Thursday, March 05, 2015

Climbing Everest: Should you take your cappuccino machine?

I was thrilled to see the peak of Mt. Everest out of the window on our flight from Lhasa to Kathmandu. The idea of climbing that mountain or any mountain is something I can barely fathom.

The closest we came to it was a dinner at the Rum Doodle restaurant in Kathmandu. Rum Doodle got its name after the book "The Ascent of Rum Doodle", by W. E. Bowman. Rum Doodle is the name of the fictional world's highest mountain, a hilarious description of mountaineers expeditioning and scaling steep mountains. You can read a synopsis of the book here or read the Wiki summary at the bottom of this post. 

Rum Doodle, the restaurant, is an institution, and the clientele are mountain high-fliers, post-trek trekking parties, guides, Everest climbers (they can eat here for free the rest of their lives) and other tourists. We might have sat in the chairs that real mountaineers, maybe even summiters, sat in. That's as close as I'm ever going to get.

The restaurant is in Thamel, the heart of the tourist area in Kathmandu. The streets are so narrow that we could barely open the car doors to get out. The narrow sidewalks are full of people selling everything you can imagine. Roads are gridlocked with bikes, cars, taxis, motorbikes. Safety?...forget it. You've got to duck and bob and weave and stay alert or you can easily be hit by something.  Without Richard navigating through the crowd and getting us across the street and through the teeming crowds, I would still be there trying to cross the road.

Thamel teems.

If you don't get hit by a vehicle, a sign might fall on your head. 

Thamel acts as the pre-base camp for many mountaineers and you can find tons of gear shops, money exchange booth, pubs, clubs, travel agents and guesthouses. It's one of the noisiest areas I've ever experienced - a wall of noise hit us as we got out of the car - every vehicle was making some kind of noise in protest to the lack of movement: horns honking, bells ringing, loud radios, motors revving. As you'd expect it's dirty, smelly and wildly alive. Climbers and trekkers and young tourists or adventurers like to stay in the area.

Inside the restaurant, the walls and ceiling are all covered with Yeti foot shaped card boards. 

It's a tradition to leave your signature here... a tradition started with the famous first-time summiteers Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. There's also a plaque signed by many of the Everest Summiteers.
Sir Edmund Hillary (L) and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa smile after summitting the Mt. Everest in 1953 (REUTERS)

As of 2014, Everest has been summited 7001 times by 4,142
climbers, many of them multiple times. In 2014, 658 people made the summit. 267 people have died on the mountain: 161 westerners and 106 Sherpas. The most famous summit was the first in 1953 by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Nogay. Since then the challenge seems to be to break records. There are records for:
fastest ascent, youngest person, youngest female, first blind person, oldest person, first married couple, first teenager and on and on. 

Climbing is expensive. I've read about various cost estimates and found the average to be about $50,000 if you climb with a small group. The costs can be up to $90,000 if you use western guides, purchase insurance to the utmost for every possible hazard and find it necessary to take a cook along. Climbing with a crowd and a sketchy entourage will cost about $40,000. The license alone is $11,000. As inflation is running between 9 and 10% in Nepal, do not delay if you plan a gets more prohibitively expensive every year.

If you should have the money to climb, getting in shape would be the next challenge. You can read suggestions for training here Alpine Ascents Everest Training Guide

"Roughly a month before your climb, you should be at the conditioning level where you are comfortable hiking on consecutive weekend days, what is referred to as Back-to-Back training. This involves hiking with your target climb pack weight (60 pounds) on the first day for at least 3,000’ gain, and a somewhat lighter pack (40 pounds) for greater mileage, elevation gain, or both on the second day to simulate the back-to back requirements of long days on your trip. This will not only be helpful physically but also prepare you psychologically for the challenge of repeat high effort days without significant recovery days in between."

If you manage to get the money and the training, here is the way the climbs are staged. I found this on one of those "list" pages: How to climb Mt. Everest

"A Nepalese departure will send you along the southern route to the summit. Getting to Everest Base Camp, where the trek ostensibly starts, is itself a 10-day, 17,000-plus-foot affair. From there, you'll climb to Camp 1, atop the glacial Khumbu Icefall at 19,500 feet. It'll be 1,500 feet or more on a gradual slope to Camp 2, and 2,000 between that and the third camp, situated at the head of the Lhotse face. Above this, you'll need those oxygen tanks on the mixed snow and rock path to Camp 4, at 26,300 feet, in what's known as the "death zone." A day's rest, then onwards along the South East Ridge to the South Summit and the Hillary Step. And in the morning, the final summit attempt."

Here's an account of a climb up the final summit from

The summit
8850 m / 29035 ft.
Finally, the hour is come. At about 11 PM we put on the final gear and step out in the night. There, in the distance, we can see a worm of light slowly moving up a dark wall. It´s climbers head torches flickering in the dark. It’s completely silent. Nobody talks. If you do, you whisper. It is absolutely terrifying and you climb and climb, awaiting the first ray of dawn. It’s desperately cold. It's steep and at parts very icy. The ice axe and the crampons cut skin deep into the ice. You need to pee. Forget it. Someone turns around. "Can´t go on, good luck".

A cold, white moon rises from below, but you hardly glance at it or even the bright twinkle of Universe above. The adrenaline keeps your body moving. And then, suddenly, after hours and hours of despair, you notice a thin blue beam of light at the horizon. Sunrise! If you are lucky, now is the time for the fabled mountain ghost. The mountain projects itself onto the morning fog. The shadow towers in front of you like a giant mirage. Beneath lies the world in all its glory, glowing in the rising sun. You feel the warmth and all hope returning.

You kick your feet to beat the oncoming frostbite. You are at the Balcony, having a short rest, changing to a new oxygen bottle. A ridge lay ahead, and just above you, not far at all, is the South Summit. You begin to enjoy the view, and the possibility of success. Finally, you step up onto the small plateau of the South Summit, and there - just around the corner - is the Everest summit itself!You have watched it so many times from the distance, and suddenly it is so strangely close. Just right there, only 95 meters / 310 ft away. You can almost touch the white tail of snow.

This is as far as we came in 1998, so our report on the site had to end here. On this update however - following our 1999 attempt - we are very happy to at last be able to guide you all the way - to the summit!

When you reach the South Summit you are just a couple of hours from your dream come true. But there is one more obstacle in your way. The Knife Ridge. You will grasp your breath upon seeing it. It is steep and looks truly nasty. The ridge towers almost freely over Nepal and Tibet, it’s sharp and very steep. Hillary Step is in the middle somewhere, a rock climb in the sky.

You step onto the ridge via a small, half open tunnel from South Summit. You climb with your crampons at a sharp, crooked angle towards the side of the ridge. Occasionally, the snow gives way and you slide down for a hairy second. This is not a place to climb without fixing ropes. Clip in carefully, focus on each step and keep moving. If there is a lot of snow, the ridge could be almost wide and quite nice. We had a dry, sharp climb.

The Hillary step was, in our opinion, not too bad. Although very exposed at parts, the climb is fast and feels safe, given the conditions. The danger is to get tangled in the ropes. Bring a good knife. Check the ropes well for strength.

After the step, you will spot white, strange wave-formations of frozen snow pointing out from the summit. Keep climbing towards them. This section is usually unroped, yet not too steep. Still, be careful and use your axe. You might eagerly look for the summit now, yet all you’ll see is a white edge on the horizon. You will not know how far you have left and feel frustrated and tired.

Then you reach another white edge, but this time – it doesn’t continue. Behind it, there is instead a slope down. You are peeking down at the North side of Everest. You have reached the summit, friend.

Not everyone is thrilled with what an Everest climb has become. Here's what a son of Norgay, Norbu said recently:

“It is a travesty, what has happened to this beautiful mountain. Everest has become a cash cow, where the government takes millions of dollars a year but very little or nothing actually goes back. The business of Everest is all tied to money.”

High altitude Sherpa climbers must now “carry Westerners with their luxury tents and their cappuccino machines”, Norgay said.

Peter Hillary, Sir Edmund's son and Jamling Norgay, Tenzing's son climbed the mountain together in 2002. 

You can read about the problems that are developing on the mountain which include crowding, pollution and ignorance, here:

Vanity, pollution and death on Mt. Everest

Crowds of Everest Climbers. 

Wikipedia Synopsis of the novel, The Ascent of Rum Doodle:

The Ascent of Rum Doodle is a short 1956 novel by W. E. Bowman (1911–1985). It is a parody of the non-fictional chronicles of mountaineering expeditions (notablyH. W. Tilman's account of the ascent of Nanda Devi and Maurice Herzog's book  Annapurna chronicling the first ascent of Annapurna in Nepal) that were popular during the 1950s, as many of the world's highest peaks were climbed for the first time. A new edition was released in 2001 with an introduction by the contemporary humorist Bill Bryson. It has been critically well received. Though a parody, it has become one of the most famous and celebrated books of mountaineering literature.
The narrator, "Binder" (his radio codename), is asked by the "Rum Doodle Committee" and its chairman, "Sir Hugeley Havering", to lead an expedition to climb "Rum Doodle", the highest mountain in the world (with an elevation of 40,000 and 1/2 feet), in the remote (fictional) country of "Yogistan". He assembles a team of climbers to play all the roles seen in the parodied literature:
  • Burley, the "strong man";
  • Constant, the "linguist";
  • Jungle, the "route finder";
  • Prone, the "physician";
  • Shute, the "photographer";
  • Wish, the "scientist."
It rapidly develops that each of the climbers is utterly inept in his nominal field of competence, as they demonstrate in a series of chaotic adventures en route to Yogistan; for example, Prone endures a never-ending series of illnesses, while Constant mispronounces a Yogistani word (the language hinges on variously "pronounced" belches and gastrointestinal rumbles) and offends a "short but powerful" Yogistani wielding a knife, having informed him that he lusted for the man's wife — not his intention at all. Binder handles these mishaps with typically British aplomb, having been reassured by the expedition's sponsor that "to climb Mont Blanc by the Grépon route is one thing; to climb Rum Doodle is, as Totter once said, quite another."
Somehow the group does make it to Yogistan, where they hire Yogistani porters, parodies of the Sherpas who were the indispensable indigenous porters and mountain guides (and sometimes climbing partners) to many of the great mountaineering expeditions. However, the Yogistanis do not share the invariable positive attributes of the Sherpa — quite the contrary. Hijinks ensue, as the expedition cook, "Pong", produces food so inedible that the expedition tries (unsuccessfully) to continue on up the mountain without him; the inevitable fall into a crevasse leads to the consumption of the party's champagne (brought along to celebrate reaching the summit and for "medicinal purposes") during the rescue attempt; and scientist Wish embarks on a never-ending quest for "Wharton's warple", an endangered species indigenous to the mountains. Eventually, Binder and a colleague manage to stumble to the top of the lofty spire the group has been approaching ... only to find that they have climbed the wrong mountain (and to see the porters, with Prone in tow, climbing the right one).

1 comment:

  1. That would be the last place you'd catch me!