Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 143, July 2021 July 2020 - Page 35

In May this year , South African mountaineer and adventurer Remy Kloos was high up on the slopes of Mount Everest , at 8000m above sea level , seemingly within touching distance of the summit of the world ’ s tallest mountain , when she was forced to accept that the expedition had to be abandoned . Although greatly disappointed , she has simply moved the end date of her ultimate goal , to conquer the 7 Summits Challenge , and in the meantime will be using running and hiking to make sure she is ready to tackle the world ’ s highest mountains , whilst at the same time helping to keep at bay the anxiety she has had to cope with since her school days . – BY SEAN FALCONER

To reach the summit of Mount Everest , you need to be able to read the weather . The westerly Jet Stream wind is the main concern , as it can have a massive impact on your chances of standing upon the highest point of earth – up there , above 8000m , it can blow so strongly that it sounds like a train , shaking tents violently and reducing visibility to zero , making it impossible to climb the treacherous last pitch of the mountain .

This section , from Camp 4 at 8000m to the summit at 8850m , includes the appropriately named Knife Ridge , with the famous Hillary Step in the middle , a route opened during the first successful summit by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953 . The thin ridge has sheer drops on either side , and climbers have to watch every step carefully in this dangerous final hurdle to the summit , all while trying to conserve their strength and oxygen for the climb back down in what is usually a 30- hour round trip to get back to Camp 4 . It simply cannot be done unless the weather is perfect for a few days .
Images : Bryan Hill & courtesy Remy Kloos
Thus climbers look out for what they call the “ climbing window ,” watching the weather much further south to see when the Monsoon weather systems start to move north in the Bay of Bengal , heading towards the Himalayan Mountains , which in turn pressures the Jet wind to move north and creates perfect weather on Everest . These windows often only last a few days at a time , and usually only occur a few times in the month of May , which is when all Everest expeditions take place .
A Narrow Opportunity
There are no guarantees that a window will open , and many climbers have been forced to descend without attempting the final pitch . Even when a window opens , it is still a massive decision to go for the summit or not . Waiting at Camp 4 for a window takes a fearful toll on climbers , as this is what they call the ‘ deathzone ,’ where the body literally begins shutting down , making it even harder to breathe in the rarified air , and most climbers cannot survive long at that altitude without
Remy stops for a breather in the Khumbu Icefall , on the way up to Camp 1 on Everest
oxygen . Attempting to summit is therefore a physical and mental challenge like no other , and many climbers are forced to turn back when their bodies simply cannot go on .
Climbers who do not make it to the summit can go all the way back down to Base Camp at 5400m , to rest and rebuild strength for another trek back up to Camp 4 and another wait for a window , provided there is still enough time before the monsoon season sets in , or their climbing permit runs out . If not , they have to admit defeat and either accept they will not summit Everest , or they need to start planning another expedition to climb the world ’ s highest mountain . The latter option is what 32-year-old Capetonian Remy Kloos will be doing , after the weather put paid to her climbing plans this past May … because she is determined to set two new mountaineering records .
“ I wanted to not only summit Everest as part of my attempt to become the youngest South African woman to complete the 7 Summits Challenge , but also wanted to go straight from the top of Everest to summit Lhotse back-to-back as well , because no-one from South Africa has done the double summit . In fact , no South African woman has climbed Lhotse at all ,” says Remy . “ The world of high-altitude mountaineering is starting to shift from primarily a male-dominated sport to represent more female climbers as well . With these records , I wanted to reiterate that gender makes no difference at all . Endurance , skill , strength , faith , teamwork and positivity , this is what truly matters .”