By recent standards, Everest 2010 was a safe and successful year.There were nearly 500 summits with 4 reported deaths, all on the north,and several injuries and rescues. The total Everest summits broke thetotal 5,000 (includes multiple summits by Sherpas and guides so perhaps 2500 individual summits) level since the first in 1953. This year's story line forclimbers and their families was the weather, however it was all JordanRomero and Apa Sherpa for the rest of the world.
For the first time in several years, the north operated in an almostnormal manner. Teams dealt with a few border restrictions early butarrived at base camp and immediately began their acclimatizationrotations. On the north, a team run by the Chinese TibetanMountaineering Association (CTMA) responsible for fixing the ropes tothe summit were held up by strong winds and cold temps thus createddelays for teams trying to tag the high camps.
On the South, the ropes were in early and the weather seemeddrastically different from the North, at least in April. Amulti-expedition group of 9 Sherpas took the line all the way to thesummit on May 5 thus opening the gate. A few climbers followed theSherpas a day later and made the first summits of the season beforeMother Nature changed the play book.
Similar to previous years, the south side's greatest danger remainedthe Khumbu Icefall. No collapsing seracs from Everest's West Shoulderlike last year, but dangerous nonetheless. There were several incidentsof climbers and Sherpas falling through soft snow bridges and evenbroken bones from falling ice seracs necessitating rescues. As theseason progressed and temperature became warmer, teams ventured intothe Icefall in the dark and cold of the early morning hours hoping themoving ice was more solid.
The Weather Windows
The weather. Ah, Everest weather. With the best forecasts availableto teams, this season was filled with debate, calculated gambles andindecision. In other words, normal.
The weather pattern followed the expected flow as the Everest regionmoved from winter to summer: a good April, followed by a transitionalMay. The April winds and snow were a bit stronger than in previousyears, however teams pushed through to reach the high camps and manywere prepared for their summit bids by early May. They retreated downvalley for R&R and to eat and breath as much as possible.
However for the first two weeks of May, the winds picked back up andthe threat of typhoon Laila off India fueled the anxiety. A similarscenario in 2009 hit Everest after the last summits and trapped teamsat base camps for over a week. Leaders became concerned that the harshweather would hit in the middle of their pushes.
There were two windows identified by forecasters: May 16-17 and May22-26. The first was deemed too short for most teams but others worriedabout crowds if they waited for the second and longer one.
In what might have been considered an act of courage, several teamsset out on May 16th looking to squeeze a summit, and back, into a twoday window of acceptable winds and minimal snow. And they were right.Over 50 climbers made the summit in this window but there were reportsof frostbite in the declining conditions.
The next window was shaping up to be a record day with climberschomping to get their crack at the top of the world. However typhoonLaila was lurking in India playing with forecasts and climber's minds.The bet was it would veer off to the east thus avoiding a direct hit toEverest. It was the correct bet but the chance of heavy snow nowappeared in the forecast.
With time running out, almost every team on both sides moved higheron the mountain. The weekend of May 21-23rd was awesome. More than 300climbers made the top in great conditions. But those who waited late inthe window began to feel the effects of an early monsoon and a lowpressure system north of Everest. Once again, extreme winds combinedwith heavy snow almost shut down the Hill for the season. DuncanChessell, an Everest veteran, called his summit day of May 25th, theworst conditions he had ever encountered by a factor of ten. Two northclimbers died in this period.
Huge Efforts, Mysteries and Firsts
With every Everest season it is about individuals and teams all doing interesting and mind-boggling feats.
A huge effort to clean Everest on the Nepalese side was driven by ateam of 20 Sherpas called Everest Extreme. They removed several bodiesfrom the mountain but left the familiar ones of Rob Hall and ScottFischer. They also brought down almost 900 pounds of garbage. In a neweffort to eliminate garbage from the start, climbers were encouraged touse the 'blue bag' for their solid waste and return it to base camp forthe first time on Everest's south side. No such effort exists on thenorth.
Climber Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner summited without supplemental oxygen this year to knock off her 13th8000m summit. Other non-O's summits were completed by Silvio Mondinelli, Abele Blanc, Marco Camandona, Michele Enzio and Laval St. Germain. Also without O's was Austrian mountain guide Wilfried Studer whosummited on May 23rd - together with his wife Sylvia and their daughterClaudia. Simone Moro and Melissa Arnot wanted to go sans O's butswitched at the last minute.
Jamie Clark, sponsored by Hanesbrands, tested a new material basedon a compound called Aerogel. It is incredibly thin and is warmer thandown. Previously used by Everest climbers in socks, this was the firsttime to demonstrate it in full clothing at altitude. He wore it as highas camp 3, but I was under the impression they would replace the"puffy" suits with their SuperSuit all the way to the summit. In anyevent, Jamie seemed just fine at C3 so apparently it worked. Jamieposted multiple videos and voice dispatches showing his never give upstyle and penchant for the dramatics. He kept us informed andentertained.
The mystery of the 1924 Mallory & Irvine expedition came intofocus with several expeditions looking for their lost camera whichmight prove if they summited 29 years ahead of Tenzing and Hillary.Jochen Hemmleb lead a team from Austria and tried to stay under theradar. Late in the season, Australian Duncan Chessell told the world hewas also looking and had a good idea where it was. However, the lateseason heavy snows stalled their search, according to what they said.However, this is a cat and mouse game not only for the camera but alsoby the searchers. If the camera or Sandy Irvine's body was found, noone is talking; yet.
Another headline important to some, was the chase for firsts. Overthe years, these efforts have taken a life of their own and some feelreplacing the pursuit of the challenge; the essence of mountaineering.Those in the chase, and their leaders, defend record efforts asthoughtful, calculated and informed. I understand and acknowledge thenational or personal pride, and will defer to those record setters tomake their announcements.
It was good season for the largest commercial teams, especially onthe south. Adventure Consultants, Alpine Ascents, Himex, IMG, JaggedGlobe, Mountain Trip, Peak Freaks all have the formula down to ascience. Collectively they put around 150 people on the top of theworld with many enjoying 100% success and no deaths.
The north teams saw mixed results. Adventure Peaks saw only 4 oftheir 19 clients summit and Summit Climb only 6 of 20. 7 Summits Clubhad 7 of 12. However, South African team Adventure Dynamics had 100%success with 8 summits and Chessell Adventures saw 8 on top out oftheir 10.
There were many valiant efforts again this season. While much of theattention was focused on the youngest, oldest, first or most, it wasthe regular climbers I would like to highlight.
Once again, the dispatches from individual climbers revealed therealities of Everest. Bill Fischer wrote of his joys and struggles onthe north side in a rare and candid style. Leif Whittaker, climbing inthe huge legacy of his father, Jim, the first American to summitEverest in 1963; brought us into his climb with beautifully writtendispatches.
Cindy Abbott who has the incurable disease, Wegener'sgranulomatosis, made it to the top of the world at age 51. PatHollingworth climbing with a new company, Himalayan Ascent, summited ona tough day with only his Sherpas and no other support. Ben Stuckleywho postponed an attempt in 2008 choosing to be home with his wife fortheir first born declared victory on the summit on May 25th.
Matt Snooks and David Liano, both came down with health problems onthe north, they made a quick trip to Kathmandu and in an unbelievabledemonstration of determination, returned to the fight. Matt summitedfrom the north and David from the south. Elia Saikaly created a stir inCanada with thousands of children climbing Everest with him from hiswebsite and amazing video production. Well done Elia!
And there are the stories of climbers who made the gut wrenchingdecision to turn around. Wendy Booker, a climber with MS, made it tocamp 2 before she felt that it was enough. Robert Hill with IBD stoppedat the South Summit and celebrated his victory. TA Loeffler, on hersecond try, finally was forced to yield to a continuing illness thatstole her energy and drive. She made it to C3.
To fully appreciate what climbing Everest entails, two summit day blogs from this season are must reads. First from Geordie Stewart's and his north climb. It is painful in it's honesty and result. The second is from a south climb and Patrick Hollingworth. Well written and descriptive to a fault. Well done to both of these climbers and thank you for bringing us along.
And there are literally hundreds more stories like these.
Death and Rescues
Everest, even in a relatively mild year, showed her dark side withmultiple deaths and scores of injuries. Most were not and will not bereported to keep the guides' reputations clean and the climber'sjudgment untainted. However, it is clear the early and late summitpushes resulted in many cases of serious frostbite and rescues. Thedetails were mostly revealed on individual climber's websites anddownplayed, if mentioned at all, on their teams sites.
I would encourage more transparency because I believe each incidentis a learning experience and that potential clients should have accessto the history of a guide service, including the incidents. How elsecan you make a well-informed decision as to who to spend tens ofthousands of dollars with and to trust with your life?
With this in mind, props to Bonita Norris who discussed openly herrescue as she was descending. She hit her head in a fall and wasliterally drug to the South Col. Her guide, Kenton Cool, made a casualmention of this on his site.
A hat tip to guide Phil Crampton of Altitude Junkies who describedin detail the dramatic rescue of his client Mike. Without a doubt, hesaved Mike's life according to other climbers who were there by hisside over those days. Mike was evacuated from C2 via helicopter.
Helicopter flights seemed to be the norm from the south Base Campbringing sharp criticism from the Doctors at EverestEr that they wereoverused and could contribute to a false sense of security andencourage risks.
And the deaths. There were 4 on the north and one on Lhotse. SummitClimb saw two members die. First was Danish climber Tom Jorgenson whowas listed as a North Col climber on the team roster. He died in aTibetan village after descending with HACE.
The second Summit Climb member, Peter Kinloch, died high on the north side after his summit. It was reportedthat he became blind and totally incapacitated and the rescue team hadto leave him as their own lives became at risk. This brought to mindthe previous events of Lincoln Hall and David Sharp. Jorgenson's deathand Kinloch details were revealed through other sources and had aslight mention on the Summit Climb website though reports said the teamwas devastated.
Another tragedy struck Everest on April 28 when László Várkonyi, awell known Hungarian climber was killed by an avalanche off the NorthCol. He was swept into a crevasse. In spite of a valiant search, hisbody was not recovered.
According to climbers in the area the avalanche force pushed youngJordan Romero into his father, Paul, cutting his face so severely itrequired six stitches. This was not reported except on Bill Fischer'ssite.
Finally, Japanese climber Hiroshi a member of the RolwalingExcursion team died at C3 on the north. And Russian climber, SergeiDuganov, died on Lhotse. All the deaths except for Jorgenson were onthe descent after a summit.
The Media Darlings
A summary of Everest 2010 would not be complete without further comment on the two media stars: Apa and Jordan.
Apa Sherpa is of course is a legend with his 20th summit. He nowlives in the U.S. He once climbed, as many Sherpa do, to support hisfamily; however today he climbs to raise awareness of climate changeand for his foundation. Apa sent a strong message this season thatEverest is melting and future expeditions will see more rock than snowon the upper flanks similar to the wind swept Northeast ridge on theTibet side.
Please remember that many Sherpas now have 10, 12, 16; even 19 summits, like Chewang Nima Sherpa,each and are the best in the business. It goes without saying, butneeds to be shouted loudly, that without these strong men (and women inthe Nepalese villages), Everest would be unattainable for almost allthe current generation of climbers.
At the other end of media coverage was 13 year-old Jordan Romero.His effort was inspirational and polarizing. I have devoted an entire postto his climb and it is currently the most commented on post from thisseason. My conclusion is that Jordan is not your typical 8th grader,his family is not the standard 9 to 5 profile and their result, while arisk I would not take nor ever recommend, was compelling. Jordan andhis family have a unique opportunity to be a positive influence on anentire generation and I wish them the best.
Thank You and Congratulations
Another Everest spring is over. Most of the climbers are inKathmandu or already back home. The Nepal Ministry of Tourism nowawards a medal in addition to a summit certificate. I bet the summiterswore their medal on the flight home! They deserved to.
I want to thank all the climbers, leaders and home teams that keptus all updated throughout the season. You do not have to share yourdeepest thoughts or your joys of climbing with the world; yet you do.Not everyone can climb Everest. Many followers are unable to leave achair. What you do is to give us all a gift. The gift of climbing, thegift of sharing, the gift of honesty and inspiration.
You know, I often hear that Everest is over rated. It cannot be thathard. Over 5000 people have summited, even a 13 year-old. For those whobelieve this, I invite you to speak with someone who has climbedEverest, better yet someone who did not make it. Or sadly, the familiesof those who died trying.
Climbing is a sport of passion. A test of wills. A contest of sortsbetween the mountain and the climber. So no matter your results,climber, you have my, and many others, utmost respect and admiration.Well done, well done.
Note: My sincere thanks to everyone who donated to the Cure Alzheimer's Fundthis year. 100% goes to research, none to me. I will continue myefforts to raise awareness and money to find a cure for this diseasethat took my mother and two aunts as well as impacts over 25 millionfamilies around the world. Thank you from all I am.