TACOMA, Washington (AP) -- A group of American women tackling Mount Everest was forced to turn back just short of the summit.
Health problems and weather forced the final four climbers to retreat early Saturday in Nepal, just 285 feet from the summit. Another summit attempt was considered unlikely.
Minutes before they turned back, expedition leader Eric Simonson of Ashford-based International Mountain Guides reported things were fine, said his wife Erin Simonson, business manager for the trek.
"Everything was going beautifully," she told The News Tribune of Tacoma. "Twenty minutes later, I'm getting this distress call."
Midge Cross, a 58-year-old grandmother from Mazama, was part of the team. But the breast-cancer survivor turned back Friday and was not among the four women -- Alison Levine, Kim Clark, Lynn Prebble and Jody Thompson -- who made the final summit push.
The climb was billed as the first by an all-woman team attempting to summit Everest. The women were accompanied by two male guides, a male photographer and eight Nepali sherpas, Erin Simonson said.
Her husband had remained behind in camp at the 21,000-foot level, as has been his routine this climbing season.
Weather near the summit had been calm most of the day, but rapidly deteriorated as the team proceeded beyond the 28,710-foot South Summit.
They ran into problems about 6:40 a.m. Nepal time, when former heart patient Levine, of San Francisco, collapsed from exhaustion and the effects of altitude, Erin Simonson said. Guide Dave Hahn attempted to revive her, but finally determined he and two climbers from the Sherpa support team should assist her in descending the peak.
Then guide Lisa Rust developed vision problems in her right eye, and she, too, descended with another Sherpa climber.
That left three climbers from Colorado -- Clark, Prebble and Thompson -- along with guide Ben Clark, five Sherpas and expedition photographer Jake Norton.
They started along a thin ridge of snow leading to the base of a steep pitch called the Hillary Step.
Then Clark radioed that Thompson was having trouble.
At the same time, the weather began turning, with clouds forming and the wind increasing. So the last three women headed down.
Cross, who would have been the oldest woman to summit Everest, turned back Friday at about 24,000 feet. She had complained earlier in the week of fatigue related to heat-induced asthma and other diabetes-related health problems.
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