The six-man summit team of Cowboys on Everest - including one Utahn - is huddled 3,500 feet below the summit of Everest, waiting out 100-mph winds and minus 40-degree temperatures, before starting for the top later this week.
Fred Riedman, Salt Lake City, is the deputy leader of a team determined to be the first U.S. team to climb the northeast ridge of Mt. Everest. Based on weather information sent to the team's base camp via satellite from Penn State University, the group is expecting a brief break in the weather on Oct. 15.They will use those critical hours to scramble the remaining 3,500 feet up the ridge. The scramble won't be done in a day. As it stands now, the team plans to establish a sixth camp at 27,000 feet and spend the night there before making the final ascent, said Mary Skinner, wife of expedition leader Courtney Skinner.
Utah has had only one man, Snowbird owner Dick Bass, climb Mount Everest. Riedman, 32, will not only be the second Utahn on the top of the peak, he will lead the U.S. team up the most dangerous route on the mountain.
The northeast ridge is 7,000 feet of jagged rock with out-sloping slabs of shale and two vertical pitches. The last 2,000 feet of the ridge rise up into the winter jet stream. Winds from the jet stream are buffeting the climbers now.
The United States has been in closer touch with this Everest expedition than any other. Sophisticated communications equipment and a satellite link allow the team to give live audio interviews with "Good Morning America" each day, send daily telexes to its headquarters in Pinedale, Wyo., receive daily weather reports from Penn State, and file radio reports with National Public Radio every morning.
That's how Benjean Riedman, Fred's bride, knows that her husband is huddled in his tent at Camp 5, reading, sleeping and trying to stay warm.
She figures his spirits are pretty good. Sunday night's telex from base camp included a message for her: "continue with honeymoon plans."
Benjean is planning to meet Fred in Bangkok at the end of the month for the honeymoon the newlyweds didn't have a chance to enjoy before the climb.
"He must be feeling pretty chipper if he's up there freezing and the honeymoon is on the forefront of his mind," she laughed.
The team at base camp has a radio, telephone, computer, printer and telex machine, said Mary.
Fred has even been able to call Benjean twice while he's been on the mountain.
"The communication is really unprecedented," Mary said. She receives the daily telexes, giving copies to the media and sending one to Benjean.
"The only other team I know of that had perhaps better communication was the Japanese expedition that was there earlier in the spring," Mary said. "They had live television coverage. They also had a budget of $12 million and 300 people to do the work. These guys had $900,000 and 32 people."
The satellite link is giving two Wyoming high school classes an education to tell their kids about.
Every morning, Mary writes a response to the team's telex. Then she takes it over to the computer class at Pinedale High School. The students type her response into a special computer.
When the Everest team has a satellite link with the United States - which it has for only two hours each day - computers on both sides of the world dump their data into their companion computers halfway around the world.
Penn State dumps daily weather summaries into the team's computer, using data from a weather satellite that passes over Everest to alert the team to weather patterns.
While the team gives daily interviews to national U.S. television, it doesn't get much of a chance to do its own catching up on life in the states.
"We have begun to fantasize about the presidential election and what we dream is happening with the candidates," a September telex said. "We are especially interested in what the candidates are saying, who is ahead in the presidential race and any stupid things they have done."
So Mary arranged for the local government class at the high school to write a weekly summary of world news.
The local government class takes its summary up to the computer-science class, which types it into the computer. "It doesn't hurt that my husband is on the school board here," Mary said.
Only in the wilds of Wyoming could you find a man who is both a member of the Pinedale School Board and the expedition leader for an assault on Everest.
The mountain has been gentle with the team so far. No one has been injured. Skinner, 52, suffered from pulmonary edema and had to immediately move 4,000 feet to a lower altitude, said one telex.
Pulmonary edema, an altitude sickness characterized by the accumulation of fluid on the lungs, is often fatal.
Salt Lake physician Ross Greenley has left base camp to escort a critically ill German woman to a hospital in Katmandu, Mary said.
The rest of the team will begin pulling off the mountain Oct. 18, even if they haven't been able to reach the summit by then, Benjean said.
"That's when the yaks are coming to pick them up."
But no one is thinking of descent yet. The summit team will spend the rest of the week waiting out the weather.
Asked how they are spending their time, Benjean said, "They are trying to make sure their tents don't blow away."
And when they aren't outside checking their square knots?
"They huddle," she replied.