Everest the Easy Way?

  • Acclimatize to the heights at home before you leave for Everest,
  • heli-hop up the Khumbu, training on the lower, safer peaks,
  • move into Everest Base Camp with a well fluffed pillow and stand-up tent – (it’s a lot easier to put your harness on for those still painful early morning starts up the icefall),
  • surround yourself with support Sherpas to carry and cater to your every need,
  • ensure you can suck oxygen like lollipops on the mountain.

Is this the new easy Everest?

Kristin Harila, womens’ record holder for Everest and Lhotse.

Is it possible to now climb Everest faster, with more comfort, and overall easier, than ever before?

If nothing else, can the time you actually need to struggle, be cold and face challenges just be kept to an absolute minimum?

Maybe this all started with Marc Batard, the well-known French Alpinist who was one of the first to set a notable speed record. He climbed from Base Camp to the summit of Everest in the fall season of 1988 in under 24 hours, a record that stood for over 10 years. It certainly wasn’t easy, but it did open climbers minds to just how long the climb should take.

Yet even he had to admit in a later interview in Mint:

“Climbing speed is dominated by the envy of the record more than the desire to be at the top.” 

The speed record for many years was then held by a succession of Sherpas, most lately listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as Pemba Dorje Sherpa, who climbed from Base Camp the summit in 8 hours, 10 minutes. Over on the Tibetan Side, the fastest known time from Base Camp to the summit one way, is held by ultra-runner Killian Jornet in 26 hours. In 2021, a new woman’s record was set by former Hong Kong teacher Tsang Yin Hung in just under 26 hours via the South Col.

Seventeen minutes from the South Col to Gorak Shep – a highly adventurous and very rapid descent from the peak by paraglider Pierre Carter – first person to legally fly off Everest.

So speed has long been in the Everest playbook, the idea that going fast is good. While the average climber is taking 5 days or more from Base Camp, that with rotations, traditionally months are spent on the mountain, speed has long been at the front of peoples minds.

Speed climbers combine both superb fitness, climbing ability and acclimatization. While today climbers are anything but fast on the mountain itself, taking parts of the formula, shortening it up wherever possible, eases the overall journey to the top.

This actual speed on the mountain has also been translated to overall time, with Russell Brice first popularizing pre-acclimitazation on Lobuche Peak, to minimize times through the icefall. This could include other 6,000 metre peaks, from Meru to the high passes leading into Everest. However – this is certainly not overall a new strategy. In 1953 the lead climbers ascended Island Peak before they set foot on Everest.

And if you can ascend quickly once you get to Everest, even if you have to acclimatise prior to the climb, the faster it is over, the better. Right?

The most popular way to shave time off your expedition is to train and sleep in an environment that simulates high altitude. Have your headaches early, build your red blood cells, and combine a first class flight and a bit of heli time and with any luck, your climb will be over before you know it. The ´flash’ packages will have all you need delivered to your house and you can jump right in.

The second factor making the climb easier, are a host of both Western and Sherpa Guides have now been up Everest so many times that they have years of experience on multiple expeditions and in a myriad of conditions.

Pete Athans, who between 1990 and 2002 summited 7 times, earning himself the title Mr. Everest. Dave Hahn reached 15 ascents, only in 2022 to be surpassed by British Climber, Kenton Cool, on 16.

Myself, Conrad Anker and Apa Sherpa – at yet another New York City event – with nearly 25 ascents of Everest between us, I was far and away on the low end. Photo: Jim Clash/Forbes Adventure Journalist

These summit numbers are dwarfed by the Sherpa’s, with Kami Rita Sherpa holding the mens’ record at 28, and Lhakpa Sherpa the women’s record with 10. These guides and Sherpas have a level of experience in conditions, weather and teams, that facilitate and speed movement on every step a client makes up the mountain.

Lhakpa Rita Sherpa – 10 times to the top.

These multiple ascents give everyone confidence – even though a client may wish to climb it but once, going along on a team where the Sherpas have climbed – in some cases collectively, over a 100 times would reassure anybody, and beg the question,

“How hard can it be?”

This Sherpa and guide experience has now been translated to clients, most vividly seen with the ascent of Everest in 2019 by Roxanne Vogel, flying from her home in California, to Tibet, to the top of Everest and returning home, in under 2 weeks time. Not bad for a quick jaunt in the springtime. Roxanne did have the advantage of climbing with the superbly talented guide Lydia Bradey, who was also the first woman to summit without oxygen in 1988 and has a host of additional climbs to her credit.

Everest Base Camp in all it’s glory. Russell Brice’s magnificent Super Dome and Espress Bar. With Conrad Anker, left, Doctor Monica Paris, Adrian Ballinger as Barista. Photo: Robert Anderson

The experience and confidence built from the individual speed records, coupled with the high level of guiding experience across teams has now been encapsulated into an Everest summit experience, that in 2022, proved easier than ever.

If ever anyone had a good chance of getting up Everest, that was the year.

Climbing companies, driven by clients who want to say they have climbed Everest and who want to do it as quickly and easily as possible, have now packaged this up in a host of offerings under “Fast” and “Flash” headings with rapid acclimatization, heli-assisted approaches and rest periods down valley, luxury base camp accommodations, high levels of Sherpa support on the mountain, and maximum flow oxygen rates.

Combine:

  • pre-acclimitazation,
  • highly experienced guides,
  • record levels of Sherpa support,
  • high flow oxygen,
  • with a great weather forecast.

Needless to say, if you have to ask the cost, this approach may not be for you.