Nepal braces for busy, es­pe­cially dan­ger­ous Ever­est climbing sea­son

Of­fi­cials say they ex­pect ‘traf­fic jam’ con­di­tions on the icy slopes used to as­cend the moun­tain

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY PRADEEP BASHYAL AND ANNIE GOWEN annie.gowen@wash­post.com Gowen re­ported from New Delhi.

kathmandu, nepal — Bri­tish moun­taineer Tim Mosedale was de­scend­ing Mount Ever­est’s treach­er­ous Khumbu Ice­fall after a re­cent ac­cli­ma­tion run when he came across a large group of in­ex­pe­ri­enced climbers strug­gling with their gear.

One even had his cram­pons on the wrong feet.

Such big groups, along with climbers try­ing to work with­out sup­ple­men­tal oxy­gen, are cre­at­ing a po­ten­tial “toxic mix” on the world’s high­est peak this year, Mosedale, who has as­cended Ever­est five times, wrote in a Face­book post April 27.

Nepal is brac­ing for a busy and es­pe­cially dan­ger­ous sea­son on Mount Ever­est after the govern­ment is­sued a record num­ber of per­mits to for­eign­ers this year — 371, the most since 1953. Add to that the num­ber of Nepali sherpa moun­tain guides, and the num­ber soars to 800.

Of­fi­cials said they ex­pect “traf­fic jam” con­di­tions on the icy slopes as mid-May ap­proaches and the moun­tain’s for­mi­da­ble winds sub­side a bit, giv­ing climbers a nar­row win­dow to try to reach the 29,029-foot sum­mit.

“On av­er­age, ev­ery climbing sea­son there are about three to four good days with ap­pro­pri­ate weather con­di­tions to al­low a safe sum­mit climb,” says Ang Tsh­er­ing Sherpa, president of the Nepal Moun­taineer­ing As­so­ci­a­tion. With 800 climbers at­tempt­ing to sum­mit within those few days, things could get prob­lem­atic, he said.

Mean­while, Ever­est Base Camp — the tent city where climbers live for sev­eral weeks to ac­cli­mate them­selves to the al­ti­tude — has con­tin­ued to grow, with more trekkers and tourists fly­ing in by he­li­copter for day trips, and some even in­dulging in cham­pagne break­fasts with a view.

Safety is a con­stant topic in the gos­sip and ru­mors of the camp, which is home to more than 1,500 vol­un­teer medics, staff and moun­taineers.

“We are of course wor­ried about the high num­bers,” said Mingma Tenzi Sherpa, a Nepali guide who has reached the sum­mit of Ever­est six times and is now lead­ing a team. “Our dis­cus­sions around base camp are of­ten fo­cused on the same is­sue: What to do if traf­fic-re­lated prob­lems oc­cur.”

Last year, he said, he and his clients were de­layed four hours on their way to the sum­mit — in­clud­ing an hour wait­ing at the bot­tom of the fa­mous “Hil­lary Step,” the nearly ver­ti­cal wall of rock and ice named after Sir Ed­mund Hil­lary where climbers as­cend on fixed ropes, one of the fi­nal chal­lenges of the as­cent.

At 28,900 feet, this is deep inside the Death Zone, where the thin air and high al­ti­tude can be es­pe­cially dan­ger­ous.

Two of his clients even­tu­ally lost toes, the sherpa said, be­cause of the chill they suf­fered dur­ing the wait, he said.

Al­ready, one climber this sea­son has died: Swiss rock climber and moun­taineer Ueli Steck fell April 30 dur­ing a train­ing run on a nearby peak.

Dan Richards, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Global Res­cue, a travel risk man­age­ment firm, said the num­ber of res­cues his firm has han­dled this year in­volv­ing climbers suf­fer­ing acute moun­tain sick­ness has in­creased by more than 50 per­cent — 35 to­tal, com­pared with 20 at the same time last year.

He thinks climbers rush­ing to beat the crowds be­fore they are ac­cli­mated may be ex­ac­er­bat­ing the prob­lem.

At higher al­ti­tudes, the body re­ceives less oxy­gen with each breath, so all phys­i­cal tasks be­come harder. Symp­toms of al­ti­tude sick­ness in­clude con­fu­sion, im­paired judg­ment, headaches, nau­sea and poor bal­ance.

The heavy traf­fic on Ever­est is more than an an­noy­ance; the wait­ing can ac­tu­ally be dan­ger­ous, said Kun­tal Joisher, an In­dian climber who reached the peak in 2016.

“Since you are mov­ing slow and spend­ing a lot of time wait­ing and stand­ing still, there is a good chance that your body and its ex­trem­i­ties would be­come cold and sus­cep­ti­ble to frost­bite,” he said. “The other prob­lem is ev­ery minute spent wait­ing and walk­ing be­hind ex­tremely slow-mov­ing traf­fic means your pre­cious bot­tled oxy­gen is get­ting wasted.”

Con­cern over safety is­sues and en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age caused by grow­ing crowds on Ever­est reached a crescendo in 2012, when a photo by a Ger­man moun­taineer of a “hu­man snake” of some of the 600 climbers trudg­ing to­ward the sum­mit on one day at­tracted world­wide at­ten­tion.

Eleven peo­ple died on the moun­tain that year, in­clud­ing three Nepali guides.

But twin tragedies — the death of 16 Sher­pas from fall­ing ice in 2014, fol­lowed by the earth­quaketrig­gered avalanche in 2015 that killed 18 peo­ple — dealt a blow to the in­dus­try, which is a huge part of Nepal’s tourism econ­omy.

Ever­est per­mits alone are bring­ing in an es­ti­mated $4.5 mil­lion, with ad­di­tional in­come to ho­tels, guides, porters and trans­porta­tion com­pa­nies, said Alan Ar­nette, a Colorado climber and Ever­est blog­ger.

In 2015, the govern­ment pro­posed mea­sures to make climbing safer, in­clud­ing re­quir­ing climbers to qual­ify first on a “smaller,” 21,000-foot moun­tain and ban­ning those younger than 18 and older than 75.

But th­ese have to be ap­proved by Cab­i­net vote or by amend­ing ex­ist­ing laws, and that has yet to happen.

“To­day, a lot peo­ple across the world think that any­one with no skills and ex­pe­ri­ence can climb Ever­est — that it’s be­come a walk in the park,” Joisher said.

PRAKASH MATHEMA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE VIA GETTY IMAGES

Trekkers in Teng­boche, Nepal, near Mount Ever­est, in the Ma­ha­lan­gur range of the Hi­malayas. Nepal is­sued 371 climbing per­mits for for­eign­ers this year — the most since 1953. Ex­perts say crowded con­di­tions could com­pound the dan­gers climbers face.

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