Sunday, 27 May 2018

Newsletter April 2018

April 2018 is the third anniversary of the 2015 Earthquake. Remembering all our friends lost on that day. A small chorten at Khanjin Gompa

Sometimes when everything seems to run smoothly, or at least when nothing untoward seems to be happening, the news is slow. We often get the drift of when there is a shortage of newsworthy stories when the big media organisations pad out their broadcasting slot with items that raise the question – ‘Why broadcast that?’ Rather like this opening paragraph!

Well things are slow here in Nepal at the moment, it’s really too early for anything to have taken place during the spring expedition season, politics are ‘settled’ and the exchange rate has bounced back to a US dollar at 104.59 NRs and the £1 is 150.04 NRs, the highest it’s been for nearly 3 years.

In a bye-gone era trekkers would expect, on a visit to Nepal, to experience pristine nature, crystal glittering mountains, and medieval Nepali villages, rich cultural, customs and festivals and be more than happy.

Back then within the trekking and mountaineering sect, foreign visitors were generally mountain lovers. They had trekking or mountain walking/climbing experience and had acquired the large armoury of skills and experience required to undertake a safe passage through a possibly hostile and technical mountain environment, they were adventure seekers with possibly a higher tolerance for the ‘less luxurious life style’ and possibly had more time to undertake their expeditions, flexibility up to a point was the name of the game. The ‘adventure’ being the unsure outcome and to a certain extent was also based on a lack of good risk assessment and/or weak planning as a result of a lack of detailed information. This was because there was none and out of ignorance of issues like altitude sickness which was also a major unknown factor at the time.
Equipment was heavy and unsophisticated and the tents with no sewn in groundsheets were cold and draughty and ‘campers’ needed a good ‘level of outdoor skills’ to exist for the duration of a trek in relative comfort.

Lodges did not exist, there were virtually no high mountain airstrips and most people started their adventures trekking from Kathmandu although a little later Pokhara developed as the second centre for tourism.

At that time very little was known about Nepal other than the romantic image of the high white mountains, remote and ethnically diverse communities and pristine environments. There were no trekking agents, no trained mountain or trekking guides and no other form of ‘adventure tourism’ in Nepal other than that of just ‘travelling’ through the country. The journey to arrive in Nepal was long and expensive and an adventure in itself. The in-country road system was poor and vehicular movement was restricted not only by the shortage of vehicles but also due to the lack of motorable roads outside of the Valley. To gain knowledge about Nepal you had to read expedition reports or talk to someone who had been to Nepal, there were virtually no maps, no guide books and the trekking routes were along simple ‘local’ trails. And above all there was no internet!

There were no trekking agents as such but there was an in country facilitator, Tek Pokhrel who ran a company called Trans Himalayan Tours which would help with Nepal logistics and generally handle all the administration required within Nepal at that time.

Up to 1990 Nepal progressed in much the same way as it had in the preceding 50 years, development was slow and confined mainly to the Kathmandu Valley. Then as a result of political pressure the political landscape changed and some would say that for a while the development of Nepal went into decline or at least stood still. Outside Nepal the world was also facing political and financial changes and then more recently new technology impacted on the expectations visitors had for their trek or expedition in Nepal.

By the mid-1970s Nepalese mountain workers associated with the Nepal Mountaineering Association had been trained in technical climbing so that they could continue to support foreign expeditions when their attention refocused on the large more technical faces of the Himalayan peaks.

During 1992 the first commercial expeditions were introduced into the mix of adventure opportunities on offer. Some people increasingly had a certain amount of disposable income along with high ambitions. Advertising hit the media and there were no shortages of foreign organisations and local agents prepared to help those clients spend their hard earned cash to reach the Himalayan heights.

New commercial expeditions while still offering opportunities to those people with money, time and a sense of adventure were basically changing the game. In the early stages of ‘adventure tourism in Nepal’ the mountaineers would work as a team with their Nepalese staff, route and rope fixing was a joint effort and all would share the good and bad experiences. Trekkers would accept what they were faced with while far away from Kathmandu, the expectation was for ‘enjoyment’ ‘adventure’ and ‘experience’. Today the term ‘customer-care’ is a significant element of life in Base Camp for the expedition leaders and senior staff.

The last 30 years have seen a proliferation of Nepal based expedition agents, many offering incredibly low cost expeditions, however it is very important to read the small print to see exactly what you are buying with your hard earned cash. Those cheaper options are also increasing the danger on Everest as it is becoming even more crowded as each season goes by. In 2018 Seven Summits Treks have advertised what they call the VVIP Everest Expedition, the cost 130,000 US $ per person, and they are selling it with four Chinese clients already signed up. But for 130,000 US $ you would expect a lot and failure to deliver would not enhance reputations!

Although sadly there are situations at the moment in the adventure and tourism sector that result in Nepal being caught between a rock and a hard place. Nepal is to a certain extent still regarded by many travellers as being a ‘less expensive’ tourist destination, whereas we know Kathmandu is now rated, as I believe, the second most expensive city in SE Asia and that in 2016 Nepal experienced an inflation rate of 10.5%, a lot higher than many of our Himalayan neighbours. The unexpected cost of living means trekkers arrive in town stay one night then set off on trek and often in an ill-prepared and travel fatigued state.

Also there is the reputation that all ‘tourist’ related commodities are to be bartered for, of no fixed price. There is a good reason why many shop-keepers in Thamel do not price their goods, although this situation is changing! This situation and the misconceptions held by many tourists are compounded by a lack of transparency.

Either in an effort to save money, reduce the overall costs of the ‘Nepal Experience’ or because people think they will be safe, and as is often the case they don’t know what they don’t know, they still trek in solo fashion unaware of their vulnerability if things go wrong.

History has a habit of repeating itself and despite all the warnings and advice Nepal still bears witness to trekkers disappearing while solo trekking. So far this season there have been seven trekkers reported as missing.

I don’t agree with imposing a guide on all trekkers but people must take responsibility for their own safety, especially when there is no end of good advice on the internet.

Many trekking areas now boast first aid and health posts and those it the honeypot areas have medical posts specifically providing support for trekkers and run by the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA). At Everest Base Camp, ’Everest ER’ the medical post had, by early April administered assistance to 21 patients but once the season gets really underway this number will increase multiple times.

The many publications, maps and guide books as well as the internet are now playing a huge role in not only informing prospective trekkers and mountaineers of their options but in providing a false sense of security. As well as providing technical knowledge on routes and lodge accommodation there are of course hundreds of Agencies based in Nepal all fighting for the same clients.

Now if wifi is not available trekkers will demand ‘move onto the next wifi connected lodge’. This has created a certain ‘dependency’. Already this season there have been occasions when the weather and other connectivity issues have prevented some trekkers reporting into their families back home and this lack of communication has raised un-necessary safety concerns and anxiety levels.

The options for people to come to Nepal and do a trek or climb a mountain are endless and providing they have the money it now seems they don’t necessarily need to have the experience. With many foreign expedition leaders spending most of their ‘mountain time’ trying to please and entertain their clients and at the same time telling them how good their operation is and how successful it’s been in getting people on ‘the summit’. These clients are of course the very people who keep the expeditions and companies functioning. But the expeditions would not function without the porters and other mountain staff and Nepalese guides. Now it increasingly appears to be a situation unfortunately of ‘us’ and ‘them’ the continental element of an expedition and the Nepali element, not in all cases but in many the joint ‘team approach’ is not what is used to be.

Over the last parliamentary session the Nepal Government introduced various new mountaineering policies and regulations, but by the end of March some of these were withdrawn under pressure from the mountaineering community, the main one being the banning of blind and less able climbers permitted to climb Everest, this was revoked before the beginning of this season but in many cases it was too late for previously made plans to be reinstated. The regulation concerning all climbing expeditions requiring a guide, no matter on what mountain, is still a legal requirement. The old system of an A and B trekking peak list has now been revised into one list with peaks of a certain altitude dropping into a specific permit bracket.

Not only have trekkers’ expectations changed but so have the expectations of the local people, guides and porters.

Once the highly adrenaline charged ‘mountaineer’ has escaped the un-plugged security x-ray machine at Arrival Terminal 1 (we only have one terminal.. but is sounds good, the ‘Arrival Terminal 1’) – I don’t understand why luggage upon arrival in Kathmandu has to go through a less than 100% functional security system when arriving from other countries who are at the top of the flight security game, such is Nepal. Once outside the full flavour of Nepal strikes home, chaos, bustling porters all offering assistance, taxi drivers offering to take you to your hotel, for a small charge, and of course there is the heat and pollution. Wow, for the first time visitor all senses are challenged!

Trekking guides will be on their toes as much as the trekkers, each quietly assessing the other. ‘Is our guide professional, is he organised, knowledgeable and fit for purpose’. ‘Are the clients experienced, trekking within their comfort zone and also fit for purpose?’ For groups of independent trekkers arriving from different parts of the world and for the guides first impressions will be stored in the mind for the duration of the trek and possibly for years to come. Many situations might well leave clients speechless but upon returning home they will become story tellers! Life over the next few weeks will become a complete contradiction to the normal life experienced by trekkers at home. Nepali time takes over and things only happen when they happen as opposed to when they should happen; life is relaxed but it can also be frustrating, in Nepal patience is not only a virtue but also a necessity and flexibility, a finely practiced art.

Nepal has been very pro-active in attracting visitors from our near neighbours; these nations have different expectations to those of a bye-gone period and other continental visitors. Add to this the rapidly expanding domestic market which again has different expectations and now the mountain related industry has a very diverse customer base.

Everest is a brand like no other, there is the expedition industry, the trekking industry, increasing the charity fund raising industry and now add to that the ego centred-selfie industry.. get to Everest Base Camp, take the selfie and then bail as fast as you can and onto the next tick-box. There are also the races events, the ‘Everest Marathon’, the ‘Skyline’ and now ‘Breathless’, the latter starts from the summit of Kala Pattar and is advertised as the highest altitude race in the world.

Between the trekking and climbing industry, it’s estimated ‘Everest’ brings in tens of millions of dollars to one of the world’s poorest economies, around 4% of the country’s GDP. The average income in Nepal hovers around 600 US $. Giving the guy at the airport a $5 dollar tip to help move your gear to a waiting micro bus or taxi reinforces why Nepal loves tourists!

Nepal 2018 Permits

Recently the Nepal Ministry of Tourism gave an update on the permit numbers for this spring season, 2018. There are 649 permits issued for 22 different peaks throughout Nepal 336 for Everest including 20 Nepali climbers, these are Nepali mountaineers who want the recognitions of having climbed Everest.

Lhotse has 88, many of these are double expeditions – Everest/Lhotse. 

There are over 1,000 Sherpas, who do not need or pay for permits, these are working staff.

In 2017, 729 permits were issued for 21 different mountains, so climbing numbers are down a bit on Everest. Other Peaks have also attracted attention, 192 climbers are involved in expeditions on:-

Kanchenjunga – 42, Makalu – 27, Dhaulagiri I – 26, Nuptse – 11, Manaslu – 8, Annapurna I – 1 Korean Climber.

Speaking of the “other” peaks, many of the expeditions have arrived at their respective base camps and are well into their climbing acclimatisation rotations, climb to a higher camp, spend time there before returning to base camp. In some cases expeditions are flying clients back into Kathmandu for a few days of relaxation before going back up again.

Apart from the expedition personnel there are all the trekkers heading for the Khumbu, no wonder Everest is regarded as the major tourist honey-pot of Nepal and the most popular trekking route in the world.

The technical support teams are steadily moving up the mountains establishing the route and higher camps. This season in Nepal after the problems of moving through the ice-fall experienced over previous seasons the route has been established more to the right of the centre line, out of reach of any rock or avalanche fall off the south western flanks of Everest. To bridge the many crevasses ladders are lashed together to form bridges, some consist of 3 sections of alloy ladders. Many potential Everest summiteers spend thousands of dollars and months of dedicated training only to be denied their attempt at the first hurdle. One such client fell while going to the loo in a lodge, her expedition was over before she ever reached base camp as a result of a severe knee injury. Another client was bitten by a dog, in Tingri and yet another broke his ankle in Namche Bazaar as a result of tripping over a rock. Despite the motives for wanting to climb Everest ‘failure’ under the above circumstance must be a very bitter pill to swallow.

It is reported that the route up the Western Cwm from the Ice-fall towards Camp 2 has become more hazardous with more and larger crevasses opening up. The question is already being raised in some quarters as to how long this route will continue to be feasible. Where could an alternative route go from the Nepal side? This is a question with serious implications, not only for the safety of future potential summiteers but also for the financial coffers of Nepal. Many of the trekking peaks, those below 6500m are now technically more difficult and dangerous as a result of glacial melt resulting in risky approach routes and rock fall due to the ice not forming lower down the mountain and gluing the newly exposed moraines together. It was reported on the 25th April that there had been a serac collapse during which two Sherpas were injured, one was evacuated to hospital in Kathmandu. The route was reopened by the ice-fall doctors within a few hours. Additionally there are three Nepali females working as guides on Everest this season.

There are the usual group of people trying to get into the record books, a Japanese woman climber Funahashi Eiko, 79 and Shivangi Pathak, 16, from Haryana, India, are the eldest and youngest climbers attempting to climb Mt Everest while Romanian climber Horia Colibanu and Slovak mountaineer Peter Hámor will attempt Everest from the West Face with a plan to traverse onto Lhotse. Kami Rita Sherpa will also be on the mountain trying to complete his 22nd ascent, this world be another record as will be the ascent by Lhakpa Sherpa, who if she succeeds will record her ninth ascent.

All the high mountain summits have been visited, most have been ascended by more serious and technical routes so what is left for those who want to make a mark on the mountaineering world or who want to give themselves a ‘first’ challenge. In Yosemite, America there is the iconic El Cap with super challenging climbing routes one of which is The Nose. The Nose was first climbed between July 1957 and November 1958 over a climbing period of 45 days, the second ascent took seven days, by 1975 the equipment and mind-set of climbers meant the route could be climbed in a day. In 2012 the climbing time was reduced to 2 hours, 23 minutes and 46 seconds. Most people take 3 - 4 days but now it’s just been repeated in 2 hours, 19 minutes and 44 four seconds!

Syangden Luckmeeis a young 20 year old, defying most what 20 year old girls would be doing at this age. She is attempting to climb Everest this year and is setting an example for most Tamang girls of her age. She is not on Everest for any record, the fastest, the coolest, no O2s or solo. But she is there for the whole journey and experience that will mould and shape her to become a better person. Even with very little financial support unlike many male counter-parts she is committed to her role of high altitude porter and has her vision squarely fixed on the job in hand, and the summit.

(From left) Oswald Olz, Peter Habeler, Reinhold Messner, Dietmar Löffler (ORF), Reini Huber (ORF), Hanns Schell, Marco Polo (ORF), Robert Schauer, Helmut Hagner; (sitting) Wolfgang Nairz, Raimund Margreiter. Dietmar Löffler, Reini Huber and Marco Polo are here to film a documentary that will feature the legendary mountaineers. Photo: Rajan Pokhrel/THT
Everest, well it has had supplementary oxygen free ascents, the first by Reinhold Messener and Peter Habeler in 1978, it has also had winter ascents. In 1995 the British mountaineer Alison Hargreaves made a successful solo and supplementary oxygen free ascent, the first by a female mountaineer. Over the winter of 2017/2018 it was attempted by the Spanish climbers Carlos Rubio and Alex Txikon, in a supplementary oxygen free style. The expedition was on Everest from early January but despite being on the mountain for over three weeks Rubio suffered from the effects of altitude and had to be airlifted from Camp 2 at 6400m. Alex called off his attempt from Camp 4 at 7950m. The only other winter supplementary oxygen free ascent was achieved in 1987 by a Nepalese mountaineer. Talking of supplementary oxygen free ascents the surviving members of Messener’s expedition Wolfgang Nairz, Reinhold Messner, Peter Habeler, Helmut Hagner, Hanns Schell, Robert Schauer, Oswald Ölz and Raimund Margreiter that resulted in both him and Habeler reaching the summit without supplementary oxygen has just held a reunion in Kathmandu to celebrate the 40th Anniversary.

Kathmandu is still struggling to come to grips with the infrastructure required for the new Melamchi Water system. It is hoped this will be finally completed by the autumn season, but I’m not holding my breath! 

The latest updates on major peak expeditions in Nepal from the 27th April 2018

Everest - Romanian climber Horia Colibasanu (41) and Slovakian Peter Hámor (53), are now on a project to traverse Everest - Lhotse without supplementary oxygen and no Sherpa support

 They are now at Base Camp for acclimatization. They’ve already reached 6400m. They wish to move to higher camps on Saturday 28th.

Nepali climber Kami Rita Sherpa (48) is on his way to summit Everest for the 22nd time.

British mountaineer Adrian Ballinger (42), who is famous for his "Everest No Filter" project with Cory Richards in 2016 and 2017 now plans climb Everest as a guide. If possible he may also try to summit Cho Oyu.

Japanese climber Nobukazu Kuriki, aims to summit Everest and Lhotse solo without supplemental oxygen. He arrived in Everest Base Camp (Nepal Side) on the 27th April.

Indonesian women, Fransiska Dimitri Inkiriwang (24) and Mathilda Dwi Lestari (24), are aiming to summit Everest as a part of their Seven Summit project.

British mountaineer Kenton Cool (44), who is yet again on another expedition on Everest, is on his way to Camp-2 from Camp-1 (26th April).

Australian mountaineer Steve Plain is aiming to summit Everest as a part of his Seven Summit project "Project 7in4". The purpose of the project is to complete Seven Summits within four months.

Lhotse - Canadian woman Caroline Jetté, is leading a 15 -member expedition to Lhotse.

Mingma G Sherpa, who is leading a team on Lhotse, has already made it to Camp-3 and may try to reach Camp-4 on the 28th

Cho Oyu - Bulgarian mountaineer Atanas Skatov, is planning to summit Cho Oyu and Everest this spring. He was on his way to Cho Oyu Base Camp for acclimatization on 18th April 2018.

Kangchenjunga - Mexican mountaineer David Liaño Gonzalez (38), has an ambitious project to climb 4 eight-thousand metre peak (Everest, K2, Kangchenjunga and Lhotse) within a few months to support "The Live Love Laugh Foundation" and to raise awareness of the problems of depression, he has previously established Camp-2 (6400m) and has already spent a night there.

Canadian speed climber Don Bowie (48), who is aiming to summit Kangchenjunga without supplemental oxygen hopes to move to Camp-2 on the 27th. He has already reached 7000m so far on this expedition.

Franco-Swiss climber Sophie Lavaud, the "56,000 lady", is on her 8th eight-thousand metre peak. She has so far acclimatised to Camp-2 (6400m).

Nepali climber Maya Sherpa, is on her way to summit Kangchenjunga as the first Nepali woman.

Indian mountaineer Arjun Vajpai (24), who is aiming to summit Kangchenjunga without supplemental oxygen, teamed up with Dutch climbers Wilco van Rooijen, Cas van de Gevel and Italian Alex d'Emilia. Previously they spent the night at Camp-2 (6400m).

Italian Alpinist Marco Confortola (46), is aiming to summit Kangchenjunga without supplemental oxygen. He is undergoing acclimatization and has reached 6500m so far. He is on his 11th eight-thousand metre peak expedition.

Dhaulagiri - Spanish mountaineer Carlos Soria (79), previously he reached up to Camp-2 (6450m) and spent nights at Camp-1 (5700m) on Dhaulagiri. He is on his 13th eight-thousand metre peak expedition.

Polish climber Pawel Michalski (45), is also on Dhaulagiri with Romanian Alex Gavan (35). Previously Camp-1 had been established and they have already spent a night there. Pawel and Alex are on their 5th and 7th eight-thousand metre peak respectively.

US climbers Nicholas Rice and Ryan Kushner teamed up with Canadian climber Christopher Manning to summit Dhaulagiri. Previously Nick and Ryan reached Camp-2 (6450m) and Christopher Camp-1. On 24th April 2018, Nick got injured due to a fall through a weak snow bridge over a large crevasse on his way down from Camp-2.

Indian mountaineer Debasish Biswas, had previously reached Camp 2.

Acknowledgements to:- 
Dream Wanderlust and Andrian Ballinger, Horia Colibasabu, Kenton Cool, David Liano, Kuntal Joisher, Marco Confortola and Carlos Soria for their images in the 'up-dates' section.

So another newsletter comes to an end – hope you all enjoy summer, wherever and however you wish to spend it!

Post script!

Lhotse was summited on the 29th April while sadly an Italian climber died in a freak accident on Dhaulagiri when his tent blew away in a storm.

1st May 2018

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