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ExWeb Everest Debrief: Tom and Ben Clowes
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Jul 5, 2004 15: 51 EST
Early in the morning on May 20th Dave Pritt, expedition leader for the Adventure Peaks Everest team, called in to his home base; “Our team has decided to abort their summit attempt and are currently on their way down back to ABC. The team was involved yesterday in assisting climbers who were coming back from summit attempts in bad ways, unfortunately some of the climbers from other teams have not returned.”

On Everest North, Tuesday the 18th 2 Koreans were reported missing on the North side; Paek Jun-Ho went out looking for his teammates. On the 20th, Japanese climber Shoko Ota died after summiting, 300-350 m below summit. The Bulgarian Hristo Hristov summits and is later found dead, along with Park Moo-Taek. The next day, the 21st, the other two Koreans, Chang Min and Paek Jun-Ho, were found dead.

All the team but Ray (who was using POISK) went on their oxygen system May 18th. They were using the new British O2 system.

A band of cloud and wind at 7800m

On May 20th the Adventure Peaks team reported “The weather overnight at 7800m was Windy together with some snow fall. The group finally decided the weather was too windy to move up to 8300m today and are spending tonight at 7800m in the hope that the weather will have improved by morning for a new summit attempt on the 22nd. Unfortunately if it remains the same, our summit will be abandoned and the group will return to ABC. The past four days have shown a similar forecast, we have been unlucky to date with the amount of precipitation that has fallen; hopefully things will come good in the morning.

Other groups have summitted this morning (Thur) or are close to the summit in clear weather and minimal wind, ABC is wind free so it appears we are in a band of cloud and wind at 7800m.”

So much politics on this mountain

Tom and Ben Clowes on the Adventure Peaks team recount the events:

From Tom, May 22nd: “Got back down from the North Col late this morning... completely exhausted! I don't think I have ever been so tired! The winds haven't stopped and neither has the snow and still people are going up! We spent one night at 7,000m, another at 7,500, then 2 nights at 7,800m. White out and no visibility whatsoever. It is still snowing now! Many people have died and still many unaccounted for. I think 5 Koreans have perished with snow blindness; a Japanese girl is hanging off the second step by the ladder.... its horrible.

Ben and I decided to go down on the second morning. The decision was simple and easy. Yes, I am very disappointed not to have even had the chance for a summit attempt but I'd rather still be alive and well than dead! I always said the summit would be a bonus and that we'd take no risks and that's what we did. Still, climbers reached the top but many of them extremely confident and experienced and they had no views or they come back with frostbite or those that died blame Russell Brice for not having put the ropes in up high (they didn't offer money for him to do so!) So much politics etc on this mountain that is certainly unforgiving.”

Trying to catch my breath in the thin air

From Ben, also May 22nd: “We continued up to 7800 camp and this followed a route on very loose and broken rock covered in a light layer of snow. It was still snowing and visibility was poor. For almost the entire way there are tents scattered on precarious rocky platforms, tied down with rope and netting to stop them blowing away. Despite being on a light flow of oxygen (1.5 litres per min) we all made very slow progress and I got into 7800 camp 4 1/2 hrs after leaving 7500m. The weather was not looking promising for our summit attempt. I filled a plastic bag with snow for melting and crawled into an empty tent. I knew I had to get the stove on the go for when Tom arrived but lay trying to catch my breath in the thin air. We spent a windy night there wondering what the weather would deliver in the morning. When we woke up the tent was still being battered and snow was still coming down. We all got into our climbing gear and got out to have a closer look at the weather.

The wind was variable, sometimes non existent and other times blowing hard. In the morning the wind was not blowing as hard as the previous day but visibility was poor and the snow had drifted a foot up the tent. The Sherpas were not confident the weather would improve and also we started to hear news of several deaths above us. It was disappointing but we decided the summit was beyond us. I always said if the weather wasn't ideal I wouldn't go up and after 2 nights at 7800 we were drained. If we were stronger and more confident it would have been possible to try for the summit, but for me there was no decision to be made. Our decision was confirmed by the number of people who have died so far by climbing beyond their abilities.”

Adventure Peaks led a small team of climbers from various nations. It was a non-guided expedition organized by Dave Pritt. The team started out with Serena Brocklebank to be following in the footsteps of her grandfather, Tom Brocklebank, who was a member of the British expedition to the north side of Everest in 1933. Kevin Donovan is a 47-year old computer systems administrator from Dallas, Texas. Tom and Ben hoped to be the first British brothers to summit Everest together. The climbers will be using the new British oxygen system.

The expedition stars in the new BBC production "The Challenge" and part of the film crew worked on the recent "Touching the Void".

Expedition leader: Dave Pritt. Paul Noble

Expedition members: Dr. Mike Brennan (UK), Ian Gibb (UK), Serena Brocklenbank (UK), Tom Clowes (UK), Ben Clowes (UK), Raymond "Ray" Smith (UK), Kevin Donovan (USA), Tony Griffiths (UK).

Expedition film crew (BBC): Tony Griffiths, cameraman John Whittle, Paul Moores, BC/ABC Director Ewen Thomson and Assistant Producer Rachel Skelton. John and Paul are from High Exposure, LTD.

Image of Tom and Ben on their approach to Everest courtesy of thecomma.co.uk.
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