Since 1953, when Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay successfully reached the summit of Mount Everest, explorers and adventures from around the globe have set their sights on the world’s tallest mountain.
At 29,035 feet, Mount Everest has claimed the lives of almost 300 people since 1923 when George Mallory and Andrew Irvine perished on the mountain. The climbing seasons were suspended in 2014 after an avalanche in the Khumbu Icefall killed 16 Sherpas and again in 2015 after an earthquake triggered an avalanche killing 19 people at Everest Base Camp.
Imagine: after two days hard trekking, finally you see it. Jagged, snow-shrouded, and utterly awe-inspiring – Everest rises ahead. So far on this epic Himalayas expedition, you’ve climbed to 3400m. You’re hot, dusty and have eleven more days hiking ahead – traversing mountain trails, skirting glaciers and bunking down in teahouses. You’ll grow used to wet-wipe washes, a symbiotic relationship with odd pieces of gear, and friendships forged in unforgiving environments. Your objective is Everest Base Camp. Snow-fringed and framed by fluttering prayer flags, it sits at a testing 5346m at the foot of the Khumbu Icefall.
Expedition leader Jo Bradshaw takes new adventurers on this journey to Base Camp every year these days through worldwide tour company 360 Expeditions (360-expeditions.com) (she summited Everest itself in 2016). As part of our new ‘Ask an expert series,’ we got in touch with Bradshaw to ask about Everest, the unique challenges of trekking through the Himalayas, and some essential gear and tech tips.
Jo, you’ve led 10 trips to Everest Base Camp – what do people get from them?
JB: They’re about so much more than just a trek. They’re challenging. But difficult is good because it makes you stronger. It’s about getting out of your comfort zone, going 12 days without a proper shower, being with a group of strangers, surrounded by incredible culture in the most famous mountain region in the world. These treks broaden people’s horizons because they take us away from the comforts of home and put us in the land of simplicity.
Nepal is hoping to welcome tourists back to the country in time for the next trekking season in the autumn
Nepal is hoping to welcome tourists back to the country in time for the next trekking season in the autumn, with attractions being rebuilt and trekking routes in the foothills of Mount Everest reopening.
Following the recent devastating earthquakes that killed more than 9,000 people, most hotels and restaurants in Nepal shut down, tourism numbers fell significantly and thousands of porters were left out of work.
“It has been hard,” said Sujan Sijapati, operations manager for Intrepid Travel in Nepal. “The earthquake meant that the season finished early and we’ve already written off the coming month to focus on rebuilding for the coming season.”
Two trekking routes, including the popular Langtang trekking route, were closed and hotels damaged in the quakes on April 25, the worst natural disaster in the country since 1934, and its aftershock on May 12, which destroyed nearly half a million houses and left thousands without food or water.
The aftermath saw holidays cancelled for May, before spreading to the rest of the year. Relief and aid workers were soon filling the hotels left empty by tourists.
There is hope for the next season however, with tourism experts and officials suggesting that the effect of the Gorkha quake will not be long term.
Most trekking routes are still intact and could all be reopened by the autumn.
Several of the heritage sites damaged in the Kathmandu Valley are reopening this month, the Nepali Times reports, with Boudhanath stupa, Budanilkantha and Pashupatinath temples, among those that have been declared safe.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of hotels are apparently being restored as they did not suffer structural damage.
“People are keen for tourists to return – not just hotels and tour operators, but restaurants, gear companies, even those in remote areas rely on tourism. Now there is no work at all,” said Mr Sijapati.
He explained that most tourism companies are privately owned by Nepalese people on a local scale, and so he expects they will have a tough time.
“People have been traumatised, but you can’t cry all the time. People are united to work together to overcome the national crisis.
There is a strong sense of patriotism. Things are getting better and becoming more normal. Schools have opened. People are quite positive, they have started laughing and partying and voluntarily clearing debris. There is a strong sense of unity to rebuild Nepal.”
The UN’s World Food Programme revealed last week that thousands of out-of-work porters are being hired to deliver aid to the most remote parts of the quake.
Ang Tsering Sherpa, president of Nepal’s mountaineering association, said the scheme would “support the livelihoods of mountain communities who are facing great problems because of the quake”.
He said: “This is the time to help the Nepalese people. If you are serious about helping Nepal, don’t just give money, come to Nepal as a tourist.”
Independent assessments are being carried out to determine which trekking routes should reopen. Intrepid said it is working with independent safety experts and other government and industry organisations to start an infrastructure assessment on areas like Annapurna.
Mr Sijapati said that travellers he meets on the ground in Nepal seem eager to help a country focused on rebuilding itself.
Intrepid has launched a million pound fundraising campaign that will see all profits from the company’s next season of Nepal trips donated to local and international charities working to rebuild it.
The adventure travel specialist is also running three charity treks in the autumn, including one to Everest Base Camp.
The earthquake triggered avalanches that killed at least 18 people and injured 61 more at climbing camps in Mount Everest, the AP reported.
Most of the fatalities occurred in Nepal, but there are also reports of victims in India, Bangladesh, and Tibet and along the Nepal-China border.
Dharahara Tower, a popular historical landmark in Kathmandu, built in 1832 and recognized by UNESCO, collapsed in the quake. The AP reported that hundreds of people buy tickets to ascend to the top of the watchtower on weekends.
Officials say the death toll will rise
The true devastation from the quake, which struck around noon, won’t be known for some time, as rescue workers continue to wade through the rubble, particularly in the heavily populated Kathmandu Valley — where, according to the AP, building quality is often low. Home Ministry official Laxmi Dhakal has said the death toll will rise.
To make matters worse, further earthquakes and aftershocks have made rescue operations difficult.
“There have been nearly 100 earthquakes and aftershocks, which is making rescue work difficult,” Kathmandu district chief administrator Ek Narayan Aryal told the AP. “Even the rescuers are scared and running because of them.”
The AP reported that at 7.8, the initial earthquake was considerably more powerful than the one that devastated Haiti in 2010, and the same magnitude as the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.
But it falls bellow Nepal’s worst recorded earthquake in 1934, which measured at 8.0 and ravaged the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Patan.
Avalanches killed and injured mountain climbers
German climber Jost Kobusch posted horrifying footage of an avalanche that reportedly hit a Mount Everest base camp in the wake of the initial earthquake. In the video, someone says,
“The ground is shaking,” before a wall of snow overwhelms a camp with dozens of tents. Two people are shown taking cover from the avalanche as they’re pelted by ice and snow.
They then walk around, showing the remains of the leveled camp.
Avalanches killed at least 18 people and injured at least 61 more in Nepal over the weekend, the AP’s Gurubacharya and Daigle reported. But Kobusch survived, according to CNN.
Beyond the toll on human life, disasters like this earthquake greatly strain impoverished countries like Nepal.
The South Asian country’s economy relies heavily on tourism from trekkers and mountain climbers, many of whom are attracted to Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world.
Experts warned of a tragic earthquake in Nepal a week before it happened
One week ago, experts warned Nepalese officials of the type of earthquake and aftershocks that hit the Asian country over the weekend. The AP’s Seth Borenstein reported:
Just a week ago, about 50 earthquake and social scientists from around the world came to Kathmandu, Nepal, to figure out how to get this poor, congested, overdeveloped, shoddily built area to prepare better for the big one, a repeat of the 1934 temblor that leveled this city. They knew they were racing the clock, but they didn’t know when what they feared would strike.
Seismologist James Jackson, head of the earth sciences department at the University of Cambridge in England, told the AP that he didn’t expect such a huge earthquake to hit so soon, but experts were warning that something like it was possible.
Not only is Nepal on top of a natural seismic fault, but local infrastructure is so poorly built to resist earthquakes that the tremors can lead to far more casualties than they would in other places across the world.
US Geological Survey seismologist David Wald estimated to the AP that the same level of severe shaking would lead to 10 to 30 deaths per million residents in California but kill 1,000 or more in Nepal and up to 10,000 in parts of Pakistan, India, Iran, and China.
“They knew they had a problem,” Hari Kumar, southeast Asia regional coordinator for GeoHazards International, which works on global earthquake risks, told the AP, “but it was so large they didn’t where to start, how to start.”
According to the Associated Press, the chief of Nepal’s mountaineering association says that human sewage has become a critical problem on Mount Everest, urging his country’s government to make visitors properly dispose of their shit and piss.
“Climbers usually dig holes in the snow for their toilet use and leave the human waste there,” Ang Tshering Sherpa told reporters on Tuesday, saying that feces have been “piling up” for years.
Mountaineer Dawa Steven Sherpa—who leads cleanup expeditions on Everest—agreed, telling the news agency, “It is a health hazard and the issue needs to be addressed.”
Two climbers and their guide were killed near the Aiguille du Midi peak of Mont Blanc last week, after falling an estimated 2,600 feet to their deaths on Europe’s highest mountain.
It was just the latest tragedy on Mount Blanc. Earlier this month, six others died when they were caught in bad weather.
The number of climbers who have died or gone missing on Mont Blanc since the climbing season began in June has now reached 20, making this the deadliest year for climbers on the mountain in more than a decade.
The deaths on Mont Blanc reflect a broader trend: as more inexperienced climbers attempt to scale the world’s highest mountains, fatal accidents are becoming far more frequent.
Elsewhere this year, 19 people have died trying to scale Mount Everest in the Himalaya mountain range, and there have been six fatal accidents on Mount Rainier in Washington.
“It’s a huge issue,” says Adriane Balinger, a mountain guide and the founder of Alpenglow Expeditions. “In the last 10 years. there has definitely been an increase in climbers taking on the big mountains of the world.”
Mont Blanc safety organization La Chamoniarde said the increase in inexperienced climbers has become a significant problem as up to 400 people now make the climb each day at the height of the climbing season.
“The number of people climbing Mont Blanc without experience is increasing,” said Christophe Boloyan, president of La Chamoniarde.
“Maybe it is because of everything people see on the Internet that makes them think it’s possible.”
In addition to the safety risk they pose, inexperienced climbers also create problems for local governments, whose resources are strained by rescue missions.
In France, the rescues are funded by local taxes, and some politicians are campaigning for changes in regulation. Jean-Marc Peillex, a mayor of a nearby city, has even advocated for climbers to pay for their own rescue.
During the peak climbing season in July and August, local gendarmes have to make up to 15 rescues on Mont Blanc each day, according to La Chamoniarde.
French officials and mountain guides criticized American climber Patrick Sweeney when he recently tried to make the climb with his 9 and 11-year-old children in an attempt to break a world record.
After avalanches nearly knocked them off the mountain — footage of which Sweeney later posted on YouTube — the entire group had to be evacuated.
“Such acts do not deserve publicity on television, but an exemplary sanction for this reckless father for putting life in danger,” Peillex said in a legal complaint.
Sweeney’s rescue, and similar high-profile incidents this season, have renewed calls for more climbing rules. Peillex said the mountain is becoming “an amusement park where we’re going to have gendarmes, rescuers and Pamela Anderson to save us,” The Telegraph reported. “Mont Blanc is for serious mountaineers,” he said. “It isn’t a trek or a playground for record-breakers.”
Balinger, the mountain guide, said there are similar issues on Mount Everest, where protocol for rescues are less clear. He said rescue teams he hires for his own clients often have to come to the aid of other inexperienced climbers in danger.
“Whenever accidents happen, people expect us to help,” he said. “Ethically and morally we feel inclined to help. But it takes away our ability to help our own clients.”
Balinger said the increase in amateur climbers is not necessarily negative, but that more regulation needs to be put in place to ensure safety.
“I’m all for new people with no experience climbing,” he said. “That said, I would like to see them doing it in the right way, with certified guides.” (Balinger himself is a certified guide.)
In response to the crisis on the mountain, La Chamoniarde has created an online guide, stressing education and preparation for people seeking to make the trek. Though such guides are helpful, experienced mountaineers caution that climbing will never be risk-free.
“The mountains are dangerous and always will be,” Balinger said. “I think accidents and fatalities will always be a part of climbing — and should be a part of climbing. The element of risk is what makes them so unique and powerful.”