Everest 2015 starts a short six months from now when climbers arrive in Kathmandu or Lhasa to begin their attempt on the world’s highest mountain.
I will cover the action as I have since 2002. This will be my 13th season of Everest: 9 times providing coverage and another 4 seasons of actually climbing on Everest. Look for extensive postings starting in early 2015.
My goal is to provide insight and analysis of what is going on up there with no favorites or agendas. I use sources directly from the mountain, public information and my own experiences to develop my posts.
Usually I post once a day as the season gets started in early April and ramp up to almost hourly coverage during the intense summit pushes in mid to late May. I spend several hours a day to create these updates. You can sign up for (and cancel) notifications on the lower right sidebar or check the site frequently.
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2014 was the most deadly and unusual season in the history of Everest. 19 Sherpas died either from an avalanche off Everest’s West Shoulder or during other parts of the season. The season was effectively canceled and there was only one non-Sherpa to summit from the South side. Meanwhile it was business as usual on the North with about 125 summits.
Everest was effectively closed in the spring of 2014 when the few young Sherpa manipulated the media and held climbers effectively hostage until their demands for improved pay, insurance and other benefits were met by the Nepal Government. While I agree with many of their issues, their approach was misguided and reeked of a traditional labor dispute between unions and management using the customer as the pawn. It was a turning point that cemented climbing Everest is a business for the Sherpas while remaining a dream for the members.
The deaths on the Nepal side brought into focus the Sherpa community supporting Everest. It brought attention to the primary issue of life insurance and support for families of the d. However, the way a few young Sherpa manipulated the tragedy brought attention on the future of the Sherpa community and their relationship to climbers. In a sign of support for the Sherpas, over a million dollars was raised to benefit the families.
But it was sad to see a few outspoken indviudals shape the view of a proud people. It was also sad to see how some shouted in outrage and blamed western climbers and operators for the turmoil when the reality is that the majority of Sherpa Guides, porters, cooks and other support staff for the Everest business are employed by local Nepal based companies, not U.S. or European or Asia/Pacific guide companies and the majority of climbers are no longer from the US or Europe.
The mis-information and bad publicity around Everest continues and the mainstream media and many outdoor/adventure publications play right along with uninformed articles leading with sensationalized, misleading headlines all designed to attract readers and advertising, not credible reporting on Everest.
Adding to the 2014 controversy was the amazing decision by the Nepal Ministry of Tourism to award Wang Jing an “international mountaineering award for her successful summit” . Wang as you may recall was the only non-Sherpa to summit Everest in 2014 after all the other expeditions left the mountain when the Icefall was effectively closed as a result of the Icefall Doctors halting maintenance of the route. While the Ministry denied Everest was ever closed, it was in reality.
Wang started her summit attempt from Camp 2 instead of Base Camp given the Icefall was effectively closed. She provided multiple versions of her summit attempt leaving followers to guess at what really happened. She finally admitted she used a helicopter to fly to C2.
The bottom line was that she was attempting to break a 7 Summits plus both poles female record and was determined to summit using any method available. While I salute her determination and Everest summit, she is not deserving of any special recognition, or record in my opinion.
For an excellent objective overview of what happened since the tragedy visit this article on NatGeo by Chip Brown. Another good article is by Grayson Schafer on OutsideOnline with a long review of the tragedies’ timeline
But the real tragedy is the continuation of how Everest is being used for blackmail, stunts and propaganda. That said, climbing Everest is still a rare feat that 0.000001% of the world’s population has achieved. It is difficult, deadly and deserving.
So what does 2015 look like? Look for prices to be higher, the North side to have more climbers and the South to be business as usual. From conversations with many climbers who left early in 2014, they are returning next year. Spaces are filling up as usual with the leading commercial operators.
As I am updating my “How much does it cost to climb Everest?” post (to go live soon), I noticed an increase in pricing over the past few years. This is a representative sampling:
Ranier Mountaineering Inc. (RMI) $59K to $66K or 11%
International Mountain Guides (IMG) $40K to $44K or 9.5%
Jagged Globe $54K to $58K or 7%
Altitude Junkies $42.5K to $45K or 5%
Peak Freaks $47K to $49K or 4%
7 summits club $49K to $50.5 or 3%
Adventure Consultants, Alpine Ascents, Himex all remained at $65K
There are several drivers for the price increases. First the permit cost has gone up, not down as advertised by the Ministry. It is now a flat $11,000 per climber instead of $70,000 for a team of 7 or $10,000 per climber. Second many companies will increase the life insurance suggested, not mandated, by the Ministry. It is now USD$15K up from USD$10K. Many operators will abide by these guidelines but it is unclear if those competing on price will. The third reason for increased costs is inflation. Nepal’s inflation rate is currently 9.47%.
Finally, many non-Nepali operators are adding additional guides and services to their offering. Each Western Guide can make between $10K and $25K and this cost is passed on to the members. Some companies are adding European chefs, adding to costs. Some are offering extra oxygen starting lower, adding to costs. In the end, this is real money and the member pays the tab.
A Change is Coming
But this is the real story: Nepal operators are taking over Everest. They are offering credible support at lower prices than non-Nepali operators. Asian Trekking has been doing this well for years as have companies such as Monterosa, High Altitude Dreams, and Himalayan Ascent. The newest and major player today is Seven Summits Treks who reportedly had 98 members on Everest in 2013. They offer a good product but are reported to pay staff a lower wage than non-Nepali operators.
Everest is no longer the sole domain of an affluent middle class in Europe, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and the US. It is now attractive to the same demographics in India, Nepal and China. These new members seem to be attracted to the lowest price and Nepali owned support thus creating demand for companies to meet that need.
With Nepali companies offering Everest in the $25K-35K range and non-Nepali from $40K to $65K, the lines are being drawn. But there is a huge difference in what you get for these prices, it remains a er beware environment where selecting an unprepared operator (Nepali, non-Nepali, solo – all companies included) may mean your life. Clearly, each individual must go to Everest ready to be self sufficient with the proper skills, experience and attitude. People die each year assuming their guide will take care of them in a crisis.
The end result is a continuation of the trend of Nepal based companies leading more Everest members than non-Nepali operators. Ten years ago non-Nepali operators lead 80% of the members up Everest, I predict in five years that will drop to 20%. This is one reason prices will continue to go up – more services at the top vs. a commodity offering at the bottom.
North vs. South
Another impact of the confusion from 2014 is a migration to the north side of Everest. Russell Brice’s Himalayan Experience aka Himex is offering climbs on both sides for 2015. This is a dramatic turn-around since Brice left climbing from Tibet after the 2008 debacle where the Chinese closed Everest from Tibet to take the Olympic torch to the summit. He says he has member demand for a North climb after the events of 2014.
Alpenglow’s Adrian Ballinger said no credible operator would climb from the South given the danger of the Icefall, thus he is now only offering a north side climb at the astonishing price of $79,000. This does include acclimatizing at home in an altitude tent, however ….
More climbers, afraid their Everest dream will be shattered by wayward Sherpa and politics, will turn to the North. But this may be a miscalculation in that in 2014, the Chinese refused to issue climbing permits to Americans and even some Chinese, including their own Wang Jing. There is no guarantee they will issue permits for 2015 and they usually wait until late March to inform applicants of their decision. So as risky as Nepal may seem, it may be safer than China.
Back to the South, the Ministry had said all 2014 Everest climbers would be able to use the permit for another five years. While this still seems to be the case, there is confusion as to the details so each climber will need to throughly understand the rules.
Speaking of dangers in the Khumbu Icefall, taken in historical perspective, the tragedy of 2014 was not representative of where most of the deaths historically occur on Everest. However, this of little solace to those families who have ever lost a loved one in the Icefall.
The danger is real with the hanging serac off Everest’s West Shoulder so look for the Icefall Doctors to take the route further towards Nuptse in 2015, at a cost of a more difficult climb through the Icefall. This was where some of the early 1950’s route were located but over time it migrated towards the West Shoulder since it was easier to fix, faster to climb and easier to maintain.
Also, look for the Western Guides and Sr. Nepali Sherpa Guides to have more say in how and where the routes are fixed. This may be a way of sharing the risk and blame when something goes wrong but I think is a good thing to leverage the decades of experience represented by these guides.
There should be a bit less traffic, and exposure, in the Icefall this year as many companies left gear at Camp 2 in the Western Cwm. It remains to be seen if and how helicopters will be used but many operators have been asking for permission to ferry gear into the Western Cwm for years now with their request denied. Other companies are making long needed changes to the level of luxury they offer above base camp with lighter weight tents, and fewer perks that should result in fewer carries by mountain workers through the Icefall.
Weather is always a wild card when climbing. The autumn season in the Himalayas saw heavy snow and avalanches on Shishapanga and Manaslu. Bad weather was also present on Cho Oyu. There were no Everest attempts this autumn season. Perhaps this will mean heavy snow on Everest which will reduce rock fall making climbing safer. But as we all know, the weather is difficult to predict this far in advance.
Finally, it is rumored that Joby Owygn will return with the Discovery Channel to attempt his wingsuit jump from the summit of Everest. Google might return to finish their “street view” mapping of the South Col route. I’m sure some of the film makers will return to capture the aftermath from 2014.
So, in summary, look for more climbers on the North and business as usual on the South – too much money is at stake to have a repeat of 2014 in Nepal.
Look for more headlines about crowds, trash, amateur climbers and Sherpa abuse as we approach next season. Expect more announcements from the Ministry about plans to control Everest’s throngs but don’t be surprised when they are not implemented. In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same …
What I hope you will read is about the man who quit his job to attempt Everest, the woman who trained for two years to give Everest her shot, the young man who finally got sponsors to support his dream, the person who is back for their 4th time, determined not give up, the guy who read about Everest as a kid and now 40 years later is finally getting his chance – these are the real stories of Everest. It is not about climbing a mountain but about dreams.
In January, I will create my annual team location table and tracking climber’s blogs. If you have a team you want listed, please let me know and I will add them if I can track them. If you prefer not to be mentioned, please contact me.
I will post a few background articles and interviews between now and early April when the teams arrive at the base camps. If you would like to see anything special this year, post a comment or drop me an email.
Here’s to a safe season for everyone on the Big Hill.
Memories are Everything