Himalaya Fall 2012 Update: No Summits On Everest and Lhotse

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Last week, when I fell of the grid for a few days, we were all waiting and watching Everest and Lhotse to see if there would be any late summits on either mountain. At the time, the only 8000 meter expeditions that remained in the Himalaya this fall were active on those two peaks, which share the same route all the way up to Camp 4. Forecasts indicated that a weather window would open mid-week and that winds would die down long enough to allow access to both summits, but those forecasts turned out to be inaccurate and as a result, the three teams on the mountain aborted their expeditions for the year.

But that isn’t the whole story, as this past Sunday there was a dramatic rescue on Everest for one of the climbers that we had been following closely. Japanese climber Nobukazu Kuriki was hoping to make a solo summit along the West Ridge and when last I reported on his progress he had moved up above Camp 3 and was waiting for the window to open. When the winds did not die off as expected, Kuriki was forced to turn back, eventually returning to Camp 2, where he had already spent a number of days.

The high winds and cold temperatures that he experienced while making his summit bid, combined with the fact that he was climbing without oxygen, led to severe frostbite on his fingers, toes, legs and nose. As a result of this painful injury, Kuriki was unable to make the final descent to Base Camp under his own power. Instead he had to be picked up by helicopter and flown back to Kathmandu. A hospital in Nepal’s capital treated him for his injuries and as of this morning he is now headed home to Japan, where he will receive further treatment.

Elsewhere, a Polish team led by Artur Hajzer was hoping to summit Lhotse last week, but once the weather window failed to open as expected, they made the swift decision to put an end to their expedition as well. Several members of the squad went up early in the week but were forced to retreat due to high winds. One of their Sherpa guides also contracted frostbite and had to be assisted safely back down the mountain too.

A second unit was hoping to make a summit bid starting last Friday, but that attempt was called off a day earlier due to the unsafe conditions on the mountain. Once that decision was made, all of the climbers cleaned up BC and started the long journey home. Most of the members of the squad are young mountaineers, and the Lhotse expedition was designed to get them valuable experience for future climbs. Even without a successful summit, I’d say they accomplished their goal.

Finally, there was a Korean team on Everest as well, and while we’ve had little word from them throughout the season, it seems that they have abandoned their summit plans too. With the jet stream now firmly settled in over the Himalaya until next spring, the 8000 meter peaks are effectively closed off to all but the most skilled and dedicated climbers.

Kraig Becker