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 Everest 2008: Mountain Madness Mt Everest Expedition : Summit reached!

Summit reached! We received a call from base camp at approximately 5:40 p.m. PST (about 6:40 a.m. local Nepal time) that the MM team has reached the summit. The team is doing well and has ample time to descend safely back to their South Col Camp. More later as the team descends.

May 20, 2:20 p.m. PST: The team is nearing the South Summit as Willie and crew fix lines for safe passage.

May 20 Update- Summit bound

Willie just called in at 8:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. The team consisting of Willie, Doug, Francisco, and two Sherpas was leaving for summit shortly thereafter. Wish them luck!

May 20, 2007- 9:30 pm- South Col 25,500 feet

Earlier: May 15 - Base camp

I need to apologize if this turns into a long blog post.. theres much to cover, and we have little time before kicking off in two days for our Summit Push through the Icefall. I wanted to pass on a story that Willie and another guide who is here, Kenton Cool told us at dinner the other night. It was so unique and filled with both the hazards of climbing on Everest coupled with humor that Francisco and I found ourselves even talking about it the next day:

The Polish Guy

In 2005, this middle aged Polish guy arrived at Base Camp without a permit to climb on Everest, but fully intended to try anyway, going unnoticed. He had very little money and basic equipment, but felt stong and capable enough to take on the mountain and at one point made it all the way through the Icefall and up to Camp I. Some of the larger guide services made note of his presence but he spoke little English, wasn't very friendly, and seemed to be able to take care of himself. So they left him alone and only saw him on the periphery while they looked after their clients. As we have seen from our limited time here, the Nepalis take their high dollar Everest climbing permits VERY seriously. But, we have also seen that if you were to go incognito enough, there is a good chance that you could go unnoticed. That is, unless a dramatic or tragic event changed your anonymous status quickly.

In 2005, something happened at Camp I that everyone prepares for, but almost never happens- a huge avalanche calved off of Everest's West Face that was large enough that it literally washed over Camp I. More or less a hundred year avalanche. Dozens of tents were flattened from the air blast alone, almost all were covered, and if you hadn't placed your tents on the high ground fingers (like where ours are located), you were in jeopardy. By some stroke of luck though, most climbers were down in Base Camp that day and at the time the avalanche struck, Camp I was almost deserted. The Polish Guy was unique- he had elected to stay in Camp I along with a small handfull of others that day. When the avalanche hit, he apparently jumped out of his tent to film the thousand tons of snow and ice as it moved in on Camp I- not exactly something that's recommended. But he was a tough old guy and must have thought he'd be ok. As an avalanche moves forward, it is preceeded by a wall air- a blast wave that pushes things down quickly and with force before the mass of snow comes along and washes everything in white and sweeps it along as the avalanche travels on it's way.

It was this wall of air that seems to have done the most damage to the Polish Guy, who had his camcorder pressed up to his face at the time he was hit. Out in front, the solid air slammed the camcorder with such force that it cut his face in many places and people afterwards wondered if you might be able to read "SONY" imprinted backwards on his forehead. Word of the avalanche reached Base Camp, and rescuers quickly pressed out, reaching the Camp I record time. Dazed and confused, the Polish Guy was already staggering down the mountain with only what he had on, still bleeding and face all smashed up. He clearly knew that he'd be found out and didn't want to pay a massive fine, thrown into a Nepali jail for climbing without a permit. As he passed several rescuers enroute down the Icefall, he gruffly waved off care and just kept on going. The confused rescuers didn't know what they would find up at Camp I, so they kept moving up and figured the Polish Guy would be taken care of by someone else further down below.

Upon arrival at Camp I, the rescuers found what remained of the Polish Guy's tent- just an old, small job barely bigger than a kitchen table. Peering inside, they found: gas for boiling water, and a very large bottle of vodka. That was it. Nothing more, nothing less. Gas and vodka. To climb Everest. The rescuers radioed that back, almost laughing in disbelief at how Spartan this guy's tent was. But by now the Nepali authorities knew about him and also knew he didn't have a climbing permit so they were actively looking for him with vigor. They didn't think it was very funny for sure. He wasn't in Base Camp, so the Nepalis figured he must still be coming down through the Icefall and focused their energy there. After a few hours he was nowhere to be found and they realized that despite their best efforts, he had somehow slipped the noose.

Several days later, the climbing community at Base Camp learned of his fate: Somehow, the Polish Guy had made it all the way to New Delhi, India and repatriated back to Poland from the Embassy there. New Delhi? Apparently, the Polish Guy had managed to walk close to 100 kilometers in the exact same climbing clothes that he had been wearing when hit in an avalanche at Camp I in the Western Cwm. Bleeding, injured, and only with the clothes on his back, he downclimbed through the Icefall, and no one noticed as he traveled all the way through the Khumbu Valley, out through Lukla and into Kathmandu.

From there, he likely took a bus across the border and all the way to New Delhi. He didn't have much money, so people speculate that he sold his climbing boots in Kathmandu for just enough money for bus fare to leave the country unnoticed. Even today, when you enter the Sagarmartha National Park gate near Lukla there is a picture of the Polish Guy looking all gruff and dazed on a ratty wanted poster that has likely been there since a few days after he ran off in 2005. My guess? He made it home, started putting back his loved vodka, told his tale to friends and family who called him a crazy nut, and he gave up on Everest completely.

Other Items

New Base Camp Manager We have a New Base Camp Manager named Bridey, who joins us today. She is from New Zealand and originally came to Everest with a NASA research project and decided to stick around for another week when offered our Base Camp Manager job. This is a great win-win for all of us- we will be able to provide regular dispatches as we progress on our summit push, and she gets to gain experience as a manager for an Everest expedition.

Sherpa Progress

All of the Sherpas punched out today for Camp II, arriving in short order as usual. I swear, the push up the mountain for them is like commuting to work. While we take the metro, they hike from Base camp to Camp II. They needed to push forward in order to ensure they are forward staged for the move to Camp III and further prepare to stock the South Col camp (Camp IV). We'll see them soon enough, so it's good in many ways to see the beginning movement of the gears that are to be our final summit push. All weather forecasts are showing the 20th/ 21st to provide us with a solid weather window, and these continue to be the dates that we are targeting.

Rest of the Team

As for Francsico, Willie and me, we are still in recovery/waiting/prep stage. I am looking to items that I will be bringing to the summit and making sure they are packed, which include:

Flags: 3-Dimensional, Vectorform, American, USMC, Ohio Wesleyan, KandDP Consulting Good Luck Charms: Watch, Dogtags, Atta's Lucky Poker Chip, Mini-Bible

Utility: Knife, whistle, altimeter, binoculars

Other: Seahawks football

Knock on wood all things go according to plan.. Both Francisco, Willie and the Sherpas are doing the same thing, as each has special items that they want to make sure they are bringing with them and have to share/save as memories of their trip. For example, Francisco has three of his flags that he plans to fly on the side of his tent right now, getting them ready for our push in two days.

As with yesterday, we had a few visitors today in the endless parade of people visiting Willie and wanting to get a little more info on what Willie's strategy is. All of the Fuzzies from next door came over and asked if we had an adaptor that would work on his electric razor. In casual conversation, he confessed that people in his camp were beginning to call him a Wolly Mammoth. Francisco and I cracked up when he told Willie that. Another visitor named Sergio Martini is an unassuming and very gentle-spoken 50-something Italian man who speaks little English. I'm typing away, he quietly and concientiously poked his head in the tent and asked if Willie was around. "Yes", I said and offered him a seat. After 30 minutes, and only after asking in basic terms who this guy is, was I told that not only had the man sitting three feet from me climbed all 14 8,000 meter peaks in his career. "What was the most difficult?" "K2, I did the North Ridge and it took 4 1/2 months." But, he was here at Everest again to raise money for a hospital and give back to the community that he has spent so much time in, which is really, really neat in our eyes.

In the evening, we continued with our streak of really cool dinners- tonight's is fondue, believe it or not. Kenton (Dream Guides), Mara, Mark (IMG), and Jambu (IMG) joined our team for dinner and a movie to pass the night and enjoy the cameraderie that has formed over the last several weeks.

Earlier: May 14, 2008 - Everest Base Camp (17,575 ft)

I need to backtrack a few hours and make this dispatch start at more like 13 1/2 May... reason being that the afternoon events of yesterday are worthy of mention.  Sorry if that throws the blog universe out of whack somehow, but I figure that there's only a minor risk of that happening and I'll try to keep last night's stories as entertaining as possible…because it was truly a good night.

Around 6 p.m., Willie comes running in with a sushi roller.  How does he find these things??  Somehow, someone here in Base Camp had brought along an actual flippin' bamboo sushi roller, and even more amazing is that Willie had managed to sniff it out. I mean, how random. My first guess would have been the Japanese team, but they are all up the hill in Camp II or down the hill in Dingboche. So - here it was, enabling us to have…Sushi Night!!

There's a great little sushi restaurant in the Los Angeles area called "Tokyo Delves" - it's where you go when you want to have Disco Sushi.  Disco music comes on, a disco ball starts spinning, the sushi chefs literally dance while they prepare your food, and you have a blast.  This was as close to Tokyo Delves as I have ever been and how comical that it was happening at Everest Base Camp. Willie pulled out nori paper, G-Man went rooting through the storage tent to grab items like shredded crab and cooked salmon.  Super Mila went to town on vegetables like cucumber to get them prepared.  It was a community event and everyone got in the spirit to pull it off.  When it was time to start preparing sushi rolls, where I turned into some sort of de-facto sushi roll sensei of sorts and everyone made a roll - and I mean everyone. Here are some examples of the rolls prepared, and the preparer:

Super Mila:  Salmon and cucumber roll

G-Man:  Salmon, Crab, cucumber and carrot roll

Lhakpa:  Corsani roll (the Sherpas snapped this one up in about 3 seconds. Corsani is a local spice and that's all he put on it. Corsani and rice)

Music is going on in the cook tent, some people are dancing, everyone is laughing and there was a truly festive atmosphere.  Several other guides and Base Camp residents came over for dinner to pack our little tent: Kenton, a British guide from Dream Guides, Mara an American guide from Jagged Globe, Steve an American and Claudia an Australian - both surgeons from the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) medical shelter.

After eating the night away, we learned of a Sherpa party in the adjacent tent camp cook shelter and we were all invited to come along. It was jam packed with Sherpas, pumping iPod music into speakers causing spontaneous and sporadic dancing based on the tunes. There was local music and Tibetan monk music flowing smoothly and to great fanfare. And just because you have to have it, mixed into the score would be the occasional electro dance mix, Madonna and Queen of all things.

A lead Sherpa for the French Team named Angshiri offered me a local home-brewed drink which I took him up on. It was clear, and tasted faintly like Japanese sake and like a Long Island Iced Tea. You couldn't truly taste the alcohol. However, I also learned that very much like a Long Island Ice Tea this drink is one that is capable of having you forget what you are doing and end up waking up in the morning with fake-o cheese, shredded lettuce, and Taco Bell wrappers all over your chest.

At one point later in the night, Angshiri, who was way deep in the dancing going on casually asked me if I wanted a second one - I'm a big boy, I thought. "Sure".  You would be amazed at the looks I received from around the tent: Willie, Kenton, Mara, Lhakpa, Tendi, Daruru…even G-Man. It was like when I was at my Cousin Dave's wedding and my mom caught a bunch of us doing shots with this one extremely large and very drunk guy named Pete who ended up later passing out on the beach. Shooting lazer beams.  I just left the glass on the table untouched. Yeesh. I felt like I was 21 all over again.

On to 14 May.

Most of the day was again dealing with preparation for our summit push. Ropes, rigging, battery refresh in radios, final food packing.  I think it finally hit Francisco and I when Willie and Lhakpa began going through all of the oxygen regulators and valves after breakfast.  Upon closer inspection, we noticed that they appear to be the same type of masks and valves used by Russian fighter pilots:


Masks were handed out and tried on which brought on a whole bunch of Darth Vader impressions: "Luuukkeeee.....  I am your fathorrr" - breathe breathe breathe in Darth sounding breath. Francisco tried a mask with oxygen flowing and told me he immediately wanted to take a nap. Man, I can't wait to get going up the hill again.

So speaking of which, we discussed a few things. The weather at present seems to support a push in a few days and so we are leaving in two days, depending upon what closer forecasts reveal. The jet stream continues to stay out of the area and today is a beauty - again barely any clouds, warm, and just wisps of wind.  The good part of staying put for at least a few days is to continue eating and recovering from our week at Camp II.  It also allows the new fallen snow of a few days ago to settle and compress, calve off where need be and continue to drop risk of any potential avalanche off of places like the face of Nuptse. 

We also picked up a Base Camp Manager today - Bridey, a New Zealander who was here working on a NASA project has agreed to come on and assist where need be while we are on our summit push.  This is a great thing- she's going to be able to monitor things from Base Camp as we move up the hill (including the ability to send regular dispatches on team progress) and we'll be able to know we have a support structure in the rear.  Doug Pierson

Earlier: Everest 2008:April 11  Ropes Course & Base Camp Layout

I think I'm falling in love with our space heater. I'm sitting right next to the thing right now as I type this and am trying to hatch a plan for hiding this contraption in my backpack unnoticed and getting it to high camp. I wonder if anyone will notice.Today we spent the morning playing around on the ropes course that Willie pulled together. This of course only after we woke again to beautiful and warm skies. And what do warm skies bring? Melting snow. And what does melting snow bring? Avalanche.

The three of us moved gingerly through the ropes course while Willie familiarized us with types of challenges and obstacles we will be facing within days. After moving directly up and across aluminum ladders with mechanical ascenders, we traversed along narrow ledges and relied on ropes to rappel back to the beginning. With time, our confidence grew and we picked up on little tips and pointers Willie taught us in order to make our time in the Icefall more comfortable.

I have been asked by several people what exactly our Base Camp life is like. So since we have another slow day (it's snowing outside right now), I thought it might be good to take the chance to describe our camp layout and the earthier side of camp life. All things considered, our camp is fairly cush compared to some other camps which are very expeditionary in nature (read: one tent, one cook pot). With each day, we try to improve just a little more. For example, two days ago we put in the camp shower- a plastic canvas tent that has a propane heater installed on the outside where water is injected into heat coils when our generator is running. The water then is pumped into a shower head and with the use of an on/off switch you can take a -quick- shower. It is important to zip the door closed all the way or an errant wisp of wind will leave you shaking uncontrollably.. the water isn't that hot but this is truly a luzury item. I took a shower for the first time yesterday since Namche Bazaar... so mebbe like 10 days? I'll probably take one in a day or two again but only after the sun comes out and it isn't windy. Everyone's stinky here and you can't really smell anyway so it's not that bad.

Our tents are located in several areas across the camp site. Joe, Francisco and I are located in one area. Lama Jambu and Tendi are located in another. Lhakpa moved his tent from next to Willies because the generator was too loud, and the cook staff and other support team members crash in their respective tents- there's plenty of room in there for them and they are truly happy with this arrangement. Each tent is home for the next several weeks. We try to keep ours clean and well organized in order to feel like you have more space inside. The tent models we use are Mountain Hardware Trangos and North Face VE-25s- 4 season hardened models that can withstand just about anything thrown at them. Except as it turns out, UV Rays. These rays are so intense here that one tent has only about a 2 or 3 season service life before the rays structurally weaken the fabric beyond serviceability. Each tent has a little garden solar light out front and is anchored down with heavy glacier rocks should stronger wind gusts come along. There is a front window to see out of and through the rain fly, we also have three foam and air matresses to keep comfortable from the rocks below and insulated from ground freeze. Last night while trying to sleep I could hear the glacier creak, groan and snap underneath us.

There are two toilets, both covered in blue tarp- one western (a.k.a. there's a toilet seat) and one of the Middle Eastern/ Nepali model which is more a hole in the rocks. There's an unwritten rule to not pee in the barrel- human waste is transported out and weighed for charges. Peeing in the barrel will increase weight dramatically and therefore, we have designated sites for that. There is an actual rule in Everest Base Camp that if you were to lose your mind and drop a bomb outside of your cans- and are caught.. congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a $5000 fine. Like many other items in camp, we have solar lights to illuminate the inside once darkness descends across camp. We do our own laundry by asking the cook staff for a "washing pot" and then scrubbing dirty clothes like crazy in water that turns brown quickly. Once these items are clean, we lay them on a rock to dry- you have to do that b/c if you try to line dry them they'll just flash freeze- even when it's fairly warm thanks to the UV rays. The air is still below freezing. The camp is powered by a 16 year old Honda generator and this accompishes two things: it powers the lights that illuminate the community shelter and cook tent. It also recharges two automobile dry-cell batteries that power items when the generator is off.


Everest from the South Side in Nepal

sbrr2.jpg (46375 bytes)

Full size picture

Base Camp - 17,500 feet (5350 meters)

This is a picture of the popular South Col Route up Mt. Everest.  Base camp is located at 17,500 feet.   This is where climbers begin their true trip up the mountain.  This is also where support staff often remain to monitor the expeditions and provide medical assistance when necessary.  Many organizations offer hiking trips which just go to base camp as the trip is not technically challenging (though you must be very fit). 

From base camp, climbers typically train and acclimate (permitting the body to adjust to the decreased oxygen in the air) by traveling and bringing supplies back and forth through the often treacherous Khumbu Icefall.    This training and recuperation continues throughout the climb, with the final summit push often being the only time to climbers do not go back and forth between camps to train, bring supplies, and recuperate for the next push. 

The Icefall is in constant motion.  It contains enormous ice seracs, often larger than houses, which dangle precariously over the climbers heads, threatening to fall at any moment without warning, as the climbers cross endless crevasses and listen to continuous ice creaking below.  This often acts as a testing ground to judge if less experienced climbers will be capable of continuing.   The Icefall is located between 17,500 and 19,500 feet.

Camp I - 5900 meters

After the Icefall, the climbers arrive at Camp I, which is located at 19,500 feet.  Depending on the type of expedition, Camp I will either be stocked by the climbers as they ascend and descend the Icefall, or by Sherpas in advance.

The area between Camp I and Camp II is known as the Western Cwm.  As the climbers reach Camp II at 21,000 feet, they may be temporarily out of sight of their support at Base camp.  Nonetheless, modern communication devises permit the parties to stay in contact.

Camp II - 6500 meters

As the climbers leave Camp II, they travel towards the Lhotse face (Lhotse is a 27,920 foot mountain bordering Everest).  The Lhotse face is a steep, shiny icy wall.  Though not technically extremely difficult, one misstep or slip could mean a climber's life.  Indeed, many climbers have lost their lives through such mishaps. 

Camp III - 23,700 feet (7200 meters)

To reach Camp III, climbers must negotiate the Lhotse Face. Climbing a sheer wall of ice demands skill, strength and stamina. It is so steep and treacherous that many  Sherpas move directly from Camp II to Camp IV on the South Col, refusing to stay on the Lhotse Face.

Camp IV - 26,300 feet (8000 meters)

As you’re leaving C4…it’s a little bit of a down slope, with the uphill side to the left. There are typically snow on the ledges to walk down on, interspersed with rock, along with some fixed rope. The problem with the rope is that the anchors are bad, and there’s not much holding the rope and a fall could be serious. Fortunately it’s not too steep, but there is a ton of exposure and people are usually tired when walking down from camp. The rock is a little down sloping to the right as well, and with crampons on, it can be bit tricky with any kind of wind. There’s a little short slope on reliable snow which leads to the top of the Geneva Spur, and the wind pressure gradient across the spur can increase there as you’re getting set up for the rappel. Wearing an oxygen mask here can create some footing issues during the rappel, because it’s impossible to see over the mask and down to the feet. For that reason, some people choose to leave Camp 4 without gas, as it’s easier to keep moving down the Spur when it’s important to see all the small rock steps and where the old feet are going. Navigating down through all of the spaghetti of fixed ropes is a bit of a challenge, especially with mush for brains at that point. One lands on some lower ledges which aren’t so steep, where fixed ropes through here are solid. At this point, it’s just a matter of staying upright, and usually, the wind has died significantly after dropping off the Spur. The route turns hard to the left onto the snowfield that leads to the top of the Yellow Bands.

Camp IV, which is at 26,300 on the Lhotse face, is typically the climbers' first overnight stay in the Death Zone.  The Death Zone is above 26,000 feet.  Though there is nothing magical about that altitude, it is at this altitude that most human bodies lose all ability to acclimate. Accordingly, the body slowly begins to deteriorate and die - thus, the name "Death Zone."  The longer a climber stays at this altitude, the more likely illness (HACE - high altitude cerebral edema - or HAPE - high altitude pulmonary edema) or death will occur.  Most climbers will use oxygen to climb and sleep at this altitude and above.  Generally, Sherpas refuse to sleep on the Lhotse face and will travel to either Camp II or Camp IV.

Camp IV is located at 26,300 feet. This is the final major camp for the summit push.  It is at this point that the climbers make their final preparations.  It is also a haven for worn-out climbers on their exhausting descent from summit attempts (both successful and not).  Sherpas or other climbers will often wait here with supplies and hot tea for returning climbers.

From Camp IV, climbers will push through the Balcony, at 27,500 feet, to the Hillary Step at 28,800 feet.  The Hillary Step, an over 70 foot rock step, is named after Sir. Edmond Hillary, who in 1953, along with Tenzing Norgay, became the first people to summit Everest.  The Hillary Step, which is climbed with fixed ropes, often becomes a bottleneck as only one climber can climb at a time.  Though the Hillary Step would not be difficult at sea level for experienced climbers, at Everest's altitude, it is considered the most technically challenging aspect of the climb.

Summit - 29,028 feet (8848 meters)

Once the climbers ascend the Hillary Step, they slowly and laboriously proceed to the summit at 29,028 feet.  The summit sits at the top of the world.  Though not the closest place to the sun due to the earth's curve, it is the highest peak on earth.  Due to the decreased air pressure, the summit contains less than one third the oxygen as at sea level.  If dropped off on the summit directly from sea level (impossible in reality), a person would die within minutes.  Typically, climbers achieving the great summit will take pictures, gain their composure, briefly enjoy the view, then return to Camp IV as quickly as possible.   The risk of staying at the summit and the exhaustion from achieving the summit is too great to permit climbers to fully enjoy the great accomplishment at that moment.  

As most readers of this page know, the return trip can be even more dangerous than the climb to the summit.

Pictures from Enrique Guallart-Furio web site http://ww2.encis.es/avent/

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