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Gurkhas kick off Everest season with summit success

  • Spring expedition
- Sangam Prasain, Kathmandu

May 16, 2017-

The Gurkha Everest Expedition reached the top of Everest on Monday, becoming the first to scale the world’s tallest peak this year. The 14 summiteers included soldiers serving with the Brigade of Gurkhas and high-altitude mountain guides. 

“They made it to the summit at 1:15 pm,” said Gyanendra Shrestha, a Tourism Ministry official. This is the first time that serving Gurkha soldiers have reached the summit. 

As the weather forecast says high winds, it is not certain when other Everest aspirants will make their summit bids, mountaineering officials said. 

On May 10, the so-called Icefall Doctors, a dedicated team of local climbers who prepare the route up Everest by fixing ropes, had attempted to reach the top. However, they were forced to return due to high winds and heavy snowfall above what is called the ‘balcony’ (8,400 metres).

The high-altitude Nepali mountain workers had then decided to make their summit bids after May 17.

However, the Gurkha Everest Expedition did not wait. “The Gurkha team assessed the weather themselves. They decided to mount the summit bid considering the weather window, a period of time when weather conditions can be expected to be suitable for them to climb,” said Shiva Raj Thapa, managing director of Summit Nepal Trekking that is handling the Gurkha Everest Expedition. 

“The Icefall Doctors and the Gurkha expedition guides both prepared the route and reached the top of Everest on Monday.” The Gurkha Everest Expedition comprises 20 members including seven British climbers. 

In 2015, the Brigade of Gurkhas selected a team of 16 serving Gurkha soldiers who would attempt to summit Everest to celebrate 200 years of Gurkha service to the British Crown. However, they were forced to return after avalanches set off by the devastating April 25 quake killed 19 climbers, including high-altitude guides and helpers at base camp and the Khumbu Icefall.

According to the Tourism Department, 373 fee-paying climbers have received permits to make an attempt on the world’s highest peak this spring. This is the highest number of climbing permits issued for Everest during a single season. With each climber hiring at least one local climbing guide, the total number of climbers is likely to touch 800 this season.

As there are a large number of Everest aspirants this season, mountaineering officials have expressed fears that there could be dangerous overcrowding if the climbing is delayed by bad weather. On May 22, 2008, a record 135 climbers made it to the top of Everest in a single day. The record was broken on May 19, 2012 when 179 individuals reached the top in a single day due to a ‘traffic jam’ caused by a small ‘weather window.’ 

The Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) has said that considering the large number of Everest aspirants waiting for a chance to mount a bid for the summit, a ‘traffic jam’ on the slopes cannot be ruled out this year. Everest has seen a record number of climbers this season due to a backlog resulting from the 2014 and 2015 avalanches. The world’s highest peak was closed for two consecutive years in 2014 and 2015 due to deadly avalanches. On April 18, 2014, an avalanche on Everest near base camp killed 16 Nepali guides.

The government had extended the Everest climbing permits of those climbers who were forced to abandon their bids in 2014 until 2019. That year, 326 mountaineers had received climbing permits.

Then in 2015, quake-triggered avalanches killed 19 climbers. This time, the government extended the permits to climb Everest for two years until 2017.

This season has already seen two deaths, those of experienced Swiss mountaineer Ueli Steck and Nepali Min Bahadur Sherchan. More than 4,000 people have scaled Everest since 1953. Over 280 climbers have died attempting to scale the world’s tallest peak.

Published: 16-05-2017 13:14

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