Skiing Down Mount Everest and the World's Highest Peaks
8,850m up - as high as you can go without being in an aeroplane. You would think that climbing up was enough. But no, it never is, is it? Some people just have to ski down afterwards.
In October 2000 the Darwin Awards website, which gives awards to people who end their lives by doing extremely stupid things, offered up a chance to see the world's first live award: Slovenian ski instructor Davo Karnicar skiing down Mount Everest with a webcam on his helmet.
He was not alone in having attempted to ski down the world's highest peak, he was the first to ski down the whole way without taking his skis off. Yuichiro Miura, from Japan, who skied down from 8,000 meters in 1970, is still known around the world simply as "the man who skied down Everest". Hans Kammerlander also skied down from the summit in 1996, but had to take his skis off: "I skied down the first 300 meters at a gradient of 55 degrees, then I removed my skis and used my crampons several times until I reached 7,700 m. Then I put my skis back on and never removed them". He equated skiing down from the summit to "skiing down a bell tower".
Karnicar, who had already lost two fingers to frostbite on a previous aborted attempt, climbed the last stage to the summit at night to avoid bad weather forecast to close in in the afternoon the following day. He arrived exhausted at base camp five hours after departing from the summit, having made the first complete ski decent of Mount Everest. "At 12.40 I got down to Base Camp, glad that it was all over. I'd been on the go for 15 hours, I felt drained and couldn't sleep. It was as if I was light years from this world. I couldn't even manage to feel happy".
He had to deal with many challenges on his way down the South Face, even passing a dead body, which served as a grim reminder of what can happen to anyone who is unlucky on Everest. The notorious Hillary Step, just below the summit (always difficult for climbers), he found "a lot less difficult than the previous section". Karnicar used skis custom made for the decent by Elan.
Not content with Everest, Karnicar has also skied down Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, the Eiger and Annapurna. In addition to his attempt to ski down Everest, Hans Kammerlander, who has climbed 13 of the 14 8,000+ mountains in the world, also attempted to become the first man to ski down K2. "The wall was a stiff 60 degrees. When I saw a Korean climber falling down the wall, passing just a few meters away from me, I took my skis off". A very sensible decision.
Several attempts have also been made to snowboard down Everest, although none have been successful as yet. Davo Karnicar says: "You can probably deal with it better on a snowboard. On skis it's complicated because there isn't much space". The Frenchman Marco Siffredi made the best attempt, but he did not snowboard all the way down (he also had a sticker on his snowboard bearing the old telemarker slogan: "if it were easy... it'd be called snowboarding... No telemarker has yet attempted Everest).
Skiing down from the world's highest peaks will always be a niche market, limited to the few who are willing to climb up in the first place, let alone skilled enough to ski down as well. A taxi driver on a recent trip to Zermatt summed it up very well: "My father was the first person to ski down the Matterhorn... It was very difficult," he added unnecessarily.
Click here for a map of Davo's decent.
Pictures by Urban Golob.