Everest Viking skier update: Search for Tomas Olsson difficult, veterans say

Posted: May 18, 2006 07:59 am EDT

Tomas Olsson is still missing on Everest north face, after falling at a rock outcrop Tuesday. The accident took place about two hours after the climbers summited the mountain: In a call from the top, they had reported a very hard climb up in a 14 hour push through a snow storm. "I hope we will be strong enough to ski down the north face," Tomas said. <cutoff>

A Norwegian news source was among the last to talk to the climbers, a few hours after their summit: Tomas and Tormod had entered the Great Couloir, and reported that they felt incredibly tired, and were negotiating the hardest skiing conditions they had ever faced.

<b>Very steep section</b>

Shortly after, the two skiers encountered a 50 ft rock section at about 8500 meters and began rappelling down. Suddenly the anchor broke and Tomas fell, continuing to slide down the wall. Tormod immediately climbed down after him but found only Tomas ice axe. Climbers who have been in the area say that the section is so steep that a fall not arrested by a rock is likely to end at the foot of the mountain, in deep soft snow.

Tormod proceeded to climb down to ABC alone, in what must have been a very scary solo descent.

In terms of difficulty, Everest north face is very different from the north ridge where the normal climbing route goes. The Great (Norton) Couloir has only been summited once: On October 3, 1984, Australians Tim Macartney-Snape and Greg Mortimer climbed the Great Couloir to the summit without using oxygen. A woman, star mountaineer guide American Marty Hoey lost her life there on May 15 1982, vanishing in a fall.

<b>Snowboarding and skiing down Everest</b>

Marco Siffredi snowboarded down the Norton Couloir in 2001, after summitting through the normal route with Himex. Only one year later, on September 8, 2002 Marco attempted a snowboard descent of the steep Hornbein Couloir. He arrived at the summit at approximately 2:00 p.m. and waited for about an hour for the clouds to dissipate before starting on his way down. Teammate Olivier Besson watched Siffredi through a telescope at Advanced Base Camp. At about 3:30 p.m., Siffredi slipped from view and was never seen nor heard from again.

There have been 15 ski descents from Everest before, but only one complete - from summit to BC: On October 7, 2000 Davo Karnicar skied down from the summit on Everest south side. Hans Kammerlander skied down the north side in May 1996, but his descent was from 7800m and not complete.

Click the link below to check out the various Everest routes and stats in this classic 2005 ExWeb story by Pete Poston, and an interactive map including Everest route videos.

<a href="http://www.explorersweb.com/webtv/videoconsol_everestarial.htm" target="_new"> Click here for "Eighteen-fold Path to Chomolungma"</a>

Olsson and Granheim had been training hard all winter in the French Alps for the Everest challenge. They both lived in Chamonix, where they skied many of the classic lines. They skied down Cho Oyu in 2004 and rehearsed for the project in fall 2003 by skiing from the summit of two 7000+ mountains, Muztagh Ata (7546m) & Kuksay Peak (7186m) in China.

A small search party of Tomas's expedition members and fellow Swedish climbers was planned yesterday, but considering the area of the fall, locating Tomas is deemed to possibly prove difficult according to other Everest north face climbers.

<i>The current search party involves Tomas team mates Tormod Granheim and Fredrik Schenholm (the expedition photographer), and Swedish duo Olof Sundström/Martin Letzter who summited Everest the same night but skied down easier sections. Yesterday, they were at 6400 meter getting ready to climb back up for Tomas and expected to take up to 4 days to comb through the area. Also the Everest West ridge climbing team has been contacted and asked to search the area with binoculars.</i>

#Mountaineering #feature

The two skiers encountered a 50 ft rock section at about 8500 meters and began rappelling down. Suddenly the anchor broke and Tomas fell, continuing to slide down the wall. Tormod proceeded to ski down Norton alone, and then traversed to the North Col. A helicopter has been dispatched to search the face. Image ExplorersWeb (click to enlarge).

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