Everest Millennium Expedition Latest Dispatch (Sat, May 22):
The Corfield Summit Bid Blow-By-Blow
—Charles Corfield

Rooftop of the World—Can't Climb Higher
Wed, May 5, 1999 — Summit of Everest (29,028')

Everest Expedition Five-time Everest summiter Pete Athans [click for interview] will once again return to Everest to lead a team of climbers up the South Col Route in an attempt to measure by GPS the true height of Mount Everest. Athans will team up with climbers Bill Crouse and Charles Corfield to obtain the best data ever from the actual summit of the world’s highest mountain.

Along with this ambitious science objective, the team has an even more ambitious mountaineering objective: to reach the summits of neighboring Lhotse and Nuptse, establishing the first successful "Everest Trilogy" by a single team in a single season.

"The climbing objectives dovetail neatly into the science objectives," Athans told The Mountain Zone. "The climb to the summit is our first order of business, and to run the GPS equipment for Brad Washburn (of Boston's Museum of Science). Then we'd like to climb Lhotse, at 27,890 feet the fourth highest mountain in the world, and then Nuptse, at 25,850 feet. All of those peaks actually describe the amphitheater known as the Western Cwm, and make up an Everest Trilogy, if you will. It's never been done before, and that's frankly one of the reasons it holds interest for me."

Everest Ice Fall. In addition to climbers Athans, Crouse and Corfield, the team will include plate tectonic scientist Dave Mencin, who will oversee the science projects from Base Camp. Filmmakers Jeff and Kelly Rhoads will accompany the team to Mount Everest for the purpose of making a documentary film of the expedition.

Athans, who assisted Washburn's geographical studies in 1992 by placing laser-reflecting prisms on the summit of Everest, said the primary effort this year will be to run a more accurate GPS device on the actual summit long enough to gather definitive data.

"That will give us an exact figure for how high Everest is at this point in time," Athans said. "And that's more than just interesting, because what that might tell us is something we don't know about plate tectonics, and the rate at which the entire range is rising, or moving,” he said.

A Puja at Everest No other Western climber has more Everest summits than Athans, one of the few Western climbers who speak Nepali, so a return to the Khumbu is decidedly old hat for him. But Athans said that leading the Everest Millennium Expedition is in some ways the culmination of all the years he has spent on Everest:

"Not only do we hope to conclude the work we began for Brad in 1992, but it will give me a chance to do some shooting, some writing, to even be a part of the film that's being made in conjunction with The North Face and NBC. As expedition leader, it's also an opportunity to take the point, to be driving the decisions to get the job done, both in regard to the science work and the mountaineering."

—Peter Potterfield, Mountain Zone Staff

For more on the geo-physical science of Mount Everest, visit National Geographic Interactive