Aspenites in position for Mt. Everest summit bids
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Mountaineers always talk about windows of opportunity – those finite moments when weather and conditions combine to afford safe passage to a summit.
Well, on Mount Everest the winds have subsided, for now at least, and climbers situated high on its flanks are all but talking. Now, it’s time for action.
For Aspen’s Ted Mahon, the window opens Thursday.
Mahon, 30, one of the five finalists in the Global Extremes live TV expedition, is scheduled to make a summit bid before a live audience on the Outdoor Life Network. The team’s climb will be broadcast live, beginning at 1:30 p.m. Thursday (Aspen time) until it’s conclusion, presumably early Friday morning.
Likewise, the Ski Everest Expedition led by Aspen twins Steve and Mike Marolt is in the process of positioning themselves to make a summit attempt between Friday and Sunday (local time), before the next weather system is forecast to storm the mountain on Monday, May 26.
Until then, forecasts are favorable, with clear weather and minimal wind, and hence, of course, lots and lots of climbers.
“The team is really fit, healthy and excited,” Chris Warner, the guide leading the Global Extremes team under venerable guide Russell Brice, said in a May 18 dispatch posted on http://www.sports.yahoo.com. “My hopes are high: I know that we’ve done everything we can to be ready. Let’s just pray that Chomolungma, the mother goddess of Earth, is full of benevolence on the 23rd,” which is the 22nd, or Thursday, in the States.
As of reports posted yesterday, no climbers had reached the summit. In fact, for much of the month climbers have been in a constant struggle to keep their camps intact as heavy winds buffeted the peak, shredding camps and supplies.
However, it should be noted that at least two teams have summitted Lhotse, the 27,890-foot companion to Everest, and a team of Japanese reached Everest’s infamous Second Step, approximately 28,000-feet, earlier this week before turning around due to wind, according to a dispatch from Aspen’s Mike Marolt posted on http://www.everestnews.com.
“Right now, the weather is not good enough for a successful summit bid,” Mike Marolt said in a May 19 dispatch on http://www.everestnews.com. “But I think people are hoping in the next two to three days [that] the weather will clear up, and this is what the forecasts say.
“Because we do not have Sherpas like the other teams, we could not keep that schedule … Another storm is expected on the 27th, [and] the 24th, 25th, 26th appears like the window, but we will need to confirm that with the weather reports. It is not blowing on top at this minute; we will see. …
“There is an unbelievable amount of people going up for their summit bids right now,” Marolt continued. “I looked on the lower route and counted 30 people at one point, then I looked on the higher route and saw about another 30 people going up. So it is going to be real busy up there in the next few days.”
The Global Extremes team and the Marolt team are both climbing the Northeast Ridge route, one of the two popular trade routes on Everest. At the North Col, approximately 23,000 feet, the climb begins in earnest, with the Northeast Ridge hovering 6,000 feet above, it’s fabled First, Second and Third Steps guarding the summit in a left-to-right progression.
At 28,000 feet, the route traverses the north side of the ridge for nearly a mile – or two miles round trip – contouring up the final 1,000 feet to the summit in a series of steep snow ramps and rock bands. All the while, climbers are above one of the biggest walls in the world, the 10,000-foot true North Face.
“It’s rather exposed, certainly the most treacherous part of the route,” Bob Sloezen, an international mountain guide from Aspen who summited Everest three times (1991, 1994 and 1998) via the Northeast Ridge, said in an April interview. “It’s steep and loose and there’s no purchase for your ice axe or crampons; loose, crumbly rock is flaking off beneath you.
“The deal with this route is that you’re above 28,000 feet for so long. You’re gonna spend three or four hours up there, and there’s a lot of tricky spots. That’s why a climber will tell you this is a good route,” Sloezen continued.
The crux of the route is the Second Step, where climbers must negotiate a rock chimney Sloezen rates a 5.7, up to a snow ramp and the infamously rickety Chinese ladder over a vertical headwall.
“The weather forecasts are downloaded twice a day and Russ [Brice] and I go over the data with a fine tooth comb,” Warner, the Global Extremes guide, wrote in the May 18 dispatch posted at http://www.sports.yahoo.com.
“We have been hoping that this week would supply us with enough good days to finish stocking camps, move the satellite reflector into position [needed for relaying TV signals from the North Col to the base camp studios], and tag the summit. …
“Once we begin the broadcast … things should get exciting. I feel like we are in great hands from a production point of view. I’ve seen a lot of features that the OLN team has produced and they are excellent. Folks like Reinhold Messner, Ed and Peter Hillary, Ed Viesturs, Pete Athens, Conrad Anker, Stacy Allison, Dick Bass and many others contributed to the historical and educational pieces that will fill the space between the labored breathing and the stunning views that the high-altitude cameramen will capture.”
Warner will be wearing a “point of view” camera and microphone, along with still photographer Jake Norton. The Global Extremes team, comprised of Mahon, Jesse Rickert, Colleen Ihnken and Petit Pinson (one finalist dropped out), will be wearing microphones, and cameramen Mark Whetu and Mike Brown will be racing ahead of the team to document the climb as it goes.
Meanwhile, in a dome tent at base camp Conrad Anker and Craig Hummer will be calling the “play-by-play” of the climb.
“Right now, it is time to pack,” Warner continued in the May 18 dispatch on http://www.sports.yahoo.com. “We are each carrying 5.5 days worth of food – pretty basic diets of cookies, GU packets and GU2O powdered drink mix. I’m adding in a stove top espresso maker and about a pound of excellent, custom-roasted blend. Stashed at Camp 1 on the North Col are our down suits and La Sportiva Olympus Mons mountaineering boots – the warmest boots ever made.
“In less than 24 hours, we’ll be out of here [Advanced Base Camp], heading for the summit. It’s time to apply our wisdom and spirit to the greatest challenge many of us will ever face.”
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