Three Mountaineers Assaulted On Mt. Everest By Sherpas

Sherpas on Everest attacked three climbers this weekendThe 2013 spring climbing season on Mt. Everest took a strange and unexpected turn this past weekend when a team of three climbers was assaulted by a mob of angry Sherpas. The incident first began at one of the mountain’s high camps, then reignited further down the slope when tempers flared up once again. If it weren’t for the brave intervention of other Western climbers, the conflict could have resulted in severe injury, or even the death, of the mountaineers involved.

This past Saturday, independent climbers Ueli Steck of Switzerland, Simone Moro of Italy and Jonathan Griffith of the U.K. were all climbing towards Camp 3, located at 7200 meters (23,622 feet), when they came across a team of Sherpas. The high altitude guides were busy fixing lines up the mountain that the commercial climbers will use as they scale it over the next few weeks. The Sherpas asked the Europeans to stay off the ropes while they were being worked on, as it was possible the climbers could dislodge debris and send it falling down on them while they worked. Steck, Moro and Griffith, who are each very accomplished climbers, agreed with the request and proceed up the slope using their own ropes that ran parallel to those the Sherpas were working on.

As they neared their campsite, the three climbers needed to cross the fixed ropes in order to get to their tents. As they carefully proceeded over the lines, the lead Sherpa, who was working above them at the time, rapidly descended and immediately began shouting at them to stay off the ropes. He accused the team of dislodging a chunk of ice, which struck and injured one of his workers below. Something the European climbers deny. The argument only escalated from there, culminating with the entire Sherpa team ceasing their work and descending to Camp 2 in a huff.Steck, Moro and Griffith then proceeded to their campsite to drop off several loads of gear and discuss what to do next. In an effort to extend an olive branch and show respect to the Sherpas for their efforts, Steck decided to help with the rope fixing himself, adding 260 additional meters to the work that had already been completed. But after spending some time mulling their options, they decided it was best to descend to Camp 2 just as the Sherpas had.

Sherpas on Everest attacked mountaineers this weekendUpon arriving there, they were immediately met with an angry mob. The team of 17 Sherpas that the climbers had confronted on the mountain slopes had grown to nearly 100. The group attacked the three men, punching and kicking them repeatedly. Some threw rocks at them in an effort to severely injure or even kill them. The incensed Sherpa contingent was clearly out for blood.

Fortunately, other Western climbers were on site and jumped in to serve as a buffer zone between the trio from Europe and their assailants. It took the better part of an hour, but things finally began to calm down. At that time, the Sherpas told Steck, Moro and Griffith that they had better get back down the mountain to Base Camp, because if they spent the night in C2, one of them would lose his life. They promised to see to the other two climbers as well.

Grabbing a few pieces of gear, the three men descended back to Base Camp, but out of fear for their lives they didn’t use any of the fixed ropes that are in place along the route. When they arrived in BC, Ueli Steck was immediately flown to a hospital in a nearby village for treatment. He had suffered a minor injury to his head when he was struck by a rock during the melee but doctors didn’t find any serious damage. After spending a night under observation, he was back in Base Camp the following day.

The team had been considering continuing the expedition. Steck and Moro are two of the best climbers of their generation and they don’t give up easily. But after meeting with authorities yesterday and members of the Sherpa association, the three European climbers have decided to call it quits for the season and head home.

In the aftermath of the violent incident, three of the Sherpas have been removed from the mountain, while the police and the Ministry of Tourism investigates what exactly happened. Everyone knows that this story won’t be good for Nepal’s image, which relies heavily on tourism dollars from climbers and trekkers to stay afloat.

[Photo Credits: Rupert Taylor-Price via Wikimedia, Jonathan Griffith]

Hyperlapse Tool Takes Google Street View To A Whole New Level

Google Street View was a boon to desk- and couch-bound wanderers when it debuted back in 2007, but even the most fervent Street View explorers would agree that the endless clicking is a bit of a chore.

Enter a free online tool that uses Street View images to create a personalized animated road trip. The Hyperlapse tool, created by a Toronto design company, lets you choose any two drivable points on the map, and then stitches together the Google Street View images to create an animation that you can pan around in real time.

The above video demonstrates the hyperlapse tool’s remarkable capabilities. The montage includes drives past major American landmarks and through other countries like Denmark Slovakia, Canada and Australia.

The online interface currently only provides basic point-to-point animation with a locked frame rate, so a two-hour drive like the one I animated from Montreal to Ottawa will take but a couple seconds. However, the featured hyperlapses, which show custom-made drives through the places like the Australian outback and Yosemite National Park are well worth a look. No word yet on when we will be able to animate trips to Street View’s more unique destinations, like up Everest or down the Amazon.

Rhino Population On The Rebound In Nepal’s Chitwan National Park

Chitwan National Park is home to the one-horned rhinoMost people visit Nepal for the opportunity to go climbing and trekking in the High Himalaya, but the country isn’t comprised solely of snow-capped peaks. In fact, Nepal actually has a region of subtropical lowlands that feel like they are a world away from the mountains that have made the country so famous. One of the main attractions for travelers in these lowlands is the Chitwan National Park, a 360-square-mile preserve that is home to a diverse population of animals that includes tigers, leopards, crocodiles and the rare one-horned rhino, a species that looked to be headed toward extinction, but is now on the rebound.

Chitwan was first designated a national park back in 1973 and was named a World Heritage Site 11 years later. In those days, the park was well patrolled by Nepal’s army, which ensured that the preserve, and its wildlife, remained protected. That all changed in the late 1990s when the country became embroiled in a civil war, causing the government to divert troops and funds toward battling Maoist insurgents. The result was a severe drop in the number of military monitoring posts in the region and a surge in illegal poaching soon followed.

According to this story from the BBC, there were an estimated 612 rhinos living in Chitwan at the turn of the century. Just five years later that number had dropped to a mere 375, putting the animal within striking distance of extinction in Nepal. The rhino’s outlook for survival would have been quite grim if the government and the insurgents hadn’t signed peace accords in 2006. Since then a relative calm has returned to the country and important resources have been freed up to help protect the national park once again.
With the civil war now behind it, Nepal has turned its efforts toward once again protecting the one-horned rhino, and other species, from poachers. Through the use of redeployed troops, better intelligence and a more communal approach toward protecting the park, the country seems to have turned the tide against those who illegally hunt and kill the animals. The latest census numbers, taken in 2011, indicate that the rhino population is on the rebound and it is believed that there are now more than 500 of the creatures roaming inside Chitwan National Park.

The one-horned rhino remains one of the most endangered animals on the planet and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. But considering how regularly we hear awful stories about how a species is in rapid decline, often at the hands of poachers, it is good to hear about a success story for a change.

[Photo Credit: Government of Nepal]

Sherpa Is First Fatality Of The Season On Everest

On the left is the summit of Everest, tallest peak on the planetThe spring climbing season on Mt. Everest is barely a week old and the mountain has already claimed its first death of the year. On Sunday, 45-year-old Mingmar Sherpa took a fatal fall into a crevasse while descending from Camp 2 on the mountain’s South Side. His companions attempted to mount a rescue operation but it took several hours to retrieve his body from the crevasse, at which time it was already too late.

Mingmar was a member of the famed Everest Icefall Doctors, a highly trained group of Sherpas whose job it is to build and maintain a safe route through the Khumbu Icefall each year. The group places ladders across open crevasses and fixes ropes through this dangerous section, allowing the climbers that come after them to pass through quickly and safely. That route had just been completed on Saturday and the Icefall Docs were helping to shuttle gear up the slope to two of the higher camps when the accident occurred.

Last spring was a particularly deadly season on the world’s tallest mountain where ten people lost their lives in pursuit of the summit. Unusually warm and dry conditions helped to make the mountain unstable, causing rocks to tumble down its slopes and forcing climbers to scramble across bare rock rather than the more preferred snow and ice. The 2013 season doesn’t appear to be a repeat of those conditions, however, as it has been a long, cold winter – with plenty of snow – in the Himalaya this year. As a result, the entire mountain is more stable, which should translate to fewer hazards and fatalities in the weeks ahead.

The mountaineering teams are just now arriving in Base Camp and will begin heading up the mountain in the next few days. Most will spend several weeks acclimatizing to the altitude while honing their skills and watching the skies for a weather window that will allow them to make a summit bid. Traditionally, the first summit attempts from the commercial climbing teams begin around mid-May.

Hopefully this early-season death isn’t a sign of things to come this year.

[Photo Credit: Kraig Becker]

Spring Climbing And Trekking Season Begins In Nepal

The Nepal Trekking and Climbing Seasons are about to begin!The streets of Kathmandu are bustling with traffic today as the spring climbing and trekking seasons get underway in the Himalaya. Over the next few days, hundreds of mountaineers and backpackers will descend on the capital of Nepal before setting out for the country’s legendary hiking trails and unmatched alpine settings. For many, this will be a trip of a lifetime, taking them on a grand adventure into the very heart of the Himalaya. And for a select few, it is the chance to stand on top of some of the highest mountains on the planet.

For most of these visitors, the first stop on their journey is to the Thamel District of Kathmandu. This popular tourist destination is home to most of the city’s hotels and it is a great place to grab that last piece of gear you need before heading out into the mountains. Gear shops line the streets in this crowded and noisy part of town but not all of them are completely honest about the products they sell. In fact, if the deal on that North Face jacket or sleeping bag that you’ve had your eye on seems too good to be true, it’s probably because it is actually a cheap knockoff. Sure, it may survive the trip but don’t expect it to perform well or hold up over time.

After a day or two in Kathmandu, its time to head out to the Himalaya themselves. For those traveling to Everest, that mans a short flight to the mountain village of Lukla and the infamous Tenzing-Hillary Airport, named after the two men who first successfully summited the world’s tallest peak. Others will depart KTM for Pokhara, a city that grants access to the Annapurna Trekking Circuit and three of the highest mountains in the world – Dhaulagiri, Manaslu and Annapurna itself.Most trekkers will spend a couple of weeks hiking through the Himalaya, spending their days on breathtakingly beautiful trails and nights in local teahouses. Those quaint inns offer comfortable accommodations, tasty food and shelter from the frequently changing weather. A trek to Everest Base Camp takes roughly 10-12 days to complete depending on the selected route and speed. The entire journey is a blend of adventure, culture and Buddhist spirituality that also just so happens to take place in one of the most spectacular settings on the planet.

For the climbers the journey is a much more difficult and demanding one. Their arrival at Base Camp is just the start of their adventure and over the following six weeks or so, they’ll spend most of their time acclimatizing to the altitude, honing their mountaineering skills and moving up and down the mountain. They’ll push themselves to the absolute physical limit, all the while keeping their eyes on the weather, just to get the chance to stand on the summit for a few brief – but glorious – minutes.

Traditionally, the climbing and trekking seasons begin as the snows of winter recede and end with the arrival of the Monsoon in early June. During those few brief months, the various teahouses and base camps will be crowded with mountaineers and adventure travelers who share the camaraderie of the trail. It is an experience unlike any other and one worth taking for those who enjoy their travels to be off the beaten path and bit more active.

[Photo Credit: Kraig Becker]