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Mountain News: Women succeed on highest peaks



KETCHUM, Idaho — The spring climbing season on Mt. Everest yielded ascents by several ski-town residents, among them two women.

Melissa Arnot, a mountain guide from Ketchum, Idaho, summited the 29,029-foot (8,848 metre) peak — her fourth successful summit bid of Everest, a record for women.

Originally from Whitefish, Mont., she began mountain climbing in 2001. She earned her stripes as a guide on Mt. Rainier, which she climbed 30 times a summer from 2004 to 2009. "That's where I got the skill set to be able to climb the Himalayas," she told the Idaho Mountain Express.

As for her most recent trip, she says that the record is not what drove her to climb. "I enjoy just being there," she said. In 2010, she had set out — unsuccessfully — to climb Everest without oxygen. There were a lot of people on the mountain, and with resulting stress, she found it necessary to use oxygen from 8,200 metres and up.

This year, 10 climbers died on Mt. Everest and 240 summited.

Telluride resident Hilaree O'Neill also summited Everest this spring But while she's proud of that, the sublime experience in mountaineering was on the adjacent 8,000-metre peak, Lhotse. She and climbing partner Kris Erickson became the first women to summit two 8,000-metre peaks within a 24-hour period. They were accompanied by the legendary climber Conrad Anker.

O'Neill told The Telluride Watch that climbing Everest was stressful, partly because the jetstream parked overhead, limiting the climbing window.

"The jetstream wouldn't move off the summit," she said. "There were winds of 100 miles an hour-plus. It sounds like a fricking freight train over your tent; it's one of the most disturbing sounds I've heard: that jetstream charging over your tent."

Few windows for climbing were available as a result of this difficult weather, yielding large crowds of climbers on the steep slopes when the wind dropped.

Too, the winds had removed the snow, and climbing on rock with crampons is difficult for climbers who have no experience doing so, which applies to many attempting to climb Everest. And that creates a slow crawl both up and down. She said that she waited for an hour at the Hillary Step, a difficult and steep section of the ridge — where a simple mistake can send a climber catapulting thousands of metres down the side into either Tibet or Nepal. The Hillary Step is located about 69 metres below the summit.

"At the end of the hour, there were 60 people waiting to get down, one at a time," O'Neill explained. People can literally freeze to death as they wait in lines.

Returning to Camp 4 at great length, she coughed up blood. But then the wind died and the weather warmed. And, after a rest, O'Neill and her two partners — Erickson and Anker — set out for Lhotse.

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