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Everest Traverse: Game over - Chinese pulled permission
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May 28, 2005 09: 45 EST
”Yoo-hoo, back at camp2!,” reported Luis Benitez yesterday (check also ExWeb's newscast). “Talk about full, EVERYONE is here. Every team’s climbers, Sherpas, and support staff...winds are high and erratic, meaning they are coming from every direction all at once. Piers should be arriving to north side BC today, I hope he’s doing well.”

“I figure right now about a 20% chance of traversing, let alone summiting. Bad odds? You bet. Game over? Not quite yet...”

But today, the "boy in the bubble" received some really bad news, from an unexpected direction, and you can tell his frustration:

Chinese pulled permission

28 May 2005, 6400 m.

"Been working the sat phone and email up here at camp 2. In a nutshell, according to our north side agent, due to Piers crossing over to the north last week, and his permit saying we were only supposed to go out, not come in and go out, it has left the Chinese officials so jittery as to what’s going on, they have pulled my permission to attempt the traverse. Period."

This is a hard blow to the team, who had prepared for months for the traverse: "I am not sure of the total story, but the more I push, the less response I get. Depressing to say the very least."

The world’s (non-Sherpa) record for most consecutive summits

The Adventure Consultants team is one of the increasingly diminishing number of climbers still left on Everest and they will continue the push up. In 2004, Luis claimed the world’s (non-Sherpa) record for most consecutive summits of Everest: 4 in 4 years. He might at least get a shot at a fifth:

"We still have 4 clients and are trying to commit to see the month thru. It is hard to imagine not being grateful about getting a 5th shot at the top, but motivation wise, if I make it and seeing down the north is good, it may just kill me not to be able to go, as jokes about ending up in a lhasa prison abound! So lets see what’s left of the season, and what we can do with it, the winds come and go above, yet teams are headed to 3. Hopefully they will all be smart as the allure and pull of the summit is as strong as ever. Thanks to you all for following along and all the good wishes...they were felt the whole way, I will keep on cybercasting as events warrant."

The Everest Traverse was the most unusual climb on Everest normal routes this year. The climbers would go up the south side and come down the north. Although there have been a few other traverses on Everest before, this kind of Nepal-Tibet traverse has only been done once before, in 1988, by the ambitious China-Japan-Nepal “Asian friendship Expedition” consisting of a whopping 254 members.

This year, four-time Everest summiteer Luis Benitez and a sherpa were to guide Australian Piers Buck on the unusual climb, but the bad weather prevented the push and last week Piers flew to Everest north side to bag an Everest summit from there instead.

Diagnosed with severe asthma as a baby, Luis spent his entire childhood in oxygen tents and emergency rooms, downing powerful drugs. He was literally the boy in the bubble, locked away indoors, buried in the pages of National Geographic. At the age of ten, he began seeing a new doctor who suggested a (then) radical treatment. Along with drugs, he recommended endurance exercise to strengthen Benitez lungs: swimming in chlorine laden, allergen-free, indoor swimming pools and - trekking at altitude.

Benitez began hiking in the Andes Mountains. His first official summit: Mt. Cotopaxi (19,350 ft) in Ecuador. He was 16 years old. Hurling and dizzy, he summitted at sunrise, as lightning flashed over the jungle below. He was hooked.

Now, at 32, Luis is one of the world’s most busy high altitude mountain guides, leading expeditions year round. Although many experienced professionals are a decade or more older than him, Luis stands out in his own way: In 2004, he claimed the world’s (non-Sherpa) record for most consecutive summits of Everest: 4 in 4 years. And he was one of the guides on blind climber Erik Weihenmayer's 2001 summit, documented in the feature film “Farther Than The Eye Can See.”

Luis dislikes elitism. He defends the blind guy's dream of Everest and the everyday warrior, the underdog who fights against all odds - that's Luis' kind of guy.

On each expedition, Benitez is also responsible for overseeing the reports, satellite transmissions and webcasts - using edge communications gear. A mountaineering correspondent for ESPN Satellite Radio Network, Luis is also one of the pioneers of the Contact 3.0 GEO system this season, and one of ExWeb's news anchors from the mountain.

The difficulty of an Everest traverse is obvious: Climbers don't have the advantage of following a familiar route on their descent - they will have to negotiate new terrain when they are at their most tired. They also need special climbing permits, double visas, and logistics prepared for both sides of the mountain.

Adventure Consultants, founded by the legendary climber and pioneering Everest guide Rob Hall, and now directed by Guy Cotter, is one of the world's leading Everest climbing outfits.

Archive image Luis on top of Everest with team's Sherpas, courtesy of Luis Benitez and Adventure Consultants.

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