Greek expedition aims for top of the world

A team of Greek climbers will leave tomorrow, aiming to scale Mt Everest, the world’s tallest mountain. There have been three Greek expeditions to Mt Everest thus far, in 1989, 1993 and 1996. All failed to reach the 8,848-meter summit. The 1996 expedition reached 8,100 meters at a time when snowstorms led to the deaths of 14 climbers, though none from the Greek team. This is the biggest and most ambitious Greek effort. And the most costly. Official figures were not given but a team member told Kathimerini that between 400,000 and 500,000 euros had been spent so far on permits and equipment. More is to be spent when the team arrives in Nepal. Dimitris Georgoulis, president of the Hellenic Federation of Mountaineering and Climbing, said that the cost of the expedition was beyond the federation’s means. Thus, a sponsor was found in the person of Greek-Canadian businessman Pavlos Aggelatos. «It will be a happy coincidence to see the Greek and Olympic flags on the summit at the year of the Athens Olympics,» Aggelatos said. The Cypriot one may get there as well, since one of the three supporting members, that is, one of those who will not make an attempt on the summit but will stay at lower altitudes to provide assistance, is former 400-meter runner Kyriakos Onisiforou, who held the Greek record in the 1970s. The expedition will be presented with a Cypriot flag by Cypriot Parliament Speaker Dimitris Christofias on Monday in Nicosia. The expedition has an ambitious plan, only attempted once successfully in the past: to scale Mt Everest on both sides, from Nepal in the south and from China in the north. The two sections «will act in concert and not as individual teams,» said Costas Tsivelekas, the leader of the team that is to attempt to climb Everest from the northern – and most difficult – route. At 54, Tsivelekas is the most experienced climber on the team. He has climbed four of the world’s 14 tallest peaks – Cho Oyu (#6, 8,201 meters), Broad Peak (#12, 8,047m), Gasherbrum II (#13, 8,035m) and Shishapangma (#14, 8,027m) – and has led two expeditions on Everest’s northern side. He has also climbed the tallest peaks in the Americas and a week ago, along with other team members, warmed up by climbing Kilimanjaro. «Of course, climbing an 8,000-meter mountain is a completely different experience,» says Panayiotis Kotronaros, 33, the leader of the southern climbing team. He himself has reached the summit of Cho Oyu with Tsivelekas. The team will carry a total of 1.5 tons of equipment and supplies up the mountains. Most of the carrying, of course, will be done by Sherpas, the local people living in the valleys below Everest, without whose assistance it is doubtful that many Westerners would have made it up the mountain. The northern team will have a slightly easier initial approach, on the Tibetan plateau. There are passable roads right up to Base Camp, at about 5,300 meters. The southern team will have to fly to Lukla, Nepal, at an altitude of 2,800 meters and 80 kilometers away from Base Camp. The expedition is divided into three stages: The first three weeks will be spent on the approach to the two Base Camps and involve an initial acclimatization phase. The second phase, about seven weeks, will be used to set up camps up the mountain. On the south side, the camps will be at altitudes of 5,900, 6,400, 7,500 and 7,950 meters. There was no information offered on the north side. The teams will carry food, oxygen and other equipment up to the camps, with the aid of Sherpas. Then they will all retreat to one of the Base Camps. The final effort, the push to the summit, will be determined by weather conditions. Meteorologists will advise the team about conditions. «We have the whole of May to try for the summit,» said Tsivelekas. If everything goes well, the summit teams will spend a night at each camp before making the final effort. The number and composition of summit teams will be determined on site, but the leaders hope that 12 climbers – all except the three designated assistants – will be given a chance to go for the top.