Climb Everest in 2016 / 17 / 18 etc with 4 times summiteer Tim Mosedale

Everest Expedition via South Col 2016 / 2017 / 18 / 19 etc

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Interactive mountain panoramas coming to a smartphone in your pocket.

Well it's been a while but a) I have been away and b) since getting back I have been ill.

I'll write an Ama Dablam round up on another occasion but this time I'm just pointing you to a new page on my Everest website where I have compiled all my interactive panoramas. There's a selection of panoramas taken in the Everest region and they are all now available on this page.

If you view them on a laptop / desktop then you can get them to autorotate, turn the labels on or off and zooooom right in. There is soooo much detail it is quite stunning ... even though I say so myself. 

On a smartphone or tablet you can either use the touch screen to scroll around or, best of the lot, just point it up, down, left or reght and it will show you what is up, down left or right. Incredible!

This has been done in conjunction with the maestro of photographic stitching software - Thomas Worbs. He runs his own website at and he also has a FaceBook page - In all he has a 1,000+ panoramas and growing. Why not give him a visit and a 'like' and you'll receive notification of any new posts.

In the meantime I hope that you enjoy the show.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

What Everest 2014 may mean for Everest 2015 (and beyond)


In the first of this 2 part article I looked at success rates, fatality rates and the implications of going with the wrong team. In this article I am now looking at what the 2014 tragedy may mean for the 2015 season.


The tragedy on Everest in 2014 led to the South side effectively being closed. There was a lot of confusion about whether Climbing Sherpas were willing to continue working, whether they feared to step foot in The Khumbu Icefall, or whether they feared that there might be repercussions because of threats from the militant Sherpas who were holding the government, the Westerners, and therefore the mountain, to ransom.

This article is not about the tragedy, the cause or the aftermath; it is not about the morality of having Climbing Sherpas working for teams on Everest; and it is not about the working relationship between companies, their staff and their 'rich' Western clients (although I do touch on this briefly). This is about the implications for the forthcoming season(s) on Everest and what the future might hold for an entire community who are so reliant on trekking and expeditions as their major source of income.

The differences between S & N

There are two main sides to Everest for aspiring clients who want to climb to its summit. There is the South (Nepalese) side of the mountain and the North (Tibetan) side. Amongst a lot of the big companies the South has been long been favoured due to a number of factors –

·         it is easier to descend from Base Camp (5,250m) to lower elevations (4,400m and lower) for periods of rest whilst waiting for the weather;
·         it is warmer than the North side. There isn’t that much temperature difference at night as they are both chilly places to be, but by day Camp 2 (South side) and ABC (North side) whilst both being at 6,400m are drastically different - at C2 (S) you can be in a
t-shirt during the day whereas at ABC (N) you may well be eating lunch whilst shivering away in your down jacket;
·         the respective camps on the mountain are situated at lower elevations (Camp 1 - 6,000m (S) vs 7,100m (N), C2 - 6,400m vs 7,500m, C3 - 7,100m vs 7,900m and Top Camp 7,950m vs 8,300m);
·         it is not without its tricky sections but on The South side there is less technical terrain and less objective danger on summit day;
·         despite there being a higher elevation gain on summit day from the South it is easier to descend back down to the comparative safety of The South Col and lower elevations – this is particularly relevant if there is a rescue scenario;
·         and lastly there is the possibility of helicopter evacuation of a sick or injured climber / Sherpa out of The Western Cwm to Kathmandu.

The North side Base Camp is typically reached by jeep, which makes it harder to acclimatise to the rarefied atmosphere, but it also means that it is cheaper to supply logistically (tonnes of food can be brought in by truck instead of employing teams of porters to carry loads from the airfield at Lukla to the Nepalese Base Camp which is a 10 to 12 day round trip). To that end the North side has the advantage of being cheaper (partly because of the cheaper climbing permit and partly because of the cheaper logistics) and the North side doesn't have the objective danger posed by the, now infamous, Khumbu Icefall in which 16 Climbing Sherpas lost their lives on 18th April 2014. Being cheaper does have its drawbacks though as you tend to get some people there who are going purely based on price rather than having done their research and due diligence.

Credit notes

Despite assurances from the Ministry of Tourism that expedition permits would be carried forward and be valid for 5 years it would appear that only the permit, and not the individual places, will actually be credited against expeditions in the near future. (This is still subject to clarification but it would seem to be the case).

By playing with words the Ministry of Tourism have managed to wangle their way out of a commitment that everyone believed was in place as they departed Base Camp empty handed at the end of last season. This emergency measure was put in place to appease the expedition members, leaders, Sirdars and Climbing Sherpas and was supposed to go some way towards smoothing things over. The fact that things had already gotten well out of control due to their inaction in the first place is another matter – but suffice to say that a letter was produced showing a commitment to carry forward the permits for the next 5 years.

Understandably there were those of us who were sceptical at the time but carrying on had become an untenable situation.

The fact that a lady summited the mountain with helicopter support up to C2 and evacuation back again from The Western Cwm does not mean that the mountain had always been open – which is what the MoT are trying to say as a justification for why they have changed their tune.

Anger all round

The Sherpas were representing their concerns to the government regarding, amongst other things, insurance payouts and the future welfare of the families that are left behind. Meanwhile the Western companies were representing their concerns to the Ministry of Tourism to try and make sure that they (The Climbing Sherpas) don’t die in the first place.

Due to the dynamic nature of the Khumbu Icefall it is almost impossible to create a health and safety document or do an in depth risk assessment, but that is what we are endeavouring to put forward. We are looking at better protocols for fixing ropes and ladders as well as better training for the Icefall Doctors and Climbing Sherpas alike. The use of helicopters is being proposed for taking essential freight to C2 at the beginning of the season to minimise the loads that need to be carried, and therefore reduce the journeys that are made through the Khumbu Icefall. And we are looking to be allowed to store freight at Camp 2 between seasons – again to minimise the journeys that have to be made through the icefall at the beginning and end of each season.

Perversely the Sherpas are concerned that these last two measures will mean less work for them and therefore less pay.

International opinion

Obviously there were the angry voices out there (mainly non-mountaineers and office or couch bound self-proclaimed aficionados on all matters relating to Everest) who claimed that the fallout had been a long time coming and that this was payback time for the years of abuse and lack of respect that we had given our Climbing Sherpas. This is simply not true and, indeed, anyone who has trekked or been on expedition with the Climbing Sherpas will have come away with a profound respect for them and have been humbled in their presence. Many people are so taken with the whole life changing experience that they sponsor Sherpa children through boarding school or stay connected with their Sherpas for life.

And then there was the matter of wealth and fatness that was brought in to the fray. How anyone decides to spend their well earned ££s is entirely their business. Please don’t cycle in to work on your £3.5k+ roadbike and preach from your £2k+ MacBook Pro 15" with Retina Display about how anyone else can spend their money. And as far as clients being fat / unfit / technically inept … well admittedly there will always be those there who shouldn’t be there (why were they accepted by their company?) but generally speaking most clients on Everest have been not only saving for years but also training for years and have many expeditions under their collective harnesses.

By all means remind me of the David Sharp (North side, solo, no Sherpa, no radio, Asian Trekking client) and Shriya Shah-Klorfine (South side, very little oxygen, inexperienced, poor Sherpa support, Utmost Adventure client) type clients and I will hand you a list as long as your arm of people who summited in great style who were experienced climbers and approached the mountain with due caution and due diligence.

And in a sense I will also agree with you about the Sharp’s and Shriya’s of the world – they should not have been there; or should have been trained and mentored and looked after better; or perhaps advised to either not come at all; or perhaps come in a few years’ time. But they are a fact of life that gives Everest a really bad name.

Piano lessons

Anyone in their right mind who wanted to do anything remotely risky would probably get themselves trained to the appropriate level. A person who wanted to do freefall parachute jumps would probably start with static line, progress to tandem and then on to freefall. A wannabe scuba diver would do a PADI* course and build up their log book experience before committing to a complex wreck dive at 45m. Indeed even with less risky activities lessons and experience count for a lot – from driving a car to riding a horse, from learning the piano to flying a plane. Mountain biking, rock climbing, kayaking, being a doctor, speaking a foreign language – years of experience is the key.

(*it should be pointed out that other branded courses are also available).

So why is it that there is a perception that you can just turn up and have a go on Everest? The fact that some chap, who was apparently a non-climber, did it one year doesn’t mean that other non-climbers can do it in the future. Maybe he had actually done more training than he admitted to. Perhaps he was naturally predisposed to being good at altitude. Maybe he was with a very good outfit and had plenty of oxygen and lots of support. Maybe the weather was great or, indeed, perhaps he was just plain lucky. But whatever you do don’t then assume that you can sign up with a crap company, with little or no experience, with little or no oxygen and attempt to get to the summit – because you can’t do that without endangering your life and the lives of everyone around you. And that includes endangering people from other teams (because of your suspect practices and lack of competence) or endangering the lives of the Climbing Sherpas who may well be coming to try and help you down.

Any skills that are required to attempt Everest should be part of your muscle memory and, in a sense, shouldn’t require much in the way of thought processes. Adapting to the ever changing weather, environment and conditions should come naturally from years and years of experience on other hills and mountains.

Next season.

So let’s look in to the crystal ball and see what is going to happen next season. It’s obviously impossible because of the variables to be clear and concise about what will and what won’t happen; what will be in place and whether it will make a difference; how the conditions on the mountain will affect the general situation etc etc.

Some future clients will be concerned that there may be a repeat closure on the South side and that no refunds will be given. So what does the future hold for Everest?

As mentioned earlier it would appear that when a permit is cashed in then it is cashed in and individual places will not then be carried forward. Some of the 2014 clients will undoubtedly not come back - their time was 2014 and they have had their chance to climb (or not as the case may be) and have gone home empty handed, never to return. The majority, I suspect, will see Everest as unfinished business and will be back in the future. Whether 2015 will be an option partly depends on whether their team permit is being cashed in and their ability to justify the expense (and get time off work) so soon - as well as the gamble and hope that the next season won't be interrupted.

If it is the case that when a permit is cashed in then it’s cashed in then maybe some 2014 clients will feel impelled to try again in 2015 because they don’t want to lose out on the US$10,000 credit note. Others, who cannot raise the funds that quickly, are going to have to accept that they will have to start all over again.

Suffice to say that there are a few scenarios that can be mooted. Presuming that people will not be put off all together I foresee, in no particular order, the following permutations:

Busier North side, roughly the same numbers, or quieter, for the South side.

Due to the problems with the mountain closure in 2014 there may well be a migration of clients to The North who would otherwise have gone South. Their time is 2015 and they have everything lined up for that season and for whatever reason(s) would not want to delay another year – but they may hedge their bets by going North to avoid the scandalous situation that occurred in 2014.

To that end there may be hugely reduced numbers for the South (some going North – some not coming in 2015 as they had originally hoped) being joined by a number of people who were there this year cashing in their peak permit credit note.

Result – Bearing in mind that the North side summit day is so much more hazardous than the South summit day there will inevitably be far more deaths on the North side as a result of increased numbers.

Busier North side and busier South side

Again there may be a migration of some potential Southerners to the North side as well as a lot of people from 2014 returning for unfinished business on the South side. Depending on who goes where it may well be the case that both North and South will be busier as a result.

Result - more deaths on both sides (more so North) but potentially record numbers summiting as well. Expect long queues … depending on weather windows.

Same, same

Some people put off all together.

Some migration Northwards.

Some repeats coming back.

Result - a standard season (although, again, possibly a bit busier on the North side).

Busier North, another interrupted season on The South

Again there may be a migration of some potential Southerners to the North side as well as an interrupted season on The South.

The militant faction of Climbing Sherpas (who, incidentally, were from outside The Khumbu) may try and stir things up again.

This would be financial suicide for the South side because the 2016 season, and beyond, will dry up as a result. The Khumbu is hugely dependent not only on the seasonal trekkers but also the expeditions for April and May (as well as the Oct / Nov season – but teams don’t tend to do Everest post monsoon).

The Khumbu community have never really been politicised because there’s always been a steady flow of income from trekkers and expeditions and as a result have never had any Maoist tendencies. But when they were listening to the politically motivated shop steward types, and cheering for them, they were in effect voting for these people to be their (self-appointed) spokesmen. They (The Khumbu Climbing Sherpas) are probably regretting that decision ever since because they have kids in boarding schools in Kathmandu, they have loans on teahouses, they have bills to pay and they didn’t get their full pay for the season and they didn’t get their summit bonuses.

Business is business and it’s open as usual.

Whilst trekking out this year it was patently obvious that most of the lodge owners (many of whom have previously summited Everest) were very concerned about the repercussions for future seasons in The Khumbu. Unlike the militant Sherpas who stirred the whole crazy mess up in the first place they are businessmen and businesswomen who understand their demographic. Without trekkers and mountaineers there will be insufficient funds coming in to the region to support the various strings of the local economy. The region is already over-subscribed with teahouses and, as mentioned already, many Sherpas have children who are at boarding schools in Kathmandu. The local economy has been rocked by the early departure of teams this year and if it happens again the consequences will be very far reaching.

I expect that, having only received 1/2 to 2/3 of their regular pay, a lot of families will now be wondering ‘now what?’

Never mind the US$3 million or so that the Ministry of Tourism collects in peak permits - that is nothing compared to the in excess of US$12 million that pours in to the region during the Spring season as a result of trekkers and Everest expeditions. Even the porters from outside the region are spending almost half of their daily pay to live in The Khumbu. This is basic economics and everyone will suffer if there is a problem – from the vegetable seller in Namche Bazaar to the teahouse owner in Dingboche, from the person who sells NCell mobile top up cards to the bakery owner in Pangboche they are all hoping for a trouble free season.

To that end I think it is very unlikely that the 2015 season will be interrupted and, if it is, then I imagine that the course of events will not result in closure as happened this season.

Watch this space.

See also:

as well as:

And lastly, for more information about what skills are required then have a look at this page of suggestions as well as some notes on how to use jumars on fixed ropes

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Fatalities on Everest - a comparison of some facts and figures

Everest North side.
The top camp is at 8,300m and summit day involves a long period of time well above 8,500m.
Any problems encountered on the summit day ridge involve retracing technical terrain at ultra high altitude.

Everest South side.
The South Col (just left of centre) is slightly below 8,000m and whilst summit day involves more ascent than on the North side it is easier to descend to lower elevations and rescue is a distinct possibility.

In the first of a 2 part series about Everest I am initially looking at the success rates, fatality rates (and possible reasons behind them) and the implications of going with the wrong expedition company.

The follow on from this will be looking at what happened last season and how it may affect the next.

Rogue groups and individuals

Whilst it would be very tempting to strip out the cowboy operators, rogue groups and dodgy individuals from the statistics it would paint a skewed picture. The cheap operators with their dubious clients and debatable practices appear on both sides of the mountain - although more so on the North. They are there and it is a fact of life. To eliminate them from the statistical comparison would not eliminate them from being there and, in turn, being a hazard to everyone around them.

The Khumbu Icefall

In actual fact prior to the 2014 tragedy the Khumbu Icefall hadn't been the demise of the huge numbers of climbers and Sherpas that it had the reputation of. In the last 30 years it accounted for 3 Sherpa fatalities when a section collapsed in 2006 - and apart from that has accounted for a handful more fatalities where people (Sherpa and Westerners) have fallen in to crevasses usually as a result of not being clipped in to the ropes that are there for safety purposes.

Where people die

In the great scheme of things Climbing Sherpas tend to die lower down on Everest whereas clients tend to die higher up. The figures aren't quite cut and dried but can be roughly separated in to mistakes, avalanche and mishap lower down the mountain as opposed to lack of oxygen, exhaustion and AMS higher up.

The data refers to AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) as being one of the causes of death. I have made an assumption that in actual fact AMS is more likely to be HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Oedema) and / or HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema). AMS is usually (but not always) a precursor to HACE and is often (but not always) a precursor to HAPE. HACE and HAPE can occur out of the blue, with no previous indications, although this is unusual because, generally speaking, critically ill people have usually displayed previous signs and symptoms (typically of advanced AMS). Where someone has HACE I would generally assume that they may well be susceptible to HAPE and vice versa.

Arguably lack of oxygen may be the root cause of HACE, and perhaps HAPE is the reason behind the cases of exhaustion. It is difficult, given the conditions, remote setting and lack of proper medical opinion on the day, to separate these factors out. Either which way being at ultra high altitude complicates the issue and makes it very difficult to make a diagnostic analysis.

On both sides of the mountain summit day accounts for most of the Western fatalities. When you then compare the two sides of the mountain the figures show distinctly that people are much more likely to summit on the South and are much more likely to die on the North.

I have tried to compare like for like (i.e. The North Col Route vs The South Col Route) and to that end have not included a handful of esoteric expeditions like The West Ridge or East Face type expeditions. The figures for the last 3 decades* up to 2013**show the following:

Total No of members
Total No of summits (incl Sherpa)***
Total No of member summits
%age member success rate
Total Fatalities
Member fatalities
%age member mortality rate
No Climbing Sherpa deaths

*chosen because this represents the advent of commercial climbing expeditions
** consolidated figures for 2014 were not available for North side summits
*** includes multiple ascents
**** does not include the 16 Sherpas who died in 2014
† 2 on summit day, 2 from illness, 1 from avalanche
‡ 1 on summit day, 8 due to accidents, 7 due to illness, 3 due to avalanche, 3 in The Icefall

When you consider that many of the better equipped companies have got a 70% to 90% success rate it means that there are companies out there who have a lowly 0 to 15% success rate.

Of the people who have died over the years the split is as follows:

Below summit day
Summit day
Reached Summit

This is very telling in that most people who died on summit day did so in descent having reached the summit - either later on summit day or at a high Camp whilst descending.

This then splits down as follows:

Exposure / Frostbite
Illness (non AMA)
Icefall Collapse
Rock / Ice

It is obviously very difficult to ascertain whether someone had AMS or actually had HACE or HAPE; whether they were physically exhausted or, in actual fact, had the onset of HAPE which compromised their breathing and gave a perception of exhaustion; whether they were frostbitten as a result of a lack of (or not enough) oxygen; whether they fell on summit day as a result of bad judgement or due to hypoxia or perhaps frostbite; or disappeared as a result of an error (again possibly due to hypoxia).

Sadly it would appear that a lot of the summit day fatalities might have been avoidable and that more oxygen and / or high altitude medication and / or a reliable Climbing Sherpa and / or better summit day protocols might have made a difference.

What is certain from the figures, which seem to speak for themselves, is that the North side summit day is extremely hazardous when compared with the South side.

What is also easy to see is the correlation between lack of oxygen and lack of success – with an estimated success rate of only 1 in 16 of those who try to summit without oxygen (this is the success rate of those who try without oxygen and does not indicate that 15 out of 16 without oxygen die trying).

When you consider the 1 in 16 success rate is of people who are intentionally trying to summit without oxygen the rate is actually skewed even lower by the people who thought they were going to get oxygen when they signed up with their cheap as chips expedition … only to find that in actual fact oxygen wasn’t included and will cost another US$5,000. Oh, and a summit Sherpa isn’t included either and that will be another US$5,000. And of course because the client has signed up with a cheap trip because it was cheap, they don’t have the spare cash to have these extras that they thought would be included.

And so they don’t summit.

Or they die trying.

Unfortunately I can't separate these clients out from the rest of the people who fail to summit but undoubtedly trying without oxygen, whether intentionally or not, is going to mean that success is much, much rarer.

Everest North side 2005.
A group of highly (and I mean highly) experienced mountaineers - with in excess of 150 expeditions between us.
Despite the plethora of experience only 3 of us (plus all 4 Climbing Sherpas) summited - a reflection of the difficulty of the North side living conditions and the route.
The grey areas and the small print.

I have done some research in to the data concerning Everest / members / Sherpas / companies / summits / fatalities / percentages etc and quite frankly it is very difficult to get to the bottom of some of it. Depending on which source you consult depends on the how much information you can glean. Some companies are very forthcoming with their figures (especially success rates) whereas others are not quite so frank (particularly regarding fatalities).

Talking of fatalities I have tried to ascertain whether there is a link between companies (and by inference high and low cost expeditions) vs success rates vs death rates and guess what? The more professional (and costly) companies tend to have very good success rates with very low mortality rates whereas the basement bargain companies have much lower success rates and much higher fatality rates. This in part might be a reflection of a number of issues:

·       more expensive companies have better client / Climbing Sherpa ratios
·       more expensive companies tend to provide more oxygen
·       more expensive companies tend to provide Western leaders and guides. Not necessarily 1:1 but certainly a Western led group will probably have better mentoring, better risk assessment and a better understanding of first aid and high altitude physiology than a group who have no Western guides or leaders
·       more expensive companies are probably a bit more choosy in their client acceptance knowing full well that lowering their success %age and increasing their fatality %age is not good for business, ergo they have better clients
·       cheaper companies are possibly sought out by less experienced clients who are unwilling to pay an increased cost but who are willing to cut corners
·       or perhaps they have been turned down by the better companies on account of their lack of technical expertise and experience and have eventually been accepted by the company at the bottom of the pile
·       cheaper companies are sometimes not as forthcoming with their inclusions and exclusions as perhaps they ought to be and the client signs up thinking that they will be getting x, y and z. The reality is that they are only getting x and when they are at Base Camp they find out that y and z will cost extra.

This latter case is in part down to the client not conducting their due diligence – they do their research (or not) and decide that even though people have died on previous expeditions there is the misguided belief that ‘it won’t happen to me.’ Or perhaps they don’t know what questions to ask and therefore don’t know whether the answers hold any substance. But it is also as a result of wooly conditions, vague clauses and small print and is, in some instances, completely immoral.

As an example if a company claims ‘in 2012 we had 10 clients and we put 7 people on the summit’ does that imply a 70% success rate? On the face of it – yes it would appear so. Delve deeper and you find out that whilst they had 10 clients they actually put 4 clients and 3 Climbing Sherpas on the summit – a lowly 40% success rate.

Another example might be ‘we have a 1:1 client to Sherpa ratio.’ Sounds great! But, again, scratch the surface, delve deeper and you come across a page where it says that a 1:1 summit Sherpa will cost an additional US$5,000. But I thought you said you had a 1:1 ratio? We do – but that is the ratio of our Sherpa staff to our clients and not our staffing ratio whilst we are working on the hill. Some of the ‘Sherpa staff’ are on Base Camp duties and the ‘Climbing Sherpa’ staff may well be down at C2 whilst you might be at The South Col – not a 1:1 summit day ratio. Or perhaps you and 4 other clients may share the services of 1 or 2 Climbing Sherpas on summit day – which in turn means that there is less oxygen available to all and sundry on summit day which means that everyone in the group is much more likely to suffer from frostbite and / or hypothermia and / or HACE and / or exhaustion and / or hypoxia as a result. The net effect? Fewer people on the summit and more people dying high on the hill.

Talking of oxygen … I thought that you said it was available? Indeed it is available … if you pay a US$5,000 excess. Now a client who has already opted for a cheap expedition is not going to have an additional US$10,000 for oxygen and a 1:1 summit Sherpa – so they are either not going to summit or they are going to die trying.

And who then picks up the pieces? The better equipped and more professional companies out there who are willing to donate Climbing Sherpas and oxygen to people from other teams who have been left high and dry, abandoned on the hill with little or no oxygen and no Climbing Sherpa(s).

As an example this became very evident in 2013 when a Taiwanese climber was left to his own devices and pretty much abandoned at Camp 4 on Lhotse. Not only did a Western Guide and a Climbing Sherpa from our camp start providing assistance through the late afternoon and evening but a team of Climbing Sherpas was being readied for his evacuation the very next morning. This team of Sherpas was being assembled from our camp, Jagged Globe, IMG, Adventure Consultants, HIMEX and Peak Freaks to name but a few and they were ready to go out in the ultra early hours from Camp 2 to get to Lhotse Camp 4 to bring him down and get him readied for evacuation by helicopter. The team that the sick climber was with had a bunch of clients at The South Col but were unwilling to release any Climbing Sherpas to help out. His wife appeared in Kathmandu with US$20,000 for his evacuation but sadly he passed away in the very early hours. If he had paid, perhaps, US$10,000 more in the first place, and gone with a reputable company, then maybe he wouldn’t have got in to such an untenable situation in the first place.

I wouldn’t mind but when one of my clients who summited Everest with me met a couple from the same team who had also reached the summit of Everest she was told that they had had a 100% success rate!

‘What about the Taiwanese guy?’ asked Ilina.
‘But he was on Lhotse.’
‘What about the Korean chap who died at The South Col?’ she asked.
‘Ah, but he was trying without oxygen,’ came the reply.
‘What about the Nepali actor who turned around on summit day and lost a few fingers due to frostbite?’
‘Oh, we didn’t hear about him … but apart from that we had a 100% success rate.’

Yeah right.

Crampons on the wrong feet, quickdraws on his harness, a helmet on his rucksack and a Climbing Sherpa negotiating every rebelay for him. Why was this guy on Everest in the first place, who accepted him as part of their expedition and why wasn't he being mentored by a Western leader?
He was with a cheap outfit who probably just wanted to make up the numbers but, by inference, he was a liability to himself and therefore a liability to everyone around him.

All deaths on Everest are tragic … particularly the avoidable ones.

Any death on Everest is an absolute tragedy. There will be some people who succumb because of, say, a heart attack which if it hadn’t happened during the expedition would have maybe happened back home in a few months anyway.

There will always be the very unfortunate incident where a loose rock or block of ice just happens to hit the unwary Sherpa or climber.

But the deaths that are because of not clipping in to the ropes and falling off a ladder, or sliding down the Lhotse Face are, sadly, avoidable and shouldn't happen (and perhaps one could say that they only had themselves to blame).

The terrible incident this Spring should not have been on the magnitude that it was. As a result of a ladder breaking there were too many Climbing Sherpas congregated in one place for too long. In this instance I am definitely not saying that they only have themselves to blame because there was a sense of expectation and pressure that the Climbing Sherpas were under and to leave a load and descend back to BC is a difficult thing to do. Some of our Climbing Sherpas did just that and it saved their lives. But others will have had self imposed pressure about performing / getting the logistics in place / earning money and may well have compromised themselves as a result. This was certainly an isolated incident but one of such magnitude that it will undoubtedly be in the forefront of everyone’s minds when they are on the hill next Spring and for many seasons to come.

I mentioned earlier about grey areas and small print and these can also be classed as immoral practices. By that I mean when someone dies because of a lack of enough (extra / spare) oxygen that they thought they would have, or they die because there was an insufficient Climbing Sherpa ratio that they were led to believe was being catered for, or they die because there was a lack of high altitude medication (or indeed no medication). Sadly, if these things had been available then maybe, just maybe, it would have made a difference. And this not only goes for clients but is equally true of when a Climbing Sherpa dies as a result of poor logistics, insufficient supplies or lack of adequate provision.

Indeed all 3 of the above (oxygen, support and medication) are exactly what a sick or injured climber (Westerner or Climbing Sherpa – it makes no difference) needs … as soon as possible. Immediate access to lots of Os, high altitude medication and extra support are critical and will make the difference.

As an example we (and other teams) have a very strict 1:1 Climbing Sherpa ratio for summit day, we carry oodles of oxygen, every client has a box of high meds (and everyone knows how to use them), we have a spare mask and regulator as well as having the whole operation overseen by vhf radio from Base Camp. Someone in an oxygen rich environment is overseeing the whole summit day process and monitoring where people are, how much oxygen they have, how well they are moving, what time they set off etc etc to get a feel for whether continuing is advisable. This is the approach that gives very good success rates and it also saves lives.

But it also means that some unscrupulous people (clients and operators) seem to assume that they can go along on the cheap knowing full well that someone will help them out of the do doo. Not only is this completely immoral but it is unnecessarily risking the lives of other people around them.

In the next article I will be looking at how the tragedy on Everest last Spring may affect  attitudes and numbers on Everest next Spring.

See also:

For more information about what skills are required then have a look at this page of suggestions as well as some notes on how to use jumars on fixed ropes

Friday, 11 July 2014

The Frog Graham - done and dusted

The Frog Graham is a running / walking / swimming event around The North Lakes, it covers 60km including 3,350m or so of swimming, 4,714m of ascent and the idea is that the person doing it is self supported (i.e. carrying their own gear).

Having arrived back from Everest a bit earlier than anticipated and feeling fit from all the trekking (but not debilitated because of the ultra high altitude) it was the perfect thing for me to get my teeth in to. It was a great motivator to get out and do something and meant that I was out training every day for 6 weeks either running or swimming or both as I fine tuned my fitness and recce'd bits of the route at the same time.

Without much in the way of data it was difficult to know what the schedule would be but I plumped for a pace that would be slightly slower than Bob Graham pace for the mountain bits, around 2kph for the swimming bits and 20 minutes either side of each lake for changing and eating.

03:00 - Start from Moot Hall – Leg 1 (up Skiddaw, down Carl Side, through Dodd Wood to Church Bay)
05:45 - Arrive Church Bay
06:00 - Enter water. Swim across Bassenthwaite
06:20 - Arrive Beck Wythop
06:40 – Set off on Leg 2 (Barf, Lords Seat, Ullister Hill, Grisedale Pike, Hopegill Head, Sand Hill, Crag Hill, Wandope, Whiteless Pike, Low Bank to Hause Point on Crummock Water)
10:25 – Arrive Hause Point
10:45 – Enter water. Swim across Crummock Water
10:55 – Arrive Low Ling Crag.
11:15 – Set off on Leg 3 (Mellbreak (S. summit), Red Pike, High Stile to Horse Close)
12:55 – Arrive Horse Close
13:15 – Enter water. Swim across Buttermere.
13:25 – Arrive Crag Wood.
13:45 – Set off on Leg 4 (Robinson, Dale Head, High Spy, Catbells to Otterbield Bay)
16:30 – Arrive Otterbield Bay.
16:50 – Enter water and swim across Derwentwater (via Otterbield Island, St Herberts and Rampsholme)
17:30 – Arrive Calf Close Bay
17:50 – Depart Calf Close Bay
18:15 – Arrive Moot Hall

I'd been in touch with Peter Hayes, the chap who came up with the concept, about whether it was in the spirit of the event to have folk along for the running sections for a blather (as long as I didn't have any assistance from them) and he was in agreement - so I recruited a bunch of folk to run alongside and the scene was set.

The date was scheduled for Saturday 21st June, the B&B was covered in my absence and the weather forecast was great. But with less than a week to go I was unsure about how to transport my dry gear across each lake. Then Craig Dring mentioned that there was a company making what they call tow floats and 'hey presto!' the final piece of the jigsaw fitted in to place.

Two days later my 'Chillswim Tow Float' arrived in the post. I did a trial swim with the tow float full of tins of baked beans and the scene was set for my attempt a few days later.

Unfortunately the Friday day and evening turned out to be a pretty busy affair and so it wasn't until 23:30 that I managed to turn off the light and try and get some sleep. The alarm went all too early at 02:00 and I had less than an hour to get some breakfast down, get changed and get to The Moot Hall.

I started out with Stu Edginton and Paul Maxwell at 03:00 (we were waved off by Jonathan Nicholson) and by 03:45 there was no need for the headtorches. It was a gloriously still, cool morning with wispy clouds on most summits except for Skiddaw. There were a whole bunch of folk bivvying up there and we tagged the summit at 04:17 (which is slightly ahead of Bob Graham schedule). I put the brakes on a little bit because it's all very well being up on schedule but if you are too far up too early then there's a chance you'll blow it later.

The route down to Bassenthwaite Lake was a steep slatey path down to Carl Side and then a fab run down to White Stones and on down through Dodd Wood. We arrived at Bassenthwaite Lake at 04:59 and I was in the water for 05:16. Paul decided to swim as well but had said that he didn't want to hold me back, so after I checked back on him a few times I 'swam like a torpedo' (his words) and was across at 05:33.

Jonathan Nicholson was there to do some more filming along with Ian Boit who was there to accompany me on Legs 2 and 4 and we departed the lake shore at 05:45.

So far so good and 55 minutes up on my anticipated schedule. I had a little bit of a twinge in my calf so after a while we walked along the road towards Thornthwaite and then had the endless approach through the woods to Barf.

I planned on taking water from streams along the way and having filled and drank in Dodd Wood the next filling station was where the footpath leave the forested area and branches across the top of the fell side to the summit of Barf (06:35) and then on to Lord's Seat (06:50). We kept to the track coming off Lord's Seat and then a bit of cross country to Ullister Hill (07:01). Shortly after that I made a bit of a navigational error in the woods arriving at a track junction and turning left not realising I was a junction too early! It just didn't feel right so we were back and forth along the trail for a few minutes and then I realised where we were and we continued on down through Whinlatter with a red squirrel sighting to lift the spirits.

The next access to water wasn't going to be until Coledale Hause so it's quite a way only only a litre. The sun was pretty bright as we left the woods and started up the Grisedale Grind but it was still early and consequently not too hot. We met a chap on the summit of Grisedale Pike (08:12) who was flabbergasted to be told by Ian what I was doing and he asked for a photo which was great.

On down and across to Hopegill Head (08:35) eating fudge along the way and then over Sand Hill (08:40) before stopping for a good break and litres of water at Coledale Hause. Up to this point I'd been using Vimto (my first 1/2 litre) and Mountain Fuel (my next couple of fills) and now it was over to Nuun tablets which are a bit easier to carry and use en route.

We picked up the steep ascent path and scramble up to the summit of Crag Hill (09:13) and then the trod across to Wandhope (09:23) and on down (and up) to Whiteless Pike (09:37). I'm pretty crap on descent and it's always further than I realise off Whiteless Pike but we made good progress - although I was very aware that I was no longer up on my schedule.

I nearly made a bit of a major error as I took the path down Rannerdale when thankfully Ian reminded me that Low Bank was on the route. A quick look at the map and then a lovely run along the undulating summit to the end of Low Bank (10:10), which I'd never been along before.

And thence down to Crummock Water arriving at 10:23.

Now I was only 2 minutes up! The stop at Coledale hause had been a bit longer than I had thought and running / walking carrying my own gear whilst feeding myself along the way had evidently put me on to a slower pace than I had reckoned. I was trying to be disciplined about taking on food and whilst the jelly babies and fudge were to hand in pockets on my rucksack waistbelt I made a point of stopping every so often (usually summits) to take on 'proper food' ... which in my case wasn't proper at all and consisted of a pack of some small savoury eggs and a plastic box of some breaded chicken things which were on the cheap at the supermarket the other day.

The wind on Crummock Water played a little bit of havoc and caused me to drift off course quite a bit but with a few corrections I was across (arriving 10:43) and met up with Biscuit and Billy - immediately offering Billy my birthday wishes.

Once I'd unpacked the tow bag, changed and downed almost a full tube of condensed milk it was time to tackle Melbreak. The bracken was chest high, the going pretty rough, my legs were tired and we perhaps didn't take the best line. There were quite a few sheep trods we picked up that vaguely went in the right direction but after a few hundred metres we invariably lost the trail and ended up bracken bashing until picking up another trod.

We summited Melbreak (S summit) at 11:39 then dropped quite a way to cross Black Beck (quick drink) and then made our way cross country to cross Scale Force (quick drink and a refill) after which there's quite a way across to Lingcomb Edge and so on up to Red Pike (12:57).

It was round about here that I should have been down at Buttermere and the legs were feeling sluggish. It was now that I recalled that, in the previous 12 months, my longest run had been around 3 hours the weekend before when I had supported Nick Ogden on leg 5 on his supreme effort on The Bob Graham Round - which he completed in a staggering 19hrs 52mins. I'd had a few longish days trekking in Nepal but intrinsically most of my runs had been 1 to 2 hours - and I guess that might go some way to explaining why I was now down on schedule.

The weather was perfect - it was bright but slightly cloudy and there was a gentle breeze. We continued over to High Stile (13:13) and then made good progress down the ridge in to the lower slopes of Burtness Comb (a drink in Comb Beck) and then down to Buttermere foreshore (14:05) where I changed, packed and swam (14:10) across to Crag Wood arriving at 14:20 - 55 minutes down.

As I arrived Ian Boit was there again (having had an ice cream in Buttermere Village whilst waiting for me) and I was also met by Paul Turner (we had been put in touch with each other by Jon Gupta) who turned up from Kendal to have a craic on the hill and get involved helping out. This is the kind of thing that I love about events like this (and The Bob Graham Round in particular) - people turn up at various places at various times of day to assist someone who is trying to achieve something. Unlike the Bob Graham one of the things that is a bit more difficult with The Frog Graham is that some folk are arriving on one side of a lake, for you to then be met by others on the other side of the lake. To that end it is difficult to make the logistics and car sharing dovetail together.

Anyway, onwards and upwards. The route via Hassnesshow Beck up to the summit of Robinson is steep and endless, it was good to have the guys along for moral support and when we arrived on the summit of Robinson (15:25) Paul Maxwell was there to meet me again.

The going from here was much easier underfoot than it had been on the boulder strewn paths of Legs 2 and 3 and it was nice to be able to get the legs working again. Dalehead (16:02) is the last of the big summits but it was a bit of a struggle down to Dalehead Tarn and on up again to High Spy (16:38). I couldn't recall whether Maiden Moor was one of the tops I had to visit so we accessed the internet on the hoof, found the itinerary and jogged past it and over Cat Bells (17:18) to meet Nick Ogden whilst descending to Derwentwater. He was brandishing a can of vanilla coke that I had to decline on account of the fact that I was sticking to the policy of carrying my own gear. Tempted ... but not this time thanks.

I was met at Otterbield Bay (17:43 - 73 minutes down) by Andrew Graham and my wife Ali who were there to canoe alongside (as well as Amanda, Louisa, Phoebe, Tim and Sara Green and their kids Oliver and Isobel). I felt that as the event was reasonably long, and I'd be swimming on tired legs, that a canoe alongside would be a prudent safety feature. Having said that, when I do the event again I'll now be happy to do the whole thing totally solo. The tow bag I was using has handles on it that would be easy enough to use for safety in the event of getting cramps and, whilst the width of Derwentwater is around 1,700m the islands are evenly spaced and you are never too far from safely.

The swim was reasonably long but I made good headway and I was met on the far side by Nick Ogden (again), Kirsten 'Tetlow' Ogden and Jonathan Nicholson - and for the final leg Nick and Ali accompanied me along the lake shore path back in to Keswick. By now I was well and truly goosed but the end was in sight and it was great to be finally running in to Keswick to get to The Moot Hall at 18:59 and be met by Jonathan (again), Effie, Grace and Max, Sara, Tim, Oliver and Isobel, Amanda, Louisa and Phoebe and Paul Turner (I am sure there were others but can't remember).

All in all it was a great day out on the hill and a little bit longer than anticipated. Having said that I wasn't sure what to anticipate in the first place so perhaps my initial estimates had just been a little bit too optimistic. I'm pretty chuffed to get in under 16 hours and surprisingly didn't feel too stiff the next day.

I'll be doing it again some time soon totally solo - it will be interesting to see what time I get without having a bit of moral support.

There's nothing I'll be doing differently ... apart from the vital issue of food on the hill.

P.S. Craig Dring has just completed it 2 days ago and I know another 2 that are having a go in the next few weeks. So if you want to join an exclusive club I'd get your skates on.