Everest: Camp 2 Excursion, a Not-So-New Idea

“As if Everest wasn’t full enough…” a bewildered Stefan Nestler started his latest abenteuer-berg.de post. The mountain blogger was referring to Alex Abramov’s Seven Summit Club, which is giving Everest Base Camp trekkers a chance to extend their experience with a trip to Camp 2, above the Khumbu Icefall.

In addition to his famous Base Camp parties (ignoring COVID restrictions), Abramov is arranging for trekkers to climb to C2 with supplementary O2 and a Sherpa guide for $14,900. He promises “impressions and adrenaline…for the most demanding participant”. He also notes that “the transfer of the route to the right side of the Icefall has made it much safer”.

Abramov’s Everest trek: Champagne and the Khumbu Icefall. Photo: Seven Summits Club

 

Not so new

Abramov advertises the option as “a completely new idea”. It is not, though.

Camp 2 on Everest is more than a shelter to spend a night on the way to the top. It is a comfortable, well-supplied camp in the huge Valley of Silence. Here, climbers spend several days either acclimatizing or waiting for the right conditions to launch their final summit pushes. The biggest outfitters have a cook and kitchen resources in place. Sometimes, big mess tents allow team members to gather.

Camp 2 is sometimes the highest point where climbers go without supplementary oxygen. Some teams start using gas on their way to Camp3. Others endure without it until Camp 4 at 8,000m, on the South Col.

A cozy tent at 6,400m at Everest Camp 2. Photo: Colin O’Brady

A family stopover

It is not unusual for climbers’ relatives, friends, or staff (mainly photographers) to accompany them up to Camp 2. In other cases, C2 is an interesting option for clients who want to get a taste of Everest before investing in a complete Everest climb.

Last spring, for example, Colin O’Brady’s wife Jenna Besaw accompanied him to Camp 2. There, a cyclone marooned several teams for days. Some eventually had enough and headed down. Others risked climbing in loads of fresh snow. Luckily, they reached the summit safely. Among them were O’Brady and — surprise — his wife Jenna.

“She changed her mind and set her sights on the top two weeks ago,” said O’Brady at the time. “She asked me what I thought, and for me it was the easiest decision to scrap my No-O2 project and instead dedicate my energy to supporting her goals. We got all the paperwork in order last minute and shifted gears. Jenna wanted to keep her decision quiet until summit day.”

The couple climbed with powerful Seven Summit Treks, which also provided supplemental O2. O’Brady had traveled to Everest for a No-O2 Everest-Lhotse traverse but in the end opted for a standard, O2-assisted Everest summit, en famille.

Colin O’Brady and wife Jenna Besaw at Camp 2. Photo: Colin O’Brady/Instagram

Getting to Camp 2

Each outfitter has a way to provide (and charge for) accommodation and assistance for those who reach 6,400m. Some climbers get a climbing permit for Nuptse, whose normal route shares the way with Everest until Camp 2.

“We buy Lhotse permits for our Camp 2 climbers,” Lukas Furtenbach told Explorersweb. “That way, they can go beyond the tents and venture up the Lhotse Face, if they wish.”

Lakpa Sherpa, CEO of Kathmandu-based 8K Expeditions, has eventually included a Camp 2 climb in his company’s Everest expeditions, but with restrictions. “It’s not a service we market as part of our average Everest expeditions. However, we do accept some individuals who are seriously planning to go for Everest in the near future, and we train them thoroughly at Base Camp before guiding them through the Icefall, which is a serious challenge.”

Lakpa Sherpa noted that his Camp 2 clients also use a Nuptse permit and that they venture up the Khumbu Icefall without bottled oxygen. “[On that part of the mountain,] we would only use it in case of a medical emergency,” he says.

Climbers arrive in Camp 2 on Everest. Photo: Lakpa Sherpa/8K Expeditions

 

Other outfitters do offer Camp 2 as a standard option for Everest clients. Washington-based Mountain Gurus offers a climb to Camp 2 or even Camp 3 for those not yet ready to tackle the summit. This partial trip goes for $10,195 and includes an acclimatization trip to Lobuche East and assistance by IFMGA-certified Sherpa guides through the Icefall, the Valley of Silence, and the Lhotse Face.

The new Icefall route

After Nestler’s post, several spoke up against what they considered a dangerous touristic offer that will worsen the crowding problems on Everest. They argue that the more people in the Icefall, the slower the progress, and the more dangerous that passage then becomes. And even more will die if a serac collapses along the route.

It is a different situation on the North side of the mountain. There in Tibet, almost all outfitters offer the option of reaching the North Col, between the summit pyramid and Changtse. Located at 7,000m, the wide Col is a rather straightforward climb on glacial terrain. There is plenty of room to set Camp 1 for everyone. In particular, there is no dangerous Icefall to cross.

However, since the COVID pandemic, China has closed its borders to foreign climbers. It isn’t likely that this is going to change in the near future. In a recent interview with ExplorersWeb, Mingma G said that there is no hope for permits to Tibet next spring. Whether this will ease in fall 2022 is unknown, he adds.

Safer but not safe

As for Abramov’s promise of a “safer” Khumbu Icefall, he is referring to the new route through the maze that the Icefall Doctors figured out in 2015. This was in response to the 2014 avalanche at the Western Cwm at the top of the Icefall, in which 16 Sherpas died.

“The previous route ran along the Lola Pass to the left side of the Icefall,” the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee wrote. This government-supported institution is in charge of setting up and maintaining the route up the Icefall every spring. The Committee went on:

“Aided by aerial photographs taken by David Breashears following 2014 avalanche, they mapped out a new route from Base Camp to Camp I through the centre of the Icefall…The central route significantly reduces the risk of encountering serac collapses and avalanches.”

The Icefall Doctors. Photo: Sagarmatha Pollution Committee

 

Avoiding the Icefall entirely?

An aerial trip over the Icefall also gave Marc Batard the idea of opening yet another route to Camp 2 that skips the Icefall completely. Last month, he and a small team inspected the detour below Nuptse, fixed part of the way, and declared the new route was ready to be tested. He will use this alternative route on his own Everest climb next spring “to assess whether it is commercially feasible,” Batard told The Kathmandu Post.

This Kathmandu Post graphic shows Batard’s new route (in blue), merging with the standard route (in yellow). The short section in red is identified as an “old path” but it is unclear whether it refers to a route on Everest or Nuptse.

 

Intriguing though Batard’s idea may be, a new route to Camp 2 won’t happen anytime soon. It will take time to test the route, fix it with metal railings like a via ferrata, as Batard proposed, and pick new locations for Camps 1 and 2.

Next spring, as usual, the Icefall Doctors will be at work and climbers will follow them across ladders, through crevasses, and up ice cliffs. Most will intend to reach the top, but others will be there just to experience climbing in the infamous Icefall. It’s an experience that many others seek to avoid.

Like it or not, the option of a Camp 2 trekking excursion is legal, as long as the proper permits are issued and paid for. It is up to each company to manage their clients’ skills, the possible bottlenecks, and the conditions along the potentially deadly route.

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!


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