Kathmandu has become flooded with climbers in addition to the normal spring trekkers. The hotels are full, the restaurants noisy and an overall feeling of anticipation in the air.
Everest 2017 is well underway and it appears Nepal’s tourism industry has recovered from earthquakes, strikes and embargos.
Each weekend during the season I will try to post a “Weekend Update” summarizing the main stories for the past week.
The headlines this week are all about climbers flying into Kathmandu and some starting the trek to base camp and that the Icefall Doctors have the route to Camp 1, VERY early which might help reduce crowds IF the early teams take the opportunity to begin the acclimatization process and go for summit in early to mid May IF the weather allows.
Most climbers will not begin serious climbing on either side until mid April. But of course a few people will break ranks and go very early and very late with the season ending around June 1.
A Busy Spring in Nepal
This Spring will be busy with record summits expected on Everest from both Nepal and Tibet. There could be 1,000 climbers (foreigners and Sherpas) on Everest from Nepal alone. Also look for huge crowds on the normally low volume Lhotse and the other Nepal 8000ers of Dhaulagiri, Makalu and especially Kanchenjunga will see many teams.
For most teams, the action starts when they arrive at their hotel in Thamel. The next big event is the flight from Kathmandu to Lukla to begin the trek to EBC. Early reports have the teahouses overflowing, which s great for the local economy.
White Knuckles at Lukla
Teams climbing from Nepal fly into Lukla at 9400’ and finish at EBC at 17,500’. While it is only 30 miles, it is the altitude that makes for the slow going. The general rule of thumb for acclimatizing is to gain about 1000’ a day to allow the body to adjust to the thinner air but most teams go faster than that.
The air quality around Kathmandu has been poor this spring resulting in delayed flights into Kathmandu and to Lukla but that is somewhat normal. The Lukla flight is one of the milestones of an Everest climb. Many climbers have posted videos of their landing and of takeoffs from the very short runway. It has been a safe year thus far with multiple dispatches speaking of uneventful landings at the infamous airstrip.
Luka, now named the Tenzing-Hillary Airport has a deadly reputation. There have been several accidents over the years including the tragic death of 18 trekkers in October 2008 when the Yeti Twin Otter snagged its wheels on a security fence and crashed at the airport. However, in recent years, there have been no incidents with fatalities.
This one of my videos of landing in Lukla.
Everest Base Camp Takes Shape
Sherpas have been at the south base camp for several weeks building tent platforms, erecting the cooking/dining tents and starting to build the multiple helicopter pads, an annual event given base camp is on a moving glacier.
IMG is traditionally one of the first to arrive but that is primarily due to their huge team of over 100 including members, Sherpas and base camp staff. IMG “claimed” their large site on 4 January 2017!
The Icefall Doctors have been there for weeks, more on that later.
This is a video tour of Everest Base Camp (EBC) I took last year during my Lhotse attempt. This year will be similar but with even more tents.
Icefall Route Questions
One more comment on the Icefall. During Alex Tixkon’s winter attempt only a few weeks ago, a few of the Icefall Doctors helped set the route to Camp 2. It was apparently set close to Everest’s West Shoulder, similar to the pre-2015 location. Since Txikon was a team of only a few climbers, the dangers of falling ice serac were limited but still there.
This route position has been heavily criticized over the years as being too vulnerable to releases of the well-known hanging serac on the West Shoulder of Everest. This serac released in 2014 killing 16 Sherpas. It was moved to the center the following two years.
Over the years, the Docs had let the route shift towards the Shoulder because it was faster and easier for them. This year, they were under pressure to get the route opened as early as possible given the huge numbers expected so acclimatization could start earlier.
An article in The Himalayan Times 21 ladders were used, which is about normal, but the route would take an hour longer. Not sure how that time estimate is calculated if in fact the route is more towards the Shoulder.
Look for the route to be a source of discussion throughout the season. Once the lead guides and Sidars arrive, they may ask for the route to be moved back towards the center.
While I appreciate the commercial teams posting updates on their blogs, they are mostly about how good their food is and how everyone is doing great. To get the emotion and raw feelings of what the climbers feel you have to read their posts and that is what I have focused on for years.
Thus far here are a few examples of what our climbers are seeing and feeling in 2017:
We did a big hike today up 3,800 vertical to an elevation of 16,400 feet – felt great! And it was thrilling to see Himalayan bharal for the first time. Also saw a golden eagle. Got down just before the rain and snow. Thanks for the great day Phinjo Sherpa.
Another post that caught my eye was from Alina Zagaytova on her blog where she discussed why she wanted to climb Everest:
… what drives me also is fear, fear of failing – and not just in a summit attempt, but in a bigger sense of the word, as a person. It is the fear of not being good enough to climb the tallest mountain, of not having enough skills, experience, fitness, or mental toughness. The fear of failing to be a valued team member, to be strong enough at high altitude and in extreme winds and cold to come to the help of others on my team in the event of any trouble. It is the same feeling I had showing up my first day at Harvard Law School, what if someone in admissions made a mistake and it turns out I do not actually belong here? By the end of my first semester at HLS, I got comfortable that not only did I belong just fine, but that I was able to thrive in Harvard’s rigorous intellectual environment. Will I find the same answer after a few weeks at Base Camp and a couple of rotations to Camps 1 and 2 on Everest or will this new experience be entirely more humbling? We shall see….
Blake Penson posted a slew of pictures from the trek including a nice short video of the congestion at Lukla. As he made the hike up Namche Hill, he took a nice photo of Everest using a quality telephoto lens. Check it out. He added:
Once over, we moved up a steep zigzagging section which finishes at a lookout where trekkers and climbers stop to catch a glimpse of Everest for the first time. I was in the exact same spot exactly two years ago. The steep section was a breeze this time round, I recall having a very tough time getting up there in 2015 when we jokingly named it ‘The Namche Headwall’. This year it was more like a casual forest stroll. I took the obligatory shots of Everest and once again was daunted by the thought that it was still 5 vertical kilometres above us!
The Blog of the Day 🙂 goes to Ronny Rehn who posted a very nice collection of photos during his trek. Note that we are seeing a lot of excellent photos right now as the climbers sometimes get excellent Wifi in the teahouses. Hopefully this will continue once they get to base camp with EverestLink. Ronny gives us a scorecard of sorts on the services he is experiencing. I liked Ronny’s description at one point:
My night was again restless. Initially due to a fly and a moth (both in nirvana now), but again due to altitude and jetlag. Few weird dreams such as having quintuplets … nightmare idea that would certainly end my travel plans! Beyond that I feel strong – head, heart and stomach doing just fine. Not everyone is that lucky. Having finally received my second bag last night, I enjoyed a breakfast with Rügenwalder & dark rye bread. Nice change and all amidst great views of Lhotse and Ama Dablam.
Wrapping up with the blogs, the great volunteers at EverestER posted this experience:
We woke up to brilliant snow and a delightful walk from Lobuche to Gorak Shep. After visiting Kaji at the Italian pyramid, Our own Dr Sanjiv Bhandari noticed an ill trekker on the trail – breathless, exhausted and blue-lipped, he informed her she needed to turn back and her condition was quite grave. She ignored the expert advice, and later this evening we were callled to see her – now vomiting and profoundly hypoxic. Alas, she is being carried down to our colleagues in Pheriche. Another trekker learns the hard way – never ascend with altitude symptoms.
OK, the climbers are ramping up with their posts, videos and pictures. I have a list of climbers in the sidebar with links to their most active media, but click on their links to see what else they are posting. These days, people post to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, blogs and who knows where else so it has become harder to follow 🙂
Looking ahead, the next week will be very similar to last week with team arriving in Kathmandu and others making steady progress towards Everest Base Camp. Look for those climbing from Tibet to arrive in Kathmandu then fly to Lhasa for the drive to base camp.
Remember that most teams will not enter the Icefall until mid April. Hopefully a few will start early this year. I am updating my annual team tracking page that shows the current location of the majority of their team. I also use that page to post brief updates almost daily.
Not to be forgotten are those on the other 8000ers of Lhotse, Dhaulagiri, Kanchenjunga, Makalu, and perhaps Annapurna. Cho Oyu, Shishapangma and Manaslu. I’ll report on those as needed.
Yes, it is a busy time in the Himalaya!
Memories are Everything
Why this coverage?
I like to use these weekend updates to remind my readers that I am just one guy who loves climbing. With 35 serious climbing expeditions including four Everest trips under my belt and a summit in 2011, I use my site to share those experiences, demystify Everest each year and bring awareness to Alzheimer’s Disease. My mom died from this disease in 2009 as have four of my aunts. It was a heartbreaking experience that I never want anyone to go through thus my ask for donations to non-profits where 100% goes to them, and nothing to me.