Mount Everest: When the serac threatens

Monster serac above the Khumbu Icefall

The tyrant Dionysios had a large sword hung over Damocles, held only by a single hair of a horse’s tail. In this way Dionysius wanted to demonstrate to the obsequious courtier the transience of life. This is what‘s currently also happening to the climbers at Mount Everest. Like the Sword of Damocles in the Greek saga, a monster serac is hanging 800 meters above the Khumbu Icefall and looks as if it will break off at any moment.

As heavy as 675 trucks

Polish ski mountaineer Andrzej Bargiel, who photographed the shaky ice tower, estimates the icy monster to be 50 meters high and 30 meters wide. If we take these values as a basis and assume a depth of 20 meters based on the proportions in Bargiel’s photo, the volume would be about 30,000 cubic meters. Ice weighs around 900 kilograms per cubic meter, giving us a total weight of about 27,000 tons – equivalent to 675 fully loaded 40-ton trucks. No wonder that some fall climbing teams have already broken down their tents at Everest Base Camp because of the threatening giant serac.

Bargiel says: Stop!

Bargiel: Risk is too high

“Walking underneath through the Icefall is extremely dangerous. Unfortunately I will and can not accept this kind of risk. The serac can break and fall anytime and this stops us from pushing forward,” Andrzej Bargiel explained on Facebook his reasons for the departure from the base camp. “Unfortunately sometimes there is something like that, you have to estimate the risk and if it’s too high you have to say ‚stop‘.“

The 31-year-old Pole, who in 2018 had succeeded the first complete ski descent from K2, the second highest mountain on earth, had planned to climb to the summit of Everest without bottled oxygen and then descend to base camp on skis in one go. Also a Polish team that wanted to climb the neighboring eight-thousander Lhotse as well as two other Everest candidates left because of the monster serac.

Others still stay

South side of Mount Everest

The experienced American expedition leader Garrett Madison and his team remain in the base camp. “We’re still waiting and watching the serac hoping it’s gonna come down and clear the way for a safe route up through the icefall,” the 40-year-old wrote on the homepage of his company “Madison Mountaineering”.

Even Kilian Jornet hasn’t given up yet. What exactly the 31-year-old Spaniard has in mind is unclear. In spring 2017, the speed climber scaled Everest twice via the Tibetan north side of the mountain within a week, both times without bottled oxygen. The first time it took him only 26 hours to get from the Chinese Base Camp to the summit, the second time 17 hours.

Mingote in Camp 3 on Dhaulagiri

Sergi Mingote on Dhaulagiri (Camp 2)

Not only on Mount Everest, but also on the eight-thousander Dhaulagiri in western Nepal, conditions are difficult after heavy snowfalls. Today the Spaniard Sergi Mingote reached Camp 3 at 7,250 meters after eleven hours of trail-breaking. The 38-year-old wants to climb all eight-thousanders within 1,000 days without bottled oxygen. Since summer 2018, he has already checked off six of the 14 highest mountains in the world. Dhaulagiri would be number seven.

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