Monday, April 28, 2014

Everest 2014: All Eyes Turn North

With all of the climbing expeditions on Everest's South Side cancelled for the year, the mountain has gotten very quiet in terms of the usual activity we see in the spring. But not everyone is done with the world's tallest mountain, as there are still a number of teams climbing on the North Side in Tibet. It is estimated that about 100 climbers will attempt to summit from that side of the mountain in the weeks ahead, and while word of the turmoil on the South Side has no doubt reached their ears, they are busy preparing for the challenges they will face.

The 7 Summits Club is a fixture on the North Side, climbing there every spring season. This year, their team consists of 19 mountaineers, all of whom have moved up to Advanced Base Camp at 6400 meters (20,997 ft) as part of their acclimatization rotation. Their Sherpa team has also built their camp at the North Col, located at 7000 meters (22,965 ft), where they'll proceed upwards later this week. With the South Side teams now all gone, 7 Summit Clubs holds the distinction of being the largest team on the mountain, something I'm sure their guides never thought they'd see.

The Asian Trekking squad has been following a similar path, spending some time in ABC before descending back to Base Camp. This is all part of their normal acclimatization rotations as they get ready for the higher altitudes to come. If the weather cooperated, they had hoped to move up to the North Col this past weekend, but there hasn't been any word yet if they actually reached this point.

Climbing on the North Side of Everest is very different in a lot of way. Obviously the route to the summit is complete unique, with its own set of challenges that need to be overcome, including the infamous Second Step, which is negotiated with the help of a ladder. But aside from that, the climate in North Side Base Camp is quite different from that on the South Side. The Chinese control all aspects of the climb, and rather than having the large commercial teams working together to fix ropes, they employ a team of Sherpas with the specific task of ensuring a safe route to the summit. This allows the teams to focus on acclimatizing, while the ropes are installed by a completely independent group.


Of course, the North Side is also much less crowded. In recent years, the Chinese have shut down climbing on that side of Everest due to political unrest, and their own agenda for taking the Olympic torch so the summit a few years back. Because of the uncertainty this has created, many climbers have decided to go to the South Side in order to avoid these kinds of issues. While there hasn't been a shutdown for several years now, the North Side remains much quieter than the South as a result.

Updates from Everest will continue in the days and weeks ahead. There will be fewer teams to report on of course, but the season will continue to unfold as it always has. Look for the first summit bids to begin sometime around mid-May, depending on how the weather shapes up. Wish so few people still on the mountain, there could be just one or two summit waves, and then it'll all be over. We'll just have to wait to see how the season develops.

Back on the South Side, some Sherpas were flown to Camp 1 and 2 by helicopter to collect gear. They've stashed much of their supplies for next season at C2, which is an unprecedented move. Most of the teams have left the mountain, and are now on their way back home, while a few others will focus on some of the lesser peaks in the region before calling it a day. A great deal of uncertainty remains about the future of climbing on Everest in Nepal, and there will be many issues to resolve before the 2015 season gets underway. It will certainly be interesting to see how things shape up in the months ahead.

More updates will follow, both on the progress on the North Side, and the political developments.

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