Mount Everest: Tracking chip mandatory

Sunrise on Mount Everest
Sunrise on Mount Everest (in fall 2019)

Who is where on Mount Everest? In future, it should also be possible to answer this question electronically. As reported this week by Indian media and now also by the US television channel CNN, from this spring onwards, summit contenders will be required to carry a tracking chip with them. The chips, which cost between 10 and 15 dollars and are manufactured in Europe, are to be sewn into the down jackets of the mountaineers.

Ministry of Tourism: “Shorter search times”

Rakesh Gurung from the Nepalese Ministry of Tourism told CNN that such chips have been in use by renowned expedition operators for years, but that they now have to be used by everyone. “It will cut down search and rescue time in the event of an accident,” said Gurung. In spring 2023, 18 people lost their lives on the Nepalese side of Everest, more than ever before in one season. Some missing persons had not been found.

The electronic chips are certainly not a bad idea. But whether they really make Everest that much safer remains to be seen. In recent years, some summit aspirants have been left to their own devices in mountain distress, even though it was known where they were.

Authorities want to restrict luxury at base camp

In the upcoming spring season on Mount Everest, there are to be some further innovations. I have already reported on the obligation for climbers to bring their own faeces back down the mountain in so-called “poo bags”. The authorities in the Khumbu region, the area around Everest, also want to reduce the level of luxury at base camp. The mess tents where people eat are to become smaller, luxury single tents will no longer be permitted, nor will single toilet tents.

Helicopter takes off from Syangboche Airfield above Namche Bazaar
Helicopter takes off from Syangboche Airfield above Namche Bazaar

As in the previous year, the Khumbu Pasanglhamu Rural Municipality also announced that most material transports to Everest by helicopter would only be permitted as far as the Syangboche airfield above the Khumbu main village Namche Bazaar. From there, the equipment is to be brought to base camp by yaks and porters as in the past.

In 2023, the commercial expedition operators had sounded the alarm after an identical announcement by the authorities – and had been heard. The number of helicopter flights to and from base camp had increased rather than decreased. That’s the way it is with all the rules that are issued in Nepal. In the end, the question is always who implements them and how resolutely this is done. So we are well advised to wait and see what happens with the tracking chips, the poo bags and everything else.

Update 2 March: Lukas Furtenbach, head of the Austrian expedition operator Furtenbach Adventures, has informed me that the Nepalese government does not require GPS trackers, but so-called “Recco reflectors”. To find someone, you need a detector from the company of the same name. This emits a radar signal that is reflected back by the reflector. The closer you get to the reflector, the stronger the return signal becomes.

Such detectors – which weigh around one kilo – can be mounted on helicopters or carried by mountain rescuers. The system has proven its worth in the Alps, for example when searching for buried avalanche victims. Whether it is also suitable for the summit zone of Mount Everest is questionable. According to Furtenbach, the range of the system is considerably reduced in the event of ice avalanches. And helicopters can no longer be used for rescues above the South Col due to the low air density. “It would be better if the guides didn’t leave their clients alone. Then the problem would be solved,” says Lukas.

Update 11 March: Much ado about nothing. As in the previous year, the local administration of the Khumbu region has eased the restrictions on helicopter flights above Syangboche. Providers are now allowed to fly equipment to base camp if there are not enough yaks and porters available. A committee of the authorities must give its approval for this. The maximum size of the measuring tents was also significantly increased again after the expedition operators protested.

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