This morning, we received the following dispatch from Grayson Schaffer at Base Camp:
Earlier today, 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' 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. The photo above shoes First Ascent team member Brent Bishop nearing the team's current high point, below a couloir on the West Shoulder. Difficult conditions have slowed the team's progress to roughly 1,000 vertical feet per day.
"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 this 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's them pictured below; Moro on the left, Norton on the right) 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."
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first American ascent of Everest and its then-unclimbed West Ridge, Eddie Bauer has sent a team of seven mountaineers to repeat the historic climbs. Outside Magazine senior editor Grayson Schaffer is currently embedded with the team at Base Camp, sending back daily dispatches, including stories, photos, and videos. A team sponsored by The North Face and National Geographic is also planning on ascending the notoriously treacherous West Ridge, a route nearly as many climbers have died on as have summitted. Schaffer will be covering both attempts, as well as everything else that happens at Base Camp, until early June.