Climate change, crowding imperil route to top of Mount Everest


Pradeep Bashyal, Annie Gowen | The Washington Post

KATHMANDU, Nepal – As climbers begin to reach the summit of Mount Everest, some veterans are avoiding the Nepali side of the world’s highest peak because melting ice and crowds have made its famed Khumbu Icefall too dangerous.

Not far from the safety of the Everest Base Camp, the icefall is a climber’s first real test: a treacherous 760-yard stretch of ice with shifting crevasses that has claimed the lives of about a quarter of those who have died on the Nepali side of the mountain, including 16 Nepali guides in 2014.

Several veteran climbers and well-respected Western climbing companies have moved their expeditions to the northern side of the mountain in Tibet in recent years, saying rising temperatures and inexperienced climbers have made the icefall more vulnerable. Research by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development shows that the Khumbu glacier is retreating at an average of 65 feet per year, raising the risk of avalanche.

“The icefall is obviously a dangerous place to be, especially later on in the season and with increased temperatures experienced in the Himalayas due to climate change,” Phil Crampton of the climbing company Altitude Junkies told the Everest blogger Alan Arnette earlier this year.

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Nepali mountain guides – known as Sherpa – make the first trek through the icefall each year, installing ropes and ladders and carrying gear before the first climbers begin traveling through the icefall on acclimatizing runs in April and May. In past years, climbers would have to navigate the icefall two to three times, but now many have cut back, turning to other safer peaks with similar heights for their early training.

This year, the “icefall doctors” – as the Sherpa are called – say that they’ve constructed a safe passageway.

“There are fewer ladders compared to previous years and hardly any complex features to climb and cross,” said Ang Sarki Sherpa.

Still, many veterans are unconvinced.

“Although guides are calling it an incredibly safe route this year, multiple Sherpa have been injured (including one flown to Kathmandu with serious injuries), and there have been countless close calls for clients, guides and Sherpa,” said mountaineer Adrian Ballinger, who is leading an expedition on the Tibetan side of the mountain this year due to safety concerns. “Getting lucky (so far) does not mean the route is any safer this year.”

Ballinger and others have suggested that a helicopter be used to ferry climbers and supplies to the first camp on the mountain, Camp 1, to improve safety, as is done on other peaks such as Mount Cook in New Zealand.

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Source:: The Mercury News – Nation, World

      

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