Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Himalaya 2014: Waiting for a Weather Window

It has been a week or so since I posted a general update from the Himalaya. During that time, not much has changed, as most of the teams have been simply waiting for a weather window to open. As the middle of May fast approaches, most of the climbers are now acclimated, and are just biding their time for the right opportunity to come. Over the past week, high winds and snow have been common across the entire region, but that is about to change, signaling the start of summit pushes on several mountains.

We'll start on the North Side of Everest, where roughly 100 climbers are waiting for their opportunity to go up the hill. Rope fixing is complete up to Camp 3, located at 8300 meters (27,230 ft), but high winds are preventing anyone from going any higher at the moment. Until the Sherpa team from the Chinese-Tibet Mountaineering Association can complete the job of installing the ropes, no one will be able to summit. But a weather window is approaching, and most teams are now expecting their summit pushes to begin next week. Expect possible summits on May 21. Until then, the teams are resting in Base Camp.

Over on the South Side, there continue to be reports of guerrilla climbers who are defying the closure of the mountain to make their own attempts on the summit. As previously mentioned, they include American Cleo Weidlich and Chinese mountaineer Jing Wang, both of whom have reportedly chartered a helicopter to fly them to Camp 2, thus avoiding the dangerous Khumbu Icefall. Rumor has it, these two women may not be alone on the mountain. At least not for long. There are some indications that others may try to join them at Camp 2, using the same helicopter. These stories only help to perpetuate what has already been a strange season on Everest. What happens from here will certainly be interesting to watch unfold, and will make a great story for sure.


Elsewhere, Mike Horn and Fred Roux are prepping for their summit bid on Makalu. They've been waiting for a good window for some time as well, and it looks like it'll come late this week. They hope to begin their push on Friday, and summit over the weekend. They had been planning on an alpine style ascent, but considering the delays, and the general schedule at this point, it appears they'll be moving up with the rest of the teams on the mountain. They will climb without the use of supplemental oxygen, or Sherpa support however.

Aussie climber Chris Jensen Burke is also on Makalu, and she reported in from ABC yesterday. She says that her team is ready to go as well, but high winds are keeping them grounded for now. They are eyeing a summit bid this weekend as well however, with the current schedule having the push set to begin on May 14 or 15, with everyone topping out on May 17 or 18. She indicated that rope fixing is nearly complete, and while there are some challenging sections that will need to be overcome along the way, she is feeling confident as she prepares to head up.

Jumping over to Cho Oyu, Mike and Matt Moniz are in a holding pattern as well. The weather has been poor there too, and it looks like it'll only get worse next week. They are now eyeing a narrow weather window which will arrive over the weekend. The winds are expected to die down on the summit on May 17, which may give them the opportunity they need to dash to the top, and get back down. Hopefully they'll be able to achieve their objective in that time frame.

Denis Urubko has posted an update from Kangchenjunga, where he and his team are attempting a new route along the North Ride. After acclimatizing for some time on the standard route, they are now preparing to begin the real work they came to the Himalaya for. The first pair of climber moved up to Camp 1 yesterday, and should push ahead to Camp 3 today. That will put them at 7500 meters (24,606 ft), with some tricky rock faces to overcome. Denis reports that high winds have been an issue there as well, and that they'll need to die down before they can make their true push to the top. As is usual with this team, they are climbing in alpine style, without Sherpa support, and without oxygen.

Finally, a quick note on Annapurna. You haven't heard me mention it much this season, but there were a couple of summit attempts on the mountain a few weeks back. But conditions were once again far too dangerous, and all climbers were turned back before they could reach the top. Those expeditions then picked up their gear and left Base Camp, determining that Annapurna was simply too dangerous to climb this spring. This is the second year in a row without any successful summits on this mountain during the spring. Last year, there were several summits during the fall, so we'll have to wait to see if success can be found there once again.

That's all for now. More soon.

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