By Alan Arenett
Everest 2012 continues to surprise and meet expectations of many climbers. We have the first summits of 2012 on the South. The ropes are now fixed to the summit on the South and North side as the weather window holds. First Summits – Chile A very strong and experienced team from Chile summited before noon on May 18th, the first of the season. It took them 6 hours to reach the Balcony where fixed lines had already been set and about another 6 to summit. It appears they climbed from the Balcony to the summit without the benefit of fixed ropes given the reports that the Sherpa team setting the line reached the summit at 1:30PM. They did comment the winds picked up on the summit, not unusual, but have descended safely. They posted: At 13:50 hrs local Chilean expedition successfully achieved the goal of his journey: to reach the summit of Mount Everest. The group of 10 Chileans and 10 Sherpas, led by Rodrigo Jordan, arrived in good condition at the place, thus becoming the first expedicionen this season that accomplishes this feat. Courtesy of expeditionweather.info Apparently speed climber, Ueli Steck also summited without using supplemental oxygen. Well deserved congratulations to all. The weather looks good for their summits with somewhat high winds but under most team’s limits of 30 mph. Gusts could be uncomfortable. South Col Start Many teams are preparing to leave the South Col between 8 Pm and midnight Friday night, May 18, looking for summit early Saturday morning. Several audio dispatches commented on the long lines of climbers and Sherpas moving from Camp 3 to the South Col, some said 200 climbers, others 100 to 150. A post from Adventure Consultants reveals the impact of the crowds with part of their team delayed by 2.5 hours due to crowds traversing the Yellow Band and Geneva Spur. Our first summit team for the 2012 Everest season are poised and resting on the South Col before their summit bid begins tonight. Mike, Ang Dorjee and the main team left Camp 3 close to 6.00am and made good time getting to the South Col by 11.00am, despite crowded conditions. Dean and Iza left an hour later and hit a few traffic jams, arriving at the South Col at 1.30pm. This was still great time and means that everyone has time for a descent rest. The Yellow Band, a strip of limestone that crosses Everest is notorious for bottlenecks. The route crosses a thin crack where the ropes are now attached using bolts, not age old pitons. This allows climbers to move faster but there are several awkward moves required. But more importantly, this is really the first time many are climbing in full high altitude gear: crampons, heavy boots, down suit, oxygen bottle(s), oxygen mask, and goggles/sunglasses. It is like no other feeling and takes time to get used to and slows many, many people to a crawl. Oh and the altitude. Supplemental oxygen only makes a difference of 3000′ so their bodies feel like they are at 23,000 without supplemental oxygen. 2012 Climbers between C3 and Yellow Band Ian Ridley has posted a picture on his blog of the climbers above Camp 3 heading towards the Yellow Band. He also commented on their schedule which may include returning to base camp. I encourage you to read his post. By the way, the Jagged Globe Sherpa who was injured by ice fall on the Lhotse Face is back in Kathmandu and expected to fully recover. The final climb to the South Col is another semi-difficult section where climbers feel the angle is almost vertical but really more like 45 degrees, still steep at 26000′ or almost 8000 meters. There are two ropes but it is very common for lines to develop. Again, don’t get too concerned about this because it is quite common every year. Yes, not the best climbing situation but teams work through it. It really becomes becomes an issue if someone is not 100% or did not plan for enough oxygen. However, it can impact overall performance if the climber arrives extremely tired and not able to rest before their departure i around 12 hours later. At this point the climb really shifts to mental toughness and not letting things get to you. Strategy An interesting strategy is that of Alpine Ascents (AAI) where they take enough oxygen, food and fuel to spend a full 24 hours on the South Col. This approach allows them to move very slowly up from Camp 3 arriving late in the day, take a full rest day and leave for the summit the next night. They arrived on Friday and plan to summit on Sunday morning. Almost every other team moves quickly from C3 to the Col and gets 12 hours of rest, also on oxygen, before leaveing for the summit that night. They minimize their time (and costs) at the severe altitude to avoid the debilitating effects of the altitude. I interviewed Todd Burleson about this strategy in March and he said: Spending a rest day on the South Col has proved to be a great benefit for our climbers. In the12 years since we implemented the rest day on the S. Col almost every climber has succeeded in reaching the top on summit day. We have never had a member become ill at the S. Col and most climbers say they sleep better at the S. Col on oxygen than they do at BC. If you think about it you have just put in two hard days moving from Camp 2 to Camp 3 and Camp 3 to the S. Col. On the second day most climbers do not reach the S. Col until 3 or 4 PM. They are tired and don’t get settled in and resting until 5 or 6 PM. Then with out a rest day they have to wake up 4 hours later and prepare for one of the biggest summit days of their life. Our climbers sleep through the night and rest on oxygen all day. The tents are warm from the sun and everyone has the chance to rest well, eat and rehydrate before leaving that evening for the summit. The draw back is it cost more money to have food, fuel, oxygen and Sherpa staff an extra day at the S. Col but it is worth it in terms of summit success. North Update Phil Crampton, Altitude Junkies team including Grant Rawlinson, continues to keep us professionally informed. They plan on leaving Camp 3 at 10 or 11 PM Friday May 18. Western teams use Nepal time on the North side. It is reported the winds have picked up on the North side: All the climbers and Sherpas, all 14 of us, are now at the highest campsite in the world at 8300 meters today. As we climbed, we watched the Tibetans fix the ropes to the summit. We are going to try and coordinate staggering our departure time as there must be 50-60 climbers present although 70% are Sherpas or Tibetans. Our weather forecast shows a slight increase in winds but as I sit here inside the tent at 8300 meters, there is no wind whatsoever. Hopefully tomorrow, if the weather holds, we are able to reach the summit. Waiting There are many more climbers positioned for their opportunity. Some are at Camp 3 on the South or ABC on the North and many are still are their respective base camps waiting for the second window of May 25th. This window looks better each day. They will be anxious to hear of the conditions near the summit. This current window is expected to close i.e. winds pick back up, by Sunday so we will go back to a quiet time early next week. Perspective For those following closely, please remember that information during this phase is sometimes incomplete, vague and often 1000% incorrect. Rumors are quite common on the mountain and often exaggerated. A small snow slide will be reported as an avalanche, a line of 20 people with a 10 minute wait will be translated into huge crowds and intolerable delays – not that anyone is doing anything wrong but the pressure of the environment and moment can be difficult to describe until you get back home. There will be long lines, especially this first push. And it there will be 20 or more people lined up on the fixed ropes moving at a snails pace and climbers will be very frustrated. Some will turn back – the most difficult decision. But at that moment it will be the right things to do, for them. They will need the same support as those who summit. Privacy or Cover-Up As we go into the most dangerous time of Everest 2012, accidents will happen so I want to offer some thoughts. Operators struggle with deaths. Observers often don’t understand the reality of death in the mountains and families struggle to cope with the devastation; desperately seeing answers. After reporting on climbing for over a decade, I struggle with each report of a death. My first thoughts are to the family, then the teammates and finally the public. I use a protocol to report deaths. My policy is not to comment until I have a first hand witness report and preferably more than one report that confirms the story then not to report names until it is clear the family has had an opportunity to be notified. With everyone on modern climbs having sat phones or Internet access, news travels fast – too fast. And on the mountain, it travels even faster; well at least rumors do. This instant information creates an environment where some people try to break the news first for whatever reason, others pass on unconfirmed rumors. While often done in the spirit of trying to be helpful; it often does the opposite. The first priority is to notify the family. What is often not known is that the family may ask an operator not to make a public announcement. They may chose to manage their loss in private. The operator has an obligation to honor this request even if gives the appearance of a coverup. The press wants to play the blame game, even if it is on the climber themselves. And of course we live in a litigious society thus saying nothing is almost always better than saying something. So confusion ensues. I believe a simple statement acknowledging the event is always in order and helpful for all involved. It allows teammates to move on, operators to maintain transparency and families to receive support. So as we go into the summit period, when you hear about a death or accident, I will do my best to report on it in the same manner I always have – with respect and accuracy. But please remember that many accidents are the result of bad luck, being in the wrong place at the wrong time.