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Swedish ski-adventurer Tomas Olsson, 30, was found dead by sherpas over the weekend after he was reported missing May 16 by his Norwegian expedition partner Tormod Granheim. The two experienced expedition skiers were attempting a first descent of Mt. Everest’s dreaded North Face when Tomas Olsson fell while rappelling a 150-foot cliff at 27,900 feet. His body was found at 22,000 feet.
After the two descended from the summit they entered a 15-foot couloir. Photographer Fredrik Schenholm aided the two skiers from 23,300 feet via radio. “It’s very difficult to see the couloir from below 8,000 meters (26,250 feet), Granheim told Norwegian TV2 Nettavisen shortly after the accident. “There wasn’t a lot of snow and Tomas’s ski cracked behind the binding.
Entering a snowfield further down, they tried to fix the ski using tape to make it more stable.
“Below the snow field, we came on a cliff, about 150 feet high. It was impossible to ski, so we decided to rappel, Granheim said.
Granheim led from the summit to the cliff, but Olsson went down the rope first, still wearing skis on his feet. They failed to find rocks to bolt to, so they were forced to use snow anchors.
“It was foggy during the rappel, so I didn’t see when he fell. But it happened 30 to 40 feet from the bottom, Granheim said. “When I came down later, I couldn’t see any trace of Tomas trying to self-arrest. That could mean he was already unconscious. I found his gear scattered all the way down to 600 meters (2,000 feet) below the cliff.
Climbers who are familiar with the area say it’s so steep that a fall, unless halted by rocks, is likely to end at the base of the mountain, nearly 10,000 feet below.
Granheim decided not to risk rappelling. “I spent more than an hour searching for a solid anchor without success, and decided to free climb instead.
Unable to locate his partner, Granheim decided it was pointless to conclude the first descent attempt down the North Wall. Instead he skied down the Norton Couloir and traversed over to the North Ridge. “I was on my skis the whole way since I’m a skier, not a climber, Granheim said.
The North Face is considered much more technical than the North ridge where the classic climbing routes are found.
Olsson and Granheim spent the winter skiing technical faces such as the 60-degree Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix. The two climbed and skied Tibet’s Cho Oyu (26,906 feet) in 2004 and China’s Kuksay Peak (23,576 feet) and Muztagh Ata (24,757 feet) the year before.
Marco Siffredi snowboarded the Norton Couloir in 2001 and disappeared during a descent of the steep Hornbein Couloir the following year. The only complete ski descent from summit to base camp belongs to Davo Karnicar who successfully skied the south side on October 7, 2000.
Sources: TV2 Nettavisen (www.nettavisen.no), EverestNews.com, and MountEverest.net