Everest climbing season extended to June 3, in a rare event, as scores wait for weather to clearNepal’s spring mountaineering season ends in May as the summer heat melts ice on the mountain and makes climbing dangerous. But with the snow over the last few days there is no risk, officials say.
In an extremely rare move, Nepal has extended the spring mountaineering season to climb Everest to June 3 as scores of climbers are still waiting for fair weather to make their bid to reach the summit of the 8,848.86-metre peak.
The season traditionally ends at the end of May but two back to back cyclones in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal have disrupted climbing activities.
Mira Acharya, director at the Department of Tourism, the agency responsible for issuing climbing permits, said that the department on Friday decided to allow the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee to extend the closing date of the spring Everest climbing season.
“As there are many climbers who have completed their acclimatization and are waiting for good weather at Everest base camp [5,300 metres] and Camp 2 [6,400 metres], we have decided to give them a chance to make their summit bids after reassessing the weather forecast which had been expected to be favourable at the end of May,” said Acharya.
Since 1997, the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee has been entrusted with the task of preparing the climbing route through the Khumbu icefall up to Camp 2 during the climbing season.
This year, amid Covid-19 pandemic, Nepal issued a record 408 climbing permits. With each climber hiring one guide, the total number of climbers was expected to be more than 800.
According to expedition outfitters, around 350 climbers have reached the summit so far, the last of them summiting on May 26 and the first of them on May 7.
But there are still around 250 climbers who are waiting at the base camp and Camp 2 waiting for the weather to improve, according to officials and outfitters.
Nearly 200 climbers have abandoned their climbs citing risk of coronavirus infections amid shortage of sherpas.
Exact figure on how many climbers have been affected is not available, but according to expedition outfitters, most of the infected are the sherpas, whose number is estimated to be more than three dozen.
Although the weather was reported to be fine for climbing on May 20 and 21, the plan was affected because of Cyclone Tauktae on the Arabian Sea.
Then came Cyclone Yaas, which wreaked havoc on east Indian coastal states earlier this week and has left various parts of Nepal also drenched in rain. Meteorologists have predicted more adverse weather conditions across Nepal for the next few days. Nepal’s Home Ministry in a notice on Thursday had asked expedition agencies to immediately return from the mountains.
But on Friday, the Tourism Department issued a statement that all people in the Everest region are fine although weather has been causing havoc, mostly for the people stationed at Camp 2.
Nepal’s spring season generally ends at the end of May as after that the four-month-long monsoon season begins and the government’s decision could be a breach of mountaineering safety protocols. However, officials said since there has been a heavy snowfall in the Everest region since May 25, it does not raise significant risks.
“This decision has been made in consultation with the Department of Tourism and Expedition Operator's Association considering the adverse weather conditions in Everest region due to the effect of Cyclone Yaas. We request all expedition teams at the Everest base camp and Camp II to remain safe,” the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee committee said in its notice issued on Friday.
It’s highly risky to walk around the Khumbu Icefall route in June because millions of tonnes of icefall start to melt in the summer heat. The section, which is also the route to the 8,516-metre Lhotse, the world’s fourth-highest peak and the 7,861-metre Nuptse, passes over deep crevasses.
On April 18, 2014, an overhanging wedge of ice on the western spur of Everest broke, resulting in an ice avalanche that killed sixteen climbing Sherpas on the Khumbu icefall. Thirteen bodies were recovered while three of the bodies were buried beneath the frozen debris and never found.
This was the same icefall where the 1970 Mount Everest disaster had taken place. On April 5, 1970, an ice-fall avalanche in the Khumbu icefall killed six sherpas.
But due to the winter-like situation even in summer this year with the heavy snowfall, Khumbu icefall route would not pose a risk, according to Ang Tshering Sherpa, former president of Nepal Mountaineering Association.
“After May 30 normally the icefall doctors start dismantling the route across Khumbu icefall announcing the end of the spring season because it’s too risky to climb in June,” said Sherpa. “When the ice melts in the icefall section due to summer heat, there are high chances of avalanches when the lower sections develop cracks.”
He, however, said that since there has been a heavy snowfall on Everest, the icefall route would not be affected much this year.
“The snowfall on Everest makes climbing easy,” he said.
In every climbing season, icefall doctors – highly skilled and experienced Sherpas of the committee—fix ropes and aluminum ladders to prepare the route.
According to the Tourism Ministry data, successful climbs on Everest in June have been rare.
On June 2, 2005, an American David C Morton, two Brazilians Waldemar Niclevicz and Iravan Gustavo Burda and a Nepali Pemba Chhori Sherpa had climbed Everest from the Nepali side—the first such climb.
In the same year, on June 5, American climbers Claybourne Fox Clarke, Daniel Lee Mazur and two Nepalis Tenji Sherpa and Lakpa Sherpa had also reached the summit.