Now that the last summits of Everest 2017 are about a month old, there are a few storylines that continue to get press. In the grand scheme, nothing really changes with any of this “news”.
Big Summit Numbers from Nepal
Nepal Tourism reported for spring 2017 there were 445 summits from the south (Nepal) side consisting of 190 foreigners, 32 fee-paying Nepalis, 233 Sherpas.
They issued 375 foreign permits thus a 50% foreigner success rate, much lower than recent history in the 70+% range – this was perhaps due to flu and an elongated summit window of a few days each that discouraged people, who left early.
No solid numbers from Tibet side but in the 160-200 total range.
Totalling both sides, 2017 was a big year with between 615-655 summits on both sides. But it was probably not a record for total Everest summits. The previous big years were 2016 when there were 641 climbers who summited from both sides, 658 in 2013 and 2007 saw 633 summits.
The Himalayan Database will do their through research and update the database in a few months and for me they become the final word on who summited from both sides. The Himalayan Times posted slightly different numbers they received from the Ministry of Tourism.
Every foreign guide service must use a local agency to obtain their climbing permits. Those agencies take great pride in supporting mountaineering thus often are listed as the guide with no mention of the foreign entity. For example IMG use Beyul as their agency. This is a list of agencies and their respective results:
One event fed the media throughout the season and still does as climbers are returning home. Of course the question is if the Step was altered by the 2015 earthquake. The Nepal government says no. Sherpas say no. Guides say yes.
The crux of the disagreement is whether snow has covered the Step in such a way that the route went to the climber’s right on a snow slope instead of directly up the offwidth crack between the rock formation. source
American commercial guides weighed in and 15 time Everest summiter Dave Hahn, served as judge and declared the Step had in fact changed due to several of the large boulders missing. source
No doubt these headlines will bring readers to more websites but nothing really changes. Both sides will declare victory and no one will really know until the snow is identical to pre-2015 conditions.
Until then, take a look at all the images and judge for yourself. Jamie McGuinness posted one of his photos from 2008 next to Tim’s. It you really want to dig deep, read Tim Mosedale’s Facebook page where he defends his original proclamation that “The Hillary Step is no more”.
All deaths on Everest are deeply saddening to the friends, families and teammates but the death of Ueli Steck shook the entire climbing community. Now the Sherpa who found his body has done a western style interview with the click bait headline of “What really happened on the day that Ueli Steck fell from Nuptse?”
It is a good interview but again, nothing really changes. Perhaps the most important outcome is the observation by Vinayak Jaya Malla who first found the body that there was no wind that day and he had sighted Steck “on a ridge that is 7100-7200m” suggesting he fell 800-900m.
Also Malla made this comparison on what might have happened:
If you have been to the Himalayas, you will often see Bharal, blue sheep, very high on the mountains. They are very agile and fast so as to protect themselves from snow leopards. But sometimes, blue sheep fall off from cliffs. Each time they do, there is a different reason. Sometimes they fall due to rock fall, other times, they have perhaps run too fast, etc.
Perhaps we must think of Ueli as such – as a Bharal, as one of our blue sheep of the Himalayas who one day fell for an unexpected reason but was otherwise a master.
Both climbers who broke Nepal and China mountaineering rules were banned for 10 years for climbing in Nepal but not fined the $22,000 penalty or served jail time. One was for an illegal traverse and the other for not having a climbing permit.
Height of Everest
The actual height of Everest remains a top interest for at least two countries: India and Nepal. India announced earlier this year they would remeasure the height during the spring season. Apparently it didn’t happen. Now Nepal announced it will do the remeasurement taking over two years and costing $1.35M. source
Nepal has made this announcement before, actually as far back as 2011. source But as normal with many Nepal announcements about Everest, there was no follow-thru.
The 2015 earthquake is the driving force behind the remeasurement. Reports immediately after the quake suggested Everest had dropped by 2 inches, about 5 cm but it was an estimate based on satellite data. One would think that measuring the world’s highest peak would be somewhat easy given satellites, GPS and slide rules, but not so fast – even the naming has a convoluted history!
In 1841 the Great Trigonometric Survey led by Welsh surveyor Sir George Everest identified the location of the mountain. Fifteen years later using trigonometry and measurements from 12 different survey stations around the mountain, Indian Radhanath Sikdar, a member of the survey team, finished the calculations and determined they had found the world’s highest mountain. They called it ‘Peak XV’ and noted it was 29,002 feet.
In 1865 it was re-named Mt. Everest, against Sir Everest’s wishes, even though for centuries the Tibetans had called it Chomolungma. The Nepalese finally gave it their own name in the mid 20 century as Sagarmatha. In 1955, the height was adjusted to 29,028′.
On May 5, 1999 a National Geographic Society Expedition put a GPS receiver on the summit. Using a second Trimble GPS receiver at the 26,000′ on the South Col they made an extremely accurate measurement by running the two receivers simultaneously. The new altitude was measured to be 29,035 feet or 8,850 meters.
However, the Nepalese still use 29,028′ (8847m) as the official altitude. And the Chinese use 29,015 (8844m). The difference being if you count the snow on top of the rock at the summit or not. I still don’t know how they measured the ever changing snow depth.
To further complicate things, Everest is still growing as the Indian plate continues its move north under Asia. This is what originally created the Himalayan Range. Everest is estimated to grow 1/4″ each year and is over a foot higher than when it was first summited in 1953. This according to Professor Roger Bilham.
So what is the official height? It appears a compromise was reached and the official height of Mt. Everest is …. both 29,015 and 29,028. Nepal and China agreed to accept each other’s measurement. Meanwhile most climbers use 29,035 feet or 8850 meters because it is higher. But we will see what the Indian Survey comes up with, and who will accept it! Glad we got that cleared up!
China Closes Tibet this Autumn
As I previously reported, China has notified all guides who had previously been granted one of the only 50 permits for Cho Oyu that now even those were cancelled.
They cited the illegal traverse this past Spring but most likely there is more to the story, like a high profile political meeting in Lhasa and not wanting any foreigners there to protests about Tibet.
While the illegal traverse was perhaps used as an excuse to shut down everything this Autumn, if the traverse hadn’t happened some limited climbing might have still taken place.
Anyway, I once again repeat the climbing in Tibet on Cho Oyu, Shishapangma or Everest is often a gamble and solely based on the vagaries of the Chinese government and the political environment at the time of your border crossing.
Nepal, while in serious disarray, needs the climber’s money so will always welcome them – even if they don’t have everything sorted.
With the monsoons in Nepal, China being difficult, the climbing scene now moves to Pakistan, Denali, the Alps and South America.
I’m covering the K2 2017 season right now and will occasionally do a post on activities on the other peaks as news warrants.
Enjoy your summer!
Memories are Everything