Today our expedition took a new turn. Poor conditions on the West Ridge—in particular the Hornbein Couloir—have made that climbing route unsafe. The West Ridge leg of the climb has been officially called off.
Expedition leader Conrad Anker explains:
“It’s a very dry and windy season. Normally we have terrain that’s snowy. Your crampons have good purchase, and you can move along at a good clip. But what we have now is that that surface layer of snow has been stripped away, leaving bare ice. It’s very ancient ice that’s difficult to climb on.”
Anker’s original plan was to climb the West Ridge and traverse the mountain, ultimately traveling down the Southeast Ridge just as Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld—on the first team of Americans to summit Everest—did in 1963. But, Anker notes, “In 1963 they were in knee-deep snow in the Hornbein Couloir. We would have had blue ice and then two pitches where it was completely melted out. The risk of rockfall was too great. That’s just the nature of the mountain. Some seasons the routes are not in shape. Pre-monsoon 2012 is a dry year.”
“So now our goal is to focus our efforts on the South Col,” says Anker, who is now working to get a permit to climb that route.
“It’s really great to have an Everest expedition,” he says. “Not everything goes as planned. And choosing not to climb the West Ridge is, yeah, it’s tough, but it’s also the sensible thing to do from an experienced climber’s—an alpinist’s—perspective.”