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Everest North debrief - Harry's side of the story: Why we cancelled and my feelings about that
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Oct 7, 2004 16: 09 EST
Published Sep 27 2004

Sep 21, the Everest North side expedition called it quits. "On 7000 meters a discussion with the sherpas arose. There was too little rope and the sherpas considered the circumstances too dangerous climb. Last week they had a close call when an avalanche came down. Now they wouldn't advance. Perhaps this a wise decision, considering all circumstances, but we are of course terribly fed up!" wrote Werner, the expedition leader.

Harry Kikstra, a member of the expedition, compiled his own debrief in Kathmandu yesterday. And he is less diplomatic. His story is an important tale contradicting all the sunshine stories of the climbing Sherpas. We've said it before, and we say it again: The Sherpas are like the rest of us - some are good, some are bad, and most are in between. Harry is angry at his team for giving in to the Sherpas and aborting the Everest expedition too early. His team members opinion might differ.

But Harry's story is important to future climbers. Encountering a bad Sherpa situations doesn't have to be your fault. But it takes strong leadership. Choose your team sherpas wisely, check up their history (not only their number of summits), and make sure that the climbing plan is clear with the trekking agency - preferably on paper - before you leave for the climb. Here goes a excerpt of Harry's debrief:

There are always many truths to every story, here's my side of it so to speak...

Harry writes up a diary of the last week, starting Tuesday Sept 14, at the North Col (7060m). Everything went really well, it had taken

"4.5 hours to climb up the fixed ropes, so about 100 vertical meters/hour, which is not bad for the first time."

The team spent the night in a tent fixed there by the Sherpas. The next day, Wednesday, Harry and Sander came back down and only Werner stayed up: "Down the ropes only took an hour and another hour later we were back in ABC. That day Werner wanted to climb up to Camp 2 at 7500m, but the Sherpas only managed to fix the rope until 7200m and he returned to NC for another night, while the Sherpas unexpectedly climbed down to ABC."

The Sherpa stated that he did not want to go to the summit

"We talked to them that evening as we thought they had not done much so far. Normally they work for 2 days, then rest one day, but the last 3 weeks they had only fixed rope to 7200m and carried few loads, equaling about 4-5 days of work.

Boka Lama stated that he did not want to go to the summit as he said it was too dangerous up there. But they also said no-one had ever summited Everest, while at least a few dozen people have been known to have done so..."

How can they tell it is extra dangerous up there if they have not been there?

On Thursday, Harry, Ruby and Sander headed back up, but Sander was not feeling well. Heavily packed, Harry continued up alone and got up to NC in about 2 hours and 45 minutes:

"Werner was glad to see me again, but disappointed he had not been able to climb higher due to the lack of rope fixed.

We had a firm discussion with the Sherpas as I wanted to know how many extra rope we needed to get a chance for a safe summit day, but they kept on avoiding answering straight questions and acted emotional. I will never force anyone to do something dangerous against their will, but would like some answers:

Do we get a fair chance; are the Sherpas doing their best? Why is there not enough rope? How much rope do we need? How can they tell it is extra dangerous up there if they have not been there? If the weather is as great as it is every day, the snow should have been settled by now? etc etc..."

Alone in Camp 2, 7550 m

Friday, the gang was still at the North Col: "I waited for the Sherpas to see if they were really going to fix more ropes and headed after them at 11.00. The snow was soft and again it was warm again. First you have to climb down for about 50 meters and then it is a long climb up via about 4 hills of ascending size and steepness.

I met the Sherpas when they came down, while I only had one hill to go, but that hill kept on going forever! Finally at about 5 pm, so 6 hours after leaving I rounded the last hill and saw the VE25 tent, while the snow started to fall around me and the wind picked up.

I stumbled inside and breathed for about 10 minutes before I could do anything else. At least it was a new height record.. I organized my gear, unpacked my heavy bag and started melting water; it was good that lighter #3 did work in the end...

The radio contact was bad, but I talked using the sat phone with Werner, who had gone down, being tired after 3 nights at NC. I was actually hungry, (which is a good sign at this altitude) and ate a good Adventure food meal and some sweets. It got quite cold and I went for my sleeping bag soon, preparing for a restless night..."

After a while I decided that the Sherpas were not going to come

Saturday, 18th December, Harry woke up in Camp 2 (7550):

"I had a reasonable good sleep, had waken up sometimes, but also slept for at least 8 hours. It was light, but still cold as the sun only hits this spot quite late. The Sherpas should have come up again to fix the next stretch towards camp 3 at 7900m, but I could see no movement at the NC tent 500m below. I did have a great view towards Pumori and the giant massif of Cho Oyu.

After a while I decided that the Sherpas were not going to come and I headed down. They were not in NC either and apparently had descended, not what we agreed. 2 hours later I came back in ABC were everybody was sitting. Lakpha came to me and said that the snow was too soft to go to Camp 3. The snow before camp 2 was quite soft indeed, I had to make new tracks, but nothing that could not have been overcome. And above camp 2 the snow was great, I had walked around camp that morning and the conditions were actually quite good...

The Yaks to carry stuff down were already ordered while I was climbing down

The rest of the team was sitting in front of the dining tent and sat down next to them.
Werner started talking:
"I will say it right away: we have decided unanimously to cancel the expedition"
What? I could not believe it and was stunned.
Everybody seemed to agree, especially Boris and Sander, who had phoned the day before to say they were leaving the expedition due to physical problems were talking aggressively to me.

They started talking about that a security code that was agreed before hand was broken and that security was not within agreed borders right now due to people sleeping alone in tents and the worries of the sherpas. I had not been there at that time when that code was discussed (climbing in Pakistan), but wasn't that code quite general? And did the 2nd part of that code not say that the rest of the team would support any remaining climber who would be fit enough to get to the summit? I clearly was that strong climber, but everybody seemed to back out.

Even the Yaks to carry stuff down were already ordered while I was climbing down and the Sherpas had been told to get everything down the mountain the next morning.

Goodbye teamwork, Goodbye dream

I felt totally cheated and stabbed in the back. How can a team decision be made 'unanimously' when I, the strongest climber, was not even there?

It appeared that the Sherpas (lack of) motivation was one of the main reasons and their word for bad conditions was welcomed as a reason to call everything off. No matter what I said about the actual conditions up there, the decision was already made.

Goodbye teamwork, Goodbye very long and focused preparation, Goodbye money and savings, Goodbye dream. And this halfway the expedition, with almost 4 weeks to spare, feeling the best I had ever felt on a mountain, sleeping and eating without headaches on 7500m the night before while not even using extra oxygen.

Dinner did not taste and I felt utterly betrayed by my team mates. Slept badly and could still not understand why this had happened.

At the busy Zhangmu/Kodari border post another solar panel box disappeared

In the next days, Harry reports that tensions eased somewhat, Werner and the other climbers apologized but stood by their decision.
" How can they just cancel everything I worked for in many ways the past few years? How can their truth and motivation differ so much from mine?" writes Harry in despair.

And the problems with the logistics continued to the end: "We had some more problems with cars not appearing, being grossly overcharged for extra Yaks (partly solved by calling the Chinese Tibetan Mountaineering Assoc) and making a list of everything that was stolen by locals and yakdrivers (including one oxygen bottle, one backpack, one solar panel and my TNF Baltoro Down jacket). The ride to Nepal was smooth and quickly, although at the busy Zhangmu/Kodari border post (The Friendship Bridge) another solar panel box disappeared. We changed into a large and very old bus, doubly serving as cargo truck: completely filled with our gear and drums..

Low moral of the Sherpas was very likely just financial

Yesterday we talked to Tendy from Iceland trekking who will refund our extra Yak costs. He was very impressed we had gotten it down from $2600 to $950, saying it was an important source of extra (illegal) income for the Chinese Liaison officers normally and that no-one had ever lowered it.

Tendy also told that the reluctance and low moral of the Sherpas was very likely just financial: They used security as a way to secure extra bonuses for climbing, negotiating so to speak... So their game and 'mutiny' was the main reason the team had decided to stop, trusting the experience of the Sherpas, one of them who had summited 4 times before."

Climbing Everest is a team sport

Harry says he's coming back, but: "Climbing Everest is a team sport, it is almost impossible to make it alone. But you need a team that is 200% focused and mentally and physically among the strongest. The Dutch Chomolungma team was not that needed team.

This is my side of the grand total we call truth. Learn from it like I have done."

This debrief was just an excerpt from Harry's full debrief. Read Harry's full story on his website 7summits.com.

A Dutch expedition attempted Everest from the north side this Fall. Everest north autumn expeditions are rare. The team, with logistics provided by Universal Summit, was to be on the mountain to October 15th.

Universal Summit’s ‘Dutch Chomolungma Expedition 2004’ is a non-profit expedition of low cost. After going for Chogolisa (7665m) in Pakistan this July, 7Summits.com's Harry Kikstra joined the team.
Expedition members: Werner de Jong (leader), Mark Thijssen, Marc Streefkerk, Boris Krielen, Harry Kikstra, Sander Arens, and Ruby Arens-Halfschepel (Base Camp Manager.)

Image of Harry on Carstenz Pyramid, courtesy Indonesiaphoto.com
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