By Tim Mutrie
Following an unlikely, powder-ish ski descent from the neighborhood of 24,000-plus feet on the Lhotse Face of Mt. Everest, May 5, Aspen skiers Chris Davenport and Neal Beidleman retreated all way the down to 14,800 feet, past southside basecamp, to the village of Dingboche (pop: about 200).
They are now, according to plan, heading back up. (Ed’s note: This post follows up Chris Davenport’s dispatch from earlier this week, “Davenport, Beidleman Ski on Everest’s Lhotse Face”.)
In a satellite phone interview with Powder.com Tuesday night, Mountain time, Davenport and Beidleman reported enjoying the restorative effects of lower elevations, good food and sleep, and a few beers. Together, they’d hiked a “small” hill above Dingboche in order to get reception for the phone. What follows is a transcription of the interview, covering their Lhotse ski, upcoming summit bid, the 2011 Everest scene, and for Beidleman, just being back on the Big E. Listen to a podcast-style audio clip with excerpts of the interview, just below on the little audio player icon:
CHRIS DAVENPORT: “It was incredible. For us to be up on the world’s highest mountains and skiing… Then three days after we skied the face, this massive wind storm came up and just destroyed the whole thing.”
POWDER.COM: Chris, do you feel like, being on mountains, you typically encounter those sorts of one of a kind conditions?
Davenport: “I don’t know about typically, but I definitely have had my share of unbelievably good luck on difficult mountains the last five, six years. Pretty much everywhere I’ve gone I’ve gotten great conditions and good weather. Not to say that that’s always the case, but definitely we’ve had our share of luck and I came off Lhotse Face feeling like that streak of luck was in tact. “
What was it like, tactile from a skier’s perspective, to ski on it?
Dav: “I’d say it was a high altitude combination of wind press and light powder. You had some dry, sorta powdery turns, and there a little bit of wind press—a little wind skin that you’d kinda break through. In some sections, you wouldn’t feel the black ice underneath and some sections you’d turn and your tails would scrape along black ice. The fact that that snow was welded or stuck to the black ice underneath is really remarkable. The storms came in with no wind, so there was no slab really. It was just sort of this loose granular snow, powdery snow, on top of this complete mirror of black ice. I think it was a pretty remarkable recipe that it was stuck on there. What do you think Neal?”
NEAL BEIDLEMAN: “The storms that came in were kind of convective snow in the afternoon, and they came in starting kind of warm up the valley, after the sun had shined on the face. And I think that allowed the snow to kind of bond a little bit better to the ice. And then once it got a skin of new snow on there, convective snow kept piling up, and it would refresh every night, there would be a little bit of wind buff going on, which smoothed it out. It was not unlike something you would find in Highlands Bowl—except for the black ice four-inches down.”
What’s the scene up there? Are you guys the black sheep carrying skis up the route?
Neal: “I’ll take that one. It’s been very supportive. People are really cool, at least the people we’ve seen. There have been some looks from people, kind of disbelief, like what are you doing? But the guys in the know, the guides or the people who’ve climbed here before, they saw our skis and they looked up at the face and they saw what was going on too. There was a fair amount of envy going on; ski envy.”
“But people were super cool about it. The guys who came up to ski Lhotse [Kris Erickson and Jamie Laidlaw] were very gracious and nice about it, supportive, so it’s been fun. The other side of it is that the Sherpa have gone friggin’ crazy watching us ski up and down the valley. Every time we even make some turns on the flat aprons at the bottom, they all stop and cheer and come up and inspect the equipment. They’re very curious. And we’re up there sliding around, just super fun.”
What’s the deal with the Sherpa with the Red Bull helmet?
Dav: “He’s just been really fun to be with and we were hanging out one afternoon outside the tents and I threw the helmet on him and propped the skis up for him for a photo. He’s a nice kid and he’s really interested in it all. He’s studying like four languages in Kathmandu when he’s not Sherpa-ing up on Everest; he’s a very interesting story.”
How’s your quote-unquote Everest experience so far?
Dav: “So far so good for us. We’re sticking according to our plan right now and things are looking good. The trip has been really enjoyable for us so far, because we have this diversion of skiing. It wasn’t just the routine—going up, doing down, acclimatizing. We were able to go up and then recreate up there, and do some skiing. So for us it’s been sorta like a trip within a trip, getting this great skiing done. We had this desire to do that, and it’s sort of a selfish objective of trying to make some turns high on Everest, even though we’re here as hired guides and we have to honor our duty to our client and all that. We were able to get up and do some skiing and have a lot of fun with it, and now it’s kind of back to business and focusing on the client’s needs, Ephi’s needs, and getting him to the summit and down safely. I personally feel like if we are not successful on the summit because of weather or whatever, the trip for me has still been a success because we were able to ski up there and have so much fun doing so. Of course we’d be disappointed to miss the summit, but it’s like something that all these other teams—maybe there’s, I don’t even know, 40 or 50 other teams up there on Everest, and except for one other [team] that has skis, none of these people [have skis]. They’re only focused on the top. Neal and I really enjoy the skiing part and it’s an added dimension to our trip. Ephi also got to borrow Neal’s skis and boots one day and I took him up and we did a run underneath the Lhotse Face, at the bottom there, so he got to make some turns on Everest as well. So his Everest experience is more also than just climbing the mountain—he got to make some turns too.”
Neal, how’s it going for you. Being back there?
Neal: “It’s been interesting. A lot of it has been very positive. I’ve just been taking in the change that’s happened, although not everything is different. Ironically yesterday was the anniversary of our summit and today is the anniversary of a day later. [Broken transmission.] Definitely a time for reflection right now. To think 15 years ago… and now we’re here at Dingboche and we’ll be heading up ourselves pretty soon. So it’s been interesting. [Broken.]. People here have been really inquisitive but very respectful. And the general feeling is positive.”
So, rest up and then head up?
Dav: “We’re going to stay one more day here in Dingboche and then hike up to basecamp tomorrow. We’ll spend a night there… Then Camp 2, 3 and 4, working our way up the mountain. We’re at least a week away, but that’s OK, we’ve got plenty of time.”
Are you taking skis back up?
Neal: “No, we took ‘em down last time because basically now our responsibility is about climbing and being with our client and doing a good job. I’m not sure there’s much skiing up there now anyway after that last wind event. We’ll show you some video when we get back, but it basically took out about 30 percent of the tents in Camp 2 and just wiped the Lhoste Face clean again, down to the ice and runnels. So we’re about climbing now. We did our ski thing, it was great, it was fun, it was a diversion, but it wasn’t our main goal. Climbing the mountain and being safe is our main goal.”
Dav: “We did film the skiing with a couple of different camera angles, so we’ve got some unbelievable ski footage to bring back, which is cool.”
I saw that Adrian Ballinger made the summit with the Sherpa rope-fixing team the day you guys were skiing—what sorts of beta are you guys hearing about teams going for the summit?
Neal: “So far the weather’s been very volatile. There’s been small weather windows inside of unstable weather. Adrian went up with the Sherpa to do some fixing, and I don’t think they had intentions of necessarily going to the summit. But the weather stayed good and they summited late in the afternoon, actually in the evening, and came back down. A few other people have done the same thing. With our team, because of the complexion and nature of the clients we have, we’re not going to try to squeeze something in like maybe Chris and I would ourselves. We’re gonna wait for a good solid window and do it a little more conservatively. Hopefully those windows are coming in the next week or so, they usually do, and we’ll try get in on one of those. The good news about other people having summited so far, and other people gunning for the summit, is that it spreads the total number of climbers out. Probably the most dangerous thing that can happen, that I’m experienced with or aware of, is that the weather is so bad that everybody all at one time in a couple days tries to go to the summit. And that’s just too many folks. So in general people are pleased that there have been these little opportunities and it’s been spreading out the summit bids. So hopefully when we go up it’ll be our team and maybe a few other folks and not just a mass of people.”
Thoughts on Kip and Allison’s accident?
Dav: “Oh man, yeah, you know Tim, oh man… [Broken.] Trekking in, we hear about Adam Dennis dying, and then we hear about Kip. I gotta tell you over the last two years, it seems like it’s one after another, especially Tahoe people. It sucks. Terrible, and we’ve been dealing with it a lot. So we’ve had toasts for them, made some cairns for them, lots of thoughts going out to our friends back home dealing with those situations. Kip was a close friend of mine, we did lots of cool stuff together, and what are you going to do? You just gotta keep charging.”