This morning, helicopter pilot and climber Simone Moro lifted off from Base Camp with filmmaker David Breashears riding shotgun. Moro circled up to 27,000 feet—well above the Eurocopter B3's recommended flight ceiling—allowing his passenger to snap clear photos of the West Ridge, the Hornbein Couloir, and the upper sections of the summit pyramid above the Yellow Band.
Breashears's photos revealed a route that's in similarly bad shape as parts of the one seen below the West Shoulder by members of the First Ascent West Ridge expedition. "It was like frozen scree that didn't take any protection," said David Morton in a radio call on May 8. So far, it's taken the First Ascent team six days of hard climbing just to get within striking distance of the shoulder.
"If the route above the shoulder were as bad as the route below," says First Ascent expedition leader Jake Norton, "it would be virtually impossible to climb the route the year while still retaining a margin of safety."
Moro seemed to share the sentiment. At a meeting in Moro's camp—Cho Oyu Trekking—Moro told Norton that while his sponsors were still working on changing his permit to allow him to climb the West Ridge with fellow North Face athlete Conrad Anker, he was now leaning toward saving them the $20,000 (and possibly his life).
After the meeting, Moro had planned to hustle up through the Icefall to Camp II, where Anker was waiting. With news like this, both teams attempting the West Ridge this year will no doubt have some soul searching to do.
"We'll still have to go up to the ridge and see it with our own eyes," says Norton. "Then we'll make a call."