MT. EVEREST : New climbing route through Khumbu Icefall

Mountaineers attempting to climb Mt Everest by the popular South Col route will walk on a new route this year to avoid a section at high risk of avalanches.
Nepali icefall doctors – the term given to experienced mountain workers who prepare route for climbers – have said they will prepare a new route which will deviate from the one followed since the first ascent of Mt Everest back in 1953. The route will pass through the centre of the Khumbu icefall, rather than follow its left side, where last year’s avalanche claimed 16 lives.
The tragic accident triggered a boycott of Everest expeditions by Sherpas. As a result, climbing parties had to return home before their expeditions began. The government has said that climbing parties with last year’s permit can continue their expedition this year without paying any permit fee.
Government officials say the new route is being developed considering safety of mountaineers and mountaineering workers. Tulasi Prasad Gautam, director general of Department of Tourism, said that the new route would be closer to the centre of the icefall where the risk of avalanche is considerably less. “In response to the last year’s avalanche, we are trying to make Everest climbing a little safer by avoiding the old route,” he told British newspaper The Guardian.
Mountaineers pass through the treacherous icefall route only once or twice. But local mountaineering support staff have to make the trip through the dangerous zone many times. According to mountaineers, the steep glacier skids downhill at a rate of several feet per day. Crevasses can appear overnight, and huge ice towers can break away and fall at any moment.
Icefall doctors make route through the icefall every year. So far, they had been sticking to the same line taken by the first summiteers.
Ang Dorji Sherpa, chairman of the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee which is authorized to set routes on Everest, told reporters they were trying to make the route little safer so that there will be less risk. “We think the risk of avalanche in the left part of the Khumbu Icefall is growing and we are moving the route to the centre where there is almost no such danger,” he told BBC.
The move is the latest in a series of initiatives seeking to manage conflicting demands centered on the 29,000ft (8,848m) peak, The Guardian said in its recent report. “One suggestion was to install a ladder on the famous Hillary Step, a crucial pitch just below the summit to ease congestion. Others include introducing separate fixed ropes for climbers ascending and descending near the summit to help ease the traffic and posting a team of government officials at the base camp located at 5,300m (17,380ft) throughout the spring climbing season to monitor climbers and coordinate with expedition leaders,” the report added.
The government has authorized officials stationed at its unit at the Everest Bas Camp to cancel the climbing permit or even order the climbers to leave the mountain if there is any dispute. The unit was established last year itself.
Mountaineering support staff have even asked the government to allow operation of choppers for lifting heavy loads directly to Camp I, thus avoiding the Khumbu Icefall. But the officials are divided on the issue because of the environmental impacts that operation of choppers could have on the mountain. Officials allow use of choppers above the Everest Base Camp only during emergencies.
As well as highlighting the woeful plight of Nepali support staff, the avalanche brought into focus the fears that climate change and global warming is making climbing Mt Everest more dangerous. Environment activists say global warming has made the Khumbu Icefall section more dangerous. Canadian avalanche specialist Tom Rippel, who was in the Everest region last year, wrote in his blog: “The mountain has been deteriorating rapidly the past three years due to global warming and the breakdown in the Khumbu Icefall is dramatic, especially at the upper Icefall.” Each day we sit and listen to the groaning and crashing of the glacier, he added. Local mountaineering support staff are bearing the brunt of that risk.
More than 4,000 people have reached the top of Mt Everest since the first summit by Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary in 1952. More than 250, including 40 who have been killed near the Khumbu Icefall, have lost their lives on Everest so far.
The officials would be able to prevent disputes and would have the power to cancel the climbing permit or even order the climbers to leave the mountain.
Locals who can earn more than $5,000 for a season working as guides on the mountain, around 10 times the average annual income in Nepal, have sought better conditions of work and protection.
Everest has become very crowded during the peak climbing season of April and May, when snow and weather conditions give the greatest chance of a successful summit bid.
More than 4,000 people have reached the top over nearly 62 years, with around 800 expected to attempt the climb this year.
The move is the latest in a series of initiatives seeking to manage conflicting demands centred on the 29,000ft (8,848m) peak.
One suggestion was to install a ladder on the famous Hillary Step, a crucial pitch just below the summit to ease congestion.
Others include introducing separate fixed ropes for climbers ascending and descending near the summit to help ease the traffic and posting a team of government officials at the base camp located at 5,300m (17,380ft) throughout the spring climbing season to monitor climbers and coordinate with expedition leaders.
The officials would be able to prevent disputes and would have the power to cancel the climbing permit or even order the climbers to leave the mountain.
Locals who can earn more than $5,000 for a season working as guides on the mountain, around 10 times the average annual income in Nepal, have sought better conditions of work and protection.
Everest has become very crowded during the peak climbing season of April and May, when snow and weather conditions give the greatest chance of a successful summit bid.
More than 4,000 people have reached the top over nearly 62 years, with around 800 expected to attempt the climb this year.
Of 250 who have died on the peak, around 40 have been killed in the icefall.
Authorities recently cut the charges demanded by the government for attempting to climb the mountain by the classic South Col route in peak season, from a maximum of $25,000 to a flat fee of $11,000 for each climber.
The aim was to “discourage artificially formed groups, where the leader does not even know some of the members of the team … and … promote responsible and serious climbers”.
Fees for attempting the mountain in the tougher autumn season or by another route are as low as $2,500.
Some mountaineers have resisted the further “commercialisation” of Everest and, more generally, mountaineering in Nepal.
However, the sport is an important component of tourism that makes up about 4% of the impoverished nation’s GDP.

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