As we say hello to mid-March, climbers worldwide are making their last-minute preparations to travel to Nepal following their dream to summit Everest. However, similar to the past few years, they will be in an uncertain environment once again.
In 2020 Nepal and China closed Everest due to COVID. And China kept it closed to foreigners again in 2021 and this year, 2022. While Nepal opened Everest last year, 2021, it was a debacle with COVID infections running rampant in many teams, causing over 150 clients to leave early and probably that many Sherpas who got COVID then or later.
2022 Outlook – Fewer Climbers
Thankfully, COVID has calmed down with the Omicron variant this year, but with war raging in Ukraine, many Europeans and Russians will not be climbing Everest this spring. Also, the Chinese have imposed tight travel restrictions; thus, there will be fewer Chinese nationals on Everest. Then there are the Indians. The Indian Army will not field a team for the first time in many years. Overall with fewer Chinese, Indian, and Eastern European members, the Nepali companies, who cater to those markets, are seeing significantly fewer customers than in pre-pandemic times.
Pemba Sherpa of 8K Expeditions tells me he has 25 clients thus far from Morocco, Canadia, France, India, Mexico, Nigeria, USA, and Mongolia. And he tells me that the dominant guide on 8000ers, Seven Summits Treks has less than 50 half their usual 100+ in regular times. Western guides tell me they are around 75% of their regular customers. So, all in all, it looks like Everest will be quieter this year, and I think that is good.
I am expecting Nepal to issue between 300 and 350 Everest permits for foreigners compared to 408 in 2021. The six other Nepal 8000ers -Annapurna, Manaslu, Dhaulagiri, plus Makalu, and Lhotse, all on the border with Tibet and Kanchenjunga on the border with India will all see activity. While a new commercial route on Cho Oyu was attempted this past winter, it is not ready (and may never be for widespread commercial purposes) so Cho Oyu, usually climbed from Tibet, might be quiet this year.
Nepal Eases COVID Restrictions
As reported by the Kathmandu Post, the Ministry of Tourism has removed all pre-arrival testing requirements for fully vaccinated travelers. Upon arrival, they will be asked to show their vaccination card and for those not vaccinated or having received only one shot, they will need to produce a negative RT-PCR test not older than 72 hours. All visitors will still have to fill out travelers form issued by the Covid-19 Crisis Management Coordination Centre (CCMCC) at the point of entry.
As has been the custom for many years, the dedicated set of Sherpas under the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC) will fix the route through the Khumbu Icefall to Camp 2 around 21,000’/6400m. From there Sherpas from Seven Summits Treks, under contract with the Expedition Operators’ Association Nepal (EOA) will fix to the summit. In most years, the route is set to C2 by early April and to the summit by early May.
Everest Base Camp
A few teams including International Mountain Guides (IMG) have already marked their usual spot for their EBC camp. It’s customary for expeditions to send an “advance party” to EBC a claim their spot. Teams like to use the same spot each year, to reduce any uncertainty. Some like to be far away from Crampon Point at the base of the Khumbu Icefall for the quiet and less foot traffic while others like to be close to shorten the trip to the beginning of the climb.
Mount Everest Weather Thoughts on 2022 and Recent Trends
When will the jet stream be over Everest this May? Will there be a big cyclone and associated snowstorm that moves out of the Bay of Bengal? We all know forecast models are best in the seven days out.However there are some interesting recent trends in the weather patterns that impactMount Everest.
Start of the Monsoon Season.
The Monsoon season’s start is critical since this ushers in the beginning of moderate precipitation at and near Mount Everest. Since 1996 the average onset of the monsoon season for Eastern Nepal has remained close to June 11. However, five times since 1996 it started at the end of May to the first week of June. The reason climbers like to know this is that some choose to wait till the last week of May (sometimes into early June) to the summit. The goal is, of course, to be done climbing before the onset of the monsoon and associated heavy precipitation.
The trend for this year? We currently are in a La Nina phase, which is below normal sea surface temperatures off the equatorial waters of South America. This, in turn, tends to bring above-normal precipitation for Nepal and most of Asia. However, there is no clear signal concerning the start of the monsoon season.
Winter Precipitation for 2021-22
It is difficult to get mountain data, but we looked at Nepal weather station data and produced some preliminary data. For November 2021 through February 2022, precipitation is only 1 inch ( 29.2 mm) in water equivalent above normal. Temperatures are 1.8 F (1 C ) below normal. This winter would seem to buck the trend of recent winters that have experienced below-normal precipitation and above normal temperatures. A study done in the 1981 to 2010 timeframe shows a decrease in winter precipitation for all of Nepal and more so near Annapurna and west. However, it is important to note that much of the region gets 88% of the precipitation for the May to September period.
Cyclones in the Bay of Bengal
The strongest tropical cyclones (TC) occurred in the October to November months in past years. However, several researchers show a recent trend of TC’s getting stronger in the March to May timeframe. One of the main drivers for this is the warming of the Bay of Bengal.
Last year, 2021, we had two TC’s. The first one, formed May 14, Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm Tauktae, was one of the strongest cyclones in the region with the highest winds of 140 mph (220 km/hr.) Then on May 23 Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm Yaas formed. 2020 was also an active spring season with Super Cyclonic Storm Amphan. This formed on May 16, 2020, with maximum winds 165 mph ( 270 km/hr.)
How about this season? It is certainly difficult to forecast the extended timeframe, but generally, when we are in a La Nina phase, with below-normal sea surface temperatures off the equatorial region of South America, there is a tendency to increase Tropical Cyclones and increase in intensity. So we will see what happens this season.
In 2019 a scientific expedition of some 30 scientists performed extensive field research for two months on Mt. Everest. They installed several weather stations, including at the Balcony (8430 meters) and the South Col (7945 meters). The researchers have put together some interesting results from this study after extensive reanalysis of weather models. A detailed report was recently published. The report is technical, so we will give some very brief highlights here.
The South Col Glacier lost 180 feet (54 meters) of ice thickness over the last 25 years. Also the glacier’s snowpack (the outer layers of snow that accumulate over time) disappeared. Because of this, the glacier will likely experience a rapid retreat.
One big reason for the melting of the glaciers on Mount Everest is the warming of the Himalaya/Tibetan Plateau. The region experienced close to 3.6 F (2 C) warming in winter for the period 2001 to 2020 which is compared to 1950 to 2000 as a baseline. Summer warming was a little less
According to this article and other sources, there are concerns about what melting will have on future climbing on Everest. Some concerns are more exposed bedrock, the impact on the Khumbu Icefall, and impact of snow stability. The bigger picture is the rapid melting of the glaciers will bring reduced water resources to the Nepal community. This is a significant concern!!
These are just some of the highlights. For the year 2022 we will be monitoring the weather patterns for several expedition groups and focusing on the jet stream location and tracking for tropical depressions that might impact climbing on Everest.
Thanks, Michael for this, and we will check in throughout this season.
I use the Himalayan Database as my primary source of Everest summit statistics. If you are climbing in 2022, they are asking you to fill in an electronic web-based survey. This replaces the time-consuming process of visiting each team in their hotel before the climb. Please use this link to complete the survey. You can now download the HDB for free at their site.
I have begun to create my annual team location table and track climber’s blogs (see sidebar). If you have a team not 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.
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