Warming Weather Everest Spell Danger

Warming Weather Everest Spell Danger

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: Mountaineering

Mt. Everest Warming Closes Window to Summit

Have been climbing around the world for over 50 years...and warm weather is changing landscape and will shorten window for safe assaults.
My Favorite Climbing Route To summit Mount Everest, we chose the more difficult route on our second attempt, traveling the less traveled difficult route from Tibet to Nepal rather than the well-traveled but still challenging route from Nepal to Tibet.

On our ascent, we encountered big swings in temperatures, from -10 to -25 Centigrade; these temperatures do not include the windchill factors from the ice cold ever changing winds, which ranged from fairly calm to full impact hurricane force winds that required tethering to anything we could to remain stationary. Unpredictable, biting gusts can literally pick one up and deposit you meters away. Understand this well especially when pitching tents.

Memorable specific parts of route-We started our journey upwards with our clocks one moment functioning and the next jumping ahead, a phenom experienced by others as they were crossing into Tibet taking ancient buses up winding "roads" to ABC (Advanced Base Camp) at 17,000 feet near the Rongbuk Monastary; then crossing over a rocky moraine near the Glacier. We climbed up the Glacier to the North Col at 22,300 feet, ascending to Camp 2 at 24,600 feet, then climbing Everest's north face to Camp 3 at 27,200 feet. This was our point of no return, where we prepared both physically and mentally for an assault on the summit of Mount Everest, the highest mountain ( 29,035 ft)in the world. Note-our team knew from previous experience where we failed at the Death Zone to continue, that getting acclimated was one of the keys to success as none of us experienced nausea, high altitude sickness,forcing a team to stop dead in its tracks, the curse of so many failed climbs.

On this our second attempt, (the first was crushed after a team member broke an ankle), was also not without incident, reminding us of the many dangers involved when climbing Mount Everest. Falling and slipping when crimpons failed to grip surface, to losing stability over rock parts of which were hidden by snow, other parts melting,axes useless not dependable in ever changing weather and footholds one second snow, to ice to bare rock and back to snow hiding dangers hidden with each advanced meter gained-could have changed foot wear all day long and did.

Just a month before our summit attempt,May 2012 some friends (Dr. B.Schaaf) perished during their descent off Everest. This was during a weather respite, a calm weather window that was filled by those climbers who were not trained properly and prepared to rush, as cattle up the slopes. They did not realize the dangers that were presented to other climbers by their presence on the mountain.Remember for those who read this and wish to climb this icon, summiting takes guts, experience, proper equipment, sound planning for all eventualites, but the real danger is above 8000 meters descending.Most believe the danger is getting to the summit. Most deaths occur to climbers in the prime of their lives,well equipped, and the vast majority descending who perished.....were climbers suffering from various forms of edema,excessive fatigue, thin air-lack of O2, AMS,HACE, HAPE, hypothermia, avalanches, ice falls or snow blindness and "white outs" disorient and cause mountaineers to panic, make poor decisions leading to death or disappearance.

In a nutshell, this June climbing challenge was fraught with extremely severe ever changing weather patterns. These extreme conditions were not often seen before and even our skilled Sherpas were amazed as the terrain went from frozen to thawing in just meters.

The mountain landscape in the Himalayas has changed so much in a period of only two years, a change so dramatic that all of our training, which was based on previous first hand Himalayan experience, was all but useless. All of our team were experienced climbers, yet we constantly ran into the expected "unexpected," where ice led to rock and rock to ice,caused by low temps, ever drifting snow, and the wind velocities we expected. These factors often led us into dangers which lurked at every step upward. We were constantly changing our foot gear since nothing seemed reliable.Yes, we did have one incident causing the writer broken ribs yet we summited. Attitude in climbing determines altitude.

Lessons Learned
Weather conditions really make Mt. Everest more difficult to climb than other mountains, even though less technically challenging. Widely variable temperatures coupled with unpredictable areas of melting snow leave open sections of slippery bare rock, which were once easy snow slopes, that are now so dangerous to cross as one is never sure of ones footing. Snow is a blessing for it affords a certain stability, almost like glue binding terra into a mass, rather than loose unstable elements. Bare rock is not a friend to the Everest climber, and as time goes on and as the terra temperatures warm, the challenges and dangers increase exponentially.

High altitude farmers in the mountainous region, whose families have lived on the rugged alpine terrain for centuries, have also experienced severe changing climatic conditions that challenge their agricultural traditions. Experienced climbers know that the changing weather has created a smaller window for safe summit attempts.

By Dr. Korman in memory of Jerry Weitzman. RIP

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