Everest: It’s Now or Maybe Never

Teams have moved to Camp 3 as weather has improved. Summit plans for the frontline climbers seems to be working because the summit window, although narrow, may be just enough. Today’s going proved tough for the climbers at these higher reaches, because it was still snowing hard. (Conditions are better now.) But the mental uncertainty, whether their effort will earn them a shot at the summit, surely preys on them.

Those waiting in Base Camp or at lodges further down the valley are much more comfortable, but their summit options are diminishing. They are staking everything on a window expected to open on May 26.

The Weather Verdict

Meteorologist Karl Gabl of Innsbruck, currently working with David Göettler, shared his forecast with ExplorersWeb:

“A cyclone will form over the Bay of Bengal in the next few days and it will reach the coast of India on the evening of May 26,” he said. “The center of the cyclone will move west over India and will lose strength continuously till the 28th.

“This cyclone will not directly influence the area around Mount Everest but between May 25 and 28, the models show snow and less sunshine. Because of this, May 23 would be a better time to summit.”

There will be no further summit chances later. The Icefall Doctors have confirmed to Alan Arnette that the route will close by May 29.

In this situation, teams currently below the Khumbu Icefall must either hurry up quickly starting today or risk a summit push during the second cyclone next week. Whatever happens, it will all come down in the next  few days.

The Everest-Lhotse-Nuptse area, still under the influence of Cyclone Tauktae yesterday. Photo: Seven Summits Club

Higher teams: Camp 3

Climbing the Seven Summits’ first team moved up to C3 today. “They made excellent time and the weather is quite reasonable — light winds and good visibility,” the outfitter reported.

A second team moves tomorrow from Camp 2 to Camp 3. The company has also given some details about Pemba Tashi Sherpa, who perished in a crevasse fall earlier this week. His body was recovered and flown home. Pemba Tashi had summited Everest just days before, with the outfitter’s first summit group. CTSS will take care of his two children’s ongoing education.

During a gear-carrying trip to the South Col, Sherpas with IMG reported very high winds above the Yellow Band. “They had to really struggle across the Geneva Spur and onto the Col, as they climbed above any wind protection afforded by Nuptse,” IMG wrote.

“It’s been a stormy day –- very blustery, lots of snowfall, and high gusts throughout the day,” Garrett Madison added from Camp 3. He had hoped to advance to Camp 4 today, but given the harsh weather, they decided to spend one more day in their tents on the Lhotse face. Himalayan Guides Nepal team is also hoping to move up to the South Col tonight.

Mountain Professionals and SummitClimb intended to reach Camp 3 today. Russia’s Seven Summits Club, whose members were about to retreat yesterday, had a last-minute change of mind. Instead of descending, they are going ahead. They will try to reach Camp 3 today. Leader Alex Abramov has abandoned his plans to climb without O2, “for the sake of the group”.

Lower teams: Decision time

Scott Woolums, leader of the Mountain Trip team, tested all his members for COVID. Everyone came up negative. While the HRA clinic is not allowed to do COVID testing, some teams brought their own antigen kits and are doing it themselves.

But all the precautions are not enough, as Lukas Furtenbach explained to ExplorersWeb. He isolated his group and was extremely cautious, but in the end, even they had seven positive cases.

“I am sure it must have been at the Khumbu Icefall,” Furtenbach said. “That was the only situation where we had close contact with other people.” He said that there are waiting zones before ladders on the steepest sections, where climbers stand together, close to each other and breathing heavily.

Climbers with one local operator told ExplorersWeb that they themselves had no tests in Base Camp. They had little sense of COVID’s presence at all. “People are cautious but not panicking,” said the climbers, who — given the paranoia around information sharing in this year’s Base Camp — asked to remain anonymous.

No-O2 climber David Goettler checked in yesterday from Pheriche, where he is training with Kilian Jornet, but shared no climbing plans. Csaba Varga, nearby, took a selfie with his fellow no-O2 hopefuls.

Kilian Jornet (left) and Csaba Varga yesterday. Photo: C.Varga/Khalifa