Russell Brice, Founder of world renowned guiding company ‘Himalayan Experience’, made the first ascent of the Three Pinnacles on Everest’s North East ridge in 1988.
He has 14 ascents of 8000m peaks under his belt, and has arranged and overseen the summit of thousands more for his clients.
Ahead of the AGS summit attempt, we caught Russell for a rare ‘spare hour’ when he was still at home in Canberra in March before leaving for Kathmandu ahead of the 2019 Everest season.
Martin has returned to Everest to climb with you for his 2nd attempt after significant avalanche risk in 2012 thwarted the Walking With The Wounded attempt and all HimEx activity, and you cancelled all summit attempts due to safety. Martin has returned for his 2ndattempt. How do you think the mentality of a return climber differs to that of a first time client?
A return member has a better understanding about how the expedition works, and due to having been on the hill before, has a certain amount of local knowledge, so of course this is a big help in both confidence and positive attitude.
In your experience, do you think that return climbers who have had previous unsuccessful attempts are at more risk of succumbing to ‘Summit fever’ than first time climbers, and if so, do you pay more attention to those climbers specifically with this potential added risk in mind? We know that ‘summit fever’ can cloud judgement and decision making when people get fixated on making the summit.
During the course of an expedition we discuss these sorts of issues, and it is my job - along with my Sherpa staff - to help and advise members as they head for the summit. By being at BC we can monitor the rate of progress of all our members with a clear head, and to advise accordingly. That is the reason why I gave up climbing and guiding many years ago – I realised that my expertise was best used at Base Camp. I am constantly monitoring every single person and each movement as they ascend or make their way back. I monitor their progress, their speed, and of course all of the concurrent issues which we are assessing at the same time such as the weather, other climbers on the mountain, their rate of oxygen consumption etc. If any climbers don’t appear to be on track for the summit or my Sherpa staff report on unusual or uncharacteristic behaviour, then I turn them around.
How has the mountain changed since 2012?
We have a much better rope fixing infrastructure in place, although this coming year this will be overseen by a local operator, so we will need to assess the level of service as we go. In general, I feel that the safety of the rope fixing is about the same. I understand that the Icefall doctors are now using a better quality of rope, after years of us requesting this - so this is an improvement. It would appear that we require fewer ladders in the Icefall these days…but of course we will have to wait and see what condition the icefall is in this year. It is never the same.
Our team, as well as the Icefall Doctors, started their work a week earlier than 2012 as we see that temperatures are increasing more quickly.
At the start of the season I had been anticipating an earlier summit window than 2012, but of course this was dependent on the weather. Due to the earlier cyclone a few weeks ago and the resulting strong winds, that has in fact shifted to much later. The biggest change is that the Hillary Step is no longer there - it fell off during the earthquake in 2015. The result is that summit day is now considerably easier and shorter, without such likelihood of bottle jams – the photos of which were so often reported in the media.
Martin and Terry have undertaken significant training for their Everest bid – which should in fact be considered ‘standard’ for any climbers wishing to attempt an 8000m peak. Wounded climbers are often criticized by those claiming that they have no place on the mountain due to putting others at risk. What is your response to this criticism?
I personally see that injured climbers come much more prepared than many of the normal able-bodied climbers. Martin and Terry have done a fantastic amount of training and I have total confidence in their abilities. Furthermore, these guys have undergone considerable pain and a difficult rehabilitation program, so they are much more used to pain and suffering than most, but also know where their threshold is and when the going is getting tough. They also have well tested coping mechanisms which many don’t. I am really disappointed for Terry – it was a tough decision but he knew it was the only one. I hope he will have a chance to come back.
Check back in next week when we will post the 2nd half of this interview, covering the increasing corruption on Everest.