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Everest Traverse: The Road Less Traveled
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Mar 23, 2005 12: 14 EST
This spring, four-time Everest summiteer Luis Benitez, and Australian Piers Buck are going to take a crack at an unusual feat: Traversing Everest. Not only will they have to deal with the extra distance and strategic difficulties of a traverse, they’ll have to hack through bureaucratic red tape and cough up special fees required by both the Nepalese and Chinese governments.

There have been three previous successful Everest traverses. One was a Nepal -Tibet traverse by means of the standard routes; the other two teams started their climbs in Tibet using the West Ridge (on the Tibet-Nepal border) and descended via the South Col.

Size matters

The most impressive aspect of the 2005 classic traverse expedition is that they’ll make the attempt with a skeleton crew; a guide, a client and two sherpas, compared to the huge, mega-sponsored expedition that traversed the mountain through the classic routes in 1988, or the strong groups of climbers who did the West ridge traverses.

Luis and Piers will climb with just two sherpas, although in their favor, they can count on established routes. To highlight the differences, let’s take a look at the previous Everest traverse expeditions:

When money is no issue

The ambitious China-Japan-Nepal “Asian friendship Expedition” was launched in 1988. The aim was not just to traverse the mountain, but to broadcast the first live World Premier from the summit. No expenses were spared to fund the bold technological challenge. The expedition consisted of a whopping 254 members and had an estimated budget of 20-30 million dollars! Tsuneoh Shigehiro was the Japanese leader, while Khunga captained the Chinese/Tibetan team.

The party broke up into two squads and launched simultaneous climbs from both the Nepal and Tibet sides of the mountain, meeting at the summit on May 5th. They had lugged cables all the way up the mountain, and installed a massive 4.5 m antenna dish high up on the north side to beam their show to the anxious viewers six miles below.

Hello from the summit!

Both the technical and climbing achievements were a slam dunk. Six climbers (one Japanese, three Tibetans and two Sherpas) accomplished the traverse, three of them from each side. The other six climbers also claimed the summit, but descended via the same routes they used on the way up. Their happy faces and summit embraces were broadcast live through Nippon TV, seen by millions of people in Japan.

“Short cuts” for traversing?

Two other teams have opted for the challenging West Ridge ascent, and the standard South Col, SE ridge on their way down.

The original trailblazers were Willy Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein back in 1963. However, the success of their climb was not limited to simply traversing Everest. In fact, their expedition was one of the most awesome feats in Everest history. The Americans scrambled up the dangerous and totally unexplored West Ridge in ultra-lightweight “alpine style!”

American mountain heroes

They descended along with Barry Bishop and Lute Jerstad, who had reached the top from the South Col route. Bishop and Jerstad didn’t know how lucky they were to be in the company of the West Ridge pioneers: On the descent Unsoeld and Hornbein rescued them from a fall into a crevasse. Then a storm hit, and the four climbers were forced to make camp without any shelter high up in the death zone at 8500m (a.k.a “rescue camp”).

Affected by frostbite, the climbers continued the descent in the morning, until they met Dave Dingman and a sherpa, who sacrificed their own summit push to help them down.

The year of the Bulgarians

The second West Ridge-SE ridge traverse was pulled off by Bulgarians Kiril Doskov, Metodi Savov, Nikolay Petkov and Ivan Valchev in 1994.

Their climb was notable because they accomplished the first leg using the direct West Ridge route, following the exact spine instead of skirting to the north face and the Hornbein couloir on the upper section of the mountain. Exhausted and frostbitten, the climbers were helped down the south side by an Indian expedition.

‘63, ‘88, ‘94 and 2005 – in spite of the opportunity for killer double views, Everest traverses are few and far between. This year, we are up for that rare treat again. Sagarmatha and her weather Gods willing.

4-time Everest summiteer Luis Benitez and Australian Piers Buck will attempt to scale Everest from the South side and come down the North side this spring. In addition, the two climbers will pioneer the new Contact GEO positioning system on the mountain.

Summitting Everest for the fourth time last spring, the Adventure Consultants climbing guide Luis Benitez has been a busy guy. Since Everest last May, he's been to Elbrus (5642m) in the old USSR, Ama Dablam, Antarctica (Mt Vinson with Annabelle Bond), and Aconcagua. On each of his expeditions, Luis has been dispatching pics and reports over Contact 3.0.

Piers is a 30-year-old climber based out of Melbourne. He began climbing 5 years ago, and has spent most of his vacation time climbing in New Zealand and the European Alps. In the Himalayas, Piers attempted the Kangshung to Rongbuk traverse via Lho La but had to turn back due to deep snow. He climbed Cho Oyu via the Northwest Face.

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.

Image of Luis on top of Everest with team's Sherpas, courtesy of Luis Benitez.

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