After Nepal disasters, more climbers eye Chinese route to Everest
By Krista Mahr and Andrew MacAskill, KATHMANDU (Reuters): Climber Carsten Pedersen has not given up his childhood dream of scaling Everest, despite last month’s avalanche that killed 18 people at base camp after a devastating earthquake. But if he does try again, it may well be from China, not Nepal.
Frustrated at the Nepal government’s silence over whether his permit to scale Everest will be extended due to the disaster, the Danish amateur is one of a growing number of climbers considering another route up the world’s highest peak.
“To every reaction, there is going to be a reaction,” said Pedersen, who has spent more than $110,000 on three previous attempts to conquer Everest.
“My reaction if they don’t extend the permit? I will probably go to Tibet to climb it. It is not that complicated.”
If the number of mountaineers switching routes continues to rise, the damage to Nepal’s trekking and climbing industry could be significant.
While the permits themselves only account for a few million dollars each year, the sector overall is worth some $340 million, and the draw of Everest plays a crucial role in the industry.
“This one mountain has an oversized impact on the rest of the tourism in the country,” said Prachanda Man Shrestha, a former head of Nepal’s tourism department.
So trekking agencies and mountaineers in Nepal are urging the government to make up its mind about what to do with this year’s permits, which cost $11,000 per climber.
At the same time they recognize that, overwhelmed by a natural disaster that has killed nearly 8,000 people, the government has other priorities.
Tulsi Prasad Gautam, head of Nepal’s tourism department, said the government was not in a position to refund fees, which go into state coffers once paid, and a decision would be made in the next few months on whether they would be extended.
“If the government extends the permit, then clients will come back,” said Sonam Sherpa of mountaineering outfit Thamserku Trekking and Yeti Airlines, one of Nepal’s best known domestic carriers that flies climbers to remote regions.
That is what happened last year.
After an Everest avalanche killed 16 people in 2014, ending the season, Nepal eventually extended climbers’ permits, and a record number of people flocked to Everest base camp in 2015.
But worryingly for Nepal, after two successive setbacks on Everest and criticism of what some climbers said was a chaotic response to the April 25 disaster, more are now eyeing the colder, windier but better organized Chinese route.
Following last year’s avalanche, expedition leader Adrian Ballinger decided enough was enough.
Several outfits that set up camps in the avalanche’s path lost all their gear, and others had to abandon equipment at camps higher up the mountain that were cut off once the Khumbu icefall route was destroyed.
Ballinger said the decision to switch sides was a large investment that cost him two years of “theoretical profits”, but believed the accidents meant it was inevitable more would follow him to Tibet.
“The system is entirely broken on the south side,” Ballinger said.
Few in the climbing community believe that disasters on Everest two seasons in a row will keep people away altogether. Indeed, for some, the danger may increase the allure.
Pedersen, a technology consultant who has been to the North Pole, flown a MiG fighter jet and spent $100,000 on a ticket to fly into space, has aborted three attempts on Everest in the last four years when people on the mountain were killed.
But, he said, climbing the mountain is a chance to join an elite group.
“If I nearly died or if I had head trauma then my feelings may be different, but it is still my dream to climb Everest.”
(Additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel, Clara Ferreira-Marques and Gopal Sharma; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Mike Collett-White)
::Photo: The Everest mountain range is seen from Kalapatta in Nepal, May 4, 2011. Picture taken May 4, 2011. (Reuters/Laurence Tan.)