Himalaya 2011: Base Camp Politics

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As the young climbing season continues to unfold, there are a number of milestones that need to be achieved before anyone ever goes to the summit. Well, anyone other than Ueli Steck anyway. In addition to the normal acclimatization process, teams have to build their high camps and stock them with supplies, which is a process that can take weeks to complete. While they’re busy doing that, teams of Sherpas will be working the route and fixing ropes to the summit, which eventually paves the way for the commercial climbers to follow along later.

Due to the large number of climbers, even in a down year like this one, fixing the ropes to the summit on Everest is always a delicate affair. In recent years, the larger commercial teams have joined forces and worked together to accomplish that task, spurred on by Russell Brice’s Himex squad, which brought a much needed level of organization to the South Side of Everest when the company left the North Side a few seasons back. On the North Side, Brice was the man in charge, keeping track of every aspect of the mountain, on the South he still holds a lot of sway, and has found a way to work the other teams.

On Sunday, a meeting was held amongst the team leaders to discuss the various responsibilities and to decide who would take charge of fixing the ropes. Apparently that meeting wasn’t a good one, as Edurne Pasaban reports in a blog post from that day. Edurne, who is a very experienced climber and back on Everest to make a summit attempt without oxygen, describes a scene that sounds chaotic, unorganized, and elitist. She wasn’t even invited to the meeting because she is climbing independently, which implies that she should be using her own ropes, which will have to be set by her own team. Whether or not that happens, remains to be scene, but one thing is clear, Edurne didn’t feel welcome at the meeting, nor did she feel that it was productive, positive meeting. Her frustrations at the process and her fellow climbers, are easy to see in her words.

To make matters worse, after her team set up camp, they were asked to move out of the way, as their tents were blocking one of the commercial team’s yak path. Edurne and her mates dutifully moved out their tents, despite the fact that there was no evidence of a trail nor have they seen any yaks pass through the area.

While some of this probably comes across as sour grapes and easily hurt feelings, it actually sounds a bit like business as usual on Everest. That’s what happens when you get some very alpha type personalities, all of whom are use to being in control, trying to work together. That said, I’m sure they’ll sort it out and get the work done, albeit with a few bruised egos along the way.

On the North Side, things are a bit quieter. There aren’t nearly as many climbers there, and most of the big commercial outfits don’t operate there due to the Chinese control of that side of the mountain. But there are still plenty of teams in BC and are preparing to make their climbs as well. David Liano for instance, who ExWeb reports is climbing with Asian Trekking, and is now in ABC on the North Side. ExWeb also says that a Mongolian climber, who was preparing to summit Everest, had to be sent down from BC when he started hacking up blood. The man was suffering from pulmonary edema and he hadn’t even left Base Camp yet.

Altitude is a scary thing!

Kraig Becker

1 thought on “Himalaya 2011: Base Camp Politics”

  1. The politics involved in Everest are a joke – too many massive egos in a very small, secluded area. People have too much money on the line to want to help one another.

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