Immediately following the final episode of Everest: Beyond The Limit, the Discovery Channel aired a new episode of After The Climb. This week’s episode opens with host Phil Keoghan in his familiar spot, surrounded by Tim Medvetz, Russel Brice, Mogens Jensen, Pete Athans, and Eric Simonson. They’ve returned to talk about climbing on Everest and the issues that come along with guiding on the tallest mountain in the World.
We jump right in on the topic with footage of the traffic jams that now occur on Everest with so many people trying to climb. Some of the footage is from last year’s Beyond The Limit, with Mark Inglis, who then joins the discussion, complaining about how cold it was standing there, waiting for the traffic to thin out.
Russell explains that the since the fixed ropes to the summit have improved, with much better routes up the mountain, that now there are more people at high altitude who shouldn’t be there, and wouldn’t have had an opportunity in the past. They don’t have the skills to be there under past conditions, yet the professional guides are taking them up anyway. Eric chimes in saying that it’s a tough position to be in, because as a guide, he gets paid to take those people up, but he also has to be careful about who he takes up.
He says that guides like he and Russell are enablers for these inexperienced climbers to take a shot at Everest. As an example, they talk about a woman who was roped in, and wouldn’t get off the fixed line, despite being in a perfectly safe spot, to allow a rescue team to bring Mark down the mountain.
Next, Phil asks Russell what makes his Himex team different from other guide services on Everest. Russell says that he’s the only one on the North Side who comes up to ABC with a telescope so he can keep an eye on his team. He also is one of the few that brings his own doctor, and comes with all the supplies he needs to address an emergency on the mountain, including a rescue. This leads to a discussion about David Sharp, who died on Everest in 2006 amongst controversial circumstances.
They once again show video from last season where the Himex team came across Sharp in the snow. Russell talks about the incident openly, to my knowledge for one of the first times in public. He talks about the confusion that occurred that day with so many things going on. He even mentions that he told his team to expect a dead body in the area of where Sharp was found. This may have lead some to believe that Sharp was the man that Brice was warning them about, when in fact there was another body in the same spot.
He says that in the confusion, he had no idea of what state Sharp was in, because he was more focused on bringing Mark, Tim, and a couple of other climbers down who were on their way back from the summit in some cases, and each of whom were in some form of distress. Brice admits that he had extra Sherpas standing by that day, but was so focused on his team, and didn’t have enough information on Sharps condition, to even think about going for a rescue.
He goes on to stay that Sharp was roped into one of the fixed lines that the Himex Sherpas put into place, but hadn’t bothered to pay the fees that other teams do to use those ropes. Brice says that Sharp camped 20 meters away from his Himex team, but they hadn’t seen him all season. Sharp was an independent climber, and he and some other men he was on Everest with, didn’t pay the $100/person fee to Brice to help cover the cost of laying the fixed lines.
They further compare Sharp to the rescue of Lincoln Hall. Russell and Mark stress that Lincoln could both stand and walk, which made all the difference. When Phurba, one of Brice’s powerful Sherpas, tried to help Sharp, he was only able to get him to take four steps in 25 minutes. They knew that they could never get him off the mountain at that pace.
I found Brice’s statements to be very frank and honest. He seemed to be taking a few swipes back at his detractors and hitting back at people who hae said that he should have helped Sharp and that his team could have saved him if he tried. I’m not sure he would sway any of those detractors, but he made a compelling case, and it was interesting to finally hear more about his side of the story. Of course, Discovery let him say what he wanted, and didn’t press on with any tough questions on rumors that Sharp was stronger than was indicated, and that Brice ordered his guides to keep quite about the incident. So long after the fact though, I guess we just need to form our own opinions on what we do know.
Next, the guys are joined by high altitude doctor Luanne Freer who talks about “Summit Fever” when Phil asks her if it’s a real condition. She says that there is some psychological issues that come along with the physical problems that effect the body at high altitude. Reasoning is impaired in low oxygen and the video of Tim on Everest last season is used as an example. Pete Athans weighs in on the subject saying that summit fever is in large part, due to ego. He says that you have to recognize that you’re at your limit, and turn back. Being humble is something that can keep you alive.
Russell talks a bit about what he is watching for when he observes the climbers through his telescope. He says he watches the ropes to see how they are being used, how the climbers put on their crampons and other gear, how fast they are moving, and what kind of progress they are making. He says it’s important to see where the guides and Sherpas are in relation to the clients, and how much they are actively helping them along. Watching these things determines who gets to continue up. Dr. Freer chimes in that summit fever seems to effect men more than women, as she says she hasn’t met a woman who is willing to give up a finger or toes to get to the top.
Moving right along, Dan Mazur and David Tait return to the group to talk about what it feels like reaching the summit after all the planning, time, and effort. Russell says that some people may only spend as little as ten minutes on the summit after working up to two months to get there.
Mogens said that it took about a month for his accomplishment to set in. After he had returned home and had time to reflect. Dan said that when he first topped out, he simply prayed that he had the strength to get back down, and Russell mentions that he thinks that reaching the summit changes people, making other elements of their life better. David Tait says that his first summit was surreal, but his second summit, this past season, went by quickly, as it was only the first stage in his attempt to complete the double traverse.
He said that seeing the footage now seemed odd as he didn’t savor the moment while he was there. Pete says that reaching the top can be a hollow experience at times or more of a sense of relief rather than accomplishment.
The next topic of discussion is the descent. After reaching the top, the climbers are only halfway to their goal, as now they need to get down and back to camp in one piece. Russ and Pete talk about the dangers of coming down, as people will put let their guard down as they celebrate the summit.
Both comment on hearing about Rob Hall reaching the summit for the 5th time back in 1996. Everyone was celebrating his accomplishment, but the next day he was dead, because of the disastrous weather that hit the mountain that season. David says that when he came down the South Side that it was more physically demanding than the climb and that it took more energy out of him.
Both Tim and Mogens say that they were so depleted of energy on their descent that they could barely keep moving. Both said they were completely exhausted when they reached high camp, but Russ pushed them on to get them down to the lower, safer camps.
Phil asks whether the North or South Side of Everest is an easier climb, and Russ says he’ll address the North and let Pete talk about the South. Russ says that the North Side is a relatively easy route until the final day, which is very challenging and more technical than on the South side with a longer route to the summit. He also says that the North is probably a bit safer with less fear of avalanches.
Pete takes over at this point saying he’s never gone up the North Side and that makes it difficult to compare the two, but he comments that both are about equal in challenge, but in different ways. The South Side has the Khumbu Ice Falls, which makes for a tactical challenge when setting up base camps, and offering more of a challenge early on, while on the North you have easy access to base camp.
He says that on the North Side there is more rock climbing and traversing on the way to the summit, but on on the South it’s an easier route to the summit itself. Russ says that on the North Side they spend more time at higher altitude, but are more comfortable since they don’t have to face the ice falls and can use yaks to help bring gear into camp.
In the final segment of the show, Dr. Monica Piris and Betsy Huelskamp make an appearance. Phil welcomes them and asks everyone “What happens now?” First to chime in is Tim, who says that it’s pretty hard to top summitting on Everest, but with his tongue firmly in cheek he remarks that his mom would like to see him take up ballroom dancing.
Mogens says that it’s odd because people will congratulate him for topping out, but then in the same breath ask “what’s next”, when reaching the summit of the highest mountain on Earth on to be enough. Tim says that he now knows that he needs the adrenaline rush of living on the edge and that he’ll be looking for something else to replace that in his life. Phil asks Betsy what her future plans are as well and she says that she also needs to have that adrenaline rush and wants to go to Alaska and compete in the Iditarod.
(Editors Note: Good luck with that. In some ways that’s probably tougher than Everest) Next up, David Tait weighs in with his thoughts, saying this was a humbling experience for him and that he learned a lot. He says that at some moment he realized that he was climbing for ego and not the charity that he had intend to climb for. That made him reevaluate his goals and think about things differently, and he now feels that that has helped him in the rest of his life.
Phil asks Monica if she believes that climbing Everest changes people, and she says that yes, she believes it does and that you have to be pretty obtuse to not feel it’s impact. Finally, we get to Russell, who says that Himex has now put 219 people on the summit, and it has always been his goal to help people to reach their goals.
He feels that he’s been pretty successful, and he’s happy helping them to get to those goals, but it’s also important that his company employs a lot of people and does a lot of good for the Tibetan people, and that is very important for him as well.
And so, After The Climb is over now as well. All in all, it was a good compliment to Beyond The Limit, but as I’ve said in the past, I feel like it moved rather quickly and didn’t always spend as much time on a topic as I wished that it might. Tonight’s episode felt a little bit better in that regard, but throughout the series I thought that it was a bit of an issue.
I also think that I would have preferred that After The Climb actually came AFTER THE CLIMB. Some of the discussion took away from the Beyond The Limit, and spoiled certain elements of that show. A reunion show a couple of hours in length following the last episode would have seemed better to me. But keep the “fireside chats” with the real mountaineers, like Pete Athans, Dan Mazur, and Peter Hillary. That would have been a better approach for me I think.