Kenton Cool calls the BMC with an update on his progress and some thoughts on the rush to the summit last weekend and its tragic outcome - and reports that the mountain is now much quieter.
There’s nothing more annoying when you’re busy at work and someone on holiday calls to tell you what they had for dinner. “Chicken jalfrezi, fella,” says Kenton Cool. “On a nice bed of rice.” Getting a phone call from Camp 3 on Mount Everest is a fairly uncommon experience, even at the BMC, and for a moment I couldn’t think what to ask him.
“What’s the weather like?”
“Blowing a gale now,” he says, and so I strain to catch the unmistakeable sound of tent fabric getting a good work-out.
Cool sounds immensely relaxed and in good humour having climbed up from Camp 2 earlier in the day. Before leaving he’d given an interview to Radio 4’s Today programme and he knows that the regular late-May media obsession with death on the world’s highest mountain is in full swing.
It’s a distraction from what he’s come here to do – fulfil the Olympic Pledge made by Edward Strutt in 1924 – but equally the presence of so many people experiencing so much frustration after a season of unusual weather impacts on what he does. It’s part of the reason that for once he wasn’t itching to get up the mountain before anyone else.
“The crowds were incredible,” he says. “It was outrageous actually. There were an awful lot of people at base camp with very itchy feet desperate to get up there.” Cool says that there were at least 200 people heading for the summit last Saturday morning, and he spoke to one climber who had waited for three hours at the foot of the Hillary Step for his turn to climb up and to the summit.
“You’re stood there waiting eating into oxygen supplies,” he says, “but more than that those numbers take away from the experience. And it’s very saddening that people have died of course.”
It’s impossible to say, even for those on the mountain, whether the long queues at the top of Everest contributed in any way to the four confirmed deaths that occurred over the weekend. But no doubt when the top expedition outfitters review the season over a beer in Kathmandu, the boggling photos of a line of hundreds slogging up the Lhotse Face will feature in their discussions.
Cool certainly sounds happy to be a few days behind the rush. A predicted second weather window is now establishing itself over the mountain and his intention of reaching the summit on Friday seems to be on course. His schedule is unusual, with a planned rest day on the South Col on Thursday after climbing up to Camp 4 tomorrow.
“Keith struggled a bit health-wise at the start of the expedition,” he explains, “but now he’s bounced back. We’re thinking the extra day at Camp 4 will help him recover for the summit. Plus, we need to do some filming.”
Setting out a day earlier has had its upside. Cool reports meeting only three other climbers in the icefall and only a dozen on the Lhotse Face. Things have clearly calmed down after the last few days. He expects other expeditions to join him on Thursday, including Sheffield outfitters Jagged Globe, led by David Hamilton, who also postponed his team’s summit bid. Things will get busier, and Kenton says there will be around 50 climbers heading for the top on Friday.
“But that’s okay,” he says, “that’s manageable.”
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