Monday, April 13, 2015

Himalaya Spring 2015: Teams Arriving in Everest Base Camp, Summit Bids Delayed on Annapurna

The spring climbing season in the Himalaya is about to get a whole lot more interesting. As expected, teams began arriving in Everest Base Camp over the weekend, and while they'll take a day or two to get settled, it won't be long before they start heading up the mountain itself, or visiting nearby peaks to launch acclimatization and training rotations on other mountains. For some, the skills training has already begun, with a number of units entering the Khumbu Icefall to work on their rope skills. Others are just now arriving, but will begin the real work soon.

Amongst those expected to arrive in EBC today are Alan Arnette. He checked in from Gorak Shep – the last stop before reaching the mountain – yesterday, and shared plenty of interesting news from the Khumbu. For instance, Alan has learned that there are roughly 319 individual climbers who have received permits to climb Everest this year. With a few more teams yet to check in, that puts the numbers on par with last year. That means that the tragedy from last season, and the ensuing shutdown of climbing operations, hasn't dissuaded anyone from coming to the mountain. Of those, 109 have returned from last year, with the Nepali government honoring their permits from 2014. Also, Alan says that there are an additional 96 climbers on Lhotse as well.

Perhaps more of interest is the changing dynamic of the teams on the mountain. Traditionally, squads led by western guide services bring about 8-12 clients to Everest, but there are now Nepali owned companies who have as many as 60 people in their groups. This is, of course, an economics of scale move, allowing them to bring the price of the climb down through larger numbers. One has to wonder however if they are sacrificing safety in the process.


Even more dismaying is that Alan reports that he has yet to see any evidence of the changes that the Nepali government promised in the wake of the two disasters last year – the avalanche on Everest that claimed the lives of 16 porters, and the massive blizzard that killed 45+ trekkers last fall. After those two incidences the government promised better weather forecasting, improved communications, GPS tracking systems, and an increased presence of medical and liaison offers with the teams. In Alan's own words, these improvements have yet to materialize, making me wonder if they are just more empty promises meant to assuage the fears of potential visitors and the media that covers these events.

Alan also reports that the Khumbu Valley seems to be changing as well. He says that the staff in the teahouses don't seem as cordial as they have been in the past, and prices for food, drinks, and lodging have gone up significantly. He also says that the teahouses are more full than ever, making the common rooms far busier and more noisy in the past. That's good for business in the region of course, but it also is changing the experience of trekking to EBC too.

All of that said, once the climbing teams reach Base Camp, they'll start to focus more on the business of climbing. Soon, these reports will turn more towards status updates as they work their way up the mountain, focus on getting acclimatized, and eventually launch summit bids. That is still several weeks off however, and for now it's all about getting settled into what will be their home for the next month or so.

Meanwhile, over on Annapurna, the summit bids that were expected to begin over the weekend have been cancelled. On Friday, the weather forecasts looked very promising for the days ahead, but that changed dramatically over the weekend. Now, large storms are moving into the area, and are expected to bring as much as 5 feet (1.5 meters) of snow along with them. That will prevent anyone from going anywhere near the top, and could increase the danger of avalanches in the days ahead. So, for now, Carlos Soria, Chris Jensen Burke, and others sit in BC and wait for that ever elusive opportunity to go up.

That is all for today. I'll report more as the news warrants it. For now, most of the teams are still getting settled in Everest Base Camp, but expect the first forays through the Icefall – along the new route new less – to begin in just a few days time. Things will start to get much busier now, and the real climbing is about to begin.

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