NEWSLETTERS - Everest South 2012

Newsletter 189 May 2012

The reasons why Himalayan Experience is pulling out

Over the past few days, many websites and blogs have reported about Russell Brice’s decision to cancel his expedition, speculating on his reasons. In order to preempt rumours and gossip within the climbing community, here is a list of reasons behind this decision.

  • Already at the beginning of the season, the Sherpas were saying that it was too warm when they were setting up base camp. They were working in T-shirts.

  • Our Sherpas continuously reported that the icefall is more dangerous and the ‘popcorn area’ is more active this year. They were not worried about taking the risk but they were very aware of the increased hazards.

  • In 2011, this risk of the looming seracs on the West Ridge was more acceptable as the debris fell into the Bergschrund, a deep crevasse between the glacier and the mountain. Then we were about 100m away from where debris was falling, however, this year the Bergschrund is filled and there is no protection at all. The route has dropped off and now we are only 25m to 30m away from debris, which is constantly covering the route.

  • We timed our guide Adrian, who is incredibly fast, and it took him 22 min from the beginning to the end of the danger zone. For the Sherpas carrying a heavy load it took 30min and most of our members took between 45min and one hour to walk underneath this dangerous cliff. In my opinion, this is far too long to be exposed to such a danger and when I see around 50 people moving underneath the cliff at one time, it scares me.

  • When we first arrived at base camp at the beginning of April, the crack in the ice block on the West Ridge was pretty small – now it is probably between 5 and 7 metres wide. This means that the pressure within the ice blocks is huge. So far, we only had small pieces come down, however, there is certainly the potential for a huge collapse, which could kill and injure a large number of people.

  • We have been recording the temperature at 2am when the Sherpas are usually leaving to go through the icefall. There have only been a few days when it was colder than -10 C, which is unusual and not really cold enough to be moving through the icefall

  • Now, it is only the beginning of May and lakes are forming at base camp. Today, on 8th May, it is as warm as it is normally at the end of the season and it will only get warmer, which means the danger in the icefall will increase.

  • There is not only the potential of something happening when we go up but also when we come down. First we have to get the clients through the icefall at the end of the expedition and then our Sherpas will have to work for another few days to clear the mountain. This decision is not only about the situation on the mountain tomorrow but about the conditions in the near future.

 

Above Camp 1

  • We had a close call in an avalanche about one week ago. Two of our clients and a guide had a near miss in the avalanche that came down from Nuptse. We normally do not see such massive ice cliffs coming down from Nuptse and we were very lucky that the two clients decided to stay at Camp I that day and not carry on to Camp II. This was one of the early warning signs.

  • The rockfall on the Lhotse Face has also been a huge danger for everyone. We have seen quite a few accidents caused by the falling rocks. The reason is the very dry season this year and even though we have had a bit of snowfall higher up, it has not improved the situation much. A few more warm days like today in combination with big gusts of wind will see these rocks flying again.

  • When you add all these things together, the danger is certainly past my parameters. There are just too many indicators, such as the big ice cliff that fell into the lake in the Annapurna Region and caused the floods, that the weather is just not right this season.

 

Next Year

  • We have already spoken to the Icefall Doctors about a better and safer route for next year. They can see that there is a possibility further to the right, which will reduce the avalanche danger and I will be happier to send my Sherpas, guides and clients through the icefall again.

  • The clients will not get a refund of the 43,000 Euros they have paid for their Everest trip. The money has already been spent on salaries, logistics, food, ropes, hardwear, permits, transport, hotels etc. There are small savings like on oxygen, some food and toilet bags and the clients, who want to come with us again next year, will certainly receive a discount.

 

At the time of writing this most of our clients had left base camp. Some of them flew back to Kathmandu by helicopter on Tuesday morning, some of them are trekking back to Lukla and some are just about to climb Island Peak. Our Walking with the Wounded Team will stay at base camp until 12th May 2012 as they are expecting their last support trekking group.

Our Sherpas have cleared Camp III completely and Camp II is in the process of being dismantled. The Sherpa team will leave again tomorrow morning at 2am to continue clearing Camp II and carry loads down to Camp I. There will be several more trips to the two camps before all the equipment is brought down from the mountain.

 

Billi Bierling at Everest Base Camp