And the season begins. This week, climbers started arriving in Kathmandu. Some immediately tried to get to Lukla, without success, and others tried to get into Tibet, without success. As we enter Sunday in Nepal, the clouds broke and flights to Lukla started again. I am receiving notes from climbers already in Namache. Another normal beginning to the season.
Luanne Freer, of EverestER put it well in her Blog. This is Luanne’s 8th season of providing medical services to climbers, Sherpas and porters through EverestER.
Early this morning, bags all packed and ready, we headed to the airport for our flight to Lukla, 2800m where we begin our trek to Everest base camp. Flying in this part of the world is always an adventure – from the crowded and chaotic terminal to the always stressful weighing of the bags (we’re set to take off with 220kg, which is kind of slim for us) to the hurry up and wait of the actual boarding process. Then there’s the biggest unknown … the weather. Flights to Lukla rely not only on skillful pilots and hardy planes, but on mostly clear skies, since the landing is purely visual, and the landing strip … well … downright scary – an inclined short runway carved into the side of the mountain (see below … I’m sweating already…) Today, for the 3rd day in a row, anxious folks waited in vain for the skies to clear in Lukla. And because of the backlog of the past few days there wasn’t a spare seat in the boarding gates.
A few new climbers to highlight.
Wendy Booker, who has MS, is returning after her attempt last year. She is climbing with RMI this time. Over on the north, a very small team of Julio Bird, Bill Fischer and 70 year-old Japanese Hoshino Kohei will be going for the top. This means we will see a 13 year-old and a 70 year-old on the same side!
Speaking of the north, China officially closed the boarder a few weeks ago and hinted it would reopen around April 10th. This delayed and even caused some expeditions to cancel other climbs. We will see when it really opens but this comment from Jantoon Reigersman tells us the current status. Jantoon is trying to combine cycling, a deep water dive of 1300m (4265 ft) and his Everest summit for a full 9000m experience.
Unfortunately, we are still having delays in getting the permits and due to possible strikes in China, we will not be able to file any paperwork until March 29th. Now I will have to start figuring out what the alternative plans would be if we cannot get the paperwork in time. Already (even if everything goes perfectly smoothly), entering Tibet on April 1st is very tight and will mean that I cannot take on any delays during the cycling. leaving much later will start making the planning a lot more complex and there will be a moment where I will have to decide to skip the cycling and go with the rest of the team. Now it is a game of wait and hope. Patience is not my strongest side, so I will have to start working on some back up plans.
Many of the commercial teams have started to post updates including AAI, Adventure Consultants and IMG. And a few of the individual climbers are sharing as well. Look for teams to get to Lukla soon and start their trek to EBC. It will take about 8 days depending on how the acclimatization process goes.
The trek to the Nepal base camp is a lifetime event for some people and always a highlight for Everest climbers. There are no paved roads as the route enters the Sagarmatha National Park. The Park is about 450 square miles and includes Everest, Ama Dablam and many other peaks. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and the entrance fee is a bargain USD$13.84 (1000 Rupees). About 3500 Sherpas call the area home.
The tea houses will be full once again and the local Nepalese enjoying the business that comes from climbers and trekkers. But with all this popularity, there is a price.
According to Nepal SK 2993, 17000 trekkers employ 14000 porters, 2500 guides and staff, 2800 yak owners and 14000 merchandise porters (carrying goods for Sherpa lodge owners and other traders in the tourist region). According to a TED Case Study, four times as much fuel wood is needed to cook a meal for a Western tourist than for a Nepali due largely to differences in diet.
Many tea houses use yak dung as fuel and others use kerosene. Cutting of wood is mostly prohibited and there are tree farms that will hopefully restore the forests one day. However, overriding all the environmental concerns is the simple fact that tourism is now the major economic driver for Nepal. The people of the Khumbu Region know that protection of their area will ensure future tourism plus provide a future for their children. As always, it is about achieving balance.
Tourism is a double-edge sword. Without it, this area would be mired in deep poverty. With it, the struggle to preserve the future is real. However, the Khumbu is a beautiful area with wonderful people. Their charm touches each person and gives a gift. If you get a chance to go as a climber or a trekker, go. It will change you forever.
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