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  Everest 2007:  Mountain Madness Everest Expedition: Update

Camp 3

May 2, 2007 Everest Base Camp

Hello from base camp, where the team has rejoined just in time for Eric's 24th birthday party! Eric, Eirik, Bjorn and Willie descended all the way from camp III today, and they report having slept well up there, which is pretty impressive. Willie said it is the best night of sleep he's ever had there! Brian did not sleep so well at camp II, still having problems with his lungs, so he came down thismorning with Undi Sherpa, one of Nepal's finest. We visited the doctors at the HRA clinic, and hopefully we'll have him fixed up enough to get back on track for a summit push, which will be any time between a week from now, and three weeks from now. For most of the team, the acclimatization process is complete.

Last night it snowed about six inches in base camp, and the snow started again this afternoon as the climbers were descending through the icefall. A huge avalanche released off of Pumori this afternoon, across the valley from the icefall, and those guys got a great view of it, as we did from below. It dusted that side of base camp, and the boom brought everyone out from their caves to see. The climbers made it down safely and in good time. We settled into the warm tent for lots of movies and food, and the luxury of coke and sprite that Willie bought from some porters travelling through town.

After dinner the entire kitchen staff came into the dining tent with a huge platter- lined on the perimeter with candles, and in the middle a soft, rich chocolate cake reading "Happy Birthday Eric!" We sang, of course, and in three breaths the candles were out. Who can guess what he wished for? Kumar then called us outside to see the moon rising right inside the crease between Khumbutse and Nuptse. The moon is full, and it was more radiant here than any of us remembers seeing anywhere. What a great night to be in the mountains with a group of nice people, and lucky are we to rush outside to a just-clearing sky, presenting us with such a moon, then to huddle back inside a warm tent with chocolate cake. All is well, and we think it will be a memorable birthday for Eric.

We will be taking some rest days here and will keep everyone posted on our time well spent. Cheers to all of you back home, and please eat some ice cream for us...

Earlier: May 1, 2007- Camp III- 24,000 feet: Well tonight our team is enduring a major step in their acclimatization process. Eirik, Bjorn, Eric and Willie are spending the night at camp III. Brian climbed to camp III today and returned to camp II to spend the night. He will spend a rest day at camp II tomorrow, then go up to camp III again, hopefully to spend the night with the Sherpa team. Brian's cough hangs on a little, which puts him just a small bit behind the others in acclimatization, but this should catch him up. As for the climbers at camp III, everyone reports feeling strong, and we hope they do catch a few winks tonight. The simple act of regular breathing at that altitude can be a chore, and an accomplishment, especially at night when the body reverts to what it has always known as a regular breathing pattern, say around 10 or 12 breaths per minute. However, the amount of oxygen the body gets with that number of breaths is significantly lower at such an altitude, so sometimes an irregular night breathing pattern results, a sort of sleep apnia. Usually this just wakes a person up to catch his breath, but can be a hindrance to a good night's sleep. This will be the only night spent at camp III without oxygen. When the team heads back up for their summit push, they will use oxygen from camp III and above.
The team reports safe climbing all the way to camp III, which is great to hear. They left camp II at 7:30 this morning and arrived at noon, in excellent time. They froze in the early morning hours, hands burning from getting too cold then warming back up. But by the time they started climbing the sun was hot, and even that high, in calm weather, the heat can be oppressive. So they shed layer after layer and let the sun's rays on the reflective snow erase the morning's memories of shivering blue-lipped cold.

Eric Dalzell gave us a good report of the climbing route today. From camp II the route heads along a crevasse field in the glacier, gaining about 1,000 feet elevation before reaching the Lhotse face. The Lhotse face marks the transition from the Khumbu glacier, and onto the steep ice-covered rock of the west side of Lhotse. Once on the face, the climbing is sustained steep ice and rock of up to 70 degrees. Within the ice, along the climbing route, bits of old tents and oxygen bottles from expeditions past are frozen in place. The fixed lines are anchored with v-threads, ice screws, and ice pickets according to the thickness and quality of ice in a given place, with usually about 150 feet of rope between placements. The climbing ranges from little blue-ice steps in places, to snow in other places, with some front-pointing with the crampons employed in the steepest parts. Rather than using an ice axe, one hand stays on the jumar, a one-way locking device which is always clipped to the rope. Moving the jumar up the rope creates a solid, consistent handhold, while it does rely strongly on good fixed lines.

In the middle of the Lhotse face is the "yellow band" of loose rock and ice, which the climbers traverse along toward the north. Amid the ice and rock of the Lhotse face are plenty of hanging seracs, and after about 2,000 feet more vertical gain, camp III is established amid the steep snow and ice. Being right on the face, the camp consists of little more than a few small tent platforms chipped into the ice. Leaving the tent to use the bathroom, or for any purpose, means clipping in to the rope that runs through camp and beyond. The camp is about half-way up the face, at the top of which, another 3,000 feet up, is the south col. Today the first team of Sherpas reached and fixed lines to the south col, which is where camp IV will go up. This is also a big move in the progress of getting people up the mountain. In a best case scenario, after the team descends in the next couple of days, thier next move up the mountain could be a summit push. Also possible, of course, is a little waiting game with the weather throughout the month of May.

The team was unpleasantly surprised to find that, upon arriving at camp III, their tent platforms were too small for the tents. They spent two hours chipping them out to make them bigger, and everyone still had energy to spare. Once inside the tents, Willie quickly put that energy to use in a devastating defeat over Eric in the medium of gin rummy. While Eric tried to down play this, Willie's exuberance suggests either a truly piteous defeat, or the first stages of altitude-related loss of reason. To add insult to injury, Willie claims that Eric's ramen noodle masterpiece was nothing to brag about. But all seems to have been resolved over their mutual efforts to coax some Norwegian chocolates from the other tent, occupied by Bjorn and Eirik. Be assured that their good karma is intact, the chocolate being enjoyed by Norwegians, an American, and a crazy Argentinian all together in solidarity.

Eric misses his friends and family, and probably especially his particular female friend, and sends love back home. Willie misses Thankgar, his Kashmiri pup/ heating blanket. Everyone misses that elusive luxury of a hot shower, but all of us count ourselves as among the most fortunate in the world to be witnesses to these mountains and skies, and to use the gift of a healthy body to explore them. On that note, warm thoughts back to you at home, and if you have warmth and comfort to spare, enjoy a bit for us. Goodnight.


Mountain Madness will return to Everest in Spring 2007 with a commercial expedition led by Willie Benegas, The final commercial team will be announced soon... But they have several clients. They will again attempt from the South (Nepal) side of the mountain. Christine Boskoff, owner of Mountain Madness sadly passed away in 2006.

The Climber: Willie Benegas

Born and raised in the wild heart of Patagonia, Willie Benegas, along with his twin brother Damien, have pursued a long apprenticeship in the mountains.  As one of the "young bucks" of the world-class North Face team, Willie has pushed his craft on the big-walls of Yosemite, the airy summits of South America, and the loftiest peaks of the Himalaya.

The boundless duo, now hailing from Berkeley California, completed their first major new ascent with a route up Patagonia's West Face of Pilquitron (VI, 5.9, A3) which is still unrepeated.  

wil3g.jpg (12288 bytes)

© David Keaton

 At 20, they climbed Fitz Roy's impressive Supercouloir as well as routes on Guillaumet and Poincenot.  In the following years, Willie has ticked off the South Face of Aconcagua, a new route on the North Face of Pakistan's Nameless Tower (VII), record speed ascents in Yosemite valley, and attempted major new routes on the legendary North Faces of Thalay Sagar and Jannu.

But simply overcoming technical routes or highest summits is not enough for this 30 year old climber.   He gathers equal satisfaction by introducing others to the wide-world of mountain experience.  To help fulfill this goal, Willie and Damien established Patagonian Brothers Expeditions specializing in South American guided climbs and treks.  They also lead expeditions for Out There Trekking (UK, OTT) in Africa, South America,  and on Himalayan giants such as Cho Oyu.

Willie has many plans for the future, but he often gets the same question; why do you climb?  When asked about the draw of high places, he says "a mountain  adventure will carry over into many facets of your life, teaching about yourself, your co-existence with nature, and respect for other people's cultures." 

Willie's Brief Resume below


2001 OLN "Outlaws of the Aconcagua Trail"
1991 "Swimming with whales" discovery channel


Nameless Tower "Book of Shadows" VII 5.10+ A4 WI4, 1995
Mt Kenya all massif towers in 16 hrs, 2002
Mt Cuerno 17.600ft South Face First Ascent 5.7 WI 3 4640ft in 4.36hrs R/ trip solo, 2000
Fitzroy Super Canaleta VI 5.10b A1 WI 3,1987
Atensoraju 19.328ft. new route North ridge/face "The Pandora Box of Artensoraju:" 5.9 WI 3, 1998
Oshapalca new route South face "My Message" 5.7 WI 4/5 2.400ft., 2000
Aconcagua World record ascent/descent 54miles 13500ft elevation gain, 2000
First Ascent Argentina Andes "Welcome to a Dream" V 5.11 A4+.,1999
Patagonia Exploration, first ascent "Swept by the Wind" 5.13a, 1,000ft.
Patagonia 62.5miles endurance run first place 9.35hrs., 1986
The Nose VI 5.11 A1 16 ascents, ten one day ascents.
South Seas (VI 5.10 A5)
Sea of Dreams (VI 5.10 A5)
Regular Route (VI 5.10 A1) twenty times. Fastest time was 3:30
20/20 Classics Climb's in twenty days of the 50 Classic's Climbs of North America Book. Ascended 60,080ft, traveled 137 miles on foot, 2hrs in canoe, and climbed 241 pitches. 1993

ABOUT WILLIE: Born and raised in the wild heart of Patagonia, Willie Benegas has pursued a long apprenticeship in the mountains. Willie has pushed his craft on the big walls of Yosemite, the airy summits of South America, and the loftiest peaks of the Himalayas. Willie completed his first major ascent in the winter of 1987 with a route up Patagonia's West Face of Pitriquitron (VI, 5.9 A3 W2/3), which has still not been repeated. At age 20, he climbed Aconcagua's impressive South Face, as well as Fitzroy. In the following years, Willie "ticked off" the first ascent of the North Face of Pakistan's Nameless Tower "Book of Shadows" (VII, 5.10+ A4 W14), made record speed ascents in Yosemite Valley, and attempted major new routes on the legendary North Faces of Thalay Sagar and Jannu. In 2001, he set the world record speed ascent/descent of the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere, Aconcagua (22,831 ft.), summited Everest for a second time, and ran the legendary Leadville Ultra 100-mile Race. In the spring of 2002, Willie reached the Top of the World yet a third time. However, simply overcoming technical routes and conquering summits around the world is not enough for this 34-year-old climber. He gathers equal satisfaction by introducing others to the world of mountain experiences and exploration.

Willie has many plans for the future, but he often gets the same question, why do you climb? To this he simply says, "A mountain adventure will carry over into the many facets of life, teaching yourself about yourself, your co-existence with nature, and the respect for people's cultures."

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