A decade of dreaming, $900,000, a year of preparation and 50 days clinging to the mountain weren't enough.
Driving winds and bitter cold have forced the Cowboys on Everest to abandon their fight to become the first U.S. team to scale the northeast ridge of Mount Everest and plant Wyoming and U.S. flags on the summit.Mary Skinner, wife of expedition leader Courtney Skinner, received a telex from Mount Everest Friday morning announcing that the expedition was pulling off the mountain and coming home.
For the past 10 days, climbers have made repeated attempts to establish camp 6 and go from there to the summit, but winter winds and harsh cold repeatedly drove them back. They huddled for days in their tents at camp 4, waiting for a break in the weather.
They were able to establish camp 5, 3,500 feet below the summit. But winds up to 110 mph forced them to abandon the camp. In a brief kindness, the mountain spared them the hike up to camp 5 to retrieve their equipment. It blew a complete tent full of equipment down several thousand feet from camp 5 to camp 4, Mary said.
Winds began buffeting the team on Sept. 29, the announcement said. "Wind speeds of 35-70 mph were common daily hindrance. Twice winds exceeded 100 miles per hour and damaged tents at Camp 4 last week. Camp 5 was destroyed in a similar manner."
Forecasters at Penn State University predicted a break in the winds Friday morning (Thursday evening U.S. time.) Climbers waited out the winds in anticipation of the break. But when Friday morning dawned, the wind and cold were still too harsh for a safe assault on the summit.
Sixty-mph winds and temperatures of minus 15 degrees Friday threatened the lives of the climbers if they pushed toward the summit. Low on fuel and food, and with no hope for a break in the weather, they called it quits.
Climbers wrote their own press release announcing that their expedition was over.
"It's disappointing not to reach the summit," climber Ted Handwerk said in the announcement. "But you are a success if you give it everything you have, and that's what we did. We were a success."
Utah had an interest in this climb. The expedition's deputy leader is Fred Riedman, Salt Lake City. He was part of the six-member summit team. If the team had made it, Riedman would have been the second Utahn to stand at the highest point in the world.
Riedman's wife, Benjean, is upbeat about the failure to reach the summit.
She echoed Handwerk: "They tried. I think that, in itself, is a success."
Now more than ever, the expedition rues the three precious weeks lost waiting for China to ship the supplies to the base of the mountain.
The delay pushed the expedition back three weeks, forcing the climbers them to try for the summit after the harsh winter winds had started their seasonal howl around the peak.
"If they had been in position 10 days ago, I'm sure they would have done fine," Mary said.
"If they wouldn't have had the delay with the Chinese they would have summited. They had the weather to do it," Benjean concurred.
"I was really disappointed to hear of the decision," group photographer Matt Ellenthal said in the announcement. "But I am glad that we are pulling out now while no one is injured and we all still have our fingers and toes. It wouldn't be smart to push it any longer."
Benjean thinks her husband will try for the summit again.
"I know deep inside, he wants to summit one day. I know he will try again," she said.
The climbers expect to reach base camp on Oct. 18. Trucks from Lhasa, Tibet, will meet them there. The expedition will start the three-day drive to Lhasa on Oct. 20. They will sell or store excess equipment and fly out of Lhasa on Oct. 26, the announcement said.
Benjean will meet Fred in Hong Kong on Oct. 28 to begin a honeymoon the Everest climb interrupted.
Expedition members are trying to be pragmatic about their failure to reach the summit. But they struggle to stave off disappointment.
"For a person who has been working on the expedition for 11/2 years, the end of the expedition is a real void," climber Dan Pryor said. "All the expectations are gone now."