Monday, 18 September 2017

Newsletter August 2017


The August edition of our newsletter always seems to contain two recurring topics – the Everest Season and the Monsoon Season, this edition sees little difference, albeit with a few additions!

With regard to Everest, the main event this past season was the tragic scenario that occurred almost
Ueli Steck Facebook
before the season began and led to the demise of Ueli Steck the world famous speed climbing mountaineer. Steck was in the Western Cwm on Everest preparing and acclimatizing for his expedition to climb the West Ridge, descend the South East Ridge before completing the traverse across to climb Lhotse from which he would descend back to Base Camp. All this would be completed in his usual style, climbing solo and without protection. On the morning of the 30th April he set off for what was thought to be an acclimatization climb on Nuptse. Push the envelope far enough and long enough under these circumstances and the stakes rise almost meteorically, one slip and you won’t get a second chance. And so it was that Steck fell 800m.

Reinhold Messner had suggested that Steck may have had his eye on the Everest Horseshoe, ascending the West Ridge, descending the SE Ridge, traverse across to Lhotse summit before continuing along the ridge to Nuptse, an objective held in the minds of many a world class mountaineer, however, the challenge is still to be completed.

A young mountaineer, Vinayak Jay Malla had seen a climber high on Nuptse around 7100m early on the 30th April but then a little later he heard the sound of what he describes as ‘something falling’. Along with a colleague the pair went to investigate and discovered Ueli Steck’s body at around 6300m. It was reported that near to Steck’s body was a large rock covered in blood, one of his crampons was missing and Steck appeared to have been climbing without a harness. Later investigations showed that there was a pair of ice-axes in Steck’s tent along with a light rope and various other pieces of climbing equipment.

Steck was well known for his ‘axeless` climbing style, he would use trekking poles as opposed to his axes if he thought he could manage the difficulties in that style.
To this day there is no definitive conclusion as to what caused Steck to fall, as Vinayak is quoted as saying “Perhaps we should think of Steck as a Bharal (Blue Sheep) who although the master of their own terrain could fall for any number of unexpected reasons.
The second event to hit the headlines, although not directly associated with Everest in this instance was the announcement by Russell Brice that he was retiring as a commercial expedition organizer. Brice has spent several years organizing and running successful commercial expeditions to the big 8000m mountains.

Russell Brice Facebook
Recently Brice has made a few decisions that he feels, in retrospect, showed bad judgment. As a commercial expedition organizer a main part of your role is to carry out risk assessment. You look for all the likely danger points and then plan accordingly to minimize them. This situation can result in you being hung if you do and hung if you don’t. Brice has over the last two or three years called expeditions off because he considered the risks were not acceptable, usually weather and snow condition related. However other expeditions persisted and their members often achieved their objectives. I guess Brice got a lot of flak from some members who felt they should have been allowed to push the envelope, however, if that had been a bridge too far then again Brice would have been in the firing line, a difficult place to be. Brice has done a sterling job and helped many people achieve their ambitions, and I guess has allowed many climbers to return to their families and live to climb another day.
Apart from these two instances Everest has had its usual share of hype.

South African Ryan Sean Davy tried to climb Everest without paying the 11,000 US $ permit fee,
South African Ryan Davy Facebook
without going through the appropriate channels and avoiding several other compulsory conditions, his excuse, he had no money, but on his own admission he had no real mountaineering experience and added that he was motivated to help those climbers who got into difficulty and were not assisted by others. He was eventually found hiding in a cave at 7,300m by officials, who undoubtedly saved his life. His passport was confiscated and he was ordered back to Kathmandu. He was fined, deported and banned for any form of mountaineering activities in Nepal for ten years.
Janusz Adam Adamski's daughter wishing him luck before
he left for Kathmandu. Facebook



A second climber, a Polish citizen Janusz Adam Adamski completed the traverse of Everest ascending the North Col in Tibet and then descending the South Col route into Nepal. This is said to be only the 15th such traverse and the first to be completed by a Polish climber. 

Although he had a permit for the North Col route he did not have entry permission from Tibet into Nepal via Everest summit and he also failed to obtain a Nepalese permit for Everest. According to Janusz, he believes there are no borders on the mountains. He said he was well aware of immigration and climbing rules in Nepal and Tibet. “As there is no provision for the issuing of traverse permits in both countries, I had to traverse illegally for fulfillment of my lifetime dream,” the Polish economist claimed. He was also fined, deported and banned from mountaineering in Nepal for the next ten years. This also resulted in China closing the ‘big’ mountains on the north side of the border for the autumn 2017 season. In a statement China claimed “His action have caused the industry related internal rules and regulations to be adjusted and improved.” However it did not mention anything about the placing of the Tibetan flag as well as photos of spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on top of Everest’s summit, images of which were widely circulated in social media during the spring climbing season.

Another situation that attracted a lot of media attention was whether or not the Hillary Step had collapsed as a result of the 2015 earthquake. Several rumours accompanied by photographic evidence suggested that it might have done but then this was contradicted by the Nepal Ministry of Tourism and the Nepal Mountaineering Association who insisted that because of the unusual snow fall and the fact that Everest had not been climbed since the earthquake the buildup of snow to the east had ‘buried’ the Step making it a lot easier.

Alpine Sange Sherpa in hospital in Kathmandu
after his rescue Facebook
Two very risky rescues were also carried out on Everest, although one was actually a recovery. In the first instance a young and relatively inexperienced Sherpa guide was leading his client towards the summit of Everest when the client experienced difficulties with his oxygen equipment and at the same time the weather started to deteriorate. The guide suggested they turn round, however the client insisted they continue. The result was that shortly afterward both collapsed in the snow above 8000m, the altitude that jets fly at! Ang Tshering Lama was completing his own expedition to the roof of the world when he came across the bodies in the snow, checking their life support systems Ang realized there was still life in the ‘bodies’.

Sange Sherpa's badly frostbitten fingers
Along with his two colleagues they roped the young guide and his client up and dragged them back down to a lower altitude where others were also able to assist before Ang was able to turn round to again ascend their route to the summit which they finally achieved a few days later.
Ang Lama during the rescue of Sange from above the
Balcony on Everest Ang Lama



The second instance concerned the death of Indian climber Ravi Kumar. Kumar was reported missing from about 8400m, above the Balcony on Everest’s South Col route, his body was eventually located after a 36 hour search. However at that altitude it is generally accepted that the retrieval of an injured or dead mountaineer is extremely difficult and hazardous.

This was to be the most complex rescue ever to have been carried out on Everest. This rescue, putting the lives of the rescue team in serious danger was ‘ordered’ by the Department of Tourism (Nepal) as the result of instructions from the Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. It stated that the Indian government was providing all necessary support for the operation (apart from man-power) adding that the bereaved family wanted the body back home ‘at any cost’. Due to the risks involved in spending so much time at high altitude, many expeditions choose not to bring down the bodies of their members who die on Everest. Kumar had reached the summit with his guide. The Indian climber then collapsed during the descent at 8pm due to low energy and oxygen levels.

The client had forced his guide to push for the summit even though it was late in the day and getting benighted was a high probability, according to the expedition organiser. The guide left his client, Kumar, on the balcony making him comfortable and leaving auxiliary oxygen. The guide then descended to Camp IV to send back a rescue team as he himself was also suffering from frostbite and snow blindness could do little more to assist his client.

All Indian mountaineers (if in government service) received an enhance life style if they climb Everest, this pushes people to not only lie but to take extraordinary risk to secure promotion, enhanced pension, cars, houses or whatever the menu lists as appropriate. Obviously not every Indian mountaineer is subjected by ulterior motives, the majority enjoy ‘the games climbers play’. I think this situation needs doing away with, including the certification for all foreign summiteers. For the Nepalese staff this is a good addition to their professional bio-data so certification is right and proper but for Mr Mrs Average this means very little other than personal gratification, the individuals know the truth, why do they need a certificate, could it be anything to do with ego? Only those who climbed Everest before the days of the commercial expeditions have credit as true Everest mountaineers, and with a few modern day exceptions. We might get Everest back for the mountaineers then rather than to leave it in the hands of the gold diggers, how many times have we heard or read .. ‘I've climbed Everest, now I'm a motivational speaker, author!!!’
'I might be a bit late home tonight' Image TAAN

The monsoon has been very active this season. Landslips are a natural part of living in a hilly monsoon affected country however in Nepal’s case the government has not adequately prepared itself to tackle possible disasters in terms of precautionary measures and emergency response and relief systems. There still remains a huge coordination gap among government, non-governmental, humanitarian, inter-governmental and development agencies as well as the private sector in relation to tackling natural disasters, including floods and landslides across the country, according to a senior government official.
The Larcha Bridge over the Bhote Koshi RIver

An average of 300 people die each year due to floods and landslides in Nepal, which is ranked the 30th most vulnerable country in the world to floods and landslides. The country also regularly suffers annual economic damage exceeding US$ 10 million as a result of the monsoon. At the end of July ten landslips hit the Chitwan to Mugling highway in a single night, several cars and lorries were buried and a coach was pushed into the river and has as yet to be located. Despite the loss of property there were no reported injuries or deaths, all passengers and drivers managed to escape from their vehicles before the mud and rocks buried them.
The Larcha Bridge after the collapse

In Sindhupalchowk, the Larcha Bridge over Bhote Koshi River was destroyed and washed away by a landslide and as a result the Tatopani area has been isolated from the rest of the country. The bridge, a part of the Araniko Highway, (to the Friendship Bridge) was destroyed as a result of incessant rain throughout the previous day and the night. The landslip had originated approximately 200 m further up the hill side.

     

 
As usual, and periodically, various NGOs hold their elections for new Board Members. The Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) has just gone through this process, which goes without saying had political connotations. There was an elected change of order this year so let’s hope things will move forward. One major issue for the new Committee is related to the new Federalism administration. The NMA was granted permission by the government in 1974 to collect peak royalties from foreigners for climbing Trekking Peaks. The original number of peaks open for this purpose was 18, this was then increased to 33 in later years. However, now the entire local administrative, ‘governments’, are insisting that they should keep the peak fees for local application. On the face of it if this money was to benefit the local people and resources then that would work fine, but the question is will itCould this be a question of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire? Only time will tell.

Work on the long awaited new international airport in Pokhara began on the 2nd August 2017.This is more of an artistic impression than an architect’s actual drawing, however the authorities have high hopes of it meeting international standards not only in appearance but also in service. The aim is to open the west of Nepal up for tourism as well as to alleviate some of the pressure on Kathmandu. A lot of infrastructure is required before Pokhara, even as Nepal’s second city, will challenge Kathmandu for international arrivals. Completion date is provisionally set for 2021.
Keeping Pokhara in mind
It is reported that Fewa Lake shrank from 10 to 4.2 sq km in 46 years.

Locals show little concern or interest in the problem

It's been a few months since I last walked all the way along the lake front but recently I was surprised to see so many bars and the like built right up against the walkway. I was also surprised and worried to see so much rubbish getting blown onto the shore, obviously the issue is to solve the problem at source ‘Stop throwing rubbish into the lake’ but in the mean time why can't the powers that be scoop the rubbish up in a big net it’s not rocket science! Pokhara would lose so much of its attraction if the lake deteriorated into a murky pond and with the prospect of the Nepal's second airport, maybe this should be a considered priority by the Lakeside community, its authority and the NTB before all the new visitors see it and get a lasting first impression!

However, as long as the land owners are making money today, they don't care about tomorrow.... A fisherman reflects on how most locals don't care (lower image Jenny Caunt)

Meanwhile the Department of Immigration has released their forecast for arrival numbers for this year of 800,000 with an estimated 40,000 visiting from the USA. Tourist inflow to Nepal jumped by 46.8 per cent in the first six months of 2017, indicating signs of recovery in the tourism industry that was shattered by the devastating earthquake of April 25, 2015 and the subsequent trade disruptions. According to the Department of Immigration, the country received a total of 460,237 tourists in the first half of this year via air routes, against 313,512 in the corresponding period of the previous year. Tourist arrivals in the first half of this year surpassed the figure of 2014, before the earthquake struck when the country had only received 412,461 tourists who arrived in the first six months, traditionally the expedition and lower tourist arrival season. Certainly 2017 would appear, if things go to plan, to be our best Off The Wall Trekking season of the last five years.

The number of tourist visitors has also been projected well into the future. Since the earthquake both the public and private sectors have been proactive in selling Nepal and the private sector in particular in selling Nepal as a destination to invest in. This has all resulted in the estimated 1million visitor’s mark being crossed in 2022. This has resulted in an unprecedented boom in hotel construction that will add 4,000 star category rooms by 2020. However it has spread concern among the existing hoteliers who fear that the new entrants will eat into their markets.

There are obvious concerns over ‘sustainability’ and the fact that occupancy will depend very much on the continued political stability of the country, not to mention its geological stability and the development of other infrastructure to eliminate recognised bottlenecks.

As a result several genuine 5-star hotels have either been constructed and are now open for business or are under construction and are suppose to be ready for the next season. Pokhara has also two new 5-star hotels being built. The Fairfield Marriott, (open) the Sheraton (due to open June 2019), and the Aloft (open March 2018) already have a presence on the internet advertising their Thamel hotels. These are all developed on ‘brown field’ sites and I can only envisage that some of the other large construction sites are also ear-marked as hotels in the making.
A family menstruation shed often situated several hours
from the family home

Nepal criminalises isolation of menstruating women
According to the new law, people forcing women to follow the Hindu practice of ‘chhaupadi’ may face a jail term as a result of the Nepal parliament criminalizing the ancient Hindu practice that banishes women from the home to a small and often isolated hut during menstruation and after childbirth. The new law which will come into effect in 2018 stipulates a three-month jail sentence or a 3,000 rupee fine ($30), or both, for anyone forcing a woman to follow this custom. As in many other instances in Nepal many feel the new law is unenforceable because it is related to deeply entrenched beliefs that are harder to change. Nepal's patriarchal society plays a large part in the problem, it's the women and female elders who make some of the younger women follow the chhaupadi system, and this causes some of the problems, these women are not all persecuted and banished by men. It will take time for this law to be voluntarily implemented and at least a generation for the root cause to be understood and myths dispelled. This medieval Hindu practice has resulted in many deaths over the years. Now the law must be enforced alongside a program of education.

An income generating opportunity for all image Ian Wall
Many of you will know my affection for Dolpa and its people. As with many other areas of Nepal the local communities want to become more connected and included in their national and local affairs. Dolpa is no different. A new road is being pushed into Duani the administrative heart of the region. This will undoubtedly change the way of life and along with it will come positive aspects as well as some negative aspects. It will be at least a couple of years before the road is anywhere near ready to provide vehicular access to the region but now is the time to visit the remote part of Nepal before it is irreversibly changed.

I last visited the Dolpa at the end of June 2017, Juphal airport was closed for renovation – the old stone runway is now replaced with a pitch one nearly 50 years after the airstrip was built. I travelled with Chandra a local and old friend and he told me about his early life. ``I had heard stories of the long and at times difficult journey but I was keen to see the ‘modern’ world. We would travel along with other folk and porters carrying baskets of food and other essential items for our ‘expedition”.

``The region was rich in agricultural produce so the porters would carry plenty of food, each night we would leave a food dump at the resting place and continue on with our journey. By the time we arrived in Nepalgunj our baskets would be empty and we could make our purchases and prepare for our return journey”.

``We would set off early and follow the same trails back into Dolpa, every evening we would arrive at the resting place and find the hidden food, all we needed to do was to build a fire and prepared and eat the food.”

There was a loud explosion and when the dust had settled a large cliff several hundreds of feet high appeared through the haze covered in white ghost like figures scurrying around with large crow-bars, there was a mass of mobile ‘yellow hard hats’ giving the impression of attention to risk assessment and safety but on closer inspection it could be seen that the health and safety policy ended there, foot wear consisted of the ubiquitous ‘flip-flop’ and no other protective clothing. Many feet above the trail there was a busy workforce prizing and shovelling the demolished cliff into the void below that was shared with the new trail which in turn was situated several tens of feet above the river. Exposed? Just a tad! Dangerous? Just a tad! The only passing nod to travellers’ safety was a ‘stop – go’ worker who would monitor the passage of locals passing under the cliff face, however, this ‘nod’ to safety did not extend to the guy with the pneumatic drill who continued happily banging away literally overhead.Extracts from my blog - 'The Road to Dolpa' to read the full story visit
www.ianoffthewall.blogspot.com
A family group all employed on the road works image Ian Wall

The Exchange Rate is at the moment hovering around 132.95/- to the pound; 102.27/- to the dollar, this is the highest it’s been for several months now, normally it’s around 130/- to the pound.

Over the last few months the roads of Thamel have been in a particularly ‘poor’ state. Many have flooded due to bad planning and other issues related to official projects. However one major contributor to this situation is the work being carried out in anticipation of the imminent supply of water as a result of the Melamche Water Supply Project.

Kathmandu suffers from an acute water shortage, not only has the population more the quadrupled in the last ten years and all drawing ground water from the valley but the major building programs have paid little attention to the old water courses and channels, the result being flooding, shortage of fresh water and disruption due to parked water tankers. Now with the end of the 27.58km Melanchi Tunnel nearing completion all the roads in town were dug up to lay water pipes, the work did not go according to plan and several sections had to be dug up several times. Over 23km of 27km tunnel have already been completed. According to officials, 99 percent work of the water treatment plant in Sundarijal which has the capacity of holding 85 million litres of water is also completed. 

This multi-million dollar project (c$464million) has been funded by multiple bilateral and multilateral donors as well as the Nepal government. It is hoped the project will supply clean drinking water for Kathmandu residents by the end of 2017. This is a 19 years old project which has yet to be completed due to the civil war, local agitation and several contractor changes at the hands of at least 19 different governments that have changed over the term of the work. 

I hope you all enjoy the rest of the summer, I’m off to complete some work in Shimla for a couple of weeks, a new area for me to explore!

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