The Outside Blog

Dispatches : May 2013

Mt. Fuji to be World Heritage Site

UNESCO has recommended the iconic Mount Fuji for cultural World Heritage status, a decision that many Japanese citizens have been pushing for more than 20 years. It is expected to be formally recognized in June, when the World Heritage Committee meets in Cambodia. 

The 3,776-meter peak is Japan’s tallest mountain, an active volcano, and home to local shrines, waterfalls, and five major lakes. World Heritage status would mean a boost in tourism and an official commitment to preserving Mt. Fuji and its surrounding sites.

That comes as even better news considering environmental concerns around the already popular tourist spot. Japan’s central government has been nervous that UNESCO would reject Mt. Fuji because it has been so polluted by visitors. Now that it's set to be inducted, Japan can celebrate its 13th registered World Heritage site—and hopefully make plans to keep it clean.

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Cannibalism at the Jamestown Colony

Anthropologists have found the first physical evidence of cannibalism at the Jamestown colony during the bleak winter of 1609-1610.

The proof: The skeleton of a 14-year-old girl found in a cellar full of debris. Her skull, lower jaw, and leg bone bear the marks of an ax or cleaver and a knife. While the cause of her death remains unknown, the closely spaced cuts are evidence that she was dead and not struggling when they were made.

“Historians have to decide whether this type of thing happened,” Douglas Owsley, a physical anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution, told the Washington Post. “I think that it did. We didn’t see anybody eat this flesh, but it’s very strong evidence.”

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Operation Puerto Doc Guilty (UPDATE)

The doctor at the center of the Operation Puerto drug bust was found guilty Tuesday in a Spanish court of endangering public health, seven years after a raid on his clinic sent shockwaves through cycling.

Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes was given a one-year suspended prison sentence and banned from working as a doctor for four years. Three of his colleagues were acquitted, while Ignacio Labarta, a former trainer of the cycling team Kelme, was handed a four-month sentence, according to CyclingNews.

Judge Julia Patricia Santamaria rejected calls from international sports federations and anti-doping authorities for permission to analyze the 211 blood bags found in the raid, several of which may have been used by the Basque soccer team Real Sociedad, and other soccer and tennis players.

Update: The Spanish Anti-Doping agency intends to appeal the judge's decision to destroy evidence found in the raid. "We know the truth that says that Dr. Fuentes is not a good doctor because he did some practices that are very bad for the health of athletes. But, on the other hand, it is necessary to know the names of the athletes," Ana Muñoz, the director of the agency, told the Associated Press.

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Everest 2013: The Beginning

C 1 in the snow

I just got back to Everest Base Camp after spending 5 nights up on the mountain. On April 20, we climbed up through the Khumbu Icefall to Camp I.  We departed our base camp at 4 a.m. and arrived at Camp I around 10 a.m. and the snow had already started that day, continuing for the next 2 days. On April 21,we elected to take a rest day at Camp
I and fortify camp in case of more snow, which we had that night. We awoke to about 3 feet of total snow accumulation the morning of April 22 and decided that, instead of moving up to Camp II as planned, we should remain in camp and dig our tents out. Only a few Sherpas came down from Camp II that day on their way to base camp, so we were very content to sit tight and enjoy our winter camping experience.

On April 23, we moved up to Camp II and spent 2 nights acclimatizing. The weather was very nice, light winds and sunny mornings/afternoons. We hiked up a scree slope next to the West Ridge a few hundred feet for acclimatization and had a great view of the Lhotse Face, which now has a lot more snow on it than before the storm.  I think the route on the Lhotse face will be great for climbing this season, as well as the Lhotse couloir route to the summit of Lhotse.

Today, 2 of our Sherpas (Fur Kancha & Karma Sarki) arrived at Camp II to join Sherpas from other companies to begin the route fixing of the Lhotse Face. I am hoping that 2 days of fixing work (April 26 & 27) will allow them enough time to complete the route up to Camp III. The weather looks good for the next few days, so hopefully they can complete this work and then continue fixing up to the South Col and complete that work by April 30.

Fixing to the South Col early means that the summit fixing work can commence sooner rather than later and hopefully allow for many teams to attempt their summit bids when periods of calm winds open up in early- to mid-May. This would be great as it would spread out the many climbers over several summit weather windows and allow for less crowded summit days, hopefully avoiding the debacle of last year when only 2 summit window's existed after the route had been fixed.

There are some real concerns with climbers on the mountain that do not seem well organized. Today on our descent we encountered a new team called "Rowaling Expeditions" that had about a dozen members jugging the fixed line very close together, and clogging the route in the Khumbu Icefall. As our team members descended fixed lines and ladders efficiently and quickly spread at least 5 meters apart, we became "stuffed" by this team that was trying to ascend one of the vertical ladder sections in the Icefall. Unfortunately there was no other alternate route around and we were forced to wait until each one of their members ascended the ladder until we could descend. In most parts of the Khumbu Icefall, you can walk around someone that is moving slowly, but in this case it was like the Hillary Step, a one-person-at-a-time section.

There is one massive team that everyone is watching carefully. Seven Summit Treks is a Nepali company that has over 70 members on the Everest permit and over 85 Sherpa to support them. They have no western guides but rather rely on Sherpas to guide their climbers. Their camp is like a city, complete with a full bar & helicopter landing pad (I counted 6 landings today after we got to base camp). They have 5 dining tents for their members/clients and one kitchen tent devoted entirely to supplying their Sherpa staff with tea!

Fortunately since Mingmar Sherpa's death a few weeks ago there have been no other fatalities. However one Adventure Consultant's client fell in the icefall and broke her arm, ending the expedition for her and her husband. There have been other small 'falls' reported in the icefall but fortunately all climbers have been clipped into the fixed lines and have not suffered any serious injuries.

The Icefall route from Base Camp to Camp I is very direct and straightforward compared to recent years. Other than the brief section just above the football field the route seems very safe. This section involves climbing through ice debris and some sketchy towers that lean near the route. Above that the exposure to serac fall (icefall) from the west shoulder seems minimal, whereas last year the exposure seemed much greater (think lot of big blocks of hanging ice...)

Garrett Madison

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Drones and Choppers at Base Camp?

Heli in base camp

This morning I awoke at 7:20 a.m. to the rotors of the latest model Eurocopter B3 hovering above my tent as it prepared to land 50 yards away to resupply a neighboring camp. I thought to myself, this is getting a little surreal, as I walked from my personal tent to our dining tent for my morning cup of coffee. As I strolled over the rocky moraine of our base camp with java on my mind, I heard what sounded like a swarm of angry mosquitos approaching, and then saw the small 6 rotor drones flying about filming the tents of our camp below. I first saw this drone on the trek in at Phakding when its Chinese owners were staying in the same lodge as us, and they explained to me that the contraption they would disassemble and carry by hand cost well over $100,000.

Over the last few years, as the Eurocopter B3 proved very adept at flying at high altitudes, it became a popular way for climbers to quickly exit locations such as Everest base camp (17,500’), in the event of an injury or illness that was life threatening. But of course it also allowed for healthy climbers to shell out a few thousand bucks and avoid the mult-day trek from base camp to Lukla and then fly out on a twin otter from the world’s most dangerous runway. Last year a few of my climbers flew out of Base Camp after a successful climb by helicopter to Kathmandu and were home in Dubai that same day.

These helicopters have proved very efficient at evacuating injured or ill climbers, but they also have opened up a new dimension of commerce on 8000-meter peaks that previously did not exist. Watching this burgeoning industry evolve with little to no regulation is exciting. The established helipad just below Base Camp that was supposed to be reserved for medical evacuations is regularly used for non- emergency flights. Daily sightseeing tours with tourists from Kathmandu hover over Base Camp just a few hundred meters off the deck. And the Nepali team next to ours recently built their own helipad so that they could easily resupply their camp with fresh food and ferry members in and out of camp regularly. When the helicopter lands, people walk around the impressive machine and snap photos or shoot movie clips to upload to their Facebook pages. Back home in the U.S. when I have been around helicopters the pilot and other crews are militant about keeping people away from the tail rotors that would chop a person apart. But not here in Nepal, where helicopter flights mean thousands of dollars in cash changing hands. There are now 4 commercial helicopter companies here competing for passengers' dollars, and the prices for flights varies widely.

Having traveled halfway around the world and trekked 2 weeks to reach Everest Base Camp, I am a little disappointed that I awake to the deafening roar of thumping rotors above my tent and then the buzz of a mini drone helicopter as I enjoy my morning coffee and the views of Everest, Nuptse, & Pumori (peaks surrounding Base Camp). But then again, this is not about solitude in nature: there are over a thousand people in camp, and those aiming to climb to the top of the highest mountain in the world have brought with them satellite modems to access the internet, movie projectors to watch films in the evenings (and generators to keep those projectors going well after dark), and even gourmet food and western chefs to satisfy their palates. This is about going big, reaching the highest point on earth, and having a great time along the way.

Chef Alexandra catching a few rays amongst the Sherpa

Do I resent this development of Base Camp into a mini city, with high-tech aircraft,  high-speed Wi-Fi, eggs benedict, carpeted leisure tents with propane heaters, etc.? Honestly I think it is all pretty nice considering I am "on the job." If I were to break my leg up on the Lhotse Face, I would prefer the helicopter ride from the base of the face at 22,000’ direct to Kathmandu rather than be carried down the Western CWM and the Khumbu Icefall on the backs of Sherpas, then strapped to a Yak in base camp for the multi day ride down to Lukla. And the luxuries I have access to in my camp such as Wi-Fi, our lovely and skilled chef Alexandra … these amenities I prefer to the hundreds of mountain climbing expeditions where I cooked instant oatmeal for my clients and had zero communication with the outside world. Considering I am working as I guide clients to the top of the world, I might as well ask for a base camp masseuse next year to take care of us poor climbers between our forays up the mountain.

—Garrett Madison

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