Trekkers stranded in Lukla, Nepal again

Trekkers were stranded in Lukla, Nepal for days due to bad weatherBad weather in the Himalayas has left many travelers stranded in a remote village in Nepal this past weekend, stretching supplies and accommodations to the limit. Fortunately, improving conditions allowed for many of them to be evacuated yesterday, with those remaining are expected to return to Kathmandu today.

Last week, heavy fog and rain descended on Lukla, a small village located at 9383 feet in the Himalayas. The village has one of the few airports in the region and serves as the main gateway for adventure travelers and climbers headed to Mt. Everest and other major peaks. That airport is considered to be amongst the most dangerous in the world during the best of conditions, and the heavy fog grounded all incoming and outgoing traffic starting on October 31st. With no planes getting in or out, trekkers completing their hikes were left stranded, and by the weekend, nearly 2000 people were stuck in the mountain town.

The fog and rain finally lifted yesterday, allowing aircraft to start shuttling trekkers out of the mountains at last, but the final groups weren’t expected to be airlifted until today. Other travelers elected to continue their hike on to the village of Jiri, a four day journey that would allow them to return to Kathmandu via bus and thereby avoid any further weather delays.

This is the second year in a row that the weather has left travelers stranded in Lukla. In November of last year thick fog prevented planes from getting in and out of the town as well, forcing the Nepali army to eventually use helicopters to facilitate the evacuation process. Fall in the Himalaya is a popular time for trekking, but the weather can be a bit unpredictable as the region transitions from the summer monsoons to the clear, cold of winter.

Having visited Lukla in the spring of 2010, it boggles my mind to think that there were more than 2000 people stranded there. The town is meant to be a brief stop over for those coming and going from Everest, and really isn’t set-up to accommodate that many visitors at one time. Judging from the reports, it seems everyone made it through just fine, but I’m sure there were some cramped quarters and cozy accommodations for a few days.

Korean climbers missing on Himalayan peak

Three climbers are missing on AnnapurnaThree Korean climbers have gone missing on a remote Himalayan peak that has a reputation for being amongst the most deadly in the world. The men had hoped to reach the summit along a new route yesterday, but search and rescue were initiated when there had been no word from them in nearly three days.

Park Young-seok, Kang Ki-seok and Shin Dong-min left Base Camp on Annapurna, the tenth highest peak in the world, earlier in the week with designs on reaching the summit yesterday. On Tuesday however, they radioed their support team in BC to let them know that they were aborting their climb due to dangerous conditions on the mountain. That was the last that anyone has heard from the team.

Realizing the climbers were overdue, the Base Camp team called for help in Kathmandu on Thursday, and a high altitude SAR team was dispatched, along with a helicopter, to search for the missing men. They discovered a rope that they believe was used by the team, but so far they have found no trace of the climbers themselves. It is feared that they may have fallen into a crevasse or been swept away by an avalanche.

Annapurna stands 26,545 feet (8091 meters) in height and has been called the deadliest mountain in the world. The massive peak has a fatality rate of 38%, meaning that for every three climbers who summit, one doesn’t make it back alive. That is the highest death rate on any of the 14 mountains that reach 8000 meters in height or higher.

[Photo credit: Wolfgang Beyer via WikiMedia]

Nepal to remeasure Mt. Everest

Nepal will remeasure the height of Mt. EverestThe government of Nepal has announced that it will remeasure the height of Mt. Everest in an effort to settle a dispute with China. This new survey is expected to take up to two years to complete and will likely provide the most accurate measurement of the height of the mountain ever.

Back in 1955 a team of Indian surveyors, using the best instruments available at the time, recorded the height of the mountain as 8848 meters or 29,029 feet. Since then, that has been the official measurement recognized by the Nepali government, despite the fact that both the Chinese and an American survey have offered differing numbers in the year since. Chinese surveyors argue that the snow on top of Everest shouldn’t be included in the measurement, and as a result, they list the mountain as being 8844 meters (29,015 ft) tall. On the other hand, a 1999 U.S. survey using GPS devices pegged Everest at 8850 meters (29,035 ft), a figure that is used by National Geographic when covering the Himalayan peak.

Mt. Everest falls along the border of Nepal and Chinese-controlled Tibet. In recent months, the two countries have been holding talks to discuss issues that have arisen along their common borders, with officials on both sides of the table continually using differing heights when referencing the mountain. This small point of contention has prompted Nepal to re-measure the height of the summit, which is a source of great pride for the smaller nation.

In order to gain the most accurate measurements possible, climbers will carry sophisticated GPS systems to the summit, where measurements will be taken in three different locations. Because of the challenges involved with scaling the world’s tallest mountain, officials say that it could take upwards of two years before they have a new reading on the height. Considering how sophisticated GPS tools are these days, this latest measurement is expected to be the definitive answer as to just how tall Mt. Everest really is.

Two climbers paraglide from the summit of Everest

Paraglide from the summit of EverestThere is a well known adage amongst mountaineers that says “getting to the summit is only halfway to the finish,” as obviously they have to safely come back down the mountain after they’ve completed their ascent. There are few places where this is more apparent than Mt. Everest, where climbers not only have to make a long, grueling trek to the top, they also have to negotiate a tricky descent as well. Over the weekend, two climbers found a way to avoid that descent however, by paragliding off the summit, bypassing all the challenges of a traditional return to Base Camp.

On Saturday, 29-year old Babu Sunuwar and his partner Lakpa Tshering Sherpa, 35, climbed to the summit of Everest. Once there, they assembled their tandem paraglider, and starting it up, both men stepped out into the nothingness that surrounds the highest point on the planet. Rather than plummeting a thousand feet to their deaths however, they took off on what must have been a spectacular flight through one of the most scenic places in the world.

Sailing through the air, Babu and Lakpa passed snow capped mountains on their 42-minute flight, which eventually deposited them at Namche Bazaar, a village in the Khumbu Valley region. Reaching that point would normally take climbers returning from the summit a minimum of three days, but these two avoided a long hike and were soon resting in a comfortable teahouse I’m sure.

Their adventure is far from over however. Having reached the highest point on Earth, they are now headed toward sea level by kayak and bike. Their eco-friendly journey will eventually end in Bangladesh in a few weeks time.

At the moment, there have been no photos released from this epic flight through the Himalaya. I’m hoping that at some point we might see some video footage though, as I’m sure the view was amazing. I’m also guessing that there were more than few other climbers who were jealous of their method of descent after seeing them take off from the summit as well.

[Photo Credit: Babu Sunuwar]

Apa Sherpa summits Everest for record 21st time

Apa Sherpa has reached the summit of Everest for a record 21st time.Legendary mountain guide Apa Sherpa successfully reached the summit of Mt. Everest yesterday, extending his own record for the person who has accomplished that feat the most often. For Apa, this was his 21st time standing on top of the world’s highest mountain.

The Nepali native, who now makes his home in Utah, reached the top of the 29,029-foot mountain at 9:15 AM local time yesterday morning. He was joined by six other climbers, who took advantage of good weather conditions to top out on Everest. The team began the ascent earlier in the week in hopes of completing their climb before the crowds of other commercial climbers start heading to the top. “Summit Day” for those teams is expected to take place today and tomorrow, with a string of other climbers delaying their start into next week.

With the summit out of the way, Apa and his team will now turn towards their other mission – cleaning up the mountain. For the past four years, he has climbed as part of the Eco-Everest Expedition, a team of high altitude Sherpas who not only lead paying clients up the mountain, but also work to protect the environment there as well. Apa and the other members of this crew have quite literally taken tons of trash, left behind by other expeditions, off of Everest, where it can be disposed of properly. These Sherpas also work as educators, spreading the word about the impact of climate change on Everest and the effect it has on the surrounding countryside.

For most mountaineers, standing on top of Everest even once is a dream come true. For Apa, it is just another climb. After 21 successful trips to the top, it is difficult to say when he’ll call it quits and hang up his crampons for good, but for now, he seems to still be enjoying the challenge, while still doing positive work for his home country.

[Photo courtesy Asian Trekking]