NEWSLETTERS - Everest 2017

Everest Expedition #114 June 2017

Hi All

Another Everest season has passed with success for Himalayan Experience members who reached the summit on 26 May in clear, calm and warm conditions. I have to apologize for no newsletters this season, apart from actually being really busy, my computer broke and so I had limited communications for the course of the expedition. Besides it seems that there is enough information and a lot of miss-information is coming out of Base Camp these days.

Everest
Everest

However Himalayan Experience and I personally have been rather busy these last few months.

On Xmas day I travelled to Punta Arenas to see Shinji and Hiro (Guides) depart with our first commercial Vinson Trip with a team of Japanese and Indonesian members. They were successful early in the new year. From Punta I then travelled up to Mendoza to meet with my friend Kari Kobler who supplied the logistics for David Tait, Chris Dovell (regular Himex members) and myself for Aconcagua. Although this was a rather quick trip of just 8 days return David and Chris were successful in reaching the summit, this being the last 7 summit for Chris.

I returned to London for two days before travelling to Adelaide to help with the import of a 40ft and a 20ft container each containing equipment from the UK for an experimental flying project that I am currently working part time for. Having imported this equipment we then put this on a train to travel to Alice Springs where I thought that I was going to spend the next 3 weeks. Although this is an extremely interesting project and Alice proved to be a great place to work, it did however have daily temperatures of around 44 C which cooled down to a mere 37 c at night. The 3 weeks ended up stretching to 7 weeks before I was able to return to London for four days before I set off again to Nepal and Everest.

Despite being away out of my office, surprisingly everything was actually in place and in order for us to start our trek to Everest BC on time. We were fortunate to have the company of the famous DJ Paul Oakenfold who trekked in with us to BC. Paul was a delightful chap who adapted well to the hardships of the trek and altitude, always with a smile and a positive comment. In the end I think that he actually enjoyed the trip. Of course he was surrounded by a film crew and various technicians who I am not so sure enjoyed the experience, and seemed to struggle with the fact that the Nepal power system is 230v and not 110v which resulted in various puffs of smoke coming from bits of equipment.

The whole idea for Paul to trek to BC was to do a live DJ event at the BC. This required considerable logistics to obtain the required permissions and to also import, carry and assemble all the specialized equipment on a makeshift stage at BC. Fortunately my electrical background help, but it was still a big challenge to have everything ready in time for Paul to play. Early on during the season it was quite windy at BC as we had a jet stream above us and it was blowing at more than 100km on the summit of Everest, but again the day of the main event was clear and calm and Paul’s music could be heard throughout the BC, attracting many hard working Sherpa’s who took a break from digging tent platforms and of course there were many trekkers present. Paul was raising awareness and also money for various Nepal trusts, and as I understand it he was very pleased with the event. The following day saw all of this group safely back in Kathmandu by 12 helicopter flights where they did another gig.

The excitement and hassles of having a major celebrity gone, we could now concentrate on our own expedition. Our members went back down to Lobuche to do their acclimatization climbs, David Tait who had arrived into Ktm later than the rest of the team joined the group, as did Kenton Cool and his client Rob Owen, so now our team was complete with guides Shinji Tamura, Richie Hunter, Bruce Hassler, and members Joe Burke, Kazufumi Gomi, Jeff Smith, Changwen Wang and Shouping Zhang. The first trip to Lobuche did not go so well with a snow fall when everyone was at C1, so we returned to BC and waited for a better period of weather before everyone reached the summit. Now this second stage of the expedition was completed everyone returned to EBC and for the first time we were the complete Everest team.

But whilst all this was happening we were also very involved with the rope fixing on Everest as well as Lhotse. The Expedition Operators Association (EOA) had asked us to lead the rope fixing for this season. Actually this work started last year as we sorted the purchase of rope and equipment. This year we bought the rope from PLAM an Italian rope manufacturer. In fact we bought 30,000m of rope, only 10,000m was destined for South side, 10,000m for North side and 10,000m for K2, but this meant that we got the rope for a very good price. The equipment was purchased from Grivel also in Italy. Of course all this equipment and rope has to be airfreighted to Nepal and then imported, unpacked and repacked for transport by truck, helicopter and yak to BC. Add to this the 38 cylinders of oxygen that would also be required to fix the rope. A complex task that takes considerable time and effort, but before anyone was even at BC all of this equipment was already stored in Gorak Shep. Last year EOA had received permission to fly all the rope fixing equipment to C1. This saved about 78 Sherpa loads through the icefall so is well worth while. But we dropped these loads at C1 and then it was a problem to get teams to help carry from C1 to C2, and we also lost a considerable number of ice screws and karabiners, so this year EOA requested permission to fly all equipment directly to C2. This permission did not arrive until 13 of April and on the 14th we had all equipment packed and out on the helipad in Gorak Shep. Simrik Helicopters dutifully arrived and because the weather conditions were favorable we were able to put the loads inside the aircraft rather than carry by sling load underneath the helicopter. This means that the helicopter can fly faster and hence the fly time is less and the price cheaper. As demanded by the Ministry of Civil Aviation we had to have two helicopters in the valley for safety reasons, so after 9 flights and less than one hour all of the equipment was deposited at C2. In fact the operation went so smoothly that very few people even noticed these flights. So yet another important part of the expedition cycle was completed.

The next stage was to have a meeting with all the teams at BC to establish how to actually do the rope fixing. So on 16 Apr this meeting took place and it was decided that 7 teams would be involved with the rope fixing: Adventure Consultants, Alpine Ascents, Asian Trekking, Himalayan Experience, International Mountain Guides and Trail Blazers all offered to do the work and another 37 expeditions all agreed that these teams were to do the work. Each team that offered to do the rope fixing said that they would supply 2 Sherpa’s a day when work needed to be done. This worked well to start, but soon there were several problems occurring. It became apparent that there was considerable Sherpa sickness with many of the teams in the upper part of the BC, so often guys would not turn up for work. But still on 21 the ropes were already up above C3 and a whole day was dedicated to fixing some new bolts on the yellow band, where we have seen considerable traffic jams in past years. We may not agree with bolts, however Sherpa safety is more important than ethics on this bland bit of rock that does not offer much good reliable natural protection. By the 28th the ropes were already up to C4 on the South Col but then it was quite windy and progress slowed down.

But by 05 May the weather was improving and it was looking very promising that we might be able to fix to the summit on 8 or 9, but as so often happens, the unexpected happens. Despite calls from several teams to the rope fixers not to leave C2 early on the morning of the 5th as it was going to be windy and there was no point in getting to S Col to early as they would not be able to work. However the keen Sherpa’s did leave at 02.00 rather than 06.00 and so they were on the Lhotse Face in strong winds, which seemed to fluster many of the boys, and in the end we needed to drop the loads at C3 instead of reaching C4. This is all very nerve racking for these guys who are so keen to help, but are sometimes a bit impatient. But one of my worst fears happened during the descent when Tenzing one of my younger Sherpa’s who is accompanied by his father Ang Karma on this trip was passing another person, and despite my constant badgering of how important it is to always stay clipped onto the fixed rope, decided to unclip and pass. Just then he tripped over his crampons and proceeded to fall the 300m down to the bottom of the Lhotse Face. Not a pleasant experience for Tenzing or any of the other Sherpa’s who were still descending the ropes…..and nore for us at BC who immediately heard of this event by radio. Somehow, at the last second before Tenzing was about to slide over the edge into the gaping crevasse at the bottom of the face he somehow bounced off some snow or ice and his fall was diverted a little to the left and so he miraculously slide onto a convex and then concave snow slope that arrested his fall in a rather gentle manner considering the length of fall. Fortunately there were many Sherpa’s and some guides from IMG nearby and they were able to reach Tenzing very quickly. We were also able to send the stretcher from C2 up to him in a very short time and so within one hour he was already strapped up in the stretcher in a sleeping bag on oxygen waiting for a pickup by helicopter. By this time the wind had already dropped and so a helicopter picked up Tenzing from the bottom of the face and then they also collected Ang Karma (who was carrying a load from C1 to C2) from the bottom of C2 and they were both back in Ktm landing directly at the hospital within 3 hours of the initial fall. Not an easy morning for any of us. As it turned out, Tenzing was totally OK apart from one broken finger. He spent a few days in hospital and was discharged. But a very good learning lesson for him as well as many other Sherpa’s who witnessed the fall.

Understandably our Sherpa’s as well as many from other teams were somewhat shaken by this experience and so they all requested a day off. This was quite pivotal for the rope fixing as really had the team left later the day before they would have been at South Col on this fine clear and calm day, and so would have gone to the Balcony. And the following day was also perfect for summit rope fixing, but instead the rope fixing team once again set off for South Col reaching there by midday and then fixed to the Balcony that afternoon. A very good effort despite the deep snow that they encountered in the final bowls before the Balcony. The intention was to go to the summit the following day….but alas we had missed the opportunity and it was too cold and too windy, so the rather tired rope fixing team retreated down the ropes and returned to BC for a well deserved rest.

Immediately behind the rope fixing team at C3 were David, Kenton, Rob and Kazu, but when we could not fix the rope to the summit I really did not have the support required to take them up to C4 and a summit attempt, so not without much debate I asked for them to all return to C2. As it turned out they then returned to BC and all (apart from Kazu) flew out to Ktm on the same day, and to my surprise went home having finished their expeditions.

The forecast was not so promising so all the rope fixing teams had another meeting at BC to discuss how best to proceed. In fact just about every day were meeting in order to compare weather forecasts so as we could make fast progress on the mountain. It was noted that Jagged Globe Sherpa’s were not helping very much on the lower mountain only offering two Sherpa’s on the first day of fixing up to C3. This was discussed with the Ghurkha leaders at the time and they said that they would discuss with their Sherpa team. So it was no surprise when the Jagged Globe Sirdar came and suggested that their team would fix to the summit on the same day as they took their members to the summit. They were part of the rope fixing team so of course we did not see a problem with that, although it would have been much better if they had helped early on, and then we just might have managed to get to the summit during the previous fine weather. But in the end the 4 x Jagged Globe, 3 x Himalayan Guides, 1 x Satori Sherpa’s helped to fix to the summit on 19 May.

During these early days at C2 we were also experiencing problems lower down on the mountain, with 5 major collapses in the icefall which meant that we did not get supplies of food and gas up to C2 to support the entire team who were up there. This did not just affect us but all the teams on the mountain who had members at C1 or above. This prompted more pressure for our requests to the Ministry of Tourism (MoT) where the EOA have been asking for permission to take all equipment loads by helicopter to C2. The feeling around BC is that this would save so many Sherpa loads through the icefall and would make it safer for the Sherpa’s. What we are concerned about is when there is a collapse there is inevitably a congestion of men in one place. If we have another collapse or another avalanche then the chance of many men being killed at once is likely. But we also see that temperatures are getting warmer from one year to another. This year the coldest temperature at 02.00 in the morning at BC was -14 C on one night, -12 on two nights but the rest of the time -10 to -8 and it was -4 on two nights. In general the temperatures tended to be about 2 – 3 degree warmer than the previous year. Hence we see that the icefall is getting more narrow but is moving faster. The route up to what was traditionally called the “Football Field” seems to be easier with fewer ladders, but the football field is now more like a postage stamp. Early on the route above the football field went close under the West Shoulder as it made its way to C1, but with pressure from various groups the Icefall Doctors established a more central route. But this area seems to be moving faster than in previous years hence the various collapses.

I am not a glaciologist and I cannot see into the future, however I somehow predict that the lower slopes of the icefall will soon become a ramp of snow, the “popcorn” will probably be formed more between the football field and C1 and that the route from C1 to C2 will become more problematic. If Nepal wants to maintain a tourist industry on Everest then the MoT and associated departments need to make the access to the Cwm safer and more acceptable for the Sherpa’s by allowing freight only flights up to and down from BC to C2. Although we go through the proper channels in order to ask for these permissions, we see other local operators who take no notice of MoT and just fly helicopters to C2 often without permission. We witnessed more than 50 “rescue” flights by helicopter from C2 this year. Sorry but I don’t really understand what is going on, one set of rules for some operators and another set of no rules for other operators.

For much of the 2017 Everest season there was a strong jet stream wind flowing right over the mountain but at 9,000m plus which made forecasting quite difficult as the jet bounces up and down vertically and so on some days there were very strong winds on the summit and on other days there was less wind, but now that the rope was fixed to the summit of Everest as well as Lhotse many teams immediately raced up the hill with little regard to wind speeds, or temperatures and so although the days were normally clear, it was pushing the limits. This is why we saw so many deaths and a large number of frostbite cases being flown down from C2. In my humble opinion it is a mistake for us as operators to take our members on a mountain when there is a high chance that the members (and Sherpa’s) will get frostbite. But to then be charging extra for a helicopter rescue because of the operators mistake seems to rub salt into the wound….but is very profitable for the operator.

But for us, we would prefer to wait for a better weather envelope. This eventually came along on 26 May with the team departing South Col at 01.00 and they all climbed as a team to the summit.

08.10Jeff - Gelgen
08.10Joe - Son Dorgee
08.20Kazu - Sonam
08.22Bruce - Phurba

Everyone was back to South Col by 12.30 so a 11 ½ hours return in clear calm and warm conditions. Unfortunately during the morning there was a cloud buildup in the lower valley associated with a very light wind, but this managed to push up to the Col where it was now cloudy and with moderate winds just as the team returned to C4. Everyone then continued on down to C2 for the night apart from Jeff who was experiencing severe pain in his knees from all the downhill travel. He was accompanied by Bruce and so they both spent an extra night at C4, retuning to C2 the following day.

By 28 everyone was now back at BC. The last of the Sherpa loads came down from C2 on the morning of 29 and so then I was able to leave BC, and so by the evening of 29 all members were in Ktm and half the Sherpa’s were already back in their respective villages. By the afternoon of 30 the entire BC was dismantled and nobody was left at BC.

I returned home late on the evening of 2 June and have had the luxury of being at home for an entire week preparing for our next Himex adventure on K2 departing this coming Sunday.

Russ