What a tragedy Tomas Olsson’s fall is. Having scoped the exit from the Great (Norton) Couloir to the summit pyramid, I can’t imagine attempting it after 16 hours of climbing in storm conditions all above 7900 meters. It is steep, rocky, and very difficult terrain. I know that during ascents this point has stopped guys like Roskelli, Viesturs and a few others. And I can not imagine anyone hauling a rope with them on a ski attempt. So in the small world of Everest skiers, the idea has floated around to use the old ropes left in the thing. I’m not sure that is the case here, but it has crossed my mind. When we reviewed the thing while on the North ridge during our Everest attempt in 2003, we came to the conclusion that the only way to ski it would be to hire a team of Sherpa to fix ropes on it, a-z, and then to definitely ascend it before attempting it. The GC is not terribly steep, but at 40-45 degrees, its 8,000+ feet of continuous fall line doesn’t allow for any mistakes. And like the North Ridge which we did ski (from 25,000 feet), it is more often than not in extremely icy and hard-rough condition.
I guess Marco Siffredi snowboarded it with very unique stable powder conditions, in a non-stop run that was something not to be believed. A guide who witnessed it told me that Siffredi made it look like a bunny slope. But that was certainly not the case when I looked over at it, and not the case more often than not. When I read the dispatch a couple days ago from Tomas on the summit with ambition to hit the GC, I actually told myself better them than me. My fears were unfortunately confirmed only hours later. It really is a blow to me despite only knowing these guys by being a fan of the sport.
But the other thing that needs to be said is that for the other two skiers that did manage to ski the NE ridge and the North ridge, as well as for Kammerlander who did the same thing, their accomplishment is far more than just skiing on the peak. On a normal year, this entails skiing about 6000 feet of a total of 8,000 feet. From photos and conversations I’ve had, the summit slope is not to be compared to anything on the planet if only by altitude. It looks incredible. And then, speaking from experience, the North Ridge itself is like skiing a barn roof at 40-45 degrees. You deviate by about 50 feet to either side, and you are in flight for 4,000 feet to the glaciers on either side.
The normal nature of the icy and hard conditions along with the altitude all above 7000 meters made our skiing on the North Ridge the most committed ski run of my life — something I don’t need to do again. Next year, if we get to that point again, I will definitely hop on the fixed line for a belayed descent as the first round of skiing it free was probably enough. Maybe it will be soft snow, but I’m not counting on it. And then, to ski out of the North Col at 7,000 meters into the ice fall below, that is an adventure you can’t imagine. You have a few ski rappels, and some large slots, but in between we found superb skiing. So it is an unbelievable ski run.
In my mind, all this leaves no room to dispute that Hans Kammerlander was the first to ski Everest, and these two guys yesterday also deserve an immense amount of credit for a ski mountaineering feat that is as incredible as anything done thus far. Anatoli Boukreev once told me that North Everest is not the most technical route, nor is it the most difficult. But he said that in his experience, its length, the altitude, and the wind, all made it the toughest most demanding climb of his career. And these three guys skied it. My hat is off to them.