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The route following the north ridge is one of the two "normal routes" of Mount Everest. Historically, it was the first route where serious summit attempts took place (1922 and 1924). After the first successful climb in 1953 from the Nepal side, the second successful expedition was the Chinese team on the North Ridge in 1960. Although there are several variations known, the route of 1960 is the most frequently used one on the north side. Conditions change from year to year, but normally this is also the easiest route from the north.
Coming from Lhasa or Kathmandu, one leaves the main road near Tingri (from where also Cho Oyu is reached). Via Pang La Pass, we will enter the Rongbuk valley which leaves the Everest region northward. Here, at an altitude of about 5000 m, Rongbuk monastery is located.
The base camp is located in the valley a little south of Rongbuk monastery at about 5100 m. This is the furthermost point which can be reached by vehicle. Unfortunately, the distance to Mount Everest is still twenty kilometers as the crow flies.
It would be desirable to have the base camp no higher than 5300 m, since one cannot acclimatize completely above this height. The long and very flat way from the base camp to the mountain, however, would even more use up the resources. Therefore, an advanced base camp ABC will be established closer to the mountain. Here we will spend most of the time. In case there are acclimatization problems, one has to return to the base camp for a couple of days. Also for a better recovery before a summit attempt one might want to spend some days at base camp.
From a tactical point of view, the advantage of being close to the mountain compensates for the hard life in the ABC.
From the base camp we will follow the Rongbuk Glacier for some five kilometers until the valley of the Eastern Rongbuk Glacier joins. Then we will follow this valley; it soon levels off. The junctions of the Far East Rongbuk Glacier and Changtse Glacier are passed by around several curves, until - having made about 13 kilometers in the valley - the place of the ABC is reached. It is situated at about 6400-6500 m on the northwestern side moraine of East Rongbuk Glacier, under the slopes of Changtse. On the travel towards the mountain, this stretch will be made on two days with yaks carrying the heavy baggage.
From the ABC, the route follows the glacier towards the steep slope which leads up to the North Col. The conditions are different every year; about 300 meters of height difference are steep, between 45° and vertical depending on the state of the crevasses. At the end of this headwall, the North Col (7066 m) is situated. Usually here the first high camp is established in a wind-protected depression. From here on, the rest of the route is exposed to the west winds which are often extremely strong in this altitude. The characteristic snow banner which is often seen at the summit of Everest is caused by these winds which settle only a couple of days each year.
The other side of the North Col is a steep wall down to the upper part of Rongbuk Glacier. The access from East Rongbuk Glacier is definitely easier.
A more or less pronounced ridge stretches from the North Col up towards the Northeast Ridge which is met in P. 8383 m. The lower part until 7560 m is an easy snow ridge. Further up, there is a mixed rock/scree terrain with a trace of a trail. In this area, there are several possibilities to pitch a tent. They differ in the amount of space available and the exposition to the winds. The usual places for camp 2 are at about 7560 m and at 7700-7800 m.
From camp 2, the route follows rocky terraces rightwards in the northwest flank. After some small rocky steps (technically quite easy) the place of camp 3 is reached at 8200-8300 m. This is the last place where one can reasonably pitch a tent - except for exotic places at the First Step. 8300 m is quite high, though.
The route to the summit partly follows the northeast ridge; the other part traverses the upper north west flank. On the ridge there are three prominent obstacles:
The traverse is characterized by bands covered by fine scree. This in not a particularly difficult terrain, but it needs a sure and safe walking technique - far above 8000 meters.
The departure from camp 3 normally is around midnight, a big portion of the way must therefore be made in darkness. Most of the climbers who reach the summit need about 8 to 12 hours to the top.
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Last updated 18 July 2002 durch Hartmut Bielefeldt