Everest 2010: IMG’s Eric Simonson Previews the Season


Last week we looked at the north side of Everest for 2010, now let's have a quick look at the south for 2010 through the eyes of IMG's Eric Simonson.

As many know, IMG is one of the largest operators on Everest and the other highest peaks around world. They were featured on the Discovery Channel's Everest: Beyond the Limit in Season 3, which aired in late December.

By my count we are approaching over 20 teams for spring so it will be quite crowded.

Safety is always the primary concern of climbers and operators so I wanted to see if there are any plans to address the notorious bottleneck sections like the Yellow Band and the Hillary Step.

Also with so many large (and experienced) operators now focusing on the south side,  would they begin to work more closely on route fixing similar to what had been done on the north side earlier last decade.

Last year, we saw instability in the Icefall that produced not only drama for television but serious angst with the climbers and most importantly and tragically,  took  the life of Lhapka Nuru Sherpa.

I think it is important to note that the Icefall has always been a dangerous section and avalanches happen almost every year. 2009 just saw some climbers in the wrong spot at the wrong time through no fault of their own. I recently posted an interview with Walter Laserer who was struck by the 2009 avalanche.

With climbers getting their minds wrapped around leaving for Nepal in a few weeks, I appreciate Eric taking some time to give us this update:

Q: How is your 2010 Season looking thus far?

We are looking good for 2010, the IMG Everest trip is essentially full.  I could put one more person on the Hybrid program, but that is about it.  We have a couple people doing Lhotse too.  Looking forward to another good season!

Q: You now offer several types of climbs ranging from base camp services to limited guiding to full guiding. What is your thinking behind these offers?

We learned a long time ago that not everyone wants the same thing.  Some people want a western guide and some want a Sherpa guide.  Our Hybrid program is a little bit of both!  We are trying to provide good service at a fair price, meet the needs of our customers, and take good care of our IMG guides and Sherpas.

Q: How was your experience with the Tigress/Discovery Channel filming last year? Were you pleased with the final result?

We worked great on the mountain with the Tigress camera crew, they did an excellent job.  Ed, Jaime, Matt, Mark, Christy all worked their butts off getting the footage. I was impressed with their hard work.

After the climb I had absolutely nothing to do with Discovery and the production side, so I was wondering what the show was going to be like.  I was pleased with the final product, and the feedback I have received has been positive.

Q: Some teams seem to be avoiding the Icefall. What is IMG's attitude towards using other areas to acclimatize thus reducing trips through the Icefall?

We have been going down to Lobuche Peak for many years as a warm up climb, and that is a good way to get some acclimatization prior to the first trip up the Icefall. However, I still think you need to do a couple rotations up the Icefall and on up to Camp 2 and 3, prior to summit bids.

The Sherpas do dozens of trips up and down the Icefall, so I don't think doing three roundtrips through the Icefall is unreasonable for the members to do.  Plus, every time people go up on a rotation they get stronger and faster, it's a fact.

Q: In 2009, bolts were put in the Yellow Band to increase speed and improve safety. Any other plans to accommodate the crowds and remove bottlenecks for 2010?

The Yellow Band bolts replaced some nasty old pitons that had been used up there for fixed rope anchors, so that was a big improvement, with both up and down ropes installed.

For 2010 I just bought 10,000 meters of fixed rope on behalf of a consortium of outfitters.  Russell deserves credit for getting the ball rolling on this and we now have most of the western outfitters on board. The challenge now is to get the Kathmandu operators on board too, but with the support of Ang Jangbu, Dawa Stephen, Tamding, and other key players I think that we'll hit the tipping point soon on this. Again, this will be a big improvement.

We figure that for $100 per western climber we can fix high quality rope, purchase the hardware and oxygen for the fixing team, and pay the sherpas who work so hard up high to get the rope in.  We'll have an up-rope and down-rope in all the bottleneck places for smoother traffic in both directions.  It should really help to make the route safer for both the Sherpas and climbers.

Q: Any other thoughts on Everest this spring?

I think everyone is getting the message that it is in our interest to work together.  For 2010 we will be trying to get more teams to haul their poop down from Camp 2.  Everest is looking cleaner and cleaner every year, it is definitely improving.

Prospective Everest climbers need to be asking their outfitters about how they deal with their waste.  Also, how they staff and pay their Sherpas teams.  Teams with understaffed (and often underpaid) sherpa teams are the same ones that leave a lot of the trash, because they don't have the horsepower to clean up their mess.

Thanks Eric. As always, we wish you and your Sherpas and climbers a safe and successful season.

Climb On!


Arnette is a speaker, mountaineer and Alzheimer's Advocate. You can read more on his site