Thursday, June 10, 2004
Nepalese officials are investigating the Everest speed ascent record set by Pemba Dorjee Sherpa, after rival Sherpa, Lakpa Gyelu, questioned his claim to have raced from Base Camp to the summit in 8 hours and 10 minutes; 2 1/2 hours quicker than the previous record, set by Lakpa Gyelu. A government committee plans to take two weeks to review Dorjee's climb and has asked both sides for proof to back their claims.
Lakpa Gyelu said Pemba Dorjee, 26, could not have made it to the top on the day he purportedly broke the record because the weather was too poor. He said there were no witnesses that day and wants photographic evidence or other proof. "The weather was so bad that day there is no way he could have made the climb," Gyelu said.
Gyelu set the speed record last year by climbing Everest in 10 hours and 56 minutes, eclipsing the earlier best time of 12 hours and 45 minutes that had been set three days before — by Dorjee.
Dorjee said jealousy was at the heart of the dispute. "I have all the proof and followed all the mountaineering rules in achieving my record. They are just jealous and angry that I broke the old record," Dorjee said.
Dorjee said that once he reached the summit about 2 a.m., he radioed down and described objects that had been left there by another climber the day before. He said snow that day was confined to base camp and there was no wind, and that above 18,000 feet, the weather was fine.
Sherpas were mostly yak herders and traders living high in the Himalayas until Nepal opened its borders to tourism in 1950. Their stamina and knowledge of the mountains makes them expert guides and porters for foreign mountaineers.
Since New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay first conquered Everest on May 29, 1953, more than 1,400 climbers have scaled the mountain. About 180 people have died on its unpredictable slopes. The climb from the 17,380-foot base camp to the 29,035-foot summit usually takes about four days.
Everest speed ascent history:
Oct 05, 1990, Marc Batard (no O2): 22 hrs 29 min
Oct 17, 1998, Kaji Sherpa (with O2): 20 hrs 24 min
May 21, 2000, Babu Chiri Sherpa (with O2): 16 hrs 56 min
May 22, 2003, Pemba Dorjie Sherpa (with O2): 12 hrs and 45 min
May 25, 2003, Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa (with O2): 10 hrs 56 min
May 21, 2004, Pemba Dorjie Sherpa (with O2): 8 hrs 10 min
Meanwhile, a British adventurer laid claim to being the first to fly around Everest in a microlight aircraft. On May 24, 2004, Richard Meredith-Hardy, 46, took off from a base camp 15 miles away, then braved potentially dangerous downdrafts to reach the summit where he waved to "a shedload of climbers" and snapped photos.
"This place is seriously big," he said, according to a statement from his ground crew, "and we were lucky to get a break in the weather just days before we have to go home."
Meredith-Hardy, a two-time World Microlight Champion, made his flight in a British-built Pegasus XL-S powered by a Rotax turbo engine that was specially rigged to keep his flying suit warm.