Friday, 29 May 2015

Everest, part II

This article is based on the article "Everest" which was written earlier this month.

From the first ascent of Everest, the numbers of people climbing the mountain quickly increased. Only a decade after the first ascent, an expedition was led up Everest via the incredibly dangerous west ridge route. When forty people made it to the top in one day, a controversy began. Soon enough, the Nepali government closed Everest to all but four expeditions, for only one year. During that year, all the climbers climbed up the north side of Everest, which was thought to be more dangerous. The Nepali government let more groups up Everest, and the next year on Everest was busier than ever.

Even with an increasing amount of people climbing Everest, there have been several controversies since. The root of the first and longest-running controversy was a storm in 1996. Sixteen expeditions were getting ready to climb Everest from the south side that year. Guided expeditions were competing with each other, trying to get the most clients possible to the top of the world.

Three expeditions were on high camp on the night of May 9. There was a noncommercial Taiwanese expedition, and two guided expeditions. The Sherpas were slow stringing fixed lines up the southeast ridge, and it took hours to fix lines to the top of the Hillary Step, a step of rock half an hour below the summit.
The earliest climbers reached the summit by 1:00, which would normally have been a safe turnaround time. The bulk of the climbers summited around 2:00, but people kept on arriving at the summit until 4:00.

Very few people were back in their tents at high camp by the time the storm struck. It came from the south, and was the remnants of a typhoon in the bay of Bengal. It came very quickly, and swept in from below.

A group of people arrived at the flats of the South Col, where the high camp was, but they could not see the tents and quickly got lost. Amazingly strong wind ripped across the South Col, countering the lost climbers, who had just found out where camp was, in the direction of the wind. Wind chill was minus 100 that night. Soon the group collapsed behind a boulder, unable to go further. Two people in the group succumbed to frostbite, one of which died, and one of which was left for dead.

Meanwhile, at the Hillary Step, three climbers were in a desperate struggle for their lives. The climbers included Rob Hall, the leader of a commercial expedition. Two other climbers died of unknown reasons. Rob Hall stayed alive, in the storm, for twenty-four hours before dying of frostbite. Below, at a place called the Balcony, the two other expedition leaders were dying of frostbite. The noncommercial expedition leader, Makalu Gau, was rescued later but lost all of his fingers and toes.

After the disaster, the press tried to blame people for the disaster. The press tried to blame Rob Hall, who had not reinforced the turnaround time at the day, Doug Hansen, a climber crazy with summit fever, who died with Hall, and Anatoli Boukreev, a Russian guide who climbed Everest without supplemental oxygen, and descended far ahead of his teammates. The press did not realize many important things, like how the lack of oxygen must have acted on people's minds that day. Boukreev also spearheaded a rescue attempt for the lost climbers on the South Col, which he could not have done without rest.

There have been several controversies since. The most famous of them circled around the death of David Sharp. Sharp climbed the mountain alone, without Sherpa support. What exactly happened was unknown, but some hours after Sharp began his push for the summit, a group of climbers walked by a climber that was dying of frostbite just below the summit. The group of climbers did not stop to rescue him, as they simply thought he was a member of a commercial expedition that had already made the fateful decision to abandon him.

After more than fifty climbers had passed the dying climber, very few people tried to help him, and many of these people were from noncommercial expeditions. Gradually, the climber's legs curled from frostbite, and he died. Only later did anyone find out he was climbing alone.

A little later in the season, at 26 May, Australian climber was found alive after being declared dead the day before. These people sacrificed their own summit attempt to rescue Hall, and he later made a full recovery. This shows that people attempting the summit should value other's lives over their summit.

Where are all these places?

This is a brief overview of the Southeast Ridge Route of Everest:

Base camp is at the head of a valley which reaches deep into the Everest massif. Climbers fly to the base of the valley and trek for ten days to the foot of Everest.

The first obstacle out of base camp is the Khumbu Icefall. This part of the glacier, sometimes named "suicide popcorn ball" because of the maze of shifting seracs, is the most deadly part of the mountain. Camp I is just above the Icefall.

Above the icefall is the Western Cwm, or valley, which is called the "valley of silence". Camp II, or advanced base camp, is a very safe, provisioned camp. Above the camp is the Lhotse Face, which is the subject of frequent avalanches. Halfway up the face is the steep, barren Camp III. At the top is the South Col, a rocky, windy area of flat ground. Climbers normally begin their summit push from here, but Edmund Hillary set up another camp, at the Balcony, which is three hours above the South Col.

Both camps are in the Death Zone, an area above 8,000 meters above sea level. The Death Zone is an area most people need bottled oxygen for. At 28,000 feet is a mound of snow called the South Summit. At 28,500 feet is the final challenge, a step of black rock known as the Hillary Step. From there, it is relatively easy walking to the summit. Most climbers are exhausted by the trip to the summit, and use every drop of energy on the way down.

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