Difficult conditions on Mount Everest – permits for the north side have arrived

View of Mount Everest (l.) and Lhotse (from Namche)
View of Mount Everest (l.) and Lhotse (from Namche in 2019)

“At altitudes between 6800 m and 7600 m, there are many places with open blue ice,” warned Valeriy Babanov on Instagram a few days ago. “Therefore, fit and sharpen your crampons well. To avoid misunderstandings on long ice slopes. As you remember, luck always favors the strong and prepared!” Babanov is one of the strong.

The Russian has twice been awarded the Piolet d’Or, the “Oscar of mountaineering”: in 2002 for his solo ascent of the North Face of the six-thousander Meru in the Indian Himalayas, and in 2004 (together with Yuri Koschelenko) for the first ascent of the 7,804-meter-high Nuptse Shar I – in the vicinity of Mount Everest. Now aged 59, Babanov wants to scale the highest mountain on earth without bottled oxygen. If he succeeds, he would be the oldest person on Everest without a breathing mask. So far, the Italian Abele Blanc is in the record lists having achieved this feat. When he summited in 2010, Blanc was 55 years and 264 days old.

Babanov wanted to set off today from Everest Base Camp towards the South Col at just below 8,000 meters – “for the final acclimatization”, as he wrote in his Instagram story.

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North side of Mount Everest: Only the optimists are still sticking to their plans

Tibetan north side of Mount Everest
Tibetan north side of Mount Everest

This much is already clear: Mount Everest will also be a much lonelier mountain on the Tibetan north side this spring than on the Nepalese south side. While the Nepalese Ministry of Tourism has so far (as of 24 April) issued 388 climbing permits for Everest, the Chinese-Tibetan authorities – as reported – are still stalling the foreign expedition teams. In any case, the number of permits is capped at 300. But there will be nowhere near that many this spring.

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No permits for Shishapangma – for the north side of Everest only in May

Shishapangma
Shishapangma, the only eight-thousander located entirely in Tibet

An unusually large number of foreign eight-thousander climbers have been staying in the Langtang National Park, around 50 kilometers north of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, these days. The reason was obvious: the border to Tibet is close by and the five- and six-thousanders of Langtang are ideal for acclimatization. The teams were waiting for entry and climbing permits for China, where they wanted to try their hand at the eight-thousanders Shishapangma and Mount Everest this spring.

All those who wanted to climb the 8,027-meter-high Shishapangma received disappointing news today: the lowest of the 14 eight-thousanders remains closed. “After 17 days of waiting for an answer about the possibility of climbing Shishapangma in Tibet, we were informed that climbing in the region will not be allowed this year,” wrote Brazilian Moeses Fiamoncini on Instagram. “Now is the time to rethink our plans and redirect our energy towards exploring new challenges.”

Everest permits only after the Chinese holidays

Fiamoncini has already summited seven eight-thousanders without bottled oxygen; Shishapangma was to be number eight. Several dozen climbers had applied for permits for this eight-thousander. “It’s cancelled for this season,” confirms Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, head of the expedition operator Imagine Nepal, “but Everest will happen.” Mingma expects the permits for the highest mountain on earth “on May 6 or 7, maybe even earlier”.

Tibetan north side of Mount Everest
Tibetan north side of Mount Everest (in spring 2005)

While Labor Day is celebrated worldwide on 1 May, in China all stores, offices and schools remain closed until 5 May to mark the occasion. Other expedition operators told ExplorersWeb that 7 May would be the date on which the border will open for the Everest teams. In return, the season should last longer than usual: until 11 June. Lukas Furtenbach, head of the Austrian operator Furtenbach Adventures, disagrees. The season also ends in Tibet on 1 June, he writes to me. Part of his team on the north side is now moving to the south side, says Lukas. The remaining clients continue to wait.

After a four-year break, the foreign expeditions want to return to the north side of Mount Everest this year. It is shaping up to be a comeback with obstacles. Meanwhile, the Nepalese government has so far (as of 22 April) issued 364 permits for the south side of Everest. Last year at this time (21 April 2023), there were already 454 climbing permits. A decrease of 23.8 percent.

Update 24 April: After the British operator Adventure Peak, the Dutch expedition leader Arnold Coster, who lives in Nepal, has also pulled the ripcord and sent his team to the south side of Nepal. “The Chinese authorities keep delaying our entry date and now I feel like waiting any longer is too risky,” Coster writes on Instagram. “After more than a dozen Everest North expeditions I simply think the gamble on a late summit is too big. Yes, there been years when people summited late, but I have also seen years when the season just abruptly stops when the monsoon arrives.”

Update 25 April: The field of teams that wanted to ascend via the north side of Everest is getting smaller and smaller. Now Andreas Neuschmid, expedition leader of the Swiss operator Kobler & Partner, has also announced that his team switches to the Nepalese south side.

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