Breaking news from Martin Hewitt
Martin Hewitt | May 8, 2012
It is with great disappointment and respect for our expedition lead guide that I write the following blog.
Since our return from climbing to the base of the Lhotse wall on Everest there have been a number of meetings with guides, lead sherpa, expedition managers and the ice field doctors. Whilst I’ve maintained a fairly accurate blog over the past 6 weeks there are elements of information and events that I have left out in order to minimize the concern to our team’s families.
The Khumbu icefall has been at it’s most dangerous for over a decade. To expand a little;
The Icefall is in the most dangerous state seen in many years, primarily due to lack of precipitation. “The two main issues are the fragile state of the ice in the centre of the glacier presenting risk of significant collapse and serac fall from the West Shoulder of Everest onto the route. The former risk forces the route onto the north side of the glacier and therefore under the West Shoulder. This route has become a gauntlet running exercise – we had two serac collapses onto
the route within a three minute period during our acclimatisation ascent to camp two last week” Avalanches in this area are not uncommon during the warmest hours of the day when temperature change causes expansion or contraction of the ice resulting in avalanche. We’ve witnessed avalanches at all hours including many at nightfall. Despite attempts to minimize the risk to climbers we’ve had narrow escapes from direct hits as we’ve passed through.
Since the beginning of the climbing season the core temperature has been significantly higher than it should be for this time of year. With an unseasonably warm core temperature comes a significantly greater risk of avalanche, which we have witnessed to one degree or another most days at some point along the route to camp 2. As the season progresses it will continue to get warmer and the ice field will become more unpredictable and put climbers and sherpas lives at greater risk.
Beyond the ice field is the Lhotse face and the yellow band. This season’s lack of snow has resulted in the glacier forcing loose rocks out and they are constantly falling down this 50° slope onto the path of mountaineers and Sherpa climbing the face. Thus far there have been double figure casualties on this part of the route alone.
In order for our team to commit to our summit attempt we have to climb just once more. However, our Sherpa would need to ascend these two areas no less than 8 more times. On analyzing the risk to their lives, a decision was taken by the expedition leader to cancel our summit attempt. Everyone on our team is used to accepting high levels of risk through military service and partaking in pioneering expeditions. There comes a point when one has to swallow a little pride and deal with a short term set back in order to prevent what one feels would be certain serious injury and potential loss of life. I believe that this is the situation I find myself in today and as team manager have given my full support to Russell as the expedition leader in his decision. He is the most experienced man on this mountain and has made a difficult, selfless decision that I’m confident will save lives. Whilst other smaller teams may go on and some may summit this year, our team is large and has a significant logistical tail thus requiring many trips through the dangerous areas of this mountain and greater risk.
I write this blog gutted that we have not completed the task we were set 10 months ago but proud to be the manager of such a determined, courageous group of men that have pushed the boundaries of endurance overcoming injury and adversity. The mountain is still there and we are still young! To all our partners, supports, families and friends I‘d like to say thank you for your support. We’ll be home soon and we will continue to provide more examples of overcoming injury in extreme environments. Support the walk.