Plane Crash Kills 19 In Nepal

A 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]

2012 Summit Day Begins On Everest

It will be a very busy day today at the top of the world. After months of planning and weeks of preparation, today is the day that the climbers on Everest will begin heading up to the summit en masse. For most it will be the culmination of a lifelong dream to climb the highest mountain on Earth, for others it will simply be the latest climb in their pursuit of mountaineering greatness.

The road to a successful summit of Mt. Everest in May actually begins in March. That’s when teams of mountaineers first arrive in Kathmandu, Nepal, and start to make their way out to the remote Himalayan peak. If they’re climbing the most common route, from the South Side, they’ll first have to make an 8- to 10-day trek to Base Camp. They can also elect to climb from the North, which is generally less crowded, but in order to get there they’ll first have to cross the border into Tibet. Once they’ve made that crossing, however, they can actually reach BC by car.

After they’ve settled into their respective Base Camp, the process of acclimatization begins. By making a series of climbs up and down the mountain, going a little higher each time, the climbers prepare their bodies for the challenges of dealing with altitude. Slowly but surely they adjust to breathing less oxygen as they hone their technical skills and keep an eye on the weather. The climbers know they need the perfect window of opportunity to reach the summit, as misjudging the conditions can be fatal.That is where most teams have been for the past week or so. With their acclimatization completed, the climbers have been watching the forecast and waiting for high winds to die down just long enough to allow access to the top. That happened yesterday, which allowed the all-important Sherpa guides to complete their work of fixing the ropes to the summit. While they were busy doing just that, a talented team of Chilean climbers blitzed past them and nabbed the first successful summits of the season.

Now, with the ropes firmly in place, the rest of the climbers can begin heading up as well. Over the next few days, several hundred climbers will reach the top of the mountain from both the North and the South Sides. With a little luck they’ll all get up and down safely. After nearly two months away from home, they’ll be eager to pack up and get back to their lives.

[Photo Credit: BabaSteve via WikiMedia]

One Foot – Everest Base Camp Trek

Far above a trip to the Caribbean or Antarctica on my bucket list is a journey into the depths of Nepal, and I can’t help but feel jealous that my friend Bassam Tarazi beat me to it. Tucked above the northeast corner of India through a seam of the Himalayas, Nepal is the definition of adventure. It seems far enough away from the western world to be free of any nonsense like reality television and Us Weekly, rugged enough for a lifetime of hikes and camping trips and filled with all sorts of adventure opportunities. Nepal is also the home of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world and a destination in and of itself. In the above video, Bassam details his journey to its base.

Dramatic Everest Rescue Caught On Video

A dramatic rescue took place on Mt. Everest this past weekend where photographer and filmmaker Corey Richards had to be evacuated from the mountain by helicopter. Much of the incident was captured on film, which offers insight into high altitude mountaineering rescue operations that can be employed to save a climber’s life.

Richards was climbing the world’s tallest mountain as part of the co-sponsored National Geographic/North Face team that is preparing to tackle Everest’s seldom visited West Ridge. As part of his normal acclimatization process, he had made his way up to Camp 2, located at about 21,000 feet, and while there, he began to experience chest pains and was having trouble breathing. Fearing an impending case of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), better known as altitude sickness, Corey’s teammates sprung into action to help ensure his safety. After putting him on supplementary oxygen, ten other climbers loaded him into a plastic sled and started to lower him down the mountain.

The original plan was to take him to Camp 1 where he could be picked up by a helicopter, but the weather worsened as they descended, and they were forced to assist him all the way back to Base Camp at 17,500 feet. Along the way, the 28-year-old Richards had to periodically get off the sled and walk across large crevasses on out-stretched ladders.

Upon reaching Base Camp, Richards was taken to the village of Lukla, located at a lower altitude in the Khumbu Valley. Once there, high altitude doctors were able to examine him and they determined that it was best to send him back to Kathmandu for recovery. He is reportedly there now, feeling much better and weighing his options for potentially returning to the team.

Update: The video has been changed to no longer allow us to embed it here on Gadling. To check it out for yourself click here.

First Climbers Arriving In Everest Base Camp Today

The 2012 climbing season on Mt. Everest officially gets underway today when the first climbers begin to arrive in Base Camp on the south side of the mountain. They’ll spend the next six weeks or so acclimatizing on the slopes of the world’s tallest peak before attempting to climb up to the 8848-meter (29,029-foot) summit.

Mountaineers first began arriving in Kathmandu, the gateway to the Himalaya, at the end of March. After spending a few days preparing their gear and completing their planning, they slowly began to filter out to the various mountains that they’ll be climbing in the weeks ahead. Most will go to Everest, which requires an eight- to 10-day trek through the Khumbu Valley culminating with their arrival in Base Camp. When they do arrive they’ll find that the Sherpa teams have already been hard at work building the tent city that will serve as home for the next few weeks.

The Sherpa guides have also been busy preparing the route up the South Col of the mountain. Not only have they already built a route through the dangerous Khumbu Icefall, the most deadly section of the climb, but also they’ve fixed ropes up to the first high camp located at 6065 meters (19,900 feet). That will allow climbers to continue their all-important acclimatization process as they prepare their bodies for the challenges of high altitude.

While the south side of Everest, located in Nepal, is the most popular route for climbers, some prefer to make their attempt from the north side, which is found inside Chinese controlled Tibet. The approach from that side of the mountain is no less challenging although it is typically less crowded and less expensive. Mountaineers can skip the hike to Base Camp as well, as it is possible to drive straight to the starting point. The first teams are expected to arrive on the north side over the next few days.

Spring is considered the best time to climb Everest as the weather is more predictable and conditions more stable. After the climbers have spent several weeks climbing up and down the mountain, letting their bodies adapt to the conditions, they’ll wait for a weather window to open that will allow them to go to the summit. When that window opens they’ll head to the top en masse with dozens, if not hundreds, of climbers standing on the world’s tallest point over the course of just a few days.