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Dispatches : Climbing

The Photo that Captured the 2012 Climbing Season

It was the image that embodied a disastrous year on Everest: A traffic jam of climbers jockeying for position at the top of the world. Since taking the photo in 2012, German mountaineer Ralf Dujmovits has kept a low profile. Dujmovits, who is married to climber Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, has been guiding a trekking group in South America; climbing in the Alps; traveling to Vietnam and Laos for rock and sport climbing; hitting up Smith Rock, Oregon; and ski touring in Norway. Now, with the action on Everest heating up, we checked in with Dujmovits for a preview of what we can expect this May, and for an inside take on his breathtaking photo.

Last May, you turned back on your bid to summit Everest without supplemental oxygen but came away with the year’s most iconic photo. What happened?
Ueli Steck and I had started toward the summit, but the antibiotics I was taking for sinusitus made me feel awful. So I waited a few hours before packing my things [to head down].

I came down the Geneva Spur, and already at the Yellow Band there were lots of people. And underneath the traverse to Camp III, it was just a black line, a long black line. I almost couldn’t believe what I saw, that so many people made the decision at the same time to go up.

Did you think that any of the climbers were in danger?
I was very sure at that moment that some of them wouldn’t make it back. It’s just a question of statistics. As I know the Summit Ridge, I know the Hillary Step—I had been in ’92 on the Summit with oxygen—I just know that there is not enough space for everybody.

Are you disappointed that you turned back that day?
I feel privileged to have made the decision to turn back and take this picture. Of course, in the beginning, when I decided to turn back on my fourth time trying to climb Everest without oxygen, I was disappointed and sad. But then when I came to the Lhotse face and saw this huge queue, at first I couldn’t believe it. I witnessed something that hopefully can be a landmark in Everest climbing, that people can start understanding that these queues are just killing the climbers. The more people queuing up, the fewer making it back.

Did you have hopes that your photo would change how people climb Everest?
My deep hope was that the number of climbers on Everest would be reduced. But I fear that I’ve made Everest more popular with this picture. People may start thinking, If there are so many people, I can also queue up. It was my hope to make more people understand that this has nothing to do with mountaineering, that it's a trophy hunt. But I don't think people got the message.

At the time, did you realize the power of your image?
The media frenzy was a surprise. Perhaps the air was too thin. I was tired after having carried all my gear up, and I was disappointed.

Were you concerned that the image would sensationalize Everest?
I had hoped the opposite: that people will understand there is no adventure on Everest anymore, there is no climbing, that everybody has to queue up.

It's funny, I bet 99 percent of these climbers wouldn’t queue up in a five-meter queue in a bakery, but they queue up in a several-hundred-meter-long line to get something that doesn’t exist any longer. I had hoped people would realize that, but I fear most didn’t. It was just another shocking picture.

What do you mean by there being no adventure left?
Being on Everest on the Tibetan normal route, people get no feeling for what it means to be on a lonely route, on an eight thousand meter peak, on your own, without all these crowds. The climbers on Everest are trying to achieve something that doesn’t exist any longer—at least on Everest.

Last year, you called for stricter regulations on Everest. Do you still think the Nepalese government should start strictly regulating who can set foot on the mountain?
After the expedition, I asked them: Please, you should introduce new regulations, you have to look at the climbing background of the people—what they have climbed before. Everbody who attempts Everest should have climbed another eight-thousand-meter peak before.

But I've come to realize that won't change. The Nepalese government makes money from Everest. Like the Saudis sell their oil, they’re trying to sell the mountain. This has to be understood by the climbers themselves. Later on, when I saw my photo go around the world, my hope was not to have the need for more regulations, but to make prospective climbers better understand where they are going to.

Given everything you’ve seen, will you make it back to Everest?

Directly after the climb, I said, never again. But it’s the only peak of the world's 14 tallest that I haven't climbed without using supplemental oxygen. It’s not a question of if I will go, but which route I will go.

What can we expect this year—will there be even more climbers running into trouble?

I don't want to know. I fear it’s worse than before.

Do you have any advice for someone looking to summit?
If somebody has a deep desire to go to Everest, he should go. On the normal routes with lots of people, it’s dangerous. Anyone who goes should be very, very fit to be among the quicker sheep. Otherwise, there’s a good chance of dying.

With the Himalayan climbing season underway, we look back on some of the most stunning images from 2012.

There is still adventure left on Everest, and it's on the West Ridge. In a story unlike any other we've ever told, we explore the 1963 West Ridge Expedition: Lost on Everest.

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Broken Records: Three People Trying for Their Own Everest First

Mount Everest has always been a place for breaking records (highest-ever mobile phone call, Rod Baber, 2007; first descent by paraglider, Jean-Marc Boivin,1988). This climbing season is no different. There are groups attempting new routes and climbers looking to put up multiple ascents. And then there are some teams trying to break obscure records, including some they’ve set themselves, and some that have never even been contested.

The Old Fogey
The Sheik Celebrity
The Base Camp Bagger

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Eli Reimer: Base Camp Bagger

On March 14, 15-year-old Eli Reimer became the first American teenager with Down Syndrome to reach Everest Base Camp. “We took time to really spell it out for him in a way that he could understand,” his father, Justin, who climbed with him, said. “We trained and we got everything on Netflix that was related to Himalayas.”

They decided to attempt the trek after a friend of Justin mentioned that it could be a good wait to raise money for their non-profit. Justin says that Eli is athletic, and that they hike a lot, but that they’d never thought about doing a big climb. Their nine-person team raised 85,000 for the Elisha Foundation, which the Reimers started in 2005 to provide resources for families with special needs children; they’re particularly active in Eastern Block countries like Ukraine.

Justin said that, mentally, they broke it down in to small pieces for Eli, calling each day a summit, and often having different members of the team working to distract him from the intensity of the climb. Physically, Justin says, Eli’s experience wasn’t that different from the rest of their team. At one point most of their group got a stomach bug, which Eli avoided.

After 10 days of climbing, and trying not to hold the team to any expectations, Justin said making it to Base Camp was surreal. “It had been 16 months of planning, so then to have my son in all of his disabled glory standing there was humbling,” he said.



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Arabs at Altitude: The Sheik Celebrity

Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani, a 31-year-old self-proclaimed “philanthropist sportsman entrepreneur” from Qatar is in the midst of a bid to climb the Seven summits. If he makes it to the top, Everest would be his sixth, and he’d be the first Qatari to successfully summit.  He put together a private team that includes Raed Zidan, who is attempting the first summit by a Palestinian, and Raha Moharrak, the first Saudi Arabian woman attempting the climb. To document the trip they’ve brought a film crew from Qatar TV. They’re producing a show along the way.

He and his team, the self-dubbed “Arabs at Altitude,” are climbing with Seattle-based Alpine Ascents and raising money for Reach Out to Asia, a Qatar-based NGO that provides educational infrastructure to countries like Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

As of April 25th, the Arabs at Altitude had raised $1,429 of their goal of $1 million. 

Because of the access to Wi-Fi at Base Camp and along the trek—and possibly because it creates buzz for the TV show—they’ve been putting out video edits as they climb, and tweeting a ton. They made it to Camp 1 on April 23rd. On the 17th, they stopped along the way to throw down their rendition of the highest Ever Harlem Shake, which they called the Harlem Sheik.

You can follow them on Twitter at @EverestArabs.

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Yuichiro Miura: The Old Fogey

In his third bid for the summit, 80-year-old Yuichiro Miura of Japan is attempting to reclaim the title of oldest Everest climber. He’s held the oldest man on top of the world title before, in 2003, but he lost it five years later. The current record holder, Min Bahadur Sherchan, who is Nepalese, climbed it in May of 2008 when he was 76. Miura, who also climbed that season, summited the following day, but he was only 75. Five years later he’s back to regain the old dude crown. He’s climbing the southeast ridge with a nine-person team including his 43-year-old son, Gota, and a doctor specializing in heart disorders, who is there to monitor Miura who had two heart surgeries last fall.

Mirua has been breaking obscure records on Everest for the past 40 years. In 1970, he became the first person to ski Everest. He skied from the South Col, wearing a fighter pilot helmet and a parachute. The Nepalese government wouldn’t let him ski from the summit. He caught an edge, and tumbled uncontrollably down most of the face after his parachute failed to deploy. A documentary about his descent, The Man Who Skied Down Everest, came out in 1975; he calls himself the man who fell down Everest.

Mirua told Reuters that he has other climbs on his tick list, and that Everest won’t be his last peak. "Maybe, when I become 85 years old, and if I stay alive, I want to climb and ski down Cho Oyu," he said. "It is my next dream."

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