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ExplorersWeb Week in Review
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May 22, 2005 20: 00 EST
What a week - most of the action has been in Himalaya and this wrap-up will cover only the main stories. Everest was summited at last, in the latest spring season first summit in 45 years. Teams on Annapurna, Manaslu, Dhaulagiri, Melungtse and Jasemba have aborted their climbs. We lost two climbers in Himalaya only in the past week, and another is missing on Everest, possibly in the third fatality on the mountain this season.

Everest North first summit - but who was first? Several teams claimed the first summit of the season, but bad visibility, cold and dead sat phones provided for confusion. The climbing group of 15 people appeared to summit Mt Everest at 10 am with some stragglers approaching the summit closer to 12 noon. An estimate from the north side has Arun Treks placing two or three members on the summit, Michael Frank (USA), Rosa Maria Fernandez (Spain) & possibly Karma (Bhutan) along with four climbing Sherpas Da Nima, Lhakpa, DaYula and Dawa. There were also people from Kari Kobler's team, Jocelyn from Monte Rosa, climbers from Summit Climb, and Slovenians Marko Lihteneker and Viktor Mlinar with 7-summit club.

Everest North second summit - Chinese second slam dunk success Fifteen Chinese mountaineers scaled Everest Sunday morning at about 11: 08 Beijing Time. The weather up high was reportedly calm and warm, and the team even did live TV shots from the summit - a repeat of the China-Japan-Nepal “Asian friendship Expedition” in 1988, whose aim was not just to traverse the mountain, but to broadcast the first live World Premier from the summit. After the new broadcast, the 2005 summit climbers installed the survey beacon, transmitting GPS data to the nation's satellite navigation on-line observation. The beacon will collect altitude and weather data, and sometime between June 20th and August, the survey data will be analyzed by computer, to determine Everest's precise elevation.

Everest South side - teams turned back Several attempts were turned back on Everest south side in the past week. Catalan “Esplugues al Everest”, told ExWeb that they had to turn back at 8500 meters due to bitter cold and strong wind. Keith Woodhouse who made a summit push with Asian Trekking wrote a harrowing debrief of a very scary night. The team's climb to C4 took 7 hours, and they were turned back before the balcony, ""Eventually we arrived back on the South Col at 5pm. I was in a state of collapse! Lakpa removed my harness and crampons, and then man handled me into the tent boots and all, and covered me with my sleeping bag. I woke in a coughing fit about 2 hours later with diarrhea. The next 10 minutes felt literally like I was dying."

My Summit Oxygen equipment was playing up reported Keith. At camp 4 came the first danger signs: "I couldn't get my crampons on. I knew what to do I just couldn't do it! Eventually we set off. The night was perfect and moon lit, the wind had decreased but I was still having breathing problems with the Summit mask and regulator. I had to swap the mask for the Canular, partly because of my coughing and partly because it wasn't responding for my demand for Oxygen. The unit pulsed small doses automatically - and on the top setting at least I got some Oxygen into me!"

On Everest north side - there were similar tunes: "The Indian Air force team had 2 members turn back at the second step – one with a broken crampon... And the other with failed Summit Oxygen system, so problem with the o-ring??" ExWeb has alerted about this system before - if you have it, be sure to check it well before heading up.

Climber missing on Everest In a press release and a detailed record of communications with the climbers, the 7-summit club reported that Marko was missing. "After leaving the last camp, 8300m, at 02.30 Marko and Viktor climbed through the increasingly worsening weather. They reached the summit while the wind was picking up again to regular 2005 speed. The summit push was made without any Sherpa support, extraordinary on Everest nowadays. Victor called back in from camp 3, 8300m, but has let us know that he lost track of Marko during the descent in the bad weather. Victor is waiting for him in camp; one of the Sherpas has joined him and will be climbing higher in search for Marko." In a later report Sunday, the team wrote: "Chinese expedition Sherpas found body of a climber at the altitude of 8800 m. This body looks as Marko."

'I think Marko & I will go for the summit' Victor says. Harry Kikstra Harry wrote an account of the 4 days leading up to the team's Everest summit. It's a chilling record of the reasoning behind the decision to try for a summit in the face of anything but perfect conditions. Just like in the old days. "What about the ropes, chances are big they will not be there when you go' Victor shrugs, gives me one of his many smiles and simply replies:
'We are climbers'."

Makalu West Pillar: Sudden death of a Sherpa in BC Sumbu Sherpa, working for the Spanish “Al Filo” team suddenly felt sick and died in a few hours. The expedition’s doctor did everything to save his life (including using emergency O2 and a gammow bag), but wasn’t able to save Sumbu. The symptoms indicated pulmonary edema as cause of death. However, everything happened so fast that a heart attack has not been ruled out.

High voltage risk The Dhaulagiri team experienced the scariest possible weather conditions with an electrical storm, bringing plenty of thunder and lightning. Apparently, there have been several reports from expeditions and trekking groups about lightning storms in the Himalaya this spring. And the Dhaulagiri team couldn’t help but remember Hans Kammerlander’s tragic attempt on Manaslu in 1991, when his climbing mates Karl Grossrubatscher and Friedl Mutschlechner died after being struck by lighting.

Avalanche on Annapurna - Christian Kuntner lost The ice avalanche hit in a place where it had already struck three times. Italian climbers Mondinelli, Gobbi, Camandona, Australian Andrew Lock and two alpinists from Colorado (one doctor) were between CII and CIII when a serac fell down. Christian Kuntner and Abele Blanc followed not far behind and were struck by ice boulders. The front team hurried back down, to rescue their mates, and returned to C2 an hour and a half later where Christian Kuntner died in their arms from inner hemorrhages.

Kuntner was a convicted supporter of light expeditions: small groups of friends, no high altitude Sherpas and no supplementary O2. In 1999, Christian found his perfect climbing partner, Abele Blanc, with similar climbing skills and the same attitude towards mountaineering. They were both pursuing Annapurna's evasive summit to finish the Fourteen Great ones. The accomplished climbers were not so well known among the international climbing community, or the general media. Both Kuntner and Blanc were rather shy, avoiding widely advertised expeditions and big media fuss. Read ExWeb's special on Christian Kuntner.

Real men Abele is recovering in Kathmandu. He is still in shock - unable to recognize companions, but he got up from bed and the docs seem to think he'll be alright. Everyone who knows Abele understands how hard the loss of his companion is on him. In 2003, the pair attempted Annapurna in fall. After the expedition he wrote in his final dispatch: “For two months we have lived like real men, courageous, loyal, in fraternity, solidly and idealistically, it was worth it..!" The great Himalayan saga of the shy ace climbing brothers Abele Blanc and Christian Kuntner is over and yet the soul of the two mountaineer's climbs remain, a great example to others of the true spirit of adventure and real men. Summarized in Abele's final dispatch from Annapurna in 2003: "We’ll celebrate what has brought us close together in an extraordinary way, and this adventure that we have shared.”

Manaslu: Lightning risk - Everybody down! The "United Climbers of Manaslu" (all expeditions joined forces to attempt the summit) could not believe their eyes when they reached Camp 2… or at least the place where it should have been. “There was just a white plateau; an intense storm had buried the entire camp under two meters of snow. We tried to dig it out, but the surface was covered with a crust of hard ice.” “We where thinking what to do next, when the storm hit again: Wind, snow, and lightning! The situation became really dangerous. We did the only thing we could: Run down to the base, leaving all our valuable gear up there, worth a fortune!”

ExWeb Special report: The Ropes and Summit Push on Everest North Side The ropes on the North side have been a big issue lately. The teams and the man days totaled by each team were as follows: Indians - 5, Norwegians - 11, Jagged Globe - 6, Chinese - 3 and Himex - 43. On April 23rd, Russell asked the other teams for one Sherpa each to carry rope to Camp 4 and each expedition leader declined citing as the reason their Sherpas were too busy. Consequently, Russell's Sherpas carried and left 1,000 meters of rope to Camp 4 the following day and left it there for fixing in the following days. That didn't happen, as the weather turned bad.

Seems that Russell was asked in the beginning to handle the ropes with his team of experienced Sherpas. But many leaders thought he would just earn some extra money and voted against the plan, opting to 'donate' Sherpas from different teams instead, so Sherpas from all teams could make money. "Instead of letting his team do all the work, which would have been best for all and Russell would not have made any money of it at all, the splitting up has had a negative effect on the efficiency," reported one climber. “If my team had done all the work, as agreed beforehand, the ropes would all be fixed now", Russell said. In the end, the teams who went for the early summit push brought 4 Sherpas and Russell added another 4 to finally fix the summit ropes.

The skinny is that the winds might be low Friday/Saturday, with the Jet returning to the mountain on Sunday, we wrote last week. Friday night the winds were OK, Saturday night the summit weather was really good. But now the forecasts show a first possible relief not until May 28.

Seems that the big commercial expeditions are concealing their weather forecasts with the motivation that they pay for them. The total cost for AdventureWeather's forecasts is around $10,000 for the season. SMHI and WNI are sponsoring about 50% of the cost, ExWeb covers the rest. The reason: Prior to 2000 forecasts were concealed for independent climbers on Everest. We decided to change that. While Adventure Weather’s forecasts are free to climbers, they are among the most expensive in the world and top of the line. They are free also to commercial expeditions. Why? Because they too are people. And we want them to live.

Annapurna South: "It was such a great climb" The climb is over, Piotr was turned back once again: "I am trying to recover from all my physical and mental wounds - we really gave it all on this climb. Piotr and I fixed 3 km of rope together. The weather was terrible; we had to work under the avalanches. I was hit by a piece of ice and had several cuts on my head. But we come away with the great satisfaction to have defeated the Bonnington route, meter by meter...and that will have to do." Read Piotr's full debrief.

Melungtse: Team retreats - Koshelenko shows signs of HAPE American Carlos Buhler and Russians Yuri Koshelenko and Nikolay Totmyanin had already climbed the wall section of the route they were opening on the yet unclimbed Melungtse’s North face. It took them five days on the wall, 31 pitches (60 m each), coping with difficulties up to 6B+ (Russian grade), and an epic night on a 40 cm-wide ice ledge. But then Yuri had signs of HAPE and the climbers decided to descend. The team next climbed down the huge wall without fixed ropes or belays to clip on. Melungtse is an isolated mountain in the Rongshar Valley, with no villages or trails in the area. Yuri is still not well, and the climbers are currently awaiting arrival of porters around May 25.

Arctic summer crossing: Bears and slushy ice Polar bears have been ruling the Arctic expeditions this year. And on their fifth day of travel, the One World expedition too had its first encounter with the Arctic’s top predator. In an audio dispatch on May 14th, Lonnie described how a young polar bear “got very curious” with the adventurers. It took two flares to scare the bear off. Eric set up a fence made out of gear around their tent, hoping that if the bear returned, it would knock something over and awaken the guys. The guys are also frustrated by a back drift, and very bad ice conditions, "there are leads everywhere. We both fell through bad ice today." The leads are semi-frozen, the worst condition for the "boaters" and the going is just plain tough. They've averaged 2 NM daily since the start, and have a long way to go; the stretch is 930 NM in total. That gives for an arrival date of around November 2006 (or a travel of around 465 days - with no rest days :) Lucky enough, polar skiers usually speed up considerably after the first month.

The world's premier polar adventure family strikes again Few families can boast an adventure resume as impressive as the Landry-McNairs. Earlier this year, Matty McNair and her kids Sarah and Eric completed a 70-day, 1,380-mile (2,220 km) expedition that started on the Antarctic coast on November 2, reached the South Geographic Pole on December 23 and finished back at the coast at Hercules Inlet on January 11th, beating all kinds of speed records.

Next, a flight took Mom Matty to the other side of the Earth, and on March 21st (only about 2 months after the South Pole expedition) Matty headed back out on the ice - this time guiding Tom Avery's Ultimate North challenge to break Peary's speed record to the North Pole. The team ended up breaking Peary's record by around 5 hours, and setting a new world record (36 days) to the North Pole on April 27th, 2005. The wife beat even hubby's time in her slam dunk performance - cutting Paul's legendary trip by an astonishing 8 days! (In 2000, Eric and Sarah's father, Paul Landry, completed a super-fast (44 day) dogsled expedition to the North Pole on April 13.) The family's expeditions are beyond all firsts, and on Antarctica this year, they even met up for a short while - at the South Pole - as Paul was leading a British expedition traverse.

This spring, it’s dad’s turn to take the kids again. Paul Landry, Eric, Sarah, and their buddy David, are attempting a double crossing of the Greenland Ice Cap, kiting and skiing a distance of 1,100 kilometers. They want to make the fastest crossing of the Greenland Ice Cap, and break the record for the longest kite-ski distance in a 24 hour period. The fastest Greenland crossing is presently 8 days; completed in 1995 by Sjur Mordre (Norway). Alain Hubert (Belgium) holds the longest kite ski record at 271 kilometers; completed in 1995 on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica.

Rescue! Twin brothers Indian Ocean row over. At the end of April, twin brothers, Sergey and Alexander Sinelnik, set out from Carnarvon, Western Australia on a rarely-attempted expedition: Rowing the Indian Ocean, east to west. The brothers' sea water desalinator broke shortly after the start of the voyage; May 15, the brothers came to decision to stop their crossing. The situation quickly became critical - the weather took a turn for the worse, and on May 16, 2005, at 01:15GMT the twins activated their 406 EPIRB. "K" Line ship "Cape Island," tried to pick the rowers up, but then, to the brother’s despair - it moved away. "We are too high freeboard to pick them up," the ship reported to ORS. By now, the twins VHF was out and they had no clue what was going on. But the Cape Island had good news, too; "Being as (Norwegian) Euro Viking headed for Fremantle is nearby, it will be easier for them than it is for us to pick the twins up." Finally, Euro Viking reported that they retrieved both rowers and their vessel.

2005 to be a big year for Atlantic hurricanes NOAA hurricane forecasters predicted an above-normal hurricane season in the Atlantic. They expect 12-15 tropical storms, with 7 to 9 becoming hurricanes.

Tiny finishes 116 day Atlantic row - towed last 51 miles Tiny was hoping to row into Antigua on the 12th, but in his last dispatch, dated May 12th, Tiny reported: “I have spent many hours trying to arrest the (back) movement, but to no avail. Sadly this could be the end of the attempt. The food will last me a week at a push, but each day we move east adds a day's rowing into the equation until landfall. By my calculations Antigua is now five days rowing away. If no change happens in the next 24 hours I shall have to arrange a re-supply or a tow-in.” Tiny was towed-in the last 51 miles. It’s still a great achievement for Mr. Little: 3479 miles over 116 days of rowing!

Fedor completes repairs in the "dusty" sea Fedor knew that his circumnavigation would present some technical challenges, but he never expected a brand-new stay pin to snap and send the staysail crashing about the deck. After an impressive display of handyman skills, Fedor is now back on track, now passing through a desert-like area of the eastern Atlantic. The trade winds are blowing at 20-25 knots from the Sahara Desert via Mauritania. Fedor reported that the deck is covered with red dust. The main sail looks like it was washed in the wine pot, and his hands and feet are red too.

Massive space storm hits Earth Two weeks ago, ExWeb advised sky watchers in Alaska and Canada to be on alert for auroras caused by an M-Class solar flare. But that medium-sized flare was nothing compared to last week's warning from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The NOAA observed a geomagnetic storm on Sunday, May 15, which they classified as an extreme event, measuring G-5—the highest level—on the NOAA Space Weather Scales.
"This event registered a 9 on the K-Index, which measures the maximum deviation of the Earth's magnetic field in a given three-hour period," said Gayle Nelson, lead operations specialist at NOAA Space Environment Center. "The scale ranges from 0 to 9, with 9 being the highest. This was a significant event." This event was forecast by NOAA as the result of a solar flare that occurred on Friday, May 13. ExWeb has had no significant reports of sat phone failures from expeditions.

Read these stories - and much more - at ExplorersWeb.com

Image of Everest North Col camp, courtesy of the 7-summit club.

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