Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Everest 2014: A New Season Begins!

Last Friday marked the official arrival of spring here in the northern hemisphere, which most people see as a sign of blossoming flowers and trees, with warmer weather ahead. But of course, spring also means the start of a new climbing season in the Himalaya, which will soon become the epicenter of mountaineering activity once again. As I write this, scores of climbers are arriving in Kathmandu ahead of the start of the new season. And while their is quiet anticipation in the air there, it is also the calm before the storm.

As always, our friend Alan Arnette will be providing excellent coverage of the spring climbing season, both on Everest and beyond. A veteran of numerous expeditions to the region, Alan not only knows what it takes to summit Everest, he has a great relationship with the guides there. If you don't already have his site bookmarked, you'll want to add it to your favorites for sure. There is no better resource on the Internet for keeping track of the daily progress on the Big Hill.

This past weekend, Alan wrote a blog entry that offers insights into what is going through the minds of the climbers right now. Most are finishing up their gear prep and taking care of last minute business before they depart for Kathmandu. They're saying goodbye to friends and family, who they won't see again for two months. They're also thinking about the monumental task ahead, which will require just the right amount of physical and mental toughness, not to mention a fair bit of luck. If everything comes together as expected, and the weather cooperates, they'll get their chance to stand on the highest point on the planet in mid- to late-May.


Following that blog entry, Alan wrote another that looks at the big picture of for the season ahead. He covers a wide range of topics in that article, touching on the higher than normal media attention for Everest this year, his thoughts on adding a ladder to the Hillary Step, the change in climbing fees, teams collecting trash on the mountain, and so much more. It is a good look at some of the trends that will influence how this season will go.

Alan is certainly right in the fact that the mountain seems to be collecting lots of pre-season attention this year. Often Everest only hits the mainstream media when there are multiple deaths or some strange occurrence such as the fight between the European climbers and the Sherpas that took place last year. But this season, there seems to be media attention for just about everything that Nepal is doing leading up to the beginning of the season. For instance, the Associated Press put out this story yesterday, which summarizes a lot of the changes that climbers can expect this season, including the presence of government officials in South Side Base Camp to keep an watchful eye on what is going on there.

The same article indicates that there will be two ropes on the Hillary Step once again this year. One will be used for ascending and the other for descending. This is another attempt to to mitigate traffic jams, although the same plan last year yielded only marginal improvements. That section of the mountain is simply a bottleneck for climbers, especially when there are so many of them on the mountain.

While teams are indeed already arriving in Kathmandu, it'll be awhile before they actually reach Base Camp. On the South Side they'll face an 8-10 day trek through the Khumbu Valley that will begin their acclimatization process. Those heading to the North Side will have to wait for the Chinese to open the border to the climbers, after which they can spend a few days driving to BC. I wouldn't expect the first climbers to reach either camp until the first week of April. After that, things will start to get interesting.

At the moment, only Sherpas are on the mountain. They are busy preparing the camp for the arrival of the paying clients. On the South Side, the Icefall Doctors have already begun their work in building a path through the treacherous Khumbu Icefall, which they will maintain for the entire season. Once that path is built – using ladders and rope – the teams will be able to head up to Camp 1 and start their first rotations. But that is still some time off. For now, everyone is still in pre-game mode, as they wait to get started.

As usual, I will be posting regular updates on the Everest climbing season. There will likely be plenty to share in the days and weeks ahead. Stay tuned. This is always one of the most exciting periods on the adventure calendar.

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