Thursday, May 22, 2014

Everest 2014: Trouble on the North Side?

With a weather window approaching over the next few days, it looks like the summit bids will finally begin on Mt. Everest. In fact, if everything holds to schedule, we should see the teams begin to move up the mountain today or tomorrow in order to be in position to take advantage of the improved weather conditions. Reports out of Tibet indicate that rope fixing should be completed tomorrow, or Saturday at the latest, with most of the climbers looking to top out on Sunday. That said, it doesn't seem that everyone has been happy with how things are progressing on the North Side of Everest, as one team leader has expressed his displeasure with the bureaucracy on that side of the mountain.

Earlier in the week, Matthew Xerri of the Maltese Team wrote the following on their Facebook page:
"Fighting red tape and bureaucracy at advance base camp instead of altitude and gravity. Everest climbers are forced to miss the optimal weather to climb to the summit due to mess-up with route fixing. Our summit dreams might be ebbing away as the season comes to an end and the Chinese still refuse to open the route."
As you probably already know, unlike on the South Side, where the large commercial teams work together to fix the ropes, on the North Side, that job is handled by the China-Tibet Mountaineering Association (CTMA). That means if you want to climb from that side of the mountain, you have to be willing to accept the schedule set down by the Chinese, and wait for their handpicked squad of Sherpas to install the ropes. This year, it has been taking longer than usual to get the ropes into place, and even as I write this, the final section from 8300 meters (27,230 ft) to the summit need to be installed.


Considering most of the summits usually take place on Everest around May 15 each year, you can begin to understand why there has been some concern. We're already a week past that date, and still there have been no summits. If you read into Xerri's comments, it also suggests there have been some mistakes made with the rope fixing as well, which may have delayed things further. Considering the seasonal monsoons are now just days away, this weekend will likely be the one, and only, summit push this year.

As a follow-up, earlier today Matthew posted the following to Facebook as well:
"In a few hours' time the Everest 14 team will be heading off for the final summit bid. Yesterday was a productive day. After long discussions with the Chinese teams, and detailed scrutiny of the weather reports, the possibility of a summit window opening up on 25 May is slowly taking shape.
The team still needs a break in the weather to make their attempt and will leave from camp 2 on the morning of the 24th."
So, while he now seems to have accepted the schedule that is taking shape, it sounds like it is still unclear whether or not the weather will cooperate enough to allow summit bids this weekend. The teams will move into position with the hope that it will none the less.

The Adventure Peaks team has checked in with an update confirming the plan to finish fixing the ropes tomorrow, assuming winds on the summit die down today. They're eyeing a Sunday summit bid as well, although their forecasts indicate this will be a narrow weather window indeed. Winds are projected to pick up again on Monday, May 26, which could effectively close off the summit for the season. That means, that if the weather does not cooperate this weekend, there is the possibility of no summits on Everest this spring.

Similarly, the 7 Summits Club is already on the move in anticipation of the change in weather ahead. Their two teams climbed up to ABC last weekend, and are now moving up to Camp 2 today with the hoes of being in position for when the weather changes. The first of those squads is expecting to summit on Sunday (May 25), while the second team will follow suit on Monday (May 26), weather permitting.

So, the stage seems to be set. Lets keep our fingers crossed that the projected weather window opens as expected, and teams get up and down the mountain safely. It has been a strange year on Everest to say the least, and the last thing we need now is more tragedy or controversy. We'll know a lot more over the next few days.


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