KATHMANDU, Nepal – Hundreds of mountaineers have reached the summit of Everest in recent weeks, drawing a line under two years of tragedy on the world’s highest peak.
As the brief spring climbing season drew to a close, Nepal’s famed sherpa guides – who rely on Everest for their livelihoods – said it brought fresh hope to the beleaguered mountaineering industry after fatal disasters effectively closed the peak for two consecutive years.
Gyalzen Dorje, 26, was among the 9 who reached the top first on May 11, charged with fixing ropes for climbers to use, marking his fourth Everest summit.
“It felt like we had broken the bad spell of the last two years,” said Dorje, who was on Everest when disasters wrecked the 2014 and 2015 climbing seasons.
“It’s good for our work.”
Climbers abandoned the mountain last year after an earthquake-triggered avalanche killed 18 people at Everest base camp weeks before the season was due to begin.
Only one climber reached the summit in 2014, when an avalanche claimed the lives of 16 Nepali guides on the notorious Khumbu icefall that sits above base camp, forcing organizers to cancel their expeditions.
The 2013 season was marred by a brawl between a group of Nepali guides and two professional climbers, Ueli Steck of Switzerland and Italian Simone Moro, that shocked the mountaineering community.
This year around 400 climbers, including more than 150 foreigners, have realized their Everest ambitions, although a further 3 died in the attempt.
British guide Kenton Cool led his client Robert Lucas up the 8,848-metre (29,029-foot) peak a day after the ropes were fixed, making the pair the first foreigners to scale Everest this season.
A few have set records along the way – 43-year-old Nepali mountaineer Lhakpa Sherpa came back from retirement for a seventh ascent, breaking her own world record for the maximum number of Everest summits by a woman.
Meanwhile, US climber Melissa Arnot became the first American woman to successfully summit and descend Everest without using extra oxygen.
Everest allure undimmed
The season saw three deaths, with an Australian, a Dutch and an Indian mountaineer succumbing to altitude sickness near the summit.
Two Indian climbers are still missing after losing contact with their guides.
While the casualties bring the dangers of Himalayan mountaineering into focus, they are not unusually high compared to previous years.
As climbers ascend above 8,000 meters, they enter the “death zone” – notorious for its difficult terrain and thin air – where oxygen supplies fall to dangerously low levels and make mountaineers susceptible to altitude sickness.
Despite the risks and recent disasters however, Everest’s allure remains undimmed, with Nepal issuing 289 permits to foreign climbers for the spring season.
Mountaineering is a major revenue-earner for the impoverished Himalayan nation.
An Everest permit costs $11,000 and the total cost of the climb can be anything between $30,000 and $80,000.
Nepal’s tourism chief, Sudarshan Prasad Dhakal, told Agnce France-Presse the summits signaled a recovery after last year’s deadly earthquake threatened the future of the climbing and trekking industries.
“What matters is that the season progresses normally. Everest represents Nepal, and a good season there will have a ripple effect for tourism,” Dhakal said.
The industry has reasons to be optimistic, said Alan Arnette, a veteran mountaineer and blogger.
He expects climbers to return to Everest next year following a successful season, and with the government agreeing to extend permits granted for 2014 and 2015.
“2017 is shaping up to be a record year,” Arnette told Agence France-Presse. – Paavan Mathema, AFP / Rappler.com
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