Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Everest 2014: Timetable for Summit Bids From North and South Sides Set

While teams across the Himalaya found success this past weekend, the teams on Everest have been left out of the summit party so far. That should change later this week, when the Sherpas on the North Side of the mountain complete their rope fixing duties, clearing the way for the 100, or so, climbers there to launch their final push to the top. Those summit bids should begin late in the week, with the first teams topping out this coming weekend.

High winds, and generally poor weather, have prevented the ropes from being installed thus far, which has pushed the summit dates back a bit later than is typical on Everest. But there is still plenty of time before the arrival of the seasonal monsoons, and a solid weather window is in the forecast over the next few days. Because it will be late in May before the first summits, I suspect this will be the one and only weather window this spring. How long it stays open remains to be seen, but fortunately the crowds aren't large this year, and everyone should have the opportunity to get up and down quickly and safely.

Of course, there is a lot of interest on what is happening on the South Side of the mountain, where American climber Cleo Weidlich and Chinese climber Jing Wang have defied the shut down of the mountain to complete their individual expeditions. Weidlich has been eyeing the summit of Lhotse, while Wang wants to top out on Everest itself as part of her bid to complete the Explorers Grand Slam (7 summits, plus two Poles) in the fastest time possible. At the moment, there are some conflicting reports as to what is happening with these two ladies, although it appears that they could be going for their respective summits in the next few days as well.

Alan Arnette received an update directly from Nepal, courtesy of our friend Jon Miller of the Rest of Everest podcast. Jon has been leading a trek through Bhutan and Nepal, and was in Everest Base Camp over the past few days. He tells Alan that Cleo was in Camp 3, along with two Sherpas, and is hoping to top out late this week. Jing Wang is said to still be in Camp 2, with seven Sherpas (2 cooks, 5 climbing guides) and is eyeing a summit attempt on May 24, which would be this Saturday.

Oddly enough, that update was written late yesterday, and this morning Alan has added that he is hearing conflicting reports that indicate that Cleo may have left the mountain altogether at the end of last week. No source for that information is cited, but Alan usually has excellent information from the Himalaya in general, and Everest in particular. His sources have lso indicated that Jing has had 19 chopper flights to Camp 2 to deliver supplies, gear, and extra oxygen for her team.

Whether or not Cleo is still on the mountain, climbers who have been with her on past expeditions say that she may have a bit of an axe to grind with the Sherpas. In 2011, she ran into some trouble while on the descent from the summit of Kangchenjunga, and was abandoned by her Sherpa guides. Left to die on the mountain, she was saved by her teammates, but when they asked one of the Sherpas to provide them with bottled oxygen, he refused to hand it over unless they coughed up an extra $400. With that in mind, it is a bit easier to understand why she might try to climb Lhotse against the wishes of the Sherpas there.

I have heard from several readers who inquired about whether or not a successful summit on the part of Cleo or Jing would be officially recognized since they have effectively skipped a large section of the mountain. Using a helicopter to fly further up a mountain to begin the climb is not unheard of in mountaineering, but it hasn't been used previously on Everest. Whether or not their efforts will be recognized will have to be answered at a later date however, as first they must reach the top of their respective mountains. Then the debate can begin, and I suspect most will wait to hear how Ms. Elizabeth Hawley rules on the matter. She is, after all, the final say in all summits. It'll be interesting to see how she reacts to all of this.

That's the update from Everest right now. Expect further news later in the week. Summit bid will begin over the next few days, and we should know more soon about the status of all of the teams.

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