Everest Without a Summit?
By Robert Chang
Mount Everest Base Camp
(17,500 feet), Nepal - The highest peak on earth is synonymous for climbing,
great human challenge and tragedy - but this year, for the first time in many
decades - there is a chance that it will become known for something that has
not occurred for numerous climbing generations, no human reaching its top from
the south side - the Nepal side.
I have been on Everest for
the past 60 days with my team of 3 close friends, waiting out what has become
some of the most unusual weather since the peak was first climbed in 1953. My
expedition, the Everest Climbing For A Cure Expedition, came here to raise
awareness for breast cancer. Being a resident of the Santa Clara, California,
Everest is a far place from the Sierra and nice confines of the South Bay
Area. But the allure of one human kinds greatest physical achievements in
combination with the opportunity to promote cancer awareness and a healthy
lifestyle, made Mount Everest an ideal candidate for us to "climb to benefit
Anchored by my intimate
experience in watching my oldest sister die from cancer in 2001, I decided to
form a grass roots organization called climbing for a cure. Its focus is to
raise awareness and funds for other prominent cancer organizations through
climbing the high peaks in the world.
In 2002, I was diagnosed with
Graves disease, and subsequently had my thyroid gland irradiated and am now a
daily taker of thyroid medication to balance my hormone levels for the rest of
my life, not making my Everest aspirations any simpler or easier.
When we arrived here in
Katmandu, Nepal in late March, our plans were ones of straightforward lists
and of personal dedication. Our Sirdar, or Nepali team leader, Apa Sherpa, is
famous throughout the climbing world for his record 14 summits of Mount
Everest. His leadership and insight are an integral part of our small yet
highly skilled team.
Early and in the mid-part of
the season, Everest beared her fangs on the south side, taking two lives - one
of a Canadian, and one of an American. One of our friends here in Base Camp
was a partner to the American and the day of the incident, our camp was the
first one he stopped in at after the fatality for which he was witness to. His
first hand story to our team was one of the dangers of climbing on the highest
peak on earth and hammered into our psyche the reality of how mortal all of us
are who come onto Everest's slopes. An eerie feeling set into my mind as I
discovered that the rescue operation that I was video taping earlier in the
day from far down in Base Camp was an event of someone actually losing their
We have had numerous reports
of climbers topping out on the Northside of Everest, from the Tibet side, but
with a price. Frostbite, loss of life, all have occurred, so our summit plans
are tempered by our judgment and agreement to what my team is willing to give
up for a shot for the top. Our strategy truly is round trip, there is not a
all or nothing attitude here, and safety is a word that is for once in many
decades, is resonating through out Base Camp.
Many big and small teams have
formed a coalition, being organized by some of the most experienced and
veteran climbers that Everest has to offer. There has been a plan laid out to
share summit strategies, oxygen, camps, ropes, equipment high on the
mountain. My team's Base Camp Manager has even become the "clearing house"
and keeper of details for this master plan and for once, contrary to common
past practice, most teams here have contributed and have come together to make
a summit bid as safe as it possibly can be, if there is such a thing here.
Talk among our Sherpa staff,
the native people who bear the real brunt of equipment carrying and climbing
responsibilities, and they say Everest is mad this year. We have had many
traditional Buddhist prayer ceremonies to try to clear the air, but to no
avail, high wind speeds up to 100mph and cold temperatures down to minus 50F
have plagued the upper slopes of the mountain. Each team is allowed to stay
here 75 days from the point of entry into the region.
Our days are ticking, but
even more on our minds is the condition of the famed and treacherous Khumbu
Ice Fall. More climbers have been killed in the Ice Fall than most other
places on Everest. Typically, this late in the season, it would be crumbling
and flowing with water due to warm weather brought in by the monsoon season of
Asia. This year it is different, the monsoon was not early, and the Ice Fall
is still in fair condition. But given 48 hours of warm weather, and all those
in camps above could be trapped by the melt of this labyrinth of ice, seracs,
snow, crevasses and rock.
Our weather forecasts are
improving somewhat, we plan to give our team one shot at the top, leaving for
the summit on May 26 to Camp 2, and hopefully summiting around May 29 or 30th
if the weather cooperates. If the weather turns for the worse once again and
the official climbing season closes, we will be personal witnesses to one
mountaineering's most notable and memorable occurrences, no human summiting
the top of the highest peak of the world from Nepal in many generations.
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