October 8, 2006 New Permit for Everest South Col Route Autumn 2006 to be Issued on October 8th??!!
The word from Cho Oyu climbers is that their long season is over just in time. On the North side of Everest, the remarkable Spanish Team has just turned back from a bold, well executed attempt to climb the Super Couloir alpine style. One can only envy them and admire them for having the entire north side of Everest to themselves this post-monsoon season. They conceived and executed a daring expedition.
The meteorologists are assuring me that the jet stream is still north of Everest, but “heading this way”. So it must be time to put a wrap on this season’s Himalayan climbing picture. Not so fast.
The Berg Adventures Everest 2006 team is strong, motivated and pumped for some more great climbing (and skiing) high on Everest this month. Are we concerned about winds? Of course, but we are just as concerned about a slowly retreating monsoon that might leave us with another big dump of snow such as we saw over five days in September. When you are dealing with the West Shoulder of Everest which hangs over the Khumbu Icefall and with the Lhotse Face which leads up to the South Col, avalanches will kill you, wind is your friend. The drying effect of the Northwest winds we are seeing this week will allow us to advance on this route.
Today Bryce, Dave, Jimmy, Kit, Rob and Mingma Ongel are moving up to Camp III for the night. Michael and Danuru are descending to Base for a well-deserved rest. The winds are down and the Camp III team is already advancing quickly up the Lhotse Face. Jimmy’s description of he and Rob making their ski run down from 23,500 feet (7160m) on the South Pillar side of the Lhotse Face over the radio last night had me whooping for joy for them.
In short we are where we want to be. I am confident that we have the strength in numbers (strong Sherpa team) and the strength in commitment, skill and desire to make great things happen in the coming days on the South Col Route.
Speaking of strength in numbers….
We not alone here. There is a Korean team of 7 members and 4 Sherpas with a permit to climb Lhotse. After we arrived in Kathmandu in August I was contacted by the Nepalese agent for this team and told that they were an “Everest Lhotse” expedition and that they requested that I add some of their climbing members to the Berg Adventures Everest permit. This team was still home in Korea, but I was told they were very interested in “joining” my team. This was an easy decision for me. I politely said no, that our team was complete.
If you have been on Everest in recent years the motivations and assumptions of the Korean team will be well known to you. For approximately $10,000 each (I would be free to mark the price up a bit of course) they could add some of their members to my existing permit. This would be much cheaper than obtaining their own permit.
But what about a team? What about a group of people who know one another and share a common system of organization and leadership? Language? Equipment and climbing style? Pre-trip organization and planning? Sharing a few laughs together somewhere other than on Everest?
Much has been written recently about the “mess on Everest” and the lack of organization, leadership and effective, safe operation of expeditions. I will save most of my thoughts on this for another time, but I will suggest briefly here that if every foreign team came into to Nepal as a group of people who already knew one another and who understood and agreed upon a common leadership model and organizational structure there would be much less of a “mess on Everest”, less death, less disappointment, less theft, less confusion and most importantly, more respect for the mountain.
I am enough of an old school expedition leader to not want members who I do not know on my team for the sake of economic convenience, or to circumvent the intent of the regulations of the country in which I am climbing.
So the Koreans bought their own Lhotse permit for far less than they would have paid for the combined Everest Lhotse permit. Change of goal. No Everest, Lhotse only for the entire team.
They came to Base Camp with an awful lot of oxygen however. And we quickly learned from all the trekkers who they met along the way that they were an “Everest Team.” Now some of my best friends have been known to stretch the truth to impress trekkers, but I began to suspect this was not talk to score points in tea shop tale-telling; these guys came to climb Everest, with or without a permit.
Our route through the Khumbu Icefall had been completed before the Korean team left Lukla. Back in Kathmandu they had raised quite a fuss about not owing anything more than the $2400 USD that the SPCC had charged each of 19 or 20 teams for the Icefall Route last spring. Of course the SPCC did not do the Icefall route this season, our team did. Besides not wanting to see an organization that I support so much have to take a loss on the Icefall this season, I knew from my 2003 autumn expedition that I wanted the Icefall route put in much faster. That year we allowed only 3 “Icefall Doctors” paid by the SPCC to do the Icefall and they finished the route September 15th. This year all our Sherpa team worked on the Icefall and we established Camp I one week earlier on Sept 8th.
The day of the Korean briefing at the Ministry of Tourism, I was talking from the Khumbu by satellite phone to mobile phone with the Korean agent and the Under Secretary at the Ministry. When I asked that they pay exactly as much as each team paid the SPCC the last time there were two teams sharing the icefall, in autumn 2003, they indignantly declared “we will go to Tibet!”
I took the opportunity to tell them by telephone that I thought that it was a wonderful idea that they go to Tibet to climb Lhotse, Everest or whatever they like.
The Korean team did not go to Tibet of course. No one there had begun to fix lines for them. They reluctantly put down the amount SPCC had received per team in fall 2003 for the icefall and began their trek to Base Camp.
Here at Base our relationship with the Korean team began to improve. The first day they arrived their climbing leader, Go Young Kuk, and I met and he declared “no more writing” about our written agreement for the icefall expenses. Then the Sherpas from both teams cheered as Go Young Kuk and I hugged. Two nights later we received an evening mealtime gift of a steaming pot of snails. Kit ate the most snails as I recall, although nearly the entire team enjoyed sampling the delicacy from our friends.
During the snowstorm I began to have some doubts about our fellow Icefall / Western Cwm climbers. On two consecutive mornings I was approached by the members of the team about “rescuing” or “going to get” two of their members who were staying at Camp I. I explained on both occasions that the avalanche hazard was too high and that no one should be moving from any camp. The second morning there was a pleading sense of urgency to the request: “our leader has diarrhea and is vomiting”.
Avalanches were running every where. The only real concern about the Koreans at Camp I of course was did they have fuel to melt water and were their radios working. Both answers were affirmative. The answer we do not have is if the Korean team even considered going to get their own sick members or of having their Sherpas go. Regardless, I am glad they did not. It would not have been safe and there was not reason to do so.
I will pass a judgment here. This team seems to me to be the sort that has been persistently selling Everest short in recent years. They probably do not believe the mountain is as serious as it used to be. One common attitude that is evident in many Everest climbers these days is: “don’t worry there will be a lot of experienced people around”. I told the Koreans in one of our early discussions that I thought the spring was a much better time for a team such as theirs. But actually I do not think that. If anything I think all the problems associated with the spring season on both sides of the mountain arise precisely from the notion that lines will be fixed, rescue services will be available, there are plenty of doctors around, etc.
Twenty-four years ago this autumn there were two teams on this route together. Even though I have friends who were members of each of these teams, I was not here and do not know that much about how they viewed one another. But I do think the first Canadian Everest Team in autumn 1982 and their New Zealand counterparts who they shared the route with, came as independent, self-sufficient peers. Something tells me that both teams were awed and inspired enough by the very idea of being on Everest that they came well prepared.
The situation today, October 6th is that our team is fixing line to the Yellow Band. It will be necessary for the Koreans to climb through the Yellow Band to complete either or both of their routes, Lhotse and Everest. Yet when we asked for help we were told that their Sherpas were tired and needed to rest. When we asked for fixed line or anchors to use on the route we were told they had none.
Today when Michael Boni and Danuru were descending the icefall on their way back to Base they were stopped by one on the Koreans. Seeming to be annoyed that any of our team was heading down, he demanded to know, “are the lines to the South Col fixed yet?”
How do I know the Koreans are still attempting two summits this fall? Well, they called my bluff or I called theirs, I am not sure which. But last week their agent took $48,000 dollars to the Ministry of Tourism to purchase an Everest permit for three of their members, Go Young Kuk, Kim Young Hak, and Go Woo Seck. Due to the Dashin holidays, the most important festival time of the year for Hindu Nepal, the Koreans were told that they must wait for the permit to be issued until the first post-holiday business day, probably this Sunday, October 8th.
One team, two mountains, four Sherpas. I won’t say there aren’t teams in the world that could come here legitimately in that style, but I will say this is not one of those teams.
The last time before this season there was a permit issued for the South Col route in the autumn was Berg Adventures Everest 2003. That season we shared the icefall with Ben Webster’s very well organized Canadian film team that was operating with a Nuptse permit. In 2004 there was no one here in the fall. In 2005 the same, no team came. This year we are not alone; would the Korean’s be here with their four Sherpas if we were not here?
I know the mountains well enough to know that things can turn, surprises can and will happen. High on Everest we might find we need our Korean friends. We might not care a lick about fixing all the line to get them to the South Col and above, we might find strong, willing and able climbers on hand when we need them. Our expedition lama, Lama Geshi only talked about being kind to all living beings on the day he blessed us for our climb. We wanted to hear about reaching the top, or being strong, but he mostly spoke of being kind. And I know the one lesson big mountains have always taught me is humility. Chomolonga will have two small teams of vain humans on her southern slopes in the coming days. The new Government of Nepal will be $48,000 richer on Sunday…
And the jet stream moves steadily to the south.