Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Himalaya Spring 2015: Dozens of Climbers Taking Ill in the Khumbu

The 2015 spring climbing season in the Himalaya is off to an inauspicious start. Not only has the weather been dicey for much of the early going, but now we have reports that an unusually high number of climbers are taking ill on the trek to Everest Base Camp alone. While that trek does involve some altitude, it is nothing like what they will face when they reach the mountain themselves, begging the question as to why so many have already started suffering altitude sickness even as the walk the Khumbu Valley.

According to an article in the Himalayan Times more than 150 mountaineers have already received treatment for altitude sickness – including both pulmonary and cerebral edema – at EBC and in Pheriche, one of the lower villages found along the trek. A hospital is set up in that town strictly to deal with altitude sickness problems, and it seems it has seen a steady stream of visitors already this spring. In fact, an average of 15 people per day have been receiving treatment, making it a busy start to the season so far. Worse yet, an additional 15 people – including 11 foreign climbers – have had to be evacuated to Kathmandu for medical treatment.

It is not uncommon for trekkers to experience some symptoms of altitude problems while trekking in the Khumbu Valley, but these are unusually high numbers for so early in the spring. Acute Mountain Sickness is not something to be taken lightly, so when climbers begin showing signs, it is usually treated immediately, or they are sent to lower altitudes to aid with recovery. What stands out for me in this story is the surprisingly high number of people who are getting sick this season, which could be cause for concern when the teams begin going up the mountain. Typically the altitudes found int he Khumbu are not particularly challenging for someone who is hoping to climb the highest mountain on the planet, but it doesn't bode well for their success when they are having issues so early on. Lets hope that this doesn't persist, and the climbers can still get a crack at the mountain.


The Himalayan Times article also notes that there have been 30 permits issued to teams to climb the Everest from the South Side this year, and that 25 teams have already established camp in BC. Most of the climbers are still en route to the mountain however, with porters, Sherpa guides, and the support staff mostly already in place. Expect the western climbers to begin arriving steadily over the next few days.

Meanwhile, over on Annapurna the teams continue to patiently wait for the weather to improve. They got a nasty reminder of just what this mountain is capable of on Monday when an avalanche slid down the slopes and crashed into Camp 1. At the time, there were only two climbers at that point on the mountain, and they were thankfully unharmed. But the avalanche did destroy most of the camp, forcing the teams to dig out their tents and rebuild their campsites.

The weather forecasts indicate improved conditions over the next few days, but it remains to be seen if the weather window will be wide enough to allow climbers like Carlos Soria and Chris Jensen Burke to make a dash for the top. In addition to the poor weather, they will also have to watch for more avalanche activity, something that is a persistent problem on Annapurna.

That's the update from the Himalaya for today. It seems that most of the climbers are still pressing towards Everest and are taking their time on the trek. Soon they'll begin streaming into Base Camp however, and the real climbing activities will begin. Patience is the word of the day, but things will start getting very active by early next week.

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