Jet-Stream Winds Trap Climbers on Everest

National Geographic News
April 26, 2002
The National Geographic 50th Anniversary Everest Expedition commemorates the first ascent of the world's highest mountain, by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in May 1953. It also honors the first Americans to stand on the top of the world, including Barry Bishop, in 1963.

The sons of Everest pioneers Hillary, Norgay, and Bishop—Peter Hillary, Jamling Norgay, and Brent Bishop—are helping make a documentary that will air on the National Geographic Channel in the United States and internationally in 2003.

The National Geographic 50th Anniversary Everest Expedition is made possible in part by the generous support of American International Group, Inc.

Jet-stream winds of up to 70 miles per hour (120 kilometers per hour) have trapped several climbing expeditions on the slopes of Mount Everest, including a group sponsored by the National Geographic Society to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of the world's tallest mountain.

"Our group is safe, but stuck in their tents at Camp Two [at 21,300 feet/6,492 meters]," said John Bredar, executive producer for the National Geographic event. "We have heard from them by satellite telephone. They say they are fine, but if the wind speed picks up they may collapse their individual tents and all huddle in a communal tent for additional safety."

Bredar said he received the news from Yvonne Oomen, wife of Peter Hillary. A member of the Geographic team at Camp Two, Hillary called his wife by satellite phone early on Friday.

The Geographic group is being led by Peter Athans, an experienced guide whose six climbs to the summit are a record among Westerners. It includes Hillary and Brent Bishop—both accomplished climbers. They are on a "Sons of Everest" quest to celebrate the first successful ascent of Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953, and the ascent, ten years later, by Barry Bishop, who was among a group that carried the American flag to the summit for the first time.

Jamling Norgay, the son of Tenzing, accompanied the group as far as Base Camp.

The current expedition by the sons of the Everest pioneers is part of a series of events leading up to the release of a documentary film on the historic event, set to premiere globally and in the United States on the National Geographic Channel in May 2003.

The trek is following the traditional South Col route pioneered by Hillary and Norgay.

"When Peter spoke to Yvonne this morning she could hear the wind in the background," said Bredar. "Where they are the wind is between 50 and 80 knots [45 to 70 miles per hour], but on the summit it is estimated to be as much as 200 to 300 knots (230 to 350 miles per hour)—a real jet stream."

Bredar said the group was lucky it was caught by the winds somewhat below the 29,035-foot (8,850-meter) summit. "Sherpas are inside the tents, helping hold them down. A Swiss group has lost some tents and have taken others down."

The winds may pick up speed by as much as 25 percent and may stay strong until April 28 or 29, Bredar said. "This is par for the course on Everest. The winds can come up like this. It is good that the climbers are where they are. If they had been higher, this would have been a lot more serious," he said.

The winds are unlikely to have a major impact on the overall outcome of the expedition, Bredar said. The expedition is still in its acclimatization stage of the ascent, moving supplies from the Base Camp to Camp Two in advance of the main attempt, which is likely to be in early May.

The Geographic group was scheduled to return to Base Camp Saturday, but will now wait until the wind dies down.

National Geographic is filming the 50th Anniversary Everest Expedition as part of a documentary that will premiere globally in May 2003 on the National Geographic Channel.

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