Will New Rules Reduce Crowds on Mount Everest?

15 Aug

Nepal’s Ministry of Tourism announced proposed changes for guiding and climbing Mount Everest at a press conference held in Kathmandu on August 14. The new regulations would drastically cut back the number of permits issued, following a season that saw record crowds and traffic jams on the world’s highest peak, along with 11 deaths that made it the fourth-deadliest season in history.  

The government plans to present the new rules to the country’s parliament for approval in enough time for them to take effect for the spring season next year.

Here are some highlights from the 59-page report:

  • Expedition companies must have a minimum of three years’ experience organizing high-altitude climbs before guiding on Everest.
  • Climbers will have to submit proof of summiting at least one 6,500-meter (21,325-foot) peak.
  • Guide companies must charge a minimum of $35,000 per client. (My understanding is that this includes the current $11,000 permit fee.)

Officials also reiterated current rules that require climbers to have a valid health certificate and hire a trained Nepali guide.

However, there was some vague language included in the report. For example, the proposal says that “climbers to Sagarmatha and other 8,000-metre mountains must undergo basic and high altitude climbing training,” but it does not give a standard for what that looks like or how it will be regulated. 

Other areas addressed with scant details included a call for improvements in the rope-fixing process, primarily with respect to getting them installed earlier, and some type of improved weather-forecasting system. Both of these points were highlighted by the government during the 2019 spring season as a reason for the traffic jams. 

“Everest cannot be climbed just based on one’s wishes,” tourism minister Yogesh Bhattarai said at a news conference reported by The New York Times. “We are testing their health conditions and climbing skills before issuing climbing permits.”

The new price floor of $35,000 is still unlikely to deter inexperienced aspirants like doubling or tripling the permit fee would have. This seems to have been a move aimed at calming local operators, whose businesses could be hurt by a permit increase. The median price Nepali operators charged in the 2019 spring season was around $40,000, according to my polling, but deep discounts regularly took the price down to less than $30,000—or even lower.

While a step in the right direction, the two major rules can be easily bypassed and lack teeth.

The requirement of three years’ experience guiding at high altitude is something any Sherpa can claim. This falls short of actually requiring guides to be qualified by a legitimate training organization, like the Khumbu Climbing Center, or being certified by the Nepal Mountain Guide Association with International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations credentials.

As for proof of summiting an 6,500-meter peak? We’ve seen forged Everest summits before, including this season, so faking a certificate for another qualifying mountain is possible. It could create additional problems if the Nepalese government delegates it to the guides, who have a vested interest in signing clients, to verify someone’s experience. China requires climbers to have previously summited an 8,000-meter peak before climbing on the Tibet side and has an independent agency review all applications. I had hoped Nepal would follow suit. 

Most reputable guide companies like to see Everest applicants with successful summits of Aconcagua (6,962 meters) and Denali (6,168 meters); other popular peaks above 6,500 meters include Muztagh Ata (7,546 meters) and Ama Dablam (6,856 meters). The best in class require a summit of an 8,000-meter peak like Manaslu or Cho Oyu.

Whether or not these proposed rules end up taking some of the crowds off Everest ultimately comes down to enforcement. Thus far, I’ve not seen a willingness from the Nepalese government or the less reputable guiding services to do this.  

Did Three Climbers Falsely Claim to Summit Everest?

12 Jun

Three Indian climbers came home to celebrations and fanfare for summiting Mount Everest last month, but there was one problem—they allegedly never got above 23,500-foot Camp III.

Vikas Rana, Shobha Banwala, and Ankush Kasana, all from northern India, were climbing this season with the Nepalese guide company Prestige Adventure. Kasana told the Himalayan Times that the group summited the mountain, along with four Sherpas, on May 26, around 10:30 A.M., which would have made them the only people on the summit that day. (According to my records of the 2019 season, there were no summits on May 26 due to high winds.) Kasana said that they didn’t know the names of the four Sherpas and refused to share summit photos when asked by the Kathmandu-based newspaper.  

everest-wind-chart.jpg

Others on the mountain disputed the climbers’ account. Chhiring Sherpa, another climber interviewed by the Himalayan Times, said he met the three at Base Camp at 12:30 P.M. the day of the alleged summit, adding that a two-hour descent from the summit to Base Camp, covering an 11,000-foot drop in elevation over 12.5 miles and navigating such hazards as Lhotse Face and the Khumbu Icefall, was unlikely. The time required to get from the top of the mountain to Base Camp varies depending on the individual, but on average it takes about six hours just to get from the summit to Camp IV—which is still 11 miles from Base Camp. 

Ngima Norbu Sherpa, one of the guides for the climbers accused of making the false claim, said in the same story that he and the others had descended to Base Camp the day before when the Indian climbers couldn’t move above Camp III for unspecified reasons.

Outside has been unable to reach the three climbers for comment. Damber Parajuli, owner and CEO of Prestige Adventure, told Outside that his company “got the summit news just a day before debriefing, but [the climbers] are not able to give proof for it. For this reason, they will not have the certificate without the proof, which we have already informed to the concerned authority.”

Successful Everest summit bids are verified by a liaison officer from the Nepalese Ministry of Tourism, who is also tasked with monitoring a team’s compliance with the rules. Climbers are required to produce a photograph of themselves standing on the summit with a clear view of their face for the liaison to validate whether or not they reached the top.

The Nepalese Ministry of Tourism said the liaison in this case, Bishwa Bandhu Regmi, had interviewed the three climbers, accepted their summit claims, and submitted his report. But according to the newspaper report, the three didn’t have any physical evidence that they reached the top. Regmi was only at Base Camp for two days and wasn’t there on the alleged summit date. He said he did not know about the climbers’ summit details when asked by the Himalayan Times.

If these three climbers are indeed making a false summit claim, they wouldn’t be the first to do so. In 2016, the Nepalese guiding company Makalu Adventures admitted to helping a married couple from India, Dinesh and Tarkeshwari Rathod, alter photos to show them on Everest’s summit, when in fact they never made it. The two were banned from climbing in Nepal for ten years. They also lost their jobs as police officers in the city of Pune.

The 2019 Everest Death Toll Rises to 11

25 May

On Monday, a second American died on Everest, bringing this season’s death toll to 11. Boulder, Colorado, attorney Chris Kulish, 62, died after summiting the 29,029-foot mountain. Kulish was an experienced mountaineer who had completed the Seven Summits and many of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks.

He was climbing with the U.S. company Climbing the Seven Summits. The team, which consisted of four paying clients, three guides, and nine Sherpas, summited in excellent weather and was the only group to climb that day from the Nepal side.

Kulish is reported to have collapsed near the South Col a few hours after summiting. The cause of death has not been determined. The family issued a statement:

“We are heartbroken at this news. Chris, who turned 62 in April, went up with a very small group in nearly ideal weather after the crowds of last week had cleared Everest. He saw his last sunrise from the highest peak on Earth. At that instant, he became a member of the 7Summit Club having scaled the highest peak on each continent. An attorney in his day job, he was an inveterate climber of peaks in Colorado, the West, and the world over. He passed away doing what he loved, after returning to the next camp below the peak. He leaves his mother, Betty ‘Timmie’ Kulish, a younger sister, Claudia, and a younger brother, Mark.”

Last week and through the weekend, seven died on the world’s highest mountain. These 11 deaths make the 2019 season Everest’s fourth-deadliest, tying with 2006 and 1982. The most deaths ever on Everest occurred in 2015, when a deadly 7.8 magnitude earthquake triggered an avalanche

This year, 381 permits were issued, the most in history. When a weather window opened during May 21, 22, and 23, hundreds of permitted climbers and Sherpa support were scheduled to push for the summit. The rush created a bottleneck on the way to the Hillary Step and the summit, as seen in Nirmal Purja’s now-infamous viral photograph. A similar situation happened in 2012, which I wrote about in my predictions for this season.

Crowds, while not the only reason people die on Everest, slow a climber’s pace and thus increase their fatigue and use of oxygen. Some of these climbers who died spent 10 to 12 hours to get to the summit and four to six hours to get back down to the South Col. In other words, a 14- to 18-hour day in some of the world’s most inhospitable terrain. It’s rare to carry oxygen for that much time, thus forcing the Sherpas to turn down the flow or give up their own personal supply. Either way, it’s not a good situation, and it often turns deadly.

Did Red Tape Kill a Man on Annapurna?

23 May

On April 23, 2019, Wui Kin Chin and Nima Tshering Sherpa stood on top of Nepal’s Annapurna, the deadliest 8,000-meter peak in the world.

It was 4:40 in the afternoon, late in the day for a summit, and the sun was getting low on the horizon. Still, 30 other climbers accompanied the men on top of the 26,545-foot peak, 17 of whom were Sherpas hired by Seven Summits Treks, a Nepal-based guiding outfit.

The 32 climbers were not part of a unified team under a single leader, which is the usual approach on bigger budget commercial expeditions to popular mountains like Everest. Instead, the climbers had joined a single permit to share the overhead costs and expenses like base-camp cooks and fixed ropes. It’s a common tactic on the less frequently visited 8,000-meter peaks.

On this trip, Seven Summits treks had done the organizing, paired most of the climbers with a Sherpa, and then—largely—left them to their own devices. Chin had specifically requested that the outfitter hire the 31-year-old Nima to guide him up the mountain based on recommendations he’d gotten from other climbers.

A bespectacled anesthesiologist from Malaysia, Chin was a careful and meticulous man. Before taking on Annapurna, the 49-year-old had climbed all of the seven summits and 26,759-foot Manaslu, and run 41 marathons. But Chin climbed slowly to the top, and on the way down he began to lag further and further behind the rest of the climbers who’d made the summit. After descending about 2,000 feet, he ran out of supplemental oxygen. He looked lethargic, his steps becoming uneven. Finally he sat down in the snow and told his guide that he couldn’t go on. Nima’s English isn't great, and the two men had difficulty communicating. But it was clear that Chin was in serious trouble. Nima gave his client the rest of his own oxygen, and took off to get help at the next camp, about 1,300 feet below.

Chin settled in for what he hoped would be a short wait.


Though Chin had paid Seven Summits Treks to guide him up the mountain, he had also purchased a membership with Global Rescue, a New Hampshire-based company that provides emergency medical evacuations, to get him out of any life threatening situation he might encounter. (Full disclosure: I’m a Global Rescue member.)

Both companies tell different stories about what happened after Nima staggered into Camp 4, at 23,300 feet, a little after midnight. He had fallen and hurt his back on the descent to the camp and had taken much longer to get to there than he’d hoped. He relayed information about Chin’s condition down to his boss, Dawa Sherpa, at Base Camp.

Dawa is one of three brothers who founded Seven Summits Treks and currently serves as the outfit’s director. Dawa says he called Global Rescue, gave them Chin’s GPS coordinates, and asked for helicopter assistance.

But Dan Richards, the CEO of Global Rescue, says that his response team was not told precisely where Chin was and that, as far as they knew, his exact location was unknown. (Strangely, Mingma Sherpa, Dawa’s brother and chairman of Seven Summit Treks, told the The Himalayan Times, that “we will conduct an aerial search to locate the missing climber.”)

Lacking a location, Global Rescue considered the operation a search, not a rescue. It’s an important distinction. Global Rescue calls themselves a “membership” company and facilitates extractions of their members due to health issues, natural disaster, national conflicts, and plane crashes, among other events. One thing the company does not do is participate in search attempts, presumably because they can be open-ended and cost large sums of money. A clause in every member’s contract states (emphasis mine):

“Field Rescue” – The transport of a Traveling Member by ground, air, or sea to a hospital, clinic or other medical provider capable of providing care to a Traveling Member whose condition requires Hospitalization or is likely to cause serious permanent injury or death, but they are unable to get to a hospital. Field Rescue does not include any activities related to search and the Traveling Member’s location must be known.

If Chin was missing, it would be up to someone else—Seven Summits Treks or, say, the government—to find him before Global Rescue could begin a rescue.

Nevertheless, Global Rescue immediately initiated the same procedure they had fine-tuned over hundreds of Himalayan emergencies and reached out to all of their contracted helicopter companies in the country. Seven Summits Treks had asked Global Rescue to drop six oxygen cylinders at Camp 4 so they could use it to reach Chin, give him oxygen, and bring him down. But if Chin was somewhere around 24,600 feet, he was much too high for the operational flight limits of most helicopters, which top out at 23,000 feet.

Critical information about Chin’s location and who was going to go get him appears to have been either miscommunicated or ignored. Dawa says that over 30 phone calls were exchanged between the two companies but that “It took almost 24 hours [for Global Rescue] to confirm that they are not helping us.” He went on to suggest that his company would have taken charge of the rescue using their resources if Global Rescue had immediately said they couldn’t help. Global Rescue, meanwhile, says that they immediately told Seven Summits Treks that they could not help until Chin's exact location was known.

High on the mountain, Chin’s condition was getting worse.


Seven Summits Treks contacted Chin’s wife, Thanaporn Lorchirachoonkul, to let her know what was happening. Richards says that Global Rescue also called Lorchirachoonkul, who was in Singapore, to discuss a ground search operation.

Meanwhile, Seven Summits Treks and Lorchirachoonkul reached out to Simrik Air, a Nepalese helicopter company. After Lorchirachoonkul guaranteed to cover the $40,000 cost of a search and rescue, Simrik Air sent a helicopter to Annapurna to look for Chin, with the understanding that the search would be conducted at an altitude that would prevent landing, should Chin be found.

On April 25th, more than 40 hours after Nima left Chin alone on the mountain, Simrik Air’s pilot flew to where the climber was last seen and spotted him. Incredibly, he was waving at the helicopter.

“But it was too difficult to rescue him from over 7,000 meters,” the pilot told the Spanish wire service Agencia EFE. “We then flew four Sherpas to an altitude of 6,500 that day.”

The four Sherpas climbed to Camp 4 at 23,300 feet in 90 minutes, then on to Chin. It had snowed more than 30 inches and he was in bad shape. The Sherpas put him in a sled and pulled him down to Camp 3 where he was flown to Base Camp and then on Mediciti hospital in Kathmandu.

Chin was in critical condition. Two nights exposed to temperatures that dipped to -32 Fahrenheit had left his feet and hands frostbitten and he had severe respiratory problems.

On April 27, Global Rescue arranged an air-ambulance to fly him to Singapore. He died five days later in the National University Hospital.


There is a serious conflict in Nepal between evacuation companies like Global Rescue and many guides, hospitals, and helicopter companies. Tensions have been running high since June 2018, when Agence France-Presse broke the news of a massive insurance fraud scam across the country. The AFP report claimed that some trekking outfits and helicopter companies were “making multiple claims for a single chopper ride or pushing trekkers to accept airlifts for minor illnesses”

In the aftermath, an investigative committee looked into, according to the Kathmandu Post, “10 helicopter companies, six hospitals and 36 travel, trekking, and rescue agencies following complaints filed by tourism entrepreneurs.” The committee then submitted a report to Nepalese Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari that urged the government to further investigate 15 of those companies (the names of the companies were not disclosed). In one of the most striking anecdotes in the report, trekking companies were said to be purposefully tainting food with baking soda—a laxative—so that trekkers would get sick and need evacuation.  

Global Rescue works with any company in Nepal that one of their members has hired. But Richards told me they preferred not to work with Seven Summits Treks, due to what they see as a lack of transparency with helicopter maintenance and pilot training, and the overall difficulty of working with them on previous rescues.

“We will be issuing an advisory to our climbing members regarding SST,” says Celia Chase, Global Rescue’s vice president of marketing. “This will be the first time we’ve ever done this regarding any operator in our 15-year history.”

Seven Summits Treks is similarly incensed. “I do not want to say GR is not good,” Dawa Sherpa says, “but this kind of policy, confusion, and terms can put others life in danger! We cannot understand the purpose of the insurance Dr. Chin bought.”

The two companies have, however, since worked together on yet another rescue operation, this time on 28,169-foot Kangchenjunga.

 

An American Died on Everest in a Summit Traffic Jam

23 May

On May 22, one of the best weather windows of the season so far opened up on Everest, and more than 200 climbers made their push for the summit of the world’s highest peak. One of the climbers angling for the top of the 29,029-foot mountain was American Don Cash, who was climbing with Nepali-owned outfitter Pioneer Adventures. After more than 12 hours, Cash summitted along with the two Sherpas who were guiding him. 

On the descent, though, something went wrong and Cash lost consciousness. The two Sherpas quickly performed CPR and were able to revive the 55-year-old and move him down to the Hillary Step, the iconic rock feature 200 feet below the summit. After the 2015 earthquake shifted rocks on the mountain, the Hillary Step is no longer as technically challenging as it once was. But it’s still a steep snow slope that can create bottlenecks, especially when there are hundreds of people all pushing for the summit at once. When Cash and his Sherpa guides got to the Hillary Step they were forced to wait their turn for at least two hours. During the wait, Cash passed out again and took his final breaths. The cause of death is currently unknown. 

This is the third death on Everest this season. A climber from India, Ravi Thakar, died after summiting while at the South Col and Seamus Sean Lawless, of Ireland, disappeared after his summit and is presumed dead from a fall between the Balcony and South Col. There have been 12 deaths across the 8,000-meters mountains during this spring’s climbing period.

 

 

The Lives Claimed by 8,000-Meter Peaks This Season

18 May

In the last two weeks, six of the world’s tallest mountains have seen eight deaths and three climbers go missing (all of whom are presumed dead). And all of this has come before the largest summit push in Everest’s history, which is expected to begin early next week.

The deaths have occurred on Everest, Cho Oyu, Annapurna, Makalu, Kanchenjunga, and Lhotse. They’ve included one Sherpa, two people making bids without supplemental oxygen, and five Indian climbers.


Everest

An Irish climber, Seamus Sean Lawless, 39, went missing at 27,500 feet when he became separated from his group. Witnesses report that he fell near the Balcony, a key feature on the route, then disappeared. Search efforts were called off Friday, when high winds returned to the peak, though friends and family have started a GoFundMe page to help pay for continued search-and-rescue efforts.

And Indian climber Ravi Thakar died inside his tent from an altitude-related illness at the 26,000-foot South Col after summiting.

Kangchenjunga

At 28,169 feet, this mountain is known as one of the more difficult 8,000-meter peaks. This week, two Indian climbers, Biplab Baidya and Kuntal Karar, died from altitude-related issues.

Chilean Rodrigo Vivanco is presumed dead after getting separated from his group; he never arrived at camp after summiting.

Makalu

The well-known Peruvian climber, Richard Hidalgo, was found dead in his tent at 20,669 feet on Makalu. He’d spent the previous day with a Sherpa team installing a fixed line for safety. He was climbing without supplemental oxygen.

Indian climber Narayan Singh died of altitude illness at 26,900 feet.

Dipankar Ghos, 52, from Kolkata, India, is missing after he summited on Friday. 

Lhotse

Bulgarian climber Ivan Yuriev Tomov was found dead in his tent after summiting Lhotse.

Cho Oyu

Phujung Bhote Sherpa died after falling into a crevasse while fixing rope near Camp 2.

Annapurna

Chinese climber Wui Kin Chin died two days after being rescued from 27,500 feet up Annapurna, considered the deadliest of the fourteen highest peaks. He'd spent three days stranded after developing an altitude-related illness.


We’ll continue to update this article throughout the spring Himalayan climbing season.

Kami Rita Sherpa Just Broke His Own Everest Record

16 May

On May 15, Kami Rita Sherpa led an Indian team to the 29,035-foot summit of Mount Everest. It was his 23rd ascent of the world’s highest mountain—a record—and solidified the 49-year-old’s status as one of the most accomplished high-altitude climbers of all time. 

Until last year, Kami Rita shared the record for most Everest ascents with Apa Sherpa and Phurba Tashi Sherpa, with 21 summits each. But both Apa and Phurba Tashi have retired from climbing, so when Kami Rita summited for a 22nd time last spring, he took sole possession of the title

Kami Rita, who works for Nepal-based Seven Summits Treks as a senior guide, made his first Everest summit on May 13, 1994. He has summited from the Nepal side 22 times and once from the Tibet side. Since 1994, he has made 34 summits on five of the world’s 14 8,000-meter peaks. 

More Women Are on Everest Than Ever Before

2 May

For decades climbing was a male-dominated sport—it still is. But the gender gap is slowly shrinking, and many women have made significant contributions to the sport. 

This year on Everest there are more women climbers than usual. Before 2018, of the 4,738 people to have summited Everest, 605 were women—that’s 12 percent. In 2018, there were 61 women climbers on the Nepal side and 49 made it to the top, or 18 percent of the total summitters.

The 2019 records released by the Nepal Department of Tourism showed that women climbers account for 76 out of 375 permits (20 percent) issued to foreigners. China had the most women climbers with 20, followed by India (18), Nepal (six), the U.S. (four), and Lebanon, Norway, the U.K., and Greece all with three. Last year, the female summit success percentage was 80 percent, so using the same number, we can predict that we’ll see 61 summits this year, perhaps a record!

Here are some of the women to watch: American Kirstie Ennis was injured in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, and lost her left leg above the knee. As if climbing Everest wasn't difficult enough, Ennis is climbing with a prosthetic leg. South African Saray N’kusi Khumalo is making her fourth attempt at the summit and has dedicated her 7 Summits project to building libraries for schools in South Africa. Nima Doma Sherpa and Furdiki Sherpa are seeking to finish the climb to the summit their husbands never did. Furdiki’s husband died while fixing ropes in 2013 and Nima Doma’s husband died in an avalanche near the base camp in 2014. You can follow them at Two Window Expedition. Finally, professional skier Caroline Gleich, who last year proposed to her boyfriend on top of nearby Choy Oyu, is climbing for gender equality

What’s Being Done About Trash (and Bodies) on Everest

23 Apr

All is well on both sides of Mount Everest after three full weeks of the 2019 season.

As predicted, there are a record number of climbers this year: Nepal has issued 374 climbing permits to foreigners as of April 16. There are 364 people on the Tibetan side, 208 Nepalese Sherpa, 144 foreigners, and 12 Chinese climbers.

The biggest headlines so far are efforts by the Chinese and Nepalese governments to remove tons of trash that’s accumulated after decades of climbing and the debate over what to do with the bodies of climbers who have died on the mountain as shrinking glaciers expose more corpses.  

Taking Bodies Off Everest

No other topic attracts more attention around Mount Everest than dead bodies. A total of 295 people have died on both sides of the the mountain since 1924. Both Nepal and China have said that they will remove the remains of more dead climbers this year.

At least 200 bodies are spread across the mountain on various routes. Some are buried in deep crevasses. Others now rest in different places from where they died, due to moving glaciers, and a few have been intentionally moved. In 2014, the Chinese moved Tsewang Paljor, “Green Boots,” off the trail. I’m told his body is still visible but difficult to locate.

Removing bodies is physically demanding work, because over time they’ve frozen into the mountainside. It’s also controversial, because it touches on different traditions and beliefs that are often at odds with each other.

In my experience, most climbers who discuss the possibility of dying on a climb would prefer to have their body left on the peak, out of sight. However, sometimes families want the body recovered for closure, and the Sherpa and lama communities consider leaving the dead on Everest disrespectful to the mountain gods.

A 2010 effort by a Nepalese guiding company to remove bodies from the south side was halted after families of the deceased intervened to request that the remains of their loved ones stay where they died, per the climbers’ wishes. That same year, a plan to spread Sir Edmund Hillary’s ashes on the summit was halted when both the Nepalese government and local lamas interceded, arguing that Everest should not be used for publicity because the mountain is holy.

A warming planet adds to the urgency of the issue. Long-buried bodies are now exposed as glaciers melt. It’s happening all over the world’s mountains. The corpses of three climbers who died decades ago on Mexico’s Orizaba were exposed high on the volcano’s glacial slopes in 2015.

Removing Trash and Gear from Everest

In the early days, no one envisioned that there would be this many people on Everest each season, so climbers left tents, oxygen bottles, and other trash on the mountain.

That changed in the 1990s. When Adventure Consultants pioneered commercial guiding on Everest, more care was taken to remove the trash. The trend accelerated, but efforts were dwarfed by the volume of expeditions.

The 2015 earthquake was a pivotal moment for trash buildup on the mountain. Expeditions were forced to leave tents, food, stoves, and almost everything else behind when both governments closed their respective sides of Everest. When I was there in 2016, I was appalled at the sight at Nepal’s Camp II. Harsh winter winds had shredded the tents, exposing the supplies and spreading them all over the camp area in the Western Cwm.

Sadly, over the past few years, other teams have left more gear at Camp II, and climbers will see a very disturbing scene as they arrive there this year.

Those who reach 8,000 meters on either side will find a wasteland, literally. Human feces do not degrade at this altitude; they merely blow away or get stuck in the rocks. A few Western teams are starting to use blue bags to bring down solid waste, similar to a practice implemented recently on Alaska’s Denali.

The Collection Begins in Nepal

Madison Mountaineering’s Garrett Madison is overseeing the Sherpa team fixing the climbing ropes to the summit this season. Over the weekend, helicopters flew five sorties to bring in more than 1,500 pounds of gear to Camp II for that purpose. Teams took advantage of the helicopters to bring down 412 pounds of rubbish.

Multiple Nepalese government ministries, the army, and other organizations have set a goal to remove 11,000 pounds of trash from Everest and the surrounding area by the end of the season. This is a joint effort by public and private entities, with the Coca-Cola Company and WWF Nepal providing significant financial support.

There will be a 12-person team paid to collect trash, plus a cash-for-trash program. Asian Trekking has run similar programs for years, but it takes more than one team.

One encouraging report said that 2,600 pounds of waste was flown from Lukla airport to Kathmandu for recycling on the first day of the effort.

Chinese Take Steps to Keep Everest Clean

A similar effort is underway in Tibet, driven by the Chinese government. Earlier this year there was a highly publicized announcement that China would limit the number of climbers this season and require teams to carry out their waste as part of an effort to cut down on the amount of trash.

The Chinese have set up stations to sort, recycle, and break down garbage from the mountain. Climbers are also required to pay a $1,500 trash fee on top of the $9,500 fee for their climbing permit.

To cut down on the trash accumulating at the north-side base camp, China’s new rules also prohibit anyone who is not with a climbing team from traveling there. Tourists can only go as far as a monastery that lies just over a mile away from that base camp.

A Problem of Enforcement

Both China and Nepal require climbers to retrieve several pounds of rubbish or face fines, but this has never been enforced.

Commercial teams on the Nepalese side of Mount Everest pay a $4,000 trash deposit, but the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee, the organization that manages the deposit, has not been effective at enforcing this policy either. Some teams still leave trash at the high camps where there are no monitors.

Historically, neither China nor Nepal have addressed the growing problem of trash on their mountains and trails. It has been left to the operators, guides, Sherpas, Tibetans, and visitors. Hopefully, this year’s increased efforts will raise awareness that keeping our mountains pristine is everyone’s responsibility.

Deadly Crash at Lukla Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Nepal

15 Apr

On Sunday at the Lukla Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Nepal, a plane veered to the right while taking off and smashed into a parked helicopter. The crash killed the first officer of the airplane and one police officer standing near the helicopter. A second police officer was injured and later died while undergoing surgery in Kathmandu. Four other people were hurt but are now in stable condition.

The dead were identified as First Officer Sujit Dhungana, Assistant Sub-Inspector Ram Bahadur Khadka, and Assistant Sub-Inspector Rudra Bahadur Shrestha, who were on duty at the helipad. According to Summit Air’s Facebook page, there were no passengers on board. The plane hit a Manang Air AS 350 B3e helicopter that had just landed, and two passengers had disembarked moments earlier. The rotors were still moving when the collision occurred. The pilot, Chet Bahadur Gurung, was on board but not seriously injured. A second helicopter operated by Shree Airl was slightly damaged, and a small fire broke out as a result of the collision.

Nepal
(Courtesy Sky Diary Nepal)

The exact details of what caused the plane to veer from its route are unclear. A video shows that it began to go off course almost immediately as it started its roll down the runway.

The Let L-410 Turbolet, an aircraft designed for high-altitude, short runway take-offs, was flown by Summit Air, a small Nepali airline. This isn’t the first time the Let L-410 has had problems at the Lukla airport. In 2017, the same model aircraft crashed while attempting to land and there were also issues with its landing gear steering on April 16, 2018.

Lukla is the gateway to Mount Everest and Nepal’s Khumbu area. Every year, over 100,000 people, many of them climbers and trekkers, fly into the airport. Most teams on Everest take a fixed winged airplane from Kathmandu to Lukla, but the flights are notorious for being canceled at the last minute. The runway sits at 9,400 feet on top of a 2,000-foot cliff and ends where a high mountain wall begins. Lukla-bound flights have become infamous for crashes with seven since 2000, killing over 50 passengers and crew. There is no safety cushion for a missed landing or equipment failure.