If you’ve been following our Everest coverage this week, you know that last weekend four climbers died during the first major summit push of the season. (All told, 10 people have perished this year, making it one of the deadliest on record.) You’ll also know that, due to overcrowding and fewer spells of good weather, there’s been increasing concern that another deadly traffic jam, like the one that formed on the mountain last weekend, could once again lead to disaster during the next weather window. Well, that window is now upon us.
A few hours ago, we spoke with Schaffer at Base Camp at roughly 9:30 p.m. his time. The various outfitters and guides he’s been speaking with estimate that, as of roughly 8 a.m. MST time, May 24th, between 80 and 150 people are now currently en route for the summit. Regardless of which estimate is right, these numbers are extremely troubling to experienced guides like Simone Moro and RMI’s Dave Hahn.
Earlier today, Moro, a highly respected high-altitude alpinist and guide, informed Schaffer that he decided to abandon his plan of trying to summit via the South Col route without oxygen because of the crowds. “If it’s like this, there will be tragedy,” he said. Moro estimated that there are currently 200 to 225 people at Camp IV, the final staging area for summit bids from the South Side; another estimate counted approximately 50 tents.
Schaffer had also recently been in contact with Hahn, who has summited Everest 13 times, more than any other Westerner. Hahn is currently at Camp IV on the South Col with fellow guide Melissa Arnot, cameraman Kent Harvey, and Leif Whitaker, whose dad, Jim, was the first American to climb Everest in 1963, and currently debating what to do: head up with the crowds this evening, or wait until tomorrow night, when there will hopefully be fewer people on the route?
At approximately 7:30 this morning, Schaffer recorded the following conversation between Hahn and fellow RMI guide Mark Tucker. In his back and forth with Tucker, Hahn speaks candidly about “choosing his battles.” As you’ll hear, the crowd is just one battle. The rocky conditions along parts of the route are another, and the windy conditions they’re currently seeing on the mountain are yet a third. As Hahn summarizes, he’s not sure “he wants them all at once.”
Listen to the entire conversation, and stay tuned for further developments.
Update: A few hours after Schaffer recorded the radio correspondence above between Hahn and Tucker, Hahn decided to postpone his team's summit bid. If conditions are once again favorable tomorrow night, they'll make an attempt then.