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Everest women poised to join record breakers

Shauna Farnell

Jody Thompson and Kim Clark don’t just have weather to contend with before they can make a break for the summit of Mount Everest. Now they have downhill traffic to work around, too.

It was a record-breaking day at the top of the 29,035-foot peak Thursday when 54 climbers summitted and went down in the books as the most climbers ever to reach the top in a single day.

Thompson, a Frisco resident, and Clark, who lived in Summit County for 10 years before moving to Denver to attend nursing school, were not among them. But they are planning to make their spring for the summit this weekend. Both women are part of Team No Boundaries, the five-woman group that is aiming to be the first-ever all-women’s group to summit Everest.

For six weeks, the women have been rotating through base camp and higher camps on the way to the summit, but weather has been an obstacle and monsoon season will officially clear out the mountaineering season May 31.

“The jet stream is starting to sag south, with it will come high winds and moisture within a few days,” said Kari Grossman, who is providing spot stories of the team for http://www.discovery.com. “It looks like our good-weather window is closing. The women will have to get the job done by Saturday.”

Local climber Hilary Kloepfer returned this week from a trek to Everest base camp at 17,600 feet and said that the weather hadn’t succeeded in breaking down Thompson and Clark’s determination. Kloepfer didn’t know the two before embarking on her own journey, but after the high-altitude rendezvous said they were eager to see another face from Summit County.

“Jody and everyone looked great,” Kloepfer said. “They all had smiles on their faces. I sat down and had tea with them. They introduced me to everyone. When I was up there, the weather was unpredictable. All the local people were saying the rain and snow are coming early this year.”

Although base camp was larger than Kloepfer envisioned it, she said it was a desolate place. Her own hike up helped her appreciate the need to ascend slowly.

“As long as you go slow – maybe 1,000 to 1,500 feet a day – you’ll be OK,” she said. “I was a little concerned because I got news that a trekker – not someone who was trying to summit, but just a trekker like me – ended up dying because he was having altitude problems. Some Sherpas carried him down. You never know how fast he went up. That makes a difference. Base camp was huge – like 100 or 125 tents. Everyone was down for a rest the week I was there. They were in very high spirits. (Thompson and Clark) missed their friends and families. They were pretty much ready to go up. Base camp is pretty remote. It’s like a rocky wasteland. Their priorities were to stay safe.”

According to Grossman, the women had successfully acclimated to Camp 3 at 24,000 feet Friday (it’s a day later in Nepal), which is the highest they’ve climbed so far. A couple of Thompson and Clark’s teammates were nauseous at Camp 3. Wearing oxygen masks, the team was preparing to move on to Camp 4 at 26,000 feet, and then to the summit. As most of the routes are single-file, bottlenecks are another concern for the last 3,000 feet.

“Once you get past base camp, there’s a lot of technical ability needed that the average person doesn’t have,” Kloepfer said. “I’m just a hiker. You need a whole lot of equipment to get to the top.”

Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hilary were the first two climbers to reach the summit of Everest in 1953. Norgay’s grandson, Tashi Wangchuk Tenzing, 37, was one of the 54 to reach the peak Thursday, and Hillary’s 47-year-old son, Peter, was on his way up. The two are in different expedition groups, but wanted to meet at the summit to begin a year of celebrations leading up to the 50th anniversary of their relatives’ climb. Also among those who reached the peak Thursday were Washington residents Phil and Susan Ershler, who became the first married couple to climb the highest peaks on the world’s seven continents together; veteran Sherpa guide Appa, who reached the peak for the 12th time, breaking his own record last year; and Ellen Miller of North Carolina who, after scaling the mountain from the southern side, became the first woman to climb the peak from the northern and southern sides.

Since the climb in 1953, about 1,500 people are believed to have made it to the top of Everest. Only 69 of those have been women. About one in every 13 climber dies while trying to summit, and most deaths are caused by avalanches.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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