We’ve wrapped up our Everest expedition for the 2019 autumn season, and everyone is heading home. There were no summits of Everest this season by our team or any of the teams attempting the peak. We had the good fortune to connect with some of the world’s best high-altitude climbers & skiers alongside us this season. However, the conditions were such that we’ve all accepted the Mountain was not in a safe enough condition to make a reasonable attempt. Among others, I had the pleasure of spending time this season with Kilian Jornet, who is likely the world’s best high altitude climber, Andrezj Bargiel, who is likely the world’s best high altitude skier, and Tim Emmett who is one of the world’s best all-around climbers.
This ‘post-monsoon’ autumn season on 8000m peaks was a tough one. The monsoon came late and was very heavy, significant amounts of snowfall continued to accumulate daily throughout the time we were on Everest, rather than the typically drier weather of September.
Despite the unusually inclement weather making the overall conditions more challenging, after establishing the route to Camp 1 we discovered a large Serac (ice cliff) that was precariously hanging above the icefall route, on the way from base camp to camp 1. After studying the Serac by drone footage, we determined that when this Serac fell it would obliterate a large portion of the route, a wide area of the route was in danger with no way to avoid this section. None of the teams present, except for Kilian, were willing to take the risk of climbing through this section. Kilian can move very quickly and independently, so he could justify going through this area.
We continued to wait patiently in base camp for the Serac to fall, thereby making the route safe & reasonable for us. However, that day never came. Although the Serac looked more precarious each day, it never broke off while we waited. Eventually, all of the teams decided that they were running out of time and had to call off their expedition plans. Kilian did make one great attempt and reached 8300m on Everest before deciding the deep and unstable snow was too risky for an avalanche. His recap is here: https://www.instagram.com/p/B3RjuN6nHZV/
I stayed with our Nepal team and held out hope that the Serac would fall and allow us to climb until October 6th, when it became apparent that we were out of time. Even if the Serac came down the next day, it would take us more than two weeks to mobilize our team and make an attempt under best-case circumstances, assuming perfect weather, route conditions, climber health and acclimatization, etc., an additional two weeks past our scheduled end date for the expedition.
Everest felt like a totally different mountain this autumn as compared to my prior 12 spring Everest expeditions, due to the continued inclement weather and substantial buildup of new snow. In spring typically the weather is much nicer, and the route conditions are relatively dry, allowing for straightforward climbing.
I’m happy to say that nobody had mixed emotions about climbing under the Serac. It was plain to all of us (except Kilian) that the risk to human life was too high for us, given the precarious position of this ice cliff. Independent, professional climbers can afford, if they choose, to take high risks. However, as a professional mountain guide & expedition leader, I cannot subject my clients and staff to such risks. I appreciate how amenable our clients were in their understanding and agreement in this decision.
We came to the mountain, having prepared ourselves to make an attempt at the summit, should the opportunity present itself. However, many factors are out of our control and must all must align for us to even have a shot at the summit. This season the mountain did not present a reasonable set of conditions for us to make a viable attempt. That’s an inherent part of mountaineering, knowing that the summit is not guaranteed. I’m glad we all enjoyed our time together on this journey in the Himalayas experiencing the mountain, the Sherpa culture, and the richness of Nepal! A special thank you to Joe Vernachio and everyone at Mountain Hardwear!
I look forward to my next opportunity on Everest in spring 2020!