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Asia, Nepal, Everest, South Col/Southeast Ridge, Speed Ascent

Everest, South Col/Southeast Ridge, Speed Ascent. Speed ascents of Mount Everest have rarely been attempted. Now a well-known 35-year-old Sherpa named Kaji says he raced from Base Camp on the Nepalese side at 5350 meters to the South Col to the top of the world in the record-breaking time of 20 hours and 24 minutes on October 17, cutting two hours and five minutes off the previous record, which had been set ten years earlier via the same route by the French mountaineer, Marc Batard, when he was 36.

Kaji followed the same strategy Batard had pioneered by setting off from his base in the late afternoon, climbing all night except for brief stops at camps already established along the route, and making it to the summit early in the following afternoon. Batard, however, climbed the mountain without other teammates, although he employed Sherpas to help set up camps on the route, and climbers from two other teams had gone ahead of him on his summit day and made a good track that he followed to the top. Kaji, on the other hand, had five team members, two of whom accompanied him on the last leg of his ascent from the South Col at 7900 meters. Batard and his Sherpas used no artificial oxygen at any time, but two of Kaji’s teammates, who climbed with him from the Col and broke trail for him, did use bottled oxygen, and he himself used it during a small part of his descent.

One of Kaji’s men, Tashi Tshering Sherpa, summited a few minutes ahead of Kaji (the other had turned back at 8700 meters), and when Kaji became exhausted during their descent from the south summit and they wanted to press on with their retreat to their camp at the Col as quickly as possible, Tashi handed over his oxygen set to Kaji, who used it until they were back at camp.

Elizabeth Hawley