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Everest North: Stairway to the summit?
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May 18, 2005 17: 50 EST
Previously published Apr 26, 2005 11: 49 EST
The times, they are a changin’ on Everest’s North Side. As ExWeb recently reported, for the first time in Everest history the CTMA (Chinese/Tibetan Mountaineering Association) contracted one of the expeditions in BC to take charge of the rope-fixing tasks on the route. The chosen outfitter is Russell Brice’s Himalayan Experience, with its strong team of guides and Sherpas.

Men at work

Russell’s crew attacked the task with amazing efficacy, plus a little help from some other teams. They hauled in 10,000 meters of brand-new, extra strong blue rope from Kathmandu. Old ropes have been replaced, belays have been checked, and ladders put in place over crevassed sections.

In addition, top of the line tools and some innovative ideas imported from the Alps may change the appearance – and climbing methods – of the summit ridge forever. Swiss guide Kari Kobler, who coordinated the rope-fixing tasks on K2 last summer, joins Brice this year on Everest. Kobler is credited with helping to prove that the “savage mountain” (K2) could be managed much like Everest, as far as bolting and fixing is concerned. Now he’s back in the Everest game, suggesting a revolutionary idea: Bolting metal stairs similar to the ‘Via Ferrata’ routes on many European walls.

Australian Duncan Chessell, currently guiding for Himex, reported on the bolting plans for the upper sections of the mountain.

High-bolting technology

“Kari Kobler and Russell Brice are pictured at ABC – check the picture - with the best of the Hilti bolting technology: A 36V cordless hammer drill capable of sinking a 16mm diameter bolt into the summit ridge of Everest. A battery pack can be worn under the down suit, allowing the battery to stay warm enough to drill more than 100 holes. The plan is to use the drill to fix 10mm bolts.”

Steps to the summit

“Kari wants to fix “Via Ferrata Style” 150mm long “step bolts” onto the second and first step to speed up the climbing for everyone. Hmmm this is a new level to the commercialization of Everest. Already we have ladders, fixed lines, pitons, Sherpas and oxygen – now we are looking at metal steps for the tricky parts…”

“Currently there are no plans to develop the world’s highest crag by bolting routes on the side of the third step but there are rumors that Himex is considering to fix a ladder on the Hillary step -from the Tibetan side - the extremely strong Himex Sherpa team has almost finished it's work on the North side and it is still April.”

The CTMA have contracted Himex, led by Russell Brice (NZ), guides Duncan Chessell (AUS), Bill Crouse (USA), Dean Staples (NZ), Mark Woodroofe (NZ) and David McKinley (NZ) with 12 Tibetan and 20 Nepalese Sherpas to fix ropes from ABC (6,400m) to the summit. “Himex will directly organize this task using mostly their own Sherpas, but also some from other expeditions as necessary. The CTMA is administering the finances with Himex NOT gaining financially from the deal,” reported Chessell in a previous chronicle.

Blue Water supplied the specially designed 7mm static rope (blue colored) – all 10,000m of it! The Maoist strike meant that the rope had to be transported by helicopter to the Nepal-China border, then moved by CTMA trucks to Everest BC over two days

Last season one ladder was required to provide easy access across a narrow crevasse below the North Col. This season is no exception, and the ladder has been re-installed. A second ladder was expected by mid April to be installed over a new crevasse on the way to the North Col.

This is an excerpt from the agreement, sent out to all North side expeditions:

"Instead of letting each group fix different parts of the routes, which has been very difficult to coordinate during previous seasons and also lead to poor quality, and even dangerous situations, we have decided to make a pool of strong and highly qualified Sherpas from all expeditions arriving in due time to take part in the fixing work."

"There will be one easily identifiable line of new strong, static blue rope along the whole route. Wherever needed, poor belays will be replaced. All old ropes will be removed and carried down. The steepest places where abseiling is recommended or passing is difficult will be provided with double ropes."

The total cost is US$ 30 000, and with approx. 300 climbers expected on 25 different expeditions this spring, the whole work will be covered by only US$ 100 per climber. (Sherpas pay nothing). Russel Brice (Himex) will lead the work and TMA CMA (Tibetan Chinese Mountaineering Association) will contribute to the system by collecting the money from all groups arriving at Base Camp.

Swiss guide Kari Kobler proved last year that it was possible to apply Everest methods on K2: Ropes, camps, O2 and strong Sherpa support. He spared no cost to provide a ‘safer’ mountain for his clients. More than half of them would end up on the summit. Kobler is currently leading a team on Everest Tibetan side through the classic North Col route. Team members are: Veronika Meyer, Norbert Burgener, Christian Eiterer, Mario Rizzi, Robert Miller, Dieter Kramer, Peter Fichtner, and Thomas Kulhanek.

Live image over Contact 3.0 of Brice and Kobler in ABC with the bolting tools courtesy of Duncan Chessell/DCXP.
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