The best article about the situation on Everest 2014 I have read yet was written by Tim Mosedale, who I may have met, but I don't remember all of the guides I met, they kind of blend together in the small world of Everest guiding. Needless to say, there is a lot to think about in regards to a return trip.
- The easiest option is to go back to the south side (Nepal), south col route, and during spring, everything like I did. However, that also strikes me as the option most likely to have something like this happen again. It's easy and might even be the least expensive. However, politically, the situation is probably going to be tenuous in the future too. So there could be another strike. Secondly, with 800+ people trying to be above base camp on the south side in the spring season, the potential for 16+ people to die, is much higher. There are lines, there are bottlenecks. An accident is more likely to hit more people. Plus, with tragedy comes media attention and frankly, I want media attention for positive events, not tragedies. I would certainly be very active about taking close up pictures of the seracs on either side of the Kumbu ice fall and trying to understand the danger better. Since I won't be the only one worried about those glaciers in the future, I feel some sort of monitoring system would be a big help, and I would pay extra for someone to become an expert on the area. Main benefits: cost, many people to push the route up the mountain. Main concerns: political instability, traffic congestion.
- The north side is also an option. It is generally a much smaller group, maybe 100-200 climbers and Sherpas combined. There is no ice fall. The problem is high camp is at 8300 meters (27,000 feet) and you spend a whole lot of time above 8000 meters, more than any other mountain in the world, and going without oxygen that is an issue. Plus, the Chinese are not always receptive to foreigners, often specifically Americans. To be fair, I don't blame them. The situation in Tibet has it's politically unstable moments. The point being, the Chinese are not a huge fan of a bunch of hippie climbers going into Tibet and making protests and taking pictures and videos. The Nangpa-La shooting is a perfect example of what the Chinese don't want getting out to the rest of the world. Again, I don't blame them, Americans tap everyone's phones and read everyone's emails and don't want the world to know that. How can I be a hypocrite? Main benefits: no ice fall, less traffic congestion. Main concerns: too much time at high altitude, political challenges.
- There are unorthodox alternatives to the main south side or main north side routes in the spring. I have thought of a couple, but don't really know their feasibility for me.
- South side or north side post-monsoon (September, October). This is a huge unknown. Teams, if anyone, are generally small. Sometimes there are maybe 20-40 people on one side of the mountain post-monsoon in a big year. Other years you might be alone, as in the only climber. Main benefits: a known route, no crowds. Main concerns: few people to break trail and help with rescues
- Pre-monsoon alternative route, like the west ridge. I spent a lot of time looking at the west ridge and took a number of zoomed in pictures of the first part of the direct west ridge for reference in my decision making. Doing an alternative route, and I'm pretty much only thinking the direct west ridge here, would mean I, and maybe any climber parter I had, would have to do a huge amount of work and end up going for it alpine style. It's possible, but really really hard and the chances for something to go wrong on that route (climbing 5.7 at 8000 meters going alpine style) are pretty big. I'm not saying I can't do it or the risk is too great, but it would be tough, and I might have to go it solo, which I don't really have confidence or experience to do. Main benefit: really cool, the best style to climb Everest. Main concerns: no help, high risk.
So those are kind of my options. Very possible to go back, to try again, but in my mind they all involve greater risk than I had in my mind three months ago to attempt Everest pre-monsoon south col route. That's in large part what the decision will boil down to, my acceptance of risk, being more informed now than I was before April 2014. In other words, the risk of going home empty handed, and the risk of death are both higher, in every scenario, than they were in the past. Yes, I still want to climb to the highest point in the world, but if the risk is too great, I won't do it. I'm okay taking risks, big risks, but there are certainly limits to my risk taking.