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]

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]

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]

First summits of the year on Everest

The first summits of Everest for 2011 took place yesterdayThe first successful summits of Mt. Everest for the 2011 spring climbing season took place yesterday, and as you might guess, they were accomplished by a group of Sherpas. The six-man team stood on the highest point on the planet after fixing the ropes to the summit, the same ropes that will now be used by the foreign climbers who will soon begin the long, challenging climb for themselves.

Each year, dozens of climber travel to Everest, the tallest mountain on the planet at 29,029-feet, in an attempt to scale that iconic peak. They spend upwards of two months, and $50,000, for the chance to stand on top of the mountain for just a few brief moments. Over the course of those two months, they climb up and down portions of the mountain several times, allowing their bodies to acclimatize to the extreme altitude, in preparation for the final push to the summit.

While those visiting climbers slowly adapt to the altitude, the indigenous Sherpas prepare the route to the top of the mountain. Using thousands of feet of rope, they put into place the lines that the climbing teams that follow will use to safely move higher on Everest. They’ll also establish a series of high altitude camps, four in all, which the mountaineers use as rest stops while acclimatizing and on their way to the top. This is difficult and draining work that only these unsung heroes of the Himalaya can complete in a safe and timely manner.

With the route to the summit now finished, the commercial climbing teams will now look for a weather window that will allow them to climb to the summit as well. Most are finishing their final acclimatization rotation over the next few days, after which they’ll return to Base Camp for a brief rest. All eyes will then be on the weather forecast, as the climbers look for an extended period of good conditions that will allow them to safely climb up the mountain. They may have to wait awhile however, as the weather on Everest this season has been unusual. Climbers report colder and windier conditions when compared to previous years, with more snow as well.

If all goes as planned however, there will be a spate of summits in about a week or so. Traditionally, most of the summits take place around the middle of May, before the seasonal monsoons set in in early June.

Legendary Sherpa to attempt 21st summit of Everest

Apa Sherpa will attempt his 21st successful summit of EverestLegendary Himalayan mountain guide Apa Sherpa has returned to his home country of Nepal once again this year, where he’ll be attempting his 21st summit of Mt. Everest. If successful, he will extend his existing record as the man to accomplish that feat most often.

Apa, who now lives in Utah, left his friends and family last Friday, and set off for the Nepali capital of Kathmandu. That city serves as the gateway to the Himalaya, and most mountaineering expeditions to the region begin and end there. Apa says that he knows that climbing the tallest mountain on the planet is risky, but he feels compelled to go back once again in an effort to help his homeland. The mountain guide’s Apa Sherpa Foundation raises funds to improve educational facilities of children living in the Himalaya.

The beginning of April traditionally marks the beginning of the spring climbing season in Nepal, Tibet, and other Himalayan countries. Over the past week, climbers and trekkers have been arriving in Kathmandu and setting out for Everest, Annapurna, and a dozen other high peaks. Climbing these giant mountains is no simple affair, and most will spend six to eight weeks attempting to reach the summit of their choice.

For Apa, this is all old hat. He has been making the journey to Everest every year since the late 1980’s, achieving his first successful summit in 1990. For the past three years, he has been a part of the Eco Everest Team, which is made up of a group of very experienced Sherpas who work together to clean up trash from the mountain. The team has been directly responsible for removing tons of discarded gear, empty oxygen bottles, and other waste products from the slopes of Everest.

If all goes as planned, Apa should be making his record-breaking 21st summit bid sometime in mid-May.