Mount Everest, rising 8,848m (29,028ft) above sea level reigns as the highest mountain on Earth. For decades summiting Everest has been considered one of the greatest mountaineering achievements. In the spring of each year, we embrace this intense challenge by taking a group of qualified climbers to Nepal to climb Mt. Everest via the South Col route. The South Col was the first successfully climbed route on Mt. Everest as Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay accomplished this feat in 1953. Since then, the South Col has seen over 1000 ascents. It is by far, the most successfully climbed route on the mountain.
CLIMBING ROUTE & HIGH CAMPS
By the time we reach at base camp, our climbing leaders and Sherpa will be well on the way to having the lower part of the mountain (the Khumbu Ice Fall) already fixed with ropes and ladders. We will establish four camps on the mountain. The first, at 19,500ft, is situated at the top of the ice fall. This camp functions as an intermediate camp until Camp II (advanced base camp) is established at 21,000ft. Camp II will consist of large tents for cooking and dining and several smaller tents for sleeping. Camp II will be our base during the placements of Camp III and Camp IV (23,500ft and 25,912ft respectively). Camp III, which stands at the head of the cirque on the Lhotse face, will consist of three and four man tents. This camp serves as an intermediate camp which climbers will use to reach Camp IV (high camp) on the South Col. Most of our Sherpa are able to carry directly from Camp II to Camp IV, so large amounts of gear are not needed at Camp III to establish Camp IV. Oxygen will be used above Camp III to help aid climbers in reaching high camp before attempting the summit. From Camp IV, we travel along the South East Ridge to the South Summit. From here we traverse for a few hundred meters before reaching the Hillary step and then onto the main summit.
Camp I – 5,945 meters
After the Icefall, the climbers arrive at Camp I, which is located at 19,500 feet. Depending on the type of expedition, Camp I will either be stocked by the climbers as they ascend and descend the Icefall or by Sherpas in advance. The area between Camp I and Camp II is known as the Western Cwm. As the climbers reach Camp II at 21,000 feet, they may be temporarily out of sight of their support at Base camp. Nonetheless, modern communication devises permit the parties to stay in contact.
Camp II – 6,402 meters
As the climbers leave Camp II, they travel towards the Lhotse face (Lhotse is a 27,920 foot mountain bordering Everest). The Lhotse face is a steep, shiny icy wall. Though not technically extremely difficult, one misstep or slip could mean a climber's life. Indeed, many climbers have lost their lives through such mishaps.
Camp III - 23,500 feet (7,164 meters)
To reach Camp III, climbers must negotiate the Lhotse Face. Climbing a sheer wall of ice demands skill, strength and stamina. It is so steep and treacherous that many Sherpas move directly from Camp II to Camp IV on the South Col, refusing to stay on the Lhotse Face.
Camp IV - 26,300 feet (8000 meters)
As you're leaving C4…it's a little bit of a down slope, with the uphill side to the left. There are typically snow on the ledges to walk down on, interspersed with rock, along with some fixed rope. The problem with the rope is that the anchors are bad, and there's not much holding the rope and a fall could be serious. Fortunately it's not too steep, but there is a ton of exposure and people are usually tired when walking down from camp. The rock is a little down sloping to the right as well, and with crampons on, it can be bit tricky with any kind of wind. There's a little short slope on reliable snow which leads to the top of the Geneva Spur, and the wind pressure gradient across the spur can increase there as you're getting set up for the rappel. Wearing an oxygen mask here can create some footing issues during the rappel, because it's impossible to see over the mask and down to the feet. For that reason, some people choose to leave Camp 4 without gas, as it's easier to keep moving down the Spur when it's important to see all the small rock steps and where the old feet are going. Navigating down through all of the spaghetti of fixed ropes is a bit of a challenge, especially with mush for brains at that point. One lands on some lower ledges which aren't so steep, where fixed ropes through here are solid. At this point, it's just a matter of staying upright, and usually, the wind has died significantly after dropping off the Spur. The route turns hard to the left onto the snowfield that leads to the top of the Yellow Bands.
Camp IV, which is at 26,300 on the Lhotse face, is typically the climbers' first overnight stay in the Death Zone. The Death Zone is above 26,000 feet. Though there is nothing magical about that altitude, it is at this altitude that most human bodies lose all ability to acclimate.
Accordingly, the body slowly begins to deteriorate and die - thus, the name "Death Zone." The longer a climber stays at this altitude, the more likely illness (HACE - high altitude cerebral edema - or HAPE - high altitude pulmonary edema) or death will occur. Most climbers will use oxygen to climb and sleep at this altitude and above. Generally, Sherpas refuse to sleep on the Lhotse face and will travel to either Camp II or Camp IV.
Camp IV is located at 26,300 feet. This is the final major camp for the summit push. It is at this point that the climbers make their final preparations. It is also a haven for worn-out climbers on their exhausting descent from summit attempts (both successful and not). Sherpas or other climbers will often wait here with supplies and hot tea for returning climbers.
From Camp IV, climbers will push through the Balcony, at 27,500 feet, to the Hillary Step at 28,800 feet. The Hillary Step, an over 70 foot rock step, is named after Sir. Edmond Hillary, who in 1953, along with Tenzing Norgay, became the first people to summit Everest. The Hillary Step, which is climbed with fixed ropes, often becomes a bottleneck as only one climber can climb at a time. Though the Hillary Step would not be difficult at sea level for experienced climbers, at Everest's altitude, it is considered the most technically challenging aspect of the climb.
After Camps III and IV are established and all our supplies are in place, we return to Base Camp for a rest. At Base Camp we will organize our summit teams and prepare ourselves for summit attempts. Once we are ready, we return to Advanced Base. If good weather prevails we move the summit team to Camp III, on day 2/3. Day 3/4 will be summit day for the team. They will start very early that morning and attempt to reach the summit before mid-day. After the summit, they retreat back to the Camp IV and on to Camp III. Next day the team will back to camp II & base camp.
As always, weather plays a major part in all actual summit attempts. We will try as many summit attempts as safely possible as our goal is to put the maximum number of people on the summit. Guides and Sherpa will accompany all summit attempts and oxygen will be used.
Summit - 29,028 feet (8848 meters)
Once the climbers ascend the Hillary Step, they slowly and laboriously proceed to the summit at 29,028 feet. The summit sits at the top of the world. Though not the closest place to the sun due to the earth's curve, it is the highest peak on earth. Due to the decreased air pressure, the summit contains less than one third of the oxygen as at sea level. If dropped off on the summit directly from sea level (impossible in reality), a person would die within minutes. Typically, climbers achieving the great summit will take pictures, gain their composure, briefly enjoy the view, and then return to Camp IV as quickly as possible. The risk of staying at the summit and the exhaustion from achieving the summit is too great to permit climbers to fully enjoy the great accomplishment at that moment.
To reach the summit of Everest (29,035'/8850m) you must be in top physical, emotional, and psychological condition. Benchmarks for physical conditioning include successful previous trips above 20,000' whenever possible, during which you will have gained experience dealing with gear and equipment, handling extremely cold temperatures and extreme altitude, gaining solid cramponing skills both on and off rock, snow and ice, rappelling with a pack on, and using ascenders and jumars on a fixed line. In addition to solid alpine living, snow, and ice climbing skills, you need significant strength endurance, high-altitude tolerance, and strong cardiovascular conditioning.