Everest 2014: The Season of Controversy Continues on the South Side

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The main summit push on Everest may be over, but controversy continues to surround the world’s highest peak this spring. This past weekend, more than 100 climbers went to the summit, in what is beginning to look like the one and only summit push this year. Bad weather is in the forecast, and the monsoon will arrive in a matter of days, effectively shutting things down until the fall. But on the South Side, where there was just one team climbing, questions continue to swirl.

According to an article published in the Himalayan Times, Chinese climber Jing Wang now says she did not use a helicopter to go up to Camp 2 on Everest, but instead passed through the dangerous Khumbu Icefall. She claims that the helicopter flights were only used to shuttle gear up the mountain, but that she didn’t fly there herself. This is directly counter to reports from the pilot of the helicopter and one of her guides, Da Gelge Sherpa, both of whom indicated they were on the flight that she took to C2.

These contradictory stories have prompted the government of Nepal to launch an investigation into the situation, upholding Wang’s summit certificate while the work out the details. In a post climb debrief, the Chinese climber stated that the helicopters were only used for logistical purposes, moving gear and supplies up the mountain. She did indicate that two Sherpas used the helicopter as well, but she claimed to have climbed from BC to Camp 2 along the traditional route. In the article linked above, the reporter claims that Wang refused to provide any details about the use of the chopper.

Meanwhile, Da Gelge Sherpa distinctly remembers flying with her to C2 on May 10, and pilot Maurizio Folini confirmed that he took her to Camp 2 on that day as well. He even says that he advised her against using the chopper, as he knew it would cause a stir in the mountaineering community.

To me, this sounds like revisionist history on the part of Wang. Now that she is off the mountain, and she realizes that her ambitions could be in jeopardy, she is trying to down play her use of the helicopter on Everest. Many in the mountaineering community have condemned its use, and have said it would be wrong to claim a summit of the mountain when a climber has only gone from C2 to the summit, bypassing a large portion of the mountain. That includes Cleo Weidlich, who also took a chopper to Camp 2 in her bid to climb Lhotse.

It seems the realization of this hit home with Wang, and she is desperately trying to keep her bid to complete the Explorer’s Grand Slam in record time alive. You may recall that Wang is hoping to climb the Seven Summits, and reach the North and South Pole, in the fastest time possible, which is the whole reason she defied the closure on the South Side to begin with. Had she not been able to summit Everest this spring, she wouldn’t have a chance at achieving this goal.

That project may be in jeopardy anyway. If the Nepali government feels that she has falsified reports, or that she didn’t climb the mountain in a proper manner, they could deny her a summit certificate. That would invalidate her climb altogether, even though we all know she did reach the summit. On top of that, Miss Elizabeth Hawley has yet to give the climb her seal of approval, which is like gold in the mountaineering community. If Wang does not receive her certificate, her Grand Slam may be an unofficial one, which I’m sure many in the adventure community would be glad to put an asterisk next to in the record books.

As Alan Arnette points out, Wang is eager to move on to Alaska and begin her climb of Denali, which is no easy climb in its own right. That means she’d like to put Everest behind her once and for all, and concentrate on picking up the last few summits. Unfortunately for her, the shadow of this climb will probably stick with her for years to come. It will certainly be interesting to see how all of this works out.

What a crazy year on Everest. And even though teams are coming off the mountain, it isn’t over yet.

Kraig Becker