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Saint Petersburg:



3 May, 2003 Tom Masterson:

A (very) windy day at the top of the world. Already at 8:00 a.m., the plume blowing from the top of Everest looked ferocious, in the 200 km/hr range. Tents at base camp were struggling to stay upright, and rumour has it that all sites above ABC have been evacuated. We have no accurate forecast on how long the winds will continue, but quite possibly for the next several days. To date, there have been no days with reasonable summit opportunities from this side. Two folks from our camp joined the Russian group from Moscow to drive out 50 km or so (& 1000 m lower) for a couple days until the weather improves. Usually the weather changes for the better by ~1 May. All the rest of us have blown back into base camp and are trying to hold on.
There are a few small settlements of Tibetans along the 100 km Everest Base Camp road, now also strongly infiltrated with Chinese. The closest one is temporary, just outside the rope which defines the Park boundary, beside a concrete blockhouse with an English sign informing passersby that they will be fined US$200 if they walk past without the correct permissions. It is possible to buy a few goods there at rather inflated prices, and Nepalis & Tibetans working for local camps seem to have friends they like to visit just outside the "gate".
Since last Sunday (27 April), personal communications with the rest of the world have been severely curtailed as the Chinese have closed all borders to foreigners (cause: SARS - Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). A delegation coming to visit the British (Navy) expedition barely made it across the border (with Nepal) at Zhang Mu with minutes to spare (and still more formalities to be completed the next morning). Foreigners are still allowed to leave China, but it is unclear what will happen to those of us who have plane tickets which are currently booked through places like Hong Kong. We also received rumours that other places around the world (including Toronto International Airport!) had been closed for the same reason.
Politics have also entered summit bids as the Chinese have reserved the 12th of May for their very highly publicized live TV summit coverage, and have informed other groups that they are not to summit on that day.
Even the very austere base camp landscape is slowly changing as April yielded to May. Even though we are at only 30 deg N, the days have gotten noticeably longer. Our camp lies on the east side of the Rongbuk glacial moraine. Sunrise on this side is an hour later than on the other side, and sunset an hour later as well. On the west side, there are long strips of residual snow and ice. In the last 2 weeks these strips have become a river as the meter-thick ice has collapsed and water from higher up the moraine has melted. In the next few days, my morning base camp walk up into the sunshine will no longer be possible as there is no bridge across.

2 May, 2003 Tom Masterson:

Report for period through 2 May, 2003

Everyone in the group has now been above the North Col and slept at the North Col (~7000m). Our high camp is now at ~7800 m at the top of a steep finger of snow. We have one more camp to establish at ~8300 m before we can look for a summit bid. We are presently regrouping at BC.
The group doctor, Dima, has been working hard to keep folks healthy. He is widely in demand by several groups including the Russian group from Moscow, Mountain Dreams from Ft. Collins/USA, Indian group from Darjeeling, Nepalis, Sherpas, and Tibetans. This is not always an easy task as most mountaineers feel that they are perfectly fit until they drop over dead.
We have received a few e-mail questions. We will try to answer one with this posting.
Why don't you just walk up to the top of the mountain and then back down? There are varieties of reasons. First, the human body does not always cooperate. It is a creature of habit and complains vehemently when the amount of oxygen is reduced to less than 30% of that available at sea level. You can do something as simple as standing up and the body will keel over. Muscles are notorious for requiring oxygen for normal operation, as is the brain for reasoned thinking. In any event, my body was rejoicing as I descended from 7500 m (24500') to base camp at a mere 5100 m (17000'). And, believe us, the 22 km slog, (with 1200 m elevation change) between BC and ABC is not just undertaken "for the fun of it". However, our efforts totally pale beside those of the British expeditions of the early 1920's! They (including Mallory, Irvine, Haldeman and many others) explored areas about 100 times larger than those we are looking at with nothing close to present-day equipment or supplies. Time and time again they would come to the top of a pass and find no reasonable way to the summit from that perspective. When they finally found (1924) the North Col approach that we are now attempting, Mallory and Irvine disappeared into the clouds above 8300 m, never again to be seen alive. Haldeman (Sp?) spent a week searching in vain for them above 8000 m, probably with nothing warmer than tweeds, coat, and a few extra pair of socks. Amazing!
Of course, there are a few extra constraints on the part of the mountain, which may decide to dump 30 cm of new snow on carefully planned routes, creating severe avalanche hazards. Also, Everest is so tall that its head sticks far up into the jet stream. As the jet stream moves back and forth, the summit frequently experiences (e.g. tonight) 30 m/s (180km/hr, 110 mph) winds that are not conducive to life in any form.
More reports continue as computer access & functionality, power generators, and base camp time permits