ESSAY: Boy, That's Old Eric Simonson - Basecamp Sun, April 08, 2001 11:00PM
Back on May 15 1991, when I was on my way up the summit ridge of Everest, I came across an old oxygen bottle below the First Step. I remember picking it up, looking it over and remarking to myself "boy, that's old", then throwing it back down. I went on to make the top later that day, and descended safely. Back home I always wondered about that old bottle I had found. On May 17, 1999 when Tap and Jake were descending from the Second Step, I radioed up to them and asked them to take a look near a prominent boulder for the bottle I had found in 1991. Sure enough, after searching for only a couple minutes, and despite the fact it was snowing, they found the cylinder only a few steps off the route. What is amazing to me is that between May 15, 1991 and May 17, 1999 there were several hundred climbers who walked next to this bottle, both on their ascent and descent. It is not surprising that it was never found. Each of these hundreds of climbers who walked next to it was focused on making the top, or getting back down. They were not looking!
Just as several hundred people walked past that cylinder by the First Step, which was later conclusively proven to be Mallory and Irvine's famous bottle #9, as listed on the Stella Letter, I think there is a good chance that there are additional artifacts on the climbing route. Just because no climber has ever found anything only tells me no one has looked. Could there be something above the Second Step? We need to look! This would be one of the most tantalizing clues, for it would prove they made it up this famous obstacle, yet would not prove they made the summit. The mystery would continue (much to the delight of many!).
When climbing, the goal of most climbers goal is to reach the summit, the next camp, or some objective along the way. We are trained to observe things like the weather and snow conditions, pay attention to the time, and watch our fellow team members. It's been pounded into our heads from the very beginning of our careers. Focus! Pay attention! Be careful!
When you branch out into guiding, that changes. Not only do you have to take care of your own climb, you also have to be observant of a lot more, like your clients in particular. One of the things that distinguishes a good mountain guide is the ability to put one's own climbing on autopilot so that you can devote more of your attention to your clients. A guide must be a good enough climber to not have to focus all their attention on what they are immediately doing so that you have some attention and energy left to share.
I think it is that same mentality that will enable this team to be good searchers. If you are spending all your time adjusting your goggles and clothing, worrying about routefinding, that next foot or tool placement, or the summit....you won't have the mental bandwidth to search. I am hoping that we can again have success this year on Everest because we are all guides who are used to being observant and are experienced enough to be able to double task, to have our own climbing under control while also being high-altitude archaeologists. At these altitudes, that's not easy, but with a good acclimatization program and some real smart climbers, maybe we will have enough brain power left over up high to keep looking for some answers.