5/12/17 – Strategy

Success or failure on Everest is determined by many factors.  Of course, those factors include skills, fitness level, health, and the ability to deal with extreme altitude.  One key factor, and one that is surprisingly often ignored, is strategy.

Right now, we have a weather situation that is less than ideal for summit bids.  In fact, the summit has not yet been reached at all from the south side (Nepal) this year.  All weather predictions indicate high summit winds (the jet stream), making an ascent impossible.  Typically, one would wait for a window of at least two days during which calm conditions are forecast.  However, such a window will not exist any time soon, based on the various weather predictions.  To add to the complications, recent predictions have turned out to be somewhat unreliable: despite the forecast of high winds, there have been multiple brief periods of calm winds that would have been suitable for a summit bid.

ladder crossing
Me,  crossing a ladder higher-up in flat terrain between camps 1 and 2 [Photo credit: Dallas Glass]
So, what to do?  I have two options-

  • A) position myself for a summit attempt by moving up to camp 2, hoping for a non-predicted period of calm summit winds, or
  • B) wait until a decent window of calm summit winds shows up in the forecast.

Option A has the potential to dramatically accelerate the trip, because I would be able to fly back home immediately after the summit.  However, Option A also comes with a huge risk:  if the weather window does not materialize, I’ll be stuck at a high-altitude camp, without being able to move further.  That’s highly problematic because at this altitude, your strength rapidly deteriorates, and after just a few days you’ll be required to return to base camp, weak and exhausted.  Many (most?) climbers who have been through this were unable to recover sufficient strength for a second summit bid and had to return home without ever summiting.  In other words, Option A is a huge gamble.

Option B is the conservative option.  It means waiting until there’s a reliable weather forecast that shows a window of at least two days.  But, when will that window of opportunity open up?  We don’t know, and it could be a while.  In my opinion, the advantages of option B  outweigh the timing issue:  once conditions are right, it’s very likely that I’ll be able to make it up to the summit.  I’ll be reasonably strong and rested.

Further, because the summit attempt will be delayed, there’s a good chance that fewer climbers will be on the mountain.  A significant number of climbers may have left by then due to time constraints, such as an expired visa.  I’ve heard that less than 30% of permitted climbers this year have already left.

If you can’t already tell, I’ve decided to wait it out.  Patience certainly is not one of my strengths, but I’ve found ways to keep busy.  I now spend time every day working.  I also exercise to stay somewhat in shape.  With that, I’ll hopefully be on my way up soon.  Keep your finger crossed!

upper mountain
Struggling up there with cold and windy conditions.  How much longer until we can go back up?  [Photo credit: Dallas Glass]