Thursday, April 24, 2014

Everest 2014: Season Over On The South Side

Following the departure of almost every major climbing team on the South Side of Everest yesterday, Nepali officials have made it official today. The climbing season on the world's tallest mountain is over. No one will climb the South Col route this year.

As usual, Alan Arnette has all of the details before pretty much anyone else. He reports that a government official finally appeared in Base Cape today to make the official declaration that the season was finished. As Alan rightly points out, that proclamation was almost a foregone conclusion considering the mass exodus that was taking place from BC yesterday. With all of the big teams heading home already, there wasn't much else to be said at this point.

With Sherpa support eroding, either by choice or default, there are few people left on the mountain to fix ropes, shuttle gear, and guide western climbers to the summit. On top of that, the Ice Doctors need to be able to maintain the route through the Khumbu Icefall, and when no one is there to do that, it is extremely difficult to proceed up. The Ice Docs were reportedly some of the most vocal about going home.

Alan indicated that the Nepali government has said that it will honor the climbing permits from this year for up to five years. That means anyone who had their expedition cancelled, can return in the future to attempt to climb Everest again. That is probably little solace at the moment, but at least not all opportunities are lost. Many of these climbers will find a way to return. It will remain an expensive proposition for sure, but at least they have the option.


What all of this means for the long term prospects for climbing on Everest has yet to be seen. The canceling of the season is probably the start of changes to come. The Sherpas clearly aren't happy with the situation, and will likely continue to press for better working conditions, compensation, and insurance. But really, the issue is the mountain itself. It is becoming more dangerous, as climate change makes accidents like the avalanche that claimed the lives of 16 Sherpas last week, potentially more common. The serac that collapsed has been there for the past several years, quite literally looming over the head of the climbers. It is the same serac that prompted Himex team leader Russell Brice to cancel his expedition back in 2012. With the way things are evolving on Everest, and the Himalaya in general, these kinds of accidents are only going to become more likely.

Over crowing on Everest remains a serious issue, and while that didn't play into the disaster as such, it could have easily become a factor. Had the avalanche occurred just a few days later, there was the potential for far more climbers to be on the Hill. The loss of life could have been far more than 16, and that number already marks the worst in the history of the mountain. There are no easy answers. People will continue to climb Everest and face the risks. But this tragedy does seem like it'll spur more discussion on how things can be improved in general. At least we have to hope that that will be the case.

All of this said, Alan points out in an update that there are some indications that there may be a few teams that will yet try to summit from the South Side, even with the official shut down. We'll have to wait for those stories to pan out, but they do seem rather unlikely. There are few climbers in the world who can summit without Sherpa support, but we'll have to wait to see what happens.

Also, it is important to point out that there are still teams on the North Side of the mountain in Tibet. While they have all obviously heard about the situation in the South, the are continue to move forward as planned. I will be following their progress closely, and providing updates in the days ahead.

I'll also continue to post updates on the situation as it evolves in Nepal. This story is far from over.

2 comments:

Clyde said...

Actually there are many, many climbers capable of climbing Everest without Sherpa support. There just aren't many climbers who go to Everest anymore because of all the tourists.

Kraig Becker said...

Good point Clyde. That is very true. Everest has been a bit of a circus before all of this went down.