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