Climb Mount Everest With Alpine Ascents – 2024 Season
Everest was completely amazing. Ben is an outstanding guide and the whole expedition was perfect. I am grateful to the Alpine Ascents team that helped making this experience such a successful one. Thank you all so much! – 2023 Everest Climber
With guide Ben Jones, leading the way and selecting a summit day, our 2022 and 2023 teams had an incredible summit day with clear skies and figuratively had the summit to themselves! We encourage you to chat with former Everest team members! And we also offer a Camp II climb.
Ben, the Sherpa, and other AAI staff all did great and I couldn’t have asked for a better climbing experience.
Ben did a great job and the entire staff was fantastic to be around. AAI went above and beyond the whole trip. Thank you for providing such a great experience.
Alpine Ascents is the cream of the crop on Everest. From the guides to the organization to the infrastructure – we have the best. This is just one small example of the kind of care and attention to detail that AAI has. I am truly grateful to be here and on this team.
For most people, Everest is a once-in-a-lifetime experience because of the costs, the time invested, etc. If you’re considering giving it a shot — go with the best possible service provider. Alpine Ascents’ logistics, guides, and Sherpa team are absolutely top-notch.” – Alison Levine, Alpine Ascents Everest team, author of the New York Times bestseller ON THE EDGE, featured on 60 Minutes Sports
Highlights of Alpine Ascents method:
- Alpine Ascents will continue to only operate small team sizes.
- Scheduled lead guide for 2024: Ben Jones
- Small team sizes allows us to carefully select a summit day and last few seasons have been 1 of very few teams on the summit
- Unique itinerary with ” 2 passes” trek to base camp
- All teams make an attempt of Lobuche East to help acclimate ( after reaching base camp) as this reduces trips through the ice fall
- As in past years, we offer 1:1 Sherpa-to-climber ratio (on summit day)
- Our climber-to-guide ratio is 4:1 or less
- Wi-Fi available at Base Camp
- Excellent quality base camp with group tents, personal tents and dining tents
- We provide oxygen above Camp II and a high-liter flow from High Camp onward
- We are committed to small team size, operating one fully guided expedition for increased risk mitigation, climber care, and environmental concerns at Base Camp
- We are offering the Everest-Lhotse combo climb
- Consistent with past years, we are committed to wages on the high end of the pay scale for Sherpa team and staff, often setting industry standards
Our 2024 team will be led by Alpine Ascents’ Everest guide Ben Jones. As always, we will employ our famed Sherpa staff. Our Sherpa team is legendary throughout the climbing community and will be the mainstay of our summit support team. Our long time Sherpa team will set the route and manage a quality Base Camp, which is renowned throughout the great tent city at the foot of the mountain. We look to bestow our traditions and expertise on every climber.
Similar to past years, we are committed to high-quality logistics, using low ratio guiding with professional mountain guides, and leading small groups of climbers supported by a strong Sherpa team. Research shows that the Alpine Ascents’ guiding style has a much higher success rate (as much as 50% higher), than less supported climbing teams.
Mt. Everest, rising 29,031.69 ft. (8,848.86 m) above sea level reigns as the highest mountain on Earth. Since the first ascent in 1953 by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, reaching the summit of Everest has been considered one of the greatest achievements in mountaineering. Every spring, Alpine Ascents International embraces this challenge, taking a group of qualified climbers to climb Mt. Everest via the South Col route in Nepal.
With over 25 years of guiding experience on Everest, Alpine Ascents is recognized as the premier guide service to provide you a truly rewarding experience climbing to the summit of the highest mountain in the world. We are known for the quality of our logistical services and the expertise of our guides, Sherpa team, and Base Camp staff. We have the latest technology in weather forecasting and communication systems both on and off the mountain. Our Base Camp services, which provide private tents and well-prepared meals by western trained chefs allow you to relax and regain strength when returning from your acclimation climbs.
On the mountain, our guides and Sherpa are focused on your welfare and wellbeing. Our philosophy is that by working together as a team we will climb more carefully and have more climbers reach the summit. Through leadership and excellent climber care, this has proven true year after year, giving us the highest success rate on the mountain and an excellent safety record.
Alpine Ascents has always been on the cutting edge of innovations in guiding. In 1991, we co-founded the Russian company, Poisk, and designed the Poisk Oxygen Cylinder, which is still the lightest and most efficient bottle used on the mountain today. In 1992, we led the first successful guided expedition to Everest along with Rob Hall’s team. That year we also introduced the idea of (and helped facilitate) bringing Russian Mi-17 helicopters to Nepal to provide more reliable expedition transportation to the mountain. Alpine Ascents pioneered the idea of a 24-hour Everest and Lhotse summit climb, and in 2012, we led the first guided expedition up Everest and Lhotse, putting three climbers on top of two 8,000 m peaks in under 24 hours. This had never been achieved before, guided or otherwise.
We are proud to look back at the many years of achieving these goals and supporting over 300 climbers in stepping foot on the summit of Mt. Everest. Looking forward to 2022, we plan to continue our well-maintained expeditions with extremely experienced climbing guides, Sherpa with years of climbing expertise and unparalleled Base Camp and ground support. For more information on the climb, go to our Why Climb With Us section.
Climbing with Alpine Ascents was the best decision I made, and I could not have been more pleased. You may pay more than some of the other companies, but I think you get more. The client-to-guide ratio was low, so there was always someone covering your backside. The experience level of the guides and the Sherpa team was very high, with many Everest summits between them. The tents, food, equipment, and technology were top-notch, as well as the relay of information that was passed along to friends and family back home. Most of us only have one shot at Everest. Why not give it the best shot that you can?
Everest South Col
Mount Everest, rising 8,850 m (29,035 ft.) above sea level, reigns as the highest mountain on Earth. Since the first ascent in 1953 by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, reaching the summit of Everest has been considered one of the greatest achievements in mountaineering. Every spring, Alpine Ascents International embraces this challenge, taking a group of qualified climbers to climb Mt. Everest via the South Col route in Nepal.
With over 20 years of guiding experience on Everest, Alpine Ascents is in an elite category in our ability to present qualified climbers with a truly rewarding experience on Everest. As you read through our Everest web pages, you will find a wealth of information, rationale for decisions, and why, after two decades, we stand behind the Alpine Ascents method more than ever. We can summarize by stating quality, risk awareness, and summit success are our three primary goals each and every time we launch an Everest expedition.
Everest Camp II
Alpine Ascents pioneered guiding on Everest 20 years ago and today we remain the leader in offering high quality expeditions. An ascent to Camp II is a unique opportunity to experience climbing through the Khumbu Icefall and the Western CWM to our Advanced Base Camp at the base of the Southwest Face of Everest (21,500 ft.). One must have strong skills and be in very good physical condition to take on our Camp II expedition.
Team members experience climbing through some very challenging and notable aspects of Everest, and get first-hand experience of what it takes to climb this great peak, as you are traveling much of the same route as our Everest summit team. This is an excellent opportunity to see if a future Everest climb is right for you or simply a chance to climb part of this legendary peak.
As always, Alpine Ascent teams will be led by veteran Everest guides and our legendary Sherpa climbing staff who will provide the foremost in logistics and Base Camp facilities. Our unique team approach to climbing the mountain has allowed us to continually operate successful expeditions while maintaining an excellent safety record.
Climbing Skill Level: Climbers prepared to take on Everest Camp II should have completed at least a week-long training course and have completed a climb of a glaciated peak. We will review each climber’s bio on an individual basis to help develop climbers interested in attempting Everest Camp II.
Everest + Lhotse
Everest + Lhotse In 24 Hours
Over the last several years, a number of our climbers, when using our maximum oxygen flow system, have demonstrated the desire and strength to continue directly to Lhotse for a summit climb after summiting Everest. This approach to climbing Everest and Lhotse in the same season allows you to climb two 8,000-meter peaks (the highest and fourth-highest mountains in the world) in as little as 24 hours, summit to summit. While it’s no easy feat, our acclimatization program – combined with our rest day at South Col, max oxygen usage, and expert team of guides and Sherpa – make this a real possibility for our climbing members. In 2011, we set a historical precedent with our Everest-Lhotse climb – the first three climbers to summit two 8,000 m peaks in less than 24 hours, the first guided climber to do so, and the first guide to accomplish the feat. In 2013, two guides, three climbers, and two Sherpa repeated the achievement! Join us as we attempt to make history again.
We climb Everest first, using our maximum oxygen supply (four-liter flow per minute). In good conditions, we are back at the South Col between noon and 2 p.m. From here we have a variety of choices, depending on weather and strength of climbers. We can rest for a few hours at the South Col, then do the two-hour traverse to our Lhotse High Camp. Or we can spend another night at the South Col, and move to Lhotse High Camp the next day and summit the following day.
This is an amazing opportunity for the motivated climber to summit both these peaks with the best support available. No other company offers the expertise, logistical support, and years of experience that Alpine Ascents provides. Our veteran Himalayan guides are with you at all times, along with the strength and support of the best Sherpa team on the mountain. Our rest day on the South Col (on oxygen) allows you to recuperate before the summit attempt, and the max four-liter-per-minute oxygen flow gives you a much better chance of a fast and strong climb on the mountain.
Our Route up Lhotse from Camp IV. The route progresses up the central couloir in a direct line to the summit. Photo: Garrett Madison
Alpine Ascents has been guiding Everest for 30 years. Over this time we have fine-tuned our program by addressing important factors that affect the risk, success, and the overall experience for the individual climber and the entire team. We also continue to incorporate new technology and evolving climbing methods as they develop. Below we discuss some of the most important aspects of our program and explain the differences between AAI and other companies.
Team Size and Team Building
We start with a strong group consisting of a maximum of 12 qualified climbers with two to four mountain guides, depending on the group size. Our average team size is usually between eight and ten climbers. We add our team of 14 to 18 well-trained and experienced climbing Sherpa, and four to five camp staff. Our Sherpa team is the strongest on the mountain; most have summited Everest between 5 and 20 times and have worked exclusively with us for many years.
Team building is instrumental in our philosophy. We believe that well-trained climbers working together with our guides and Sherpa in a team effort creates the most successful experience. Over the two-plus decades we have been guiding Everest, the team effort always proves more enjoyable with greater summit success than the individual climber with Sherpa assistance, or having only one guide to lead your group. Below are some examples why:
There is a big difference between making decisions on your own or with only one Sherpa as compared to being surrounded by veteran guides who know the route and a strong team of Sherpa ready to provide assistance. This is especially true during summit attempt or in challenging weather. It is difficult and very stressful for the less experienced climber to make serious decisions such as:
How far is it to the summit?
Can I make it back by nightfall?
Do I have enough oxygen to make the round trip safely?
Is the weather deteriorating to a point when I should turn around?
Am I moving fast enough?
Having a team of experienced guides with you to address these issues reduces the likelihood of you turning around too early and missing the summit, or continuing into harm’s way by climbing into what we call, “unreasonable risk.”
Other real concerns such as regulator failure, loss of equipment, or becoming physically weak and cold are almost impossible to deal with effectively on your own. A strong team carrying extra regulators, hot liquids, and gear will increase your risk cognizance and success.
Climbing on a team with only one guide has its difficulties as well. Guides are not immune to illness, and if the guide becomes ill or weak, it jeopardizes the entire climb. It is also difficult for one guide to manage a group. We believe that having two or more guides making good decisions together gives you the backup you need for a risk aware climb.
There are many advantages to climbing with a team and they can be measured directly in two ways — success rate and safety record.
Our rate of success over the last 10 years (excluding 2014 and 2015 when no one climbed the mountain) is 80%. This means, of the people who sign up for the climb, 80% have reached the summit.
When you compare these numbers to other operators and more specifically, Sherpa-only supported climbs, their success rate is 50% and below. We believe that this low success rate is attributed to client care and management, especially high on the mountain.
Alpine Ascents has never had a client seriously injured (or worse) on Everest. As with any adventure, there are no guarantees, and we feel fortunate. Accidents can happen at any time and for many reasons beyond our control. We take risk management very seriously and it is our number one priority at Alpine Ascents.
We think it is important to know the facts. We have looked at historical data of the number of foreign climbers who perished on Mt. Everest starting in 2004 (when non-guided attempts on Everest became more prevalent) through the 2016 season. We have excluded 2014 and 2015 when the mountain was shut down early.
During this period, 54 foreign climbers died on Everest. We looked at the location and cause of each. Five were unknown locations, and 41 out of the 49 remaining were between High Camp and the summit. This means 84% of all known foreign climber deaths were associated with the final days of a summit attempt. The information also shows, overwhelmingly, that these deaths were caused by a combination of exhaustion, poor judgment, and lack of support. These risk factors can be considerably reduced by climbing with an experienced team.
Oxygen and Rest Day at South Col
Alpine Ascents provides more oxygen than any other company. We also add special logistical support, for example starting oxygen from Camp II during summit attempt and taking a rest day on oxygen at the South Col, allowing climbers to rest and regroup for the challenges of summit day. No other company offers these services, and all climbers say it makes the difference.
Overall, Alpine Ascents is a full-service company with your best interest at heart. We want to provide you a risk aware opportunity to climb the mountain with the greatest chance for success and enjoyment.
Our Method of Acclimatization and our General Itinerary
Our approach to acclimatization on Everest has resulted in our proven expedition itinerary. Proper acclimatization is the most critical factor in a successful trip and you will receive daily lectures and reviews from our guides throughout the trek and climb.
During the trek to Base Camp, our goal is to stay healthy and make sure all climbers are acclimatizing well. We are not on a set schedule and will take extra days anywhere along the trek to further acclimatize, if necessary. It is extremely important that when you reach Base Camp you are feeling good and are comfortable with the thin air at 17,500 ft. (5,334 m).
After moving into your new home at Everest Base Camp, we spend four to six days acclimatizing while training in the protected areas of the lower Khumbu Glacier. We will practice ladder crossings, fixed-line travel, rappelling, and crampon work, which prepares us for climbing on the mountain. During training, we make a foray partway up the Khumbu route before heading to Camp I (19,590 ft./5,971 m).
On our first rotation up the mountain we climb to Camp I and spend the night. The next day we take a short walk towards Camp II (21,300 ft./6,492 m) and back to Camp I for a second night of sleep. Day 3 we climb up to Camp II and spend two to three days acclimatizing in the area before returning to Base Camp.
We will take another rest period of four to seven days at Base Camp. When the entire team is ready, we’ll head back to Camp I, and the following day up to Camp II. We will take a rest day here and if the weather is good, we’ll climb up to Camp III (23,500 ft./7,162 m) the following day. The guides will make a decision whether or not to spend the night at Camp III based on weather and other factors. After returning from Camp III to Camp II, we rest for the night and descend to Base Camp the next day.
After this rotation we have the option to head down valley for a rest period to breathe thick air, eat large amounts of food, and enjoy the sunshine and warm weather for several days. This has proven to be extremely beneficial in preparing climbers for the summit attempt.
While down valley we monitor weather and activity on the mountain via radio. When all is good we head back up to Base Camp and prepare for our summit attempt. With a good weather report, we will climb to Camp II and rest the next day. If the weather is still stable, we’ll put on our oxygen gear and climb up to Camp III, and the following day to High Camp at the South Col (26,000 ft./7,924 m). We rest the entire next day on oxygen after reaching High Camp and leave for the summit late that evening. Around 8 or 9 p.m. we wake you up and begin getting everyone dressed and ready for the summit attempt. We leave between 11 p.m. and midnight. You will have guides and Sherpa assisting you the entire day.
You will be climbing on full flow oxygen, which is four liters per minute, and you will have a personal Sherpa carrying extra oxygen for you. Usually we reach the summit between 8 a.m. and 9a.m. We take photos, enjoy the view, and celebrate our success before heading down. Usual time to descend is three to four hours back to the South Col. Those climbing Lhotse will leave that evening at midnight to climb Lhotse and descend to Camp II. Others will leave later that morning and descend direct to Camp II. The following day we all descend to Base Camp.
We have been operating Everest expeditions since 1992.
2013 proved to be a great season for us with 100% success of climbers who reached High Camp making the summit, and over 80% of the climbers who joined our climb reaching the summit. We were also thrilled to have two guides, three climbers, and two Sherpa reach the summit of Lhotse (both peaks reached within a 24-hour period). These percentages are very high when compared to other outfitters and we certainly encourage you to compare these statistics (using the same reference points) to other outfitters. Overall totals include 39 climbers on two teams (13 Climbers, 6 Guides, 20 Sherpa).
2012 was another banner year for Alpine Ascents. Though a difficult season with tough summit conditions, Alpine Ascents was one of the few groups to have large-scale summit success. We attribute much of the success to our experience, which enabled us to choose a difficult but uncrowded summit day and utilize the expertise of our guides and Sherpa. By the numbers, Everest 2012 saw 14 climbers reaching the summit.
2011: Alpine Ascents is proud to have 100% success for all those who joined our expedition, with a number of climbers reaching Lhotse shortly thereafter. This was the first time climbers reached the summit of two 8,000 m peaks in 24 hours.
Everest 2010 had 100% success for those who reached High Camp with similar success to years past. We are happy to provide details of 20+ years of expeditions.
Recent Experience In Brief
2023 – Team summits in beautiful weather with very few teams on the mountain
2022 Team summits 6 on Everest and 2 on Lhotse.
2021 Team spent 4 days at high camp and returned to base camp after weather did not improve.
2020 No international trips to Nepal in 2020.
2019 Our team had over 90% success rate and all team members who started with us, completed the expedition!
2018 100% summit success (19 team members) and an Everest/Lhotse traverse.
2017 saw 11 climbers reach the summit! See our Cybercast for details.
2016 met with 100% summit success!
The 2014 and 2015 seasons were cancelled due to the natural disasters. We have been working directly with the local community and other organizations in the aftermath to help ensure that we meet the needs of all climbers and guides. For those that wish to learn more about our efforts and the Alpine Ascents Foundation, read more.
Alpine Ascents in 2024
As in the past, Alpine Ascents will offer a fully supported expedition. We do not offer Sherpa-only guided, hybrid, guide-at-base-camp-in-radio-contact, or inappropriate climber-to-guide ratio as this is simply not our style. We feel this limited support approach strays from the goals of providing the best and most risk aware chance of climbers reaching the summit.
Our 2024 team will be led by Alpine Ascents staff guides. As always, we will employ our famed Sherpa staff. Our Sherpa team is legendary throughout the climbing community and will be the mainstay of our summit support team. The Sherpa team will set the route and manage a quality Base Camp, which is renowned throughout the great tent city at the foot of the mountain. We look to bestow our traditions and expertise on every climber.
List of 8,000 m Peaks
These are the primary mountains in the world exceeding 8,000 Meters in height. Some of them have subsidiary peaks that are also 8,000m.
Height: 8,850 m/29,035 ft.
First Ascent: 1953; Sir E. Hillary, T. Norgay
Height: 8,611 m/28,250 ft.
First Ascent: 1954; A. Compagnoni, L. Lacedelli
Height: 8,586 m/28,169 ft.
First Ascent: 1955; G. Band, J. Brown
Height: 8,516 m/27,940 ft.
First Ascent: 1956; F. Luchsinger, E. Reiss
Height: 8,463 m/27,766 ft.
First Ascent: 1955; J. Couzy, L. Terrary
Height: 8,201 m/26,906 ft.
First Ascent: 1954; S. Joechler, H. Tichy, P. Dawa Lama
Height: 8,167 m/26,795 ft.
First Ascent: 1960; K. Diemberger, P. Diener, M. Dorji, E. Forrer, N. Dorji, A. Schelbert
Height: 8,156 m/26,758 ft.
First Ascent: 1956; T. Imanishi, G. Norbu
Height: 8,125 m/26,660 ft.
First Ascent: 1953; H. Buhl
Height: 8,091 m/26,545 ft.
First Ascent: 1950; M. Herzog, L. Lachenal
Height: 8,068 m/26,470 ft.
First Ascent: 1958; A. Kaufman, P. Schoening
Height: 8,047 m/26,400 ft.
First Ascent: 1957; H. Buhl, K. Diemberger, M. Schmuck, F. Witerstellar
Height: 8,035 m/26,360 ft.
First Ascent: 1956; S. Larch, F. Moravec, H. Willenpart
Height: 8,013 m/26,291 ft.
First Ascent: 1964; H. Ching & 9 climbers
A Historical & Modern Perspective on the South Col Route
The South Col route on Mt. Everest’s south, or Nepalese, side was first explored in 1950 by a British expedition led by Eric Shipton. Prior to that time, climbers could see the Khumbu Icefall from a high glaciated pass, which was easily accessed from the north, or Tibetan, side of Mt. Everest. It was universally considered impossible to climb by those few who had looked upon it from this high vantage point. Then, with the Chinese invasion and take-over of Tibet, geopolitics changed and the world’s highest peak was no longer accessible from Tibet. Thus, for the first time, Nepal allowed access to foreigners. In 1950 the previously unthinkable happened and the Khumbu Icefall was first climbed and deemed doable, but dangerous.
What exactly is an icefall? For nonclimbers, a glacier can be likened to a very slow-moving river, one which is simply frozen. When a river increases its gradient, it turns into a very broken up rapid or cascade. When a glacier increases in gradient, it turns into an “icefall.” This icefall, especially the Khumbu Icefall, is an amazingly chaotic jumble of ice blocks of all sizes. It is a place of otherworldly beautiful and improbable shapes, forms, and shades of green and blue. It is a place of eerie silence and improbable heat, as well as cold. It is also a place of continual movement. Often this movement is not perceptible, as the entire mass is moving. At other times the movement is sudden, brutal, and has incredibly destructive consequences to everything below, as figuratively hundreds of tons of ice blocks can give way all at once. When this happens (often several times per day in one place or another within the icefall) everything below is reduced to nothing more than a fine white ice powder blown away by the mountain winds. The trick as a climber is to not be in that spot . . .
As climbing Mt. Everest became more popular in the 1970’s, and consequently more expeditions were on the mountain at the same time, expeditions began to cooperate with the “fixing” of the route through the Khumbu Icefall. This “fixing” means a continuous length of interconnected ropes — thousands of feet of ropes — for your wellbeing. This allows a climber to always be connected to ropes, which are, in turn, connected to various anchors placed into the snow or ice. This is a safeguard against falling and injury, and at the same time allows a climber to quickly move independently away from danger — something which is much more difficult and slower if one is instead roped directly to other climbers. Along with these ropes, the terrain often requires artificial structures to bridge otherwise uncrossable ice walls or large cracks called crevasses. Most often, these artificial structures are combinations of aluminum ladder sections tied together and stabilized by a latticework of other ropes. Very impressive to behold, and often very scary to traverse!
By the 1990’s, with even more climbing action taking place, there were complaints that many of the participating expeditions, either lacking funds or desire, were not contributing to the group fixing of the route. They were instead using other expeditions’ hard work while contributing nothing. Therefore, in the past few years a Nepalese governmental agency has stepped in to ensure that all contribute fairly based upon the size of the expedition. The Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee now oversees this. They are primarily concerned with policing expeditions and groups to control garbage properly, and so they subcontract with other people to do the actual work of fixing the route. During the Alpine Ascents 2000 expedition to Mt. Everest, this work was carried out very well and ongoing maintenance to the icefall route was done promptly.
A group, run by a British individual, was awarded the contract for the spring 2002 season, and the maintenance effort was very short on supplies, manpower, tools, and perhaps experience to properly do their job. This created some dangerous conditions for climbers traversing the icefall, and most expeditions season drafted letters to the SPCC lodging their complaints regarding the situation. There was some discussion regarding the next season. Many regulars refused to pay the SPCC and simply wanted to go back to the old cooperative way of doing things.
The route farther up the mountain is also prepared, or fixed, with lines in places for your wellbeing, but this work is done by separate expedition Sherpa staff in cooperation with each other. All expeditions share the same goals of summiting and doing so carefully, so it makes a great deal of sense to cooperate with each other and share in the work of preparing the route with this in mind. All expedition leaders and Sirdar (a Sirdar is the chief of Sherpa staff for an expedition) meet and decide upon a work and materials schedule so that all of the expeditions can share in this preparation work on the upper mountain. This has generally worked quite well, and the route becomes fixed via a cooperative effort amongst expeditions such as Alpine Ascents, Adventure Consultants, International Mountain Guides, National Geographic, and other expedition companies.
From Camp I, just above the Khumbu Icefall, the route enters the Western Cwm, which is a very large and steep valley, partly filled with the upper Khumbu Glacier. This “valley of silence” was first traversed by the Swiss expedition of 1952, who in fact pioneered most of the route on the upper mountain and came very close to the summit the year before the British success in 1953. It is a hauntingly beautiful place, but not without its dangers also. While it is often a place of silence, it also occasionally thunders with rockfall raking the steep faces of Mt. Everest to one side and Nuptse to the other side. Just as frequently, ice or snow avalanches roar down for thousands of feet to the glacier. Climbers can quite easily avoid avalanches simply by staying away from the sides of the valley. The numerous and deep glacier fissures, called crevasses, are less avoidable hazards. These crevasses are caused by the stress of glacier movement. Take a warm Snicker’s candy bar and bend it in the middle and note the “crevasses” formed on the surface, and you get the idea. Many of these crevasses are bridged over by snow and not visible to a climber on the glacier’s surface. These hidden crevasses can constitute a serious threat, especially after times of fresh snowfall, and climbers usually prepare by roping up to other climbers — with adequate rope between — so that the climber skill known as “self-arrest” will stop a fall into a crevasse should someone break through one of these snow bridges.
Near the end of this gently sloping valley, lies Camp II, and the Lhotse Face looms above. Camp 2 at over 21,000 ft./6,400 m, is the staging camp for starting up the face formed by the western side of neighbor mountain Lhotse. This face constitutes a serious challenge, as expeditions must climb over 3,000 ft./1,000 m of 35–45+ degree ice. Camp III is perched in the middle of this awesomely steep and long face. So here too, thousands of feet of fixed ropes are placed for the wellbeing of climbers to safeguard against falling.
The last stop on the way to the summit is Camp IV, or High Camp, at the pass between Lhotse and Everest known as the South Col. To arrive at this camp requires traversing much steep ground, and climbers must overcome such features as the Yellow Band (a steep, golden sandstone cliff that splits part of the upper Lhotse Face), and the Geneva Spur (an enormous buttress or ridge-like feature of rock that must be climbed) with the protection of fixed ropes.
Many early expeditions here used seven or eight camps instead of the currently accepted four camps. This big reason for this change, has been the huge increase in skill and ability of the high-altitude Sherpa hired by most expeditions to assist. Originally, in the 1950s, the Sherpa looked to foreign climbers for training, as most Sherpa were not skilled in climbing techniques. Their main assets were their strong work ethic and their genetic adaptation to altitude. Nowadays, Sherpas still have their genetic adaptation to altitude and their strong work ethic, but they are often also much more skilled climbers than the foreign climbers who hire them to help. This means it is much easier and faster for them to go up and down the mountain to prepare and stock camps than in earlier times, and so fewer camps are needed. I must also stress here that I do not believe many climbing expeditions give their Sherpa staff enough credit for the success of an expedition. Without the hard work of Sherpas and their high skill levels, there wouldn’t be 10% of the current numbers of successful Everest summiters. Everyone has perhaps heard of “Hillary” backpacks, but has anyone ever seen a Chewang sleeping bag? Chewang has summited nine times on 12 different Mt. Everest expeditions. Why isn’t he famous in America or Europe? Or how about Apa who has summited 13 times?
Above High Camp still lies much steep ground before the summit at 29,035 ft./8,850 m. Such features as the Triangular Face, The Balcony, the Southeast Ridge, the South Summit, the Traverse, and the Hillary Step all guard the world’s “third pole” well and ensure that a climber will work for his or her reward and need a minimum level of hard-earned skills to get there. A sufficient level of risk mitigation and security can be maintained in this hostile territory only through the judicious use of fixed ropes, individual skills, and a high level of teamwork on both Sherpas and foreign climbers’ parts. The exercise of good judgment is also vitally important. “Never give up” and “just do it” can and have proven fatal many times on the world’s highest mountain, and perhaps a “those who climb and run away live to climb another day” is a more appropriate attitude for climbers who dare to challenge themselves on the slopes of Chomolungma in an environment more suited to jet airliners.
A Brief Overview of Sherpa Life
Often inseparable from mountaineering, the Sherpas of Nepal inhabit much of the lower portion of the Himalayas known as the Solu-Khumbu or “Khumbu.” While their reputation as climbers is nothing short of historic, local Buddhist, animist, and cultural traditions have equally nurtured and impacted a fascinating relationship with westerners and western thought.
Sherpas became prominent to the West when British mountaineers began to set their sites on conquering Himalayan peaks. With the first Mt. Everest expedition in 1921, the skill, expertise, honesty, and dedication of Sherpas as guides and partners became an integral part of Himalayan climbing. The affinity of outsiders for Sherpa/Buddhist civilization has blossomed into an ever-increasing sharing, understanding, and friendship between cultures.
Prior to British expeditions, Sherpas revered the great mountains of the region as dwelling places of gods and goddesses, to which the thought of climbing was considered blasphemous. (“Chomolungma,” the Tibetan name for Everest, is the residence of Miyo Lungsungama, the goddess of humanity and prosperity.)
Sherpas traditionally worked as traders, farmers, and religious folk. Along with these ancestral roles, leading climbs and treks has recently become a mainstay of the Sherpa economy. Sherpa refers both to a tribal group and a job capacity as porter, climber, or trek leader. The term “Sherpa” means easterner, referring to their origins in Eastern Tibet. The migrations of this Tibetan culture began sometime in the early 1400’s. Today the Sherpa population in the Khumbu is about 5,000, with a total of roughly 35,000 living in Nepal.
Sherpas on Everest
The first notable and successful Everest climbing Sherpa was Tenzing Norgay. In 1952, Norgay accompanied Raymond Lambert to within 800 vertical feet of the still unclimbed Mt. Everest. A year later Norgay was asked to join the British team led by Col. John Hunt that successfully summited Everest, following the same route as Norgay and Lambert. Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary were the first climbers to reach the summit. By the mid 1980’s, Sherpas had summitted Everest many more times than westerners. Ang Rita Sherpa, the most well known climbing Sherpa, had amassed seven summits of Everest by 1995. In 1993 Pasang Lhamu Sherpa became the first Sherpa woman to summit Everest.
The Name Khumbu
The name Khumbu comes from its guardian deity, Khumbila Tetsan Gelbu. The literal translation is “Khumbu country god.” The teachings of Sherpa Buddhism talk of a spiritual understanding between all beings. This is probably why the level of hospitality and acceptance of westerners comes naturally to the Sherpa. It should, however be mentioned, that Tibetans are also considered fierce warriors.
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