Dangerous game with mountain tourism in Pakistan

The 8611-meter-high K2 in Pakistan

“We are opening tourism, because these three to four months are important for the people associated with tourism. Otherwise more joblessness will occur at these places,” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan surprisingly announced earlier this week. The former country’s cricket superstar, who has been head of government since August 2018, specifically mentioned the northern provinces of Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There the highest mountains in Pakistan are located, including the five eight-thousanders K2, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I, Gasherbrum II and Nanga Parbat.

According to Khan, the provincial governments would jointly make regulations under which the tourism industry could be reopened. It almost sounded as if the summer climbing season in the Karakoram could be saved against all odds – despite the coronavirus pandemic. But resistance is stirring in the regions mentioned.

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70 years ago: First summit success on an eight-thousander

Northwestern view of Annapurna (the main summit on the left)

“I was deeply touched. Never before I had felt such a feeling of happiness,” French climber Maurice Herzog later wrote about that moment on 3 June 1950, when he reached the 8,091-meter-high summit of Annapurna I with his compatriot Louis Lachenal – it was the first ascent of an eight-thousander. Both climbed without bottled oxygen on their way over the northern flank of the mountain. The way back from the summit was dramatic.

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Everest Day: Quiet spring on the highest mountain

Edmund Hillary (l.) und Tenzing Norgay

I have rarely used the word “actually” as often as in the last few months. So much was planned for this spring at the highest mountains of the world, but then fell victim to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. This includes the Everest marathon from the base camp on the Nepalese south side to the village of Namche Bazaar. Actually it should have taken place for the 18th time today. But this event was also canceled.

The marathon is regularly run on 29 May, the International Everest Day, which Nepal has celebrated since 2008. This commemorates the first ascent of the highest of all mountains in 1953. 67 years ago today, the New Zealander Edmund Hillary (1919-2008) and the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay (1914-1986) were the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest. After his success, Tenzing also regularly celebrated his birthday on 29 May. His exact date of birth could not be determinded.

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Third Everest summit day in a row

Ascent via the Everest Northeast Ridge

Today it got a little bit fuller on the summit of Mount Everest. According to Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, 14 clients of the commercial Chinese expedition operator Yarla Shampo reached the highest point on earth, accompanied by 21 Tibetan supporters. Mingma, head of the Nepalese operator Imagine Nepal, is in close contact with the Chinese expedition. Among those who stood on the summit was a 16-year-old girl. On her summit video, which Mingma shared on Facebook (see below), you can also see the survey mast that was set up there yesterday. Will they take it down again?

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Chinese surveyors on the summit of Mount Everest

Summit picture of the Chinese surveyors

At base camp the champagne corks popped. After the Tibetan rope-fixing team had secured the Northeast Ridge up to the summit of Mount Everest yesterday, a group of Chinese surveyors reached the highest point today. The picture, which was distributed by the Chinese state media, showed nine people. The ascent was broadcasted live on Chinese television thanks to the 5G technology previously installed at the base camp and along the route. The surveyors aligned their instruments at the highest point and stayed there for a total of two and a half hours – which was celebrated in the state media as a record for Chinese climbers. The results of the measurement is to provide information about the exact height of the mountain.

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Summit success on Mount Everest

Tibetan north side of Mount Everest

Six Tibetan mountaineers who have been fixing the ropes for the Chinese expedition on the north side of Mount Everest reached the summit at 8,850 meters today. This is reported by Mingma Gyalje Sherpa. The head of the Nepalese expedition operator Imagine Nepal has direct contact with the Chinese expedition. Previously the rope-fixing team had to turn back twice due to bad weather and high avalanche danger, first at 8,600 meters, then at 8,000 meters.

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Next Everest summit attempt underway

The summit team is en route

Third time is a charm? According to the state-run Chinese news agency Xinhua, a team of the Chinese expedition on the Tibetan north side of the mountain set off again yesterday, Sunday, from the Advanced Base Camp at 6,500 meters towards the summit of Mount Everest. If this time the weather and conditions on the mountain play along, the climbers would reach the highest point on earth at 8,850 meters on Wednesday. The first two attempts had failed due to bad weather and high avalanche danger. On 12 May, the team that fixed the ropes via the Northeast Ridge turned back at 8,600 meters, on 21 May they reached an altitude of 8,000 meters.

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“School up!! My heart is in Thulosirubari

The school in Thulosirubari in May 2020

Some days ago Dulal Tanka sent me new pictures of the school in Thulosirubari, 70 kilometers east of Kathmandu, which could be built with your donations for our aid project “School up!”. In the meantime the outside facilities have also been completed: The schoolyard is flattened, small beds have been planted. It has become a real jewel, “our” school.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you once again for your great support, without which the project could never have been successfully completed after the devastating earthquake in Nepal in April 2015. A big thank you also to my friends, the Austrian mountaineer Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner and the German climber Ralf Dujmovits, who had the staying power needed for an action like ours. And of course also to Nepalhilfe Beilngries and their local liaison men, Sunil Shrestha and Shyam Pandit, who did an incredibly good job.

Especially now, in times of the corona lockdown, my thoughts are often with the people in Thulosirubari. My heart is there anyway. This little video (all recordings were made before the corona pandemic) is a greeting from and to Thulosirubari.

Another summit push failed on Everest

View to the summit of Mount Everest

This time the point of return was at about 8,000 meters. The climbers, who have been fixing the ropes for the Chinese expedition on Mount Everest via the Northeast Ridge towards the summit, had to turn back today. Deep snow and also rockfall stopped them, a representative of the Chinese mountaineering authority said.

According to his words, the team was exhausted and decided to return to Advanced Base Camp at 6,500 meters. The climbers had spent the night in Camp 2 at 7,950 meters.

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Corona crisis: Summer climbing season in the Karakoram is doomed to failure

Gasherbrum-Gruppe
The Gasherbrum massif

As in spring on the eight-thousanders in Nepal and Tibet, it will probably be lonely on the mountain giants of Pakistan this summer. Most of the expedition operators from abroad have already canceled their trips to the Karakoram planned for this summer or at least put them on the back burner. For example, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, head of the operator Imagine Nepal, announced that their expedition to K2 would be postponed until 2021 due to the uncertain situation caused by the Corona pandemic.

The expedition operator Summit Climb also canceled the expeditions to K2 and the eight-thousanders Gasherbrum I and II originally scheduled for this summer. Summit Climb expedition leader Felix Berg gave me a few reasons: “Who is allowed to travel from where, quarantine on return, some members are no longer mentally prepared, we would have to get Sherpas from Nepal to Pakistan – this cannot be achieved with six weeks’ notice in Pakistan.” No matter who you talk to, the flight problem and the uncertainty of the clients is pointed out again and again – and of course the number of infections.

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Sergi Mingote: “We have to beat the virus”

Sergi Mingote

The second half will have to wait. Actually, Sergi Mingote had planned to continue his ambitious project this spring: all 14 eight-thousanders without bottled oxygen in 1,000 days. But the corona pandemic put a spoke in the wheels of the 49-year-old Spaniard. Instead of climbing mountains in Nepal, Sergi had to stay at home in the small town of Parets del Valles near Barcelona – with extremely limited freedom of movement, like all people in the country that was particularly hard hit by the pandemic.

It took Sergi only 444 days to scale the first seven eight-thousanders without breathing mask. In 2018, the Catalan summited Broad Peak, K2 and Manaslu, in 2019 LhotseNanga ParbatGasherbrum II and Dhaulagiri. Actually the ascent of Mount Everest was scheduled as the end of Sergi’s project for May 2021. Mingote has already scaled the highest mountain on earth twice, both times with breathing mask: in 2001 via the Tibetan north side of the mountain, in 2003 via the Nepalese south side. He must now revise his timetable.

Sergi, Spain had one of the strictest curfews in the world due to the corona pandemic. How did you cope with that?

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Strong wind prevents summit success on Mount Everest

The Tibetan north side of Mount Everest

Actually seven climbers from the team of the Chinese expedition operator Yarla Shampo wanted to fix the ropes up to the summit of Mount Everest at 8,850 meters today. However, according to information from Tibet, nothing came of it. The wind blew too strong over the highest mountain on earth. According to Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, who has close contacts with the Chinese expedition, the team turned back at 8600 meters. The climbers had spent the last night in Camp 3 at 8,300 meters. For Wednesday the meteorologists expect even higher wind speeds.

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Everest region in the corona crisis: “Feeling like 40 years ago”

The village of Thame in the Khumbu region

Everest legend Apa Sherpa worries about the people in his home village Thame during the corona crisis. “If the fall season is canceled and they run out of little saving that they have, I am not sure what will happen,” writes the 60-year-old, who reached the summit of Mount Everest a total of 21 times by the end of his career in 2011. “The only source of income for most people in the region is tourism, so if no tourists come, things might turn out bad. I hope that is not the case.” 

Apa Sherpa (in 2013)

Apa lives with his family in Salt Lake City in the USA. With his foundation he supports the people in the Everest region, also in Thame, where he recently had funds distributed to ensure basic supplies. Many Climbing Sherpas, who earn their money on the highest mountain on earth, traditionally come from this village. Among them is the current Everest record holder Kami Rita Sherpa, who has scaled the summit 24 times so far. “The situation in Thame so far is good,” says Apa Sherpa. The emphasis is on so far, because the corona crisis is still going on.

Food aid for the poorest has begun

Mingma Norbu Sherpa, CEO of the Himalayan Trust in Nepal, is also worried about next fall season. The aid organization was founded 60 years ago by Sir Edmund Hillary, who made the first ascent of Everest with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. The organization has financed numerous schools, hospitals and other infrastructure projects in the Khumbu region (see video below). By the way, the German section of the Himalayan Trust celebrates its 30th birthday in 2020.

Mingma Norbu, how is the mood among the people in the Khumbu region? 

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Lots of snow on Mount Everest

Equipment transport to the North Col

The mountaineers of the Chinese expedition on the north side of Mount Everest must train themselves in patience. The clients of the operator Yarla Shampo are currently staying in the Advanced Base Camp (ABC) at 6,500 meters, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, who is in contact with members of the team, informs me. In the course of further acclimatization, he said, a night on the North Col and an ascent up to 7,500 meters is planned – if conditions permit. Currently, the avalanche danger seems to be too great. According to Mingma, the mountaineers who secure the route to the summit with fixed ropes and who already reached an altitude of 8,300 meters, have descended to the ABC.

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Nepal’s mountain tourism threatens to collapse

Namche Bazaar in the Everest region depends on tourism

The Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) is sounding the alarm. “The crisis is deepening and set to get even worse,” NMA president Santa Bir Lama told the Kathmandu-based newspaper The Himalayan Times: “It seems that there will be no trekking and mountaineering activities in the upcoming autumn or winter season and thousands of people, who depend on tourism activities and products, will be unable to make their daily ends meet.” More than 3,500 travel and 2,600 trekking agencies have closed their operation due to the nationwide lockdown, he said.

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