Everest, summary of the spring season, questions on the use of bottled oxygen and sedan chairs. Altogether 46 teams sent 155 people to Everest’s summit this spring. Seventy-seven of them reached the summit on May 16—61 from the southern side in Nepal and 16 from Tibet. But the spring of 2001 still holds the record with 50 teams, 182 summiters, and 88 on top on a single day (May 23). Of the 155 summiters in 2002, 66 men and one woman had made ascents in previous years, so the total of first-time summiters was 88.
The high number of summiters on the Nepalese side of Everest on May 16 forced one of them to wait 56 minutes at the top of the fixed ropes on the Hillary Step before he could resume his descent—it took that long for ascending climbers to get off the ropes.
Among the various firsts in 2002 were the first Armenian summiter, the first Hungarian, the first Basques living in France, and an American who believes he was the first cancer survivor on Everest’s summit. There was also the first person to scale the mountain 12 times: 40-year- old Apa Sherpa. And there were the oldest man and the oldest woman.
One would think that the question of who is the oldest person to reach the summit would be quite simple. Until this year, that distinction belonged to an American, Sherman Bull, who was 64 years old last spring. On May 17, 2002 the title passed to Tomiyasu Ishikawa, a 65- year-old Japanese. Or did it? Another climber who was also on the Tibetan side of the mountain, Mario Curnis of Italy—only 26 days younger than Ishikawa—has put forward his claim to the title on the grounds that he is the oldest to have climbed to the top, which he achieved on May 24. No one doubts that Ishikawa did arrive at the summit, but his Sherpas, according to Curnis’s fellow summiter, Simone Moro, carried him up the final 50 meters to the top. Furthermore, Curnis returned from top to bottom on his own two feet. An Austrian who also was on Everest, Wilfried Studer, said that he saw Ishikawa being carried down the mountain on the back of one Sherpa while breathing oxygen through a tube from a bottle on the back of another. This reputedly took place from Ishikawa’s first high-altitude camp at 7,000m (23,000') all the way down to base camp at 5,200m (17,000'). Ishikawa needed other help during the ascent as well. Another climber on the mountain, New Zealander Russell Brice, reported that on the Second Step ladder Ishikawa had the help of three Sherpas: two were immediately behind him and placed his feet on each rung while a Sherpa in front pulled him by a short rope.
Ishikawa had made extensive use of artificial oxygen. By his own account, he started using it on his push for the summit at about 7,500m (24,600'), and continued using it sleeping and climbing above there. And not all of it came from his own supply. A different Japanese expedition had to abandon their own summit bid on the 18th and descend from 8,500m because they were told that Ishikawa “was in big trouble” 200 meters above their summit party, and their Sherpas had to carry more oxygen up to him.
Is this use of Sherpas to pull or carry a climber, and this use of considerable amounts of artificial oxygen, really mountaineering? Four climbers on the Tibet side said they used absolutely no bottled oxygen throughout their time on Everest. A few commentators take the view that only four people, rather than 155, should be credited with ascents this spring. They believe that after Reinhold Messner and Peter Habler proved in May 1978 that summiting
Everest and safe and sane returns do not require oxygen, only climbs without bottled oxygen should actually be counted as successful.
No problem exists about who is the oldest woman atop Everest. That record was set in May 2000 by a 50-year-old Pole, Anna Czerwinska. This spring a Japanese woman 13 years older than she, Tamae Watanabe, went to the summit from Nepal’s southern side on the busiest day, May 16. Her use of bottled oxygen was confined to climbing from her camp 3 at 7,300m (23,950') to the top and back to 7,300m plus sleeping two nights in camp 4 on her ascent and descent.
Elizabeth Hawley, Nepal