Mount Everest (Chomolungma) - practical information
This page shall give some practical information about the organization of our 2002 Tibet Mount Everest expedition.
The route description can be found on a separate page.
Our plan was to reach Mount Everest as a two person team as affordable as possible. The Nepalese permit fee of US$ 10000 per person for the south side leaves for us - since we are neither millionaires nor get the expedition paid by sponsors - the Tibetan side as the only possibility.
The most groups that attempt Mount Everest from Tibet have the trip organized by an agency in Kathmandu. The organization comprises permit, visa for Tibet, the transportation from Kathmandu to the base camp, food on the way, a kitchen with cook and kitchen boy in basecamp and/or ABC, and the transport of the equipment to the ABC on yaks. Beyond this "basic package" one can purchase the service of one or more Sherpas as high camp porters and possibly also to accompany the climber to the summit, and oxygen equipment
Those who do not have a group can book a place in a so-called "international expedition", e.g. at Asian Trekking. This contains the same services, but this group is made up of singles or two person groups who could't afford their own kitchen and their own permit. The other agencies like Thamserku probably have similar offers. Since in this "international expedition" each subgroup acts independently on the mountain and is an expedition of its own, there is no expedition leader who would settle organization problems for the whole group. Correspondingly, everybody must contribute to an agreement in case of problems.
Out "package" consisted of the above mentioned "basic package" with a total duration of 72 days from and to Kathmandu, and a Sherpa as high camp porter and two oxygen equipments. The tents in base camp and ABC were provided by Asian Trekking; everything beyond ABC was in our responsibility.
We sent three high camp tents, some spare equipment and high camp food from Germany to Kathmandu by air cargo, since the 20 kg of flight baggage are by far too few to make up an Everest expedition. We could have purchased several things in Kathmandu instead, but we couldn't avoid sending the cargo already because of the tents.
Food in base camp respectively in ABC was usually sufficient. Depending on which cook was working, it was good or only tolerable. For any case, we had additional food with us which we could enjoy during the boring days between the meals.
Several things which we had sent by air cargo can be bought in Kathmandu at practically the same price:
What we didn't see in Kathmandu:
Gas cartridges (screwable cartridges with butane/propane mixture) can be bought at the trekking agency (US$ 5-6 per cartride) or also in one of the many shops. In the latter case, take care to check that the cartridges are really full (weight!). Almost any kind of equipment is available in Thamel, also high-quality articles.
Who goes to Mount Everest should have taken part in some expeditions berfore and therefore know what one needs being on his own for a couple of weeks.
We had two sleeping bags each - one for the ABC and one for the high camps. So one doesn't need to carry the sleeping bag up to camp 1, a distance which must be walked many times. However, it would have been better to have had a third sleeping bag which would have stayed down in the base camp.
For communication amongst our "group" and with our Sherpa we had small PMR 446 walkie-talkies with us. The range was sufficient for the distances between ABC and the camps 1 and 2, but of course we were incompatible to the other groups. But the PMR sets are a lot lighter and cheaper than "real" walkie-talkies. Between ABC and base camp there is no contact even with the "real" instruments - it is too far and there are too many mountains in the way. From camp 3 there is no contact down because the camp is situated in a depression out of sight from the other camps.
For the use of a satellite phone the Chinese still demand an astronomic fee. Some people had an Iridium phone with them, and some of these might have registered it at the liaison officer.
In winter it is too cold in the Himalaya, in summer (June-September) the monsoon brings bad weather and lots of rain and snow. Therefore two seasons are suitable for mountaineering in the Himalaya - spring or fall. The premonsoon season offers several advantages: Temperatures are generally higher than in fall, and the days become longer in the course of the stay, instead of shorter in fall. Premonsoon season has a tendency to have less snow because the winters are rather dry. In fall one must expect deep snow that has accumulated during the monsoon.
The "normal" weather has a pronounced evolution during the day: The mornings are often cloudless, but during the afternoon cumulus clouds are rising, and there may be some snowfall in the evening. Temperatures in the ABC are about -5°C daily high in April and up to 0°C in May. The nights are typically -10° to -18° cold. Further up it becomes a little colder, but we never had below -25° (around sunrise on the summit day).
A very annoying factor is the wind which is almost permanently present, especially in the basecamp and all the Rongbuk valley , and in the ABC. It is practically never calm. The region beyond the North Col is strongly exposed to the winds which mostly come from the west. In April, the summit region is even still touched by the jet streams of the upper atmosphere (up to 300 km/h); in May these storms move to larger altitude, and conditions can be tolerable on the summit. Also in May there are again and again storms that violently hit the free-standing regions above 7000 m.
It is proved that Mount Everest can be climbed without additional oxygen. So, why do more than 90% of the summiters use the bottles?
Only on a few days every year, the winds are weak enough that the summit can be reached at all without being swept away. Also on these "calm" days the wind speed is often up to 60 km/h. At temperatures between -20° and -30°C, this results in a considerable risk of frostbite. Additional oxygen increases the oxygen saturation in the blood and thus decreases the danger of frostbite in hands and feet.
A second argument is the oxygen supply for the brain. A lack of oxygen leads to misjudgements, logical flaws, and technical mistakes which can be a cause for accidents and falls.
As said above, it is known that one can reach the summit without additional oxygen and return safely. Looking at the accident statistics especially of the successful summiters without additional oxygen who have an accident on the way back, this really makes you think.
We wanted to keep the option of additional oxygen and decide in camp 3 depending on the situation who would go with and who would go without bottles. Therefore we had one 3 liter bottle brought to camp 2, and four 4 liter bottles and two 3 liter bottles to camp 3. Our tactics: The bottle in camp 2 is the emergency reserve; two of the 4 liter bottles in camp 3 are used when sleeping before the summit day, and everybody then has two bottles (one 3 l, one 4 l) on the way to the summit. That makes a rucksack weight of about 10 kg. When changing bottles at Mushroom Rock, we leave the first (almost empty) bottle and take it with us again on the way back.
Technical details about the oxygen bottles and masks
The bottles of the Russian system (by Poisk, has prevailed at Everest) are available in two sizes, 3 or 4 liters. The oxygen is filled at a pressure of typically 250 bar. The usual rates for the oxygen flow are 0.5 liters/min (about the minimum), 1 l/min (for sleeping), 2 l/min (for walking), 4 l/min (for climbing when it is strenuous, e.g. 2nd step). By rule of thumb one can estimate that the 3 liter bottle contains 750 liters of oxygen at 250 bar, enough for 375 minutes (i.e. 6 1/4 hours) at a rate of 2 l/min. Since the air pressure is less than 1 bar, this is not completely accurate, but it gives a reasonable estimate. Thus we need at least two bottles for the summit day, so we each take one 3 liter and one 4 liter bottle. If we would go continuously with 4 l/min (as also can be seen in literature), we would need at least three bottles; this would make the load too heavy for us to carry. Without employing a personal summit Sherpa, therefore 2 l/min are the maximum.
The oxygen mask is the central problem when going with additional oxygen. One might think that during the meanwhile 80 years since the first Everest expeditions an optimization would have taken place and that today's oxygen equipment would fit all needs perfectly. This is in no way the case. The mask fits badly, can hardly be adjusted with the straps, blocks the sight downwards (to the feet, that is very unpractical) and makes the glasses steamed up (and soon icy). Because the latter happens to every spectacle wearer, it is astonishing that there is no better solution. People not needing glasses can get by with skiing googles instead of the sunglasses - that works better. But since the glasses cannot be replaced by contact lenses in the dry air at high altitude, the problem remains unsolved for spectacle wearers.
Is a summit climb with oxygen accepted?
Unlike in competition-oriented sports like running, walking or also sports climbing, there are no fixed rules for mountaineering. How should such rules be checkd during many-day ascents in almost inaccessible terrain? Therefore, every summit climb is valid, regardless by which means it was achieved. It must clearly and truthfully be stated under which circumstances the goal was achieved. What then may be considered good or reprehensible may be a topic for the moralists.
We used oxygen from 8200 m respectively 7800 m on, and our Sherpa brought tents, stoves and oxygen bottles to the high camps. We carries our personal equipment and food, and we both went to the summit together without the Sherpa. In this sense, we have tried a compromise climbing the mountain in the "traditional" expedition tactics without abstaining from initiative at organization and during the climb.
There is no doubt that the achievement of those who make this ascent without additional oxygen is bigger. And, respect for those who, in addition to that, carry everything they need on their own.
Short remark about the defintion: The word Sherpa means the members of the people who mainly live in the Khumbu area, i.e. in Nepal south of Mount Everest. These people immigrated from Tibet several hundrer years ago and settled in the high valleys of the region, mostly above 4000 m. The Sherpas have an excellent (genetically caused) ability of altitude adaption. Therefore they are often employed as high altitude porters for expeditions.
The most Sherpas who work for expeditions are incredibly fit compared to the foreign clients. Although they apparently do no fitness training, in altitudes of 6000-7000 m with twice the load they are still twice as fast as most mountaineers (no matter if European, American Japanese, Korean etc.). They are usually very friendly and helpful. A Sherpa would never refuse a request of his employer.
For planning an expedition, there are two aspects based on this physical superiority of the Sherpas:
Tansportation work and support for the mountaineers:
Almost everything in the world is available for money, and consequently there is a variety of ways to climb Mount Everest. Alone, in a team, without Sherpas, or with many helpers. We, being a two person team, decided to employ one Sherpa mainly for the transport of the loads to the hight camp. His task was to bring the tents to camps 1, 2, and 3, pitch them there, and bring stoves, gas cartridges and oxygen bottles to the hight camps. Other expeditions had more money and less mountaineers' initialive, they employed more Sherpas and even had the personal things carried up by the Sherpas.
Since we had only oxygen equipments for two persons, our Sherpa did not go beyond camp 3. Who wishes to afford it can also go to the summit accompanied by a Sherpa. In reasonable cases the Sherpa is an additional safety factor; in other cases he is the fool to carry the client's additional oxygen bottles. Besides our way of organizing, we saw many interesting things: Mountaineers who went with additional oxygen already at 7000 m and whose personal Sherpa carried the equipment because the mountaineer had enough to carry with the oxygen bottle; mountaineers who were pushed up to the summit by the personal Sherpa because they could hardly walk any more.
The presence of Sherpas high on the mountain is absolutely crucial in case of an emergency. Only Sherpas can go up to camp 3 or further quickly in order to help a mountaineer in trouble. Of course the Sherpas try to help in any emergency. It is clear that for this often laborious work they deserve respectable payment. I personally probably owe my life to this help.
Some expeditions attempted the mountain without Sherpa support. Some our of principle, some out of financial considerations. Many changed their decision in the course of the weeks. It may be honorable to have carried up everything on one's own - but the chance of success is clearly worse. Who plans to use additional oxygen should definitely afford a Sherpa's help, except he wants to drop out of the race early y transporting the heavy bottles.
The cost is basically not a secret, they were the same who booked at Asian Trekking as a single or a two person team.A larger group having the trip organized with their own kitchen will have slightly different prices. Below we have listed the cost for our two person expedition, giving the cost for the both of us:
(US$ exchange rate at the time of the expedition: 1 EUR=$ 0.851. This was the worst rate ever - but we unfortunately couldn't choose.)
In addition, there are tips, unexpected expenses for yaks (which Asian Trekking refunded) and one or the other "fee" for Chinese liaison officers or other "kind" people. The Sherpa gets a bonus for the transport of loads:
In our case, the bonus added to $675.
© 2002 Hartmut Bielefeldt
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