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  Everest 2007:  Mountain Madness Everest Expedition: Getting ready

Camp 3

May 10, 2007 Everest Base Camp

We're racking up the rest days and waiting out the weather here at base camp. Our original idea of leaving on May 9 to begin the summit climb has been pushed back a couple of days, and now the team intends to leave on May 12. That makes tomorrow their last day at base camp, unless the weather plays tricks on us again. Some forecasts call for moderate winds, but it's hard to say with any accuracy that far ahead. For now, everyone will spend tomorrow gearing up for the big move! Hopefully this all runs smoothly.

Yesterday was another day well-spent with training for the Sherpas. We walked to a steep ice pinnacle on the edge of base camp to set up crevasse rescue scenarios. Willie led the charge by making Jaime his first victim of a mock crevasse fall. He set up an anchor up top and lowered himself down into the "crevasse" to get to Jaime. He then rigged Jaime to the rope, jumarred back up the rope, and set up a 3:1 hauling system to pull Jaime up, which worked marvellously. Covering a few days of material in about 20 minutes (building anchors, several knots, systems, and tricks) you would think the Sherpas heads would be spinning. But they are amazingly fast learners, and splitting into two groups, spending about three hours doing several more scenarios, they were all able to do it on their own, and quite quickly. We were very impressed; the boys are very keen to pick up on new skills to make them even better at what they do. A big thanks to Willie for choosing to spend his rest days with Sherpas from many teams, and teaching them what might save a life one day.

After that there was a lot more socializing and some afternoon naps. Bjorn, Eirik and Eric hiked to Gorak Shep and were back in time for lunch. There's not a lot to do in Gorak Shep, but, relatively speaking, it is the big city, with interior plumbing, permanent structures, and purchasable wares for the taking. We've become regulars at entertaining dinner guests, which keeps our days so much more interesting. We've got a regular little group going for sharing stories and whatever good food any of us can dig up from our barrels. These are sometimes the difficult days of a climbing trip- the waiting. Most of our time here is spent acclimatizing, with little waiting games being played out in the later part of May. But it actually gets much worse in other areas of the world where the weather is even more volatile, and many such a story is told of spending an entire month in a tent (not a base camp dining tent, a tent,) without a single bit of climbing to speak of. So we don't have it so bad here.

It is important that the climbers stay active to keep their bodies healthy and muscles working, and they are doing well with that. But be assured, every member of the team is ready to plant his body on top of the biggest rock on earth, then return safely home to his family. Some of them are asking themselves the age old question: Um, what am I doing here again? Tonight we watched a surfing movie, and more than a few minds were wondering if beach sports might not be a good outlet for our athletic energy. But like it or not, we are mostly burdened with the same affliction- a bad memory, and the love of big mountains. That is what sets the mind to planning the next adventure, often only minutes after returning safely from the present one. It's silly enough to laugh at, the way our memories elude us. But here we all are, and for most of us this isn't the end of it.

So for now, wish the boys luck on keeping their heads in the game and their bodies healthy. Goodnight


May 10, 2007: Hi folks!

This is Casey reporting in from Kathmandu. Last time you heard from us Mostafa and I were headed back up to B.C. to give the climb another shot. We had a good rest in Namche and spent 3 days walking back to the mountain. We were ready to give it another shot after doing "laps" on the trekking route!

Once back at the mountain we rested for a couple days before waking up early in the morning to try and go up to C1 and C2.

Mostafa's cough came back once we returned to the thin, dry, cold air at B.C. The morning we were to go to C1/C2 he couldn't raise his arm and his side (ribs) hurt quite a bit. Just taking deep breaths was a chore (which isn't good when exerting energy above 6000m!). He had been coughing all night. If we were to try and get through the ice-fall one more time there is a good chance that Mostafa's condition would get really bad at C1 or C2 and his condition would make just getting him down quite dangerous.

It is a shame to plan so much and to prepare/train so hard and have these things happen, but with the length of the trip and the high altitude of even basecamp, anything can happen. Your body is always struggling to deal with different variables. Such is the nature of big mountain expedition climbing...

He now has his arm in a sling to help his ribs recover and the return to lower, more humid environs will aid in his recovery. The doctors say he has probably cracked or separated some ribs as a result of his cough. The peak will not be an option this year. He is dissapointed in not getting a second attempt this year but excited to see his sweetie and their 3-month old son!

It has been a great group to hang out with. As the trip started we all discussed that the biggest focus on a trip such as this is the need to connect as a group, have fun and to be as safe as possible on an 8000m. peak. We definitely accomplished this and hopefully we all get a chance to climb together again sometime soon! We wish the rest of the group the best of luck and to climb safe.

Cheers, Casey

-due to my lack of acclimatization in the schedule (being so far behind -weeks- in the rest of the group's schedule at this stage of the expedition) I will also be calling it quits...

Earlier: Base Camp: Another rest day at base camp, though today everyone seemed to be antsy enough to get up and move. There is plenty to do within a short walk of base camp, and off the glacier, which is about twenty minutes of walking along ice, topped by granite boulders and gravel of all sizes. The weather seems to have warmed considerably, since everything is melting, and in many places the rocks are like ball bearings in water running over ice. Usually there are one or two good wipe-outs per day. In some parts of the glacier the water is running in streams which, with eyes closed and ears alert, call to mind the grassy, green organic streams of home. Straight off the glacier the trail is gained along the moraine, and the walking gets considerably easier. The whole team left base camp today, with Eirik, Bjorn and Trond hiking up toward the mountain Pu Mori. Eric, Willie and Teddy went with a friend to some bouldering rocks just a few minutes walk beyond the moraine. Some did more bouldering than others (Willie), and we were all lulled into a nap by the mid-morning sun. For the truly adventurous, another hour's hike will take you to the town of Gorak Shep for lunch, but for the most part our recreation is in the immediate vicinity.

Yesterday Willie, Teddy and Jaime did some more ice bouldering in a cave under the glacier. The cave is about eight feet tall and twenty feet long, and the overhung walls slope upward to meet at the top. The walls are sheer glassy ice with a couple of rocks suspended within them, making for welcome footholds along the traverse. Plenty of light comes in through the opening, and in the warm mid-mornings it is quite a nice private little gathering place.

The path home from the bouldering rocks and the ice cave fortuitously passes by, believe it or not, the Everest Base Camp Bakery. Dawa Sherpa and Tsira Sherpa have found a magical way to cook banana bread, pumpkin bread, cookies and apple pie, at 17,500 feet, that calls to mind nothing less than Christmas at Grandma's. They have no shortage of fans, and the Mountain Madness team may be their latest captives.

As can naturally be expected, there is a lot of socializing at base camp. Eight-hundred people living on one glacier must have something in common, and more often than not that is climbing, and a sense of humor. There are a few alluring haunts about town where we catch up with our friends, drink coffee, and sun ourselves before the snow starts falling, usually beginning between noon and 2:00pm. It's pretty easy living, with every meal prepared for us, no bills to pay or gas-tank to fill, no alarm clock or housecleaning, just the basics: waking up, getting dressed, eating, staying healthy, and sleeping. This is especially well-deserved after several nights spent in cold, high camps on the mountain.

Tomorrow is another rest day at base camp. With any luck we will get an early weather window and the team can get on top of the mountain soon! In the meantime we will keep looking for fun at base camp.

Earlier: May 4, 2007 Everest Base Camp

We are all here enjoying rest day upon rest day at base camp, and for the most part we are strong and healthy. While climbing days entail big goals, ie: avoiding rock fall, crevasses, staying warm, breathing, and paying attention to every move... rest days command a different set of goals, along the lines of: eating as much as possible, and taking afternoon naps in between movie viewing. Everyone earned top points in these today and yesterday.

Brian's cough has hung on pretty tenaciously, and he will have to drop down-valley tomorrow in hopes of quick recovery. Staying healthy is the name of the game up here, and sometimes, when something grabs you early on, it just doesn't relent in this thin air. We don't yet know what this means for Brian's summit possibilities, but of course all of us here, and the hundreds who send him emails from home, wish him the very best recovery and safe proceedings.

The team, being all acclimatized, would like an early summit window, but can not yet predict when that will be, based on the big storm patterns that have returned the past couple of days. Yesterday and today we received six inches of snow at base camp in the afternoons, which then melts away fast in the sunny mornings. The white blanket makes for a nice change of scenery, and also gives a perfect reason (excuse) for the boys to stay inside with movies. So, when the weather stabilizes a bit, we might be able to make some summit plans. Since it is not snowing quite so much up high, the Sherpas have been able to make good progress in fixing lines and stocking food and supplies to camp IV. Once this is done, everything is in place for a summit push, with the lines being fixed to the summit on summit day itself, by whichever team is the first to make that move. So for now, we wait to see how mother nature treats us.

As for Chomolungma, the mountain mother, we can guess that over the millennia she has persisted unperturbed whether there are climbers on her flanks, or not. Chomolungma is the beautiful Tibetan name for Mt. Everest, and it literally means Mother Goddess of the Earth- a more expansive moniker cannot be imagined. According to Bhuddist lore, Guru Rinpoche first ascended Chomolungma on a ray of sunlight when he introduced Bhuddism to Tibet in the ninth century. The name Everest was applied in 1865 for Sir George Everest, head of the British-controlled Indian survey that first determined the mountain's height. The 1920's marked an era of several attempts at climbing the mountain, via the northern/ Tibetan side. The most fateful of these is the famed Mallory-Irvine expedition in which both men died. Nepal was opened to visitors in the early 1950's, and this allowed for the British expedition led by J. Hunt to put Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa on the summit in 1953. As is the case with all exploration and technology, the vast improvements in equipment, and increased knowledge base, have advanced this past-time considerably in the past fifty years. To date over 1,000 people have summitted Mt. Everest.

We are all here for our own reasons, probably representing a broad spectrum indeed. But while we are here we are a cohesive unit, everyone looking out for each other and learning about ourselves. This is one of the gifts of an expedition, removal from the usual distractions of another world, and a lot of time alone with one's thoughts. If there happens to be stunning scenery, challenging climbing, and a good dose of practical skills learned to go with the laughs and the teamwork, why, all the more complete an experience can an expedition be. With that in mind, we assure everyone at home that the climbers are well-looked after by the guides, Sherpas, and each other, and that we have plenty of good laughs and stories to fill in the lulls between suffering away on the mountain. Good night.

Earlier: 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."

Millet One Sport Everest Boot  has made some minor changes by adding more Kevlar. USES Expeditions / High altitude / Mountaineering in extremely cold conditions / Isothermal to -75°F Gore-Tex® Top dry / Evazote Reinforcements with aramid threads. Avg. Weight: 5 lbs 13 oz Sizes: 5 - 14 DESCRIPTION Boot with semi-rigid shell and built-in Gore-Tex® gaiter reinforced by aramid threads, and removable inner slipper Automatic crampon attachment Non-compressive fastening Double zip, so easier to put on Microcellular midsole to increase insulation Removable inner slipper in aluminized alveolate Fiberglass and carbon footbed Cordura + Evazote upper Elasticated collar.

Expedition footwear for mountaineering in conditions of extreme cold.  NOTE US SIZES LISTED. See more here.

A cold weather, high altitude double boot for extreme conditions The Olympus Mons is the perfect choice for 8000-meter peaks. This super lightweight double boot has a PE thermal insulating inner boot that is coupled with a thermo-reflective outer boot with an integrated gaiter. We used a super insulating lightweight PE outsole to keep the weight down and the TPU midsole is excellent for crampon compatibility and stability on steep terrain. WEIGHT: 39.86 oz • 1130 g LAST: Olympus Mons CONSTRUCTION: Inner: Slip lasted Outer: Board Lasted OUTER BOOT: Cordura® upper lined with dual-density PE micro-cellular thermal insulating closed cell foam and thermo-reflective aluminium facing/ Insulated removable footbed/ Vibram® rubber rand See more here.




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