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Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives

May 24, 2002

Storm Ends Everest Bid Just Short of Summit

In the morning of May 18, within two hours of their goal, three remaining members of the all-female team attempting to climb Mount Everest were going strong. But, rapidly deteriorating weather conditions, the collapse of one team member below the South Col, and a guide suffering from a frostbitten cornea finally added up to a single, unassailable conclusion: the team must turn back, abandoning their attempt to reach the summit. Marjorie "Midge" M. Cross '65 had already yielded to the mountain the day before, about twenty minutes after leaving Camp III. A diabetic and the oldest member of the team at fifty-eight, Cross's concerns about monitoring and maintaining her blood sugar level gave her reason to believe she might hold back the rest of the team. By May 20, the entire team had arrived safely back at Camp II where they planned to spend the night and return to base camp by May 21. They will not make another summit attempt.

While thin air, adverse weather, and steep slogs are common to every high-altitude mountaineering journey, Everest is uniquely brutal. Allan Durfee, professor of mathematics and statistics, who recently returned from a ski mountaineering trip from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn, says of Everest, "You have to do a lot of training and conditioning beforehand. You have to take several months out of your life getting over there and then walking up, and then you spend a lot of the time sitting in your tent waiting for the weather to clear and going up and down and up and down to get acclimatized. It's very slow going. The up hills are very long and very painful. You're basically just putting one foot in front of the other hour after hour and trying to keep the pace up." An avid mountaineer himself, Durfee clearly has no burning desire to climb Everest.

Commenting on the ascent a few days before the women turned back, Durfee offered his opinion on the team's chances of reaching the summit: "It depends on the weather," he said presciently. "If you get a perfect summit day, you can do it. If it's not good, then that's it. With mountains you just can't predict."

The climb, which lasted more than a month, pitted the members of the Everest team against the most extreme conditions any of the women had ever faced. Yet, each of the five woman broke her own altitude record. Kim Clark, Lynn Prebble, and Jody Thompson reached 27,750; Alison Levine made it to just shy of that; and Midge Cross reached 24,000 feet.

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