This May, reaching the top of the world is not enough. Several hard-charging teams have taken advantage of the stellar conditions to make multiple ascents, with Kenton Cool and Dorje Gylgen reaching the summits of the ultimate three-peak challenge: Nuptse, Everest and Lhotse.
On Saturday night, as we all slumbered oblivious, the fourth wave of Everest summits of the season was taking place - conjuring memories, reputations and lecture tours out of the thin air. Come Monday morning, over 200 successful summits from both sides of the mountain were reported. With climbing conditions said to be "as good as it gets," and few queues (due to a combination of better weather and improved rope fixing), this looked like a year to play fast.
A fact that had not escaped Kenton and his long-term climbing partner Dorje Gylgen. After an initial coyness about their plans (let's face it, Everest 11 for Cool was kinda taken for granted), when the good forecast was confirmed ten days ago, Kenton revealed their hand: Nuptse (7,861m), Everest (8,848m) and Lhotse (8,516m) in a single push:
"Through a strangely bizarre chain of events, I find myself in a position where my name is on all three permits and I’m free to climb, a situation that I haven't been in for many years, and I’m rather excited.
I’m not even sure if it’s possible to climb all three of these monsters in the manner that I hope, but that’s surely the best reason of all to try..."
Billed, slightly tongue-in-cheek, as the ultimate three-peaks challenge, this was quite a rare thing: a new physical challenge on the Everest circuit. Whilst Everest and Lhotse have been combo-climbed before - with nine climbers managing to tick both in under 24 hours (in fact, this weekend Garrett Madison became the first to pull off this double feat for a second time) - no-one has previously explicitly attempted the triple.
This is because of the stumbling block of Nuptse. Despite being the lowest of the three, this has seen very few summits at all until this year - and nearly all via Doug Scott's 1979 route (a relatively difficult, conditions-dependant climb out of the Western Cwm). But this year, Russell Brice's team of Sherpas fixed the whole route to the summit in order to get a team of women clients on top. Although Kenton and Dorje are more than capable of climbing the route alpine-style, we're guessing they raced up these fixed lines to save energy for the rest of the challenge.
The pair's first attempt saw them caught out, enduring a wild night in a storm at 7,100m - "I spent most of the night of the 11th May trying desperately to stop the tent being torn off the side of the Lhotse face" - resulting in a retreat to base camp.
Then, at 6am (local time) on Saturday 18 May, Kenton announced that they'd just summited Nuptse and the game was back on. After returning to the South Col, Kenton and Dorje reached the top of Everest at 2am (local time) on Sunday morning, making it to the summit in total darkness, well ahead of the main wave of would-be summiteers.
"We went hard early," he told his team by satphone, "We challenged each other all the way and can't say who won. Disappointment of being early and not seeing sun rise made good with privilege of sitting alone in absolute silence with my friend... our small headtorches beaming into nothing."
As Kenton and Dorje headed down, summit solitude was replaced by the more usual crush, including first double-summit in a season (David Liano, climbing with Sirdar Mingma Sherpa); first Pakistani woman (Samina Baig); first Pakistani without oxygen (Mirza Ali); and first Red Nose (attached to Dan Hughes, one of 18 Jagged Globe clients to summit). Jagged Globe leader Matt Parkes described the conditions as "very warm," - he only needed thin liner gloves - with just a 45-minute wait at the Hillary Step.
As the other summiteers crashed in their tents to dream of well-deserved glory ("Absolutely shattered. Can't even begin to describe what how tough that was. Now in a ice clad tent #dreamingofheat," posted Dan Hughes on Facebook on Sunday), Kenton and Dorje turned their attention to their second 8,000m peak of the long weekend: Lhotse.
On 20 May at around 4pm, they set out, reaching the summit at some time in the middle of the night. Early reports coming in suggest that they found the descent much tougher than expected and, instead of descending all the way to base camp, are now in Camp 2, refuelling before a final push down. Kenton and Dorje are expected in base camp tomorrow afternoon, when we'll know more - hopefully with a live interview.
In one stroke, it looks like Kenton has achieved a long-held ambition, made us all feel like we rather wasted the weekend and brought some good PR back to Everest after the recent fighting debacle.
So, in mountaineering terms, what exactly does this ascent mean? We put this question to Lindsay Griffin, a world authority on mountaineering and BMC website commentator:
"It's a fantastic personal achievement. Leaving all the fixed infrastructure and razmataz aside, it still takes a huge amount of oomph to do what he's done, and I suspect there are very few in this world capable."
But, as his team at home explained, "He wants to get over the finish line before he starts celebrating."
Thanks to Richard Robinson, Lindsay Griffin and Jagged Globe.