Well another spring Everest season has come and gone. And an exciting season it was as always. I have always keenly followed each Everest climbing season and even more so since I summited on May 21, 2008.
Today’s internet environment makes it much easier to keep tabs on what is happening on the mountain. Every team and every climber is updating their social media sites and sometimes multiple sites at once.
Although this provides a flood of information, it is not always accurate. I try and avoid anything posted for sensationalizing or personal bragging. I try and separate the wheat from the chaff. The following will provide a very minor overview of what transpired in April and May this year on Everest. This is by no means a complete overview. If you are looking for additional details the internet is full of them.
Everest is climbed by two main/standard routes. The Southeast Ridge in Nepal and the North Col in Tibet/China. Nepal issued 371 climbing permits to foreign climbers (Sherpas are not included in this number and usually account for a similar number). China issued approximately 136 permits, but the numbers are not as available from China so this is somewhat of an educated guess based on gathered information.
These numbers represent a big year for Everest. The number of climbers is up for several reasons including the re-use (therefore no payment required) of climbing permits from the 2014 and 2015 seasons which saw the climbing season cut short due to avalanches and earthquakes. The Nepal government said they would honour these permits at no extra fee until the end of 2017. We are also seeing a large influx of climbers from India and China as the middle class expands in those countries. Along with this comes budget price guiding companies based in Nepal and India to support this new emerging market.
Overall, the large number of climbers did not seem to create any real issues of crowding and traffic jams on the mountain. Everest is a huge mountain and can accommodate a lot of people. Patience is required however, if you happen to get stuck behind a slower moving team of climbers.
As the numbers indicate, Nepal is much more popular than Tibet/China for climbing. There are several reasons for this, but the primary one is the unpredictability of the Chinese Government and the changing policies, permit dates, and restrictions. Many established guiding companies are not comfortable with this uncertainty and choose to go to Nepal where, although not perfect, the system seems to be a little more predictable.
The climbing routes, mountain conditions and weather are often very different (as was the case this season), but this is not a huge factor in deciding which route to climb.
Early in April the route through the Ice Fall in Nepal was established making climbers optimistic for an early summit window. This was quickly shut down as high winds moved in and stuck around for much of the season greatly hampering the ability of climbers to move on the mountain. One strong positive in Nepal was the allowance of helicopters to ferry loads of climbing gear up the Western Cwm to Camp 2. This reduced the number of Sherpa loads that had to be carried through the very dangerous Ice Fall.
As the Nepal side dealt with high winds and difficult climbing conditions, over in Tibet things were moving quite well. The weather was uncharacteristically good and the ropes moved further and further up the mountain. For some reason, the team fixing the ropes to the summit decided to stop about 700m short, but the other climbing teams stepped up to the task and the first summits of Everest from Tibet came on May 11 (quite an early date statistically speaking).
With her 8th summit Lhapka Sherpa set a new record for the most summits by a woman. Several other interesting ‘events of note’ also occurred this season. We saw the second blind climber to summit. A Sherpa guide from Nepal set a new record for the most summits at 21. An Indian woman summited 2 times within 5 days. There were 5 summits without oxygen (a very difficult and dangerous task). And a speed climber set a new record for climbing from below base camp in Tibet to the summit and back again in 29:30 (and this was his second summit of the season – crazy).
As with any sport the ability of the participants grows every year as we push athletic and technological boundaries. More and more records will be broken in future years, and what we once thought was impossible will become commonplace.
The wind finally let up a bit in Nepal allowing for climbers to squeak in summit attempts. With summits in Nepal came the staggering news that the famous Hillary Step was gone. Climbers speculated that the earthquake in 2015 had dislodged the rock formation forever changing the face of Everest. This news hit the media and the internet like a raging fire. It turned out, however, to be fake news. It seems that perhaps a few boulders had shifted changing the wind patterns and how the snow collected on the Hillary Step making it look different. It is still there, it just looks different now with a new coating of snow.
There was a high attrition rate on both sides of the mountain from illness (the flu hit the Nepal base camp especially hard this season), injury and just plain frustration. Some climbers smartly left because they realized they were in over their heads. Other pressed forward regardless of their level of preparedness. Some threaded the needle and were successful and some paid the ultimate price.
Overall, the number of fatalities on Everest was normal with 7. Some of these deaths were from falls, but the majority seems to be from heart attack as older climbers struggle with the immense pressures placed upon their bodies at high altitude.
There were also two interesting stories of rebels on the mountain who felt they did not need to pay the permit fees as all the other climbers had. Interesting enough, both these climbers were telling the world about their exploits through social media and that made it pretty easy for the authorities to capture and arrest them. There is much more to these stories if you are interested in digging through the internet to find them.
Overall, it was another great and interesting climbing season on Everest. Many people realized their goal of standing on the highest point on our planet.
So that is my summary of the 2017 Spring Everest climbing season. Yes there is a fall season, but due to many factors very few if any people attempt to climb Everest at this time. I hope you have enjoyed this review and as I have stated, this is just a brief overview as seen through my eyes. Much more detail is available for those who wish to seek it out.
It is hard to believe it has been nine years since my summit of Mount Everest. Time sure flies when you are having fun. Even after nine years Everest still has a magical hold on me and a special place in my life. Everest has given me so much.
I never imagined I would climb Everest one day. I knew as a climber that is was out of my league. However, as I gained more experience my comfort zone expanded and I thought that perhaps it was worthy of a try.
After a failure on the 6th highest mountain in the world (Cho Oyu) in 2001 I put a lot of learning into future expeditions. Although I did not summit Cho Oyu, it became one of the greatest learning experiences of my life as failure often does (to those that are open to it anyway). We had failed due to a dysfunctional selfish team culture driven by an egocentric and abusive leader. We were not a team and we did not trust, support, communicate or collaborate with one another. Even though we had the skills, experience and fitness this was not enough to overcome the dysfunctional team environment and we failed miserably.
After Cho Oyu, I applied my team and leadership learning to several other mountains and after many successes, I thought I was ready for Everest.
In 2008 I went to Everest with my climbing buddy Angus and three others I did not know. We worked hard to build strong, trusting, supportive relationships because I knew that relationship was the foundation of a high-performance team.
Our original plan was to climb Everest via the North Col from Tibet, but due to circumstances beyond our control our permit was cancelled and the border into Tibet was closed to foreigners. We had to relocate our climb to Nepal which was a huge change for us and caused much anxiety and stress.
We worked hard to overcome this initial challenge and made our way to base camp to begin our ascent. However, international politics were not done with us yet. Again for circumstances beyond our control the military occupied the mountain and enforced severe restrictions upon all climbers, dictated when we could and could not climb, where we could go and they even confiscated all our video cameras and satellite phones. Anyone who rebelled was arrested and deported from the country.
To make a long story short, this was just the beginning of the challenges we were to face individually and as a team. We fought our way up the mountain through numbing temperatures, avalanches, wind storms and more and eventually on May 20 we were hunkered down on the South Col in our Camp 4.
We were now entering the Death Zone for the final push to the summit. We left camp at 8:30pm on May 21 and climbed steadily through the night. And a beautiful night it was. A cloudless sky, a bright full moon (so bright I did not need my headlamp on), and relatively warm temperatures with a light wind. There was a bit of a crowd that day with many very slow climbers in front of me. Passing is not really an option so patience was the word of the day. We passed various famous landmarks on our way to the top; The Balcony, The South Summit and the Hillary Step.
At 8:15am on May 21 I stood on the highest point on earth, let out a sigh of relief, smiled and cried. It was an amazing accomplishment, but I was only half way. Going up is harder, but going down is more painful. As your adrenaline levels drop the pain seeps in to fill the void. Going down is also very dangerous with a high percentage of deaths occurring on the way down.
We made it back to base camp May 23 and then started our journey back home to family and friends. What am amazing journey it had been.
Everest taught me a lot about myself, about team building, about leadership, goal setting, overcoming the challenge and so much more. I have gone on to use much of this in our Team Development and Team Building programs at Summit Team Building and especially in my keynote presentations.
I am fortunate to have such a great story to share from Everest and my training and academic background allow me to translate my experience into learning opportunities for others. I will deliver over 30 keynotes in 2017 to audiences around the globe.
I want to thank Angus, Alan, Ryan and Al for making this incredible journey with me.
Scott Kress South Pole
I arrived back in Punta Arenas on January 3 after a long overnight flight from Antarctica. There is so much to say and to tell that it is impossible to do in this brief blog. We arrived at the South Pole on December 30 at 5pm. Our official completion time is 43 days, 3 hours, and 30 minutes. Not a speed record by any definition, but pretty darn good! With this adventure I become the 7th Canadian and the 119th person in history to complete what is defined as a full unsupported and unassisted ski to the South Pole. I also become one of the few people in history to climb the 7 Summits (the highest peak on each continent – including Mt Everest), and to ski to the South Pole and the North Magnetic Pole.
This was no question the toughest expedition of my life. Yes, I would say harder that Everest even. The difference is that a full-ski South Pole expedition requires a tremendous level of physical exertion for 8-10 hours a day for almost 44 days in our case. We only took 3 half-day rests over this entire period. Any fitness trainer would tell you this type of routine is crazy and will only result in injury; and they are right. We all suffered during the trip and I will be recovering for quite some time to get over various injuries and ailments acquired during this adventure. This type of expedition will exploit and weakness and prior injury you may have and pound on it day after pain filled day.
I have determined, and my team mates will back me up, that there are no easy days on a unsupported ski to the South Pole. As we limped into camp at the end of each day we realized there are only hard days, really hard days, and F@#king hard days. Even near the end when our sleds had lost much of their weight, the altitude (over 9000-feet), accumulated fatigue, caloric deficit, and chronic injuries made the pulling excruciatingly hard and slow.
On December 30 at 5pm as we skied the final few feet to the South Pole I was overcome with emotion. The combination of accomplishment and the sense of relief was great. We were very fortunate to spend New Years eve at the South Pole and I was able at move back and forth between all the time zones in the world with a few steps and was able to celebrate the new year many times.
We were granted a tour at the famous Amundsen-Scott South Pole Research Station which was fascinating. The Research and science taking place there is well beyond my understanding, but fascinating none-the-less.
After a couple days at the Pole we flew back to Union Glacier and then back to Punta Arenas. Beds, showers, non-dehydrated food, warmth, sunset, and walking without being tied to a sled are some of the simple pleasures I am currently enjoying.
Thanks for following along with my adventure. I hope you were able to gain enjoyment from my journey.
Ryan Waters from Mountain Professionals posted an update today.
Congratulations to our incredible team of South Pole skiers who are hanging out at the Pole today getting photos and enjoying the finish line of the trip! We arrived to the South Pole camp in 44 days from the coast and skied roughly 495 Nautical Miles to reach the Geographic South Pole via an unsupported full ski trip!
We had a great New Year’s Eve day at the ALE South Pole camp and special thanks to Hannah and Doc Martin for taking great care of our group. We had a great New Years celebration with some awesome food that was like a dream after expedition food for so many days in a row. Part of our group (Scott was one of them) even made it over to the ceremony at the South Pole base to see the new 2017 geographic Pole marker put in the ground, and somehow we came away with the bamboo stick that was the literal place holder of the 2017 spot, so that is a cool piece of history that we signed and will bring back! It paid to stay awake and see the event! We are all doing well and will fly back some 3 plus hours this evening to Union Glacier camp and it is likely that the team may be on the return Illyusian flight back to Punta Arenas, Chile tonight through until the early a.m. hours landing back in civilization! So we will check back in as things progress.
I am happy to let you know that at around 5pm today their time the team arrived at the South Pole. It was a very exhausting day as the snow again was very sticky. Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE) the company that runs all expeditions on Antarctica has a small base set up at the South Pole. Scott said they had a nice dinner in a warm dining tent with the 2 ALE staff. They also will have their own personal sleeping tents tonight. Scott just texted and said. ” It is good to be here and already it does not seem so bad. We forget the suffering quickly once we are comfortable again.” They will stay at the Pole until January 1st when they are picked up and flown back to the main ALE base at Union Glacier. Then on January 3rd they fly from Union Glacier to Punta Arenas Chile where they have another couple of days before flying home.
Pretty cool to ring in 2017 at the South Pole!