Traffic Reports on Everest
April 16, 1997
By Liesl Clark
"I've never seen so many people backlogged, waiting for their turn on the ladder crossings in
the Icefall," reports Pete Athans. For returning Everesters, traffic reports on the mountain
seem to come in more frequently than weather updates. With an estimated 400 climbers making
their way up the lower part of the mountain, the trail can be congested in places where only
one climber can pass at a time. "About 5 days ago, I waited about an hour and a half at one
of the ladders. It's amazing, you're on Mt. Everest and you have to wait in line," said Ed
Viesturs who has made several carries up to Camp I and is now at Camp II at 21,300 feet.
Other NOVA team members Pete Athans, David Breashears, Jangbu Sherpa, and David Carter have
also ascended the Icefall to Camp I and Camp II. All have been taking the psychometric
tests designed to gauge one's cognitive impairment at altitude. "The tests have been
going well for us and from the subjective observer's perspective it doesn't look like
we're all that affected by the altitude yet. But we can't know if our laymen's observations
are right—because we're the ones up there in the thin air." As the climbers have been
gaining altitude, their pulse rates have been increasing in rapidity, especially with heavy
work like digging out tent platforms at the two camps.
Today, a neighboring expedition on Everest ferried in five groups of trekkers via helicopter
from Kathmandu. Because the visitors were not acclimatized, they had to breathe supplemental
oxygen. They took pictures, and were then loaded back into the helicopter for the return
flight to Kathmandu. If for any reason the visitors had been stranded here, the rapid
ascent from 4,300 feet all the way up to Base Camp at 17,600 feet would have cause
physiological complications for them.
Because the rest of us took more than a week to trek in from Kathmandu—allowing our bodies
to acclimatize to the altitude—we can almost forget how thin the air is up here. But seeing
people flown in and having to don oxygen tanks and masks was a stark reminder of how dependent
we humans are on oxygen, and on our body's remarkable ability to adapt gradually to the low
oxygen levels here at the foot of Mt. Everest.