By Doug Pierson on March 27, 2008 10:02 AM | Comments (1)
*A note from the Co-producer*
As we here at FRONTLINE prepare for the broadcast of Storm Over Everest on May 13th on PBS, we wanted to bring to our viewers a taste of the excitement, anticipation and hard work that goes into an Everest summit attempt. We found a climber willing to share his experiences with us and with you. Doug Pierson is a lifelong adventurer, traveler and climber who made a promise to himself while on his second tour of duty in Iraq that he would find a way to attempt Everest if he returned safely from Iraq. Learn more about what got Doug into climbing and follow along as he updates us from Nepal with cutting-edge equipment.
When I first spoke with Doug about this undertaking in February, the stakes were about the same as every year on Everest: nothing is a given and anything can happen. Between then and now, however, the Chinese government raised the stakes by closing the north side of the mountain. The North Route to the summit, which begins at a base camp in Tibet, has been closed because a team of Chinese climbers plans to carry the Olympic torch up to the summit of Everest as part of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. While this was very late and bad news for climbing teams scheduled to climb the north side of the mountain, Doug and other climbers scheduled to climb the South Route from Nepal hoped that this closure would not affect their summit plans. However, the Chinese pressured the Nepalese government to close their side of the mountain. For a number of weeks, it was unclear what Nepal would do.
First it seemed that Nepal would simply limit access to the mountain for a window of time to allow the Chinese team to summit on an empty mountain from Tibet. Then it seemed that Nepal would follow the Chinese lead and close the mountain until May 10. Though that may not seem like a big deal, given that a majority of summits traditionally take place between May 10 and May 31, not allowing climbers on the mountain earlier would have denied climbers a chance to properly acclimatize.
Climbing Everest is not a weekend or weeklong endeavor. By the time a summit attempt is made, climbers have been on the mountain for weeks preparing their bodies for the lack of oxygen high on the mountain. Climbers climb from Base Camp to Camp One, then return to Base. Then Base Camp to Camp Two and back down. Then Base Camp to Camp Three and back down before finally climbing to Camp Four on the way to the summit.
Closing the mountain until May 10 would mean that climbers would have to climb on other nearby mountains, such as Nuptse, to acclimatize. In addition, with no one allowed on the mountain to set up the ladders across crevasses in the Ice Fall and camps higher on the mountain, there would be none of the usual infrastructure necessary for a successful summit attempt. When Doug left the U.S., the Nepalese government had still not made a clear decision and had not yet issued any permits to the teams scheduled to attempt Everest this year.
After traveling a bit in Asia en route to Nepal, Doug met members of his team in Kathmandu on March 25. The situation now seems more promising. The Nepalese government has distributed at least a few preliminary permits, which seems to indicate that access to the mountain will only be restricted from May 1 - May 10. Which doesn't change the fact that when it comes to Everest nothing is a given and anything can happen, but at least now it looks like there's a chance Doug will be able to set foot on Everest.
We hope you will enjoy getting to know Doug and following along on his challenge.
Callie Taintor Wiser
Co-producer, Storm Over Everest