NEWS & VIEWS

News of the spring sea­son on Ever­est, a look at Hong Kong’s live reef food fish trade and more.

Action Asia - - CONTENTS -

THOUGH OF­FI­CIAL NUM­BERS had yet to be re­leased at time of pub­li­ca­tion, Ever­est chron­i­cler Alan Ar­nette has counted at least 700 suc­cess­ful sum­mits of the moun­tain in the 2018 sea­son from Nepal and China sides. If con­firmed, this would outdo the record of 667 set in 2013. The longer weather win­dow of 11 days – rather than the nor­mal three to four – is likely the sin­gle big­gest fac­tor in making it a record-break­ing year. The num­ber of suc­cess­ful at­tempts is prob­a­bly also in­flu­enced by ap­par­ent changes in the Hil­lary Step after the 2015 earth­quake: many ob­servers say this iconic fi­nal climb­ing ob­sta­cle on the Nepalese side of Ever­est is now eas­ier than be­fore. Among the throng of sum­mi­teers were a strong Hong Kong con­tin­gent, led by John Tsang making his fourth sum­mit, along with Wong Wai Kin, Ray­mond Ko and Ben­jamin Chan (among those shown be­low right). Chan, 19, be­comes the youngest Hong Konger to reach the top. Hong Kong-based Michael To­mordy also made it up. Sadly, as ever, there were also at least 10 deaths, in­clud­ing Christo­pher Lam from Hong Kong, who died of High Al­ti­tude Cere­bral Edema at Base Camp. Ad­dress­ing the death toll is the aim of a raft of new mea­sures from the Nepal Gov­ern­ment that have di­vided opin­ions. The gov­ern­ment failed to re­spond to re­quests for com­ment, but ac­cord­ing to The Hi­malayan Times news­pa­per, the lat­est rules ban solo, blind and dou­ble am­putee climbers, though the rul­ing is still be­ing re­viewed by the na­tion’s high­est court on claims of dis­crim­i­na­tion. Chi­nese dou­ble am­putee, Xia Boyu, 69, took ad­van­tage of this le­gal win­dow to sum­mit this year. Time Mag­a­zine says Xia lost both lower legs after suf­fer­ing frost­bite in a prior failed Ever­est ex­pe­di­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the new laws, all climbers must also hire lo­cal Nepalese high-al­ti­tude guides and have prior moun­taineer­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. They also de­mand more life in­surance for li­ai­son of­fi­cers, base camp work­ers and climb­ing guides. A num­ber of Ever­est ex­perts and blog­gers at­tribute the gov­ern­ment’s re­ac­tion to Swiss climber Ueli Steck’s death and over­whelm­ing com­plaints of over­crowd­ing last year. Dr Steve Mock, Di­rec­tor of Sherpa climb­ing school Khumbu Climb­ing Cen­tre in Nepal said the new laws are “non­sen­si­cal” and “sound like they’re made by peo­ple who have no knowl­edge of what’s go­ing on.” “Most of the peo­ple go­ing up are not go­ing up solo, they’re go­ing with guides; and the 1% who are – like Ueli, who wasn’t climb­ing Ever­est by the way – they don’t need a guide, they are guides them­selves and are prob­a­bly a few of the best. The no­tion that [Steck] didn’t know what he was do­ing is lu­cra­tive. “The other thing about dou­ble am­putees and blind peo­ple – I am not sure they’re en­forc­ing that. The laws just sound like pub­lic over­re­ac­tion out of some sense of con­cern, but it doesn’t seem to be all that log­i­cal,” he said, adding that though he un­der­stands the law of hir­ing lo­cal guides stems from an in­ter­est of pro­tect­ing the labour mar­ket, most ex­pe­di­tions al­ready em­ploy

Nepalese Sher­pas. How­ever, he ap­plauds the rule for upping in­surance for sup­port staff, which pre­vents tour groups – es­pe­cially ones op­er­ated by Asian own­ers, says Mock – from cut­ting cor­ners on ad­e­quate pro­tec­tion for their staff in or­der to un­der­cut the com­pe­ti­tion on price. Though the new rules are ar­bi­trary, Mock says it’s prob­a­bly a good ef­fort from the Nepal gov­ern­ment, given that safety is not gen­er­ally a pri­or­ity in its cul­ture. In its capital Kathmandu, for ex­am­ple, he says peo­ple “die daily from car ac­ci­dents,” due to a lack of traf­fic lights and signs as well as the num­ber of pot­holes in the road. “We don’t have a pop­u­la­tion that un­der­stands [safety], so to try to im­pose re­quire­ments on a moun­tain seems daunt­ing to me. They’re wor­thy goals but they’re go­ing to be dif­fi­cult to en­force.” The com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion and crowd­ed­ness of Nepalese Ever­est are driv­ing a grow­ing num­ber of climbers to the north­ern Chi­nese side, says Daniel Nash, Founder and President of Sa­tori Ad­ven­tures and Ex­pe­di­tions. Growth has been es­pe­cially ev­i­dent in the past three years, he says: in 2018, the ra­tio of his clients climb­ing from the North ver­sus the South is 40:60. While cheaper per­mits of­ten spark ini­tial in­ter­est in the North – though Nash says they’re catch­ing up to Nepalese price tags lately – he at­tributes the re­cent pop­u­lar­ity to bet­ter in­fras­truc­ture, such as more ho­tel and restau­rant op­tions in pre-base camp vil­lages such as Tin­gri, Zhangmu and Nyalam. He says China has also loos­ened its sign-up cut-off times and last-minute ac­cess bans. “In the past, not so much with Ever­est but more with Choyu and Shisha­pangma, the Gov­ern­ment would tell us after we’ve signed up that they’ve changed their minds and no one is al­lowed up those moun­tains now. But they’re be­com­ing more user-friendly. It won’t sur­prise me if the ra­tio [of climbers] even­tu­ally be­comes 50:50,” he says. “But peo­ple aren’t stupid, they’ve heard what hap­pens in China so they’ll al­ways ask us for a back-up plan.” Tech­ni­cally, the North side is more ex­posed and windier than the South, though it does avoid the haz­ards of Nepal’s in­fa­mous Khumbu Ice­fall, a jumble of glacial ice that skids down­hill con­tin­u­ally and must be ne­go­ti­ated up and down sev­eral times over the course of a sum­mit at­tempt. He­li­copters are also not al­lowed to fly into Ti­betan airspace, even for res­cues.

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