Chutes and ladders
August 3, 2010 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Whenever I see mountaineers crossing glacier fissures I wonder if they couldn't invent a better tool than an ice-slicked ladder.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:35 AM on August 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Speaking of mountains and madness...
posted by jquinby at 11:37 AM on August 3, 2010

This was filmed by 63 y.o. Theodore Fairhurst. His website and YouTube channel.
posted by ericb at 11:56 AM on August 3, 2010

I'm pretty sure they climbed that one already.
posted by tigrefacile at 12:08 PM on August 3, 2010

Those horizontal ladders have always sounded like the most dreaded part of the entire everest assault. What I'd never picked up on before was the technique of pulling up on the hand lines to pull them taut & help hold them on to the ladders during those traverses.

Interesting stuff, but no way am I ever doing that, as much as I'd like to see the thing someday. I'll have to content myself with the view from basecamp, if I ever go.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:22 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ladders are lighter than anything else you could huck up there.
posted by Back to you, Jim. at 12:28 PM on August 3, 2010

What were they looking down into the crevasse at around 2:09-2:15?
posted by Fraxas at 12:35 PM on August 3, 2010

I can't be the only one who had the thought to combine this with pomparkour.

Heh, at that altitude you'd run about three steps and pass out from oxygen deprivation.
posted by sideshow at 12:38 PM on August 3, 2010

What were they looking down into the crevasse at around 2:09-2:15?

I'm sure Nietzsche could answer that for you.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:40 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm sure Nietzsche could answer that for you.

I'm sure he could. But seriously, is that a corpse?
posted by Fraxas at 12:46 PM on August 3, 2010

I could be wrong, but I think there's a body down there.

Also, this is an amazing video.
posted by resiny at 12:48 PM on August 3, 2010

Yeah, I'm pretty sure it was a corpse. And yeah, this is an amazing video. Totally the way I want to see even a piece of an Everest climb on video.
posted by nevercalm at 1:00 PM on August 3, 2010




That's why it's dangerous.

It's not just scrambling up a series of snowbanks with a snowsuit and an oxygen mask on.

Also, for debate: Morbid, or a thoughtful gesture, if Mr. Fairhurst were to place a popup comment at 2:10 naming the deceased climber and the year of their demise? The information should not be hard to find. It seems like such a shame that these occasionally foolhardy but mostly brave individuals are almost always described as a 'body jutting out of a snowbank' or a 'corpse in a crevasse'.
posted by CynicalKnight at 1:03 PM on August 3, 2010

The information should not be hard to find.

It may be more difficult than it seems. The icefall is constantly moving (3-4 feet per day, with ice blocks collapsing and new crevasses opening up), so the body likely isn't in the same place that it fell, and the only other way to identify it would be for someone to climb into the crevasse, look for some kind of identifying information on the remains, and then climb back up.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 1:30 PM on August 3, 2010

Here is the section of Fairhurst's blog where he describes crossing this icefield (emphasis added):
We got up at 2:30 am at BC, were out of camp by 3:30. Our mission climbing the famous and very dangerous Khumbu Ice Fall. The Ice Fall is the Khumbu Glacier dropping over a steep section flowing from the Western Cym. It is 2,000’ vertical of blocks of ice, many the size of houses. They are piled together very precipitously and can move anytime. In fact, the glacier is constantly in motion. The route through the Ice fall has to regularly be rerouted. It is extremely steep in many sections, and notoriously scary. We saw one section give way about 30 feet from us. You climb and descend on ladders and ropes, and cross ledges often less than a foot wide. Overhead are huge seracs often leaning like the Tower of Pisa right over your head.
The climbing is tough physically, but in the low oxygen it is amplified. Psychologically, it is full of anticipation. The faster you can get out of there the better, but that is easier said than done.

See also this, for more background on the Khumbu Ice Falls and how the shutes and ladders are maintained:
There have been more deaths in the Khumbu Icefall than any other area on Everest, and the Icefall is located just above base camp at about 18,000 feet.

The Khumbu Icefall is found at the southern most end of the Khumbu Glacier, and due to the shifting nature of the ice, large crevasses and giant ice towers are formed in the region. These large cracks make it extremely difficult to cross through this portion of the mountain, and since it changes so rapidly, a new path must be created each year. Enter the Khumbu Ice Doctors.

The Ice Doctors are a team of highly skilled Sherpas who are integral to the success of climbing on Everest on the Nepali side of the mountain. Each year they lay down a series of ladders across the crevasses, and use a thin nylon line, held in place by ice screws and anchors, as a guide rope across the open spaces. Climbers than walk across these openings, usually in their mountaineering boots and with crampons on, stepping on the rungs of the ladder for support, and using the thin ropes to help stabalize themselves. For many, it can be a very terrifying and intimidating proposition.

It took Edmund Hillary's team several days to get through this section during the first successful ascent in 1953.

If you fall into a cravasse and die, your body will probably stay there, but eventually the glacier may relinguish what it took. This year several bodies were recovered. One (pictured at the link), may have been there for 30 years.
While we were waiting for the weather to clear up this week, Apa participated in the Eco Everest clean-up of human bodies on and around Mount Everest. In total, they respectfully removed three bodies from the lower part of the Khumbu Ice Fall and from the glacier. This happened, a few days ago, but I haven’t written about it until now. That’s because it’s a hard subject for me.
First of all, these three bodies have family members and loved ones who care about them deeply. Only one of the bodies was identified and returned to his family for burial or cremation.
Secondly, the fact that dead bodies had to be removed from the Ice Fall is a poignant and unwelcomed reminder of the dangers involved with climbing Mount Everest. I don’t wish to make anyone back home worry.
Finally, I have personally had a hard time with this subject because of my past experiences in Iraq. I was a soldier there from 2005 to 2006 and I still deal with post traumatic stress disorder. Seeing the dead bodies brought back some terrible feelings and memories. The difference here, however, is that these three people died doing their jobs and doing what they loved. They were removed from the mountain with respect and dignity.
I just want to thank Apa and everyone else who took the time to move these bodies to a proper resting place. I think everyone at Base Camp has slept better since.

posted by beagle at 1:38 PM on August 3, 2010 [7 favorites]

Great find, thanks.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:48 PM on August 3, 2010

This has been the most significant knowledge-smack I've been dealt in quite a while. I guess I never took the time to imagine why it's hard, and that video really lands you deep into the how-do-people-do-this heebie jeebies. I mean seriously: you look over into a crevasse and there's a dead body in it. How do you not freak out and want to run back somewhere safe, never mind carry on to walk over a horizontal ladder at a similar crevasse? Wow.
posted by StephenF at 3:39 PM on August 3, 2010

Mountaineering is a pretty neat sport. I'd encourage anyone interested in learning the basics to get in with a good guiding service for a multi-day trip. If you are in North America, I'd reccommend Yamnuska for a good mitigated risk trip.

Seeing something like this and knowing what my guides said to avoid in the past results in this huge disconnect, because think about it... seriously - how much harder can a mountain say to you 'DO NOT CLIMB ME!'

@StephenF last time I looked (1999) it was roughly a $36K expenditure just to get to the base camp at Everest. Thats not counting summit permits, sherpas, oxygen, and reservations at any of the other camps. That's not counting the time you have to wait for your turn to shoot the summit. That's not counting the fact that you have to wait for the weather to cooperate. To get to the top, people were dropping upwards of $85K to reach the top - with really no guarantee. There's a reason that people have to be driven and willing to walk past corpses to reach the top. You have to be committed to reach the top and commited to giving it all up if one thing goes wrong.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:44 PM on August 3, 2010

Generally speaking, when a person falls into a Khumbu Icefall crevasse and dies, the body stays there.

The movement of the icefall typically grinds up the corpse and sometimes the bits will resurface somewhere at the bottom as bones and equipment.

It's not pretty, but it's part of climbing Everest.
posted by bwg at 5:43 PM on August 3, 2010

Pretty crazy... definitely hits home with the danger.
posted by ph00dz at 6:19 PM on August 3, 2010

I've read about Everest and the ice fall so many times, but I'd never really gotten a clear image of what it was. Thanks for the post, and for once again reminding me that Everest is a great thing to read about, but a good place to stay far away from (though the thought of trekking in Nepal does appeal to me).
posted by Ghidorah at 7:10 PM on August 3, 2010

Burhanistan: "Team sets out to clear bodies from Everest's death zone"

I wonder if they will bring down David Sharp and "Green Boots".
posted by bwg at 12:45 AM on August 4, 2010

Makes it seem more like a video game
posted by DU at 6:21 AM on August 4, 2010

« Older I will not be just a tourist in the world of...   |   The Facebook comments Sarah Palin doesn't want you... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments