3:49am

Mon May 28, 2012
The Two-Way

At End Of Climbing Season, A Reflection On Everest 'Traffic Jam'

Originally published on Tue May 29, 2012 4:46 am

Update at 8:45 a.m. EDT, 5/28: Morning Edition host David Greene spoke today with mountaineer Conrad Anker, who has just climbed Mount Everest for the third time, and did so without supplemental oxygen.

As we've been reporting, it's been a busy and deadly year on the mountain, with several deaths and "traffic jams" due to the large number of climbers.

Anker explained why conditions were particularly difficult: "All the climbers collectively experienced very dry and windy conditions this year. So there wasn't a lot of snow on the mountain. When there's more snow, loose rocks are frozen in place, the snow hasn't turned into blue ice, Which it did this year. Blue ice is very laborious to climb and requires extra protection."

In addition, there were only two "weather windows" with favorable conditions near the summit, Anker said.

"The jetstream that just comes whipping through really limits the ability of climbers to move up on the mountain," he said. "So there's this little window where it's not windy ... and the climbers want to strike on that

"The problem is it's a pretty narrow ridge of climbing, and you can imagine, you get four teams of 24 people, you have 100 people are vying for the summit. And having to pass people, move up on the ropes, adjust for altitude, all these things make the ascent very complicated and in doing so, very dangerous."

Anker also said his decision not to use supplemental oxygen made it particularly arduous: "I've spent three nights above 26,000 feet — what we refer to as the death zone — and i'm sort of out of energy and recuperating and getting my appetite back."

Here's our original post:

We've been reporting about the "traffic jam" on Mount Everest on the roof of the world. That "traffic jam" is likely to have eased this week. This past weekend marked the end of the climbing season on the world's tallest peak.

Morning Edition host David Greene will talk today with mountaineer Conrad Anker who has climbed Everest several times and has just returned from his most recent ascent.

Conrad and his team blogged about their Everest adventure on the National Geographic website. Their account of the ascent is gripping and the images of the mountain breathtaking.

Back in April, NPR's Claire O'Neill of our Picture Show blog blogged about the team's effort.

At the time, she noted: "Some people look at natural wonders and see a challenge. We climb mountains because they are there. We live blog it because we can."

This year's climbing season has been fraught with danger.

As the Two-Way's Korva Coleman reported last week, four people died while trying to climb Everest. That was after some 150 climbers tried to summit at the same time.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This weekend marked the end of the climbing season on Mt. Everest - the world's tallest peak. It's also one of the most deadly. Mountaineer Conrad Anker has now climbed Everest three times and has just returned from his most recent ascent. We reached him at the Mt. Everest base camp in Nepal.

And, Conrad, thank you for joining us, and I understand you've just returned from the summit.

CONRAD ANKER: Yes. Thank you, David. It was on the 26th of May at 10 in the morning local time that I attained the summit. And we're now back here at base camp and moving our equipment back towards Katmandu and then our eventual flight home.

GREENE: Well, Conrad, I understand that this was a particularly dangerous year for climbing Everest. Why is that?

ANKER: Well, the climbers collectively experienced very dry and windy conditions this year, and so there wasn't a lot of snow on the mountain - which when there's more snow, loose rocks are frozen in place, the snow hasn't turned into blue ice, which it did this year. And blue ice is very laborious to climb and requires extra protection. And should you slip you cannot stop as you would in a normal snow year where you would sort of be caught by the snow.

And then, the fact that there were only two weather windows this year. And the first weather window was very cold and windy. And if there were novice climbers, they then, they suffered the brunt of it. And that first weather window, which went from the 18th, 19th and 20th of May (unintelligible) the fatalities of this season.

GREENE: Six deaths on Everest in a period of five days. I'm wondering, we've heard a lot about traffic being a problem this year. Can you explain why a lot of people on the mountain at once, on the same days, can create a problem?

ANKER: The challenge we have on Everest is that it's pretty much right up there in the troposphere. And the jet stream that just comes whipping through really limits the ability of climbers to move up on the mountain. So there's this little window where it's not windy, but it's not snowy and rainy. And the climbers want to strike on that.

So the problem is, is that it's a pretty narrow ridge of climbing, and you can imagine, you get four teams of 24 people on there, you have 100 people that are vying for the summit. And having to pass people, move up on the ropes, adjust for the altitude, all these things make the ascent very complicated, and in doing so, very dangerous.

GREENE: It's almost like traffic I would imagine. If you're stuck in traffic you're going slower, you've run out of gas. But when you're a human being and you run out of gas, it can be deadly.

ANKER: Great analogy. And whether you're in the icefall, where you're exposed to moving ice and it's very dangerous, or you're at altitude, where there's only a fine amount of time that humans can survive there, whether they're using supplemental oxygen or not. It really complicates things.

GREENE: And, Conrad, we should say you did not use oxygen on this climb. I mean, did that make it different than previous climbs and, I mean, how's your body feeling?

ANKER: Yes, on this third that I summitted I did not use supplemental oxygen. And it required more accommodization, so I spent two nights at 26,000 feet before I went to the summit. And the body doesn't do well with a paucity of oxygen, but as we've kind of been climbing we just (unintelligible) put ourselves in the hurt locker. And for right now I'm feeling it. I've spent three nights above 26,000 feet - what we refer to as the death zone - and I'm sort of out of energy and recuperating and getting my appetite back.

GREENE: I hope you have some time to recuperate. I know it's been a tough year with those deaths that we mentioned, but congratulations for summiting.

ANKER: Why, thank you.

GREENE: Conrad Anker joined us from the Mt. Everest Base Camp in Nepal. He just returned from an expedition to the summit. And if you'd like to see photos from his expedition at our website npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

Related Program