Everest Climbers Also Face Dangerous Runway

AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the first summit of Mount Everest, a feat that’s been attempted by thousands of climbers since. Although we all understand ascending the world’s highest peak is one of the most grueling challenges on the planet, few people also know that summiting the mountain is only one risk climbers take; they also often fly in via one of the most nail-biting runways in the world.

Associated Press reports that Tenzing-Hillary Airport is really just a small airstrip carved out of the side of the mountain. There’s just a single, narrow runway – and if the pilot misses it by just a few feet, the plane will hit a mountain. To further complicate things, the airport is surrounded by mountains, meaning once a pilot passes a certain point, there is no choice but to land.

The airstrip was built in 1965 by Sir Edmund Hillary, one of the first two men to conquer Everest, and it is named for him and his climbing partner, Tenzing Norgay. Hillary created the airport to help Sherpas spur development in the area, and ever since many climbers choose to fly into the airport in order to avoid a daylong bus trip from the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu, and five days of trekking.

Since its inception, the airport has claimed about 50 deaths – far fewer than Everest itself, which has seen about 240 deaths. But still, with a track record like that, the runway can definitely be considered high risk. For more on the world’s most dangerous runways, check out this slideshow.

[via Skift]

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]

Plane Crash Kills 19 In Nepal

A plane crash in Nepal killed everyone on boardA plane bound for the infamous Lukla airport in Nepal crashed yesterday, killing all 19 people on board. It is believed that the aircraft struck a bird shortly after takeoff from Kathmandu, resulting in the crash minutes later. This is the sixth such accident in the past two years, calling into question the level of air safety in the country.

The plane, operated by Sita Air, set off with 16 passengers and three crewmembers for the Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla, which is the starting point for trekkers hiking to Everest Base Camp. Shortly after departure, the air traffic controllers noticed an erratic maneuver by the aircraft and when contacted by radio the pilot indicated that they had struck a vulture. The plane was attempting to safely return to Kathmandu when it went down.

Reports indicate that there were seven passengers aboard from both the U.K. and Nepal, while the other five people were Chinese nationals. Most were there on holiday and were preparing to trek in the Himalaya Mountains.

Over the past two years, 120 people have been killed in similar accidents throughout the region. Most were either on their way to or from the airport in Lukla at the time. According to the BBC, Nepalese Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai has vowed to improve safety and prevent similar accidents from happening in the future, although he has not outlined exactly how he intends to improve safety just yet.

Having made that same flight a few years back, I can tell you that it is a beautiful journey into the mountains, but most of the planes look like they’ve seen their better days. At the height of the trekking season, which is just getting underway now, aircraft are constantly in and out of Lukla. That means that there are dozens of similar flights all day long, weather permitting.

Hopefully the Nepalese government will introduce a more stringent maintenance and inspection process to prevent similar problems in the future.

[Photo credit: Associated Press]

Fall Himalayan Climbing Season Begins

Makalu, a popular Himalayan climbing site this fall. Most mountaineers, both actual and armchair, know that for two months each spring, Everest and the other big Himalayan peaks become the epicenter of the climbing world. From April to June, hundreds of mountaineers from around the globe descend on Nepal and Tibet with the expressed goal of scaling one of the tallest mountains on the planet. As a result, Base Camps across the region can become noisy, dirty and overly crowded, which dramatically detracts from the experience, to say the least. But not everyone knows that there is a second climbing season that arrives in the fall, after the monsoon has departed for another year. The fall season is much quieter and more tranquil than the spring, affording climbers more solitude in the mountains.

The 2012 fall Himalayan climbing season officially got underway at the end of August when teams began arriving in Kathmandu. Most spent a few days in Nepal’s capital city organizing their gear and putting the final touches on their preparation before they begin the trek to their respective Base Camps throughout the Himalaya. That hike generally helps to start the acclimatization process that will prepare them for living at high altitude over the coming weeks.

Often times the fall season is used to hone technical skills in preparation for bigger challenges to come. For instance, climbers who are planning a spring ascent of Everest will often visit the Himalaya in the fall to gain valuable experience and assess their body’s ability to adapt to the thin air. For some it will give them the valuable tools they’ll need for taking on the world’s tallest mountain, while others will learn that the Big Hill is ultimately out of reach.The two mountains that will receive the most traffic this fall are Makalu and Manaslu, the fifth and eighth tallest peaks on the planet respectively. Of those, the 8481 meter (27,825 ft) Makalu is considered a more challenging climb. The lone peak, located along the border of Nepal and Tibet, features a distinct pyramid-shaped summit that provides plenty of technical challenges including a final approach that mixes both rock and ice. Manaslu, on the other hand, features a double summit, the tallest of which extends 8156 meters (26,759 ft) into the sky. While not quite as difficult as Makalu, it does indeed make an excellent testing ground for climbers looking to move on tougher peaks.

Cho Oyu, another popular destination for fall Himalayan climbers, is off limits this year due to the continued closure of the Tibetan border by the Chinese. That 8201 meter (26,906 ft) mountain is also a good tune-up in preparation for a spring attempt on Everest. But because of on going protests inside Tibet, no entry visas are currently being approved. That has caused several expeditions to change their plans and move their climb back into Nepal instead.

While the fall season is much less crowded in the Himalaya the weather also tends to be more unpredictable as well. At the moment it is calm and warm there, but winter tends to arrive early in that part of the world, which means climbers could easily be dealing with high winds and heavy snows before they’re through.

Most of the fall expeditions will be between a month and six weeks in length. In the early weeks the climbers will mostly be concentrating on acclimatizing to the altitude while they slowly build a series of camps that they’ll use in their final push to the summit. Once that process is complete, they’ll simply wait for the weather to be right to facilitate their summit bids. If they’re lucky they won’t have to wait long, but more often then not they can end up waiting for a number of days before conditions are right to go for the top.

And when they’re done, they’ll head home rest, recuperate and begin planning their return to the mountain in the spring.

[Photo credit: Ben Tubby via WikiMedia]

Everest Encounter Possible A Number Of Ways

EverestClimbing Mt. Everest is often a lifetime achievement for many travelers. Each spring, some of the most adventurous, daring and physically fit among us attempt the risky undertaking. But summiting is not the only way to experience the highest peak on the planet. One eco-travel company suggests Everest travel strategies that can considerably lower the danger, cost, time or exertion required of summit-focused mountaineers.

“Seeing Everest from any perspective is a thrill,” JOURNEYS International founder Dr. Will Weber said in his blog recently, outlining 6 strategies for a personal Everest encounter.

1. Trek to the Everest base camp in Nepal. Takes eight days of hiking to reach the pinnacle viewpoint of the peak from an 18,200-foot, non-climbing vantage point.

2. Drive to the north slope of Everest in Tibet. Drive from Lhasa to Kathmandu in five days.

3. Trek to the Arun Valley of East Nepal. 12 days takes travelers to a high ridge between Everest and Kangchenjunga where they will have breathtaking views of four of the five highest mountains in the world.

4. Fly the Everest Flightseeing trip from Kathmandu. A comfortable pressurized aircraft virtually guarantees a peak-level view of Everest.

5. Fly on commercial, scheduled jet aircraft service between Kathmandu and Paro, Bhutan; Lhasa, Tibet; or Bangkok, Thailand. Odds are the plane will fly right over Everest but “bring a peak profile image to identify the mountain for yourself and your seatmates,” says Weber. “Views are brief and usually only available on one side of the plane.”

6. Hire a helicopter from Kathmandu. Fly to the Khumbu area of Nepal, have tea on the veranda of the Everest View Hotel, which offers a superb view of Everest, and fly back an hour later. “By several measures the experience will be astounding, but it is one of the more costly options.”

See more on these six strategies at the JOURNEYS International blog.

Climbing Mt. Everest

Flickr photo by Se7en Summits