Outside magazine recently published a piece that proclaimed that "The Everest Exodus has Finally Begun." Meanwhile, popular mountaineering blogger – and 8000-meter summiteer – Alan Arnette has recently posted stories about the current climate on the world's tallest mountain. He's found a number of western climbing operators have either stopped guiding on Everest, or plan to in the next year or two. So, all of this begs the questions, is the bloom off the Everest rose?
If you were to look at the number of climbers heading to Everest this year, it would be easy to think that mountaineers have started to look for other challenges. After all, only a fraction of the number of climbers are headed there in 2016 as compared to recent years. But is that all that surprising considering what has happened on the mountain over the past two seasons? In 2014 we saw 16 Sherpas lose their lives in a massive avalanche, and last year's earthquake claimed the lives of 19 people. Those accidents put an abrupt end to both climbing seasons, which has obviously left some waiting for a sense of normalcy to return to the mountain. Considering the cost of an Everest climb, is it any wonder potential climbers are taking a "wait and see" approach at the moment?
There is no question that Everest is in a state of flux at the moment. New regulations and a changing atmosphere for western operators is giving rise to more locally owned guide service, who thanks to favorable regulations are able to charge clients less money, is having a dramatic impact on the business of climbing the peak. Over the next few years, it will become far more common to climb with a Nepalese guide service than a foreign one, who will most likely find themselves simply priced out of the market.
But those lower prices could eventually lead to even more climbers heading to Nepal to attempt the summit, as such an expedition will be more affordable than it has been in a very long time. We'll have to wait to see if that is the case, and it will probably take a few seasons of stability and calm, but it is a real possibility in the years to come.
And what about that Outside magazine article? Well, salacious title aside, that story is more about the struggle that long-time Everest guide David Morton has with making the decision to return. Sure, the article talks about the challenges that Nepal now faces to lure climbers back, but it is mostly about Morton's own internal struggle, and not necessarily about some mass exodus from the tallest mountain on Earth. It does make some good points about the ongoing healing process that is underway in the Everest community, but it offers little evidence that mountaineers are ready to depart Everest for greener pastures.
Personally, I think that the tragedies of the past two seasons have put the brakes on Everest for now, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It is giving us a chance to reflect on what it means to climb this mountain, and perhaps think about ways to make it safer. But honestly, the events that took place there in 2014 and 2015 are part of the risks of mountaineering. Yes, the stories are sad ones, and we still mourn for those who perished, but they died in natural disasters that can't be easily predicted or explained. In time, we'll move past those tragedies. We'll never forget them, but we will continue to climb.
I think it will take a few more seasons, before we see the larger numbers of climbers return to Everest, but they will be back. If there are a couple of years of normal climbing operations, it will show mountaineers that the mountain is safe and that it is open for business. I haven't seen any reason to think that we've lost our fascination with Everest. We've just developed a sense of caution that has tempered the enthusiasm a bit. But just for now. Things will begin to return to normal soon, in every sense of the word.