Welcome to the 2010 Everest Coverage. I will be posting summary updates on Outside Online and detailed posts on my site at www.alanarnette.com.
Even though most teams willnot arrive in Kathmandu until late March, climbers are busy training,finalizing expedition members, organizing logistics and for some,making huge plans. Last year we saw over 300 summits and sadly, fivedeaths. For 2010, I am expecting a record number of summits that beats the record of nearly 500 set in 2007. There areseveral factors playing into this season.
First, the north side should return to near normal with the Chineseallowing more teams to climb. For the past two years, permits weredifficult, if not impossible, to obtain on the Chinese side; as they took theOlympic torch to the summit in 2008 and again restricted permits dueto violence in Tibet in 2009. After a near normal 2009 fall season forTibetan 8000m peaks, including Cho Oyu, all indications are that teamswill make a comeback on the north.
Second, the world economy has stabilized thus enabling many climbersto once again separate themselves from the tens of thousands of dollarsit takes for an Everest expedition - and the operators are most willingto cooperate!
Finally, many local operators out of Kathmandu have improved theirservices while maintaining low prices thus attracting a new group ofclimbers.
With all this as background, one climber has big plans, Australian Gavin Turner, is now planning the double traverse. A single traverse is incredibly difficult - physically, mentally andlogistically. A double amplifies the challenge.
It has been tried a fewtimes, most recently with a world-class effort by David Tait in 2007 with oneof the best Sherpas in the world, Phurba Tashi and the services ofHimex and Adventure Consultants. David and Purba made the traverse fromthe north to south but then David called a halt to the return.
To be clear what a double traverse entails, the climber starts from thenorth side, for example, climbs to the summit then, instead ofreturning to north base camp, continues to the south base camp. Therethey replenish their energy through excellent rest and food before thenext phase in short order. They climb again, almost as a new expeditionaltogether, to the summit and continue to the original base camp.There is a reason it is rarely attempted and has never been done
Gavintook some time from training on his nearby Mt. Rainer to speak with me.
Q: You live in the Pacific Northwest and Rainier is in your backyard. How often do you get to climb it?
I recently moved to Seattle after about 10 years living in Nepal andIndia. I first climbed Rainier in June 2007, but this has been my firstfull year living in Seattle and I've tried to take advantage of it!I've climbed Rainier 9 times this year, 7 times to the summit,including 4 solo ascents. All up I've got 9 summits, via 6 differentroutes. It's an incredible mountain and I feel a deep connection withit. It's not just about going to the summit, although that's alwaysnice. It's about the experience of being there, what the mountainteaches me each time I return.
The solo climbs on Rainier have been some of the most enjoyablemountain experiences of my life. In August, I started one solo climbfrom the carpark at Paradise (5400 feet) at 9.30pm. There were a fewtourists walking around the carpark, enjoying the long summer days, anda few of them approached me as I geared up. I got a few strange looksand comments. When I explained to someone what I was doing, he asked meif I was a crazy physics professor! It doesn't seem crazy to me. Anight on Rainier, just me and the mountain, the energy, the stars, thesnow and ice, it was wonderful. I climbed right through the night tothe summit and returned back to the carpack, with only a short breakhere and there. The whole thing took about 12 hours.
Q: When did Everest come into your plans?
I first trekked in the Everest region in Spring 1999. I hiked infrom Jiri and did the full-circuit, about 30 days and crossed the highpasses and visited base camp. It was incredible. I hiked right to theend of the Gokyo valley and scrambled up an 18,000 feet peak known asNgozumpa Tse. It was an extraordinary 360 degree view from the summit.Further north than Gokyo Ri and to the west of Kala Patar, the view ofEverest from the summit of Ngozumpa is astonishing - you see most ofthe North Face, the steps on the NE Ridge, the West Ridge, much of theSouth West face, some of the Lhotse face and the South Col. Dreams areborn in such places.
Q: In 2010 you will be attempting the never before accomplished double traverse. What is your motivation for this?
I've always appreciated a good challenge and this seems like one!Actually, for many years I didn't think I would climb Everest. Thecrowds on summit day, the complicated politics of the region and allthe other shenanigans that takes place there these days...it's a crazyplace, in some respects. But it's not the 1970's anymore and I know Iwill not get the mountain to myself. It's Everest and I am drawn to it,almost inexplicably, like many others are. It's a connection you feelto the mountain, to the whole region, the Khumbu. And then there iswanting to experience the final climb up the summit ridge, ice axe inhand, to the summit.
The Double Traverse is appealing to me because it has never beendone before and it represents pushing the boundary of human endurance.I am fascinated by the psychological aspect of high altitudemountaineering, the mental endurance and conditioning necessary forthese big climbs. That's not to say physical fitness is unimportant -I've been training very hard for this climb. But you look at all of thegreat endurance athletes of our time and it's their mental strengththat sets them apart from the pack. Aside from that, I've alwaysbelieved in following my dreams and this climb is essentially aboutjust that.
Q: Who will you be climbing with and from which side will you launch your traverse?
I am still evaluating potential partners but want to make sure theyhave experience on both sides. It is critical that my partner hasSherpas who have climbed from both sides and logistics on both sides.
I am still uncertain about which side to begin from. I like the ideaof living at Nepal Base Camp for most of the expedition...there's adecent bakery there now and the fries at Gorak Shep are pretty goodtoo. It's lower elevation than ABC on the Tibetan side is veryappealing to me. The down side of starting in Nepal is all the tripsthrough the Khumbu icefall, and the fact that after traversing intoTibet, I would only be descending as far as ABC, which is still wellabove 20,000feet. Not exactly a comfortable resting altitude.
Q: What are your thoughts on David Tait’s 2007 double attempt wherehe stopped after completing the north-south leg? Have you spoken withhim?
I followed David's climb on Discovery and was impressed with hisachievement. It's obviously a tough push to go back up and over. Whenthe mind says it's over, it's over. We haven't spoken yet, but I wroteto him recently and am looking forward to hearing from him.
Q: Any other thoughts for us followers this year?
When I think about what potentially awaits me, I am reminded thatclimbing Everest is a dream I have held for many years now. Years inthe making and then all the effort throughout the expedition, tohopefully make it to the summit. Hopefully twice, in my case. But Iwill spend no more than an hour on the summit and yet this dream hasbeen alive now for over 10 years! That fact reminds me that climbing isabout the process, the experience of being deep in the mountains, andnot just about the summit. So I will sit back and enjoy the ride, giveit everything I have, and yet always remember that getting back home ismy number one priority.
The last thing I would say is thank you to everyone that followsthese climbs and I look forward to your support over the coming sixmonths!
Follow your dreams!
Every year, climbers dream and make plans. While most of us arefocused on the holidays right now, these climbers are getting up for aearly morning run or a late night in the gym. This is what dreams aremade of.
You can read more about Gavin's efforts on his blog. We wish you the best Gavin and will be following you this year.