Everest

Everest

The 2015 Ever­est climb­ing sea­son is under­way, and if pre­vi­ous years have been any indi­ca­tion, it should be anoth­er inter­est­ing year on the world’s high­est peak. Over the past few sea­sons we’ve seen every­thing from awe inspir­ing per­son­al accom­plish­ments to unbe­liev­able tragedy play out on the slopes of the “Big Hill,” mak­ing it a sym­bol for both incred­i­ble inspi­ra­tion and extreme sor­row. Add in grow­ing ten­sions between a vari­ety of fac­tions oper­at­ing on the moun­tain, and we enter this sea­son with a con­tin­ued air of uncer­tain­ty sur­round­ing the pro­ceed­ings. It is dif­fi­cult to say just how this sea­son will unfold, but here are some things to keep an eye on in the weeks ahead. 


Back to Busi­ness
Climb­ing Ever­est is big busi­ness, both for the com­mer­cial guide ser­vices that oper­ate on the moun­tain, and for the gov­ern­ments of Nepal and Chi­na. The two coun­tries issue per­mits for climb­ing on the South and North Sides respec­tive­ly, and col­lect hefty fees in the process. Fol­low­ing last year’s unprece­dent­ed shut­down of the South Side after a trag­ic acci­dent claimed the lives of 16 porters in an avalanche, there were some ques­tion as to whether or not that busi­ness would be impact­ed this year. While some of the com­mer­cial teams have shift­ed from the South Side to the North, there does­n’t appear to be any slow­down in the demand for Ever­est. Most com­pa­nies report full ros­ters for 2015, which means the moun­tain is like­ly to be as crowd­ed as ever. And with prices con­tin­u­ing to go up each year, there is clear­ly a lot of mon­ey to be made.


But Not Every­one is Back
While most of the com­mer­cial oper­a­tors are return­ing to Ever­est this year with plen­ty of clients in tow, some have decid­ed that the polit­i­cal cli­mate, chang­ing envi­ron­ment, and con­tin­ued uncer­tain­ty on the moun­tain are ample rea­sons to stay away. The Peak Freaks, a com­pa­ny that has been lead­ing moun­taineers up Ever­est for near­ly 25 years, has can­celled its 2015 and 2016 expe­di­tions. Instead, they will focus on other—less crowded—mountains in the region. The Peak Freaks may not be alone in that deci­sion either. If the Ever­est 2015 sea­son does­n’t go smooth­ly, there could eas­i­ly be oth­er high pro­file com­pa­nies jump­ing ship as well. No need to wor­ry about find­ing a com­mer­cial guide ser­vice to lead future expe­di­tions how­ev­er, as more and more Sher­pa-owned com­pa­nies are pop­ping up in Nepal, bring­ing new, less-cost­ly options with them.


Ice Fall

Increas­ing Dan­ger
The avalanche that claimed the lives of the 16 Sher­pas last year was the result of the col­lapse of a hang­ing serac—a giant piece of ice—over a cru­cial sec­tion of the climb on the South Side. That ser­ac had been in place for years, but final­ly gave way due to the increased impact of cli­mate change on the moun­tain. The Ice Fall Doc­tors, a group of Sher­pa charged with main­tain­ing the treach­er­ous route through the Khum­bu Ice Fall, feel that the dan­ger still remains in 2015, and as a result they are shift­ing a sec­tion of the route in an attempt to avoid a repeat of last year’s dis­as­ter. But chang­ing con­di­tions on the Lhotse Face have brought increased dan­ger to oth­er parts of the moun­tain as well. As the glac­i­ers on Ever­est retreat, all phas­es of the climb are start­ing to be impact­ed. That means that it could be even more dif­fi­cult to safe­ly climb and descend from the sum­mit. Add in the grow­ing crowds on the moun­tain, and Ever­est could be as dan­ger­ous now as it has ever been. 


High Alti­tude Inspi­ra­tion
As always, there will be a pletho­ra of inspir­ing sto­ries that make their way out of Ever­est Base Camp. For exam­ple, U.S. Marine Char­lie Linville lost his leg to an IED in Afghanistan back in 2011, and he is now prepar­ing to climb the moun­tain as part of the Heroes Project. Linville’s efforts will no doubt serve as inspi­ra­tion to oth­ers who are fac­ing adver­si­ty of their own. He’ll be joined on the expe­di­tion by oth­er vet­er­ans with a sim­i­lar sto­ry, as the team works togeth­er to over­come phys­i­cal and men­tal chal­lenges on their way to the top of the world. Each spring, a num­ber of inter­est­ing per­son­al­i­ties arise from the Ever­est scene, and I’m sure 2015 will be no dif­fer­ent. As we get clos­er to the start of the sea­son, which typ­i­cal­ly comes around the start of April, look for oth­er inspir­ing sto­ries to emerge. 


"Kilian jornet Grand raid 2010" by Cecuber - collection personnelle. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kilian_jornet_Grand_raid_2010.JPG#/media/File:Kilian_jornet_Grand_raid_2010.JPG
“Kil­ian jor­net Grand raid 2010” by Cecu­ber — col­lec­tion per­son­nelle. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wiki­me­dia Commons

Kil­ian Jor­net Goes For Speed Record
Acclaimed moun­tain run­ner Kil­ian Jor­net is hop­ing to set a speed record for the fastest climb on Ever­est this spring. He’ll be climb­ing on the North Side in Tibet and hopes to make a round-trip jour­ney from Base Camp to the sum­mit, and back, in rough­ly 35 hours. That would indeed be incred­i­bly fast for any climber, but it pales in com­par­i­son to Pem­ba Dor­je Sher­pa’s mark of 8 hours and 10 min­utes to the sum­mit on the South Side. Pre­vi­ous­ly, Jor­net has set speed marks on Denali, Aconcagua, Mont Blanc, and oth­er high peaks, but he has nev­er faced a chal­lenge like Ever­est. This will be the first 8000-meter moun­tain of his career, and it will cer­tain­ly test his skills. 


A New Route
Three elite climbers are fore­go­ing the more tra­di­tion­al routes up the North Ridge and the South Col of Ever­est in favor of attempt­ing a com­plete­ly new path to the sum­mit. The team includes Cana­di­an climber Raphael Slaw­in­s­ki, and Ger­mans David Goet­tler and Daniel Bartsch, each of whom has exten­sive expe­ri­ence on big moun­tains. The trio will attempt to sum­mit with­out the use of bot­tled oxy­gen, fixed ropes, or Sher­pa sup­port along the dif­fi­cult North­east Face. If suc­cess­ful, it will be the first new route opened on the moun­tain since 2004. 


Expect the Unex­pect­ed
There was once a time when an Ever­est sea­son moved along like clock­work and you could accu­rate­ly pre­dict with some degree of cer­tain­ty just how events would unfold. That cer­tain­ly has­n’t been the case in recent years how­ev­er when we’ve seen unprece­dent­ed shut­downs on both sides of the moun­tain (Chi­na closed the North Side in 2008 to take the Olympic torch to the sum­mit), high pro­file brawls between west­ern climbers and the Sher­pas, and wealthy moun­taineers going rogue to fur­ther their own ambi­tions. Watch­ing some of these events unfold on the biggest stage in all of moun­taineer­ing has been both appalling and frus­trat­ing at the same time. But these events have also taught us one thing—when it comes to Everest—expect the unexpected.

Everest