Everest 2010: North Side Update from an Expert – Jamie McGuinness.

Author: Alan Arnette.
Courtesy of www.alanarnette.com © reproduction prohibited without authorization.

It is about a month before teams from all around the world pack their duffel bags for the flights to Kathmandu. Thus far the south looks like business as usual with about 16 teams already announced. To put this in perspective, in 2007, when we saw a record number of Everest summits, there were about 17 teams on each side.

One question for 2010 is how the north will shape up. It has been a few years since climbing was open from the north. The Chinese closed Everest with their desire to celebrate the 2008 Olympics in Beijing by taking the torch to the summit.

This created difficulties in getting permits and access to routes in 2007 when they did a practice climb and again in 2008 when they took a torch to the summit. In 2009, violence in Lhasa resulted in China closing Tibet to foreigners for most of the climbing season.

The north side is generally considered the “tougher” side to climb with colder temps and a slightly more technical upper route but 46% of climbers said in my poll that they want to climb Everest from Tibet. Since the permit costs are lower, it is also considered the “bargain” side of Everest.

No matter how it is perceived, it is the deadly side of Everest with 32 deaths vs. 16 on the south since 2000, as I reported earlier.

There were at least four planned traverses which, obviously, involved climbs on the north side but to the best of my knowledge all have been delayed due to permitting issues on the Tibet side.

For 2010, it looks like the north side of Everest may be somewhat returning the traffic volume of a number of years ago. The north tends to attract more independent and national expeditions than commercial teams. At this point, these commercial expeditions have announced intentions:

  • Adventure Extreme Expeditions
  • Adventure Dynamics
  • Adventure Peaks
  • Asian Trekking
  • Project Himalaya
  • Summit Climb
  • 7 Summits

With all this as a brief introduction, I reached out to Kathmandu resident and owner of guide service Project Himalaya,  Jamie McGuinness. He was not in Nepal but in Mendoza leaving for a climb of Aconcagua. I wanted to get his views on the north for 2010.

I am not sure if Jamie is a professional mountaineer, trekker or photographer!

I went to Shishapangma with Jamie in 2006. He runs a tight operation with top notch Sherpas and base camp operations. If you have ever met Jamie, you know he is quite willing to share his thoughts on most any matter and has an annoying habit of being well informed!

He is one of those people you wouldn’t mind being trapped in a tent with for a week. You might learn something!

In any event, here are Jamie’s thoughts on Everest this year:

Q: Tell us a bit about Project Himalaya? Any new cameras for 2010?

Project Himalaya is a lifestyle for myself, Kim Bannister and Joel Schone. We run the treks that we want to do and hope that people share our enthusiasm for our mostly exploratory treks. Everest and other big peaks feed the business side, but are still good value and our teams tend to be small, much smaller than comparable companies. Perhaps our marketing is a little low key.

Ha, we are both photo geeks… See the last adventure http://project-himalaya.com/photo-galleries/2010-chadar/ – a truly crazy trek on river ice, and nearly as risky as climbing Everest. I am Canon 5D mark ii guy dreaming but am getting a 50mm lens and am ready for the challenge of a fast primer over the ease of using zooms.

Q: How is the permit process going thus far for climbing Everest (and Cho Oyu and Shishapangma) from Tibet in 2010?

For us everything is on track. It is worth understanding that it is still the period between Chinese New Year and the Lantern Festival though, most civil servants are on holiday.

Q: Will there be any traverses this year?

Nobody on our team is attempting the traverse but my guess – and it is a guess – is that they will be allowed, at least climbers on the standard traverse. I am not so sure on the double traverses, and other firsts though.

Q: You have climbed from both sides, Jamie, what do you think are the major differences?

As far as the chance of summit success goes, I think both sides are equal, the differences are many though.

The (south side) ice fall seemed less dangerous than I was expecting, but was surprised at the seriousness of the rock fall between South Col and the
Balcony and am surprised nobody has been seriously injured or killed there. We heard a few stones whizzing past us, and one real rock that was uncomfortably close, but all invisible at night. If that area was covered in snow, there is probably no rock fall danger though. It seems to me the
chance of random incidences are significantly higher on the south side.

The north side has a major advantage in that you can trek, that is walk, up to 6400m and climb up to 7000m very easily, conditions are almost a non-issue. On the south side there are queues that matter through the icefall but other than that it is straightforward to get to ABC/camp to at 6400m. However acclimatizing higher requires the ropes be in place (fixed by teams themselves rather than the icefall doctors) and good snow conditions, it feels a far more significant altitude, involves more challenges to sleep at ~7200m/Camp 3.

As far as technical climbing difficulties go, the north side with its tricky second step and ladder is often portrayed as a more technical climbing, but that is focusing on one point only. The First and Second steps definitely require hauling hard on and trusting fixed ropes, and are real bottlenecks, but on the south side you are totally reliant on the fixed ropes for a long section across the Lhotse face and on summit day there are a number of bottlenecks, especially the Hillary Step.

It is often portrayed that the summit day on the north side is longer than on the south, which is  virtually irrelevant, and in fact they are about the same number of hours. On the North you are starting at the 8300m camp (actually 8210m), so significantly higher than the 7900m South Col, and 2-3 hours faster to the summit. Because of the terrain, descending from the summit on the south side is faster than the North but on the south slower climbers descend to 7900m; on the north it is usual to reach 7650m, an altitude where you can manage more easily without oxygen.

Perhaps the major factor though, usually unmentioned, is actually getting to the highest camp. On the south side it is easier to get to South Col in windy conditions, the north side climb to 8300m is more committing.

The last major aspect is dropping in altitude to recover and this is so easy on the south side, trekking down to a lodge in Dingboche, 4350m; on the north side we can walk down to around 4900m but going lower requires driving, and the accommodations, meals are not inspiring.

Overall, I think the north side is safer from random danger; the south side is more comfortable.Jamie McGuiness

Q: You like to summit late in the season when on the north. What is your strategy with this approach?

It is simply a matter of safety, an early May window can be extremely cold, with a substantial risk of frostbite as a many climbers have found to their cost. There is much less room for error, moving slowly has greater danger. Additionally, in contrast to the south side where the ice fall becomes even more dangerous in late May, the north side simply gets easier with a higher margin of safety, the route is never truly closed as the ropes do not require nearly as much maintenance.

All this must be balanced against the timing of a summit window, which is almost entirely jet stream-dependent, and the possibility of another summit window.

Q: Do you think we will see the north side attract more climbers than south one day similar to in 2006 when we saw an equal number of summits from both sides?

That depends on China, and whether they reduce the uncertainty surrounding permits and visas; internal stability is more important to them than anything else. In Nepal you know that you will not be stopped in the paperwork stage, even if there are strikes and the place is a complete mess politically.

Thanks Jamie. best of luck on Aconcagua and Everest his Spring. You can follow Jamie and his team on his website where he presents the best pictures during an Everest climb anywhere.

Climb On!


* Source : – Alan Arnette : 2010 Everest expeditions.

* Related Links :

Everest 2010: South Side Update and Safety On The Mountain.

Himalaya Spring 2010 expeditions.

2010 climbing season kick-off: Everest and Himalaya list of expeditions!

Everest 2010 season – Expeditions with any British Teams or Britons.

Everest 2010: An Interview with Phil Crampton of Altitude Junkies.

ExplorersWeb Year 2009 in Review: Farewell to friends.

Alan Arnette’s Everest 2010 Coverage Begins, Double Traverse Announced!

Everest Spring 2010 preview: Kaltenbrunner & Dujmovits.

* Previous story :

The Great Himalaya Trail Set To Open Next Year!

Everest — Gear For The Expedition.

Feburary and March Climbing Events by American Alpine Institute.

Yet More On The Haines Everest Supersuit.

AAC Book Club: Book Sale and Other February News.

Lei Wang – Asian American woman to beat record in climbing Seven Summits.

More Thoughts on Mallory, Irvine and the Camera.

An Urgent Request from EverestER.

Alan Arnette Explains The Champion Everest Supersuit.

* Polish Himalayas – Become a Fan


** zapraszam na relacje z wypraw polskich himalaistów.

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