Report from Base Camp
by Audrey Salkeld
May 9, 1996
Today is the tenth anniversary of the death of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, who made
the first ascent of Mount Everest with beekeeper Ed Hillary in 1953. We burn
juniper in our camp shrine every day for the safety of our members on the hill -
who of course include Jamling, son of Tenzing - but today we will burn incense as
well in honour of the most famous Sherpa of all time.
It was disappointing news yesterday to learn that our summit team had decided
to retreat from Camp 3 to 2, where they would rest a day before resuming their
bid for the top. The weather was windy, and though it would not have been too
much of a deterrent in the normal way of climbing, for filming with a forty-
pound camera, balanced on a monopod, it spelt disaster. For an IMAX camera,
camera-shake is even more disastrous than it is in conventional filming .
The delay means we have relinquished our lead on the mountain, but it will be
no bad thing, with our awkward filming loads, to have the trail broken and the
route prepared to the summit. So our disappointment notwithstanding, we have to
keep reminding ourselves that this is no ordinary mountaineering ascent of
Everest but, first and foremost, an innovative filming project. Our summit day
is now expected to be Sunday 12th May, weather permitting.
STOP PRESS: WE UNDERSTAND THE YUGOSLAV SUMMIT TEAM WAS TURNED BACK JUST BELOW
THE HILLARY STEP TODAY. Weather this afternoon has been miserable. In
Base Camp we had a short snow squall and it is very cold.
World's Highest Garbage Dump?
Sir Edmund Hillary has long petitioned for the Everest region to be closed for
a period to allow it to regenerate environmentally. He was moved by the
opinion of another early summiter, the late Barry Bishop, who had called
Everest the highest rubbish dump in the world. Particularly the South Col is
known to be strewn with the oxygen bottles and assorted debris of forty-
four years of climbing effort, to say nothing of a number of dead bodies. This,
unfortunately, is an abiding image of Everest in the public mind.
There have been clean-up
operations in the past, notably the ill-fated Nepalese Police expedition of
1984, when the leader Yogendra Bahadur Thapa and Sherpa Ang Dorje fell to their
deaths trying to recover the body of Hannelore Schmatz from above the South
Col. This year, at last there are signs of increased commitment to cleansing
the roof of the world. Every expedition to the Everest area has to pay a $4,
000 'garbage deposit' and is obliged to retain an conservation officer, whose
job is to see that all the expedition's rubbish is packaged up and portered out
at the end of the season's climbing That includes human excrement, which must
go out in a barrel. The deposit is refundable once this has been successfully
accomplished. In addition, the Nepal Mountaineering Association is planning to
remove about 1500 kg of old garbage from Mount Everest this year as the initial
stage of a cleaning project being funded by the Ministry of Tourism.
It IS encouraging, too, to record the existence of private enterprise in this
necessary cause. In Base Camp this year, Scott Fisher and Brent Bishop, with
some sponsorship from Nike, are organizing regular refuse-carrying
yak trains from Base Camp. As an incentive to strip the mountain of its
historical garbage, they are paying Sherpas to bring down old oxygen bottles
from the higher camps. The going rate is $11 per bottle from the South Col, $8
from Camp 4 to Camp 2, $3 from Camp 2 to Base Camp.
Although temporary closure of environmentally sensitive areas of the Himalaya
has been achieved in the past - one thinks of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary in the Indian Garwhal -
it is an unlikely option for Nepal, where the income derived from climbing and
trekking is substantial in a country with few other means of earning foreign
currency. On the contrary, rules are regularly changed to open up new areas and
permit more climbers to attempt individual routes in a single season. It makes
every new anti-pollution
initiative the more important. Some twenty years ago, at a London
mountaineering function, Lord Hunt, leader of the 1953 first ascent expedition,
was presented with a vintage oxygen bottle, and admonished good-naturedly
for leaving litter on the South Col. It had seemed such an insignificant sin at
the time, and nobody could have foretold how the sin would be multiplied over
the years. Hunt, however, took the message seriously to heart and ever since
has retold the story against himself, flourishing the elderly artifact.
The Story of Goran Kropp
On the 16th October of last year Goran Kropp (29) set off on his bicycle from
Jonkoping near Stockholm, where he lives. He pedalled 12,380 kilometres to
Jivi in Nepal, and from there carried his climbing equipment to Everest Base.
Alone, without the support of any expedition or Sherpas, he forced a new route
through the Icefall to around Camp 1. On his way to Camp 2, he was saddened to
have to use four or five ladders, and more so when hard blue ice on the South
Pillar (his permitted route ) obliged him to use fixed ropes also.
His first summit bid on 3rd May ended below a snowy dome. No other summit was
visible beyond and, a little confused, he radioed Ang Rita back in Base Camp.
'Where am I?' he asked. Ang Rita, who has been an incredible nine times to the
top of Everest, was able from Goran's description to pinpoint his
position as some 30 metres below the South Summit. By then the young Swede had
been snowplodding for hours and was exhausted. Although an idealist, he is also
a realist. He knew if he wanted to get back in one piece, and be free to make
another attempt on the summit, he had to turn around there and then. A soloist
must always know when to retreat. Already, he had no feeling in his fingertips
or toes. This was the first stage of frostbite, and he knew to go on would
cost him digits.
"I know the way now, the best route up to the South Summit," he says. "I hope
to be able to go much faster. That is the biggest advantage for next time."
Why did he try first so early in the season? "I spent a night at 7,300m in a
crevasse - and I felt good. I knew I was ready for the summit. Why sit there and wait
when I felt ready? So I had a go. I thought the snow would be harder. But it
left time for another try in the good season. I do not like to wait." Goran
sees so many people using every facility to reach the summit. It is not his
way: "I think you should be more in harmony with nature. You should not rape
Of his first attempt he says, "I think I gave it more than 100%. When I came
back down I was totally done in. If Base Camp had been another 200 metres, I
would have stopped 200 metres short of it. I gave everything to reach the
He has lost weight. His nose is cratered by the sun, his face worn and drawn
like an old man. He will do nothing now but rest and eat for a few days,
endeavouring to build up fat and strength. This is a strategy he has employed
before. When solo-climbing Broad Peak, it took him three tries to reach the summit,
but he had built up his strength sufficiently by then with his rest-and-eat
regime that he went from base to summit in just seventeen hours. Goran is not
interested in breaking records, but would like to do something fast on
How did he arrive at his ambition for such a "pure" ascent and to couple it
with the long bike journey? "If you look at the history of Everest." he says,
"you have the first ascent in 1953, then in 1978 Messner and Habeler climb it
without oxygen. Tim McCartney Snape in 1990 made the sea-level
to summit climb without oxygen. I thought this is the ultimate thing: you are
sitting down eating breakfast, then pack everything you need to climb Everest,
to go the whole way without support from anyone. That was my feeling. "I need
three pairs of underpants, one spoon. . . " and everything was exactly what I
need, nothing superfluous. And it almost worked," he added ruefully. "Now I
no longer have sufficient fat, and I have to eat food brought by my film crew."
His self-imposed principles violated, he supposes it will be "the next person" who sees the
thing through, as he conceived it.
So many people go on adventure expeditions, but they just look to where they
are bound and afterwards fly home. "I wanted to do the whole round trip.
Psychologically, I could not be satisfied just to be taken home from Kathmandu.
Also, I like to travel. So I try to go back another route, through Russia."