Pakistan Halts Mountaineering Expeditions Following Base Camp Murders

Pakistani mountaineering expeditions to Nanga Parbat asre suspended
Daniel Martin via WikiMedia

In the wake of the brutal killing of 10 climbers in Base Camp on a remote peak in Pakistan this past weekend, the country has suspended all mountaineering expeditions to the region. This unprecedented move has forced dozens of alpinists to abandon their climb as the Pakistani government scrambles to ensure they can keep visitors safe following the tragedy.

Early Sunday morning a team of armed gunmen dressed as local police stormed Base Camp on Nanga Parbat, the ninth tallest mountain in the world at 8126 meters (26,660 feet). The attackers reportedly pulled 10 climbers from their tents, bound their hands and shot them execution style. A Pakistani guide was also killed in the massacre while another Chinese climber was shot and wounded, but survived. Afterward, a militant group known as Junood ul-Hifsa, a relatively new splinter group from the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the killings, which they say were in retaliation for a U.S. drone strike back in May.

News of the attack sent a shockwave through the closely-knit mountaineering community, which has been coming to Pakistan to climb in the summer months for decades. The Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, which is where Nanga Parbat can be found, is normally considered to be very peaceful and welcoming of foreigners, which has only added to the sadness and confusion that has come with this massacre.Immediately following the attack, the Pakistani military moved onto the mountain and secured a safe exit for the other climbers, most of whom were further up the slopes at the time. At the moment, only one team remains on Nanga Parbat – a Romanian squad that is attempting an ascent along a different route. Their camp is located far from the scene of the attack and they are awaiting word to see if they will be allowed to continue.

Meanwhile, back in Islambad, other climbers are stranded in the city while they wait for an opportunity to travel to their targeted peaks. A number of teams hoping to make an attempt on K2 – the second highest mountain in the world – are now left wondering if they’ll even get a chance to climb at all. The Pakistani government want to make sure it can guarantee their safety before letting them depart for the mountains and as a result it is erring on the side of caution. While there have been no other attacks on mountaineers elsewhere in the country, an armed presence now exists on the trekking routes that lead to those peaks.

Summer is typically the busy climbing and trekking season in Pakistan and the economy there depends on visitors feeling safe. This attack is likely to make adventure travelers and mountaineers think twice before they travel to the region in the future, which could have a big impact on the poor people that live in these remote areas.

10 Random Observations About Slovenia

Slovenia
Sean McLachlan

Now that I’m wrapping up my series on Slovenia, there are a few bits and pieces that are worth sharing but didn’t fit in any articles. While these observations won’t be surprising to anyone familiar with the country, they were amusing to this first-time visitor.

1. As this photo shows, guys will always know where to go. Luckily the urinals are much more modern than the sign indicates, and you don’t have to be naked to use them.

2. When you buy a return bus ticket, it comes with a little schedule of the return buses for your route. Brilliant! Why don’t all countries do that?

3. Maypoles are popular in Slovenia. You see them in most of the smaller towns and villages.

4. Slovenia has the weirdest drug laws I’ve ever encountered. It’s illegal to buy, sell or possess marijuana. Pretty standard, you might say, but get this – it’s legal to smoke it. How you can smoke it without possessing it is anyone’s guess. Also, it’s legal to buy, sell or possess seeds but you can’t grow them into plants. Huh? Wait, let me rephrase that – HUH????

5. If you hike to the top of Triglev, Slovenia’s highest mountain, you are considered a “true Slovene,” but not before you are spanked by birch twigs to celebrate the occasion. It’s not clear if this is a real tradition or something invented by Slovenia’s S&M community.6. Slovenians love ketchup. It’s served with practically everything, even pizza. Apparently the tomato sauce on pizza doesn’t give it enough of a tomato flavor.

7. Slovenia’s national anthem was adapted from a poem about drinking wine. It’s perhaps unique among national anthems in that there’s no nationalistic chest thumping. Instead it calls for world harmony.

8. Don’t call it Slovakia, and don’t call the region the Baltics. I managed to avoid these common errors, but once when I was in Estonia I flubbed it and called the Baltics the Balkans. This slip of the tongue will get you razzed by the locals in either region.

9. If you’re going to have a food festival, why do something boring like celebrate wine or cheese? The Slovenians get creative with Bean Day, Chestnut Sunday and a Cabbage Festival.

10. As you can see below, if you’re entering the loading dock of a Slovenian supermarket, make sure you have some stuff.

Check out the rest of my series, “Slovenia: Hikes, History and Horseburgers.”

Slovenia
Sean McLachlan

Video: Everest In Time-Lapse

We’ve seen some truly amazing time-lapse videos in recent months but it is difficult to top this one. It was shot on Mt. Everest this spring and delivers a true sense of the scale of that mountain. Many of the images were captured at various campsites along the route up to the summit and feature some stunning shots of the night sky above the tallest mountain in the world. It is a short, but beautiful film that will leave you in awe of our planet.

Everest -A time lapse short film” from Elia Saikaly on Vimeo.

Video: 100 Years Of Climbing Mt. McKinley

Climbing Mt. McKinley in 1913
Project Gutenberg

Standing 20,320 feet in height, Mt. McKinley is the tallest mountain in North America and one of the most challenging climbs in the entire world. While it doesn’t rival the big Himalayan peaks in terms of altitude, it more than makes up for it with a number of technical climbing challenges and notoriously fickle weather that can even be bad during the peak climbing season of May and June.

Last week marked the 100th anniversary of the first ascent of McKinley, which is generally referred to by its native Koyukon name of Denali in mountaineering circles. On June 7, 1913, Walter Harper, Harry Karstens, Hudson Stuck and Robert Tatum became the first men to stand on the summit of this imposing peak. A century later the route to the top remains nearly as elusive as it was when they first made the journey.

To celebrate this impressive milestone, the National Park Service released the following video that not only commemorates the accomplishment of the first ascent but also attempts to answer the age old question of why we climb. It is an inspiring and thought provoking short film, to say the least.

Sherpas May Install Ladder On Everest To Lessen Crowds

Sherpas may install a ladder on Everest
EPA

A controversial plan to install a ladder on Mt. Everest has been met with a less than enthusiastic response from the mountaineering community. The mountain guides behind the proposal say that the ladder will help to alleviate traffic jams near the summit, while purists claim that it will detract from the overall challenge of the climb.

The plan was first made public this past weekend when Dawa Steven Sherpa, a prominent mountain guide and member of the Expedition Operators Association in Nepal, revealed that the organization was considering installing a ladder at the Hillary Step, a crucial point in the climb on Everest’s South Side. Named after Sir Edmund Hillary, who was the first to scale it, the Hillary Step is located at 28,750 feet. The 40-foot rock wall has been the cause of bottlenecks in recent years as climbers attempt to negotiate the tricky route while wearing crampons and other heavy climbing gear. Since only one person can be on the ropes at any given time, others end up standing around watching and waiting for their turn. This can be especially dangerous due to the thin air, cold temperatures and weather conditions that have been known to change abruptly.

According to Dawa, the ladder would only be used by climbers who are descending, which would have little to no impact on the level of challenge related to the climb. It would simply direct the traffic heading down in a slightly different direction, thus eliminating congestion and diminishing traffic jams.But opponents of the plan say that those coming to the mountain should already know how to safely climb a relatively easy technical section such as the Hillary Step. They argue that the ladder will enable even more people to attempt Everest, bring more inexperienced and untested climbers to the mountain. Critics say that it could possibly even lead to further crowding in the future.

It should be noted that ladders are already used on certain sections of Everest. For instance, climbers on the South Side use them to traverse the Khumbu Icefall, a treacherous section that would be nearly impossible to pass through without the aid of a ladder. On the North Side of the mountain, which falls inside China controlled Tibet, there is a permanent ladder installed at a place called the Second Step. That rock face is far more difficult than the Hillary Step however and without the ladder there, almost no one would successfully reach the top along that route.

Personally, I feel that if Nepal truly wants to make the mountain safer they should limit the number of permits that are issued each year. That won’t happen however, as the permits bring in a lot of money to a country that is otherwise extremely poor. Given the alternatives, I’d say adding the ladder is a wise move.