The Everest season began with blue skies, from the moment many arrived at Base Camp, to seemingly the day they reached the top of the world.
With these conditions it is little wonder that one summit photo after the next was taken under bluebird skies. For those summiting early and in the dark, there was simply a cascade of stars over their shoulders.
With ropes fixed to the top in early May, Pedro Queirós, was hot on their heels. Climbing with Mingma Sherpa, he was the first western team member to the summit, reaching the top this year on 9 May.
With weather forecasts for literally weeks of good weather, teams had the rare opportunity to get acclimatized in good conditions, return to the valley to rest, then head back up on a civilized and comfortable schedule. That, coupled with an ever increasing level of Sherpa support, made this year one of the most successful ever for Everest climbers.
Not far behind Pedro, Lucy Westlake, summited on 12 May, becoming the youngest American to the top. Not to be outdone, two days later, 19 year old Australian Gabby Kanizay summited, along with her mum Jane, who is 62.
Dispelling any idea they were dragged to the top, despite their youth, Lucy and Gabby are long-time, very experienced climbers, starting at very young ages and ascending a progression of peaks over many years. Lucy started the 50 high points in the U.S. at the age of 7, finishing them off with Denali last year when she was 17, also an age record accomplishment.
Gabby climbed the worlds’ sixth highest mountain, Cho Oyu when she was 16, before moving onto Everest. After completing Everest this year, she immediately moved on to also ascend nearby Lhotse a day later, a stellar achievement.
A number of women also achieved country firsts, from Emirati Nayla Nasir A Albaloushi, to Vietnamese Nguyên Thi Thanh Nha (Céline) to Indian Ballet Kaur, who started with Annapurna, then ascended Kanchenjunga, before summiting Everest on 21 May, guided by Mingma Sherpa. Sara Safari also became the first Iranian woman to summit, a journey she started almost ten years ago, climbing with Garrett Madison and his team.
For Manel Rostum, the first Egyptian woman to summit, there were certainly lows before the highs, as she uploaded a revealing video weeping quietly inside her tent at Camp 2 on an early acclimitization rotation. The weather may have been blue skies but inevitably, the fears and doubts everyone has to face on an Everest climb are never far below the surface.
For Kristin Harila, the Norwegian Superwoman climber, having already scrambled up Annapurna, Dhaulagiri and Kanchenjunga, she moved on to ascend Everest, followed nine hours later by Lhotse. Having set out to do all 14 – 8,000 meter peaks in 6 months, she is off to a very fast start, having climbed 5 of them already in just 24 days.
Taking a short respite from the war in her home country, Ukranian climber Antonina Samoilova stated:
With nearly all climbers accompanied by Sherpas, sometimes with two or even more in support, the Sherpas will have been quietly breaking records themselves, many we will probably hear little about.
However, two that most certainly stood out are Kami Rita Sherpas record-setting 26th ascent, and Sherpani Lhakpa Sherpas 10th ascent, the most for any female climber. Kami Rita was with the rope fixers, the team first up this season, doing the extra hard work breaking trail and fitting the rope up Everest to the summit.
Kenton Cool has also set the new record for Western Guides, reaching the top for his 16th time. Humbly and pointing out, “In reality, it’s not that amazing. I’m really surprised by the interest in my 16th ascent, considering that so many of the Sherpas have so many more ascents.”
While numbers are one thing, more interesting is the number of people who have successfully completed not only Everest, but also climbed Lhotse.
The youngest Australian woman to summit Everest completed this, and more recently Garrett Madison completed the double a fourth time, while also successfully guiding a host of clients up the Lhotse Couloir and onto the top. At one point, climbers considered themselves lucky to just manage to scale Everest in a season, now people are wondering if just climbing Everest is Enough?
The fastest group to summit was certainly Lukas Furtenbach’s team, acclimitizing on lower peaks in the Khumbu, heli-hopping up the valley, then reaching the summit a mere 16 days into their trip. Depending on your point of view, this may either be the future of Everest ascents, or yet another step backwards, reducing as many of Everests challenges to the minimum to make the ascent as quick and effortless as possible.
There are a few rare climbers left however who want to push the limits. While ascending without oxygen is very rare, (around just 2% of the total), and facing the added challenge of longer acclimitazation, slower pace and cold sensitivity, David Gottler climbed in about as pure a fashion as possible.
He carryied his own gear up to his camps, enduring multiple rotations to high on the mountain, finally summiting on 21 May.
Also climbing without oxygen was Bengali Piyali Basak, one of the very few woman who have been to the top sans oz, following Lydia Bradey’s ascent in 1988.
While many climbers stepped up to reach the heights, with perhaps a higher percentage of success than ever, many of the climbs were done with more Sherpa support, more oxygen and more helicopter flights than ever before.
The trend overall is to simply make an Everest climber faster and easier, with a commiserate higher rate of success. Not that it will ever be that easy, or safe, but certainly the historical challenges, and the aura of success around an Everest climbs fades with every passing year. There were no reports of anyone trying anything new or different beyond the variations on a theme for speed, country firsts and a whole host of women setting records.
And if getting up the peak is one thing, getting down has now become a new, and now allowed challenge, with Nepal issuing the first two permits, to Pierre Carter and Alan Hutt, to fly paragliders from the peak.
Pierre took advantage of a short window of good weather at noon on the South Col, to make a 20-minute flight and nearly 3,000 meters of descent to land in Gorak Shep.
For the individual climbers, this may well have been one of the most successful and enjoyable seasons ever for many on Everest.
And while there are always many stories and photos, perhaps some of the most enjoyable ascents will have been done by small teams and individuals who eschewed social media, sponsorship and the overall hullabaloo of Everest.
They just quietly and confidently climbed the mountain, enjoyed the experience and this years truly amazing views, while saying virtually nothing about it.