Dispatch—Day 41: May 6, 2009
Team Preps For Final Summit Push
Photo: Melissa Arnot prepares for the final summit push
By Dave Hahn
Photograph by Jake Norton

Everest Base Camp—17,530 feet (5,343 meters)
N 28º 00.336' E 086º 51.504'

Click here to zoom in on the route to the summit »

Sure enough, the rumors turned out to be true. Several climbers made the summit yesterday. By modern standards, this would be quite early for success on the Nepal side of Mount Everest. It is a good thing, without question.

I’ve overheard gossip and squabbling as to whether the proper emphasis was placed on doing a thorough job of fixing rope as opposed to just tagging the top first, but for my purposes it doesn’t matter so much either way. The door is open to the top and others will move that way with greater confidence and determination now. The route will improve with the passage of each set of boots. My hope is that a few weeks of relatively stable weather will allow a steady trickle of climbers to get up, get down, and get moving on to whatever they’ve scheduled next.

Traffic jams up high on Mount Everest are a bad thing. That is as obvious as can be, but jams are an especially bad thing for those of us who are trying to guide the mountain. Safely guiding big mountains often boils down to keeping one’s team moving at a businesslike pace (for various reasons, including conservation of body heat, conservation of bottled oxygen, conservation of daylight, and conservation of good weather and luck). Few things mess with that businesslike pace more than hanging out on a 28,000-feet [8,530-meters] rope in the dark behind a line of climbers you don’t know while they learn things about themselves and each other that they should have learned at sea level.

Good, strong, skilled climbers may bob and weave through such traffic jams... forging detour routes and forgoing use of the rope in some sketchy places in order to get by. And those same climbers can usually endure lengthy delays without losing fingers, toes, and noses because their fitness and abundant experience in really cold places will protect them. But those who try to guide normal folks through such jams had just better hope they get lucky. Not it. We’ll wait, thank you, until the crowds have had their shot at the big top. Sadly we’ll miss out on some of the hype... the fame... the fortune. The world may be completely over the yearly Everest summit mania (and justifiably so) by the time Seth, Erica, Kent, and I get around to heading that way in earnest.

The confirmation of the early success hit us after a first luxurious night back down in Base Camp. And like I said... it was all good news. But as you can see from the previous paragraph, I rationalize and blow my own horn and justify my own slow methods in order to remember that. I’ve gone on and on about the importance of resting in Base Camp, but it should also come as no surprise that it is hugely anticlimactic after days spent up in the tricky and interesting zone.

Maintaining focus can be difficult when life gets soft again (Base Camp “soft” being used as a relative term now... not to be confused with someplace actually warm, clean, and well endowed with furniture). The other half of my team is composed of good, strong, skilled climbers and they are gearing up for the summit and getting set to head out the door. Our paths are diverging after six weeks and I’m prone to summit bid-envy. We are still weeks away from our own guided bid and in need of a last difficult acclimatization round before the summit. Patience is a pain in the neck sometimes... but I keep in mind that screwing up an Everest summit bid is a bigger pain in the neck.

I keep in mind that the goal is not simply to get myself to the top or to chase Apa Sherpa’s numbers (18 summits and counting... not exactly low-hanging fruit, ripe for the picking). My goal is to guide a climber (Erica) who has earned a decent shot, to introduce a deserving guide (Seth) to the holy grail of mountain guiding, and to stun the world with the imagery a consummate cameraman (Kent) can capture up that way when given half a chance. We’ll take our rest and take our time and be as absolutely ready as possible when our own summit window opens in two weeks.

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