Everest in the Pre-Monsoon. This spring, 22 parties attempted to scale Everest from the north, 14 from the south and one from the east. A total of 117 people went to the summit of Everest from the three different sides: 48 from the north in Tibet via one of two standard routes which most climbers follow; 66 via the other standard route which begins on the southern side in Nepal; and three from the east, which, like the northern route, is in Tibet but is very seldomattempted. The total number of summitters for this season is just one person short of spring 1998’s record number for any single season.
Forty-seven of this spring’s successful climbers had been to the top in earlier years, so the season’s net gain was a total of 70 new summitters. Altogether, 878 men and women have now reached the world’s highest point, starting with Hillary and Tenzing, and they have been to the summit 1,177 times. A total of 136 people have now made more than one ascent including the second person to have summitted ten times, Apa Sherpa; on May 26, he equaled the record number of ascents first achieved in 1996 by the famous Ang Rita Sherpa, who now seems to have retired from high-altitude climbing.
About half of the 22 “parties” on the north side were not teams at all but only individuals or couples who were attempting the mountain independently of others above Advance Base Camp and who were assigned by their Kathmandu trekking agencies to the permits of teams who were glad to have some income from these independents’ “memberships” but had no real responsibility for them. Eight of them never reached the top.
Some teams, especially those on the northern side where permits are considerably easier and less expensive to obtain, were ill-equipped to handle emergencies in terms of manpower, climbing equipment and supplies. When trouble arose, such as the disappearance or severe frostbite of members who could not descend alone, their groups were unable to cope. Other teams’ leaders, climbing members, doctors and climbing Sherpas were then called upon to save people whom they did not know at all and for whom they had no responsibility except as one human being for another. A professional expedition leader and guide, New Zealander Russell Brice, who takes teams every spring to the north side, has found that year after year he must devote considerable time, expertise and plentiful supplies of oxygen and medical items to rescue people who do not belong to his teams.
Some of the new Everest records set this spring were as follows.
The oldest person to the top was Lev Sarkisov, who lives in Tbilisi and holds both Georgian and Armenian citizenship. He waited to make his summit bid until he would become the oldest on May 12 and thereby beat by exactly one day the previous record-holder, Ramon Blanco, a Spaniard resident in Venezuela, who on October 7, 1993 set an age record of 60 years and 160 days. Sarkisov became 60 years and 161 days old on his summit day.
The longest stay at the top was achieved by 33-year-old Babu Tshering (or Babu Chiri, as he now spells his name) Sherpa, who spent 21.5 hours on the very top or tucked into a tiny tent on a platform immediately below it. He declared in advance that his long stay was intended to establish “a new glory for Nepal and to encourage Nepalese and foreign climbers to conduct such courageous adventures.” He used no artificial oxygen throughout his entire climb and, an exceedingly strong man, he now reached the summit in his eighth ascent (since October 1990) with two highly experienced Sherpa companions at 3:30 p.m. on May 6, after all other climbers had abandoned their attempts that day because of strong wind and fresh snowfall. His two Sherpa friends helped him to make a platform for his tent and prepare to remain there for his intended 20-hour stay, and after an hour they left him alone with his tent, mattress, cooking gear and a walkie-talkie.
Thomas and Mrs. Tina Sjogren, the Swedish leaders of the expedition who employed him to help gain the summit themselves, monitored his condition by talking with him hourly throughout the night from 9 p.m. onward (he had at first switched on to the wrong waveband). Babu spent an hour and a half chatting on his walkie-talkie with Sherpa friends, being interviewed by government-appointed liaison officers and packing up most of his belongings. He kept the valuable tent but left his mattress, somewhat to the annoyance of ecologically-minded summitters whocame after him, but the mattress proved he got there. He was still in good health, and indeed went again to the top on May 26 with the Sjogrens for his ninth time atop Everest.
The first people to have summitted from all three sides were two members of an Indian expedition led by Mrs. Santosh Yadav, herself the first woman ever to have summitted Everest twice (see note on page 375). The first woman to go to the summit from both south and north sides was Miss Cathy O’Dowd of South Africa. She had summitted from the Nepalese side in May 1996 in the last ascent of a month that was notorious for its fatalities in a sudden storm about two weeks earlier. Now this May she has gone to the top from the north side on May 29, again on the last team to reach the summit, and found Babu Tshering’s mattress still there, three weeks after he had abandoned it.