For many climbers Everest is a lifelong dream. One that most people never get to realize, and those that do generally only get one shot at it. But what happens when your one shot comes, and your dream is taken away not because you’re sick, or not strong enough, but because your lead guide decides, arbitrarily, that you can’t make the summit?
That’s just what happened to Betsy Huelskamp who joined the HiMex expedition this past Spring. As you probably know, HiMex is owned and operated by the (in)famous Russell Brice, who just so happens to be the lead guide who told Betsy she couldn’t go up, despite the fact that she suffered no symptoms of altitude sickness and was able to make her acclimatization climbs, even if she was slower than the rest of the pack.
Betsy contacted Brice in January to inquire about joining his team in the Spring. The two exchanged letters and actually met in person as well, and while Brice recommended that Betsy have experience on another 8000m peak, he did tell her that it wasn’t a prerequisite and that she could still join the team if she came up with the $42k for the fees. As the deadline approached, and Betsy struggled to come up with the cash, Brice reduced his rate to a mere $22k, and Betsy was on the expedition.
With the dream of an Everest Summit in her head and a sense of adventure in her heart, she set off to Kathmandu, where she would come face to face with reality. She found that the other male members of the team ignored her for the most part, or were down right hostile to her for some reason. She also inexplicably had Brice tell her that she couldn’t go for the summit and that she should return to ABC to wait out the end of the expedition. When a Sherpa Guide that Betsy had befriended offered to help her down to ABC from Camp 3, Brice through a tantrum, even tossing one of her bags across the ice.
I would highly recommend you read Betsy’s tale in it’s entirety. It can be found by clicking here. You can also read Alan Arnette’s thoughts here. Alan was the one who brought this story to my attention, but due to the fact that I was out of town this week, I didn’t have a chance to post it until now. The Adventurist also weighs in with his thoughts as well.
This is becoming an increasingly common tale on Everest. Big expedition companies bullying around clients on the mountain after they have payed them exorbitant fees to be there in the first place. The guides have a responsibility to insure that their clients are safe and not trying to go up when they should be going down. But these expedition leaders don’t have the right to bullying and intimidate clients, nor should they be basing their decisions on who gets to make a summit bid based on some personality conflict, prejudice, or other factor beyond the health and strength of the climber.
In this case, you have to wonder if Brice took Betsy’s $22k and allowed her to come on the expedition with no intention of ever letting her go to the top. In his mind, he may have seen it as that she didn’t pay the extra 20 grand, and there for wasn’t entitled to go up, nor use “his” Sherpas or “his” ropes, and so on. Brice certainly is a controversial figure and there have been other stories about him in the past. There have been rumors about the way he lords over the North Face and he seems to be a love him or hate him kind of guy.
The other side of this story is that the expedition was being filmed for a new season up Everest: Beyond The Limit on the Discovery Channel. How this all plays out on air and is edited into the show will be interesting to see. Betsy even remarks that there were three cameras in her face as she was told that she wouldn’t go up, and last year’s version of the show also had rumors of heavy editing. The show received some criticism for glossing over the David Sharp incident, and the role that Brice may have played in it.
In the end, what we have is another example of a big shot expedition leader bullying around someone on the mountain. And that’s not a good thing for climbers, other guides, or mountaineering in general. It’s another sign of the times on the increasingly crowded Everest, but it shouldn’t happen on any mountain, let alone the tallest on the planet.
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