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Asia, Nepal, Western Nepal, Janak Himal, Mt. Everest in the Pre-Monsoon

Mt. Everest in the Pre-Monsoon. An unprecedented total number of teams, 57, managed to send an unprecedented number of people, 133, to the 8850-meter top of the world in the premonsoon. The previous largest total of Everest summiters had been 120 in the spring of 1999, only five more than in the preceding spring. As usual, more people succeeded this season from Nepal’s southern side than from the north: 73 by way of the normal South Col-Southeast

Ridge route, plus five others via the south pillar to the South Col, whereas only 55 summit- ed from Tibet’s north side.

The oldest woman ever to reach the top, 50-year-old Anna Czerwinska from Warsaw, Poland, succeeded on May 22. This was her fourth bid to reach the top but her first time from the south, and she followed the South Col-Southeast Ridge route.

This spring there were nine men over 60 years old vying to take the title as the oldest person atop Everest. The winner was a Japanese aged 63 years, three years senior to the previous record-holder. The Japanese, Tosio Yamamoto, summited three days before Czerwinska, on May 19. On this same day, another Japanese from a different expedition, 61-year-old Kazuya Konno, went to the top via the same northern route. Their predecessor as the oldest, who succeeded from the south side just one year ago, on May 12, 1999, was 60-year old Lev Sarkisov from the Georgian capital of Tblisi.

The fastest ascent of Everest was accomplished by a well-known Nepalese Sherpa, Babu Chiri (or Babu Tshering, also known as Ang Babu), aged 33, who, on May 20, dashed from his south-side base camp at 5350 meters to the summit in the record time of 16 hours and 56 minutes. The previous record for the fastest ascent of Nepal’s southern side was 20 hours, 24 minutes, which was set by Kaji Sherpa on October 16-17, 1998.

Babu Chiri left base camp at 5 p.m. on May 20 and climbed through the night to arrive at the top at 9:56 a.m. He had two camps above base where he stopped to rest, drink liquids and change out of sweat-soaked clothes and, at the highest one on the South Col (7900m), to put on down clothing for the final summit push. From the Col to the summit he was accompanied all the way by his brother, Dawa, also already an Everest summiter, and by two other Sherpas for much of the last part.

At about 8500 meters, he was “so tired and going very slow” that he took a half-full bottle of oxygen that Dawa was carrying as extra supply and continued to the top with its help. This was Babu Chiri’s tenth ascent of Everest.

Two other men had already accomplished this feat before him: Ang Rita Sherpa and Apa (or Appa) Sherpa. Now Apa became the first person to reach the summit eleven times, making his historic climb also from the south side on May 24 at the age of 39. He told some Kathmandu reporters that this spring’s ascent was perhaps his most difficult one because of heavy snowfall, strong winds, and the unpredictability of the weather.

Two Sherpa women set Everest records amongst Nepalese mountaineers. On May 18, 27- year-old Lhakpa Sherpa became the first Nepalese woman to survive her summit success. The first Nepalese woman Everest summiter had also been a Sherpa, Pasang Lhamu, but she tragically died soon after she started her descent.

One day after Lhakpa’s success, another Sherpa woman, Pemba Doma, also 27 years old, went to the top with a Swiss-led expedition by the North Col-Northeast Ridge route and thereby became the first Nepalese woman to scale Everest from Tibet.

Elizabeth Hawley