So far it has been a sad, bad year on the south side of Everest. Due to an extremely dry, windy spring, both the Khumbu Icefall and the Lhotse Face were more dangerous than usual early on. One of the biggest guide services, Himalayan Experience, completely pulled the plug due to these dangers. The National Geographic/The North Face West Ridge team failed even to reach the West Shoulder, as did the First Ascent/Eddie Bauer West Ridge team; icy, high rockfall conditions forced both teams to give up that route.
In the past month, one Sherpa died of a stroke, one of alcohol poisoning, and another fell into a crevasse after failing to clip the safety lines. One Sherpa was swept into a crevasse by an avalanche, but survived—despite three broken ribs and two broken vertebrae. Another Sherpa was hit by a falling serac on the Lhotse Face, sustaining a broken arm and leg. This all happened before the summit push during the first window of good weather, May 18 and 19.
According to guides who have worked on this mountain for years, more people—perhaps as many as 300—went for the summit during this two-day period than almost any other year in Everest climbing history. Unfortunately, as might be expected with so many people high on the mountain, there were accidents. It appears that three people are confirmed dead and two missing. Their names and nationalities will not be released until next of kin are notified. There have also been an unknown number of frostbite and pulmonary edema cases. As of this writing, the number of people who have summited is also unknown.
Realistically, there is only one more summit window left for this season, May 25 to 26. The six-member National Geographic/The North Face team—Conrad, Kris, Hilaree, Sam, Emily and me—will be leaving Base Camp this morning, May 21, at 3 a.m., for our four-day summit push. The plan is to spend two nights at Camp 2, one night at Camp 3, one day at Camp 4, then go for the summit during the night of May 24. The North Face athletes also have a permit to climb Lhotse, so if they are still strong and the weather holds, some members might try this 8,516-meter peak adjacent to Everest.
Wish us luck and good weather.