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 Autumn 1998 Cho Oyu climb

Check below for EverestNews.com Interview with Heather Macdonald:

Special Report on the International Mountain Guides / Expedition 8000

Follow Bob Sloezen, who has reached the summit of Everest three times from the North Ridge, along with two time Cho Oyu summitter Heather MacDonald, as they lead the IMG/Expedition 8000 team to attempt the summit of Cho Oyu.

The IMG/Expedition 8000 Autumn Cho Oyu climb has three guides, eight guided and two non-guided climbers, and six Sherpas. They arrive Kathmandu the 22nd, leave for Lhasa on the 25th, arrive BC about the end of Aug/beginning of September. They hope to summit around the end of September, and return to Kathmandu by October 6.

Dispatch 8: 9/30/98

Bob Sloezen reports from ABC that the summit was reached by Jethro Robinson, Borge Ousland, Heather Macdonald, and Alan Arnette on the 29th in very difficult conditions which included thigh deep snow. Alan and Heather did not actually cross the summit plateau, due to the conditions. Jethro and Borge plowed across the plateau and stood on the true summit.

On the 30th, the second summit team of Bob Sloezen , Jason Dittmer, Bob LaRoche, and Tony Smucler, Ang Passang, and Lakpa Rita turned back below Camp 3 due to deep snow and avalanche conditions. 

The other two team members, Mike Demartino and Henry Hamlin, had turned back from below Camp 2 due to fatigue (Mike) and dizziness, nausea, and blurry vision (Henry). 

Bob reports that on the 27th he and Heather buried Alex Jaggi in a crevasse near Camp 2, an experience he describes as devastating.

The team is now back at ABC, and is working on recovering loads form Camp 1 and 2 over the next couple days. The schedule is to return to BC by the 4th, and arrive Kathmandu by the 6th.

I want to say that I am proud of Everyone on this team for hanging in there and giving the mountain a good shot in difficult conditions and with significant adversity. Congratulations and have a safe trip home!

Source : Eric Simonson, International Mountain Guides / Expedition 8000 

Dispatch 7: 9/28/98

Bob Sloezen reports from ABC good and bad news. 

The good news is that the IMG team is doing fine, with summit bids planned over the next several days.  All the climbers, with the exception of Mark Smith who is still sick,  are now moving up to Camp One, after several days of rest at ABC. 

The bad news is that the two non-guided climbers who were on the IMG permit, but climbing separately, had a serious problem.  On September 25, Alex Jaggi (42,  Swiss) , Keitaro Mooroka (28, Japanese) summitted Cho Oyu along with their Sherpa Norbu (5x Everest).  They used oxygen above Camp 3, and were able to return to Camp 2 before dark, which suggests that they were moving strongly and doing fine.  Apparently everything was OK when they went to bed, in separate tents.  Jaggi was by himself in a tent, but when Mooroka tried to wake him in the morning, he was dead.  It is unclear what happened.  Speculation includes that he fell asleep while cooking in the tent and died of CO poisoning or perhaps had some acute medical problem during the night.  Bob Sloezen is now going up to Camp 2 ahead of the IMG team to bury Jaggi on the mountain, in accordance with Jaggi's Body Disposal Form (filled out by him before the climb).  Our sincere condolences to Jaggi's family, which lives in Switzerland.

Source : Eric Simonson, International Mountain Guides / Expedition 8000 

Dispatch 6: 9/22/98

The IMG Cho Oyu team reports good progress this past week, despite a turn in the weather.  Leader Bob Sloezen tells us by satellite e mail from the 18,500 foot Advanced Base Camp (ABC)  that it has been snowing heavily every afternoon. 

The team has been busy stocking the higher camps, and also working in the area of ABC to clean up trash.  The CTMA (China Tibet Mountaineering Association) has hired Tibetan yak herders to go to ABC to help carry trash down from this area.  Team members bagged up bottles and cans for transport by yak back down to Base Camp.  From here the CTMA trucks the garbage out to Tingri. 

ABC shows signs of being cleaner, as the expeditions conducted by IGO 8000 members (including  IMG) are now using shit barrels for toilets.  This has been required of expedition teams for several years at Everest Base Camp (Nepal side), but is still voluntary at Cho Oyu.  Hopefully other teams will follow the example of the IGO 8000 teams to use shit barrels.  The trouble remains that unscrupulous operators charging rock bottom prices don't have the money budgeted to haul out their garbage, let along shit barrels.

The IMG guides and Sherpas worked with members of several other IGO 8000 expeditions to put in fixed rope between Camp 1 and Camp 2.  This part of the climb is quite steep in places, requiring fixing. 

Mark Smith is back at ABC, after having to go down to BC for a few days to recover from illness.  Most team members have now slept at Camp 1.  Henry Hamlin (68 years old!) and Ang Nima made it up the ice cliff, and returned to Camp 1.  Heather Macdonald, Alan Arnette, and Borge Ousland went to Camp 2 to sleep.  Most of the other team members went to Camp 2 for a carry and have now descended to rest at ABC, in preparation for going back to Camp 2 with the goal being to sleep at Camp 2 for acclimatization.  After that, members will descend to ABC for several rest days before heading up on  the summit bids.

Source : Eric Simonson, International Mountain Guides / Expedition 8000 

Dispatch 5: 9/14/98

The IMG Cho Oyu team has now established Camp 1 at about 20,600 feet.  The route to Camp 1 is several hours of very rugged hiking up the moraine and glacier, then several more hours climbing up a steep and rocky spur to the Camp.  Members are now moving up to sleep at Camp 1.  The Sherpas have moved higher, and have put in Camp 2 at 23,300'.  Some fixed rope has also been installed on steep sections of the route in between, including the ice cliff.

The Route between Camp 1 and Camp 2 is the most technical part of the route, with several sections of cramponing.  The ice cliff is about 200 feet high, and is in the 70-80 degree range.  Once the fixed ropes are installed and steps chopped, it is reasonable.  To get down, it is necessary to rappel with a pack.

Over the next few days members will sleep at Camp 1 and start carrying some loads to Camp 2.  The weather has stabilized and the conditions are good.

Source : Eric Simonson, International Mountain Guides / Expedition 8000 

Dispatch 4: 9/12/98

The IMG team has now established Advanced Base Camp.  The yak team dumped the loads on a rocky site at approximately 18,500 feet.  This site is located about two miles northeast of Nangpa La, the pass over the Himalaya (to Khumbu).  Below ABC, climbers turn east from the trade route, and head up a side glacier to the ABC which is located on a rugged moraine.  Because it is uphill and out of the way, traders and refugees do not come up to the ABC area, though it is not uncommon to see them further down the valley.  From the site of ABC, it is possible to watch the yak caravans of traders going over the pass.

At the ABC the team has erected a large kitchen tent, a very large Mountain Hardware Satellite Dome for a mess tent, and many smaller storage and sleeping tents.  In addition, the team has established their solar power system (five 20 watt panels going to a voltage regulator, then to a large deep cycle 12volt battery).  This system powers the Inmarsat C satellite system, as well as the VHF radios which link the ABC to BC, as well as make it possible to communicate with the climbers on the mountain.

The team completed their puja ceremony at ABC.  This Buddhist ritual is important for the Sherpas and a lot of fun for the team.  After a series of chants and prayers,  prayer flags are set out, juniper burned, rice and tsampa thrown into the air, and many toasts made and consumed by the team!

Now the work begins.  Many loads need to be carried to Camp 1, and everyone will work at doing this.  These carries are difficult, especially before everyone is fully acclimatized.  Nonetheless, this is the best way to get acclimatized...carrying loads!

Source : Eric Simonson, International Mountain Guides / Expedition 8000 

Dispatch 3: 9/5/98

The Cho Oyu team reports by satellite e mail that all is well at Base Camp.  They have spent the last several days acclimatizing with day hikes, and re-packing food and equipment into yak loads.  The yaks (20 of them) have arrived at Base Camp, and they will be starting up tomorrow with some of the team, and Sherpas, to establish ABC  at !8,500'.  The total distance from BC to ABC is nearly 15 miles, much of it rugged hiking on rocks and boulders adjacent to lateral moraines of the Gyabrag Glacier.  This is the same route for much of the way as the Nangpa La trade route to Khumbu.  On the first trip up the team will stay at an intermediate camp at about 17,000 feet.   Later, if people go back and forth between BC and ABC, they can do it in one day.  They first time up however, when everyone is not fully acclimatized, they will take two days.

The yaks are strong this time of year, since they have been grazing on fresh grass all summer, so they can carry about 60 pounds on each side without too much problem.  The plan is for the yaks to return to BC in a few days and bring up some additional supplies.  Several members who wanted to stay down a few extra days for additional acclimatization, will go up on the second yak wave.

The heavy rains from the past season have left the mountain covered in a lot of snow, reports  expedition leader Bob Sloezen.  Also,  Bob reports that co-leader Heather Macdonald and team member Jason Dittmer saved the life of a Spanish climber yesterday.  Apparently this man had come quickly to Base Camp with improper acclimatization.  He became deathly sick with cerebral edema.  Heather administered injections of dexamethasome, put him on oxygen, and the American team pumped him in their Gamow (hyperbaric) bag.  Then they assisted him in transportation to Tingri.  It sounds like the Spanish team had neither their own jeep, oxygen, or Gamow bag available to them, and that this man would have died otherwise.

This points out one of the big problems with climbing in Tibet...it is so high, there is no where to go to get down lower.  Once you get sick, you WILL die if you can't get a jeep ride to lower altitude.  The oxygen, Gamow, drugs, etc are great, but they won't stop the edema once it really kicks in...they just buy you time.  Descent or death are the only options.

Source : Eric Simonson, International Mountain Guides / Expedition 8000 

Dispatch 2: 8/31/98

The IMG / Expedition 8000 team reached Cho Oyu Base Camp (15,500 feet) on the 30th of August. The team got their satellite e mail system set up and reports that everyone is doing well. 

Jethro Robinson and the six climbers (Demartino, Dittmer, Hamlin, LaRoche, Smith, Smucler) flew to Lhasa (about 11,500') from Kathmandu and spent several days exploring and acclimatizing in this famous city.  Sites visited included the Potola (previously home of the Dali Lama), Johkang Temple (most famous monastery in Lhasa), and the Barkor (the bazaar).  They said they had a great time.  From Lhasa, they drove by jeep to Shigatse (second largest city in Tibet, and home of the Panchen Lama and Tashilumpo monastery--about 12,500').  Then they continued the next day to Tingri (about 14,500').

The Zhangmu team had a bit rougher trip.  Bob Sloezen and Heather Macdonald and the Sherpa team spent four fun days loading and unloading trucks and struggling across landslides with several thousand pounds of food, fuel, gear, personal duffels, and equipment.

Heavy rains in Nepal and China this past monsoon season left the road in bad shape.  Just getting from Kathmandu to Kodari (the Nepal border town) required hiring porters to carry gear past landslides, then hiring a new truck on the other side, on four different occasions.  This cost an extra $1000 in porters and trucks...just one of the little unexpected surprises that come with these kind of trips.  From Kodari (6,500'), the road crosses the Friendship Bridge, then climbs steeply to the Chinese border town of Zhangmu (8,500'), where Chinese customs is located.  Between Zhangmu and Nyalam (12,500'), the road ascends along the wall of one of the worlds great gorges, this one carved by the Bhote Kosi River that crosses the Himalaya.  This road is incredible, cut into the rock walls of the gorge in many places, with huge drop offs, and very few guard rails!!  There was another landslide on the way to Nyalam (in the spring season this part of the road is often blocked by huge snow avalanches), then OK beyond.  After two nights in Nyalam, the team continued to Tingri  to meet the rest of the group.

From Tingri the route climbs gradually across the Broad "Plains of Tingri" a vital grazing area for the many small Tibetan village that dot the plain.  Eventually the rough dirt road reaches the moraine of the Gyabrag Glacier.  Crossing the moraine, the road climbs through outwash plains and crosses several streams (these are frozen in the spring--often blocking the road in early season).  This is the ancient trade route to the Nangpa La--the route to Namche Bazaar and Khumbu (in Nepal).  Base Camp is located on a grassy field at about 15,500 feet.  The various expeditions set up camps around the field, yaks and yak drivers wander around, Chinese and Tibetans hang out in their tents and play cards, and climbers from all over the world meet and talk.  It is quite the scene!

The current plan is to take four days (re-pack loads for yaks, take day hikes, acclimatize), then start moving up to ABC (18,500' )on about September 4th using yaks to move the gear. 

Source : Eric Simonson, International Mountain Guides / Expedition 8000

Dispatch 1: 8/25/98

Eric Simonson's 1998 IMG/Expedition 8000 Cho Oyu team is now in Kathmandu, making final preparations for the climb. Simonson reports that this season's team is led by two time Cho Oyu summitter Heather MacDonald and one time Cho Oyu and three time Everest North Ridge summitter Bob Sloezen. They are scheduled to depart Kathmandu for Tibet on August 25. This will be IMG/Expedition 8000's fifth climb to Cho Oyu, the world’s sixth highest peak (8201M). The previous four trips have all been successful (Spring 95, 96, 97 and Autumn 97), with a total of 38 summiters.

Joining Heather and Bob is Assistant Guide Jethro Robinson (USA) and climbers Alan Arnette (USA), Michael Demartino (USA), Jason Dittmer (USA), Henry Hamlin (USA), Borge Ousland (Norway), Robert LaRoche (USA), Mark Smith (USA), Tony Smucler (Canada), and non-guided climbers Alex Jaggi (Switzerland) and Keitaro Morooka (Japan).

Assisting the team are Sherpas Ang Passang (Sirdar), Lakpa Rita, Ang Nima, Norbu, and cooks Passang Nuru and Pemba Tshering.

Most of the climbers and several of the guides will travel to Lhasa, Tibet by Chinese airplane, where they will take several days to acclimatize. Most of the expedition equipment and Sherpas will go overland via Zhangmu. The team will re-assemble in Tingri, for the last part of the journey to Base Camp. Heavy rains this year in China and Tibet have apparently caused some problems with the roads, so there is some concern that getting to Base Camp is going to be more difficult than usual.

Source : Eric Simonson, International Mountain Guides / Expedition 8000

EverestNews.com Interview with Heather Macdonald:

Heather, Great talking to You !

Q.) [EverestNews.com.com] First tell us about Heather Macdonald: What do you do for a "living", and who you are. We think most of the readers of EverestNews.com would know you are a IMG guide and a climber, but tell us more !

A.) [Heather Macdonald] When I was little, maybe 5 or 6 years old my father began to take me hiking all over the US. I loved our adventures in the wilderness together. At the age of 15 I went to France for the summer through a student program that my high school offered. It was there that I realized I wanted to be a mountain guide and lead people to the tops of mountains. Climbing and guiding to the Europeans is like Baseball is to Americans. I watched the professional guides there and I knew that was it ! I had found my passion. I climbed Mt. Rainier for the first time when I was 17 and by the age of 20 I became a full time guide working for Rainier Mountaineering Inc. in the summers. 

The summer job guiding was great but I wanted more. I wanted to climb and guide internationally and work year round. Eric Simonson, Phil Ershler, and George Dunn took me under their wings and in 1993 I began working for International Mountain Guides. This was three years after I began working for International Mountain Guides. This was three years after I began working on Mt. Rainier. Since that time I have been on 7 Himalayan expeditions, 5 to McKinley, 5 to Aconcagua and have summited Rainier 110 times. I have not regretted one day in the climbing boots. If you wake up in the morning and hate what you do for a living, you have lost the game. You must do what makes you feel most alive !

When I do have time off, I spend most of it studying a dance called Flamenco. Its an old gypsy dance from Southern Spain with bid skirts and castenets. Dancing keeps me in great shape.

This is a very short version of my story. I have left out the years I have spent trying to finish college, my incredible love affairs and the many other parts of the world that I have lived in or visited. But I move on to your more specific questions.

Questions:

Q.) [EverestNews.com] How does Cho Oyo compare with the 8,000 meter peaks you've climbed? Some say it is the "easiest" of the 8,000 meter peaks.  Understanding that the statement is relative, what are your thoughts?

A.) [Heather Macdonald]  Cho Oyu, G2, and Shishapangma are the easiest 8000 meter peaks to climb. Everest. K2, Kanchenchunga are in a league completely on their own. They are really major league ball. Not only are they the highest, they are HUGE. The distance between camps is always longer than on a peak like Cho Oyo. For example, the high camp on the North Side of Everest is higher than the summit of Cho Oyu !

Q.) [EverestNews.com] There really is not much published about Cho Oyo.  What is the typical route up Cho Oyo? 

A.) [Heather Macdonald] The typical route up Cho Oyu is the North West "corner", first climbed by Tichy in 1954.

Q.) [EverestNews.com] How many other routes are there?  What's the most difficult routes? 

A.) [Heather Macdonald] The most difficult route on Cho Oyu exist on the Nepali side, the South face route for example.

Q.) [EverestNews.com] What's the vertical rise of the route most recently taken on Cho Oyu?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] I think the vertical rise is about 9,000 ft. , probably about as much as Everest. McKinley has a rise of 17,000 ft. which I believe is a world record.

Q.) [EverestNews.com] There aren't many other 8,000 meter peaks with such a large summit plateau.  What is Cho Oyo's like?  Are the winds unbearable?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] Cho Oyu is the only 8000 meter peak with a summit plateau that large ! The wind on this mountain are very tame, unlike the North Col.  Route on Everest where often times it sounds like a 747 jet flying right above your head !

Q.) [EverestNews.com] Talk about the views from Cho Oyo.  It is understood that they are fantastic, with Everest and Makalu in the distance.  You've seen the view first-hand ... what do you think?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] The view from the summit is like looking into the face of God. There is a true sense of the infinite....of the vaster universe. Everest is just beautiful in all her glory.

Q.) [EverestNews.com] What do you think about alpine versus big expedition climbing?  Have you ever climbed large peaks without a large expedition and fixed lines? What, personally, are your likes and dislikes with each style?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] I personally have never climber a bid peak alpine style and its probably time I do. If you are going alpine style you better have a lot of experience and know what the heck you are doing. I've watched come incredible alpinist climb at altitude and it poetry in motion but I have also seen a lot of idiots die.

Q.) [EverestNews.com] What are the primary differences between climbing in the Karakoram and Khumbu areas of the Himalayas?  For example, are the rocks better for placing fixed anchors?  Are the views better?  Is the snow the same consistency?  Which do you like better and why?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] The Himalayan are high but they are also formed in massifs, so they are big and bulky. The Karakoram are high with the most incredible relief I have ever seen. Dead vertical rock walls appear to rise out of nowhere. G4 is the perfect mountain. All sides of it are steep. like K2. No easy way up the damn thing. 

Q.) [EverestNews.com] Do you think every expedition should have a satellite phone?  Even though they are expensive, prices have gone down significantly in recent years. 

A.) [Heather Macdonald] If you are a private climbing expedition and you don't have a sat. phone that's up to you. But I think if you are running a commercial expedition it's a nice service to offer your clients or at least having e-mail ability.  

Q.) [EverestNews.com] How do you finance your climbing career?  Other than guiding, do you have any other forms of income?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] Right now I am able to support myself by just guiding. But I have done construction in the past, dug ditches, worked at an indoor rock gym, taught gymnastics, groomed race horses....etc....

Q.) [EverestNews.com] How would you recommend aspiring mountaineers get started climbing?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] There are lots of good entry level climbing courses out there. (Rainier Mountaineering Exum) Get into one of those and go from there. I choose to go to Joshua Tree and set up camp in a cave for a few months and climb with as many good climbers as I could find. Another place to find partners might be your local rock gym.

Q.) [EverestNews.com] What are your future plans?  Are any more 8,000 meter peaks in your future?  Do you think you will possibly attempt K2 to be the first American woman to summit? 

A.) [Heather Macdonald] I used to have dreams of being the first woman to summit the three highest peaks in the world but I do not think that is my calling. I'd like to go back to Everest ....to finish the job that I have started. This spring I will be leading a trek to Mt. Kailas, the most sacred mountain in the Himalayas. We will make the tradition circuit around the Mountain.

Q.) [EverestNews.com] What's the largest and the smallest team that she's been a part of (rope team included).

A.) [Heather Macdonald] The largest team I have been part of is about 35 people and the smallest is about 8.

Q.) [EverestNews.com] Does she think that an 18 year old can lead a team of three on Everest.. (given his experience)? 

A.) [Heather Macdonald] I Think an 18 year old can certainly climb Everest but leading or guiding people up there requires a different set of skills. And those leadership skills generally come through years of  experience.

Q.) [EverestNews.com] If a team uses no Sherpas and hauling all of our own gear. Is this foolish? Considering that two, on the team of three, will not be using Oz. 

A.) [Heather Macdonald] This question is difficult to answer because it really depends on the experience level of this team. If its your first time to an 8000 meter peak I would recommend Sherpas and oxygen. Maybe 15 people in the world (aside from Sherpas) have summitted Everest without oxygen and those were people with a gift for high altitude.

Q.) [EverestNews.com] What is her opinion about the role of the guide on 8000 meter peaks?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] Very interesting question ! The role of the guide is to keep people safe. That means fixing rope, putting in camp, and turning around when the mountain says to go back. Of course, getting to the top is part of guiding but that takes a back seat to SAFETY. 

Q) [EverestNews.com] When she guides on Everest, how does she deal with her own ambitions for summiting? 

A.) [Heather Macdonald] If I am hired as a guide that will always take priority over my ambitions for summiting. That's just the way it goes. Guiding is more about PEOPLE than it is about technical climbing.  

Q.) [EverestNews.com] Questions relating to the state of the environment on different peaks.  Are there still efforts made to clean up?  Are climbers still being ignorant about the garbage they leave or are they making real efforts?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] Many thing are being done to help the environment on Himalayan peaks. This year our team and a number of others collected our human waste in plastic barrels, had it carried down the mountain and buried it in the dirt far away from base camp. The Tibetan Mountaineering Association sent in teams of Tibetans to collect garbage, that would be burned. Oxygen bottles are being carried down Everest by paid Sherpas. These bottles will be refilled and used again. Efforts are being made ! Plus we always make efforts to clean our fixed rope.

These questions come from a HA climber (woman) friend of ours that is planning to go to Everest (probably) in 99, or possibly a different 8000 meter peak.

Q.) [EverestNews.com] As I am interested in high altitude physiology, in particular women's, would like her impressions about acclimatization/performance of women at altitude particularly vs. acclimatization/performance of man at altitude.

A.) [Heather Macdonald] Women are generally smarter about going to altitude and go slower so there is less sickness. But to be honest there is little known about altitude physiology in general and even less known about women. Why do some people get sick at 10,000 ft. and others can go to 28,000 ft. without oxygen ???? What I have seen over the years is that men and women are about the same up high in terms of acclimatization. I would say the playing field is pretty level at 25,000ft ! What is really unknown is what for example does the pill do to the body at altitude? there have been two reported cases of blood clotting up high with women using the pill.  

Q.) [EverestNews.com] Would like Heather to assess both South Side  and North Side  standard routes on Everest: difficulties, dangers, success  rates, etc.

A.) [Heather Macdonald] If you want the best shot of summiting Everest go to the South side. Right now the Khumbu ice fall seems fairly more stable than it has in years past. The North side does not have any dangers like the Khumbu ice fall but from 28,000 ft. on up the route has three major rock steps to overcome on an exposed ridge. Keep in mind the ridge is a mile long ! You're at 28,000 ft for 12 hours negotiating this ridge all the way up and back. On the South side your not at that altitude for that long. The success rate is much higher on the south side.

Q.) [EverestNews.com] It would also be interesting, at least for people considering guided trips, to know which guided groups summited Cho-Oyo this Fall, and how many clients out of which groups. Also data about safety would be appreciated, if available.

A.) [Heather Macdonald] Russell Brice was here and got one client up. OTT (Jon Tinker) was there and had maybe six including himself and another guide Henry Todd was there and got a bunch of people up. We got one customer up. It was a tough year in terms of weather and route conditions. Lots and lots of SNOW ! 

Q.) [EverestNews.com] This is a tough one, but can you give "the armchair climber" an idea how other climbers handle death.  From the right and the left !

A.) [Heather Macdonald] Death, I've dealt with it so much and it's never easy. When someone dies it brings one's mortality right under the nose so you can smell it. Death is hard on the people left behind but its one of our greatest teachers and gifts. It can be a gift of such insight and wisdom ! I still climb for a lot of dead climbers, And sometimes up there in the stillness, in-between my breaths I can fell them around me. 

Q.) [EverestNews.com] What do you think about companies short roping climbers on mountains to obtain a Summit?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] Short roping is a great technique if it's used correctly !

EverestNews.com Interview with Heather Macdonald Continues !

First we would like to thank Heather for taking time to be a part of EverestNews.com and for being so nice and kind. Someone we would love to climb with !

Q.) [EverestNews.com] Tell us, how hard is it to climb the North Side of Everest ? You have been on many Rainier Summits and Cho Oyu, but you are 0 for 2 on Everest North Side, compare them for us. For those of us that have only been on "hikes" compared to you. 

A.) [Heather Macdonald] People will often ask me: "How do you train to go to Mt. Everest?", which is like asking how one might train to play in the NFL or major league ball. In theory, it takes years of training to get there. Generally I will judge climbs or routes by the level of commitment they require. And by commitment I mean physical, spiritual and mental. Well the North side of Mt. Everest is one of the most committing routes in the world. Beyond 28,000ft you are dangling on vertical ropes, walking on down sloping layered rock, and dancing around some crazy cornices. Even though Cho Oyu is high, the route is not as technical nor is it as exposed . The standard route on Rainier is not that technical or exposed but it does have objective dangers like rock fall and ice fall. The objective dangers on Cho Oyu and N. side Everest are minimal. 

Q.) [EverestNews.com] Can you describe the Hillary Step and what exactly is involved in overcoming this outcropping? if not for the fixed ropes, would most climbers be able to get over it? I read a book that described how Hillary and Norgay had to wedge themselves between rock and snow and inch their way up. also, does it look different every year as more or less snow might amass?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] No I cannot describe the Hillary Step because that is on the south side of the big E and I have never been there. Yes it can be done without fixed rope. 

Q.) [EverestNews.com] How dangerous is a mountain like Cho Oyu for an intermediate climber?  Is it a realistic goal for a climber of modest ability? 

A.) [Heather Macdonald] Cho Oyu is a realistic goal for people who have proved themselves at altitude elsewhere. People who have climbed McKinley or Aconcagua, or perhaps have climbed in Nepal. There are only two steep sections on the route and those sections are fixed with rope. This mountain is mainly about dealing with the extreme altitude. 

Q.) [EverestNews.com] Specifically, how many deaths have occurred on Cho Oyu in recent memory?  I am a climber of modest ability who would love to climb an 8,000 meter peak. Yet I'm not sure how objectively dangerous a normal route climb on Cho Oyu would be.   I'm sure you would have some insight.

A.) [Heather Macdonald] I think about 3 people have died on Cho Oyu in the last three seasons. There are no major objective hazards on this route and the exposure is not too scary. Get as much experience as you can before going to an 8000 meter peak and always climb with people you trust. Give yourself turn around times and if the weather is bad.. go down. Always remember that 8000 meter peaks are the big leagues. When your above 25,000ft your margins of safety are greatly diminished.

Q.) [EverestNews.com] You learn you are guiding climbers up McKinley in 6 months and that one of the climbers is 53 with no climbing experience.  Has not been in shape in 25 years but he has been working out for 3 months since signing up for the McKinley climb.   In addition you learn he is doing a 4 day Mt Washington winter climb/hike with a guide plus taking the 8 day Denali training course. Also there are no hills or mountains near where he lives.  What would want him to do in the remaining 6 months to increase the probability of a successful expedition? 

A.) [Heather Macdonald]  I would recommend a Mt. Rainier winter seminar or a Mt.Whitney climb with George Dunn in the spring. I would also walk up and down stairs with a heavy pack. Stadium stairs are great. Dealing with a heavy pack is the hardest part of climbing Denali.  

Q.) [EverestNews.com] Could you please give your opinion on the use of canned/bottled oxygen in high altitude climbing, specifically what environmental effect it has had, and the subsequent rules from international climbing community, as well as your opinion as an expert climber, on the use of oxygen from a purist standpoint. 

A.) [Heather Macdonald] There are very few people in the world that have the genetic gift of being able to climb high without oxygen. Using O2 is a personal choice but the fact of the matter is , using oxygen is much safer. Do you want to see all the oxygen bottles at the South col replaced with dead bodies? People are aware of how bad all the garbage looks on the mountain and yes bottles are being brought down by paid Sherpas to be refilled. On our expeditions we try to bring every single bottle back down or make arrangements with other teams to use our full bottles that might be left up high.    

Q.) [EverestNews.com] What is it like to climb with oxygen ? This would seem to me to be a major difference (beside the size) on these 8000 meter peaks. 

A.) [Heather Macdonald] Climbing with oxygen does not make you feel like you are at a lower altitude. Remember its not just a lack of oxygen you are dealing with up there but a lack of atmospheric pressure also. We need a certain amount of pressure to make our lungs work. Oxygen does keep you warm and helps muscles recover from exertion. (i.e. not producing as much lactic acid). It also helps you think more clearly. 

Q.) [EverestNews.com] As a follow up, have you ever ran out of oxygen, and had to go without when you were using it? The Ron Hall example on K2. I have always looked as an example on why not to use oxygen.

A.) [Heather Macdonald] Actually this year on Cho Oyu I discovered part way to the summit that my mask was broken so I went without O2. I felt good that day so I was alright but yes that could be a serious problem. 

Q.) [EverestNews.com] Can you tell us about these Czech climbers who were on Everest in 98? We understand TWO members reached the Summit without oxygen and they have little funds. How strong were these guys? Would you climb with them?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] Eastern block climbers are usually really tough people. No I never met the Czech climbers. Russian climbers always say that there is no bad weather only bad gear.  

Q.) [EverestNews.com] Do these HA climbers really know how likely it is they will die, if they keep on climbing these 8000 meter peaks? Or do they think, "It can't happen to me"? We have seen many experienced climbers, strong climbers like Eric Escoffier die. 

A.) [Heather Macdonald] I most HA climbers are very aware of the odds they are playing. But you have to do what makes you feel most alive in life, even if that means confronting death head on. Most ignore their hearts and don’t follow a passionate path. I think that is a mistake. 

Q.) [EverestNews.com] What is your thoughts on what Into Thin Air has done to Climbing ? Eric Simonson, made some comments that seems to make us believe he did not like the book. Do you share his thoughts?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] I don’t think Thin Air should have ever been written. Jon is making money hand over fist for exploiting a beautiful mountain and the human thirst for tragedy. I feel awful for the families of the people who died. Now people think they are experts because they have read the books. I’ve argued with people about this book and realized: "Why am I wasting my breath, I’ve been there and they have not." One man said to me that he was actually inspired by the book. That’s great inspired by climbers making mistakes and screwing up. Everest is in the lap of the general public. Is that where it should be? 

Q.) [EverestNews.com] Explain a "typical" client on an 8,000 meter expedition.  What is his/her experience level? What size mountains has he/she climbed. What experience did the most experienced person have, what experience did the least experienced person have?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] Most clients going to an 8000 meter peak have climbed McKinley, Aconcagua, peaks in Bolivia or in Nepal and have done climbs like Rainier. 

Q.) [EverestNews.com] Which 8,000 meter peak requires the most rock climbing experience?  Do any of them compare to Ama Dablam? 

A.) [Heather Macdonald] The amount of rock on a peak will vary depending on the route. Annapurna, and Makalu have long sections of rock. 

Q.) [EverestNews.com] To climb Cho Oyo, does one need any rock climbing experience?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] No, you do not need much rock climbing experience to climb Cho Oyu but if you are a Himalayan climber you should have experience in many disciplines of the alpine environment. 

Q.) [EverestNews.com] What season do you like best in the Himalaya?   Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter?  Why?

A.) [Heather Macdonald]  I like spring season the best. More wind but less snow and trail breaking! Also less avalanche hazard in the spring. 

Q.) [EverestNews.com] Everyone hears about the Sherpa.  What has been your best experience with them?  What has been your worst experience with them?

A.) [Heather Macdonald]  I love the Sherpas!! And they never get enough credit. They have taught me so much. They have taught me how to listen to the mountains. One time I was walking down to B.C. on Everest and I was sick . I met Pemba along the way and explained to him how bad I was feeling with the flu or something. He told me not to worry because being sick changes the direction of the wind! (Hopefully for the better) My worst experience was when I was climbing up to Camp 5 on Everest and a Sherpa coming down the slope fell past me because he did not clip into the rope. He stopped just on the edge of the North Face! 

Q.) [EverestNews.com] Could she compare your experience with Sherpas, Baltis and Hunzas?

A.) [Heather Macdonald]  The Sherpas are a much warmer people than the balti but they are both super strong and tough

Q.) [EverestNews.com] What mountaineer do you most admire?  Why?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] There are many of them but I adore Wanda Rutkiewicz. She died on Kangchenjunga but before that climbed 8 8000 meter peaks. She was a wonderful person.  

Q.) [Everest News.com] What do you think of the issues raised in Greg Child's new book "Postcard From the Edge" especially about Cesen and Lydia Bradley and their claims and behavior?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] I am sorry I have not read Greg’s book

Q.) [EverestNews.com] How much does your rock climbing experience help in your mountaineering?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] When I began climbing I lived in a cave at Joshua Tree at the end of Hidden Valley loop. I spent a couple of months there rock climbing every day. I lived on coffee and pasta. I would not have felt comfortable mountaineering without a technical background. 

Q.) [EverestNews.com] Do you find that guided clients cling too strongly to their guides and is this a major cause of mountaineering disasters?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] Mountaineering disasters are caused by guides and clients not listening to the mountain.

Q.) [EverestNews.com] Can you recommend any books that truly capture the experience of climbing a high mountain?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] Read Annapurna South Face by Chris Bonington. This is the REAL STUFF!!!!!!!!!!! 

Q.) [EverestNews.com] All five of the women who have reached the summit of K2 have died in the mountains.  This to me is eerie.  All five were very experienced professionals.  Could some experience be bad as it can lead people to think that they are invulnerable?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] Its not that people think they are invulnerable but it comes down to wanting to climb something so badly, its worth more to them than life is. I wonder who will be the first woman to climb all 14 8000 meter peaks??? Women have not even begun to climb in the Himalaya. 

Q.) [EverestNews.com] What was the most dangerous moment of her climbing career?

A.) [Heather Macdonald]  The most dangerous moment in my climbing career was hanging in a crevasse on McKinley. 

Q.) [EverestNews.com] How does she stay in shape for climbing, what would she recommend to office-bound people to do to stay in shape for mountaineering?  

A.) [Heather Macdonald] Climb up and down stairs with a heavy pack on. I Flamenco dance and guide to stay in shape for climbing. (the dance from southern Spain) Climbing is very muscle specific. Don’t forget about downhill muscles. 

Q.) [EverestNews.com] As a woman, have there been any barriers to her career's development?  For example, has she been banned from countries or areas because she is a woman?  It is thought that   mountain guides would no be prejudice but, has she ever seen it in her workplace?  

A.) [Heather Macdonald] Pakistan was a difficult place to travel as a woman. I had to be completely covered and was ignored. I am the only woman I know of guiding in the Himalayas and there is a boys club there that I have not been accepted by. But the mountain does not care what gender you are. I have received a lot of support from Eric Simonson, Phil Ershler and George Dunn who run IMG. And for the most part the only limitations are the ones we put on ourselves. If a guy does give me" lip", I just walk faster.    

Q.) [EverestNews.com] What country's (besides Americans) climbers does she have the most respect for?

A.) [Heather Macdonald] I have a lot of respect for individual climbers from many different nations. Although the Japanese, Korean and Eastern Block climbers seem more willing to push the edge and die in the mountains. It’s the choice they make to climb with that kind of philosophy. There is always freedom in the hills… 

Heather Macdonald Resume

Mountain Guide, Ashford, WA

Expeditions and Climbs as a guide for IMG or RMI

Mt. Rainier Senior guide since 1990, over 107 ascents of Mt. Rainier, including 4 winter ascents.

Cascades     Mt. Adams: via north and south side routes forbidden peak west and east        ridges.

California: Mt. Whitney: 2 ascents of the Mountaineers route winter attempt of East Face   (reached 14,000 ft.)

Alaska: 5 expeditions to Mt. McKinley (3 Summits)

Argentina: 5 Expeditions to Aconcagua: Polish glacier variation route Mecedario Expedition (reached 18,500 ft)

Africa: Mt. Kenya via Teleki Valley route.

Mexico: 4 Mexican Volcano expeditions including numerous ascents of Ixta Orizaba      Popocatereti.

Bolivia: Expedition to Condoriri valley: ascents of Apacheta, Illusion, and El Diente (17,000 ft)

Pakistan: Expedition to Hushe Valley (reached 19,500 on unnamed peak)

Nepal: Expedition to Paldor (reached 18,200 ft.)

Tibet:1993 Shishapangma Expedition (reached 25,200 ft.)

1994 Everest North Col (reached 26,000 ft.)

1995 Cho Oyu (Summit 26,900 Ft)

1996 Cho Oyu Summit

1988-1995 Extensive rock climbing throughout the United States

1.) Joshua Tree, California

2.) Red Rocks, Nevada: Numerous Grade IV and Grade V routes including Dream of Wild turkeys, Prince of Darkness, Eagle dance, Levitation 29, and Yellow Brick Road

3.) Smiths Rocks, Oregon: sport Climbs up to 5.11 a/b, led bolted routes up to 5.10d

4.) Leavenworth, Washington

5.) Indian Creek, Utah including Generic Crack

6.) Rifle Colorado

8.) Hueco Tanks, Texas

9.) Telluride Colorado, Opher wall (hot Wee Wee)

10.) Owens River Gorge, California

11.) Yosemite California

* Can led 5.8/5.9 gear routes

Ice Climbing

1.) Columbia River Gorge

2.) Redstone, Colorado Avodado, Redstone pillar: The Drool

3.) Aspen Colorado

* Can follow Grade V and lead Grade III routes

Medical Background

October 1995: Wilderness first Responder and CPR certification Trained to EMTII-D

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