Deaths and summits on the world's highest peak - and it's not over yet
Swiss mountaineer Ueli Steck recently took advantage of a short weather window to summit Everest without oxygen, but other climbers have lost their lives on the mountain.
Steck left Base Camp on May 15th and after a stop at Camp 2, reached the South Col on May 17th. His summit push began after midnight on May 18th and he summited at 1:30 p.m. Steck climbed with Tenzing, a 21-year-old friend from Nepal, who also had the goal of summiting Everest without supplemental oxygen this year.
"Tenzing and I have a great time on the mountain," said Steck. "He got used to salami and cheese and I've gotten used to the Nepali music."
The day after Steck's successful ascent saw many climbers vying for the summit, trying to make the most of a short weather window. Poor conditions and limited good weather added up to what mountaineer Chad Kellog described as a 'Trail of Tears'; streams of climbers attempting the mountain at the same time.
Writing on his blog about his preparation for a speed ascent, Kellog said:
"The rush for the summit on the 18-20th saw over 200 people make a summit attempt. I saw the trail of tears heading up the mountain and knew that I had made the right decision in waiting for the initial wave of people to pass. Too many people heading to the summit is usually a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately on the 19th of May there were numerous incidents and now 3 people reported as having lost their lives and one person missing in the pursuit of their dreams. There are so many unconfirmed reports that I will have to wait and see who has actually departed and with which teams... My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those that have lost their lives."
Reports are out that Dr. Eberhard Schaaf of Germany, Shriya Shah of Canada and a currently unnamed South Korean climber all lost their lives on the 19th of May. Full details are not yet known.
Conditions have been particularly dangerous this season; huge ice blocks are menacingly perched over the Khumbu icefall and the unusually dry Lhotse face has been bombarded by stonefall. Himalayan Experience, one of the largest commercial operators on the south side of Everest, have completely cancelled their attempts on the peak, whilst another high profile individual has reportedly moved to the north side of the mountain.
Russell Brice of Himalayan Experience is quoted telling his expedition members:
"I had long and serious talks with the Sherpas, the 'Icefall doctors' [a group of Sherpas who maintain the fixed lines] and my guides and we have made the decision to cancel the expedition. We can no longer take the responsibility of sending you, the guides and the Sherpas through the dangerous icefall and up the rockfall-ridden Lhotse Face."
Not all climbers have been put off by the conditions and weather. British climber and guide Kenton Cool is still poised to make his tenth summit bid, hoping to take advantage of the next forecasted weather window on the 25th and 26th of May.
Kenton, who is aiming to carry a 1924 Olympic medal with him on his climb, is also part of a BMC Facebook competition, where he has pledged to give a personalised message from the summit of Everest to one lucky winner. Cool, who is also carrying a laptop to the summit, from which he hopes to communicate live with the BBC 'for breakfast time', commented on his Facebook blog:
"We hope to tweet, send back video and pictures on our way up but this will of course be dependent on conditions and weather, we don't intend to risk our lives to send things back....not even to our trusty supporters in the UK."
It's possible that the window of the 25th and 26th will be the final opening for Everest attempts for this season. Chad Kellog, who has meticulously planned his ascent, and who, as well as Kenton Cool, will be going for the summit on these dates, writes:
"The weather on the proposed summit day of May 26th looks good. There are over 60 people aiming for Friday the 25th and only 30 supposed to go on the 26th so traffic on the route looks light. The temperatures are forecast to be -17 F with winds around 25 mph. I am trying to use all of the available sunlight hours to ascend and descend above the South Col during the 12 warmest hours of the day. There is a bit of snow forecast during this period, but it looks to be no more than a couple of inches."
With over 750 climbers from 32 separate expeditions reported to be attempting Everest this season, it seems that in the modern Everest era, rockfall and collapsing ice could well be secondary concerns to traffic-jam logistics on the sparse good weather days.