Current view up BorrowdaleClick for more Lakes Weather
Basecamp on the north side of Everest
These notes have been prepared for Needle Sports by Tim Mosedale, a qualified mountaineering instructor who leads commercial trips to the himalays and elsewhere. They are intended to assist the climber who has already gained some knowledge of mountaineering and is fully aware of its risks but still wishes to climb mountains. They are brief and not designed to be comprehensive in any way. Ultimately climbing is a dangerous sport and claims many casualties each year. One of the guiding principals of British climbing and mountaineering is that it is the individual climber is responsible for his or her own safety. If you cannot accept this then this site and probably climbing in general is unlikely to suit you. May we refer you to this very interesting site instead.
Everest - it's the highest that there is and (rightly or wrongly) is becoming increasingly popular. Tim Mosedale recently went there on a non-commercial trip and successfully summited on 30th May 2005. He has put together some notes, top tips and handy hints as well as some information on gear, clothing and equipment.
Q: Where is Everest?
A: It is located on the border between Nepal and Tibet (now part of China). It is North-East of Kathmandu and South-West of Lhasa. It is also known by the Nepalese name of Sagarmatha (Mother of the Universe) and the Tibetan name of Chomolangma (Goddess Mother of the Snows). It was given the name Everest by the British in 1865 as their surveyors could not find a local name that was agreed on. It was named after Sir George Everest, the Surveyor-General of India. Prior to that it was simply known as Peak 15. It was first climbed by Edmund Hillary (New Zealand) and Tenzing Norgay (Nepal) via the South Col Route on the 29th May 1953 in the course of the British 1953 Everest Expedition led by John Hunt.
Claggy conditions at Camp 3 (8300m)
Q: When is it usually climbed?
A: Pre-monsoon is when most expeditions take place. The weather is generally getting warmer and there are usually 2 or 3 windows of more settled weather for summit attempts in May and at the beginning of June. The mountain generates its own weather with high winds and freezing temperatures above Camp 2, while ABC can be bathed in sunshine - which can prove to be very frustrating when you have been there for 6 weeks and want a crack at it.
People do climb it post-monsoon. It is generally a lot quieter then but the season is getting progressively colder and you will be far more likely to suffer with frostbite or hypothermia.
Alternatively, if you are Russian, you may want to do it in winter.
You should also become totally acquainted with your gear and technical equipment so that everything is second nature. Get used to your clothing and where the adjusters are. Practice putting on your harness with big gloves or mitts on. Have a system for where stuff is in your rucksack so that it minimises the time taken to find things. Every time you are standing still you are getting cold. If you have to remove your mitts you are immediately prone to frostbite so it may take three or four attempts for you to complete putting your crampons on. You may have to take your mitts off (liner gloves highly recommended), start threading the buckle, start getting cold fingers, mitts on again, shake arm vigorously, mitt off, continue with buckle etc. Repeat as necessary.
I spent hours at home wearing stuff that I was going to use on the mountain, trying things on, using totally over specked stuff when out on the hills in the UK - so I had a few funny glances from folk but then they didn't know what I was gearing up for.
I even went to the length of using my expedition sleeping bags a few times at home and in Kathmandu so that I knew how they adjusted, what the features were, where the toggles were etc (and managed to poop myself in one of them during a night of food poisoning d and v!)
Q: So what kind of technical gear do I need?
A: For Everest you need the best clothing and equipment that money can buy. You don't want to be a liability up there as other people will be risking their lives to sort you out if things go wrong. Also as it is a technical route so you will need …
Ian Wade at the North Col (7100m) prior to his
successful summit atempt
Looking down from 8500m with Pumori (7161m), reputedly one of the easiest of the
7000m peaks, in the centre of the photo
Karabiners : go for big HMS krabs as they are much easier to use with mitts on.
Ice Axe: non-technical alpine style for the regular routes. Weight is something of an issue but don't go for an ultralight ski touring model. You only need one axe.
Crampons: I'd recommend either full strap on or heel clip and plastic toe cup. Metal toe bail crampons can be quite awkward to fit with mitts on and if you don't quite get the bail in place then they'll come off at some point. Again do not go for the ultra light alloy crampons as they are not up to the task.
Harness: Go for a light weight non padded harness. The best used to be the Troll Alpinist but it has been changed and tweeked and is now a bit of an inferior model.
Fortunately DMM have introduced the Super Couloir which is a very good buy. It's light, easy to put on and has one big easy to thread buckle.
Helmet: optional - partly depends on the route you are doing.
Belay/Abseil Device: a belay device with big slots to ease rope threading and a big retaining loop to lessen the drop factor - Petzl Reverso recommended.
Alternatively a Figure of 8 which can be used as follows - have the LARGE hole hooked on to your abseiling karabiner. Thread the rope through the Large hole and over the top of the fig 8. You can then remove the fig 8 from your abseil karabiner safe in the knowledge that it is now attached to the rope. Invert the fig 8 and clip the small hole back in to the karabiner and abseil as normal. You could even miss out the inverting stage BUT this is not as safe as there is a possibility that the rope could potentially come unlooped if you brushed against some rocks whilst the rope is unweighted.
Cow's Tails - I use a 4 metre section of 9mm dynamic rope. I put an overhand knot on the bight in the middle to allow me to larksfoot the cow's tail on to my harness at the tie in area thereby dispensing with the need for a karabiner (less weight) and I know that once it is on it can't come undone (this is not an issue as the larksfoot is on the harness - but it is the only time I use a larksfoot. They are generally best avoided in any other application). I then have a knot tied in to each arm of the cow's tail to allow me to have a karabiner permanently attached, one of which I then have the jumar on. That way I have 2 attachment points which allows me to jumar up and pass rebelays along the way.
On one of the 'arms' I have an additional loop (created by another overhand knot on the bight) about 6 to 8 inches from the end. This I then use for my abseil device when coming down. Why not use the belay loop you may well ask? Well there are 2 reasons - firstly is that with all that down clothing on it can get a bit busy and difficult to visually make sure that everything is attached correctly and secondly it means that if I want to back up the abseil with a prussik then I have a high attachment point to stop inverting and I can put the prussik on the belay loop rather than the leg loop.
Ascenders (jumars): I would recommend handled ascenders. You need to make sure that you can get a gloved mitt in to the handle area though so don't go overboard with the mitts. Some of the fixed ropes that you come across on these big mountains are quite thin so it is best to steer clear of the likes of Petzl Tiblocs. The dropability of small devices like the Wild Country Ropeman makes them unsuitable too.
If you are planning your own non-commercial trip then you'll also need a whole selection
Ropes: most folk use polyprop for general fixing of snow slopes etc and then have pukkah (but thin and light) ropes for the more vertical sections.
Ice Screws: a selection, but go for longer rather than shorter. These need checking regularly to make sure that they aren't melting out. Where possible back up with …
Snow Stakes: again go for a selection of different lengths.
Rack (of climbing gear): needs to be reasonably comprehensive as you don't know what you'll come across along the way. Take plenty of long Pegs (pitons) too.
Climbing a giant amidst giants: Makalu (8462m and the 5th highest peak in the
World) centre photo in the foreground, with Kanchenjunga (8586m, the 3rd
highest) in the far left distance.
This photo was taken from about 8500m.
Looking down towards Camp 3 (8300m) with
the North Col (7100m) below.
Q: What sort of sleeping bag?
A: I would advise you to take two or three sleeping bags. I had a 3 season bag that I left down at base camp for when I went down for a rest - that way I was carrying minimal gear up and down the route. Remember it's 22Km with 1,200m of ascent to get from base camp to ABC at altitude.
I used a 4 season bag at ABC and had a 4/5 season one which I left up at the North Col and later took up the mountain. If you are a cold person then I would opt for a 5 season bag.
You are there for a long time and so a silk liner is pretty much a necessity. A bivi bag is an optional extra (go for the Rab Survival Zone).
Q: What kind of clothing do I need for further up the mountain?
A: It's even colder up there so it's time to get the warm gear on. Again, go for the best that you can buy. For forays up and down to Camp 1 and Camp 2 you need to be ready for changeable conditions and you need a waterproof jacket and over trousers as well as gloves, hat, wicking layers and maybe a synthetic insulating top.
Q: What kind of clothing do I need for summit day?
A: Partly it depends on what time of year, what the weather is like, how windy it is and what your circulation is like. If in doubt err on the side of caution.
For summit day I wore thin wicking top and bottoms plus heavier weight wicking top and bottoms (all woollen) and I had down salopettes and a down jacket (I also had a ½ litre wide mouth Nalgene water bottle inside my jacket). I wore 8000m boots with 2 pairs of fresh wool socks (liner and mountain socks) and had some down mitts on my hands. I also had a Powerstretch balaclava and Powerstretch gloves for when I needed to take my mitts off. I wore Julbo Cat4 goggles and had a Remote battery headtorch (it has a separate battery compartment which you can wear inside your jacket). I carried a 50 litre rucksack with 2 oxygen cylinders, a litre of boiled water in a wide mouth Nalgene water bottle in thermal liner, spare goggles, spare down mitts, spare gloves and a spare synthetic jacket as well as lipsalve, suncream, spare film etc.
Q: What about food and water?
A: One key issue is to drink P L E N T Y. If you become dehydrated you will not only suffer a marked decrease in your performance but you will also be more susceptible to the affects of altitude and be more prone to frostbite. It's high enough that people often suffer with being put off their food - but you must get in to the habit of forcing yourself to eat and drink even if you can't be bothered. When at Base Camp you should chill out, rest, eat, drink, eat, drink and rest some more.
Q: How long will it take?
A: You are looking at around a 7 or 8 week trip. You shouldn't really try it in less time unless you are fresh off another 8000er. And even then you have to be careful you don't get re-emergence High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema (from going back to altitude after a rest of a week to 10 days).
Q: What kind of weather conditions will I experience?
A: Generally in Spring the season starts quite bitterly cold and gets progressively warmer (at Base Camp and ABC). On the mountain you'll experience high winds and desperately cold temperatures if you go up too early. And even as the trip progresses there will be a mixture of weather conditions that will pass over.
Going for the summit - The ladder at the Second Step (8600m) on the North Ridge. There has been considerable debate in recent years over whether George Mallory would have been capable of climbing this pitch unaided in 1924 when he and Sandy Irvine were
last seen heading for the summit. It was estimated by Conrad Anker that the technical dificulty would be about 5.9/5.10, that is HVS/E1. Mallory is known to have led UK 5a (HVS) in Britain.
Mallory's body was found in 1999 on an expedition of which Anker was a member. It was 600m below the summit.
Below: Base Camp Memorials to Mallory and Irvine.
Standing alone, it can be really windy some days - to the extent that you shouldn't be up there.
Temperatures can drop to as low as -10C to -15C at night at Base Camp, but by day it usually quite pleasant. At ABC it can get to -20C to -25C at night and daytime temperatures can be anything from bitterly cold to baking hot in the sun. As you go further up the mountain it gets colder with summit daytime temperatures of -20C to -30C.
Q: What about altitude sickness?
A: Acute Mountain Sickness can be a problem when going over 3,500m (although some folk start to suffer at 2,500m!). When you consider that the Base Camps are at 5,200m then you have to be very careful that you don't get there too quickly (particularly on the North where you drive there).
Q: Can I do it?
A: Ermm, maybe. This is so different from any other mountain experience that you literally won't know unless you try it. But that could be a very expensive gamble to make. Lots of experience at altitude has got to be of benefit, plus total competence as a mountaineer.
Q: Anything else I should know?
A: Yes - consider the following top tips:
Elongate all your zippers and zip pulls so that you can use them with big mitts/gloves even when it's windy.
Take lots of AA lithium batteries as they are so much lighter and last so much longer than regular alkalis in cold temperatures.
Down booties are a really nice luxury (if you have poor circulation then they are a necessity when higher up the mountain).
At 8650m, descending from the summit (8848m),
with a long way down still to go!
Practise putting your gear on and tweeking zips and Velcro tabs with big mitts on at home. If things become second nature then you'll spend less time standing around and getting cold.
Computers and iPods don't always work so well at ABC (6,400m) because of the drop in atmospheric pressure. Consider minidisk or cd players if you're taking music. Leave your laptop at Base Camp.
Take a lot of books and a few games because you'll need to be able to occupy yourself for extended periods. If you are taking Scrabble then it's worth taking a dictionary or the Scrabble word list book to prevent fisticuffs.
Multi vitamins are worth taking along so that even if you aren't eating for a while at least you won't be lowering your resistance to infections.
Take a Pillow.
And a Thermarest inflatable cushion to sit on in the mess tent.
Name EVERYTHING with marker pen to prevent temptation, as you'll be leaving heaps of stuff on the mountain.
Generally speaking a lot of the stuff sacs that come with down jackets, sleeping bags etc are all black which makes for confusing times when looking for specific items in your kitbag. Take LOADS of the Exped stuffsacs (a variety of different sizes and colours) and mark them with marker pen so you now what the contents are.
At 8400m, descending back to Camp 3 (8300m) with the
North Col (7100m) in the background
Get a Heat Exchanger Balaclava - it will protect your throat from the cold air when you are going up and down the mountain.
Take a goodie bag with a few luxury items that you know you'll still want to eat even when you are at your lowest ebb.
Take a sponge to wash your bits.
And wetwipes to maintain some semblance of personal hygiene.
And anti bacterial hand gel to use after EVERY visit to the toilet so that you don't pick up an infection and prevent spreading anything amongst the group.
And a small brush to make you feel human every so often.
And some cotton wool buds.
If you are male, take a pee bottle (eg a Nalgene wide mouth 1 litre poly bottle) for higher up the mountain (you may want to use it lower down too) and make sure that you have practised using one before using it for the first time in anger. If you are female a Shewee is worth practicing with and may even enable you to use a pee bottle!
If you are taking a digital camera take plenty of memory and make sure you have a fresh card (and fresh battery) for summit day.
Take loads of non freezing(!) Sunblock.
And lots of moisturizer and Lipsalve (again with SPF)
And two pairs of Goggles (Cat 4 lenses and a good field of view recommended).
Also - don't get too focused on the top because that's when people start compromising their safety, and therefore the safety of those around them. One key factor is to have FUN. If you are with a group of people who don't get on then, even if you get to the top, you won't necessarily have fond memories of the trip. If you are with a great bunch of folk, and having a cool time, then the summit will just be the cherry on the icing on the cake.
Photo Right: Stuart Holmes, Ian Wade, and Tim Mosedale safely back at
Base Camp after successfully summitting Everest via the North Ridge.
Photo Right: Tim Mosedale feeling on top of the world!
Needle Sports 56 Main Street, Keswick, Cumbria, CA12 5JS, UK
Copyright © Needle Sports 2013. All rights reserved. | Site design by e-IGNiTION | E-commerce powered by Shopfront