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  Mt. Everest 2005: Martin Minarik: Return to Everest ?

A view almost unreal - North Face of Everest from the top of Cho Oyu ©Martin Minarik

Update June 11th: [Editorial note (we usually add these at the end) Martin writes this in his lighter style, the way he climbs.]

I am back for little less then one week, my frostbites are healing slowly and any walking / hiking / climbing activities are greatly eliminated for the next few weeks. That is OK, we play high game and it is important to loose sometimes, otherwise it would not be appreciated.


The season on Everest is over, since I left, many people climbed to the top, couple more people died and I am sure many returned frostbitten.


I turned around at 8450m after waiting for 4 days without food or sleeping bag partly at 8100m and partly at 8300m. For the ascent without oxygen tank, wind was too strong. And I did not want to climb with oxygen mask because I wanted to feel like I am on the top of Everest and not on the top of Kilimanjaro (artificial oxygen greatly reduces the effect of the altitude).


Do I want to return to Everest ?


Of course I want to return to Everest and I will because I do not like unfinished business. But I will never return to North Col route (South Col route is according to my friends even worse) in the main climbing season and most likely I would just avoid this route altogether. There are three big walls on this Giant, who wants to sponsor me ?:)


BC and ABC. After Aconcagua, this is the most disgusting spot I have ever stayed. Dead mules and dogs eating garbage were missing. BC is just the end of the road with noise and smoke from the vehicles, local vendors and CMA a TMA dignitaries coming and going in the last models of SUV's. This is where the climbers money go. ABC is the narrow strip of moraine and if more then 700 people want to find the spot, the tents are stuffed one on another. Privacy does not exist, camps are built on the shit of previous year's expeditions, literally. Toilet holes are established, some expeditions take the "stuff" away, others do not. Tibetans and Sherpas go anywhere sometimes it looks like they are not allowed to go to the same hole like the clients - so they "put it" couple meters away.


Fixed ropes. On previous expeditions, sometimes we climbed alpine style where no rope is left on the mountain. Usually it is light expedition style where difficult spots are secured. On Everest this was very first time when the line of rope starts practically behind the last tent of ABC and ends up on the summit. Each person using the rope contributed $100.00. Sherpas placed all the ropes on the slope. I did not meet one "climber" who would carry the ropes or fix the ropes. I have heard couple expeditions crying that the ropes were not fixed and therefore they did not reach the summit. Well, either you are climber and you know how to climb without the rope (there are many old ropes from previous years) or you bring small piece. If you are client and you do not know how to climb then you better wait and double check with Sherpas if all ropes are set. Complaining is not appropriate, Sherpas worked very hard and in impossible weather to please you.


Sherpas. These wonderful mountain people do not only completely prepare and secure the route. During my couple trips when I carried up (and at the end down) my own equipment, tent, sleeping bag, food I have been meeting them and sometimes I wonder if the slavery has really been banned worldwide. Up to the last camp at 8300m, they have been working in every kind of weather. Only higher then that, they have been stopped by high winds and extremely cold temperatures - a sign they are also just human beings. They carry everything from personal gear of the clients, oxygen tanks, live bodies up, sometimes dead bodies down, and cook for the clients. One older lady from certain European country used couple Sherpas for entirely different purpose then climbing Everest. She became very famous for her activities.


Climbing. Before getting to ABC I had no idea how many people will be there nor what is the climbing style. I met several "climbers" on the way up and there was one standard answer to my question about the progress. Sherpas did not do the job yet (means Sherpas did not carry all necessary oxygen bottles, did not fix the route up to the summit, simply did very lousy job). Only once I went to North Col during the day. Every other time I climbed during the night because the number of unexperienced people walking up or down made the route extremely dangerous. I have seen people who probably saw the rope, ice axe and crampons for the first time. Of course their "Sherpa" was handy so the Sherpas were putting harnesses on and off, same with the crampons, one Sherpa even moved the ascender of the client on the rope. People coming down were much worse and the real danger was coming from them. In order to be comfortable, they did not clip carabiner into the rope. If one of them fall, their crampons would be very deadly weapon when reaching the head of one of us going up. Each person had figure eight but do not even think they knew why they have it on their harness. The attitude of all of these were the same. I paid lots of money, I have Sherpas who slave for me so let them do the job. Ridiculous and horrible !!!


Weather forecast. In the saloons of the old West, there used to be sign above the piano. "Do not shoot the piano player, he plays the best he knows". Maybe it was bad year or maybe not. Have a mercy with these poor liars who were sending whatever except decent and at least half correct information. Maybe if they freeze their buts above 8000m for couple nights, they would do better job next time. For sure, I am hiring older Gypsy lady from Albania or Romania. Requirements : 2 teeth, bow snake around the neck and crystal ball in her right hand. I am sure she will do the same job as all these best paid meteorologists creating Everest weather forecast.


People and expeditions. Some expeditions were like medieval forts. None ever saw anyone from inside go to visit someone else and none from "outside world" ever visited the "Castle". Franz Kafka would easily collect material  for another book. With no exception, this applies to the expeditions where "clients" paid the largest amounts of money. My encounter with one of these was rather funny then awful. I was yelled at by the BOSS for using HIS shit hole. The fellow did not have enough decency to wait till I pull my pants up. Same guy offered me guaranteed weather forecast, each day would cost $250.00, when I naturally refused, he said that he knew that poor Czech does not have such money. It is funny, the same group of people used the tent of my expedition two years ago on K2 in 6800m in the storm. We have to help each other !!!


But on the other side, I met truly friendly and wonderful people. I enjoyed climbing with all Sherpas. First they were suspicious. 3 years ago, another Czech climber showed up in ABC, figured out there are lots of tents on the mountain, packed his water bottle and went up, sleeping in whatever tent was available. In the highest camp, Sherpas wondered who this fellow is so he pulled $100.00 and paid them for "lodging". He became very famous for his "solo" Everest ascent in "alpine style". His book is available in Kathmandu so you can support him or not support him. I feel I should apologize for his cheating style as well as for the behavior of another Czech climber from this season who mislead and used many people on the mountain.


Soon, Sherpas found that I carry all my gear and I earned some respect for my earlier climb on Cho Oyu. We were best friends right away, they called me one of them. It was sincere from them and fully appreciated by me.


And there were many more people and we spent time together waiting for better days. People from Brazil and Russia, George and Lhakpa, Paul and Elena, Hans who I shared the tent with at 8300m, climbers from the British commercial expedition where I drank many cups of tea with my old climbing buddy from Manaslu Fred Ziel as well as the others. However above all, the friendliest team from all was the Indian Air Force expedition. Their tent was the meeting point for many of us, strategies were planned, weather forecasts were discussed, chess games were played on high level. It hurt a lot to learn that one of them did not return from the mountain. The fellow just celebrated the birth of his first child back at home. It was one of the most senseless Act of God (sorry buddy) I could imagine.


Climbing style and death on the mountain: Death rate among folks who use oxygen tank is very high. I do not recall anyone who climbed without oxygen who would not return from the mountain, at least not on north side. I can only say that climbing without oxygen would never put you into the situation that you run out of oxygen, that the system would not function properly. The chance you reach the summit is lower, weather must be near perfect and the possibility of frostbite is higher. But you know when you are at the end of steam and if you turn around on time you can easily walk down to safety.


I understand that standard routes (North Col or South Col) of Everest are what they are. Crowded "Via Ferratas" which are as distant from alpinismus as Free Tibet from China. I do not criticize those who go or plan to go there, climb with oxygen, go home and be famous. This style gives jobs to lots of Sherpas who feed their families. But it would be nice to see that there is something left for climbers.


Reduced amount needed for permit if the climbing party is small, go without Sherpa support and especially without oxygen tanks ? Climbing anything else except North and South Col route ? (the only group which climbed different route this year was a Czech team, later joined by Austrians on Hornbein Couloir). All the dignitaries from different climbing clubs on the world should move their buts from their office armchairs and do something. Climbers are already like beggars from the street when it comes to buying expedition permit. And with commercial expeditions raising prices, everything on Everest and other mountains will just get more expensive. Commercial expeditions can pay, ordinary climbers can not. Then on the top of Everest there will be two trails, one from North Col, second one from South Col. And this is still within the lifetime of Hillary, Bonnington, Scott and Messner. Very sad end of the chapter.


See you somewhere in Himalaya in the next season ! But let's meet far from the crowds.




Martin Minarik

written in Czech Republic, Europe


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