A safer route without having to cross the treacherous icefall would remove a great deal of anxiety among Everest climbers
French climber Marc Batard needs no introduction. Nicknamed the 'Sprinter of Everest', he holds the distinction of being the first person to climb Everest in less than 24 hours – in 22.5 hours – without bottled oxygen in 1988. He has also climbed the 8,848-m peak eight times, six times on the south side and twice from the Tibetan side. He turns 70 next year, and will return to the world's tallest peak next spring.
When he climbs the peak for the ninth time next year, he will also be the oldest person to stand on the summit of Everest without oxygen support. But before he embarks on the expedition, he intends to explore an alternative route, other than the dangerous Khumbu Icefall, to reach Camps I and II from Base Camp. For this, Batard will train a group of high altitude climbers in September-November to help in the route's exploration, possibly beneath the face of Mt Nuptse.
The safety of the climbers on their way to the summit is a major concern during expeditions via the south col, and a safer route above the Base Camp, without having to cross the treacherous icefall, would remove a great deal of anxiety among climbers.
More than 40 climbers have so far died in the Khumbu Icefall, situated at 5,486 metres on the Nepali slopes of Mount Everest, not far above Base Camp. This is about a quarter of all deaths that have taken place on Everest during expeditions till date. The worst disaster took place early in the morning of April 18, 2014, when 16 Nepali climbers, mostly Sherpas, were killed by an avalanche in the Khumbu Icefall. Nine others sustained trauma injuries.
They were preparing the route through the icefall for the spring climbing season when the avalanche engulfed them.
While negotiating across the icefall, climbers face multiple hazards, which include falling into a crevasse, avalanches crashing on them or sections of the icefall collapsing.
Climbers ascend the icefall early in the morning when it is still frozen from the nighttime cold. Once the glacier forming the icefall begins to melt with the rising sun, crossing it becomes difficult and risky.
While an experienced climber will make it through the icefall in a few hours, it could take upto 12 hours for an unseasoned one.
An alternative route to Camp I and II, other than the one through the Khumbu Icefall, will certainly give a boost to mountaineering on the world's tallest peak. We could even see a surge in expedition and mountaineer numbers on Everest once the pandemic subsides. But do we want large numbers of expeditions at the cost of the environment and the traffic jams of climbers one sees on the summit year after year? Everest has come to be known as the world's highest garbage dump, where trash of all kinds, tents, even remains of a helicopter that crashed there, and hundreds of bodies lie strewn along the route at different altitudes. Instead of allowing anyone with money to climb the peak, it should be strictly restricted to professional mountaineers. There are tourists who fly to the high camps on Everest in helicopters and then climb the peak with the help of Sherpas. As Batard has said, mountaineering is a different sport, and you need to respect the norms.
Even though the government has decided to impose prohibitory orders in the Kathmandu Valley and other districts hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic beginning Thursday, a cabinet meeting held on Tuesday has allowed domestic airlines to operate flights by adhering to the prescribed health protocols.
This decision will give much relief to those who need to travel to their destinations even during the imposition of the prohibitory orders necessary to break the chain of infections.
The government decided to allow the domestic airlines to operate their flights after the airline companies convinced the government authorities that the domestic flights were relatively safe, and they would also strictly follow the health protocols. With this decision, the people carrying air tickets and ID cards will be allowed to reach home from the airports.
The airlines have also announced additional flights from the federal capital to the major cities targeting the period of the prohibitory orders. However, airfares have gone up due to the high number of passengers wishing to travel from Kathmandu. The government, must therefore, strictly monitor whether the private airlines operators are charging more airfares than usual.
A version of this article appears in the print on April 29, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.