also summited as part of the USX effort and logistics by SummitClimb. His fellow veterans on the same expedition also summited, 2nd Lt. Harold Earls, 23 and Army Capt. Elyse Ping Medvigy, 26. The names of their Sherpas were not mentioned.
But Lt. Earls had a challenging time according to a USX statement:
harrowing climb and descent with temperatures of minus 20 and wind gusts up 65 mph. Earls, a novice climber whose only previous experience was reaching the top of 14,416-foot Mount Rainier in Washington, suffered bloody, frost-bitten toes, and his goggles were blown off his face. A Sherpa guide gave Earls his goggles, but eventually he began to suffer snow blindness, nearly falling off a 7,000-foot ridge. Earls managed to grip a rope linked to the guide, which saved him.
With the ropes set and weather forecast decent, the flood gates opened.
Over the next few days, 7 Summits Club put 17 people on top including, reportedly the first married couple to have summited together from both sides, Noel and Lynn Hannah. Victor Bobok and Irina Halay (first Ukrainian Mt. Everest summiteer) made it with Pemba Tenjin and Pasang Sona Sherpa of Climbalaya Treks and expeditions
Adventure Peaks put 6, Satori with 12, Kobler with over 5, Alpenglow with 2 members, 2 guides and 3 Sherpas. SummitClimb had 7 plus the 4 from USX. Asian Trekking also summited but the exact numbers remain unclear. The Chinese team put 14 members and 22 guides on the summit on 20 May.
Of note was a new female record for summits set by existing record holder, Lhapka Sherpa with her 7th summit on 20 May.
As for those trying to summit without using supplemental oxygen, there were mixed results. 20 attempted the feat and only 5 succeeded.
There were from 11 attempts from the North side with 4 summits and from 9 from the Nepal side with 1 summit. Those who cancelled their effort cited weather, illness or no reason for changing their minds.
German climber Thomas Lammle ascended to the summit and back to Camp 3 on the Tibet side where according to his Facebook post:
It was not a complete none O2 climb: On the way down from C3 to ABC I used oxygen for safety reasons.
I asked Richard Salisbury a key person with the Himalayan Database, that almost everyone considers the final authority on Himalayan summits, on how they categorized a summit where oxygen was used at any point and received this reply:
Liz Hawley always considered O2 used if it was used anywhere from BC to high point to BC, even for medical use in descent.
In any event, well done to Thomas. As I’ve mentioned this before, only 193 climbers have summited without supplemental oxygen through August 2015, about 2.7% of the 7,001 total summits from both sides. But the risk is high.
The Washington Post published a balanced story on the complications with this statistic as to the risks involved:
The tiny subset of climbers who don’t use bottled oxygen account for about 3 percent of total summits but 22 percent of the 111 deaths that have occurred above 26,000 feet, according to Richard Salisbury of the Himalayan Database.
However, in spite of the known risk, Cory Richards, Melissa Arnot, David Roeske and Carla Pérez summited with no supplemental oxygen from Tibet. Many consider this to be a summit by “fair means” and a sincere congratulations to all.
Media Frenzy and Silence
One interesting angle to these summits was the publicity surrounding them, or lack thereof!
While Aplenglow had an oxygen supported, guided climb, the owner, Adrian Ballinger and Nat Geo photographer Cory Richards made a no O’s attempt.
To spice it up they used Snapchat generously throughout their attempt. This attracted the media across the globe and the two climbers seemed to appear on morning TV shows almost daily (OK, a bit of an exaggeration) in the US.
In the end, Cory summited while Adrian turned back with cold feet around 8400 meters. The largest benefit of supplemental oxygen is that by keeping the core warm, it helps the heart pump blood to the limbs thus reducing the risk of frostbite.
Even with six previous summits, Ballinger didn’t hide disappointment:
But I failed at my goal. And it hurts and that’s ok. I don’t need a participation award. I tried my damnedest and I came up short. In my next project I will work harder, train harder, and maybe the cards will play out in my favor.
At the other end of the media frenzy spectrum was Melissa Arnot who quietly and with zero coverage set an American female record by getting her sixth summit and also becoming the first American female to summit and live.
She shared her gratitude:
My heart is so full having achieved something I was never sure was possible. I’m starting to process all the feelings but the stand out one is still gratitude.
I met Melissa while on my approach in April and during a chat she told me a white lie in that she was not climbing this year. To summit without Os was a personal goal of hers and she wanted to keep it private until the results were in. She had wanted to summit without Os from Nepal but events over the last few years stopped her.
update: it appears this death was not on Everest. One death was reported on Tibet side from abenteuer-outdoor but details are extremely vague. This is a Google translation of the comment:
Three days ago was in the neighboring British / Canadian expedition unfortunately one fatality. A 61jähriger Bergkamerad died of heart failure.
update 2: Charles MacAdams died at Chinese Base Camp after reaching his goal of the North Col source
While it was a generally successful and safe season from Tibet, it was not without drama. US Climber Alexander Barber was doing an independent attempt with as little support as possible – no Os, Sherpa and climbing ‘alone’ as much as that is ever possible on Everest these days.
This impressively strong, young climber was making excellent progress, and showing good judgement as when to push and when to wait. But as he began his final upper mountain summit push, he developed HAPE and almost lost his life.
He posted on his blog about understating the extent of his illness to keep his father from worrying
… I had full on HAPE, and nearly died the nights of the 23rd and 24th. It was an incredibly long 4 days – and a hell of a battle – to get down the mountain.
In reality on the 23rd I wasn’t sure I would survive the night – as crazy as that is to hear myself say. I knew I could count on little help getting down the mountain, so it was self-rescue or perish. I had promised my father that follow-up text when I arrived at Camp 1 from Camp 3. But I couldn’t find it in myself to break the news to him. So I lied. I was in midst of a struggle for my life. At the time, I didn’t know what exactly was wrong, but I knew I was deep in it and I suspected it was HAPE. Once I did get down to C1, and the next day when I got down to Advanced Base Camp, many people went far out of their way to help me. I probably owe my life to those kindhearted care givers.
Alex wanted to acknowledge that Zeb Blais brought O2 to C1 and helped him down from C1 to ABC. Glad you got down safely Alex.
OK, so there you have a brief summary of Everest 2106 from Tibet. I’m sure I missed something, someone and got a detail wrong here or there but did my .
Congratulations to all regardless of their results on this historic side of the Hill.
Look for my full season summary next week.
Memories are Everything