On the right trail

  • Trekking and mountaineering industry seeking post-quake scientific assessment for safety is a responsible move
- Navin Singh Khadka
On the right trail

Jun 4, 2015-

The mountains have shaken and so has the trekking and mountaineering industry which directly depends on them. But the good news is mountain-tourism operators remain unshaken. Without losing their self-control, they have placed long-term gains before what could be short-term benefits.

Seeking geologists

Trekking and mountaineering agents have seen seismic changes ranging from the drop of the Himalayas to earthquake-torn mountains scarred along with thousands of landslides that swept settlements, trails, bridges and highways and also blocked rivers. And they know how damaging all this could be to the industry, mainly because of the threat to the safety of trekkers and mountaineers from across the globe.

“We can immediately announce that the trekking areas are safe and people can go to these places because we are already repairing trails and bridges,” says Ramesh Dhamala, president of Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal. “But the question is will it be a sustainable move, given the risks seen on the mountains.”

It was this realisation that made them seek the help of ‘world-renowned geologists’ to identify which areas are safe for trekking and mountaineering now.

“We are already reaching out to leading universities and research institutions of the world to help us get top geologists who could do a proper assessment of the risks and give us a comprehensive picture as to which areas are safe,” said Dhamala.

Nepal Mountaineering Association president Ang Tshering Sherpa seconded the idea. “We are already repairing trails in several areas and some works have been completed but a scientific assessment is certainly what we need at this time,” he said.

Government officials have also bought into the idea. “We are totally convinced with this and talks are already on with different quarters for funding this project,” says Pushpa Raj Dhakal, director general of tourism department.

Shaking mountains

The April 25 mainshock left the Langtang and the surrounding Manasalu and Ganesh Himal trekking region almost completely devastated.

Then came the May 12 major aftershock that rattled the mountains in Dolakha, Sindhupalchok and Kavrepalanchok districts, triggering many landslides and making major trekking destinations like Rolwaling and Helambu inaccessible.

If the impacts were limited to just these areas to the immediate west and east of Kathmandu, perhaps trekking and mountaineering agents would not have been

so worried.

But the quakes shook things as far as the Everest region in the east and the Annapurna region in the west—both major trekking and mountaineering destinations.

The mainshock caused avalanches in the Everest region killing at least 18 people at and around the base camp and sweeping many ladders and ropes on the new climbing route to camp one. Icefall doctors could not fix the routes again as avalanches continued and the region kept on shaking.

No big events were reported in the Annapurna region in the initial days except for a landslide that partially blocked the Marshyangdi River in Manang district. And then all of a sudden came down a huge landslip above Beni that blocked the Kali Gandaki River threatening downstream settlements with a major flood-burst.

New findings

Meantime, Sherpas in the Everest region have visited the glacial region overlooking their villages and they have come back with some disturbing findings.

An empty small glacial lake with outlets appearing elsewhere, cracks on the ground and glaciers and a body of ice and debris of rocks and soil popping out of nowhere just above one of the villages have left them worried.

“These are disturbing changes we have witnessed ourselves,” says Ang Chiri Sherpa, president of one of the users’ group in the Sagarmatha buffer zone.

Floods from the outburst of a small glacial lake had swept two small bridges and a cow shed causing rumours that a major glacial lake, Imja had burst out. It was after the incident, Sherpa and his team had set out to find out the truth for themselves.

They found that Imja was indeed intact—as Department of Hydrology and Meteorology officials had said after a helicopter survey—but there were “other things to worry.”

All these have shaped the cautious approach trekking and mountaineering industry leaders have adopted. They, apparently, fear that if trekkers and mountaineers are taken to the affected areas and a quake-triggered disaster strikes, the industry could suffer irrecoverable loss.

International marketing

The trekking and mountaineering agents’ idea of getting an assessment from top geologists have led to some arguments that Nepali experts are equally competent of doing the job and that getting ‘foreign consultants’ would mean the usual drill of fat fees. But their idea of getting ‘world- renowned geologists’ on board is understandable. They know that such an assessment report would not only be a scientific statement but would also be an effective tool for international marketing.

The assessment may come and it might redefine the trekking and mountaineering routes in Nepal or it might not. But the initiative for such a scientific study taken by the trekking and mountaineering industry is definitely a responsible and wise move.

Khadka is a BBC journalist based in London


Published: 05-06-2015 08:31

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