Cory Richards and Esteban “Topo” Mena had an incredibly bold plan. They were going to climb Everest’s northeast face along a line never before attempted. If successful, it would be the first new route pioneered in a decade. It would also be only the second route on the northeast face. New routes are rare; only 18 exist on the mountain after decades and thousands of climbs. Richards and Mena planned their alpine-style ascent without oxygen and hoped for the best.
They didn’t make it.
Nearing 25,000 feet, they faced a fork in the road. Go straight up a difficult wall or left, around it, up what appeared to be an easier snow-filled couloir. Richards wanted to go left, Mena wanted to attack the wall. They went left.
According to Richards, that was the decision that sealed their eventual retreat. Already exhausted physically and mentally from climbing a 50-degree slope of hard, slick ice, where one tiny mistake meant sliding three thousand feet off the side of the mountain, trudging through difficult snow in the death zone proved too much. After a tough night bivy just sitting at a sharp angle in the snow, unable to properly erect a shelter, Richards and Mena continued for a bit before they realized it was hopeless.
They turned back.
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A little more than two years ago Cory and I flirted with the idea of climbing a new route on the highest mountain with the best style we know, it wasn't until some weeks ago that we finally started to unveil the magnitude of this vision. During the last month #Chomolungma was pretty brutal setting the rules for this game we asked her to be dealt in… the weather and the conditions have been limiting factors in the process of getting hints of how to get higher on this amazing wall, somehow we managed to learn a lot about the beast but ultimately we couldn't complete the journey this time. It's painful to accept but the path leading to the completion of that vision we had in 2016 continues for 12 more months until we can get another shot at the wild side. 📸 @coryrichards playing a no falling game high above the East Rongbuk glacier #everest2019 🔥
The plan is to try again next season.
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Photo @estebantopomena 1st attempt: @estebantopomena and I only spent 40 hours on the wall with one open bivvy at 7300 m (around 24,000 ft). The conditions we encountered coupled with our chosen tactics compounded by exertion meant that we had to turn back at around 7,600 m. Downclimbing safely took another 7 hours from our high point. Back in ABC and reassessing our approach, we are looking into the early days of June for a potential second window and attempt. Is it a failure? In the most strict sense of the word, Absolutely. But is it a building block? For sure. I've always maintained that this is truly a journey vs. a summit sport. But to truly understand the whole process, you have to get to the summit. Fingers crossed that happens this season.
“The Line” is a video series with a look into what went into climbing the route Richards and Mena attempted. This last in the series, recently released, shows the men leave advanced base camp for their push, their struggle, and ultimately their decision to turn around. Until next year.