Everest Anniversary Team Makes Final Summit Attempt

National Geographic News
May 23, 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 about the anniversary expedition 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.

A team of climbers and filmmakers commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first successful climbing of Mount Everest hopes to reach the summit Saturday morning (Friday night EST). The National Geographic 50th Anniversary Everest Expedition has faced illness, crowds, and high winds that have delayed its climb.

John Bredar, executive producer for the National Geographic event, said the team has decided to consolidate into one climbing group on the less windy South Col route—but even there, winds are expected to be around 30 knots (56 km/hour). Peter Athans, the group's guide, managed an ascent in winds like these in 1997, but there is still a great risk.

"This effort is motivated by weather. The forecast is slightly improved for slightly lower winds at altitude, but they are still very cautious—50-50 are the odds I'm hearing," Bredar said.

The climbers will include Athans, Brent Bishop, Peter Hillary, and the group's Sherpa team. Sherpas accompanying the expedition are Nima Tashi Sherpa, the Sherpa climbing leader, Da Sonan Sherpa, Da Jangbu Sherpa, A Rita Sherpa, Lakpa Gelgin Sherpa, Kami Sherpa, and Pasang Yila Sherpa. Jamling Norgay will remain at Base Camp to coordinate communications.

The team had originally planned to ascend in two groups, one following Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's original route along the South Col, and the other climbing the West Ridge in Barry Bishop's footsteps. During the brief window in May when weather conditions are favorable for climbing, around 80 other climbers wanted to make the ascent. The National Geographic team decided to delay its ascent, as climbing on a crowded mountain can be dangerous. On Monday, the team reached as high as the South Col before turning back because of high winds.

Saturday will be the team's last chance to make the climb, as winds are expected to pick up over the weekend and make climbing impossible.

The entire film crew sent to document the climb for the National Geographic Channel has been forced to abandon the ascent. Sound recordist Dave Ruddick lost a tooth and returned to base camp with an infected jaw and sinus. Cameraman Michael Graber and assistant Jimmy Surrette are still weak from an earlier climbing attempt and a gastrointestinal infection.

Athans and Kame Sherpa will take charge of the filming, with Liesl Clark (head of the National Geographic film unit on the mountain) helping them from Camp III.

The team's plan, according to Bredar, was to leave at 3 a.m. their time on Thursday, in order to make the trip to Camp II during the safer night hours. At 5 a.m. Friday (about 7 p.m. EST Thursday) they will begin climbing again, bypassing Camp III to arrive at Camp IV for the evening—a 5,000-foot (1,524-meter) climb. At 11 p.m., they will begin the eight- to ten-hour, 3,000-foot (914-meter) final ascent. They plan to reach the summit between 7 and 10 a.m. Saturday (9 p.m. and midnight EST on Friday).

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